Few if any British icons represent the British way of life better than the pub. Public houses, ale houses, taverns, boozers, call them what you will, pubs have been serving up happiness to the downtrodden and depressed of this island for centuries, and barring the institution of sharia law in the UK, this tradition looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.
In formal terms a pub is a premises that is licensed to sell alcohol and to allow its consumption on site. Informally, a pub is a place where friends meet and partake in conversation whilst engaged in the activity of drinking beer, wines and spirits for no other reason than it makes them feel better.
Unsurprisingly the Romans were the first to introduce such places to the UK. Then known as 'tabernae' (the origin of the word 'tavern'), they were places where tired Roman soldiers could revitalise themselves with food and wine in between bouts of trying to force the native Britons to do some work. The tabernae marketed themselves by using bunches of vine leaves to show passers-by what they were all about. Of course, these forerunners to pub signs were only recognisable to the Romans who knew what they were.
Much like the Labour government (1997-2010 R.I.P.), the Romans got fed up with trying to get lazy British people to do some work and in the fifth century AD they upped and left leaving their tabernae behind. The home brewing of ale continued, and was much favoured by the successive waves of invaders who came to these shores, such as the Saxons.
But despite all this home brewing and drinking, there were still no formal replacements for the tabernae which had fallen into disuse. However, some people brewed a batch of ale and would sell it in the village, or even invite others into their houses to buy and drink it. And so it was in AD 965, King Edgar, in what would today be called an 'amnesty' decreed that there should be no more than one such alehouse in each village.
By the thirteenth century ale houses had become a traditional feature of rural England, and began to spring up on major highways both in the countryside and in the rapidly growing cities. The pilgrims in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales set off from the Tabard Inn in London's Southwark. By Elizabethan times pubs had become places purely for socialising, as opposed to the utilitarian purpose of refreshing the empty stomachs and weary legs of traders and travellers.
Today there are around 55,000 pubs in the UK, all of which act as UK icons in the way each one portrays a vignette of UK life, not just as a whole but also for their immediate localities. Quirky names such as the Red Lion, Frog and Nightgown, and Wetherspoons smatter the UK's cities, towns and villages and provide welcome escapism from the tawdriness of being British or being in the UK.
So raise your glasses to the pubs of Britain – true UK icons.