Short measures, bar fights and beheadings in the ‘lost’ pubs of the Yorkshire Dales

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It was a time when even the smallest hamlet had an alehouse. Burton-in-Lonsdale, a settlement of only 580 people, just west of Ingleton, had no fewer than 10.

The more-than-150 lost pubs of the Yorkshire Dales belong to an era when short measures, fights and even – allegedly – murder by beheading were on the meat and drink of a rural night out.

David Johnson, author of a new book on 160 lost inns, pubs and alehouses of the Yorkshire Dales. Picture: James Hardisty

David Johnson, author of a new book on 160 lost inns, pubs and alehouses of the Yorkshire Dales. Picture: James Hardisty

Nearly all have long passed from memory, but a community project has begun to blow the froth off some of their secrets.

“It’s surprising just how many dead pubs there are knocking around the Dales,” said historian David Johnson, whose book on them has been published by the North Craven Heritage Trust and will be accompanied from next week by an online gazetteer.

“Settle’s central market area alone had 12. Skipton had dozens. Even some of the mining settlements in Swaledale had their own pubs.”

A few of their former buildings remain as evidence. Others are now barns or just earthworks.

The New Inn on the A65 at Westhouse to the west of Ingleton, in the 1920s.

The New Inn on the A65 at Westhouse to the west of Ingleton, in the 1920s.

At the top end of the market were inns, which offered food and accommodation to travellers who could pay for it.

The New Inn at Settle – which became a newsagent and then an art gallery – was one of the finest. In 1812, one traveller’s bill for dinner, drinks and hay for his horse came to as much as £1 6s 4½d – £100 in today’s money.

Then came pubs and rural alehouses, many known only by the names of their keepers, who served beer by the jug – irrespective of permitted licensing hours.

“The church commissioners had to battle to stop alehouses selling on Sundays, when people should have been in church. There were even problems with vicars serving beer on Sundays,” Mr Johnson said.

The Cross Streets Hotel, formerly the Joiners Arms, Austwick, c.1910.

The Cross Streets Hotel, formerly the Joiners Arms, Austwick, c.1910.

“People were hauled before the courts for watering down their ale. In lower Wharfedale, it was reputed that innkeepers were diluting it with urine.”

Weights and measures officials known as conners were sent out incognito, to check no-one was cheating – but there was little they could do in the face of apparent outright criminality by some innkeepers.

“In Coverdale, one widowed landlady and her daughter were accused of murdering and beheading several travellers. There is no record of whether they were found guilty,” Mr Johnson said.

In one of the first chronicled accounts of binge drinking, Henry Proctor, a 17th century innkeeper in Kilnsey, was had up for “keeping a disorderly alehouse” and banned from selling or keeping beer – but was back in court a few months later for peddling it without a licence.

Some of the customers were no better. Stephen Proctor – no relation – who was “want to holler in the street and expose his nakedness” at Kirkby Malham, was charged with “drunk­enness, abusive behaviour and negligence”.

It took the shortage of available innkeepers during and after the First World War to help bring the lawless era to a close.

The book, Time, Please!, forms part of Stories in Stone, the five-year, lottery-funded heritage project run by the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust. Copies are available locally and online at £9.99.