England Food and Drink Occupations (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Food and Drink[edit | edit source]

Bakers[edit | edit source]

England’s staple food, bread, has been the subject of much legislation throughout recorded history. The trade was regulated through setting standards of manufacture, as well as brotherly assistance in times of hardship, since the 12th century, when town bakers first formed trade associations. Prices for corn (wheat), flour and bread, as well as standardization of weights of loaves, were controlled by legislation. Bread was still only sold from individual bakers’ shops as late as 1900.

Butchers[edit | edit source]

Butchers, or fleshers, in cities were usually retailers but in smaller towns they also slaughtered mainly cattle and sheep. Pork butchers specialized in butchering pigs. The shambles was the street or area in a city where the butchers lived, and the term has come to mean chaos or mess from the highly unsanitary conditions of waste disposal used there. Those who dealt in poultry and game were known as poulters or poulterers, and Webb (London Apprentices Volume 18. Poulters’ Company 1691-1729, 1754-1800. Society of Genealogists, 1998) has indexed the apprenticeships of the Poulters’ Company 1691-1729, 1754-1800, whose records are deposited at the Guildhall Library.

Confectioners[edit | edit source]

Mason (Sweets and Sweet Shops. Shire Publications, 1999) depicts the Georgian confectioner’s shop and the Victorian sweet shop and brings the story through to rationing during WWII; we traded our tobacco coupons for the old gent next door’s sweet coupons, did you? There is an Anonymous article (Old Occupations: 150 Years of Market Trading. Family Tree Magazine Vol 4 #8, page 4) from a market sweet maker with good anecdotes.

Fruiterers[edit | edit source]

Dealers in fruit belonged to the Fruiterers’ Company and their apprenticeships 1750-1815 have been indexed by Webb (London Apprentices Volume 6. Broderers’ Company 1679-1713, 1763-1800; Combmakers’ Company 1744-50; Fanmakers Company 1775-1805; Frameworkknitters’ Company 1727-30; Fruiterers’ Company 1750-1815; Gardeners’ Company 1764-1850; Horners’ Company 1731-1800. Society of Genealogists, 1997).

Food and Drink[edit | edit source]

A victualler is one who provides food or provisions, whilst a licensed victualler is one who possesses a license to provide alcoholic beverages. Three types of retailers had developed since early times and these were regulated from 1729 by the brewster sessions. The 1830 Beer Act added a fourth retailer, the beer house. Now any householder who paid rates (taxes) could pay two guineas (£2.2s.0) for a license to brew and sell beer on his premises. In eight years the number of licensed premises almost doubled and from the 1840s the temperance movement tried to fight the evils of alcohol.

CHART: Types of Beverage Retailers

  • Inn—(15th century), also called a host house, supplied accommodation as well as food and all kinds of drink, and was often the social, intellectual and commercial centre of the neighbourhood. Many were staging posts for coaches and had large stables and other facilities.
  • Tavern—(15th century), supplied food, ale, beer and wine.
  • Alehouse—(15th century), also called a tippling house, brewed and sold ale and beer but had no license for spirits.
  • Beer house—(began 1830), sold beer and ale but not spirits.
  • Public house (pub)—(modern) supplier of food and lodging, and alcohol to be consumed on the premises.
  • Off-license—(modern) retailer of alcohol to be taken away.

To complicate matters, some of the above retailers as well as brandy shops, dram shops and street hawkers sold spirits from early times, this being unregulated until 1751 when the first spirit licences were available (Gibson and Hunter). The painter Hogarth immortalized the first half of the 18th century as the gin era, and Rumens discusses the history of inns in this period.

Licenses to sell alcoholic beverages had to be obtained from the Brewster Session, part of the Quarter Sessions or Petty Sessions from 1552, and there were changes in the regulations over the years summarized by Gibson and Hunter. The publican would appear annually to renew his license and signed a recognizance to keep an orderly house and not allow whatever games were illegal at the time. The records survive well for the periods 1752-1828 and again after 1871, and will contain the name of licensee and his parish, and often the name of his pub and names and occupations of two guarantors, and sometimes other notes. They will be in county collections of Quarter Sessions and Petty Sessions records at a county archive and many have been microfilmed. Details of what survives by county are given by Gibson and Hunter. In one incomplete series I examined for Abingdon, Berkshire Henry Prince renewed his annual licence each autumn in 1803, 1806, 1807, 1810 for the Plough and 1811 for the New Plough.

The licensed victualler, usually known as the publican, licensee or mine host, held the license and managed the pub. Some of them were tenants of a brewery and sold only their beer (a tied house), but others ran a free house, not tied to any one brewery, and sold various brands. The publican of a large establishment would hire:

  • Cellarmen who looked after the barrels of beer in the cellars.
  • Ostlers to look after the horses if it was a coaching inn.
  • Barmen who were young men working on the counter of the public (men’s) bar.
  • Barmaids could be relatives of the publican or extra help and worked in the saloon bar (ladies and better class clients, with higher prices to match).
  • Potmen or potboys who collected up dirty tankards and glasses and cleaned them, and acted as general servants.

Many of these employees would receive low wages but have room and board included (Fowler 2002). Many men, and women too, chose this as a profession after having a more strenuous earlier career, particularly sportsmen. Many ran a pub in conjunction with another part-time occupation, and indeed many of them would name their establishment after this or a former occupation, for example The Stumps (a former cricketer) or The Blacksmith’s Arms. Morris suggests that since one in ten city properties in the 18th century was an inn or tavern then the chances of finding an ancestor as a publican are quite good.

Stan Gooch runs an index of publicans, pubs, inns and taverns, the Brewery History Society and Courage Archive, are both helpful regarding publicans. Those with an interest in London inns and taverns should consult Wittich. Publicans joined the Innholders’ Company and the apprenticeships have been indexed for 1642-1643, 1654-1670, and 1673-1800 by Webb (London Apprentices Volume 17. Innholders’ Company 1642-3, 1654-70, 1673-1800. Society of Genealogists, 1998). They may also be found in the Brewers’ Company 1531-1685 (Webb 2001) and 1685-1800 (Webb 1996).


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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