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British Pubs: Signs of the Times, Part Two


"QUANTUM SHOT" #593
Link - article by Simon Rose



Pub signs are almost like time machines...

Some locals may even intentionally design ugly signs to keep their beloved pubs to themselves. Sometimes this strategy works, sometimes it leads to... a DRB article.

First, a little vintage beer-related eye-candy - check out these Labatt's and O'Keefe's Canadian trucks from the 1930s:




Fantastic shapes! Now, on to the article:

In Part 1 we've seen some colorful and often bizarre pub signs featuring royalty, nobility, religious iconography, occupations and trades, legends and ever-popular sporting activities. in addition to that, Britain’s great military heroes of the Napoleonic Wars -- Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington -- have many pubs named after them, as do significant ships and famous land and sea battles.



(images via 1, 2, 3)

However, some much less reputable characters from British history are also immortalized on pub signs. Lady Katharine Ferrers is said to have turned to highway robbery out of boredom and to repay huge gambling debts. The Wicked Lady is located on the spot where she was fatally wounded and bled to death in 1660. Fanny on the Hill pub is another odd name. It stands near a heath called Fanny on the Hill, which has a connection to Dick Turpin, the infamous highwayman. Turpin supposedly hid in the woods from the King’s soldiers and a local barmaid called Fanny shone a torch informing Turpin when the coast was clear. Another notorious criminal, the pirate Captain Kidd, was hanged in 1701 and the pub bearing his name is situated very close to the site of his execution.


(images via 1, 2)

Some literary figures are depicted on pub signs such as Shakespeare and Daniel Defoe, author of 'Robinson Crusoe':


(images via 1, 2)

But perhaps the most curious is the pub on Merseyside named after the former British Poet Laureate John Masefield. Local people have complained and nicknamed the pub ‘The Adolf’ because the sign bears an uncanny resemblance to Hitler. The landlord however is adamant that this is an accurate portrayal of Masefield and refuses to change the sign;


(image via)

The Green Man seems a strange name at first, but refers to the spirit of the wildwoods, the first depictions of which appear in churches as a face peering through dense foliage, or actually made of leaves, branches and petals. Some pub signs will show the Green Man as a full figure, some as just a head and there are many different interpretations of this character. It is thought that there may be a connection between the Green Man and the legend of Robin Hood, although they are not the same character. However, some pubs once called The Green Man are now known as The Robin Hood. Also, in Nottinghamshire, there are no pubs at all called the Green Man, but there are plenty with the name Robin Hood.


(images via C. Walton, 2, 3)


There are some names that simply make you wonder where on earth they originated.

The Goat and Compasses, for example, is said to be a corruption of the phrase, “God encompasseth us”!


(images via)

The Bag o’ Nails is supposed to refer to wild festivals of the Roman god Bacchus and "bacchanalia" has been used to describe any form of drunken revelry. However it is really just a sign once used by ironmongers.

Elephant and Castle is said to come from “la Infanta de Castile”, the name given to many Spanish princesses who were at one time or another betrothed or married to members of the English royal family. However, it’s more likely that the name is related to the symbol of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, a London trade guild.


(images via 1, 2)

It has been suggested that The Cat and the Fiddle derives from Caton le Fidele, a governor of Calais in the reign of Edward III or from ‘Katherine le fidele’, an allusion to the faithfulness of Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife. And it could of course also simply be a reference to the children’s nursery rhyme.


(images credit: Scott Beale, The Laughing Squid, Jill)

The Pig and Whistle’s origin is obscure, but it could be a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon “piggin wassail” which means “good health”. The Bull and Bush, another odd name, supposedly commemorates Henry VIII’s military victory “Boulogne Bouche” or Boulogne-sur-Mer harbour. However, while these Anglicized versions of phrases are all very interesting, there are usually more likely explanations for the origin of these signs.


(images via 1, 2)

The sign displayed outside the Pogue Mahone in Liverpool offers few clues as to the meaning, but the name is in fact an Anglicized version of the Irish slang term “póg mo thóin” which charmingly means, ‘kiss my arse’.


(images via 1, 2)

The Last Drop pub in Edinburgh, Scotland, is where men sentenced to hang were given a final meal while the executioners prepared the gallows just across the road. At the pub, the condemned were offered a glass of whisky - one for the road, a last drop to drink before a long drop into oblivion:


(images via 1, 2)

The Arab Boy in London is especially unusual pub name, and its origin no less so. Henry Scarth built the pub in 1849 as part of other property developments in the area and it is named after Yussef Sirrie, a youngster who Scarth is said to have saved from being sold into slavery in Turkey. Back in England, Yussef became Scarth’s servant, eventually becoming the pub’s landlord.

The Crooked Chimney is so named because, unsurprisingly, the pub has a very distinctive crooked chimney:


(images via 1, 2)

The Quiet Woman in Derbyshire has a sign portraying a headless woman, apparently telling of the grim fate suffered by a landlord’s wife who was too talkative:


(images via 1, 2)

The Skirrid Mountain Inn appears in records dating back to 1110, and is most likely the oldest pub in Wales. It is also one of the leading claimants to the title of oldest standing pub in the UK, and has a rather grisly history. According to local legend, some 180 people were hanged from a beam on the inn’s staircase between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries and the building is a supposedly very haunted indeed:


(images via 1, 2)

Finally, although not strictly a sign, this pub bears mentioning. The Glynne Arms in Staffordshire is better known by its nickname the Crooked House. Because of subsidence damage caused by mining, half of the pub leans heavily to one side. Apparently, it can be quite a challenge to rest a beer on the table without spilling it. According to the locals, if after leaving you turn and look at the pub and it appears perfectly normal, you can be sure you’ve overindulged at the bar.


(image credit: James Daniel)

So there you have it. A short and by no means complete tour of some of the interesting, unusual and distinctive pub signs from the cities, towns, villages and countryside of the United Kingdom. Obviously, tracing the origin of some of these names can be difficult and open to speculation, but pub signs are almost like time machines (a moment caught in time) and undoubtedly give us a fascinating view into Britain’s colourful past.

BONUS:
From vintage pubs to a futuristic way to open your beer - using a "Beerbot" (concept art by Greg Broadmore - see his gallery here).

You might remember hilarious science fiction story by Henry Kuttner "The Proud Robot", in which one brilliant but constantly drunk inventor wakes up one morning, confronted by an extremely obnoxious robot - clearly he bolted the robot together the previous night but, for the life of him, he can not remember exactly why and for what precise purpose. I am not going to spoil the surprise ending, but the artwork below might shed some light on how this robot might've looked:


(image credit: Greg Broadmore)

FURTHER READING: We'd also like to mention "A Book About Pub Names" by Elaine Saunders - it's an e-book containing over 100 colour illustrations that unravels the meanings behind the most popular signs and tells the history of Britain in the process. Visit Complete Text to see the book's preview.

Simon Rose is the author of science fiction and fantasy novels for children, including The Alchemist's Portrait, The Sorcerer's Letterbox, The Clone Conspiracy, The Emerald Curse, The Heretic's Tomb and The Doomsday Mask.

CONTINUE TO "BEST BEERS!" ARTICLE ->

READ PART ONE HERE ->

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YOUR COMMENTS::

10 Comments:

Anonymous LittleInsect said...

This is the web-site for a pub quite near to where I live. http://www.catandcustardpot.co.uk/
No satisfactory explanation for the name has ever been found

___  
Blogger Guy said...

Another one that has "reputed" origins is "The Case Is Altered". The most common origin given is "La casa alta" brough back from the peninsula campaign during the Napoleonic wars.

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Anonymous Andrew Lees said...

In the '80s, traditional pubs were bought up by the fistful by large breweries who wanted places to sell their beer exclusively. Many, many original and quite exquisite turned-wood fittings, stained-glass windows and other irreplaceable pieces of history were tossed out to make way for cocktail bars and large-screen TVs.

Ironically, in the past decade well-heeled young revellers have been craving the feel of yore. Now these breweries are spending a fortune making ersatz versions of what they ripped out to begin with.

___  
Blogger Farbror Nisse said...

loved this article, but great to see that the UK is still keeping the tradition alive, shame to see to many Weatherspoon etc...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a pub in the New Forest called The World's End - seemed like quite a pleasant spot really, without a cliff or an apocalypse in sight.

___  
Blogger Robert said...

I have been to the last drop. Definitely a recommendation!

___  
Anonymous Designsdelight said...

There was a time when the traditional English oub was strong but times have changed and I agree there are too many bars around in Britain

___  
Anonymous Tom said...

My parents used to have a cottage in Earl Sterndale where the Quiet Woman is! It's a tiny village in a steep gorge in probably the most bleak part of the Peak District National Park - and the pub is about as bleak and quiet as its name! In fact every time I've been there it's been closed... although apparently it does open daily - bizarre place!

Great names! The Kings Head is always a popular one too, and the "Wicked Woman" looks pretty attractive from where I'm standing!

___  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know about the first vehicle but the O'keefe truck belonged to The O'keefe Brewery which was purchased by the Carling Brewery becoming the Carling O'keefe brewery which was then purchased by the Molsons Group. At no time did it ever belong to Labatts.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simon,
We are a small traditional signage company in Sussex UK and read your article on pub signs with great interest, we are at present building a Wordpress site and would very much like to include your article in this site, would that be possible?
many thanks
Sherrie britishinnsigns@waitrose.com

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