Tavern vs Alehouse

Brian G Turner

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A question I'm now coming up against - in a mediaeval fantasy based on pre and mediaeval Europe, would people go to drink in a tavern, or an alehouse?

I'm sure I've seen reference before to taverns specifically serving wine, coming from the Greek use of the term - and alehouses as being somewhere that specifically sold ales.

However, looking more deeply into this, I'm coming across the suggestion that either term can be used in a European setting, where both wine and ale are served.

The only distinction I can find is that a tavern may be more likely to be able to provide board than an alehouse - but otherwise, the term "tavern" as widespread across Europe after the mediaeval period.

Wikipedia isn't much help, redirecting "alehouses" to "pub":
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tavern#Britain
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pub#History

Anyone any pointers?
 

Abernovo

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Purely my own thinking, Brian, and possibly influenced by where I am, but I tend to think of a tavern as being an eating place as well as a drinking spot. Perhaps with guest rooms, but not necessarily so. I always think of it as a word that came later to English, though.

Alehouse seems more mediaeval, as does inn. Possibly of no help, but I know that there was the existence of the 'cauld hoose' in Scotland: inns that sold only cold food, possibly due to no kitchen. Taverns and most inns, I always think, have kitchens and serve warm food.
 

nubins

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My understanding on this comes from my hazy memory of a-level history. I believe the nature of a tavern was that iwas a place on the road for travellers to stop over night - get food, drink and shelter, for them and their horses. They were located on roads, but not necassarily in or near towns and villages, so not designed to serve a local population.

Inn's were similar, but less geared for looking after horses, more for those staying in a town - like a b&b today. Ale houses i think became pub's. I cant remember for sure but I think this had something to do with the introduction of licensing laws as time moved on. They would always be in towns and villages and traded on food and drink, not room and board.
 

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Public house as a term to mean an inn serving beers, wine etc, is from the 1660s so a bit late for medieval.

Ale-house or alehouse is Old English, and according to Johnson was "distinguished from a tavern where they sell wine" but I don't know that I'd necessarily put a lot of faith in that as a hard and fast rule. Tavern is later, late 13th century, via the French, meaning a wine shop.

I've a book on medieval Shrewsbury** which relies heavily on original records and which confirms that all houses selling ale (and these were private houses doing it to earn a bit of extra money) had to put up an "ale-stake" and town officials would make the rounds checking on quality and the measures. There's a drawing also of an ale-booth which looks a bit like a pergola with a cloth over and a table inside with people sitting drinking. But the reference to that page in the index is under "tavern", so make of that what you will.

The book goes on to say that wine was a luxury but "Lesser folk might buy it in taverns, but would not be allowed to have a barrel in their houses even if they could afford it." There's a bit about taxation and the wealthy getting the wine direct from ports like Southampton and then:
Some would be sold in the taverns of Shrewsbury. They probably had signs, indicating that they were the official sale points for wine at fixed prices and some may have offered lodging. The term used for them in Shrewsbury suggests this, though it is generally believed that taverns were not the equivalent of the later Inns. It has been found in other towns that merchants sometimes ran taverns in the cellars of their houses where the casks were stored. Thomas the Taverner was described as "the servant" of Richard Stury. The Shrewsbury merchant, Nicholas Ive rented a cellar from his neighbour ... and when his property was broken into in 1306 it was described as an "hospitium tabernum" the literal translation of which might be "lodging tavern".

There's a specific reference to a wine merchant owning a tavern and also "It is clear from court records that the village tavern was almost as ubiquitous as the village pub is today" -- and suggests that they would supply the wine needed for daily mass.

That help any?


** Everyday Life in Medieval Shrewsbury by Dorothy Cromerty
 

Anne Lyle

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Just to add my tuppence-ha'porth...

Alehouses were often run by women who brewed the ale themselves as a sideline to make a bit of extra money (just as tailors' wives often ran secondhand clothes shops). They might literally be nothing more than the front room of someone's house (or their garden, under an awning) with a barrel or two of beer and some earthenware tankards.

As The Judge says, taverns were a bit more upmarket and more likely to be run by men.
 

The Judge

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Had another root around my bookshelves and this might be of interest -- another Shrewsbury book, this time Everyday Life in Tudor Shrewsbury (Bill Champion). He reports that in 1417 some ale was being brewed and sold wholesale but the vast majority of alesellers or "bribsters" were women brewing small-scale on their own premises. That changed in the Tudor period with the introduction of hops and beer-producers when it became a bigger concern. But even then

... alehouses provided a valuable role in the ... lives of the ... urban poor. Often they were places where money could be borrowed, simple lodgings found and some warmth obtained. Even respectable Salopians might prefer to take their custom to an alehouse ... rather than the more expensive taverns which sold wine (three of which had been allowed by an Act of 1553). ... Food, too, could be purchased at the alehouse. In 1576 [an apprentice] ... accused of spending his master's money in an alehouses, had been able to buy cakes, custard, woodcock pies and other meats.
A bit late for you, but again it's bringing up the ale/wine split between the two, but also that the provision of food and lodging might not have been quite so clearcut a distinction, at least by this period (though there's a comment that the alehouses were by then serving the same function as the earlier medieval cookshops).
 

matle

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I much prefer Tavern to Alehouse

Inn is good too
 

Montero

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Just to add my tuppence-ha'porth...

Alehouses were often run by women who brewed the ale themselves as a sideline to make a bit of extra money (just as tailors' wives often ran secondhand clothes shops). They might literally be nothing more than the front room of someone's house .

And the woman running it was known as an ale-wife. Sometimes, when there was a fresh brew she'd hang a branch from a tree up, with green leaves. The state of the leaves would tell you how recent the brew was. (What she did in winter I have no idea. :) )
 

Brian G Turner

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Interesting - so the original distinction between a tavern and an alehouse is less defined by what they sold, as much as the manner by which they sold it: ie, that a tavern would be nearer what we recognise as a pub or an inn, while an alehouse was a more private affair. Very interesting - thanks for that. :)
 

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Just how accurate do you want to be? From your very first sentence in this thread:

The Boss said:
...in a mediaeval fantasy based on pre and mediaeval Europe...

I'd have thought this would give you a certain amount of license to use whichever term you felt best suited the story and mood you're trying to create. That's the approach that I take (for better or worse).

In the end, how many readers are going to be jarred out of the story because you used an incorrect term, which is really not incorrect anyway because it's an invented world?
 

Brian G Turner

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Just how accurate do you want to be?

I'm trying to keep a strong level of period realism - I figure these details will add to the experience - but that basic historical errors are only going to challenge both suspension of disbelief and reader enjoyment. That's why I wanted further clarity on this subject.
 

Culhwch

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That's fair enough. But I still think you're putting a lot more thought and effort into it than is really justified, though. If you sold a hundred thousand copies of your novel, I would honestly be surprised if ten of those readers knew the historical origins of the terms 'tavern' and 'alehouse'.

Look at it this way - you're a well-read gentleman of above-average intelligence, and you had to ask the question because you didn't know. Some people on here had an idea of the answer, mind you (and that speaks to the general intelligence of our membership) but perhaps the more pertinent question would be: 'If I used the term x to describe a place that does y, would you stop reading?'
 

JoanDrake

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I just love the way Brian pays attention to detail. "Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle" as Michelangelo said. :)

Besides, it's an interesting discussion. Now I wonder what effect the Little Ice Age and the shift from wine to ale and spirits it caused had on this question
 

Peter Graham

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Interesting - so the original distinction between a tavern and an alehouse is less defined by what they sold, as much as the manner by which they sold it: ie, that a tavern would be nearer what we recognise as a pub or an inn, while an alehouse was a more private affair. Very interesting - thanks for that. :)

There's no real hard and fast rule, but an alehouse was a much more basic operation. It was often part of a domestic residence and sold beer, usually brewed by the woman of the house (incidentally, a female brewer is a brewster, thus the derivation of that surname). There are still one or two surviving alehouses and you really should visit them to see how different they are to pubs. Try either Eli's in Huish Episcopi in Somerset or the Defford cider house in Worcestershire.

Alehouses popped up primarily as a local facility. If a farmer's wife brewed particularly good beer, then not only did the farmer have a better shot of getting good labour at the hiring fair, but the family could make additional income from opening up a parlour or kitchen and selling the surplus beer to the neighbours. As still happens in Defford (I think), punters would often turn up with a bit of dinner which they'd eat or cook up at the alehouse.

Inns, by contrast, were designed as a facility for travellers. Food, accommodation, wine, stabling etc were available in differing degrees and many inns originally started out as monastic establishments to cater for transient customers.

The advent of the pub broke down many of these old distinctions, although the Golden Rule, which limited sales of certain types of alcohol in certain establishments persisted until fairly recently.

So, for the sake of versimilitude, if your characters go to an alehouse, you could expect it to be the front room of a farm, where there is no "bar" as such and everyone would sit around in a fairly spartan communal room, toasting cheese on the fire, swigging beer (or cider if it's apple country) and gobbing off about the medieval equivalent of the EU. If they go to an inn or tavern, you can expect it to look a bit more like Tolkien's Prancing Pony.

Regards,

Peter
 

Dozmonic

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I'm with Culhwch here. "Get dahn the boozer," would break the immersion. "To the inn!" wouldn't. Pub is too modern a term. For a period feel, you want period words. Tavern, inn and alehouse all serve well. Only the most fanatical historian would gripe about the incorrect use of these. They'll also complain if a character uses the wrong type of leaf to wipe after having been in the bushes, or that the speech is too modernised and lacking that Chaurcerian quality. In short, if they want to complain about something, they will. I'll also groan when I see people with eternally strung bows in books, but I'll still read if it's well written (i.e. if they shoot arrows rather than pew pew them).
 

Gumboot

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A question I'm now coming up against - in a mediaeval fantasy based on pre and mediaeval Europe, would people go to drink in a tavern, or an alehouse?

I'm sure I've seen reference before to taverns specifically serving wine, coming from the Greek use of the term - and alehouses as being somewhere that specifically sold ales.

However, looking more deeply into this, I'm coming across the suggestion that either term can be used in a European setting, where both wine and ale are served.

The only distinction I can find is that a tavern may be more likely to be able to provide board than an alehouse - but otherwise, the term "tavern" as widespread across Europe after the mediaeval period.

Wikipedia isn't much help, redirecting "alehouses" to "pub":
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tavern#Britain
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pub#History

Anyone any pointers?


"Tavern" comes from French, Alehouse from Old English. That alone probably explains the difference. After the Romans vacated the British Isles ale became the drink of choice amongst the local people. Wine wasn't reintroduced until the Norman conquest, and they brought lots of Frankish (i.e. French) terms with them (which is why, for example, words in English relating to government and politics tend to have a French origin). The wine drinking Normans would have established French wine-selling "taverne". But by the middle of the 15th Century the distinction between wine and ale selling had disappeared and "tavern" had simply come to mean a public house (in the modern sense - at the time a tavern was only a type of public house, it would be another couple of centuries before it first narrowed to an inn that provides food and was authorised to sell alcohol, and finally the modern "pub").

What's in
 

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