East Yorkshire Site Yields a Possible Medieval Alehouse or Hostel
At a site in East Yorkshire, an archaeological dig has been in progress for three weeks to uncover the secrets of a medieval village. Now, archaeologists believe they have discovered a centuries-old alehouse. The remains of this site are buried under a grazing pasture at High Hunsley, near Beverly, where pottery beakers, jugs, and sheep and cattle bones have been unearthed. The presence of the former also suggests that a hostel co-existed alongside the alehouse, or was the sole establishment in the area.
Other objects of interest that were found include a knife, chisels, and jewelry from between the 7th and 13th centuries. Amongst this jewelry was a small clasp for fastening a shirt, a hair pin, and a cooper brooch of possible Celtic origin. There were also pottery shards dated from between the 12th and 15th centuries, and “a good number of objects that they do not have much idea about”. Images of these items have been shared on Instagram.
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Community members had the chance to play amateur archaeologist and participate in the dig. (Courtesy of Ethos Heritage)
A Pub or a Hostel? Let’s Have Another Drink and See…
"From their design, we know the beakers date back to about the 13th century. The site could well have been a pub or some kind of large house, perhaps even a hostelry. The bones, belonging to sheep and cows, were carefully butchered. Perhaps people gathered here to eat? There may well have been a hostelry here,” said Emma Samuel, of Ethos Heritage, the assistant site manager at the dig, as quoted by BBC.
She explained that horses in medieval times, just like today, were very expensive. It is purely myth-making that encourages people to imagine those in medieval times only traveling by horse, a powerful image in popular history. Since traveling at night was both tiring and dangerous, this site could have been a spot for exhausted travelers to seek a night’s rest and shelter, particularly for those making long journeys.
Geophysical surveys carried out prior to the dig, carried out by groups of volunteers, showed that a dozen buried dwellings lay underneath the fields, potentially suggesting a deserted medieval village. The origins of this settlement could have had their roots in the 7th century or earlier, although further work is required to confirm this.
Interestingly, this dig was carried out with the intention of involving people generally not associated with archaeology in the heritage project. In fact, Samuel estimates that out of the 150 volunteers who participated in the dig, 90% had no prior archaeological or excavation experience. Among the students involved were those from a special education needs school, and local Brownies and Rainbows earning their archaeology badges on site, The Guardian reported.
Talking of these deserted medieval villages, Ms Samuel said “There’s a lot of them on the [Yorkshire] Wolds but to find one that has not been ploughed out is quite rare… It gives us the perfect opportunity to investigate an almost pristine archaeological site. To be able to actually walk up the main street of a deserted medieval village that has not been excavated is a rarity. It is incredibly well preserved. It still has a lot to tell us, we still have a lot of investigation to do,” added Ms. Samuel.
She added that it was a “significant place in the landscape” with a long history of human habitation. She also sees it as a magical place with a deep history that is just waiting to be explored.
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An aerial view of the excavation site topography. The objects found will help determine the building’s purpose. (Courtesy of Ethos Heritage)
What Was the Medieval Tavern, Pub, or Alehouse Like?
A pub, short for public house, is a firm feature of daily English life, and is part of a dying breed of a medieval English landscape that was fundamentally altered by the social movements created by the Industrial Revolution (17th century onwards). Some estimates say that hundreds of these drinking establishments are closing every week, with the havoc caused by the economic downturn of the pandemic proving to be the final nail in the coffin.
Rendering of a medieval tavern. (IG Digital Arts / Adobe Stock)
The terms alehouse, tavern, and inn have long been used interchangeably, although their origins tell us otherwise. While an alehouse was a space where ale (and later beer) was brewed and served, a tavern was where wine was served, and an inn provided shelter and stables. While the tavern had largely ceased to exist by the 1800s, the pub came into common parlance by Georgian times (between the early 1700s and the early 1800s).
In fact, the true ‘golden age’ of the pub was the 18th century, when traditionally all the things one associates with a pub were found in a non-standardized form - hospitality, good fellowship, homeliness, comfort and coziness. The greatest British writers were writing about pubs in the 18th century, a testament to the growing culture that brought people of all classes to small ‘watering-holes’ in the English countryside.
An alehouse could have been the humble home of a neighbor who had just brewed a batch of cheap ale, and put a sign up outside the door. There could be multiple neighbors who had done this roughly around the same time, making drinking a popular recreational activity for men and women. In the growing separation of public and private, in which women were meant to occupy the home, brewing became an activity done solely by women.
This is not to say that recreation was abundant; industrial activity ensured that the ‘old way’ of living was disappearing in favor of the new regimented labor. Nevertheless, people from in and around the community gathered and paid for the ale they drank, socialized with each other, and sometimes gambled with dice or cards. Court records from this period describe gruesome fights induced by alcoholism.
Taverns, on the other hand, catered to the social elite who had time for recreation and wine, sometimes connected to a vineyard. Simple food was offered alongside, but there was rarely ever any lodging offered. Even at these establishments, gambling and fighting were fairly common, along with prostitution and criminal activity. There is much in these medieval alehouses and taverns that we can recognize in today’s bar establishments!
Top image: Medieval alehouses were often a community gathering space. Source: Eco-Pim studio / Adobe Stock
By Sahir Pandey
Beverley: Archaeologists Unearth Suspected Medieval Pub in Dig. 2022. BBC. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-humber-62631475.
Brown, M. 2022. Suspected Medieval Alehouse Unearthed in East Yorkshire. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/aug/28/suspected-medieval-alehouse-unearthed-east-yorkshire.
Mattei, S.E. 2022. Medieval Pub Buried Under Grazing Pasture Is Unearthed in England. Available at: https://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/medieval-pub-found-england-1234637174/.
Reid, A.D. 2017. Medieval Monday: Taverns and Ale Houses. Available at: https://allisondreid.com/2017/03/13/medieval-monday-taverns-and-ale-houses/.