A Brief History of the Alehouse

A Brief History of the Alehouse

Beer pumps Tweedies


‘You can’t sit there.’

I’d just got a pint at the Corporation and was about to sit down in the corner chair.

‘Why not?’ I said a bit perplexed.

‘That’s Albert’s seat’

‘There’s no-one here’ I said pointing to the empty bar.

‘Never mind about that, and less of your cheek – he’ll be in shortly.’


In my younger days ‘the local’ was just that, and the regulars had their own chairs that were reserved, as I discovered, whether they were around or not.


Beer has been brewed in this country since the Bronze Age, but it wasn’t until the Romans arrived and built a convenient network of roads that the first public houses appeared, beginning a tradition that has continued uninterrupted for two thousand years. It is an integral part of our culture that has featured and been celebrated in song, literature and art. Chaucer’s characters begin their pilgrimage to Canterbury at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, and John Barleycorn, a folk song in which barley itself is personified appeared around the same time. In the seventeenth century version below, three drunks try to kill the barley, by way of revenge.

There was three men come out o’ the west their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn must die,
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in, throwed clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn was dead.

Robert Burn’s poem Tam O’ Shanter, begins with Tam getting merrily drunk at the market tavern while his wife sits at home quietly seething, in a scene familiar to many.


Gathering her brows like gathering storm

Nursing her wrath to keep it warm


Alex Goodall is the manager of the family run Tweedies Bar, a CAMRA listed pub that specialises in real ale and locally produced food here in Grasmere.  Outside of work it acts as our village community centre where we can meet up and swap stories at the end of the week. The name Goodall comes from good ale and is an old English name that was given to brewers and landlords in the middle- ages. Many of the people I’ve written about on this blog frequent the pub and while we do have a regulars’ corner, unlike Ken’s customers at the Corporation, we don’t have reserved seats. Alex is an affable host: well travelled and a keen snowboarder, when he’s not serving customers he’s a customer himself, joining the rest of us in the corner or sitting with friends in the beer garden.

The eighty or so lakes and tarns that give the area its name make it a perfect place for brewing and along with the larger well established companies, many small micro-breweries operate within or alongside the National Park, sustained by local shops and pubs that provide an outlet and an income for their products. Each September Tweedies hosts the Grasmere Guzzler beer festival where over eighty beers and ciders are on offer. Alex’s brother Jim operates the hog roasts and live music is performed throughout the weekend making it one of the highlights on the autumn calendar.


You can check them out at  www.tweediesbargrasmere.co.uk   


Alex’s recipe for Chocolate Stout Cake


Serves 12-14

250ml (9fl oz) Stout (we recommend Coniston Special Oatmeal Stout) and a pint for the chef

250g (9oz) unsalted butter

80g (3oz) cocoa powder

400g (14oz) caster sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla essence

140ml (5fl oz) buttermilk

280g (10oz) plain flour

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp baking powder

50g (1¾oz) unsalted butter, softened

300g (10½oz) icing sugar

125g (4½oz) full-fat cream cheese (such as Philadelphia)

Cocoa powder, for dusting (optional)

one 23cm (9in) diameter spring-form cake tin


1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F)/gas mark 3, then line the base of the tin with baking parchment.

2. Pour the Stout into a saucepan, add the butter and gently heat until it has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and stir the cocoa powder and sugar into the warm liquid. Mix together the eggs, vanilla essence and buttermilk by hand in a jug or bowl, and then add this to the mixture in the pan.

3. Sift together the remaining sponge ingredients into a large bowl or into the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer. Using the mixer with the paddle attachment or a hand-held electric whisk, set on a low speed, pour in the contents of the pan. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to mix thoroughly until all the ingredients are incorporated.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for approximately 45 minutes or until the sponge bounces back when lightly pressed and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Set aside to cool, and then remove from the tin on to a wire rack, making sure the cake is cold to the touch before you frost it.

5. Using the electric whisk or the freestanding mixer with paddle attachment, mix the butter and icing sugar together until there are no large lumps of butter and it is fully combined with the sugar in a sandy mixture. Add the cream cheese and mix in a low speed, then increase the speed to medium and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.

6. Place the cooled cake on to a plate or cake card and top generously with the cream cheese frosting. The cake can be decorated with a light dusting of cocoa powder.


Next week: The Lost World of Langdale



  1. Sounds a yummy but why have never had a slice of this famous cake

  2. Must visit this pub – think the beer festival sounds like a great time to go! Hope to see some of this blog’s characters when I do.

  3. Regardin’ th’ Rabbie Burns’ poem:

    Nursin’ mah wrath tae keep it warm? Aye, so I was – ah had tae dae somethin’ to keep mahself warm as Tam was doon the alehoose, spendin’ aw our fuel bunsens (that’s money tae ye Sassenachs…)

  4. It’s certainly hard to pass a pint and good company on my way back from the Co-Op, the route’s a perfect straight line. Those Romans have a lot to answer for!

  5. Someday I will make it to the Beer Festival. Hear it has gotten big, hope the weather was better this time. Hope to see you in a few months, shooting for early December, have cows to milk now. Plan to come again in February when we are shut. I have never been to Grasmere in the winter. Hope it doesn’t get to minus 35F as it does here.

    Cheers to everyone at Tweedies from the west side of the pond!

    Terry of Wisconsin

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