By Wayne Kett
The thing I love most about pub names is the variety, whilst there are plenty of Red Lions (518 in the UK according to a 2011 survey) there are also the rather less common names like, Ribs of Beef (Norwich), the Jolly Taxpayer (Portsmouth) or my personal favourite The Bucket of Blood (Cornwall).
We have a fair selection of signs taken from inns and public houses across Norfolk in our collections, many of which are stored here at the Collections Centre. This got me thinking about pub names and stories behind them, so for this blog I decided to investigate.
The first use of pub signs was by the Romans, they hung bushes outside to indicate the sale of wine (vines being unavailable in Britain.) It is probable the pub name ‘The Bush’ has its origins here.
By the 12th century many inns had been set up to cater for weary travelers out on religious pilgrimage. For this reason pubs of this era tended to have religious names, some of which survive such as ‘Three Kings’ or ‘Cross Keys’. The pictures on the signs were often of saints or angels and one theory holds that these were copied from the stained glass windows of churches. Due to widespread illiteracy the images on pub signs were a universal language that could be comprehended by all.
In 1393 King Richard II passed a law that forced all pubs and inns to register a name and to have an accompanying sign, thus cementing the pub sign’s place in society.
The first big shift in pub names came with the reformation. Religious names fell into decline as pubs and inns were fearful about retaining names and imagery that could be linked to Catholicism. During this period names like ‘The Kings Head’ became popular, as a way of expressing support for the king.
Freed from the link with religious pilgrimage pub names came to reflect every aspect of the world around them. Some were named after royalty ‘Prince of Wales’, famous heroes ‘Lord Nelson’, the predominant occupation of its customers ‘The Bricklayers Arms’, or even a description of the building itself like the Crocked House in Staffordshire.
The aptly named ‘Crocked House’
Later as the industrial revolution arrived, pubs came to reflect this change with names like ‘The Railway’ or ‘The Station’ becoming popular.
Here are some of the signs we have in our collection along with a little information about them:
The Rifle Volunteer was a Lacon’s pub on Blackfriars Road in Great Yarmouth. It closed in 1974, the building has since been demolished and has been replaced with housing. The pub was just a few yards from our very own Time & Tide Museum, which in case you are unaware is housed in a building that was a herring curing works until 1988. The Rifle Volunteer would perhaps have been a popular drinking haunt for workers at the herring works.
The pub is clearly named after the Great Yarmouth Rifle Volunteer Corps. The Rifle Volunteers were established following a town meeting in Yarmouth in 1859 attended by the good and great of the town including Sir Edmund Lacon the town’s MP and owner of Lacon’s brewery.
Left; Rifle Volunteer sign from the 1920’s, Right; Rifle Volunteer sign from the 1970’s
We actually have two signs for the Rifle Volunteer. I can’t help but feel a little more effort was put into the 1920’s sign.
This is a 20th century sign for the now closed Cock Inn, Botesdale.
Interestingly many pubs used their names to indicate the type of entertainment on offer, pubs with ‘Cock’ in the title probably put on cock fighting events for their customers.
King of Prussia
The first mention of a pub called the King of Prussia on Ipswich Road in Norwich was in 1760, over the years its name change briefly to Prussia Gardens and then to the Tea Gardens, but seems to have reverted back to the King of Prussia. It finally ceased to be the King of Prussia in 1914 after a group of soldiers, presumably as a show of patriotism removed the sign and re-named it the King George. Interestingly there was a pub in Ringland called the King of Prussia and this too was renamed following the outbreak of the first world war (The Union Jack Pub).
I have been unable to shed any light on why the pub would have been called the King of Prussia, but it is not alone, a quick google search indicates that many public houses across the UK still bear this name.
I can however speculate on which Prussian king? Perhaps Frederick II (known as Frederick the Great), his reign 1740 – 1786 coincides with the earliest mention of the pub. Frederick is best known for increasing both the physical size and military might of Prussia. He was also an advocate of enlightenment thinking and befriended French philosopher Voltaire.
Frederick II, King of Prussia 1740 – 1786
The Turkey Cock
The Turkey Cock Inn was on the corner of Elm Hill and Wensum Street, the pub closed in 1962, but the building remains open as a cafe.
The Turkey Cock (date unknown)
The sign unlike the others in our collection is actually carved as well as being painted and gilded, and dates from around 1900. If you look at the image above you should be able to spot the sign under the first floor window.
Sign for the Turkey Cock Inn (Currently on display at the Museum of Norwich)
Turkey cock is the name given to male Turkeys. This suggests the pub may have once offered turkey fights! as entertainment for its patrons.
The Godolphin Arabian
This is the oldest of our pub signs dating to 1782. However I can find no mention of a pub with this name anywhere in Norfolk. There were however three pubs in Norwich called ‘Arabian Horse’, one on Oak Street, one on Magdalen Street and on in Lakenham, all of which have closed long ago.
This sign is on display at Strangers Hall
The sign is inscribed ‘Beevors Finest Nog’. Nog being a popular Norfolk dark ale (still brewed today, try Woodfordes Norfolk Nog).
Beevors refers to a brewery run by James Beevor, which was bought out by John Patteson in 1793 (he later jointly formed the Steward & Patteson brewery.)
Whilst I cannot be sure exactly which pub this sign is from, I do know that it is indicative of a pub with a connection to horse racing. The Godolphin Arabian was one of the stallions used to found the modern thoroughbred racing stock.
This Earlham based Bullards pub was purpose built in the 1950s to serve a new housing estate built in the area, it did not last long however closing in 2010 with the building demolished in 2012.
Its name is obviously a reference to the large shoe manufacturing industry in Norwich, which in the 1950s was still going strong.
The Golden Star
This is from the Golden Star on Duke Street in Norwich (still open Golden Star) There are records of a pub being on this site since 1865.
Originally the use of star in a pubs name had religious connotations representing the star of Bethlehem.
What is your local pub called and do you know the significance of its name?
I must credit this encyclopedia of Norfolk pubs for lots of my information: norfolkpubs.co.uk