The Demon Drink!
An old two pint mug from the 'Starr Inn' reveals how Steyning people have long enjoyed their beer. Local pubs sold beer to the church to keep the bell ringers happy but tea was "poison to body and soul."
The Star Inn decorated for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977. The seven men and a dog are, left to right, John Henson, Charlie Green, unknown, Mike Chalcraft, the dog, unknown, Ray Carpenter, unknown. Signatures on the back of the photograph mount are Fred Carver and Dave Austen.
Quite unexpectedly, the museum got the chance to obtain an old tankard with the words "Starr Inn, Steyning" painted on its side. It prompted a search of the records to find out more.
With an internal depth of 15cm and a diameter of 10cm, the tankard would have held two pints. So it certainly comes from a time when the men of Steyning enjoyed good long drinks.
It has a warm creamy look to it and so is known as 'creamware'. Potters had been looking for a cheap way to match the whiteness of imported Chinese porcelain and came up with this solution in 1750. Within five years it became the dominant up-market choice but, only a few decades later in the 1790's, an economic and much purer white ceramic became available and creamware dropped out of fashion.
Lars Tharp, a familiar face from the BBC's Antiques Road Show, examined the tankard and had no difficulty confirming that it dated from the second half of the 18th century.
It's a bit difficult to say exactly when the tankard was made. Rentals for the Manor of Steyning show that between 1731 and 1752 The Star Inn property was in the possession of Richard Newport and his wife Anne. From 1740 onwards it was indeed described as The Starr Inn. It was then taken over by William Budd who, to begin with, renamed it The Royal Oak. Maybe his regulars protested because a year later it was back to being called The Starr. His successors, Thomas Griffin and then Thomas Lashmar, continued to call it The Starr but by 1791, when James Langford had taken over, the familiar spelling of The Star appeared.
The Starr Inn tankard. It is tempting, but pure speculation, to think that one of the pub's regulars, during its brief interregnum as The Royal Oak, had the tankard made as a statement of protest.
Pub name changes were not unusual in Steyning at that time and pubs came and went. The White Horse was, for a time, either itself known as The Half Moon or was next door to a pub of that name. There was also a pub known as The Crown which was very much in the same part of Steyning as The Half Moon – maybe the same establishment. Then there was The Kings Arms, which had previously been called The Spread Eagle. This was at the foot of Bank Passage but was pulled down in about 1790 to make way for the Steyning New Bank – where Body Matters is now.
The Chequer doesn't seem to have changed its name but not far from there was The Golden Lyon, run by Thomas Forman and his wife between 1716 and 1757. In the 17th century The Three Tuns and The Plough (both names which re-appear in the 19th century) and the The Blue Anchor are all on the record though we have no certain knowledge of their whereabouts. The mid-17th century Rose and Crown, which was run by Edward Fussell may, though the location is also unclear, have been an earlier version of The Star itself. With so many pubs to choose from, there must have been some lively Saturday nights.
The Starr tankard is now on display in the museum, but in the process of discovering its history there was a lot more revealed about drinking habits in Steyning long ago.
The trail, a little surprisingly, leads to Steyning church. Anything the church had a hand in was noted down and the documents were stuffed into the church chest, where they stayed until the 20th century. Research into the Starr tankard relied on property transfers and lists of rentals. But the Church chest also held some small scraps of paper, often in the form of receipts for goods supplied or work done on behalf of the church.
During the last few months of 1796, The White Horse submitted an invoice to the church for 15 shillings for "Beer for the Ringers" and The Chequer Inn made two separate charges of five shillings each – again for "Beer for the Ringers". It was a long tradition that the bell ringers would be paid in beer but the equivalent of some 150 pints over three or four months is quite a lot, even allowing for the fact that there were six bells at that time and therefore, presumably, six ringers.
Beer also appears regularly as an expense on the accounts of tradesmen working on the church. William Welling seemed to have liked some of his payment in beer. In April 1796 he claimed for "Beer at ye White Horse and Chequer 11s. 4d." while he was working on repairs to the church tower and churchyard walls. In October he only claimed 10d for beer whilst doing a repair on the roof.
William Sturt, who was the publican at the Chequer at the time William Welling and his men were drinking some of their earnings, sold wine as well as beer. He publicised his establishment as offering "Neat wines of all sorts" - plus "Post-chaises and Able Horses with a Careful Driver". It might not come as a suprise, then, to know that Richard White from The White Horse sold communion wine to the church as well as beer. William Steer too, better known as the town's post-master, boosted his earnings by selling beer for the bell ringers.
Beer was seen as the honest Englishman's drink. William Cobbett described exactly how to make ale from, "two bushels of malted barley, forty gallons of water, a pound and a half of hops, half a pint of yeast and a handful of wheat or rye flour." Beer had long been brewed on the premises of pubs and inns, in farm houses and town house cellars. In medieval times even nuns had an allowance of eight pints a day and until 1835 the local workhouse served weak or so called 'small beer'.
In 1790, though, changes were afoot. Four Steyning brewers were recorded, competitors in a newly flourishing industry and forerunners of the two large breweries which later dominated the Steyning economy. Beer, however it was produced, was untainted by the smugglers' trade in spirits and the moral degeneration observed by those who named gin as the root cause of many social evils. The artist William Hogarth contrasted the attractions of "Beer Street" alongside the horrors of "Gin Lane" in one of his engravings.
Although the heyday of bingeing on gin was over by the 1790's, there was apparently a continuing thirst for it amongst some of Steyning's townsfolk. From a cache of documents found in a roof space we know that Philip Peckham was issued with a permit to purchase "4 gallons (1 cask) of Geneva (gin) from condemned stock for private use" in 1794. Can he have drunk all of that himself? If he had, he wouldn't have been in a fit state to go shopping. But he did.
One of Philip Peckham's grocery accounts reads much like any modern shopping list. He bought cheese, butter, sugar, candles, pepper, a basket of salt, tobacco and another drink – tea. At one shilling for a quarter of a pound of the cheapest black tea, it was well beyond the pocket of an unskilled labourer whose wage was about nine shillings a week.
William Cobbett would surely have approved of beer for the Steyning bell ringers but would have been scathing about Philip Peckham with his gin and, especially, his tea. He condemned tea as expensive to buy and to brew and "poison to the body and soul", involving "lost worktime" and "money lost by going to the pub to buy it".
So maybe it was tea and not beer which was thought of as 'the demon drink' in those days.