Thursday 8 January 2009

Mythbusting Pubs

More rubbish has been written about pubs then of any other buildings. Often the stories are instigated by previous landlords, the rumour gets turned into a story within a generation and the locals now take it as true. Anyway here are some of my favourite myths which have been seen in print or mentioned to me:

1. The pub is mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Unfortunately the Normans did not do the Good Beer Guide 1086, despite Roger Protz being available as editor, so no pubs are recorded in the Doomsday Book. Mills, fisheries, manors and farms are recorded along with the amount of produce, whether honey, iron,cattle or pigs, so an estimate of the size and wealth of a manor may be assumed, but no pubs are either mentioned or named in this book.

2. Oliver Cromwell stayed at this pub. Funny that in every pub that claims Cromwell was a guest at, also claims an assassination attempt was made on his life there. Normally the attempt was made with a pistol, as the roof beam on the ceiling has the musket ball hole in it! This hole is more to do with age, woodworm and a wall partition being taken down, than with a member of the New Model Army deciding to change sides and become a Royalist. Also biographies of Cromwell fail to mention these attempts and the Myth Pubs are always vague about the exact date it happened.

3. The pub dates back to the 13th Century. One enterprising landlord once pointed out a date of 1217 carved into the stonework of an archway in his Myth Pub, as evidence of the antiquity of the pub. Now this was carved using Arabic numerals, not Roman numerals, a full 200 years before the Arabic Numerals we use today came into use! The landlord was not too impressed when I pointed this out to him.

4. The pub has a secret passage to the church/manor house. Quite often pubs have been built on the site of a previous pub and this has been going on for centuries. Why destroy a perfectly good stone-built medieval cellar just because there is going to be a new building on top of it? Of course, the new building may be smaller than the old one, so not as much cellar space will be needed and part of the cellar gets bricked up. Jump forward a few hundred years and the blocked up part of the cellar becomes a tunnel to the church or manor house or even a smugglers route. Medieval tunnel building is not that well documented and very difficult – it was far easier to cross the road to the church opposite than excavate and prop up a tunnel to do the same job!

5. The pub is haunted. Want some free publicity for your pub? Then say it's haunted. There is a whole industry built up on haunted pubs. From cheap guide books sold on the bar to camp over-the-top TV programs, this is one aspect of the pub trade that is booming. Next time a member of staff falls on the stairs blame the ghost and phone up the local rag – should get half a page of free advertising for your pub there.

6. The pub is built from ship's timbers. Fair enough if the pub is on the coast but I heard this about a pub 40 miles inland! Why dismember a ship and cart the wood inland for 40 miles when there is a perfectly good forest nearby? Where this myth comes from is that Navy timber was a term for the quality and thickness of wood and the story spread from there.

7. The oldest pub. Always be wary of any pub claiming to be the oldest. There is normally a nearby pub which not only looks older, but is older. The age of the Myth Pub has often been decided by the local bore, sorry historian, after a few too many beers in the pub after hours. The landlord then decides to put this myth on the sign, often with a rider such as “Without a shadow of a doubt”, or “Without fear of contradiction”, which is just asking for some decent academic research to actually dispel this Myth.

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