Times Group historians PERCY REBOUL and JOHN HEATHFIELD recall the rise of brewing and pubs in Barnet

The British pub is among the greatest of our national institutions. And so is the art of brewing beer.

In medieval times, the drinking water from wells was decidedly unhealthy and many people preferred to brew and drink their own beer which was made by fermenting a mixture of barley and hops which purified the water used to make it. The remnants of the mash could be twice brewed' to produce a weaker drink often called small beer'.

Beer and ale are alternative names for what is essentially the same product. Because some people were better at producing it than others, they could sell their surplus and so beer shops, or public houses, sprang up. In Barnet, for example, the land tax returns for the late 1300s show two tavern keepers, 12 malt mongers and 15 brewers in the population of about 120.

By about 1550, local parishes were required to appoint ale tasters' to ensure that the beer sold locally was of good quality. As court records show, some of it was not.

In 1606, William Miller of Hadley was charged with selling beer that was foul, loathsome and disgusting'. He was fined fourpence which he duly paid, so someone, at least, was drinking his beer.

In 1484, the ale taster for Finchley reported Thomas Sanney and John Doget are commonly accustomed to put les hoppez hops in their ale'.

The parish vetted brewers. In 1505, Mary Sanny was granted permission to be a common brewer' which meant that she could supply her beer to anyone who wished to buy it, including local taverns. It cost her fourpence to acquire the title. She lived on the site of what became The Griffin Inn, in Whetstone, pictured above. The barley that she used may well have been locally grown in Totteridge with water drawn from a large well at the rear of the site, known in 1490 as Stokewell Weir. The dormer windows in the roof of the building to the left of the pub (no. 1268) can still be seen today.

Fashions changed in the kind of beer drunk. During the 18th Century there was a fashion for brown ale'; a sweet beer. A further duty on barley, however, caused the brewers to put more hops in their brews which gave rise to bitter beer'. Pale ale' was also introduced for labouring fellows', in particular porters who drank it at breakfast. It was essentially a London-made beer and had various other names such as porter, stout, brown stout, London stout, Entire and heavy wet.

No review of an Englishman's favourite tipples would be complete without reference to gin. It was introduced into this country from the Netherlands during the 1690s and became so popular that by 1729, Londoners were drinking eight million gallons of it a year. The Government steadily increased taxes on it which resulted in the gin tax riots of 1743. William Hogarth's famous 1751 painting Gin Lane is no exaggeration of the horrors brought forth by the drunkenness caused by gin drinking. For example, in our own area in 1739, Judith Defour was charged with collecting her own child from the workhouse and murdering it so that she could sell its clothes for a shilling and fourpence to buy gin.

The government of the day, worried by what we call binge drinking, put up the duty on gin steeply in 1751.

Many pubs responded by painting a black band around their pub sign or changing the name: for instance White Horse to Black Horse.