THE 19th century Liberal politician Sir William Harcourt noted that “as much of the history of England had been brought about in public houses as in the House of Commons”.

Something similar could be said of Bradford, says Dr Paul Jennings, a social historian specialising in the history of drinking establishments. “There were certainly lots of them: nearly 600 in 1869 within the original borough area, reaching to Undercliffe, Laisterdyke, Horton Bank Top and Daisy Hill.”

“They weren’t, however, always called pubs. That term came into general use later in the 19th century. Before that there were inns, alehouses, gin (or dram) shops and beerhouses.”

In the first of a series of articles on the history of Bradford pubs, Dr Jennings - author of The Public House in Bradford, 1770-1970, Bradford Pubs and The Local: A History of the Bradford Pubs - looks at one of its older inns, the Unicorn in Ivegate, which survived 200 years.

“Already called the Old Unicorn, it was put up for auction in October 1779 at the Sun Inn on the opposite side of Ivegate. It was described as having four low rooms, three chambers, a ‘barr’, two cellars and a pantry. The landlord was Benjamin Atkinson,” says Dr Jennings. “The Unicorn played an important role in social and economic life. It was a venue for meetings of the first Bradford Club, founded in 1760, and property auctions were held there. Around 1826 landlord and owner Robert Clough rebuilt the inn on the site of adjoining shops and houses, with a rather elegant frontage. He also built a brewhouse. In February 1844 it provided a committee room for striking miners from Bowling Iron Works. But it was the everyday sociability of talk, games and music which characterised the greater part of pub life.

“In the mid-1880s it was ‘the resort of prosperous tradesmen, clerks and betting men’, under landlady Dinah Dawson and her husband Jonas. In 1990, their great granddaughter was kind enough to send me their photographs. Their lives were typical of thousands in the pub trade. Jonas went first to the Bradford Arms, Bowling Back Lane, then the Granby, Union Street (Norfolk Gardens) and finally to the Unicorn. He had the landlord’s sociability; whilst at the Granby he entertained a cabmens’ dinner with his singing.

“After he died of liver cancer (he’s buried in Undercliffe Cemetery, where his impressive memorial bears a small relief of a unicorn) Dinah continued at the pub until 1890. She re-married and lived to 86. She sold the Unicorn to Tetley’s in 1900. In 1925 the police objected to its licence, along with that of the Old Crown opposite, on grounds of ‘structural unsuitability’, but the licence was renewed subject to alterations.

“I remember the Unicorn only from the late 1970s as having a rather old-fashioned city-centre pub atmosphere, with its long, smoky bar. Before the end of the succeeding decade it had closed, despite protests and petitioning.”