Pubpaper 778 – Open All Hours?

Posted: 8th October 2014 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

It has been 100 years since the opening hours of pubs were brought into line from what we would recognise as modern operating times.   The first act controlling hours came about at the start of World War One in 1914, when naval and military authorities got the powers to control opening around harbours, barracks and other premises related to the war effort.  A year later this was power was extended to civilian authorities.  Under these powers opening times were limited to the hours between 8am and 10pm, down on the previous limits of 6am – 12.30am (except sundays which were still limited to the old times of 1 – 2.30pm and 6 – 10pm).

However this would not last long, when the 1915 act came in, it limited pub opening hours to a mere five and half hours a day, allowing 12 – 2.30pm and 6 – 9pm trade.    For anybody who is near or over 40 years old, you’ll remember going to the pub with your dad on a Sunday and having to drink up for the 3pm bell before going back after 6pm when the pub re-opened.  This is the legacy of a previous 18th century act, but drinkers now had this all week as the war waged on.

Drinking was considered an evil by the government of the time with Lloyd George outlining how a minority were refusing to work a full week, because quoting “let us be perfectly candid. It is mostly the lure of drink. … Drink is doing us more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together“.   The original intention for this was to align opening hours with meal times and to restrict drinking outside of these core times, hopefully meaning that people would be less likely to get drunk with enforced breaks.

The popular reason for this was that it was to stop ammunition workers blowing themselves up whilst still affected from the previous late night, this is the extreme end of the line, but it was true that it was to make people fit of a long day of work.  However once the war ended, any hopes for a quick reversal of these laws was optimistic.   Some concessions were given regarding closing at night with an extra hour granted after the declaration of peace in 1919, and landlords were given more freedom to choose their opening hours in 1921 when pubs outside of London were allowed to open 8 hours a day Monday – Saturday and 5 hours on Sunday between 9am and 10pm.

This allowance still effectively enforced an afternoon break in opening hours as your 8 hours were needed to offer beer at core hours namely Lunch (12 – 3) and Evening (6 – 11), and Sunday drinking effectively was held at the status quo.  Since 1881, most areas of Wales had been dry on Sunday with no pubs opening, however in 1961, law came in to allow areas to vote on whether they would be “dry” or “wet” area on a Sunday.  Most areas went “wet” over the next 37 years with only the county of Dwyfor left by 1989 (who went wet in 1996).

The pub hours we take advantage of today didn’t really come into being until the late 1980’s.  In 1988, the 8 hours restrictions were removed and pubs were allowed to open through the day with no afternoon break.  However it would take another 7 years before we could enjoy an afternoon session on a Sunday.   In 2003, the biggest change in 90 years took place when open licensing hours came into force   This allowed pubs to open later into the evening, with the possibility of 24 hour trading.  This meant that instead of having to go to an overpriced nightclub to drink past 11pm, you could carry on your current place of drinking or extend you crawl into the night.   Town centres suddenly became far more competitive for the local monopoly that ran the local clubs, although in reality there was always a number of impromptu “private parties” which started after drinking up time.   In most local pubs outside of town and city centres, these “private parties” were happening at least once a weekend if not twice,  otherwise known as the Lock In.

So look at your local pub now, closing at 12.30 or 1am is the normal now on a weekend, and if you look at a Wetherspoons, the original times of 6am – 12.30am are pretty much identical when you include their early breakfast hours and its only took 100 years to get here.



  1. Curmudgeon says:

    To be precise, before the Licensing Act 1988 Sunday hours were limited to 12-2 and 7-10.30, so there was a five-hour afternoon gap. But pubs often did more trade in the two lunchtime hours than they do over seven hours now.