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Q: Pub meals in 1860s London ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Pub meals in 1860s London
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: kh22-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 24 May 2005 12:21 PDT
Expires: 23 Jun 2005 12:21 PDT
Question ID: 525123
How much would a weekday tavern supper cost for one person in London
in the early 1860s?
Subject: Re: Pub meals in 1860s London
Answered By: leli-ga on 25 May 2005 04:44 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello kh22 - nice to see you here again.

A short answer could be that 1 shilling and sixpence (eighteen pence
or 1s 6d) to 2 shillings is a fair guideline.

A longer answer about 1860s England has to mention social class. We
also have to take a quick look at what we mean by "pub" and "supper"!

Not all pubs served meals. Some, especially those with poorer
customers, were mainly for drinking, with the possibility of a snack.
Some taverns had full meals on offer, generally in a dining-room.  At
the end of this answer are some links to descriptions of different
kinds of pub (public house) and tavern in Victorian London.

The names and times of meals have varied in England over the years,
and have been different for different social classes. For the 19th
century upper classes, supper was a meal to be eaten after an evening
at the theatre. They ate dinner later than working people who tended
to eat their main meal (dinner) at one o'clock. A working class/lower
middle class supper would not have been a full cooked meal: more
likely bread and cheese with cold meat and extras for those who could
afford it.

Here are some examples of meals and prices:

1850: "Billingsgate market opens at 5 o'clock throughout the year. . .
. . Here every day (at 1 and 4), at the "One Tun Tavern" looking on
the river, a capital dinner may be had for eighteen-pence, including
three kinds of fish, joints, steaks, and bread and cheese."

1879: "A fish dinner of quite a different and more digestible class,
although 11 kinds of fish, and a selection of joints, are included in
the bill of fare, is served twice a day?at 1 and 4 ?at the ?The Tuns
Tavern,? Billingsgate, at 2s. ? about the price you are expected to
give the chambermaid at Greenwich when you wash your hands. But
although the price is low, and the accommodation a little rough, the
dinner is excellent. " (The writer is Charles Dickens' son.)

1850: "Among the many taverns that cook joints every quarter or half
an hour, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., (charge 2s. a head), we can recommend
the following : - Simpson's, at the Albion, over against Drury-lane
Theatre ; Simpson's, at the Cigar Divan, 102, Strand; and the Rainbow
Tavern, 15, Fleet-street. "

In 1873 a guide to London dining includes taverns, recognisable by
typical pub names like The Mitre or The King's Head:

"In the matter of dining London presents many aspects. The visitor may
dine well and respectably for a shilling, or luxuriously for a guinea.
He has all the choice between a quiet chop or a dish of meat and
vegetables, at rooms like Lake's in Gracechurch-st.. for about a
shilling or fifteenpence; . . . . Those who require a good dinner at a
moderate price may go to the London, the Rainbow, or the Mitre, in
Fleet St. . . .  If his taste and business take him to the City, he
will find himself well served at . . .  the King's Head,
Fenchurch-street, in which are capital billiard-rooms. A great variety
of dishes, and two, three, four, or five course dinners at very
moderate' prices, from one to ten shillings, may be obtained at the
City Restaurant, Milk-street, Cheapside, where there is a first-rate
smoking- room, a large, airy billiard-room, and special provision for
ladies. For real turtle and cold punch, there is Painter's, the Ship
and Turtle, in Leadenhall-street, and the well-known Birch's, in
Many excellent hotels and taverns have a luncheon-bar, at which during
the day you may have a chop, or a snack for sixpence, or a plate of
hot meat, with vegetables and bread, for about eightpence.  These are
to be found in the Strand, Fleet-street, Holborn, and the City."

In some pubs you could get a "a porkpie and a glass of ale at a bar
for a few pence".

Street salesmen brought snacks into some downmarket pubs in the
mid-nineteenth century.
For instance, "whelks are sold at the stalls at two, three, four, six,
and eight a penny . . .  For sale in the public-houses, the whelks are
most frequently carried in jars, and transferred in a saucer to the
consumer. "There's often a good sale," said a man familiar with the
business, "when a public room's filled. People drinking there always
want to eat. They buy whelks, not to fill themselves, but for a
relish." (1853)

1899 at the Cheshire Cheese, the pub famous for its association with
Dr. Johnson, and it is "pudding night". The pudding of "lark and
kidney and oyster and steak" is served at 6.30.:

" This was [my bill] ?Ye rump steak pudding, 2s.; vegetables, 2d.;
cheese, 4d.; beer, 5d.; total, 2s. 11d." (2 shillings and 11 pence)

Supper was a lesser occasion than midday dinner for most people. If
the "lower" classes ate supper away from home, it was probably just a
snack. Here's an illustration of the social differences around supper
in 1859:

"The children of the aristocracy and some sections of the middle
classes are gone to bed - save those who have been so good that their
fond parents have taken them to the play, which entertainment they are
now enjoying, with delightful prospects superadded of "sitting up" to
supper, perchance of oysters, afterwards. But the children of the poor
do not dream of bed. They are toddling in and out of chandlers' shops
in quest of ounces of ham and fragments of Dutch cheese for father's
supper . . "

Dinner times for gentlemen (scroll down):

Late 19th century prices for a gentleman diner at the end of most chapters here:

Public Houses

Different kinds of pub 1859:

1858 pubs

City eating places c.1850

Hope this helps! I was guided by background knowledge of Victorian
England, and found most of the excerpts on this website full of
fascinating source material:

You can search the site here:

Just ask if you have a query about any of this. 

Best Wishes - Leli
kh22-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $2.00
Excellent answer in all respects

Subject: Re: Pub meals in 1860s London
From: leli-ga on 26 May 2005 08:54 PDT
Thank you very much indeed!

I enjoyed answering this question, and I'm glad it helped you.


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