Pub names

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A White Hart signboard

Pub names are used to identify and differentiate pubs. Many pubs are centuries old, from a time when their customers were often illiterate, but could recognise pictorial signage. Pub names have a variety of origins, from objects used as simple identification marks to the coats of arms of sovereigns, aristocrats and landowners. Other names come from historic events, livery companies, occupations and sports or craftsmen's guilds.

Unlike Ireland, where the names of pubs tend to be based on the name of the owner, or a former owner, in mainland Britain this has been unusual, probably because landlords wanted names that could be related to an image on their pub sign, a key means of identifying them in an age of restricted literacy. In Australia a high proportion of older pubs have names ending in "hotel", and generally their names reflect hotel naming conventions.

Methodology[edit]

Although the word "the" appears on much pub signage, it is ignored in the following examples; the word "ye' is likewise ignored as it is only an archaic spelling of "the". "Y" represents an obsolete character (þ, the letter Thorn, which is nowadays used only in Icelandic) for the th sound. Its later forms resembled a blackletter y, and it was never pronounced with a y sound.[1] Similarly, other archaic spellings such as "olde worlde" are not distinguished below.

Animals[edit]

Names like Fox and Hounds, Dog and Duck, Dog and Gun, Hare and Hounds, etc., refer to shooting and hunting.[2][3] Animal names coupled with colours, such as White Hart and Red Lion, are often heraldic. A white hart featured as a badge of King Richard II, while a red lion was a badge of John of Gaunt and a blue boar of the Earls of Oxford.[4] Dolphin, Wisbech, Isle of Ely (now closed): dolphins were caught and presented to the lord of the manor in earlier times; however it may just be a nautical reference to the port.[3] The Black Bear, Walsoken actually had a black bear (stuffed) at the entrance to the premises years ago.[5]

  • Bald Faced Stag Inn, Finchley. An inn notorious as frequented by murderers in the past.[6]
  • Barking Dogs, Hoxton (closed). (Also various Barking Dog pubs). Named after the canine burglar deterrents.[7]
  • Bear Inn, Reading. [8]
  • Black Horse, Chester-le-Street : some may be named in memory of a black horse ridden by Dick Turpin, however many including this one predate the event.[9]
  • Bull Inn, Stamford : the town was the last in England to practice bull-running.[10]
  • Dog, Westhall, Suffolk.[11]
  • Dove, Ipswich : a biblical source.[12]
  • Heathcock Tavern, Strand : named after a game bird. [13]
  • Packhorse and Pig, Aldergate Street, London [14]
  • Pickerel Inn, Cambridge : named after young pike (Esox lucius).[15]
  • Pyewipe Inn, Lincoln (closed). Pyewipe is the Lincolnshire dialect name for the lapwing.[16][17]
  • Py'd Bull, Lincoln (closed). This pub was advertised as convenient for drovers in the 18th century.[18] The Pied Bull in Chester in reputed to be the oldest licensed house in the city and dates back to 1155. [19]
  • Red-Hart Inn, Petty Cury, Cambridge (closed). Claimed to have the only cockpit in the town. [20]
  • Swan and Falcon Inn, Gloucester (closed). [21]

Branding[edit]

The Manners family chose blue as their colour and when they purchased pubs and inns in Grantham their names were soon to include the prefix Blue, leading to the Bell, Cow, Dog, Fox, Horse, Lion, Man, Pig, Ram and Sheep being given this hue. Some pub chains in the UK adopt the same or similar names for many pubs as a means of brand expression. The principal examples of this are "The Moon Under Water", commonly used by the JD Wetherspoon chain (and inspired by George Orwell's 1946 essay in the Evening Standard, "The Moon Under Water"), and the "Tap and Spile" brand name used by the now defunct Century Inns chain.[22] [23] The "Slug and Lettuce" is another example of a chain of food-based pubs with a prominent brand; founder Hugh Corbett had owned a small number of pubs, to which he gave humorous or nonsensical names, with the effect of differentiating them from competitors.[24]

Found objects[edit]

The 'Crooked Billet', Worsthorne, Lancashire

Before painted inn signs became commonplace, medieval publicans often identified their establishments by hanging or standing a distinctive object outside the pub. A fictional example of this otherwise real-life practice can be found in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of books, where the pub in Ankh Morpork starts off as The Drum, becomes The Broken Drum after a bar fight damages it and then in later books The Mended Drum. This tradition dates back to Roman times, when vine leaves were hung outside tabernae to show where wine was sold.[25]

  • Boot Inn, Whittlesea [26]
  • Copper Kettle
  • Crooked Billet, Portsmouth St, London (a bent branch from a tree)[27]

Sometimes the object was coloured, such as Blue Post or Blue Door.[28]

Heraldry[edit]

The ubiquity of heraldic pub names shows how important heraldry has been in the naming of pubs. The simpler symbols of the heraldic badges of royalty or local nobility give rise to many of the most common pub names. Five common colours (heraldic tinctures) are gules (red); sable (black); azure (blue); vert (green); and purpure (purple). The metals are or (gold) and argent (silver), although in practice they are usually depicted as yellow and white.

Items appearing in coats of arms[edit]

Livery companies[edit]

Three Compasses, Hornsey, London N8

Names starting with the word "Three" are often based on the arms of a London Livery company or trade guild :

Landowners[edit]

Many coats of arms appear as pub signs, usually honouring a local landowner.

Occupations[edit]

The Mechanics Arms, Hindley Green
See also Trades, tools and products below

Some "Arms" signs refer to working occupations. These may show people undertaking such work or the arms of the appropriate London livery company. This class of name may be only just a name but there are stories behind some of them.

  • Artillery Arms Bunhill Row, London EC1: situated next door to the headquarters of the Honourable Artillery Company, the British Army's oldest regiment.
  • Blacksmith's Arms, (Wisbech) with the pun of the actual blacksmiths arms and their strength.[3]
  • Bricklayer's Arms, e.g., Hitchin, Hertfordshire: The first landlord, William Huckle, who opened this pub in 1846, was a bricklayer by trade.
  • Brewers Arms, Wisbech. The town had and has several breweries.[3]
  • Builders Arms: Kensington Court Place, London
  • Carpenters Arms - A series of pubs, related to the occupation or more likely to the guild of carpenters.[2]
  • Cooper's Arms, Little Old Bailey - Worshipful Company of Coopers. [34][35]
  • Fisherman's Arms, Birgham near Coldstream
  • Foundryman's Arms Northampton
  • Glazier's Arms, Stamford (closed).[36]
  • Lathrenders' Arms, Wisbech, Isle of Ely. Nearby were lathe makers.[3]
  • Mason's Arms, Wisbech.[3]
  • Mechanics Arms (now renamed the Old Neighbourhood), near Stroud, Gloucestershire. In this context a mechanic was a bonesetter.
  • Millers Arms, Lincoln, Lincolnshire. Robert Taylor, the first publican in 1861, was a miller by trade.[37]
  • Plumbers Arms (Lower Belgrave Street, London SW1).
  • Porters Arms, (Wisbech), Isle of Ely. [3]
  • Printers Arms, (Wisbech )owned by a local newspaper owner.[3]
  • Pyrotechnists' Arms, a local gunpowder maker. [38]
  • Recruiting Sergeant, Newton Harcourt [39]
  • Ropers' Arms, Wisbech, Isle of Ely. Now closed. At least two rope walks in the town.[3]
  • Ship Carpenters' Arms, Wisbech named for local shipbuilders trades.[3]
  • Shipwrights' Arms, Wisbech named for the men employed in the local shipbuilders.[3]
  • Waterman's Arms

Historic events[edit]

A 'Royal Oak' in Fishguard, Wales

The sign of the Saracen's Head in Broad Street, Bath, England
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
  • Saracen's Head and Turk's Head: Saracens and Turks were among the enemies faced by Crusaders. This is also a reference to the Barbary pirates that raided the coasts from the Crusades until the early 19th century.
  • Trafalgar: commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar. There are many pubs called the Nelson, and an Emma Hamilton pub in Wimbledon Chase where Nelson lived with her. A famous pub is the Trafalgar Tavern, part of the Greenwich Maritime World Heritage site at Greenwich.
  • Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham, one of the claimants to the title of oldest pub in Britain, said to have been a stopping-off place for the Crusaders on the way to the Holy Land. "Trip" here has the old meaning of a stop, not the modern journey. The pub was once called the Pilgrim, which is probably the real story behind the name. The pub has the date 1189 painted on its masonry, which is the year King Richard I ascended to the throne. Like many elderly pubs, the Trip carries "Ye" before its name, with an E on the end of "old" another "olde worlde" affectation.

Literature[edit]

The Moon Under Water, Watford, named after George Orwell's description

Names from books[edit]

Pubs in books from real-world pubs[edit]

The Ivy Bush pub at the junction of Hagley Rd/Monument Rd in Edgbaston

Myths and legends[edit]

Images from myths and legends are evocative and memorable.

  • Black Bess: usually named after the legendary overnight ride from London to York in 1737 by Dick Turpin on his Mare of this name. This fictional account was popularised in a novel, Rookwood (1834), resulting in a surge of Dick Turpin nostalgia and associated pub names.
  • The Bucket of Blood, is a public house in Phillack, Hayle, Cornwall, owned by St Austell Brewery. It is thought to be named after an incident where the landlord brought up a bucket of blood from the building's well, as a murdered smuggler had been dropped there.
  • Fiddler's Green, a legendary place in the afterlife where existence consists of all leisure and no work.
  • George and Dragon: St George is the patron saint of England and his conflict with a dragon is essential to his story. This sign is a symbol of English nationalism.
  • Green Dragon, Wisbech, Wymondham etc.: a couple of a number of pubs of this name.[61]
  • Green Man: a spirit of the wild woods.[62] The original images are in churches as a face peering through or made of leaves and petals; this character is the Will of the Wisp, the Jack of the Green. Some pub signs will show the green man as he appears in English traditional sword dances (in green hats). The Green Man is not the same character as Robin Hood, although the two may be linked. Some pubs which were the Green Man have become the Robin Hood; there are no pubs in Robin's own county of Nottinghamshire named the Green Man but there are Robin Hoods. The 1973 film The Wicker Man features a Green Man pub.
  • Hob in the Well, King's Lynn: pubs of this name can come from Hobgoblin in the well or Dogget's play Flora: or, Hob in the Well (1748).[63][64]
  • Moonrakers: In the 17th century, some Wiltshire yokels hid their smuggled liquor in the Crammer (a pond in Devizes) and used rakes to recover their stash. They were caught in the act by customs officials and they claimed they were trying to rake in a cheese, which was in fact the reflection of the full moon. The customs officials left thinking that the locals were a bit simple, whilst the locals recovered the smuggled goods without any more interference. The name Moonrakers has been used as a nickname for Wiltshire folk ever since and is the name of pubs in Devizes and Swindon.
  • Robin Hood, sometimes partnered by his second in charge to form the name Robin Hood and Little John. Other Robin Hood names can be found throughout Arnold, Nottinghamshire. These were given to pubs built in the new estates of the 1960s by the Home Brewery of Daybrook, Nottinghamshire: Arrow, Friar Tuck, Longbow, Maid Marian and Major Oak.
  • Silent Woman, Quiet Lady or Headless Woman: The origin is uncertain, with various local stories, such as a landlady whose tongue was cut out by smugglers so she couldn't talk to the authorities,[65] or a saint beheaded for her Christianity.[66] The pub signs sometimes have an image of a decapitated woman or the couplet: "Here is a woman who has lost her head / She's quiet now—you see she's dead".[66]
  • Captain's Wife, near the medieval trading port of Swanbridge on the south Wales coast near Penarth. The pub was converted during the 1970s from a row of fishermen's cottages. There is a local legend of a ghostly wife keeping endless vigil after her husband's boat was lost in a storm.

Paired names[edit]

Common enough today, the pairing of words in the name of an inn or tavern was rare before the mid-17th century, but by 1708 had become frequent enough for a pamphlet to complain of 'the variety and contradictory language of the signs', citing absurdities such as 'Bull and Mouth', 'Whale and Cow', and 'Shovel and Boot'. Two years later an essay in the Spectator echoed this complaint, deriding among others such contemporary paired names as 'Bell and Neat's Tongue', though accepting 'Cat and Fiddle'. A possible explanation for doubling of names is the combining of businesses, for example when a landlord of one pub moved to another premises. Fashion, as in the rise of intentionally amusing paired names like 'Slug and Lettuce' and 'Frog and Firkin' (see Puns, Jokes and Corruptions below) in the late 20th century, is responsible for many more recent pub names.[67]

  • Boot and Shoe in March, Isle of Ely [68]
  • Butcher and Beast, Heighington : claims to be the only one of this name in England. [69]
  • Goat and Boot Inn, Colchester[70]
  • Harp and Horn, Edgware Road : later the Welsh Harp, finally the Old Welsh Harp after another pub named the Welsh Harp was opened.[71] The Welsh Harp railway station (now closed and demolished) was named after the pub (which closed in 1971).
  • Swan and Woolpack, near Stamford.[72]

Personal names or titles[edit]

The Marquis of Granby, after whom a number of pubs are named.

Some pubs are known by the names of former landlords and landladies, for instance Nellie's (originally the White Horse) in Beverley, and Ma Pardoe's (officially the Olde Swan) in Netherton, West Midlands. The Baron of Beef, Welwyn, Hertfordshire is named after a nineteenth-century landlord, George Baron, listed in Kelly's Directory for 1890 as "Butcher and Beer Retailer". Others are named after various people.

Places[edit]

An "arms" name, too, can derive from a pub's town.

Plants and horticulture[edit]

The Hoop and Grapes, Aldgate High Street, London

The most common tree-based pub name is the Royal Oak, which refers to a Historical event.

Politically incorrect[edit]

  • All labour in vain or Labour in vain. At various locations. Probably of Biblical origins, in past times the name was often illustrated by a person trying to scrub the blackness off a black child. Such signs have been mostly replaced with more innocuous depictions of wasted effort.[87]
  • There are numerous old pubs and inns in England with the name of the Black Boy, many now claimed to refer either to child chimneysweeps or coal miners, or to a (genuine) historic description of King Charles II. The Black Boy Inn in Caernarfon, North Wales, has received at least a dozen complaints from visitors over the name, which dates back at least 250 years.[88] In 2021 brewer Greene King changed the names of three pubs called The Black Boy, and another called The Black's Head.[89]
  • The Black Bitch, a pub in Linlithgow, West Lothian, is named after the local legend of a black greyhound who is said to have repeatedly swum to an island in the town's loch to bring food to its imprisoned master, only to suffer the same fate when its efforts were discovered. The pub's name has caused more than a few surprised tourists to question the name or decry it as racist.[90]

The pub itself (including nicknames)[edit]

The pub building[edit]

The Crooked House, Himley, known for its extreme lean, caused by mining subsidence
  • Candlestick, West End, Essendon, Hertfordshire: Once the Chequers, lit by a single candle and plunged into darkness when the landlord took the candle to the cellar to fetch beer.
  • Crooked Chimney, Lemsford, Hertfordshire: The pub's chimney is distinctively crooked.
  • Crooked House, nickname of the Glynne Arms, Himley, Staffordshire. Because of mining subsidence, one side of the pub has a pronounced list.
  • Cupola House, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, has a cupola on its roof.
  • Hippodrome : a former cinema. This March, Isle of Ely premises was once a cinema.[91]
  • Hole in the Wall. The official name or nickname of a number of very small pubs. One such at Waterloo, London, is spacious but built into a railway viaduct. The Hole in the Wall, Gibraltar was an iconic bar well frequented by the navy workers.[92]
  • Jackson Stops, Stretton, Rutland: The pub was once closed for a period when the only sign on the outside was that of London estate agent Jackson Stops. The name stuck.
  • Kilt and Clover, Port Dalhousie, Ontario, named after the owners. The husband is of Scottish descent, and the wife is of Irish heritage. The split theme runs throughout the pub.
  • New Inn. Pubs can bear this name for centuries.
  • Nutshell, Bury St Edmunds: one of the foremost claimants to be the smallest pub in the UK and maybe the world.
  • Push Inn, Beverley: At one time the pub had no external sign except for that on the entrance door which read, simply, PUSH.
  • Red House, Newport Pagnell, and on the old A43 between Northampton and Kettering: red or reddish painted buildings.
  • Swiss Cottage was built in Swiss chalet style. It gave its name to an underground station and an area of London.
  • Swiss Gardens, Shoreham-by-Sea, originally the pub of a Swiss-themed Victorian picnic garden and amusement park.
  • Vaults, a number of pubs, not all having vaults as an architectural feature; the word also had the general meaning of 'storeroom'.[93] By extension 'the vaults' was formerly used to designate a particular type of bar. At a time (mid 19th-mid 20th century) when the several areas in a pub served different clientele, 'the vaults' would cater largely for working-class drinkers and would most usually be men-only.
  • White Elephant, Northampton, Northamptonshire. Originally built as a hotel to accommodate visitors to the adjacent Northampton Racecourse, the building became a "white elephant" (useless object) when horse racing was stopped at Northampton Racecourse in 1904.

Services provided by the pub[edit]

The Farriers Arms, Shilbottle
  • Coach & Horses, for a coaching inn[2]
  • Farriers Arms, for a pub with a farrier who could re-shoe the traveller's horses[2]
  • Free Press, named for when part of the building in Cambridge was used to print a newspaper.[94]
  • Horse & Groom, where the traveller's horse would be cared for while the traveller drank[2]
  • Pewter Platter, Cross Street, Hatton Gardens (now closed), for a pub where meals were served.[95]
  • Stilton Cheese Inn : named for the cheese sold locally that led to the cheese acquiring its name of Stilton cheese.[96]
  • Wheelwrights, for a pub where a coach's wheels could be repaired or replaced[2]

Beer and wine[edit]

The Barley Mow, Clifton Hampden

Many traditional pub names refer to the drinks available inside, most often beer.

  • Barley Mow: a stack (or sheaf) of barley, the principal grain from which beer is made.
  • Barrels: A cask or keg containing 36 Imperial gallons of liquid, especially beer. Other sizes include: pin, 36 pints; firkin, 9 gallons; kilderkin, 18 gallons; half-hogshead, 27 gallons; hogshead, 54 gallons; butt, probably 104 gallons.
  • Brewery Tap: A pub originally found on site or adjacent to a brewery and often showcasing its products to visitors; although, now that so many breweries have closed, the house may be nowhere near an open brewery.
  • Burton Stingo, Wisbech thought to be named after the Burton ales and Stingo on sale within.[3]
  • Bushel (and New Bushel), Wisbech, Isle of Ely: named after a unit of volume used in a corn exchange to trade including barley used in brewing. [3]
  • Cock and Bottle, or simply Cock: The stopcock used to serve beer from a barrel, and a beer bottle.[97]
  • Coffee Pot Inn, (Downham Market) : another popular drink.[98]
  • Hop Inn: Hop flowers are the ingredient in beer which gives it its bitter taste, though this name is often intended as a pun.
  • Hop Pole: The poles which support wires or ropes up which hops grow in the field.
  • (Sir) John Barleycorn: A character of English traditional folk music and folklore, similar to a Green Man. He is annually cut down at the ankles, thrashed, but always reappears—an allegory of growth and harvest based on barley.
  • Leather(n) Bottle: A container in which a small amount of beer or wine was transported, now replaced by a glass bottle or can.[3]
  • Malt Shovel: A shovel used in a malting to turn over the barley grain.
  • Mash Tun: a brewery vessel used to mix grains with water.
  • Pint Shop : unit of volume. [99]
  • Three Tuns: Based on the arms of two City of London guilds, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Brewers.

Food[edit]

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street, London

Other pub names refer to items of food to tempt the hungry traveller. For example, The Baron of Beef in Cambridge refers to a double sirloin joined at the backbone.[100]

  • Shoulder of Mutton, Wisbech is another pub named for a joint of meat.[3]

Puns, jokes and corruptions[edit]

Pub heritage: Nowhere Inn Particular, now closed

Although puns became increasingly popular through the twentieth century, they should be considered with care. Supposed corruptions of foreign phrases usually have much simpler explanations. Many old names for pubs that appear nonsensical are often alleged to have come from corruptions of slogans or phrases, such as "The Bag o'Nails" (Bacchanals), "The Cat and the Fiddle" (Caton Fidele) and "The Bull and Bush", which purportedly celebrates the victory of Henry VIII at "Boulogne Bouche" or Boulogne-sur-Mer Harbour.[101][102] Often, these corruptions evoke a visual image which comes to signify the pub; these images had particular importance for identifying a pub on signs and other media before literacy became widespread. Sometimes the basis of a nickname is not the name, but its pictorial representation on the sign that becomes corrupt, through weathering, or unskillful paintwork by an amateur artist. Apparently, many pubs called the Cat or Cat and Custard Pot were originally Tigers or Red Lions with signs that "looked more like a cat" in the opinion of locals.

  • Axe and Gate: Possibly from "ax (or ask) and get".[103]
  • Bag o'Nails: Thought by the romantic to be a corrupted version of "Bacchanals" but really is just a sign once used by ironmongers. The pub of this name in Bristol, England was named in the 1990s for the former reason, though the latter is more prevalent.
  • Barge Inn. A play on words 'barge in'. The Barge Inn in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire is however actually on a canal, where barges tie up.
  • Beartown Tap, Congleton, Cheshire. 'Beartown' is the nickname for Congleton, as local legend claims its townsfolk once 'sold the bible to buy the bear', that is, spent money set aside to buy a parish Bible on providing bear-baiting at their fair.[104]
  • Bent Brief, once close to the Honest Lawyer on Lodge Road, Southampton.
  • Bird and Baby, the familiar name used by the Inklings for the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford (see above under Heraldry).
  • Bird in-hand, Wisbech. Alludes to the expresssion. [3]
  • Buck and Ear in the Steveston area of Richmond, British Columbia. The name alludes not only to the maritime heritage of the area but also to a previous establishment at the same location that was called "The Buccaneer".[105]
  • Bull and Mouth: Believed to celebrate the victory of Henry VIII at "Boulogne Mouth" or Harbour. Also applies to Bull and Bush (Boulogne Bouche).
  • Case is Altered: The title of an early comedy by Ben Jonson, first published in 1609, based on a remark by lawyer Edmund Plowden which entered into common currency. Also said to be a corruption of the Latin phrase Casa Alta ('high house') or Casa Altera ('second house'). There are several examples in England, such as at Hatton, Warwickshire[106] The Case is Altered (now closed) and a later new build pub 'The Case' also now closed both in Wisbech, Isle of Ely. [3]
  • Cat and Fiddle: a corruption of Caton le Fidèle (a governor of Calais loyal to King Edward III).[107] Alternatively from Katherine la Fidèle, Henry VIII's first wife.
  • Cock and Bull: a play on "cock and bull story". This term is said to derive from the Cock and the Bull, two pubs in Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire, which are close neighbours and rival coaching inns.
  • Dew Drop Inn: A pun on "do drop in".
  • Dirty Duck: The Black Swan, as in Stratford-on-Avon; also The Mucky Duck in Portsmouth and the Students Union pub at the University of Warwick
  • Dirty Habit: Sited on the route of the Pilgrims' Way, the name is a play on the contemptuous phrase and a reference to the clothing of monks who passed by on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral.
Elephant and Castle pub sign near Bury St Edmunds, interpreting the name as a howdah
  • Elephant and Castle: By folk etymology, a corruption of "la Infanta de Castile". It is popularly believed amongst residents of Elephant and Castle that a 17th-century publican near Newington named his tavern after the Spanish princess who was affianced to King Charles I of England. The prohibition of this marriage by Church authorities in 1623 was a cause of war with Spain so it seems unlikely to have been a popular name. A more probable and prosaic explanation is that the name derives from the arms of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, a London trade guild; an elephant carrying a castle-shaped howdah can also be seen on the arms of the City of Coventry.
  • Fawcett Inn ("force it in"), Portsmouth.
  • Gate Hangs Well, common in the Midlands: "This Gate Hangs Well, and hinders none. Refresh and pay and travel on." Also frequently found as 'Hanging Gate'.
  • Goat and Compass[es]: Possibly based on the arms of the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, whose coat of arms contains three goats, together with the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, whose coat of arms contains three compasses.[108] (either that, or from "God encompass us")[103]
  • Honest Lawyer Folkestone, The Honest Politician, Portsmouth.
  • Hop Inn: similar to the Dew Drop Inn. A double pun in that hops are a major ingredient in beer making.
  • Jolly Taxpayer in Portsmouth.
  • Letters Inn ("let us in")
  • Library: So students and others can say they're in 'the library',
  • Nag's Head. Pub signs can play on the double meaning of Nag – a horse or a scolding woman.
  • Nowhere, Plymouth; Nowhere Inn Particular, Croydon: Wife calls husband on his mobile and asks where he is. He answers truthfully "Nowhere".
  • Office: as above.
  • Ostrich, Ipswich: originally Oyster Reach (the old name has since been restored on the advice of historians).
  • Paraffin Oil Shop (now closed, at the crossing of A5080 and B5179 in eastern Liverpool, Google Earth view here: So people could say that they are going to buy paraffin.[109]
  • Pig and Whistle: a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon saying piggin wassail meaning "good health".
  • Swan With Two Necks: In England and Wales, wild mute swans swimming in open water have traditionally been the property of the reigning monarch, who had the right to grant swan marks. In the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I granted the right to ownership of some swans to the Worshipful Company of Vintners. To tell which swan belonged to whom, the Vintners' swans' beaks would be marked with two notches, or nicks. The word 'nick' was mistaken for 'neck', and so the Vintners spotted that a Swan With Two Necks could afford them a rather clever pun, and a striking pub sign. When Swan Upping is carried out nowadays rings are used in lieu of nicking beaks. [110][111]
  • Three Chimneys, Biddenden: During the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) it is said that up to 3,000 French prisoners were kept at nearby Sissinghurst Castle. The French seamen were placed on parole in the surrounding area and were allowed out as far as the pub building. At the time locals referred to this as the 'Three Wents' (or three ways) but the prisoners called it Les Trois Chemins. The unique name of the Three Chimneys therefore derives from the French term for the junction of three roads.

Religious[edit]

Lion and Lamb, Farnham

The amount of religious symbolism in pub names decreased after Henry VIII's break from the church of Rome. For instance, many pubs now called the King's Head were originally called the Pope's Head.

  • Anchor, Hope & Anchor, Anchor & Hope: From the Letter to the Hebrews (6:19): "We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope."
  • Blackfriars, Wisbech (closed): named after the Blackfriars of the town.[3]
  • Cross Keys: The sign of St Peter, the gatekeeper of Heaven. Often found near a church dedicated to St Peter. When people walked to the Sunday service they often stayed afterwards, at a house near the church, to drink beer and to watch or participate in sporting events. These venues became known as pubs and would use the sign of the saint to which the church was dedicated - the Cross Keys for St Peter, an Eagle for St John, a Lion for St Mark. The sporting events might include the racing or fighting of dogs, bulls, cocks or pheasants, or the hunting of foxes, with or without hounds - thus giving rise to further pub signs.
  • Lamb & Flag: From the Gospel of John (1:29): "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world." The Lamb is seen carrying a flag (usually of St. George) and is the symbol of the Knights Templar, the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors, and St John's College, Oxford. A pub of this name appeared in the popular BBC sitcom Bottom.
  • Five Ways: Possibly referring to the "Five Ways" of Thomas Aquinas, five reasons for the existence of God.
  • Lion & Lamb: The lion is a symbol of the Resurrection, the lamb a symbol of the Redeemer.
  • Mitre: A bishop's headgear, a simple sign easily recognisable by the illiterate. In Glastonbury and in Oxford a Mitre is adjacent to a church. In Wisbech the Mitre (formerly the Castle) had been erected on the castle ditch (part of the bishop's palace).[3]
  • Salutation: The greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary when informing her she was to carry Jesus Christ.
  • Shepherd & Flock may refer to Christ (the Shepherd) and the people (his flock) but may also just mean the agricultural character and his charges.
  • Six Ringers, Leverington - named after the bells (or bell ringers needed) in the St.Leonards' church.[112]
  • Three Crowns: The Magi, but also see Heraldry above.
  • Three Kings: The Magi.
  • Parish: In Huddersfield, Originally called "The Parish Pump", Referring to its close proximity to Huddersfield Parish Church.
  • Virgin's Inn, Derby : named after the Virgin Mary.[113]

Royalty[edit]

The King's Arms, Marazion

Royal names have always been popular (except under the Commonwealth). It demonstrated the landlord's loyalty to authority (whether he was loyal or not), especially after the restoration of the monarchy.


Ships[edit]

The Llandoger Trow in Bristol in the early 1930s, before part was bombed in World War II

Sports[edit]

Sign for the Bat and Ball, Breamore

Games[edit]

  • Double Six, Stonebroom, Derbyshire, now closed, had Dominoes displayed on the sign.


Football club nicknames include:

  • Hammers, London E6: West Ham United although elsewhere in the country it could refer to blacksmiths (see Heraldry above).
  • Magpies, Meadow Lane, Nottingham: Notts County who play close by at the other end of Meadow Lane.
  • The Peacock Inn: Elland Road, Leeds. Opposite the Leeds United football ground whose original nickname was taken from the pub.


Hunting and blood sports[edit]

Other Sports[edit]


Topography[edit]

  • Barrack Tavern, Woolwich Common: near the army barracks.[125]
  • Bishop's Finger: after a type of signpost found on the Pilgrims' Way in Kent, said to resemble a bishop's finger (also used as the name of a beer by Shepherd Neame Brewery).
  • Bridge Inn (often preceded by the name of a bridge) - located near a river or canal bridge: historically these were good places to establish a pub due to passing traffic on both the road and the water. Bridge and Bridge Inn were both to be found in Wisbech, Isle of Ely (now closed).[3]
  • Castle: usually a prominent local landmark, but sometimes a heraldic device: see under "Heraldry", above. Castle, Wisbech, Isle of Ely; (now closed) named after the succession of castles, bishops palaces and villas that occupy a site to this day known as The Castle. [3]
  • First In, Last Out: A pub on the edge of a town. It's the first pub on the way in and last on the way out. Does not refer to the habits of any of the pub's clientele as some signs suggest.
  • Fosdike Inn, near Boston : named after the village of Fosdyke, itself named after an early watercourse.[126]
  • Half Way House: This one is situated half-way between two places; but with the pub of this name at Camden Town it's anyone's guess which two places it's half-way between. A similar name is West End House (located at the West side of a town).
  • Horsefair Tavern, Wisbech. Named after the Horsefair (now a shopping mall, formerly a site for selling horses).[127]
  • First and Last, nickname of The Redesdale Arms, the nearest pub to the border between England and Scotland, on the A68 between Rochester and Otterburn in Northumberland.
  • Five Miles from Anywhere Inn: No Hurry, Upware. An isolated hostelry.[128]
  • (number) Mile Inn : Usually the distance to the centre of the nearest prominent town, as in the Four Mile Inn at Bucksburn, Aberdeen, and the Five Mile House, near Cirencester.
  • Strugglers, near a gallows, refers to how people being hanged would struggle for air. Ironically the famous executioner Albert Pierrepoint was landlord of the Help the Poor Struggler at Hollinwood, near Oldham, for several years after World War II, and had to hang one of his own regulars, James Corbitt.
  • Hangmans Inn, on site of gallows Guernsey
  • Harbour Hotel, Wisbech, Isle of Ely. next to the harbour.[3]
  • Tunnel Top: near Runcorn, Cheshire, named for its position over a canal tunnel.
  • Turnpike: named for a former toll point, as in Turnpike hotel, Wisbech.[3]
  • West End, Wisbech, Isle of Ely: (now renamed BLUES), a pub on the West of the town. [3]
  • Windmill: a prominent feature of the local landscape at one point. Pubs with this name may no longer be situated near a standing mill, but there's a good chance they're close to a known site and will almost certainly be on a hill or other such breezy setting. Clues to the presence of a mill may also be found in the naming of local roads and features. The Windmill in Wisbech, Isle of Ely was next to the site of a windmill. [3]
  • World's End. A pub on the outskirts of a town, especially if on or beyond the protective city wall. Examples are found in Camden and Edinburgh.
  • Three Hills. A pub in the village of Bartlow, Cambridgeshire, named after three barrows close to the border with Essex.

Trades, tools and products[edit]

The Blind Beggar, Whitechapel, London E1
  • Axe 'n Cleaver in Much Birch, or Altrincham, also Boston, Lincolnshire and North Somercotes
  • Bettle and Chisel in Delabole, Cornwall, from two tools of the slate quarrymen
  • Blackfriars, Wisbech: named for the local friars. (now closed) [3]
  • Blind Beggar, a pub in Whitechapel named for the story of Henry de Montfort
  • Brewers Arms, Wisbech: (now closed) named for the local brewing industry. [3]
  • British Rifleman, Wisbech : (now closed) named for the British Army infanteers equipped with rifles.[3]
  • Butcher: the Butchers Arms can be found in Aberdeen, Chester-le-Street, Hepworth, Sheepscombe, Stroud, Woolhope and Yeovil
  • Compasses, Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, dates from the 17th Century.
  • Chemic Tavern, Leeds, West Yorkshire. Named for the workers at the nearby Woodhouse Chemical Works,(C. 1840-1900) it was a beer house on the 1861 census. The licensee was James Lapish.[129]
  • Custom House Tavern, Wisbech: (now closed) named for the local customs post in the port. [3]
  • Engineers Tavern, Wisbech: named for the local rail industry. [3]
  • Fen Plough, Chatteris : named after the local farming equipment.[130]
  • Foresters, Brockenhurst in the New Forest
  • Golden Fleece, for the wool trade[2]
  • Gun Barrels: at Edgbaston in Birmingham, a city known for its metal-working and gunmaking trades.
  • Harbour Hotel, Wisbech: (now closed) named for the local maritime industry.[3]
  • Harrow: A harrow breaks up the soil after it has been turned over by the plough to a finer tilth ready for sowing.
  • Harewood End: Hare, Woodland, in Winfrith, Dorset
  • Jolly Nailor in Atherton, Greater Manchester, named after nail manufacture, present in the area since the 14th century.[131]
  • Lathrenders Arms, Wisbech, Isle of Ely: (now closed) named for the local lathe industry.[3]
  • Locomotive, Wisbech: named for the former local rail industry. [3]
  • Masons Arms, Wisbech: (now closed) named for the local masonry industry. [3]
  • Midland Counties, Wisbech: named for Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway one of the local railway companies.[3]
  • New Holly in Forton, Lancashire, named after the busy trade in the supply and cultivation of wreaths and decorations.
  • Olde Murenger House Newport, Monmouthshire, takes its name from the person in charge of the walls of a town or its repairs, known as murage.
  • Oyster Reach at Wherstead, Ipswich
  • Pillar of Salt, the name of pubs in Northwich, Cheshire and Droitwich, Worcestershire. Although ostensibly the name refers to Lot's wife as described in the bible, both towns were formerly centres of the salt trade in England.
  • Plough: an easy object to find to put outside a pub in the countryside. Some sign artists depict the plough as the constellation; this consists of seven stars and so leads to the name the Seven Stars found in Redcliffe, Bristol, Shincliffe, County Durham, Chancery Lane, Robertsbridge and High Holborn also Winfrith Dorset
  • Plough and Harrow, Drakes Broughton, Worcs: A combination of the two farming implements.
  • Porters Arms, Wisbech, Isle of Ely: (now closed) named for the local porters.[3]
  • Printers Arms, Wisbech, Isle of Ely: (now closed) named for the local print industry.[3]
  • Propeller, Croydon (now closed) and Bembridge.
  • Railway Inn, Wisbech: named for the local rail industry. (now closed)[3]
  • Rifle Volunteer, Oxhey village, Gunnislake etc. [132]
  • Roadmaker, Gorsley and elsewhere.
  • Ropers Arms, Wisbech: (now closed) named for the former local rope making industry. [3]
  • Ship carpenters Arms, Wisbech, Isle of Ely: (now closed) named for the local ship building industry.[3]
  • Ship Inn from Irvine to Oundle. However, the Ship Inn in Styal, Cheshire, states that its derivation is from 'shippon', a cattle shed or manure shed.[133]
  • Shipwrights Arms, Wisbech: (now closed) named for the local boatbuilding industry. [3]
  • Sailor, Addingham near Ilkley; Jolly Sailor at St Athan and at Sandown, Isle of Wight.
  • Sailor's Return, Wisbech, Isle of Ely: (now closed) named for the local shipping industry. [3]
  • Spade and Becket, Chatteris, (now closed) Isle of Ely, and Cambridge (also now closed): a combination of two peat digging implements.[134]
  • Tappers Harker (Long Eaton, Nottingham): a railway worker who listened to the tone of a hammer being hit onto a railway wagon wheel, to check its soundness. Similar to the Wheeltappers and Shunters fictional pub of the 1970s show.
  • Three Jolly Butchers, Wisbech, Isle of Ely: named for the local meat industry.[3]
  • Town and Gown Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, is named for the non-academic and academic communities of the city respectively.
  • Trowel and Hammer, Norwich : thought to be named after local bricklayers.[135]
  • Two Brewers, Diss : takes its name from the beer makers.[136]
  • Valiant Sailor, King's Lynn named for the mariners of this port.[137]
  • Volunteers Arms, Llanidloes (closed). One of many pubs named after Militia or rifle volunteers etc.[138]
  • Woodman or Woodman's Cottage Inn.[139]
  • Woolpack Banstead, Surrey and Wisbech, Isle of Ely. (now closed) Not an uncommon name in sheep country such as the Banstead Downs. Wisbech and the fens both raised sheep and exported the wool through the Port of Wisbech, named for the local sheep industry. [3]

Transport[edit]

Air[edit]

Hatfield, The Comet; the carving of the pillar is by Eric Kennington
  • Airman, (currently closed)Feltham, Middlesex, and Henlow, Bedfordshire: named owing to their proximity to the former London Air Park (latterly Hanworth Air Park) and RAF Henlow respectively.
  • Balloon, (closed) Stamford. The balloonist Mr. H.Green had made a number of ascents in the vicinity in previous years.[140]
  • Canopus, Rochester, Kent: Named after the flying boats produced at the nearby Short Brothers aircraft factory (now demolished).
  • Comet, Hatfield, Hertfordshire: In the 1950s the pub sign depicted the de Havilland DH.88 wooden monoplane racer named "Grosvenor House", famous for its winning of the 1934 McRobertson Cup air race from England to Australia and for its distinctive Post Box red colour. Also known as the DH Comet, this plane is not a precursor of the famous civilian jet airliner of the same name, but rather of the WW2 fast bomber, the de Havilland Mosquito
  • Flying Bedstead, Hucknall, Nottinghamshire: Name given to the prototype aircraft which eventually led to the development of the Harrier VTOL jet.
  • Flying Boat (now demolished) in Calshot, Hampshire, commemorated the part that the area played in the development of these aircraft between 1920 and 1940.
  • Harrier, a pub in Hucknall, and one in Hamble-le-Rice, Hampshire.
  • Hinkler road and pub in Thornhill, Hampshire, named after Bert Hinkler.
  • Red Arrow, Lutterworth, Leicestershire: a pub with a sloping triangular roof, named after the RAF aerobatics team. The pub was formerly called the "flying saucer" for its unusual shape, and has also been described as a Star Destroyer from the Star Wars films.

Rail[edit]

A large number of pubs called the Railway, the Station, the Railway Hotel, etc. are situated near current or defunct rail stations. Five stations on the London Underground system are named after pubs: Royal Oak, Elephant & Castle, Angel, Manor House, Swiss Cottage. The area of Maida Vale, which has a Bakerloo line station, is named after a pub called the "Heroes of Maida" after the Battle of Maida in 1806.

Mainline stations named after pubs include Bat & Ball in Sevenoaks.

Road[edit]

The Bullnose Morris at Cowley
  • Bullnose Morris, Cowley, Oxfordshire: Named after the motor cars once produced at the nearby factory.
  • Coach and Horses: A simple and common name found from Clerkenwell to Kew, Soho to Portsmouth.
  • Four in Hand Method of reining horses so four may be controlled by a single coach driver.
  • I am the Only Running Footman, Mayfair, London W1; named after a servant employed by the wealthy to run ahead of their carriages and pay tolls.[141]
  • Perseverance: Name of a stage coach. The Perseverance in Bedford probably alludes to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Bedford being Mr Bunyan's home town.
  • Scotchman and his Pack, Bristol. Nothing to do with Scotland. The pub is situated at the bottom of the very steep St Michael's Hill. Vehicles going up the hill were prevented from rolling downwards by means of wooden wedges, called scotches, placed behind the wheels by a scotchman who carried the scotches in a pack.
  • Sedan Chair, Bristol, which like the Two Chairmen, London, is named after the carriers of sedan chairs.
  • Steamer, Welwyn, Hertfordshire: It is found at the top of a steep hill where carriers required an extra horse (a cock-horse) to help get the wagon up the hill. After its exertion the cock-horse could be seen standing steaming on a cold day as its sweat evaporated.[142]
  • Terminus: Usually found where a tram route once terminated, sited near the tram terminus.
  • Traveller's Rest, Northfield, Birmingham: a historic coaching inn on the main road to Bristol.
  • Waggon and Horses: Another simple transport name (prior to American influence, the British English spelling of 'wagon' featured a double 'g',[143] retained on pub signs such as this one).
  • Wait for the Waggon, Bedford and Wyboston, Bedfordshire: This is the name of the regimental march of The Royal Corps of Transport (now The Royal Logistic Corps), whose troops frequently use this route; the latter is sited on the Great North Road.

Water[edit]


Other[edit]

  • Air Balloon, Birdlip, Gloucestershire. Near a field where early ascents were made.[147]
  • Goat and Tricycle, Bournemouth, Dorset, a humorous modern name.
  • Rusty Bicycle, new name of the Eagle in Oxford. Oxford's students often cycle round the town.[148]
  • Tram Depot, Cambridge: Occupies the building which once was the stables of Cambridge's tramway depot.
  • Zeppelin Shelter, Aldgate, London, circa 1894, located opposite solid railway warehouses that were used in World War One (1914–1918) as East End civilian air raid shelters.

Most common[edit]

One of the Swans, this one in Stroud, Gloucestershire

An authoritative list of the most common pub names in Great Britain is hard to establish, owing to ambiguity in what classifies as a pub as opposed to a licensed restaurant or nightclub, and so lists of this form tend to vary hugely. The two surveys most often cited, both taken in 2007, are by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) and CAMRA.

According to BBPA, the most common names are:[149]

  1. Red Lion (759)
  2. Royal Oak (626)
  3. White Hart (427)
  4. Rose and Crown (326)
  5. King's Head (310)
  6. King's Arms (284)
  7. Queen's Head (278)
  8. The Crown (261)

and according to CAMRA they are:[150]

  1. Crown (704)
  2. Red Lion (668)
  3. Royal Oak (541)
  4. Swan (451)
  5. White Hart (431)
  6. Railway (420)
  7. Plough (413)
  8. White Horse (379)
  9. Bell (378)[151][152]
  10. New Inn (372)

A more current listing can be found on the Pubs Galore site, updated daily as pubs open/close and change names.[153] As of 18 December 2019, the top 10 were:

  1. Red Lion (558)
  2. Crown (509)
  3. Royal Oak (432)
  4. White Hart (317)
  5. Swan (296)
  6. Plough (294)
  7. Railway (294)
  8. White Horse (286)
  9. Kings Arms (245)
  10. Ship (244)

The number of each is given in brackets.

Curiosities[edit]

The pubs with the shortest and longest names in Britain are both in Stalybridge: Q and The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn.[154] The longest name of a London pub, I am the Only Running Footman,[155] was used as the title of a mystery novel by Martha Grimes.[156]

There is a "pub with no name" in Southover Street, Brighton,[157] and another near to Petersfield, Hampshire, so known (despite having an actual name), because its sign on the nearest main road has been missing for many years.[158]

The Salley Pussey's Inn at Royal Wootton Bassett is said to have been named after Sarah Purse, whose family owned The Wheatsheaf pub in the 19th century. In the 1970s the name was changed to the Salley Pussey's.[159]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Sources[edit]

  • Brewer, E. Cobham (1898) Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. London: Cassell and Co.
  • Cox, Barrie (1994) English Inn and Tavern Names. Nottingham: Centre for English Name Studies, ISBN 978-0-9525343-0-3
  • Dunkling, Leslie (1994) Pub Names of Britain, London: Orion (1994), ISBN 1-85797-342-9
  • Dunkling, Leslie & Wright, Gordon (2006) The Dictionary of Pub Names. Ware: Wordsworth Editions ISBN 1-84022-266-2
  • Myrddin ap Dafydd (1992) Welsh Pub Names. Llanrwst: Gwasg Carreg Gwalch ISBN 0-86381-185-X (Translation of: Enwau tafarnau Cymru)
  • Wright, Gordon & Curtis, Brian J. (1995) Inns and Pubs of Nottinghamshire: the stories behind the names. Nottingham: Nottinghamshire County Council ISBN 0-900943-81-5

Further reading[edit]

  • [Anonymous] (1969) Inn Signs: their history and meaning. London: the Brewers' Society
  • Douch, H. L. (1966) Old Cornish Inns and their place in the social history of the County. Truro: D. Bradford Barton
  • Richardson, A. E. (1934) The Old Inns of England. London: B. T. Batsford

External links[edit]