MA at 225

‘We started selling beer from our living room and now we have a pub’

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Enterprising: Mr Miggins launched a successful pub business in the 1800s
Enterprising: Mr Miggins launched a successful pub business in the 1800s

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Minnie Miggins and her husband Frank launched London’s Old Moon in the 1830s. While recent changes in law have thrown a few hurdles in the way of the business, new styles of beer and increasing footfall have seen things go from strength to strength.

The operator

Mr Miggins and me started what is now the Old Moon from our living room just a few years ago, inviting travellers, locals and the likes in to drink home-brewed ales for a price.

It all started when Mr Miggins, who goes by the name Frank, took a tumble when working on the River Thames as a lighterman. He was going about his usual tasks, transferring goods to and from the big ships docked in the

Thames to land, when he lost his footing in a bit of bad weather and fell overboard. The thought of dying and leaving his wife and young ’uns behind gave him such a fright.

He was fine, made of hard stuff my Frank is, but he came on the idea of a sideline business me and the kids could do to earn a crust should he snuff it. And that’s when he thought up selling me ales, which he’s always said were the best he’s ever had, and Mr Miggins has drunk a lot of ale in his life.

I’ve always brewed, since before leaving me ma and pa’s house to marry Frank and start a family of me own.

The pub

When the Beer Act came in a few years back (1830) we thought we could make more of what we had and bought a licence for one guinea (£1.05 in futuristic Britain). We did it so people knew we was respectable and because we was serious about making this work and, over the years, it’s become a good money maker.

We carried on from our living room for a year and a bit, but it all got busy and hectic having all those strangers under the roof.

When the Browns moved from next door and the building was empty, we enquired with the landlord about taking it off his hands. Luckily he was in good spirits and, from the money we’d made selling from our living room, as well as Frank’s earnings, we were able to snatch up what is now the Old Moon and made it into a public house.

Instead of pouring beers from barrels in the back room and bringing it out to the punters, as we did when we was selling from our house, Frank has built me a nice high table to serve from, which also separates me from the riff raff. We were ever so fortunate Frank came across some hand pumps while on his river duties, which we now use to pour the ale with.

The offer

It’s a handsome public house with a main room to drink in downstairs and some beds upstairs for travellers who need somewhere to kip for a night or two when in town or passing through.

We do get some curious folk coming through the door, but most people are polite and we welcome anyone who gives us no bother. If you come with trouble though, you’ll get the back of my hand and find yourself out on your arse sharpish.

In the main room – where all the punters drink – there’s a big open fire for warming by, which is where most of the older gents sit for hours on end, smoking their pipes and reading The Morning Advertiser.

We’ve a long table in the middle of the room and benches and seats around, with some smaller tables, which Mr Miggins makes in his spare time. He said he’d make us more tables to make things more comfortable.

The windows are small in the main room. It is bright on a sunny day, but we usually have some candles lit to make seeing a little easier and, on gloomy days and in the evenings, we bring more out.

To stay upstairs for a night doesn’t cost a lot, but you’ll get a good meal in the evening and a fine breakfast of bacon, bread and, if we’ve got any, eggs in the morning. We have servants who help take care of the punters and make sure things are clean and orderly.

Frank still has his job on the Thames, so he leaves me to look after things here, but when he’s around he’ll sit and talk with the folk and might help out with the serving if it gets busy.

The food

People from out of town usually want feeding and some of the locals eat here, especially the single men. If the married ones have taken too much ale, I’ll tell them to have some bread and cheese before they go on home to their wives. But in these parts, people don’t usually come to an ale house for food, not like the posh sort who frequent the chop houses and such in the City.

I learnt my cooking from ma who always told me that if you feed a man good proper food then he’ll never stray. So, I save my best for husband and make what I can for the paying public.

The food changes a lot, but what I usually have is the likes of bread, mutton, cheese and pies if I have time. We might do some beef, pigeon, cold cuts or things like cabbage and potatoes, but it depends what I can get my hands on.

We don’t do nothing fancy here, but I’ve never had any complaints. I’d pay no notice to someone complaining either, because people come in here to drink mostly.

The drinks

We’re now fortunate enough to buy beer from the brewers and I’ll take what is offered, as long as it tastes good and comes at the right price. We get draymen coming from the breweries around London and sometimes from outside of the city, but that’s not really a common thing.

I’ve stopped making my own ale because I rarely have the time to give to it. Ale is still popular, but with people putting hops in things these days, many are asking for beer.

We serve a range of beers and have had to put more hand pulls in. We’ve got three at the moment and I’d like a couple more.

Frank will often come home with a barrel of something, either by luck or as an extra payment for his services from one of the ship’s captains if he’s done good by them.

We go through barrel after barrel, sometimes up to 10 a day, depending on how busy we are.

We’ve been offered money from brewers in the city to make things easier for us, but we’d have to sell only their beer in return and that’s not something that sits right by me – I’ve heard some right horrid stories about tying yourself to a brewer.

We’ve usually got a barrel of brandy and port in as well, but we don’t go through much of that. There’s plenty of places around doing gin too, but we’ve not really got the appetite from the punters for it here.

The events

I don’t know what you mean by events. We’re too busy to be putting on special occasions if that’s what you mean. We toasted the King’s birthday every year until he passed, God rest his soul, and we celebrated the Queen’s Coronation by raising a glass.

Well, I suppose you could say there’s a bit of an event every so often around cock fighting, but it’s ever so messy and it gets the men in such a fluster when they lose that I try to stop it from happening. But Frank’s a big fan of the cock fighting, so he’ll make it happen no matter how much I try to dissuade him.

The trade

I hear that since the Beer Act came in, more than 30,000 beer houses opened and I’ve been told there were also more than 50,000 public houses too. I think husband and me came into it at the right time and that we also made the right decision to open up our own public house because I don’t see beer houses lasting.

We now have to pay three times more for our beer licence because some people can’t handle their ale.

There’s been rowdy behaviour from drunken louts and so the government has been careful to try and stamp it out. I blame the owners who aren’t strict with their customers.

If business keeps growing like it is though, then I think we’ll have a fine public house business to pass on to our little ones in the future.

The future

Although there is a lot of folk looking to drink in establishments like ours, I want to make things different to what others are doing.

We’re getting more people asking for spirits, so I’ll be talking to Frank about getting some barrels in and seeing what sells.

When Frank leaves the waterways, which he could do now and works here with me all the time, then I’ll get him working on making this place friendlier to the eye.

I’d like to have some gas lighting installed. There’s already gas on the street outside and we’ve got a few fittings in our home, so it would be safer and less costly in the long run to have it installed in here too.

I want my tables, stools and chairs to all match, and I want to hire more staff, so we’ll be putting a letter in The Morning Advertiser seeking help too.

That aside, things will be much the same as far as I see it. What else could happen? People will always want a good drink of beer or ale and I think public houses will carry on as they are.

  • This fictitious My Pub is based on past reports, social history from the time as well as some creative licence. It is as historically accurate as possible

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