compiled by Sue Payne (Local History Group 3)
Portsmouth has had a reputation in the past of having more pubs to the square acre than any other place in the country, closely followed by Gosport. The reason of course for this is the presence of the Royal Navy. In 1864 Portsmouth had 277 public houses and 545 beerhouses. This meant there was one drinking establishment for every one hundred residents.
Drinking establishments in earlier times could be placed in three categories. At the top of the scale were the old established coaching inns in which surroundings were usually more palatial and comfortable; the George Inn in the High Street and the Star and Garter in Broad Street being two examples. Next on the list were the better known alehouses and taverns that maintained fairly reasonable standards and service. Thirdly, the poor relations, beerhouses. They could vary considerably, some of them being worthy of development into fully fledged public houses in later years, others were little more than dwelling houses in which the front parlour had been converted into some resemblance of a bar and the concoction that passed as beer was brewed in the yard at the rear of the house. Beerhouses were introduced in 1830, the authorities being under the impression that drinking beer was healthier than the evils of gin and spirits. On the other hand drinking beer or spirits was probably healthier than the water supply at the time. Throughout their history, drinking establishments have adapted to changing social conditions. The splitting up of the bar counter occurred during the industrial era when tradesmen and managers took exception to drinking in the same room as their workers and were quite happy to pay an extra halfpenny on a pint for the privilege of drinking with those of their own class. This brought about the introduction of the saloon bars, private bars, public bars, ladies wine bars and that select inner sanctum known as the snug. Each class appeared to have their own preference for which game they should play. Working men usually went for dominoes or cribbage but their bosses had bagatelle boards in their parlour and sometimes a skittle alley.
It was a common sight to see drunks on the street in the 18th and early 19th centuries, however Temperance campaigners were particularly active in trying to improve the situation. People drank to forget their depressing and appalling living conditions. Drinking dens provided a means of escape for a few short hours and although many beerhouses could not be called places of grandeur, they provided a conviviality that could not be found at home. Authorities did their best to reduce drunkenness by embarking on a programme to cut the excessive number of drinking outlets and the Church was only too happy to support this. As early as 1825 several alehouses were fined £5 each for allowing drinking in their houses during the hours of Divine Service on Sunday. The Town Council, on August 11th 1866, decided to adopt the Public House Act of 1864 requiring the closure of public houses between 1 o’clock and 4 o’clock in the morning. Eight years later this was changed to 11pm instead of 1am. In the 18th century the coaching inns flourished but by the mid 19th century this had changed due to the railways. However in Portsmouth the railway brought passengers for the seaside at Southsea and to use the harbour, so the inns and hotels still enjoyed good trade.
By 1915 Portsmouth had 305 alehouses and 372 beerhouses but the population had increased considerably to support this trade. During the Second World War many pubs and streets were bombed reducing numbers considerably. Portsmouth has lost hundreds in the last century, many have been converted. These may be identified by glazed tiling on the frontage or half timber decoration to upper floors. Today there are less than 150 pubs in Portsmouth and only 8 in Old Portsmouth.
- “Pubs of Portsmouth” by Ron Brown
- Portsmouth Local History – Stephen Pomeroy
- History in Portsmouth 1860 project