Pubs are so embedded in British culture that it’s hard to imagine a landscape without them. Many of the pubs still in existence today are steeped in history, and have been welcoming travellers for many hundreds of years. The title of ‘Brtain’s oldest pub’ is disputed, but a strong contender is The Fighting Cocks in St Albans, Hertfordshire, which dates back to the 15th century and has been a tavern continually since that time.
Pubs are, of course, more formally known as ‘public houses’, and many establishments grew out of private dwellings. Pubs as we know them were probably a Roman invention, although communal meeting and drinking places were in existence long before that. As travel and pilgrimages became more popular, the need grew for convenient resting places, and pubs were established alongside major routes. They gradually evolved and developed to keep pace with social changes, and one innovation was the introduction of ‘tied houses’ in the 19th century. A ‘tied house’ is a pub that has an arrangement with a specific brewery to buy all or part of their beer from that supplier, and sometimes the building itself is owned by the brewery. Other pubs are known as ‘free houses’, and aren’t bound to a specific supplier.
Until recent times, pubs would also deal in beer and spirits to be consumed off the premises, known colloquially as the ‘jug and bottle’ trade. Customers would bring their own receptacle to be filled, until licencing laws required all containers to be of a standard size and quality. The trade closed down in the 1970s due to increasing price pressure from off-licences and supermarkets.
The Swettenham Arms itself dates back to the 16th century, when it was a nunnery attached to the nearby St Peter’s Church, and used as an overnight resting place for funeral parties. The building’s age is still clear in its low-ceilinged rooms, beams and different levels. We’re a free house, and we take great pride in serving the best of local beer as well as an ever-changing and carefully selected range of well known names. Next time you’re in the area, why not come in and try our award winning food in this beautiful and historic setting?