Friday, 6 February 2015

A rose by any other name...

... as old Will said.  Or, "What's in a name?"

My thoughts today have been inspired (if that's the word...) by a report that a pub chain (Ember Inns?) is considering re-opening a pub (after renovations have been completed) under a different name.  The pub has, apparently, been in existence for a mere 150 years or so with the name "Labour in Vain".  What the original inn sign displayed, if anything, has not been mentioned, but at one time the sign showed a black boy in a tin bath being scrubbed by a white woman.  In what i call an excess of political correctness, people complained about the sign and the local authority instructed that it be removed.  This was done, but years later, the then licensee found the old sign and placed it in the pub garden.  It seems that the local authority once again required it to be removed from view, but nothing was ever done and no action taken.  But all that is really by the bye as my point is that the locals don't want the name of "their" pub changed.

Pub names and their associated signs are, in some cases, indications of local history.  It always seems a great shame to me when I hear of a pub's name being changed.  One pub I used to know (although I don't think I ever had a drink there on more than one occasion) was for many years called the Friar's Oak.  Whether or not there was ever an oak tree there under which a wandering friar preached, I have no idea.  But that could have been how the pub gained its name.  Anyway, new owners changed the name to the Pilgrim Goose, which had nothing whatever to do with the area.  I see that it is once again called the Friar's Oak.

It was in Victorian times that many pubs were built near to railway stations and I dread to think how
many pubs there are now called the Railway Inn.  And any that have those artistically painted signs will almost certainly feature Stephenson's Rocket or a very similar engine.  Which reminds me of another pub which has a very peculiar name, the Spyglass and Kettle.  I have wondered in the past how a pub could come by such a name and only discovered the answer today!

"When the Lord Nelson in Wood Street, Brompton and the Steam Engine in Arden Street, Gillingham, closed in the late 1930s their licences were combined into one for a new pub in the newly developed area of Wigmore. A public competition was held to name the pub and was won by a suggestion of a 'Spyglass' for Lord Nelson and a 'Kettle' for the Steam Engine (James Watt's discovery of steam propulsion being inspired by a boiling kettle.) This also explains the pub's somewhat unusual sign."  (Kent History Forum.)

 The sign of the Army and Navy shows a Royal Marine in the uniform dating from about 1745.  "Local history says that this inn on the reaches of the River Medway, and thus a rendezvous of fighting men, was held by a former Sergeant of Marines.  Its name was his ingenious way of making sure neither service was offended."  (Copied from the back of the miniature inn sign.)

But many pubs have what might be described as common names: the Red Lion, the Royal Oak, the Bull, the Plough, the King's Head and so on.  Many more are named after local bigwigs and given names such as the Duke of Wherever or the Clarendon Arms.  All this dates back to the days when most men were unable to read and so they might have been told to meet at "the sign of the swan" or whatever sign the inn had hanging outside.  Not for us the common or garden Joe's Bar and suchlike.

The observant reader will have noticed that all the illustrations are of signs of Whitbread pubs.  This, I must confess, is because in my youth I collected the miniature inn signs given away to drinkers at certain pubs owned by Whitbread's brewery.  Not, I hasten to add, that I was an underage drinker at these establishments (I was only 10 or so at the time) but because collecting these was a common hobby for boys in the Medway towns.  I have mentioned this on at least one occasion - here - and further mentioned three pubs in the village of Wateringbury here.


joeh said...

Great names, and interesting history.

We had a local Pizzeria named "Roberto's" even thought Roberto was long retired. When Roberto (Mario) sold, it was renamed "Bon Apitito."

Not a proper name for a Pizzeria.

I now go to "Antonio's" which is owned by Manuel.

Mike @ A Bit About Britain said...

Pub names are fascinating. I wish I'd kept a note of all the pubs I'd ever visited and photographed their signs. Mind you, I'm proud to think it would be a relatively large book.

Keri said...

The Spyglass and Kettle is now a Greene King pub, and although it retains the name, the sign has vanished. And the Army and Navy (if it's the one I'm thinking of, in the Lower Rainham Road) is a private residence and the pub sign has deteriorated beyond all recognition, if indeed it's still standing - it's been several months since I passed.

Interesting information about a couple of places I know well, as a resident of the area for many years.