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UK Pub Guide

Culturally unique to the UK, and other British influenced countries, pubs are the sociable drinking establishments that often act as the focal point of the community particularly in villages and small towns.

There are around 60,000 pubs in the UK serving a wide range of mainly acoholic drinks, such as beers (bottled and on tap), wines, spirits and alcopops, although they all offer a selection of non-alcohol drinks too. It is illegal to buy alcohol in the UK if you are under 18 years of age but you can go into a pub and have a soft drink from the age of 16. In addition, some pubs, which sell food, allow children into certain areas of the pub.

The drinking of alcohol in pubs has a long history in the UK, dating back to Roman England when inns were opened for weary travellers to buy refreshments during their long journeys. By the time the Romans left, the beginnings of the modern pub had been firmly established and in 965 King Edgar decreed that there should be no more than one alehouse per village.

During the early Middle Ages the demand for inns began to grow as pilgrimages and travel became more popular. In 1393 King Richard II passed a law stating that all landlords must erect signs outside their pubs, or else risk losing their right to sell ale. This was how the ‘pub sign’ came into being with most pub signs containing pictures rather than words because most pub patrons were illiterate. Today, many British pubs still have decorative signs hanging over their doors.

There was a huge growth in the number of pubs in the 18th century, particularly in the consumption of gin, and by 1740 six times more gin was being produced than beer. However, beer kept a healthy reputation because it was often safer to drink than the water.

The mid 19th century saw restrictions being placed on the opening hours of licensed premises, culminating in the Defence of the Realm Act in 1914, which restricted the opening hours of pubs to 12pm to 2.30pm and 6.30pm to 9.30pm. However in more recent times the licensing laws have relaxed, with pubs now opening from 11am through to 11pm (12pm to 10.30pm on Sundays). However, the Licencing Act 2003, due to come into force in 2005, has allowed pubs to apply to the local authority for opening hours of their choice. It is worth noting here though that licensing laws in Scotland differ from the rest of the UK, and pubs there generally have more flexible opening hours.

Another aspect of British pub culture to be aware of smoking. At present it is not illegal to smoke in a UK pub, however the UK government plans to make all food-serving establishments, including pubs, non-smoking by 2008, but some pub chains have already started banning smoking in their pubs, such as JD Wetherspoon, which has banned smoking in 17 of its 650 pubs. Meanwhile the Scottish Parliament has passed a bill to ban smoking in pubs, bars, restaurants and all public places throughout Scotland which will come into force in March 2006.

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