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Seven of England's best historic pubs

For hundreds of years, pubs have provided food, drink and entertainment to locals and weary travellers alike. Here are seven English favourites that have stood the test of time.

Published 11 Apr 2021, 08:05 BST, Updated 9 Jul 2021, 10:03 BST
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is a Hertfordshire institution and said to have been established in the eighth ...

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is a Hertfordshire institution and said to have been established in the eighth century.

Photograph by Ye Olde Fighting Cocks

1. Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem, Nottingham

This pub is one of a handful that claim to be the oldest in England. Dating back to 1189, it’s said to have been a pit stop for crusading knights journeying to Jerusalem — hence the name. Adjoining Castle Rock in the shadow of Nottingham Castle, it’s a cross between a pub and a museum, with medieval caves built into the sandstone, several bars, and nooks filled with relics from the city’s history. 

2. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans

Also vying for the title of England’s oldest pub, this Hertfordshire institution is said to have been established in the eighth century. The building that survives today, however, was built in the 11th century and has an unusual octagonal shape (it was formerly a pigeon house) with old tunnels running from the beer cellar to St Albans Cathedral across the road. Inside, the timber beams and low ceilings create a cosy space for enjoying local ales and classic pub grub. 

3. The Prospect of Whitby, London

On the banks of the Thames, in Wapping, The Prospect of Whitby claims to be the oldest riverside pub in London, dating from around 1520. In its early days, it was a favourite of sailors, crooks, and notorious hangman Judge Jeffreys — it’s very close to the site of Execution Dock, grimly commemorated by a replica scaffold outside the pub. It was later the watering hole of Charles Dickens, as well as William Turner, who’d paint the views of the Thames from the pub. 

4. The Turks Head, Penzance

This Cornish pub is reputed to date from 1233, and takes its name from the ‘Turks’ (pirates operating from North Africa) who invaded Penzance around that time. The Turks Head was later a haven for pirates and smugglers, who made use of a tunnel running from the pub to the harbour  — which is still visible from the courtyard today. The clientele has changed since, but they’re still catered to with a menu of freshly caught fish and Cornish beers. 

The earliest record of The Old Bridge Inn in the village of Ripponden is from 1307. 

Photograph by The Old Bridge Inn

5. The Old Bridge Inn, Yorkshire

The earliest record of The Old Bridge Inn is from 1307, giving it a strong claim to be the oldest pub in Yorkshire. Situated next to the River Ryburn in the village of Ripponden, the ancient inn has changed little in seven centuries, with original features such as the traditional timber frame visible throughout the narrow, somewhat crooked buildings. A menu of hearty food and local Yorkshire brews completes the picture. 

6. The Compasses Inn, Wiltshire

Ben Maschler, son of restaurant critic Fay Maschler, is the current custodian of The Compasses Inn, which dates back to the 14th century. Located in the Wiltshire village of Chicksgrove, the beautiful stone building retains many original features, such as an old flagstone floor, open inglenook fireplace and gnarled wooden beams. History aside, this is a pub with great food and drink at its heart, featuring local ales from Butcombe, an excellent European wine list and modern British dishes. 

7. The Royal Standard of England, Beaconsfield

Claiming to be England’s oldest ‘free house’ pub, The Royal Standard of England has a history going back some 800 years, with the first recorded mention in 1213, when it was known as ‘Se Scip’ (The Ship). The current name is said to have been bestowed upon the pub by Charles II in 1663, in honour of it having lent support to his father during the Civil War. Today, it’s the quintessential British country pub, filled with antiques, stained glass and crooked timbers, serving local ales and traditional pub food. 

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Published in Issue 11 (spring 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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