A Medieval ploughman working all day in his fields is said to have been sustained by drinking a gallon (nearly five litres) of ale. The ale consumed in this way was small beer, of low alcohol content, only half the strength of that served up in the alehouse for recreational purposes. The process of brewing of ale, which included boiling, meant that ale was less likely to be unhealthy than well water, but this was not a consideration in Sutton where our wells were pure; ale was also a source of nourishment.
Probably much of the ale in Sutton was home-brewed, and not recorded, but when the ale was brewed for sale it had to comply with legal standards. These were enforced by the half-yearly Court Leet in Sutton. The participants in the court were twelve jurymen, ten ale-tasters, ten tithingmen and the constable elected from the householders, the Bailiff representing the lord’s interest in the manor and the Chase Rider or other foresters representing his interest in Sutton Chase - presided over by the lord’s steward.
The tasters reported to the court any instances of brewing ale, for example, at the Autumn 1416 court Christine Attewode was fined twopence for brewing ale - far from being a penalty, this showed that the tasters had approved her ale and effectively licensed her to sell it. Christine’s single brewing was probably sold at the market or from her house, but other brewers perhaps ran alehouses for a living - Margaret Staleworth, fined fourteen pence for brewing seven times, and Cecily Ammory, who brewed eight times, must have been regular alewives.
The tasters were implementing the statute known as the Assize of Bread and Ale - assize meaning assessment of its quality - and only John Grendon, fined for retailing white bread as well as four instances of brewing, was dealing in both bread and ale, so perhaps he was a publican. There were probably at least two innkeepers, but they as they were not regulated, they are not named in the 1416 court roll; however, two innkeepers are named in the next century - in 1546 John Marten and John Jackson were each fined fourpence (effectively a license fee) as common innkeepers, although they were not themselves brewers.
There are no records of the medieval inns and taverns of Sutton, but they were an essential part of the life of the town, the only recreational outlet available for most people. “The Bear” is mentioned in an account of 1480, and an inn called the White Hart burnt down in 1623. It may be that a building called The Swan (now 1,3,and5 Coleshill Street) was an inn 600 years ago, or perhaps The Woolpack (now known as the Malthouse in Hill Village Road) - both these buildings incorporate stones that were used for sharpening arrows in Tudor times.