Friday, 11 February 2011

Market daze

A feature of the old-style licensing laws was that they gave leeway for towns to permit extended lunchtime opening on market days. Leafing through the 1979 edition of the Good Beer Guide, I found a number of examples of this – all in the South Midlands, with a particular concentration in Herefordshire. In Banbury, Kington and Ross-on-Wye, pubs could open until 4 pm instead of 2.30 on Thursdays, in Ledbury until 4 pm on Tuesdays, in Leominster until 5 pm on Fridays, and in sleepy Bromyard all day on Thursdays. I remember as a student in Birmingham making a Thursday expedition by train to Banbury to take advantage of their extended hours, but I wonder to what extent these extensions were really used back then, as opposed to being a hangover from a bygone age. I doubt whether the streets of Bromyard were full of drunks at 6 pm on a Thursday.

It’s also interesting that – broadly speaking – lunchtime closing was 2.30 pm in the South and Midlands, and 3.00 pm in London and the North. A few towns such as Northampton and Worcester even had 2 pm lunchtime closing. Around here, Rochdale was unusual in still having 2.30 pm closing, whereas a few places in the South Lancs coalfield such as Atherton and Westhoughton were 3.30 pm. 3.30 or 4 pm closing seems to have been common in South Wales. Across much of the South and West of England, morning opening was 10 pm. Nowadays, few people would contemplate going in a pub for a drink before 11.30, and many pubs don’t open until noon, if that. So what was the difference in social conditions ninety years ago that meant 10 am opening would be considered reasonable or necessary as part of a measure whose overall effect was to restrict access to alcohol?


  1. Ormskirk in Lancashire used to open until 4pm on Thursdays "for the convenience of those attending the market", I think the signs used to say. Normal closing was 3pm.

    By 10am, people who worked in markets and people taking goods to market, such as farmers, had probably been up quite a few hours. I expect it felt like lunchtime.

  2. And the 1979 GBG mentions 4pm Thursday closing in Ormskirk - as far as I can see the only town in Lancashire that had it.

  3. I remember being on holiday in Devon in the 70s and taking the train to Newton Abbot on market day. After spending lunchtime in the historic Cider Bar we took advantage of the afternoon extension and crawled around the rest of the GBG pubs. Unsurprisingly we got very drunk.

  4. Back in the 80's when I worked nights in Central London, once a week the shift would all go to Smithfield market where the pubs were open from 5am. They would be full of off duty coppers, posties and bank workers. Guiness for breakfast and a hangover for tea!

  5. No mention of market hours in Newton Abbot in the 1979 GBG. I have found three more, though - Uttoxeter open until 4pm Wednesdays, Bridgnorth open until 4pm Mondays and Saturdays, and Wellington (Shrops) open until 3.30pm Mondays and Thursdays.

    1. The Stafford Mudgie24 August 2018 at 21:47

      Ah, yes, I remember Bass and the proper Joules Bitter until at least 4pm on Wednesdays in the Vaults at Uttoxeter.

  6. From memory lunchtime opening was generally 10.30am to 2.30pm in the part of East Kent where I used to live, although a handful of pubs used to open at 10am.


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