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Early Ale Houses

It is difficult to assess the numbers and names of retail ale sellers in Sileby before the Tudor period. At the moment there are no known medieval drinking establishments, only an unsubstantiated claim that The Angel Yard on Little Church Lane may have been the site of a hostelry at some point.

Our window upon ale sellers suddenly opens in the 16th century when manorial records fill the gap. Regulation of ale houses was supervised by Justices of the Peace, whilst policing quality and price was undertaken by the local manor court. Official 'Aletasters' fined beer sellers for breaking the assize of ale. As this seems to be an unofficial way of licensing beer sellers in the manor, defaulters lists provides probable evidence of ale houses when the manor court sat. For instance, in 1533 Margaret Lyppe,  Joanna Gibson, Joanna Hynde, John Milner's wife and Agnes Ryk were all fined two pence for breaking the assize. The prevalence of ale-wives undertaking this activity in this period is particularly noticeable and is one which continues throughout the century :

c1558 - c1571    John Wright's wife

c1563 - c1572    Robert Taylor's wife (Agnes)

c1583 - c1588   Richard Hemsley's wife

c1583 - c1588   William Middleton's wife

However, the survival of manorial court rolls in the 17th and 18th century is meagre, and the list of assize breakers reflects this :

1668 : Thomas Ducket, Robert Ferryman, Widow Middleton

1670 : Thomas Ducket, James Chamberlain, Thomas Sharpe

1674 : Thomas G[ ? ], James Chamberlain

Occasional information can be gleaned from other sources such as probate inventories. In 1723 Thomas Dawson's inventory outlines the basic details of his Innkeeper occupation. Out of a personal estate worth £67.15s., his stock of ale, bottles and barrels in his cellar was worth £16 (24% of the total), and a further £6 worth of goods were in his brewhouse. His property was made up of his 'house' (the main living space), but the 'Plaster' and 'Boarded' parlours probably allude to specially designated hospitality/sleeping spaces along with the 'Long Chamber' and two further chambers in the Inn. It is possible that this was the forerunner to a house on the site of the Duke of York/Malt House.

​Eighteenth century progress

In 1729 official Brewster Sessions were instituted at the county Quarter Sessions. Victuallers Recognizance books survive from 1753; these are lists of  brewers that had provided sureties to county officials. At this time there were three types of hostelry, and were all licensed accordingly :

Alehouse : Sold beer and ale, usually produced on the premises

Tavern : Could also sell wine  

Inn : Also provided food and accommodation

The Plough Inn, Joiner's Arms, King's Arms. Blackamoor's Head, Red Lion and Horse and Trumpet are all named in late 18th century local newspapers, and an inn was probably also on the site of the Duke of York.


The Beerhouse Act of 1830


The eighteenth century saw social and economic upheaval due to the extensive and excessive public consumption of spirits, particularly Gin. Despite high taxation, government intervention failed to curtail the problem, and measures to popularise beer at the expense of spirits were put in place.


The Beerhouse Act of 1830 allowed any householder that was assessed to the parish poor rate, and who could afford to pay the two guineas cost, to sell beer from their own premises, usually their house. This legislation changed the playing field with regard to the proliferation of drinking establishments. In Sileby this Act alone gave rise to the Free Trade Inn, The Bellringers Arms, The Rose and Crown, The Bell, The General Sir John Moore and the White Swan. By the time of the repeal of the Act in 1869, most of these beerhouses had become well established.


The records show that there were two main types of  drinking establishment in the village at that time : 

                                         1) Public House : Full licence including wine and spirits

                                         2) Beerhouse : A Licence that allowed the holder to sell beer on their premises only

Some of these also had sleeping accommodation.

Regulation and Tied Houses

If the Beerhouse Act of 1830 had been the driving force behind the expansion of Sileby's beerhouses, then the Beer and Wine Act of 1869 would firmly put the brakes on further development. This Act allowed local magistrates to restrict or reduce the number of licences if they thought necessary.  A number of Sileby beerhouses wanted to expand their business by obtaining a wines and spirits licence. The magistrates took evidence from petitioners, the police and the numbers of licences already in the area before making their decision. More often than not, they would refuse these applications unless an existing local licence was revoked or withdrawn.

Nationally, restricted numbers of licences caused the growth of 'tied' houses whereby breweries purchased pubs and beerhouses to obtain the licence and sometimes to transfer it to another premises. Tied houses as the name suggests, tied the premises to the selling of its owners own products, and began the 'pub chain' as a concept. 


At first, Sileby's alehouses continued as small family businesses producing their own beer in the main, but after 1880 breweries slowly added them to their portfolios. The Duke of York came under Sileby brewing firm W. Sharpe and Sons in 1882 (whose family had owned it since 1868), later followed by both the White Swan (1897) and the Horse and Trumpet (1923-4). The Fountain Inn and Free Trade went to Everards in 1923-4. Others include the Plough (All Saints Brewery 1923-4), the Railway Inn (James Eadie & Co. 1882) and the Red Lion (Leicester Brewing Co. 1930-1).

Competition, War, Opposition and Economic Downturns

Competing brewery companies were not the only threat to local pub businesses. Political clubs often had their own licencing arrangements to supply drink to its members. Sileby's Liberal (now Working Mens Club) and the Constitutional (now Conservative) clubs provided for their members in this way.

In the late Victorian period home consumption was becoming more popular. Bottled beers and other alcohol was sold at a number of Off-Licenced premises. In 1931 these were at 38 Barrow Road (G.H. Disney - Offilers Brewery), 11 Swan Street (A.B. Porter - All Saints Brewery) and 71 King Street (P.Yates - Strettons Brewery). By the early 1950s 38 Barrow Road had been replaced by 41 Barrow Road (F.J. Fisher - Offilers Brewery) and 11 Swan Street by 77 Ratcliffe Road (still A.B. Porter - All Saints Brewery).

In Sileby, with its large nonconformist population, the influence of the Temperance movement was widely felt. Many of Sileby's manufacturing leaders were closely allied to the chapels and the message of abstinence and 'Taking the Pledge' played a huge part in persuading working men and women to avoid drink. In the 1880s the Sileby Temperance Society and The Total Abstinence Society also held meetings in the village to push their message home. The results of this almost missionary zeal was the formation a Good Templars Lodge and a company to manage a Coffee House (situated on the corner of Swan Street and Seagrave Road); all in direct competition to the pubs and beerhouses.

​The Temperance cause was strengthened by local tragic events blamed on the influence of drink, the most famous of which was the murder of PC Wilkinson in May 1903. After the policeman's killing there was a mood for change with regard to the hard drinking culture that existed. In 1904 local residents formed a committee to oppose the renewal of pub licences in the village. Initially they set their sights on the General Sir John Moore beerhouse and the Railway Inn. Licenses were generally renewed but only after the landlords were questioned about how well they conducted their businesses.

In addition to the anti-drink backlash there was also the fervent opposition borne by Sileby's vicar, the Rev A G Townsend. He was a temperence champion and was not averse to standing up to the brewers and confronting their moral stance toward brewing and selling drink to the working classes. On 11th July 1901, he challenged William Henry Sharpe, the Sileby brewer to a debate at the church gates. They were to discuss "The Drink. Is it the Friend or Foe of the Working Classes?" The challenge seemed to have been accepted and written tracts were produced by both sides defending their position. 

Despite these local occurrences, Sileby still had a reputation for hard drinking. According to one source, it was not unusual for workmen in the late 19th century to work 4 days solid to enable them to spend the other 3 days of the week at the pub. However, trends were to change, especially with the introduction of factory working. During the First World War consumption went down by nearly a half, and the industry fared no better during the Depression years. Bottled beer consumption rose dramatically after the Second World War, but in house sales reduced again. Tax on beer and alcohol was pushing the price higher and drinking habits changed with the introduction of lager. The slow departure of Sileby's industries from the late 1960s onwards had also taken its toll.

Whilst local firms were doing well so the pubs could sustain themselves, but not all could survive.  In the early 20th century magistrates had the powers to refer unruly or unnecessary pubs for closure. As a result the General Sir John Moore closed in 1925 and the Bellringer's Arms followed it by 1927. The Plough faced the same fate when it was to closed by the Compensation Authority in 1963. In 1957 the Red Lion did not renew its licence. More recently the demise and demolition of the Fountain Inn caused great controversy, whilst the conversion of both the old Duke of York/Malt House into residential properties and the Railway Inn into commercial premises has given valuable life and purpose to their old buildings. The White Swan has remained closed after Covid lockdowns. So, when there was once many, now there are two : the Horse and Trumpet and the Free Trade Inn: both with very different histories!  

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