Red lions and blue boars: our top 10 British pub names

    Thatched pub
    Pub signs are a unique part of Britain's heritage. Credit: VisitBritain

    In the latest issue of Discover Britain, we explore the history of the pub sign and the meanings behind some of Britain’s most popular pub names. Here are 10 of our favourites…

    1. One of the most common pub names in Britain is the Red Lion, which was the emblem of James I (James VI of Scotland) who decreed, when he inherited the throne of England, that certain public buildings should display the red lion to signify loyalty to the monarch.
    Red Lion
    The Red Lion in Little Tingewick, Buckinghamshire. Credit: Inn Sign Society/David Roe

    2. Another very popular pub name is the White Hart, which was the heraldic emblem of King Richard II, who in 1393 decreed that all alehouses should display a sign, so that they could be more easily licensed or taxed and the quality of the ale better controlled.

    White Hart pub sign
    The White Hart was the heraldic emblem of Richard II. Credit: Inn Sign Society/Martin Norman

    3. The blue boar was the personal badge of the De Vere family, who were the Earls of Oxford. The 13th Earl was a Lancastrian during the Wars of the Roses and Henry Tudor’s commander at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, where Richard III – whose symbol was a white boar – was killed. The story goes that after the battle all the White Boars were painted blue as a sign of allegiance to the king.

     blue boar
    The Blue Boar in Aldbourne in Wiltshire. Credit: Inn Sign Society/Angela Panrucker
    4. Another pub name with links to the Wars of the Roses is the Rose and Crown. After defeating Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth, Henry Tudor crowned himself Henry VII and married Richard’s niece Elizabeth, known as the Rose of York. The couple went on to found the Tudor dynasty together and pubs were named Rose and Crown in their honour.
    Rose and Crown
    The Rose and Crown in Oundle. Credit: VisitBritain/East Midlands Tourism

    5. A pub sign you rarely see these days is the Pope’s Head, though before King Henry VIII’s split from Rome in the English Reformation many inns would have had that name, but astute innkeepers renamed their businesses the King’s Head instead.

    The King's Head
    The King’s Head in Bradwell, Essex, featuring King Henry VIII. Credit: VisitBritain

    6. The Royal Oak came to prominence as a name following widespread support for the return to the throne of Charles II, who famously hid in an oak tree to escape the Roundheads following the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

    Royal Oak
    The Royal Oak on Strines Road, Marple, Greater Manchester. Credit: Inn Sign Society/David Cole

    7. The names of pubs provide a commentary on the times in which they were established. Changing monarchs, the rise to fame of certain people, battles and historic events have all left their mark on pub names. Unsurprisingly, Nelson, Trafalgar, Wellington and Waterloo can all be found in abundance.

    The Waterloo
    The Waterloo on Manchester Road, Bury. Credit: Inn Sign Society/Martin Norman

    8. As the number of alehouses increased in the early Middle Ages, an object, such as a pewter tankard, would be hung on the ale stake to distinguish one alehouse from another: one of the most primitive symbols was a crooked billet (or stick)…

    Exterior of The Crooked Billet pub, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Credit: VisitBritain/Southend-on-Sea BorCouncil
    Exterior of The Crooked Billet pub, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Credit: VisitBritain/Southend-on-Sea BorCouncil

    9. The development of the railway network across Britain spawned a large number of railway signs, such as the Railwayman’s Arms. These days many such pub names survive, even if, after the Beeching cuts in the 1960s, all the railways do not…

    Railwayman's Arms
    The Railwayman’s Arms in Bridgnorth, Shropshire. Credit: Inn Sign Society/Martin Norman

    10. Often pub names give an indication of the building’s former role. The Jolly Postie, for example, can be found on the site of the old post office in Baldock Street.

    The Jolly Postie
    The Jolly Postie on Baldock St, Royston, Hertsfordshire. Credit: Inn Sign Society/Mike Hallett

    For more on the history of British pub signs, see the latest issue of Discover Britain, or visit the Inn Sign Society website.


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