Inns & ale houses
Considering the dark, dank conditions of the cottages and hovels in which most farm labourers of the time lived, it is not surprising that many sought the warmth and light of the ale house or inn. An ale house was a cottage where the wife brewed the ale, and customers sat at the kitchen table to drink it; East Meon and its tithings would have had several. Ale was safer than the polluted water of the time. Even children drank ‘small’ (weak) beer and the parish brewed ‘church ale’, which it provided to the poor and gave to parishioners on feast days. (Hops had been introduced from the Netherlands in the fifteenth century, and their addition gave the brew a more bitter flavour and converted traditional ‘ales’ into ‘beer’. There many hop fields in Langrish and East Meon, and some continued into the 20th century.)
Nearly a hundred years later, after the Restoration, we have this record of the assignment of the lease of the George Inn to Gregory Mallory. A clerk has signed, in rather wobbly handwriting, the name of the Bishop of Winchester; the Inn had presumably been confiscated and perhaps closed down during the Commonwealth, and subsequently restored to the diocese. The George we see today was built in the 17th century and Gregory Mallory may have been responsible, following a lean time for inns during the Commonwealth, for rebuilding an earlier hostelry with a more substantial building. The other inn was the Angel, in the Cross – today, named Cross Cottages. Because no coinage was issued during the Commonwealth, some businesses issued their own coinage; a farthing survives, issued by the Angel with, on its obverse ‘JOHN WHITCOMBE AT YE .. the blank space is filled with a representation of an angel … and on the reverse IN EAST MEANE.66 MW.’’66 refers to the year 1666.
Ale houses and inns were looked down on by the righteous as places where the ‘undeserving poor’ spent money which should have been used to support and feed their families. Nonetheless, the early modern parish was obliged by law to look after those who were unable to do so for themselves.