East Ilsley is unusual in that, up to 2006, it had 3 pubs in what is a relatively small village. It still had 2 pubs up to 2020. In the past, however, it has had many more pubs. In the 19th century 12 different inns and beer-houses have been identified in the village, most of them lying along the High Street. Even in the 16th century there were 2 pubs, when most local villages had none.
Why so many pubs? Initially these served the coaching route between Oxford and Newbury, the route on to Winchester (which became the A34). Later, when the Sheep Fairs were at their peak, numerous pubs sprang up to serve the needs of those who came to buy/sell livestock. The smaller pubs alongside the sheep pens were primarily beer-sellers and probably only sold beer at the fairs – most of these publicans had other occupations. The larger pubs offered food and rooms, as well as selling beer and spirits. Despite the number of drinking places and the quantities of alcohol consumed, the village was not particularly rowdy – relatively few arrests were made for being drunk and disorderly! Although there were a few persistent offenders who regularly ended up in the village lock-up.
Many of the pub landlords were in-comers to the village, and many of them had other occupations as well as being licencees (particularly for the smaller pubs). A list of surnames of people associated with the pubs is available here.
The map below shows the locations of the inns and alehouses, and lists the names used by the pubs (many changed their names over the years).
The book on the history of the pubs and breweries of both East & West Ilsley, and the people who lived and worked in them is currently out of print but a 2nd edition is in progress. This covers the 12 pubs of East Ilsley and the 2 breweries (and single pub) of West Ilsley.
Did you know, for example, that Morlands brewery started in West Ilsley and that the Swan in East Ilsley was the first pub in what became the Morlands chain (since taken over by Greene King). Morlands was one of the best known pub chains in Berkshire & Oxfordshire – its pubs displaying the logo of an artist in frock coat and hat, carrying a palette and brushes.
Click on map to enlarge