Complete Text - where ideas work harder Complete text | Where ideas work harder




Taken from the ebook

A Book About

Pub Names

by Elaine Saunders


Order online here




Barmaids and Skinkers Traditional trades and occupations in pubs

Pubs have formed the centre of British life for centuries.   From roadside tabernae founded by the Romans, through Dickensian coaching inns to the modern High Street pub, they've served the needs of residents and passing trade since time immemorial.

An industry this large needed a vast workforce to keep it running, and not just to serve behind the bar.   Even the smaller inns required a variety of employees with a range of skills to meet the demands of their customers.   On census returns, it's not unusual to find twenty or more staff at the larger coaching inns including blacksmiths, wheelwrights and clerks. 

Barmen were young and remained in the job a relatively short time before moving on.   Barmaids were less well paid than their male counterparts.   They were originally the wives and daughters of the owner, but in Victorian times it became usual to hire barmaids in the better class of pub, many of them living in.  


A tapster is the man working the tap on the barrel to draw the beer, otherwise known as a skinker or drawer.   Behind the scenes were the cellarman and his assistant, the cellarboy whilst the potman collected and washed the glasses.  


But none of these would have had a job had it not been for the brewers or bracers supplying the beer in the first place.   Unusually, it was a trade dominated by women, who not only brewed for their families but also ran large breweries.   Ale-wives or brewster-wives, also kept inns with more home comforts and even medical attention available, and were therefore well patronised.  


As well as brewers, the larger breweries employed malters or maltsters responsible for ensuring proper germination of cereals in the kiln.   By regulating the level of heat and germination the maltster produced the key ingredient that gave the beer its flavour and colour.   The barm brewer cultivated the brewers' yeast, a living organism that needed to be fed and kept free of contamination.  


The law once required that every new brew be tested by an ale-conner or ale founder, whose job it was to check quality and oversee prices.   Beer was taxed according to its strength but, as there was no scientific way of testing it, the ale-conner had to resort to more ingenious means.   He'd pour a little of the beer onto a wooden bench and then, wearing leather trousers, sit in it.   If the sugar content of the beer made it sticky enough to glue his trousers to the bench it would be deemed strong and taxed at a higher rate. 

Barrels were made by coopers who usually followed family members into the business and served an apprenticeship of between five and seven years.   Repairs on barrels were carried out by caulkers and the barrels were then filled by an ale-tunner.   A tun is an obsolete measurement, the largest size of barrel, equivalent to four hogsheads or 210 Imperial gallons.  


With such a valuable commodity breweries wanted to be certain that their product was stored and served correctly and so employed an abroad cooper.   These specialists went out (or abroad, hence the name) to pubs and rented storage facilities to supervise the care of the barrels and maturing beer.  


The breweries also employed abroad clerks who collected payments from publicans and dealt with the day-to-day running of the pubs owned by that brewery.   Far from being an obsolete title, the terms abroad cooper and abroad clerk were still in use in the 1950s.


A busy coaching inn also needed employees to look after carriages and horses.   The most important figure around the yard was the head porter, responsible for the smooth running of the transport side of the business.   It was customary to tip the head porter to ensure good service and some earned £5 a week over and above their wages - just under £400 at today's prices.  


He was in charge of the grooms and could even arrange employment on the coaches for a fee.   The ostler, or horsler, may been an oat-stealer, a common way for grooms to supplement their income.   Palfreymen specialised in looking after palfreys; horses specially trained to carry ladies side-saddle. 

Where the porter ruled the stable-yard the guard of the mail coach was king of the road and appointed directly by the Post Office.   He wore scarlet livery and was often a retired army officer, skilled with fire arms.   Guards were paid around ten shillings a week - £25 per annum - but with tips they could often clear between £300 and £500, estimated to be worth £24,000 to £45,000 today.   And that's without taking into account all the other moneymaking opportunities along the road.   As they were the first with news they regularly contributed articles to local newspapers and many smuggled game as no one had the authority to stop and search a Royal Mail coach. 


The coach-drivers themselves were also flamboyantly dressed and earned themselves the nickname flashman.   They wore an imitation beaver-skin hat and a coat made of box-cloth; a heavy, felted wool that was windproof, waterproof and invariably tan in colour.  

 Sometimes inns hired out their own carriages and coachmen on a daily rate, in which case the driver was known as a flyman.


The booking clerk secured places for passengers on the stagecoaches and was based at the inn.   Before issuing tickets he needed to be certain that space was available otherwise the cost of transporting that passenger - oftem by private carriage -came out of his wages.  


Before the railways and canals, all freight travelled by road meaning there was as much goods traffic as passengers passing through these inns.   Carriers or carters delivered locally or carried manufactured goods between towns.   The carters' assistants were known as nippers, usually young boys working for low pay.   Some inns catered solely to carriers and had wheelwrights, farriers, loriners (harness-makers) and vets based at their premises.  


The domestic services inside an inn were overseen by a housekeeper, often the wife or female relation of the owner.   Coach timetables meant short breaks for passengers and hastily-served meals so she had to ensure that the cooks and waitresses were working efficiently, both day and night.  


Travelling between towns meant overnight stays so rooms were constantly being changed by the army of chambermaids and cleaners, or charwomen.   Helping make the beds was the reassuringly named tucker-in and the award for the least enviable job must have gone to the necessary woman who emptied and cleaned the chamber-pots.  


Whilst most gentlefolk travelled with their own servants the larger hotels would have employed a ladies' maid or manservant for wealthier patrons.   Census returns show it was common to have a boot-catcher on the payroll to help patrons off with their long boots, together with a shoe-black to clean them.   


Old-style inns and taverns were as busy and as important as our modern pubs and hotels, and just as fully staffed.   Like motorway service-stations or railway termini, the coaching inns attracted ancillary trades such as vendors hoping for quick sales, or entertainers playing for pennies.   Add to this the craftsmen keeping carriages on the road, and farriers shoeing horses, and one begins to comprehend how busy and vibrant the inn yard would have been.  


Links the Worshipful Company of Brewers

  the Worshipful Company of Loriners

  brewing history resources, including glossary of brewing


  Carriers to London Inns.   Large lists of

                                                                                                carriers and their destinations



Barmaids and Skinkers is adapted from 


by Elaine Saunders 

This e-book takes over 200 of Britain's pub signs and puts them into their true historical context whilst detailing the political, religious, royal and social history that generated many of the names.   With chapters on the origins of pubs, old weights and measures and drinking quotations, this e-book is more than just a dictionary of pub signs.   Using the electronic format to the full, A BOOK ABOUT PUB NAMES is lavishly illustrated and contains dozens of links to related websites for further information, making it an invaluable online resource for anyone interested in British or brewing history.

Click here for further details, a list of contents and a free extract.

Or go direct to the sales page to order online 


Many people naively assume

 that their entire estates

will pass to their spouses

or children.  Unfortunately,

the Intestacy Rules say


Many people naively assume

 that their entire estates

will pass to their spouses

or children.  Unfortunately,

the Intestacy Rules say












For new ideas or a fresh slant, why not contact us?