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Which town has the most pubs for its size?

By Daniel Tetlow
BBC Radio 4, More or Less

Empty glasses in a pub
A seemingly easy question - just count the pubs, and the population, and that's the answer. But it's not that simple.

The British pub is part of the historic identity of many cities, towns and villages. And at least 25 claim to have the most pubs, among them Glasgow, Glastonbury, Bewdley, Bollington, Weymouth, Witney, Saffron Walden and St Albans.

So which is it? In an unscientific survey by BBC Radio 4's More or Less, one place appears to pull ahead of the pack - Manningtree in Essex, with five pubs and 900 people - that's 180 people per pub.

Also keen to claim the title are Otley, in West Yorkshire, with 21 pubs for 15,000 people, equalling 714 people per pub; Beeston in Nottinghamshire with 18 pubs for its population of 21,000; and Brighton and Hove, with 278 pubs for 250,000 residents.

The landlord of the Junction Inn
Tony Grey outside his pub in Otley
"Otley has many claims to fame, one which we like to be proud of is the fact that we have more pubs than any other town in the UK," says local landlord Tony Grey.

"Many other places claim it and they would, because it's a good way of attracting trade. But we know that we've got more than anybody else."

Think of all those thousands of stag and hen parties each weekend looking for somewhere new to try.

To understand why it's possible to get so many answers to one question, go back to the question itself - it's ambiguous. For a start, should the population as a whole be measured, or just those legally allowed to drink?

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Nor does the definition of "town" shed much light on the matter.

"A group or cluster of dwellings or buildings... an inhabited place larger and more regularly built than a village and having more complete and independent local government," says the Oxford English Dictionary. This probably counts out Manningtree and Otley.

Do bars and working men's clubs count? Is "size" the population, or physical size of the town? All these variables show how easy it is to claim this commercially prestigious title without much accuracy.

There's a historical reason why old market towns such as Manningtree and Otley are more likely to top the list. Old licensing laws permitted public houses to open all day on market days, usually two to four days a week, and this attracted more pubs to open in the town. This law continued through to 1988.

EastEnders' hen night
The title can help attract stags and hens, for better or worse

Some claim that the town of Rugby is in the Guinness Book of Records as having the greatest number of pubs, but the publisher says that Rugby holds no such title - and nor does any other town, as it has no record for number of pubs.

Mark Hastings, of the British Beer and Pub Association, says there are 57,500 pubs in the UK and more than 15 million people visit a pub each week. "It's a hotly contested competition as to which town has the most and why. Everyone wants to be number one in the number of pubs league."

What is more straightforward to pin down is the number one pub name. It's Red Lion, with 756 such establishments across the UK.


A selection of comments appears below.

I would like to nominate Alnwick in Northumberland for having over 16 pubs, a great place for a pub crawl!
Michelle, Dunstable , Beds

Surely Blackpool wins this. 50 night-clubs, and 400 pubs with a winter population of 100,000 ...
Richard Daniels, Munich Germany

Silloth must once have been a contender,2700 population and once 15 watering holes. Unfortunately, 4 have closed (2 since the smoking ban) leaving only 11. Cumberland Inn, the Albion, the Balmoral, the Golf Hotel, the Golf Club, the RAFA Club, The Social Club, The Solway Lido, The Sunset Inn, the Bowling Club, Sashas.
John Milne, Silloth Cumbria

Bute has 22 that I can think of with a population of around 7,000. 16 of these pubs are within a 5 minute walking distance of one another!
Sandra, Scotland

Beeston has 19 according to a national directory that is yellow-coloured. I like to think Beeston has a bit of class to its local brewery outlets - in order to work in the Last Post in Beeston, you have to be part barman, part lion tamer...
Mike H, Beeston, Nottingham

In the 1960s my school bus went through Dalton-in-Furness, a town with about 10,000 people. I used to amuse myself by counting the number of pubs I could see from the top deck of the bus. The most I found was 32 or 33. I haven't been back to Dalton for a while so don't know whether it still has as many now. Anyone from Dalton care to comment?
John Penny, Motherwell, Scotland

Limerick has a population of 91,000 and OVER 365 pubs - one for every day of the year.
K Harris, Limerick, Ireland

Quite a few of Otley's pubs have closed down in the last decade so I'm not sure it holds the title any more. Still makes a good pub crawl though.
Mandy, Otley, Yorkshire

Wooler in Northumberland has to be a contender with a population of about 2,000 and 7 pubs...
Nicola, London UK

When planning a pub crawl around Brighton a few years ago we found via GIS 26 pubs in a 1km square around the station, does that count?
Adam, Brighton

Ruddington in Nottinghamshire has seven pubs and two working men's clubs for a population of about 6,500 people. Although actually a village, that is by choice and is large enough to be a town. I always thought it was a very large number for such a small place.
Iain Thompson, York (formerly Ruddington)

St Annes in Alderney, the Channel Islands, has a population of 2,000 and nine pubs.
N Hogben, Margate, Kent

I went to university in Aberystwyth and one of the reasons for choosing this academic establishment is that I was told it had the highest ratio of pubs to people in the UK. At the time I was there the population was about 9,000 with another 6,000 students during term time. Excluding student bars, clubs and hotels I can think of at least 20 pubs and I am sure there are more.
Doug Wates, Farnborough

It was always said that there were 52 pubs in Aberystwyth - one for every week of the year. A group of us once worked out that there were in fact more than 60 if you counted bars and clubs - a lot for a town with a population of about 12,000 (plus 8,000 students). Apparently the number of pubs has now dropped to about 50, but this still seems to put it well ahead of the contenders here...
Eliot, Dubai (ex Aber)

What about York? It has well over 200 pubs and a population of about 175,000. Has to be in with a chance with figures like that.
Sozzled, York

This may be a typical university myth but when I was at York University I was told that there are more than 365 pubs within the city walls - meaning that you could visit a different pub each day of the year. However, I never counted them whilst I was there since I was working far too hard and besides, the bars on campus were within walking distance of my lodgings.
Adam Hawkes, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

Up until quite recently my home town of Barnsley in South Yorkshire had a publication called A Pub on ever Corner - apt, as it seemed there was a drinking establishment or two on every street. But many over recent years have been closed and turned into other businesses.
Ben Freeman, London, UK

Until 10 years ago Otley had TWO cattle markets operating on different days. Add to this a thriving local market in the historic marketplace, there was plenty of opportunity to exploit the licensing laws and open up a goodly number of pubs. As to the definition of town, Otley has its own town hall, council and originally courthouse. It is now considered part of Leeds but not all locals would agree.
Chris, Leeds




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