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?