1. Environmental
August 4, 2015updated 29 Jul 2021 1:00pm

You can map Britain and Ireland's population centres, using only the location of pubs

By City Monitor Staff

We like a gratuitous map around here, and we haven’t had one in a while. So here’s the latest thing we’ve learnt through scouring the forgotten corners of the internet for random acts of cartography: you can map the population of the British Isles through the locations of pubs.

This map is the work of Ramiro Gómez, a Berlin-based software developer, who created it to show off the sort of visualisations you can pull out of open data sets.

Gómez started with a list of pub locations extracted from OpenStreetMap, did some fancy footwork to make sure he was only including pubs and not things like “public buildings”, turned them into geographic coordinates, then restricted the data to coordinates located roughly in the region of British Isles rather than, say, Patagonia. (We’ve massively over simplified a lengthy and complicated process here. You can read about it in greater depth, and see some of the code Gómez used, on his website.)

Then he plotted the lot on a map. Here’s the result.


You can instantly see quite how much of the British population is focused within a single 300 mile arc, running from the Kentish coast to Lancashire. Mapped through pubs, the major conurbations become solid blocks of blue: London in bottom left corner, Birmingham and the cities of the east Midlands above it, then the cities of the M62 belt further north.

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Further west there are further blobs representing Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea; and in the north east a smaller conurbation, including Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

Something else that immediately pops out at you is how much the English like their seaside: you have to go far to the north to find an area where the gap between coastal pubs becomes more than a few miles wide.

The other countries of the UK are less thickly covered in blue dots – a reflection, we suspect, of the lower population densities at work. Mid Wales is practically empty, while the vast majority of Scotland’s drinkers seems to be concentrated in its two largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, with smaller clusters representing Dundee and Aberdeen.

One surprise is Ireland, a country at least as famous for its pubs as its bigger neighbour, but which looks practically empty in comparison, and here only a few communities (Dublin, Limerick, Cork) are visible at a glance.

Again, this is probably a reflection simply of a lower population: there are under 7m people in the whole of Ireland, compared to more than 53m in England. But that doesn’t explain why Belfast, a city of around 500,000 people and the second largest on the island of Ireland, barely shows up at all. This might suggest some gaps in the data; or it might reflect some socio-economic phenomenon specific to Ulster that we’re unaware of. Please do write in if you know.

EDIT TO ADD: One explanation for Ireland’s relative de-pub-ulation seems to be gaps in the data: this chap from County Monaghan thinks that some whole counties may be missing. This is possibly the result of Open Street Map, which relies on user contributions for its accuracy. Bummer.

One last thought. We’ve asked before whether the M62 belt, from Liverpool to Sheffield, should be considered a single conurbation for some purposes. At the time, angry northerners got in touch to point out that there was a significant gap between Manchester and Leeds, thanks to the Pennines.

You can see this on the map, where suddenly, in the middle of the one of the bits of the British Isles that’s most densely populated with pubs, you find an area almost entirely devoid of them.

Maybe, just maybe, we were wrong.

Thanks to Ramiro Gómez for allowing us to publish this map. You can read more about his work, and even buy a copy of the map as a poster, by visiting his site.

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