Copyright Dr. David Cross, all rights reserved, first loaded to website 16th September 2012.

Our thanks to Mark Dennison of BBC Radio Nottingham for discussing this issue with the author on his show on Tuesday 16th October 2012. Our thanks also to Notts TV for discussing this research with David on the ‘6.30 Show’ on 12th June 2015.

Please note: numbers in brackets e.g. (2) refer to the References, found at the bottom of this article.


Nottingham has three pubs which have variously claimed in recent decades to be ‘the oldest Inn in England’ – The Bell on Angel Row, The Salutation on Hounds Gate and The Trip to Jerusalem in Brewhouse Yard (at the foot of castle rock), the latter two having been the most active in their claims (4), (5), (6), (7). In 1998 Tony Robinson, of TV’s Channel 4 program ‘Time Team‘ fame, filmed an episode of an offshoot series, ‘History Hunters‘, to investigate this very question (8). The Trip (as it is locally known) has had this claim boldly painted in large letters on its exterior walls since at least 1937 (3), (7). While many claims have been made, commonly little or no evidence has been offered to support them (9), (10), (11). This current Article seeks to present the referenced facts, in order for a considered judgement to be made on the claims of these various pubs to be ‘the oldest’.

Defining ‘the oldest inn’

We adopt here the following definition, as derived in Appendix 1:

 “The oldest building which is currently a pub (or Inn) and has the oldest history of being a pub (or Inn), where a significant part of the original above-ground structure still exists as part of the existing building”.

While it is difficult enough to find historical evidence for the existence of a given building, it is far more difficult to establish the use of any centuries-old building from reliable documentary sources. This article therefore focusses primarily on evidence for building age.

The Nottingham Claimants

Bell Inn Nottingham.jpg

1. The Bell Inn, Angel Row


The Claims

The Bell has painted on its exterior the claim ‘the oldest Inn in Nottingham’ with a date of 1437 AD. The pub’s website however makes no such claim (11). One source (12), which is no longer available, described how the building had originally been two separate buildings – a pub called ‘The Angel’ on the left (as you look at the current pub front from the street) and another pub called ‘The Bell’ on the right, with the current doorway marking the original alleyway between the two buildings. This was said to be shortly after the outbreak of Bubonic plague in 1349. If this is true, much rebuilding work has been carried out since, so that whatever might be left of these original two buildings (if anything) is now merged into the current structure. The name ‘The Bell’ (and presumably also ‘The Angel’) is said to derive from the Angelus bell associated with a Carmelite Friary said to have been established on nearby Friar Lane in the late 1200’s (13). The first written historical record of the pub is said to be 1638 (12), (13) although the building is thought to be much older than this date. One internet source (13) gives a date of ‘around 1420’ for the original construction of The Bell derived from Dendrochronology (dating of timber by tree-ring evidence), but this work is not referenced and this date is probably slightly in error (see below). This same source suggests that the original building was a refectory for one of the nearby religious establishments, but no evidence is given for this. The Bell has extensive caves beneath it, many of the accessible, upper ones being used as the pub cellars. The age of these caves is not known, although ‘Norman’ origins have been claimed (with no evidence given) (11).

The Evidence

Dendrochronology (19) provides a date for timber, based on a study of the tree-ring data from a core sample extracted from the wood. An expert dendrochronologist will sample the most appropriate timbers of a building for testing. In the absence of written historical records this can provide possibly the most accurate date for a structure. A study published in 1996 from the Nottingham University Tree-ring Dating Laboratory (14) gave a date range of 1432 to 1442 for timbers from The Bell. This date range is a fairly typical dendrochronology result, with any date in the range being as likely as another, and with a reliability for this date range of 99% (15). The date claimed by The Bell and painted on the front of the building is 1437, which is the mid-point of this date range and is therefore a reasonable claim (as every date in the range 1432 to 1442 AD is as likely as one another, they could equally well claim the oldest date of 1432). The website for the History Hunters program (20) describes the oldest documentary evidence for the building as being from the court rolls for 1641-89 for properties in Angel Row, where there is an entry for The Bell from 1647. From the dendrochronology dating, it appears fairly certain that the oldest parts of the current Bell Inn date from between 1432 and 1442 AD.

Earliest Use as an Inn

The earliest documentary evidence for use of the building as an Inn (or indeed for the building itself) is 1638. The Will of Robert Sherwin from this year “bequeathed the revenues of a half-part of this inn to be divided amongst the three parishes of Nottingham” (27). An earlier reference quoted above (12) suggested that the current building evolved from two adjacent earlier pubs from perhaps the late 1300’s, although no documentary evidence for this is given. The 1638 reference would seem ample to merit inclusion as a contender for the ‘oldest inn’ in the definition given above.

Salutation Inn Nottingham 600px.jpg

2. The Salutation Inn, Hounds Gate

The Claims

The date 1240 AD has been painted on the building exterior since at least the mid-1950’s (16) and the pub’s own website claims this date for the current building, also stating that it was then a leather tannery, with living accommodation above for the tanner (9). A past landlord claimed that the 1240 date, or an even earlier date of 1210, related not to the current building but a previous building on the same site, also said to be a tannery (5). As the Salutation name is thought to have a religious origin, possible connections to a nearby early medieval monastery have been suggested (9). The excellent (and publicly accessible) cave system beneath the Salutation was investigated in 1937 by The Thoroton Excavating Section (later becoming the Nottingham Archaeological Society (30)). They attributed the cave system to the Saxon era (i.e. pre-Norman conquest) (31). Dates of 500 AD (32), (33) and 800 AD (34), (35) have been given for the caves, but no good evidence is known.

The Evidence

Only a small part of the current building would be claimed to date from the medieval period, as the southern-most parts of the current building (facing St Nicholas Street) are brick-built and obviously of a much later era. The currently white-painted north side of the building (bordering Hounds Gate) is again only partly original. The north-western corner of the building (nearest Maid Marian Way) was rebuilt around 1960, when adjacent buildings to the west on Hounds Gate were demolished for construction of the current Maid Marian Way road (17). There is nevertheless enough remaining of the original structure to easily meet the definition suggested in Appendix 1. Dendrochronology dating was carried out on timbers from The Salutation in 1992 but this work has never been published (18). The author was advised verbally in 2000 by a previous landlord that the date found was 1441 and this specific date (in this case, dating was possible to a particular year, rather than a date range) was confirmed for this article by Robert Howard, of the Nottingham Tree-Ring Dating Laboratory, who carried out the dating work (29). (Two newspaper articles from 1992 give this same date (4), (6), although a third (5) gives a different date of 1432, which confuses an ‘outer ring’ date with the true date of the sample). The History Hunters website (21) gives a date for the dendrochronology of 1440, and one of the program’s experts, Dr Philip Dixon, Reader in Medieval Archaeology at the University of Nottingham, advised that the building’s crown post roof ‘would have a date no later than 1450’. Claimed documentary evidence for a building on the site from 1240 has not been confirmed by research for this article, but it would seem from the above evidence that this would certainly be a previous structure and not any part of the current building. The above evidence would clearly suggest that the oldest timbers of The Salutation are contemporaneous with the oldest timbers of The Bell – between 1432 and 1442.

Earliest Use as an Inn

The History Hunters research (8) showed the earliest documentary evidence for the use of the current building as an Inn to date back to 1725, when fire insurance records show that a Samuel Hudson was the landlord. On the same website (8) “The Salutation’s own version of its history” section states that the building was a pub during the English Civil War (1642-1649) and had to change its name to ‘The Soldier and Citizen’ to placate the puritan victors, but no evidence is given for this claim. This same source suggests that the earlier building on this site in 1414 was “a hostel for weary travellers and journeymen” – or in other words, a pub or Inn. Again, no evidence is given, but this gives some support to use of the site (but not the current building) as a pub in antiquity.

Trip to Jerusalem Inn Nottingham 600px.j

3. The Trip to Jersusalem, Brewhouse Yard

The Claims

As noted above, ‘The Trip’ has had the claim “the oldest Inn in England” painted on its walls for at least 75 years (3), (7). For several years up to the mid-2000’s, the pub’s website had the bold title “We are the oldest Inn in England – and that’s a fact!” (22). The current management team have removed this assertion and instead state that the current building is no older than 1650 to 1660 (23). The Trip’s main claim to being ‘the oldest’ would seem to be based on the likelihood that it stands on the site of the original brew house for Nottingham Castle. In addition, many of the rear elevations of the current building are comprised of natural sandstone rock, claimed to be the walls of caves cut into the rock face and thought to date back to shortly after the founding of the Castle in 1067. These caves are claimed to have been part of the brew house for the Castle (10).

The Evidence

Perhaps the most interesting evidence in the case of The Trip is John Speed’s map (24) of 1610, which shows no buildings on the current site of The Trip. The 1650-1660 date would therefore fit with this observation. The original medieval Nottingham Castle was destroyed in 1651 shortly after the end of the Civil War (26), so that a new building around this time at the very foot of the Castle rock would seem quite possible. The History Hunters website (8) gives a dendrochronology date of 1585 attributed to Robert Howard (15). When contacted by the author however, Mr Howard was unable to verify this or any other dendrochronology date for this building, advising that no samples had been obtained which were good enough for reliable dating (25). The History Hunters website also states that no archaeological evidence has been found at this location for buildings from before the 1600’s, and that the team were unable to find any evidence in documents relating to the area from the 1200’s about either a brew house or an Inn. The oldest documentary evidence found by the History Hunters team for a building on this site appeared to date back to 1688.

Earliest Use as an Inn

The earliest documentary evidence from the History Hunters research (8) in 1688 mentioned above was a probate inventory for a George Thorpe. This mentions brewing materials and it is therefore assumed that the building was in use as a brew house or a pub at this time, some 20 to 30 years after it was built. In 1760 the building was specifically recorded as a pub by the name of The Pilgrim, this being changed by 1799 to the current name of the Trip to Jerusalem (28).


Oldest Inns From The Rest of England

A comprehensive investigation of the claims for the many pubs throughout England claiming to be the ‘oldest’ would be an extensive task indeed and is outside the scope of this article. Our principal aim is to answer the question – is there likely to be an older pub in England outside Nottingham, than within the City?

The first point of reference for most ‘records’ (in terms of the oldest, biggest, fastest, etc.) is usually ‘Guinness World Records’ (known up to 2000 as the ‘Guinness Book of Records’ (36)). The last entry for ‘the oldest pub in England’ was in the 1997 edition (37), under ‘Buildings for Leisure>Bars & Public Houses>Oldest pubs’. This short section did not give a definitive ‘oldest pub’ but advised the following:

  • The Fighting Cocks, St. Albans, Hertfordshire – building dates from the 1000’s (11th century) on a site developed from the 700’s (8th century).

  • The Royalist Hotel, Stow on the Wold, Gloucestershire – building dates to 947 AD and was a pub called ‘The Eagle and Child’ in the 1200’s (13th century).

  • Ye Olde Ferry Boat Inn, Holywell, (nr. Huntingdon) Cambridgeshire – building dates from 1100 AD.

  • The Bingley Arms, Bardsey, West Yorkshire – the building was ‘The Priest’s Inn’ in 905 AD.

Precisely what investigations The Guinness Book of Records carried out to verify these claims is unclear (37), but it is assumed that some degree of sound evidence would have been required for inclusion in this publication.

The Fighting Cocks, St. Albans, has some unreferenced information on its own website (38) with enquiries directly to the pub revealing no further information (39). A considerable part of the building’s apparently medieval octagonal structure is still evident, the shape being claimed to derive from its original purpose of a dovecote (38).

The Royalist Hotel, Stow on the Wold, appears to be largely a more modern structure from the outside views, although the adjoining Eagle and Child pub appears medieval. Again, scant detail appears on the pub’s website with no historical references (40).

Ye Olde Ferry Boat Inn, Holywell, has very little historical detail on it’s website (41) and enquiries directly to the pub revealed nothing further (42).

The Bingley Arms, Bardsey, claims on it’s website (43) that: “… the pub is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest in Britain”, which is not an accurate reflection of the Guinness Book of Records entry. The website further claims a ‘known history’ back to 953 AD, with a possible origin of 905 AD, but with no supporting references.

None of these buildings have any dendrochronology dating published on the Vernacular Architecture Group (VAG) website (14).

No doubt many more English pubs could be added to this list of claimants.


From the above evidence, it can clearly be seen that Nottingham’s Trip to Jerusalem, the City’s most voluble claimant to be the oldest Inn in England, is around 220 years younger than The Bell or The Salutation (in terms of age of the buildings). The Salutation and The Bell both date from the same period (1441 for the Salutation, anywhere between 1432 and 1442 for The Bell). If any claim can be made on the basis of building age, The Bell and The Salutation must be considered as the ‘joint oldest’ Inns in Nottingham.

The dates for evidence of use of the buildings as an Inn shows that all 3 were in use as a pub around 300 years ago, and probably much earlier, but evidence is so lacking that no definitive claim can be made on this basis.

If claims are to be made on the basis of underlying caves, then The Salutation could probably claim the oldest in terms of age, although The Trip may have the edge in terms of probable use involving beer. However, in the absence of any hard evidence for even the age, let alone the use, of all of these caves, all such claims must remain anecdotal.

The claims for building age of all four of the pubs from elsewhere in England, given in the 1997 Guinness Book of Records, pre-date the oldest Nottingham claimant by around 300 to 500 years, and by a similar huge margin based on building use. While the evidence for these four Guinness Book of Records claimants has not been verified for this article, their claims do indicate that it is highly unlikely, if not almost impossible, that any of Nottingham’s three claimants could come anywhere close to the title of the ‘oldest pub in England’, on any basis.

Nottingham could perhaps claim to have the most active claimants for ‘the oldest Inn in England’ – where else has had an historical TV program dedicated to this very claim? The Salutation could probably claim to be the medieval pub with the most extensive underlying cave system which is easily accessible to the public (a fantastic local tourist attraction). The Trip might claim to be the most active national claimant for the title of ‘oldest Inn in England’, or the most atmospheric pub in England, with its rear elevation being cut out of the solid rock on which Nottingham Castle is built, or perhaps the oldest rock-walled pub with a haunted galleon (44).

Whatever views are taken based on the above evidence, Nottingham can certainly claim some of the most historic and well-worth-visiting pubs in England!



‘Pub’ or ‘Inn’?

To deal with the simplest part first, a “pub”, short for ‘public house’, is a premises ‘… licensed for the sale and consumption of alcoholic drink …’ (1).  By contrast, an ‘Inn’ is defined as ‘a pub or small hotel providing food and accommodation‘ (2). An Inn is therefore a pub with rooms for overnight stays.

‘Inn’ is often used as a more upmarket word for ‘pub’, whether accommodation is offered or not. Most would probably agree that to claim to be the ‘oldest Inn in England’ sounds preferable to ‘the oldest pub in England’.

These two terms are however commonly used interchangeably in modern English and for the purposes of this article will be taken as meaning the same. To treat them as different would add even more complexity to an already difficult question.

What is the ‘oldest’?

An obvious definition might be: Trial Definition 1: “A pub which has been a pub for the longest time”.

Apart from the fact that tracing a building’s use over many centuries is likely to prove impossible with any certainty, the problem with this definition is as follows. Imagine a building which is 400 years old, and has been a pub for all of that 400 years. Then imagine a building which is 800 years old, but has only been a pub for the last 100 years. It seems fairly certain that the second one would strenuously claim the title of ‘oldest pub’, by virtue of being the oldest building, even though the former had actually been a pub for quadruple the time.

Trial Definition 2: “The oldest building that is currently a pub”.

Not only does this seem unfair to our 400 year old pub example above, but what if a 1000 year old building, which has never been a pub in its life, is now converted to one? That would not seem to deserve the ‘oldest pub’ title.

Trial Definition 3: “The oldest building which is currently a pub and has the oldest history of being a pub”.

This is not very specific and is similar to various legal rulings which rely on what is ‘reasonable’. Trying to decide what constitutes ‘reasonable’ takes up much legal time. In Trial Definition 3, deciding what constitutes the ‘longest history’ is open to interpretation, but may be the best solution. For example, if we had an 800 year old building which was known to have been a pub 600 to 700 years ago and intermittently since, this would take precedence over another 800 year old building which was probably used for other purposes up until a 100 years ago. Similarly, a 1000 year old building which has only been a pub for the last 200 years would lose out to a younger 600 year old building which is known to have been a pub early in its life and for various periods afterwards, and still is today. The evidence for use of the building in antiquity would be key to this definition. Following the example in Trial Definition 1 above, the 400 year old building which had been a pub continuously for those 400 years would lose out to an 800 year old pub, if the older pub could prove it had been a pub more than 400 years ago. The 400 year old pub could certainly claim to be perhaps the ‘oldest continuously active pub’, but could not claim the prized title of ‘the oldest’.

However, still further clarification is needed.

What is the ‘oldest building‘

What constitutes a ‘building’ must also be defined.

Many would seem happy to claim theirs to be the ‘oldest building’ when in fact they mean that their building is on the site of an even older building, of which little or nothing (perhaps foundations) may remain. If this definition were allowed, it would be possible to erect a modern building of glass and chrome on the site of an ancient Inn and then claim to be the oldest pub – any visitors expecting ‘olde worlde charm’ would then be sorely disappointed and this definition would not seem logical or reasonable.

In Nottingham, we have  the specific question of buildings built over, and/or in front of, much older sandstone rock caves. Is it appropriate to claim to be the ‘oldest’ building by virtue of the age of the caves, and not the building? Again, this hardly seems appropriate, even when a cave forms part of a wall of one of the rooms of the building, or when the caves are still in active use as cellars. Following the example above, a modern building built over old caves would hardly seem to constitute ‘the oldest’, so why should a medieval building built over even older caves claim the age of the caves rather than that of the structure?

Most old buildings have been extended, strengthened and improved over the centuries, with the original parts of the building sometimes being almost lost in the process. How much of the original building must remain in order for the whole premises to be able to make a claim of ‘the oldest’? Some would claim that the existence of foundations of an older structure beneath a newer building give it a rightful claim, but a great number of very modern buildings in ancient cities throughout the world could lay claims to the ‘oldest’ on such a basis. Going back to our legal definition of ‘reasonable’, we would suggest that a ‘significant’ part of the original above-ground (i.e. not caves) structure must still be present. An entire room, or section of the building from ground level up to the roof structure, would seem ideal as ‘significant’, even if this now only constitutes a small part of the whole building. By contrast, a few wooden beams, a single wall, or an original floor, would not appear ‘significant’.

We therefore arrive at a definition of the ‘oldest pub’ as follows:

 “The oldest building which is currently a pub (or Inn) and has the oldest history of being a pub (or Inn), where a significant part of the original above-ground structure still exists as part of the existing building”.


(Please note – links shown are not live)

  1. Collins online dictionary at, accessed on 22/06/12.

  2. Collins online dictionary at accessed on 22/06/12.

  3. The website, accessed on 28/06/2012, contained an image of the Trip to Jerusalem dated around 1920 which had no claim the ‘the oldest’ on its walls. Other photos show that such claims were visibly painted on the Inn exterior from around the 1940’s. Many dates for the images are however uncertain.

  4. Nottingham Evening Post, 30th May 1992.

  5. Nottingham Recorder and Weekly Post, No.557. 3rd September 1992

  6. Nottingham Evening Post 3rd October 1992.

  7. see photograph in Nottingham Evening Post, Monday 5th July 1937.

  8. ‘History Hunters’, episode 3, first screened on 5th December 1998 on Channel 4. No copy was available online or for purchase according to Channel 4 (personal communication in 2011). No published account of this program’s findings are known but a website published by Channel 4 at the time of the original programs in 1998 was still available in July 2012 at This website gives a detailed breakdown of each programs’ content but does not give a definitive answer to the question of which is ‘the oldest’ Inn.

  9., accessed 30th June 2012.

  10. accessed 30th June 2012.

  11. accessed 30th June 2012.

  12., accessed between January and June 2011, but no longer existing at July 2012.

  13. accessed 19th July 2012.

  14. rn=3&CFID=2067&CFTOKEN=9EE56293-C758-4EC5-971A3408D3D9C95D – Vernacular Architecture vol 27, p87, accessed via the Vernacular Architecture Group (VAG) website at, >Dendochronolgy Database, on 19th July 2012. Volume 27 was publsihed in 1996 (see    accessed 19th July 2012).

  15. Personal email communication on 29th June 2011 from Robert Howard, formerly of the Nottingham University Tree-ring Dating Laboratory, currently of the Nottingham Tree- Ring Dating Laboaratory (

  16. The website, accessed on 19th July 2012, contained an image of the Salutation dated around 1956 which shows the date of 1240 on its walls.

  17. Photograph NTGM005269 on website (accessed 19th July 2012), attributed to the Nottingham Evening Post from 1960, clearly shows the modern breeze-block construction of the corner of the current Salutation Inn on the Maid Marian Way/Hounds gate quarter of the structure.

  18. Simon P Heald, University of Nottingham (Dept. of Archaeology) undergraduate thesis 1992. The University of Nottingham has no records of undergraduate thesis prior to 1995 when computerised records began (personal telephone communication, Aug 2011). No contact details for Mr Heald have been found.

  19. See for example: accessed on 24th July 2012.

  20. see (accessed 24th July 2012). This documentary evidence was not verified for this article but is accepted as true. The dendrochronology evidence is for a much older date.

  21. accessed 24th July 2012.

  22. the author’s own observations on many occasions.

  23. accessed on 24th July 2012, quoting apparently the publication “The Legends and History of Britain’s   Oldest Inn: Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, 1189 AD” by Rowan A Kemp, published by Hardys & Hansons plc (brewery), 1994.

  24. see for example (accessed 24th July 2012).

  25. Personal email communication on 23rd June 2011 from Robert Howard, formerly of the Nottingham University Tree-ring Dating Laboratory, currently of the Nottingham Tree-Ring Dating Laboaratory (

  26. “Nottingham’s Royal Castle and Ducal Palace”, Andrew Hamilton, Nottingham Civic Society, 1999.

  27. J Holland Walker “An itinerary of Nottingham: Angel Row”, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 36 (1932), quoted in, accessed 30th July 2012.

  28. Harry Gill, “The Old Inns of Brewhouse Yard”, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, XIII (1909), quoted in accessed 30th July 2012.

  29. Personal email communication on 30th July 2012 from Robert Howard, formerly of the Nottingham University Tree-ring Dating Laboratory, currently of the Nottingham Tree-Ring Dating Laboaratory (

  30. The Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire Commemorative Booklet, quoted at, accessed 30th July 2012.

  31. Nottigham Evening News, 25th May, 1937.

  32. Nottingham Evening Post, 4th August 1979.

  33. Nottingham Topic, August 1978.

  34. Nottingham Observer, March 1957.

  35. Nottingham Evening Post, 7th May 1985.

  36. accessed 31st July 2012.

  37. confirmed by personal communication by email on 21st July 2011 from UK & International Press Office. When asked what sort of verification was carried out for these entries, the reply was that it was: “… based on researches made by our team.”

  38. accessed 31st July 2012.

  39. Telephone enquiry to The Fighting Cocks pub on 6th July 2012. A book has apparently been written covering the history of the pub, but neither the pub nor the local Tourist Information Office were able to provide any details of this publication.

  40. accessed 31st July 2012.

  41. accessed 31st July 2012.

  42. Telephone enquiry to The Olde Ferry Boat Inn on 6th July 2012 – no one currently working at the pub was said to know anything specific about its history, the pub now being owned by a national chain and ‘most staff being young’

  43. accessed 31st July 2012.

  44. accessed 1st Aug 2012.