skip to content

Publican, Brewery and Licensed Victuallers Records (Occupations)

Nature of Source

Records of those who applied for an annual victualler’s licence, issued to an individual who intended to serve food and alcoholic beverages in a public house. From 1522, a person wanting to sell alcoholic drinks had to apply for a licence from the Quarter or Petty Sessions and it is from the records of these courts that the majority of publican records originate. Most records and documents held at County Record Offices are arranged by the name of the pub and not the name of the publican. Trade and street directories as well as electoral registers can help track down the name and location of a pub and the name of the landlord, but note that some publicans pursued other professions or trades at the same time. It is also worth noting that a public house or the publican may have featured in a newspaper story or in auctioneer records and census returns.

From 1617 licences were required for those running inns and in 1828 a new Alehouses Act followed by the Beerhouse Act of 1830 overhauled the system creating looser regulations for those applying for a licence which resulted in a significant rise in the numbers of licensed premises selling alcohol. As a result, drinking in pubs became increasingly popular in the 19th century.

Landlords had to declare that they would not operate a disorderly pub and enter into certain obligations before the court could issue a license. This form of legal pledge or obligation is known as a Recognizance or Bond. The relevant information may appear under the heading of 'Register of recognizances of licensed victuallers'. Landlords that failed to adhere to these requirements would appear before the Quarter or Petty Sessions on charges of 'keeping a disorderly house'.

Originally beerhouses and alehouses only sold ale or beer whilst taverns sold additional beverages such as wine and spirits. Inns and especially coaching inns were bigger establishments offering larger more comfortable rooms and accommodation.

If the pub had land attached to the premises, even a small piece of land, a description of this land should appear in tithe and enclosure maps. The records generated by the Valuation Office could assist the research into a publican ancestor as could ordnance survey maps, rate books and fire insurance maps.

From the 17th century breweries often bought pubs and tied them into only selling their beer. Eventually around 90 per cent of pubs were tied to one brewery. The brewery might hold records relating to the pub and its publicans or owners. If the brewery owner is not known, look for photos which might show the name. Also look for the archived minutes and lists of members of the Licensed Victuallers League.

Brewer's apprenticeship records can be found at the Guildhall Library and The National Archives, see Apprenticeship Agreements for more details.

Also see
Apprenticeship Agreements, Trade
Apprenticeship Indentures, Parish
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Friendly & Fraternal Society Records
Occupational and Labour Records (Includes links and guidance on calculating historical wage rates and the cost of living)
Trade Union Records

Where Found

County Record Offices (Quarter and Petty Session records and brewery records)
London Metropolitan Archives (Licensed victuallers' records for Middlesex from 1552)
The National Archives (Some national sources)
The Scottish Brewing Archive Association (The association is an independent body run by industry experts and brewing enthusiasts. The archives collects and preserves the records of the brewing industry in Scotland including the archives of Scottish & Newcastle Breweries. See here for a list of collections relating to the Scottish brewing industry with references and a brief description of the kinds of records held in the collections)
Brewery Archives

Period Covered

1522 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Name and address of the licensee. Pub name (inn sign) and address, often just the parish. Names and occupations of two guarantors (register of recognizances). Details of a disqualification of the premises and of the licensee and a record of any convictions.

Further References

Akeroyd, Alan & Clifford, Caroline. Huntingdonshire Pubs Through Time: Amberley Publishing, 2012


Arnot, Chris. Britain's Lost Breweries and Beers: Thirty Famous Homes of Beer that have Brewed their Last Pint: Aurum Press, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon

Brandon, David. London Pubs: Amberley Publishing, 2010


Brandwood, Geoff & Davison, Andrew & Slaughter, Michael. Licensed to Sell. The History and Heritage of the Public House: English Heritage, 2004


Brown, Ron. The Pubs of Portsmouth From Old Photographs: Amberley Publishing, 2009


Clark, Peter. The English Alehouse: A Social History, 1200-1830: Longman, 1983


Cornell, Martyn. Beer: The Story of the Pint: The History of Britain's Most Popular Drink: Headline Book Publishing, 2003 Buy Now on Amazon
Cornell, Martyn. Strange Tales of Ale: Amberley Publishing, 2015 Buy Now on Amazon

Edgell, Tim. Dorset Pubs and Breweries: Amberley Publishing, 2009


Edwards, Mervyn. Stoke-on-Trent Pubs: Amberley Publishing, 2014


Ford, George. Thornbury Pubs: Amberley Publishing, 2010


Fowler, Simon. Researching Brewery and Publican Ancestors. 2nd ed: The Family History Partnership, 2009


Gee, Stephen. Halifax Pubs: Volume Two: Amberley Publishing, 2011


Gee, Stephen. Halifax Pubs: The History Press, 2008


Gibb, Forbes The Brewers and Breweries of Stirlingshire: Lomax Press, 2008


Gibb, Forbes. The Brewers and Breweries of Linlithgowshire: Lomax Press, 2010


Gibb, Forbes. The Brewers and Breweries of Fife: Lomax Press, 2012


Gibb, Forbes & Close, Rob. The Brewers and Breweries of Ayrshire, Buteshire and Renfrewshire: Lomax Press, 2013


Gibb, Forbes & Close, Rob. The Brewers and Breweries of Ayrshire, Buteshire and Renfrewshire: Lomax Press, 2014


Gibson, Jeremy. Victuallers' Licences. 3rd ed: The Family History Partnership, 2009


Girouard, Mark. Victorian Pubs: Studio Vista, 1975


Gorham, Maurice. The Local: Little Toller Books, 2010 (1939)


Griffiths, Philip: Cirencester Pubs Through Time: Amberley Publishing, 2013


Halliwell, Stephen R. Preston Pubs: Amberley Publishing, 2014


Haydon, Peter. The English Pub: A History: Robert Hale, 1994


Haydon, Peter. Beer and Britannia: An Inebriated History of Britain: Sutton Publishing, 2001


Hill, Peter. A History of Hostelries in Northamptonshire: Amberley Publishing, 2010


Jeaffreson, John Cordy (ed). Middlesex County Records. 4 Vols: Greater London Council, 1972 (1886) (Volumes available to download and view at the Internet Archive or at British History Online)


Jennings, Paul. The Local: A History of the English Pub: The History Press, 2011


Johnson, Peter and Jefferis, Catherine. Conwy & District Pubs: Amberley Publishing, 2016 Buy Now on Amazon

Jones, Brian. Alehouse Calendars of Recognizance: West Riding of Yorkshire, Staincliffe and Ewcross Wapentakes, 1771, 1773, 1778, 1781 and 1803 Morley Wapentake, 1771, 1773 and 1778


Map Of Victorian London Showing the Public Houses in the Metropolis 1886, Old House Books


Peaty, Ian. English Breweries in Old Photographs: Sutton Publishing, 1988


Putman, Roger. Beers and Breweries of Britain: Shire Publications, 2004


Richmond, Lesley & Turton, Alison. The Brewing Industry: A Guide to Historical Records: Manchester University Press, 1990 (Preview available at Google Books)


Sandles, Geoff. Forest of Dean Pubs Through Time: Amberley Publishing, 2012


Sandles, Geoff. North Cotswold Pubs Through Time: Amberley Publishing, 2012


Sandles, Geoff. Cheltenham Pubs Through Time: Amberley Publishing, 2012


Sandles, Geoff. South Cotswold Pubs Through Time: Amberley Publishing, 2012


Sandles, Geoff. Stroud Valley Pubs Through Time: Amberley Publishing, 2012


Sandles, Geoff. Gloucester, Tewkesbury & Severn Vale Pubs Through Time: Amberley Publishing, 2013


Smith, Gavin. British Brewing in Old Photographs: Sutton, 2004


Smith, Ken. Brewing in Britain: An Illustrated History: Amberley Publishing, 2016 Buy Now on Amazon

Tames, Richard. The Victorian Public House: Shire Publications, 2003 (Preview available from Google Books)


Thorburn, Gordon. Pocket Guide to Pubs and Their History: Remember When, 2010


Tuffrey, Peter. Doncaster Pubs: Amberley Publishing, 2010


Tuffrey, Peter. Doncaster District Pubs: Amberley Publishing, 2011


Waters, Colin. A Dictionary of Pub, Inn and Tavern Signs: Countryside Books, 2005


The EurekA Partnership: Various titles containing transcriptions of Licensed Victualler records covering Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, Warwickshire and Worcestershire

Websites (The National Brewery Centre, formerly the Bass Museum) (The National Brewing Library. The library is an English language collection relating to brewing, distilling, other alcoholic beverages and dependent trades) (Pub History Society) (Pub Heritage Pub history) (The Brewery History Society) (Pub History. Links for researching pubs by Simon Fowler) (History House: What was a beerhouse?)
(Researching the history of pubs, inns and hotels) (Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies Research guide: Public houses and publicans) (Bedfordshire - Victuallers' Licences, whereabouts of records) (Cambridgeshire - Victuallers' Licences, whereabouts of records) (London Metropolitan Archives Information Leaflet Number 45 Licensed Victuallers Records)
(Inn Sign Society: Information about inn signs and pub names) (Campaign For Real Ale Pub Heritage - Historic Pub Interiors) (Further reading brewers and barmaids) (Tracing ancestors who worked in pubs)
Licensed Victuallers Records (Information leaflet from the London Metropolitan Archives) (Pubs history, guides and books) (The Historical street & Pub History directory: A listing of historical London public houses, Taverns, Inns, Beer Houses and Hotels. The site also provides the name of the landlord extracted from trade and commercial directories) (Archives Hub Feature: Pubs and Inns) (Online store selling publican records from a variety of suppliers) (History of brewing and pubs in the Midlands and for some parts of the rest of England) (Pubs and breweries in Gloucestershire) (Association For British Brewery Collectables) (eBay Collectables: Breweriana) (Ancestry Message Boards: Occupations)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A] and the National Register of Archives [NRA] for the partial whereabouts of brewery business records) (Dorset Records: Alehouse Licence Records, 1754-1821)
(Birmingham, Pub Blacklist, 1903-1906)
(Surrey, Licensed Victuallers, 1785-1903. Register of recognizances taken by Justices of the Peace at Quarter Sessions)
(West Yorkshire, Alehouse Licences, 1771-1962. Many registers contain the name of the person who held the licence, the name and location of the public house, dates the licence was issued and renewed, and whether the licence was transferred) (Birmingham, Pub Blacklist, 1903-1906. Photos and descriptions of 82 people deemed ‘habitual drunkards’ who were not to be sold liquor) (The Guinness Archive: Surviving personnel records of past employees from the 1880s to when a pension payment ceased in the late 1990s) (Warwickshire County Record Office: Victuallers Database. The database contains details of the licensed victuallers in Warwickshire from 1801-1828, taken from the series of registers of calendars of Victuallers’ Recognizances in the Warwickshire Quarter Sessions collection)
(A Pint of History Please-Exploring the History of Ceredigion's Pubs. This is a project about pubs Ceredigion [formerly Cardiganshire]. The database will include records for all the known pubs, taverns, inns, hotels, beer shops, railway station refreshment rooms and other premises in Cardiganshire which were licenced to sell alcohol) (Listing of pubs and publicans extracted from directories and census returns covering London and the South) (Pickard's Pink Pages for Warwickshire: Warwickshire Inns, 1874) (Sheffield Archives and Local Studies: Sheffield pubs and beerhouse keepers, c. 1870 to 1936) (Shropshire Inns of 1828)

CD Roms (The People, Life and Times of Black Country Pubs. The CDs contain information about every pub that has been found to exist in each of the districts within the Black Country)
Your Old Books & Maps (Licensed Victuallers Official Annual 1895)