There was a pub here in the middle of the 19th century. Like many pubs at the time it was called William IV. Even though he only reigned for seven years, William IV is almost at the top of the list of Britain’s most popular monarchs (ranked by the number of pubs named after them). He comes second to Queen Victoria, who reigned for twenty-five years. The reason is simple: William IV signed the Beer Act of 1830.
The aim of the 1830 Beer Act was to address a long-term decline in sales of beer, and to discourage consumption of gin and other spirits. It would simplify regulation, make it easier to obtain a licence, encourage competition, and make beer cheaper by reducing taxation. The price of a pint dropped by about 20%. This was a time of high unemployment and a degree of social unrest. It’s not impossible that the government also anticipated that a law promising abundant beer at lower prices would prove popular with the public.
The result was that a lot of new pubs opened during William’s reign. Landlords liked him.
Come, neighbours all, both great and small,
Perform your duties here,
And loudly sing
Live Billy our King,
For bating the tax upon beer
The number of pubs in Alnwick peaked in the decades that followed the Beer Act. Here in Clayport the William IV was just above the Blue Bell, and below the Pack Horse. On the other side of Clayport the Anchor stood where buses leave today’s Bus Station. Another pub opened next door to the Anchor, and the Grey’s Inn stood at about the middle of today’s Bus Station. There was a Beer House at the other corner. The Clayport Tower was a little further up Clayport, and the Bird and Bush around the corner in Dispensary Street.
While cheaper and more abundant beer proved popular among some, it also resulted in increased public concern about the effects of drinking and drunkenness. Both did increase, though perhaps not as much as people thought at the time. Growing concern eventually resulted in more regulation with the Wine and Beerhouse Act of 1869 and subsequent amendments.
We don’t know how closely Alnwick followed national trends in drinking during the 19th century, but if it did, then the amount of beer consumed would increase to a peak in the 1870s then gradually decline into the early 20th century. We do know that there were more than a dozen pubs on Clayport in the mid-19th century, but this would decrease by the end of the century.
William IV died, and Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837. This pub was renamed the Freemen’s arms by the time this advertisement appeared in the 1850s. So far we haven’t found any record of it trading into the 1860s.