Pub Names & Real Ale
Some Odd English Pub Names and their Meanings or Origins
- Animals like this are almost certainly derived from heraldic coats of arms, not the zoo.
Bird in Hand
- The bird sitting on the left gauntlet in falconry.
Bear and Ragged Staff
- A badge of the Earls of Warwick referring to bear baiting. Many signs refer to rural ‘sports’.
- A bent branch from a tree.
- The sign of the House of Hanover, adopted by many Eighteenth-Century inns to demonstrate loyalty to the new Royal dynasty. A white horse is also the emblem of the County of Kent. The name can also refer to the chalk horses carved into hillsides.
- A symbol of the east and of optimism.
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.
- A spirit of the wild woods. 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.
- May refer to a negro boy, but many are now claimed to refer either to child chimney-sweeps or to a (genuine) historic description of King Charles I.
Baron of Beef
- After a Nineteenth-Century landlord, George Baron, listed in Kelly’s Directory 1890 for Welwyn, Hertfordshire as Butcher and Beer Retailer.
- Playing on the double meaning of Nag — a horse or a scolding woman.
Anchor, Hope & Anchor, Anchor & Hope and We Anchor in Hope
- From the Letter to the Hebrews (6:19): “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope.”
Many names for pubs that appear nonsensical may have come from corruptions of old slogans or phrases.
The Swan With Two Necks
- Originally “The Swan With Two Nicks”, not a two-headed bird. Swans have traditionally been the property of the reigning Monarch. However, 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 had their beaks marked with two notches, or nicks. In those days, “neck” was another form of “nick”.
King and Castle
- After the King and Castle classes of steam engines on the Great Western Railway (now closed; near Stroud, Gloucestershire).
The Bull and Bush
- Purportedly celebrates the victory of Henry VIII at “Boulogne Bouche” or Boulogne-sur-Mer Harbour.
The Bag o’ Nails
- (Bacchanals) or just a sign once used by ironmongers.
The Cat and the Fiddle
- A corruption of Caton le Fidèle, a governor of Calais loyal to King Edward III; alternatively from Katherine la Fidèle, Henry VIII’s first wife).
Goat(s) and Compasses
- A corruption of the phrase “God encompasseth us”; but more likely to be based on the arms of the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers. Cordwainers made shoes from goat skin. Also said to be a play on words between “chèvre” the French word for goat and the word “chevron”, a shape which resembles a pair of compasses.
Pig and Whistle
- A corruption of the Anglo-Saxon saying “piggin wassail” meaning “good health”.
Q and The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn
- In Stalybridge, the shortest and longest pub names in Britain.
- At one time a pub in Beverley had no external sign except for that on the entrance door which read, simply, PUSH.
Hole in the Wall
- The official name or nickname of a number of very small pubs.
The Goose and Granite
- A recent fad for renaming pubs, giving them a weird name.
Bat and Ball
- A reference to cricket used by a number of pubs, one of which gave its name to a railway station in Sevenoaks.
Royal Oak, Elephant and Castle, Angel, Manor House and Swiss Cottage
- Five stations on the London Underground system are named after pubs. 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.
Elephant and Castle
- It is popularly believed that a 17th century publican near Newington named his tavern after the Spanish princess, the “Infanta de Castilla” who was betrothed 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 is also on the arms of the City of Coventry.
- According to the British Beer and Pub Association, the most common names are:
- Red Lion (759)
- Royal Oak (626)
- White Hart (427)
- Rose and Crown (326)
- Kings Head (310)
- Kings Arms (284)
- Queens Head (278)
- The Crown (261)
- According to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) they are:
- Crown (704)
- Red Lion (668)
- Royal Oak (541)
- Swan (451)
- White Hart (431)
- Railway (420)
- Plough (413)
- White Horse (379)
- Bell (378)
- New Inn (372)
The number of each is given in brackets.
More can be found at www.fatbadgers.co.uk/britain/weird.htm ►
Some Real Ales
Some real ale drinkers will argue with some of my choices, and no doubt have their own favourites
“Guinness is good for You” (in Irish)
Old Speckled Hen
Some Odd Pub Names
Some Real Ale