I came across an interesting bit of demographic information while listening to a lecture:
From early times people had rented out space in their houses for travellers, but by the thirteenth century Inns became common in most towns of any size. Inns were like hotels. Taverns, which provided good quality food and drink, including wine, were more like restaurants. Alehouses were pubs providing basic food, ale and on occasion rooms. From the sixteenth century these distinctions were recognised in law and defined licensing restrictions and the obligations of landlords. From a census taken in 1577 we can calculate that there were then around 17,367 alehouses, 1,991 Inns and 401 taverns in England
Looks like the answer, right? Unfortunately, since this is a video lecture, it provided no source for the information.
Looking to the internet was not helpful to say the least (emphasis mine):
A 1577 census of England recorded the existence of 14,202 alehouses, source
By 1577 it is estimated that there were some 17,000 alehouses, 2,000 inns and 400 taverns throughout England and Wales. source
England had many alehouses. Clark estimates from a survey conducted in 1577 that the number was 24,000, or one for every 142 inhabitants source
Seems like quite a range of answers showing up.
All these sources seem to agree that somewhere, from 1577, there is a primary source of information, but nobody is gathering the same facts from this source. We know this source is either a census or survey. Research showed that the Ale Houses Act 1551 may have been responsible for the collection of this data.
Secondary sources appear to be inconsistent. So it appears to answer to this question will require the location and accurate interpretation of this primary source from 1577. (If you find a secondary source you feel is correct, please explain why it should be considered definitively correct.)
The wide variety of answers floating around the web seems to indicate a correct accounting needs to be done.
So, how many pubs ( 'alehouses', 'taverns' and 'inns') were there in England in 1577.