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Pub Signs Are Almost Like Time Machines...

British Pubs: Signs of the Times

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:

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.

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.

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

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;

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.

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

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.

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.

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’.

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:

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:

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:

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:

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.

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.

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