The 15 oldest pubs in the UK, ranked according to their claims
While the world’s oldest bar is a hotly-contested title, “oldest pub” is an equally sought-after accolade, shared by many boozers scattered around the British Isles.
Thanks to the rise of monasteries across the country throughout the middle ages, ancient alehouses have also emerged, with many far outlasting their holy roots and operating as businesses for centuries.
Many of these now claim to be the oldest watering holes in Britain, each with the documents to prove it.
The UK’s publicans take the history of their premises extremely seriously, and fiercely contest each others’ claims to fame.
From centuries-old liquor licenses to name-checks in the Domesday book, scroll through to see which pubs make the best cases for being Britain’s oldest boozers.
15. The Clachan Inn, Drymen (Scotland)
First to stake its claim to the title is The Clachan Inn, located a stone’s throw from Loch Lommond and just under 20 miles from Glasgow. Owned by the Strang family, The Clachann claims to have the longest-running license in the UK, dating back to 1734.
14. The Prospect of Whitby, London
First established in Wapping in 1520, The Prospect of Whitby comfortably takes the title of the country’s “oldest riverside pub.” In its hey-day it served scholars such as Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys. Now owned by Greene King, the Tudor tavern still retains many of its original features, including its very valuable location, a flagstone floor and a rare, pewter-topped bar.
13.The Bell Inn, Nottingham
Nottingham is a city where no fewer than three public houses claim to hold the title, making it the most historically competitive area of the UK outside of London.
First on the list is The Bell Inn, housed in a Grade II-listed building which officially dates to 1437, but it is served by a brewery which may have been around since the 12th century.
The Bell started out life as a friary guesthouse, but became a secular alehouse in the 16th Century following the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, taking its name from the church bell that hung outside the monks’ refectory.
Another jewel in Greene King’s crown, today The Bell was one of many sites within the pubco’s portfolio to undergo refurbishment, and now features a trendy gin bar upstairs.
12. The Sheep Heid Inn, Edinburgh (Scotland)
The earliest license for an inn on the site of Edinburgh’s Sheep Heid Inn was granted in 1360, according to its website, which would make it Scotland’s oldest-surviving public house.
The unassuming boozer overlooks Holyrood Park. Sheep were reared in the park and then brought into Duddingston, the historic town-turned suburb the pub sits in, for slaughter.
It is also is a favourite of the royal family. Queen Elizabeth II paid a visit in 2016 having spent a week at Holyrood Palace, but its noble credentials go back centuries. The pub was regularly visited by Mary Queen of Scots, who used it as a stop-off point when travelling between the royal palaces of Craigmillar and Holyrood. The more you know
11. Ye Olde Man and Scythe, Bolton
Ye Olde Man and Scythe in Bolton has one of the bloodiest pasts of any pub on our list. Its name was first recorded in 1251, making it one of the longest-running establishments in the UK. A cursory glance on Youtube throws up a series of Most Haunted-style clips of moving shadows and terrified paranormal professionals.
James Stanley, the seventh Earl of Derby, was executed outside the premises in 1651, and is said to haunt the pub today.
Well, that is until 2016, when the story got even weirder. Chinese artist Lu Pinguyan claims he stole the ghost in an act of protest against England’s colonialist past. Landlord Richard Greenwood even wrote to the artist to demand the late Earl’s safe return.
It seems Stanley is back at the gaff, however, as another ghost sighting was recorded in 2018. Then again, it could have been a different ghost.
10. The Adam and Eve, Norwich
Named after a tale as old as time itself, The Adam and Eve is Norwich’s longest-running establishment. Records are, naturally, scarce, but staff claim the earliest known reference to a tavern on its site was made in 1249, where it was referred to as a brewhouse owned by Benedictine monks, used by workmen building the nearby cathedral. A Saxon well is even located underneath the lower bar floor.
Today, its position near the law courts ensures a colourful lunchtime clientele, as well as being a well-worn part of the city’s tourist trail.
9. White Hart Inn, London
Established in the 13th Century, The White Hart Inn on Drury Lane claims to be London’s oldest pub. Historical records show its first license was granted as early as 1216, and its place in the capital’s history makes it a hit with tourists. Famous patrons to walk through the doors have included notorious thieves, Jack Sheppard and Richard (Dick) Turpin.
8. Ye Olde Salutation Inn, Nottingham
Back in Nottingham: officially the city’s second-oldest pub, Ye Olde Salutation Inn dates to 1240. An investigation by the Thoroton Excavation Society in 1927 found that the building sits above man-made caves that date back to the 9th century, and formed part of a Saxon farm that was later converted into servants’ accommodation and a brewery.
7. Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham
Greene King has a strong interest in British history. Currently making the best case as Nottingham’s oldest pub is the pubco’s Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, built into the same rocks that were used to build Nottingham Castle. It was previously owned by East Midlands brewer Hardys & Hansons, which itself was snapped up by Greene King in 2006 in a deal worth £271 million.
Its website suggests it was established in 1189, but there is no concrete historical evidence for this. The first documented evidence of a pub in this location dates back to 1751, but ask any Nottingham student and they will be adamant this is the real deal.
A network of caves lie beneath the building, originally used as a brewery, which seem to date from around the late 11th century, coinciding with the construction of the castle.
6. The Skirrid Inn, Abergavenny (Wales)
Just a few miles north of Abergavenny, and overlooking the windswept Brecon Beacons, The Skirrid Inn is one of the oldest establishments in Wales. The building the pub is currently housed in was built in the 17th century, but licensed premises have existed on the site as early as 1110. A popular rumour is that the pub was once used as a Court of Law where capital punishment was used for anything from treason to sheep-stealing. It has been linked to Hanging Judge Jeffreys, who carried out mass executions in 1685 following the Monmouth Rebellion. According to the BBC, a beam at the 900-year-old pub still bears the scorch marks of the ropes used in the killings.
5. The Royal Standard of England, Beaconsfield
Another alehouse with a strong claim to the title is the Royal Standard of England. The first evidence historians can find of the Royal Standard of England in Beaconsfield is listed in the Domesday Book, dating back to 1086. With an quintessentially English aesthetic, the inn is used regularly for filming television shows such as Midsummer Murders (they even serve a chicken pie dedicated to the show). Recent famous visitors include Mary Berry and The Hairy Bikers, proving the food is up to scratch.
4. The Bingley Arms, Leeds
Staff at The Bingley Arms in Leeds said the pub was first established in 953AD, although there is also evidence suggesting it could be even older. Inside, the award-winning pub has retained many of the features landlords and owners have installed throughout the centuries, with an Inglenook fireplace and a Dutch oven in the lounge, priest holes hidden in the chimney, and old wooden beams scattered throughout.
3. The Porch House, Cheltenham
The Porch House’s website claims that it is the oldest Inn in England, with evidence that a tavern with rooms existed here in 947AD. Today, the Cheltenham pub is a five-star hotel, but keeps its Olde Worlde charm with original feature fireplaces, windows and oak doors.
2. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is recognised as the oldest pub in the UK by the Guinness Book of World Records. The inn was first established in 793AD, according to its website, but the oldest license on record dates to the 17th century. It continues to win accolades for its great food and even better local ales.
1. The Old Ferryboat Inn, Holywell, Cambridgeshire
Though there is no definitive proof, The Old Ferryboat Inn positioned on the river Cam makes the most ambitious claim as Britain’s oldest watering hole. The pub’s owners claim that alcohol has been sold on the premises as early as 560AD, but a more reliable estimate is a foundation date on the site which places it at 1400AD.
The pub is said to be home to a supernatural presence with the ghost of a jilted teenage girl, Juliet, who hanged herself. She was buried in 1050AD on the banks of the Ouse, and the Old Ferryboat is supposedly built on top of her grave. A seance was conducted in the 1950s with participants claiming to have contacted the spirit of the young girl. She’s said to haunt the building to this day.