When beer was safer than water

THE reason Arundel once boasted around 40 named ale and beerhouses is a simple one. There was a time when the beer was safer to drink than the water.

It's a subject researched extensively by Rupert Brooks for his new book Inns And Taverns Of Old Arundel.

"Water was the reason for the rise in number of the beerhouses," says Rupert who is now in his third year of living in the town. "The water was dangerous to drink. When you make beer you have to boil it for an hour and a half which kills the bacteria. Drinking beer was safer!

"Also, on the farms you had a lot of barley being grown. Barley makes malt. The hops were brought in from Kent. There were lots of maltsters and brewers malting and brewing in Arundel."

Sadly, while the quality of the water has risen, so the numbers of pubs have declined – though the decline has more to do with the changing patterns of the town's social life.

Rupert identifies just seven remaining of the 40 beerhouses still in existence, a reflection of the fact that beer-drinking has become less sociable. The arrival of trains in the 1860s played it part too. It meant that people travelled away from the town.

Further hastening the beerhouse downturn was the downturn in river traffic. It used to bring in the sailors who were generally partial to a pint or two. Dwindling numbers of sawmill workers – always thirsty work – contributed too.

All of which – especially now with the advent of cheaper supermarket beer and the smoking ban – means Arundel' beerhouse heyday is most definitely a thing of the past.

Rupert brings that past back, though, through his book with a detailed exposition of where these old houses can still be found in the town, what they were called in their heyday, who the publicans were at the time and how the families helped each other and carried on through the generations.

Rupert spent time in the archives department of Arundel Castle and in the West Sussex Records Office, but much of his research came from interviewing long-standing residents who remember Arundel's old drinking establishments.

His book features photographs of the present sites of old beerhouses and of any rebuilds that replaced them, together with photographs from late Victorian times.

Research into the dominant families involved reading through licence records going back to the early 19th century and through the census returns from 1851, which registered the occupations of incumbents.

Rupert also interviewed descendants of the most significant families, uncovered their photographs and delved into their family trees – to which he has anecdotal reminiscences of the past and recollections of how the old premises looked.

The book is available online www.phillimore.co.uk; ISBN 13 : 978-1-86077-606-9; online Price: 14.95. Also available by contacting the author directly by e-mailing: rupert_brooks@btconnect.com.