Pub names

Pub names
The sign of the Saracen's Head in Broad Street, Bath, England
The "Black Boy Inn", bilingual pub signs in Welsh and English in Caernarfon, Wales

Pub names are used to identify and differentiate each public house. As many public houses are centuries old, many of their early customers were unable to read, and pictorial signs could be readily recognised when lettering and words could not be read.[1]Modern names are sometimes a marketing ploy or attempt to create 'brand awareness', frequently using a comic theme thought to be memorable, Slug and Lettuce for a pub chain being an example. Interesting origins are not confined to old or traditional names, however. Names and their origins can be broken up into a number of categories:



Although the word The appears on much public house signage, it is not considered to be an important part of the name, and is therefore ignored in the following examples.

Likewise, the word Ye should also be ignored as it is only an archaic spelling of The. The Y represents a now obsolete symbol (the thorn, still used in Icelandic) which represented the th sound and looked rather like a blackletter y.

Similarly, other archaic spellings such as "olde worlde" are not distinguished below.

Alcohol related

  • Barley Mow: Barley is laid in a malting, watered and heated gently until the grain germinates. Cooking then kills the germination process, and the result is called malt. Malt is the ingredient in beer which gives it its sweet taste and colour. The mow is a stack.
  • Barrels: A cask or keg containing 36 Imperial gallons of liquid, especially beer. Other sizes include: pin, 36 pints; firkin, 9 gallons; kilderkin, 18 gallons; half-hogshead, 27 gallons; hogshead, 54 gallons; butt, probably 104 gallons.
  • Brewery Tap: A public house originally found on-site or adjacent to a brewery and often showcasing its products to visitors; although, now that so many breweries have closed, the house may be nowhere near an open brewery.
  • Hop Inn: Hop flowers are the ingredient in beer which gives it its bitter taste, though this name is really intended as a pun.
  • Hop Pole: The poles up which hops grow in the field.
  • (Sir) John Barleycorn: A character of English traditional folk music and folklore, similar to a Green Man. He is annually cut down at the ankles, thrashed, but always reappears—an allegory of growth and harvest based on barley.
  • Leather Bottle or Leathern Bottle: A container in which a small amoint of beer or wine was transported, now succeeded by a bottle or can.
  • Malt Shovel: A shovel used in a malting to turn over the barley grain.
  • Mash Tun, a brewery vessel used to mix grains with water.
  • Three Tuns: Based on the arms of two City of London guilds, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Brewers.


Names like Fox and Hounds, Dog and Duck, Dog and Gun, etc., refer to hunting (see below). Animal names coupled with colours, such as White Hart and Red Lion, or of foreign or rare animals, are often heraldic (see below).

Individual animals once famous in a particular locality sometimes give their names to pubs:

  • Blue Cap, Cheshire: named after a noted 18th century foxhound marked with a dark patch on its head.
  • Smoker, Cheshire: named after a grey horse which was the mount of a local landowner.
  • Tiger Inn. Examples are found in Sussex, Kent, Dorset and Yorkshire.

Pubs may also be named after racehorses, although the connection may not be readily apparent. In some cases names may refer to once-famous racehorses. These include: Dr Syntax (Preston), Alice Hawthorn (Nun Monkton), Golden Miller {Longstowe), Slow and Easy {Lostock Gralam) , Windmill (Tabley), Happy Man, (Manchester), and Spinner and Bergamot [2](Northwich, Cheshire),


Colour appears in a number of pub names, sometimes associated with an object which may have been used to identify the pub, such as Blue Post or Blue Door, or as a symbol, such as blue for hope, which could be combined with another symbol, such as an anchor, to create the popular Blue Anchor name.[3] Blue has been used as a symbol of political affiliation as with the Manners family who bought a number of inns in Grantham, all of which they renamed to include the word blue to show their allegiance to the Whig Party,[3] or may have arisen incidentally, as with the Blue Pig in Telford, which acquired the name due to the local workers producing blue pig iron.[4][5]

Other popular colours are red, as in Red Bull and Red Lion (one of the most popular pub names, with over 600 examples[6]); black, as in "Black Horse", Black Bear, and Black Cap; and green, as in Green Man.[3]


Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, in Fleet Street, London.

Foreign language

Many Welsh pubs have Welsh-language or bilingual names.

Found objects

Before painted inn signs became commonplace publicans would identify their establishment by hanging or standing a distinctive object outside the pub.

  • Boot
  • Copper Kettle
  • Crooked Billet (a bent branch from a tree)


The ubiquity of the naming element arms shows how important heraldry has been in the naming of pubs. The simpler symbols of the heraldic badges of royalty or local nobility give rise to many of the most common pub names.

Items Appearing on Coats of Arms

The White Hart Signboard
  • Bear and Ragged Staff: a badge of the earls of Warwick. Refers to bear baiting (see Dog and Bear in the Sports section).
  • Black Griffin: a pub in Lisvane, Cardiff, named after the coat of arms carried by the lords of the manor.
  • Black Lion is the name of an ancient pub opposite the railway station in Northampton.
  • Checkers or Chequers: Often derived from the coat of arms of a local landowner (see Variation of the field#Chequy), this name and sign originated in ancient Rome when a chequer board indicated that a bar also provided banking services. The checked board was used as an aid to counting and is the origin of the word exchequer. The last pub to use the older, now American spelling of checker was in Baldock, Hertfordshire, but this closed circa 1990; all pubs now use the modern "q" spelling.
  • Eagle and Child, Oxford, derived from the arms of the Earls of Derby, was a meeting place of the Inklings.
  • Elephant and Castle: apocryphally a corruption of the words "Infanta of Castile", more probably taken from the crest of the Cutlers' Company.
  • Horns: Although this is often seen as a derivation of Richard II's white hart emblem, it may also be an echo of a pagan figure, Herne the Hunter.
  • Lamb and Flag: A common religious symbol, with the Agnus Dei holding the red cross flag that represented the Resurrection of Christ earlier than it was the flag of England. This was the device of the Middle Temple, a legal society in London, which was given a charter in 1608 to occupy lands formerly owned by the Knights Templar. It is one of the four Inns of Court, still training barristers today.
  • Olde Man and Scythe, Bolton, taken from the crest of the Pilkington family.
  • Ostrich feathers have been used as a royal badge since the time of Edward III, particularly the Three Feathers badge of the Prince of Wales.
  • Red Dragon of Cadwaladr: the symbol of Wales, and a heraldic badge of Henry VII and many other royal figures.
  • Red Lion is the name of over six hundred pubs. It thus can stand for an archetypal British pub. The lion is one of the most common charges in coats of arms, second only to the cross, and thus the Red Lion as a pub sign probably has multiple origins: in the arms or crest of a local landowner, now perhaps forgotten; as a personal badge of John of Gaunt, founder of the House of Lancaster; or in the royal arms of Scotland, conjoined to the arms of England after the Stuart succession in 1603.[7]
  • Rising Sun: symbol of the east and of optimism.
  • Swan, a badge of many Lancastrian figures—see Dunstable Swan Jewel
  • Talbot or Talbot Arms refers to an actual breed of hunting dog, now extinct, which is also a heraldic hound, and is the badge of the Talbot family, Earls of Shrewsbury.
  • Unicorn
  • White Bear
  • White Hart: The livery badge of King Richard II of England. It became so popular as an inn sign in his reign that it was adopted by many later inns and taverns. Richard II introduced legislation compelling public houses to display a sign, and at one time the White Hart was so ubiquitous as to become almost generic, in the same way that we often call a vacuum cleaner a Hoover today.
  • White Horse: 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.

Names starting with the word "Three" are often based on the arms of a London Livery company or trade guild :


Many coats of arms appear as pub signs, usually honouring a local landowner.


An "arms" name can just derive from where the pub actually is.

  • Bedford Arms, Bedford Road, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, shows the arms of the town of Bedford. The more usual derivation is for the Duke of Bedford whose seat is at the nearby Woburn Abbey.
  • Harpenden Arms, in the middle of Harpenden, Hertfordshire. Was originally called the Railway as the pub is along the road from the railway station.


See also Trades, tools and products below

Some "arms" signs refer to working occupations. These may show people undertaking such work or the arms of the appropriate London livery company. This class of name may be only just a name but there are stories behind some of them.

  • Bricklayer's Arms Hitchin, Hertfordshire: The first landlord, William Huckle, who opened this pub in 1846 was a bricklayer by trade.
  • Artillery Arms Bunhill Row, London EC1: situated next door to the headquarters of the Honourable Artillery Company, the British Army's oldest regiment.
  • Mechanics Arms (now renamed the Old Neighbourhood), near Stroud, Gloucestershire. In this context a mechanic was a bonesetter.
  • Plumber's Arms (Lower Belgrave Street, London SW1).
  • Humble Plumb Bitterne, Southampton.

Historic events

A 'Royal Oak' in Fishguard, Wales
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
  • Royal Oak: After the Battle of Worcester (1651) in the English Civil War, the defeated Prince Charles escaped the scene with the Roundheads on his tail. He managed to reach Bishops Wood in Staffordshire, where he found an oak tree (now known as the Boscobel Oak near Boscobel House). He climbed the tree and hid in it for a day while his obviously short-sighted pursuers strolled around under the tree looking for him. The hunters gave up, Prince Charles came down and escaped to France (the Escape of Charles II). He became King Charles II on the Restoration of the Monarchy. To celebrate this good fortune, 29 May (Charles' birthday) was declared Royal Oak Day and the pub name remembers this. The Royal Naval ship HMS Royal Oak gets its name from the same source. Early ships were built of the heartwood of oak.
  • Saracen's Head and Turk's Head: Saracens and Turks were among the enemies faced by Crusaders. This is also a reference to the Barbary pirates that raided the coasts from the Crusades until the early 19th century.
  • Trafalgar: commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar. There are many pubs called the Nelson and an Emma Hamilton pub too in Wimbledon Chase where Nelson squired her. Famous is the Trafalgar Tavern: part of the Greenwich Maritime World Heritage site at Greenwich.
  • Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham, one of the claimants to the title of oldest pub in Britain, said to have been a stopping-off place for the Crusaders on the way to the Holy Land. "Trip" here has the old meaning of a stop, not the modern journey. The pub was once called the Pilgrim, which is probably the real story behind the name. The pub has the date 1189 painted on its masonry, which is the year King Richard I ascended to the throne. Like many elderly pubs, the Trip carries "Ye" before its name, with an E on the end of "old" another "olde worlde" affectation.


Myths and legends

Images from myths and legends are evocative and memorable.

  • Black Horse (Black Bess): usually named after the legendary overnight ride from London to York in 1737 by Dick Turpin. This fictional account was populorised in a novel, Rookwood (1834), resulting in a surge of Dick Turpin nostalgia and associated pub names.
  • 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.
  • Green Man: a spirit of the wild woods. The original images are in churches as a face peering through or made of leaves and petals; this character is the Will of the Wisp, the Jack of the Green. Some pub signs will show the green man as he appears in English traditional sword dances (in green hats). 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. The 1973 film The Wicker Man features a Green Man pub.
  • Moonrakers: Comes from the 17th Century, when some Wiltshire yokels hid their smuggled liquor in the Crammer (a pond in Devizes) and used rakes to recover their stash. They were caught in the act by customs officials and they claimed they were trying to rake in a cheese, which was in fact the reflection of the full moon. The customs officials left thinking that the locals were a bit simple, whilst the locals recovered the smuggled goods without any more interference. The name Moonrakers has been used as a nickname for Wiltshire folk ever since and is the name of pubs in Devizes and Swindon
  • Robin Hood, sometimes partnered by his second in charge to form the name Robin Hood and Little John. Other Robin Hood names can be found throughout Arnold, Nottinghamshire. These were given to pubs built in the new estates of the 1960s by the Home Brewery of Daybrook, Nottinghamshire: Arrow, Friar Tuck, Longbow, Maid Marian and Major Oak.
  • Silent Woman, Quiet Lady or Headless Woman: The origin is uncertain, with various local stories, such as a landlady whose tongue was cut out by smugglers so she couldn't talk to the authorities,[9] or a female saint beheaded for her Christianity.[10] The pub signs sometimes have an image of a decapitated woman or the couplet: "Here is a woman who has lost her head / She's quiet now—you see she's dead".[10]
  • Captain's Wife, near the medieval trading port of Swanbridge on the south Wales coast near Penarth. The pub was converted during the 1970s from a row of fishermen's cottages. There is a local legend of a ghostly wife keeping endless vigil after her husband's boat was lost in a storm.

Paired names

Very frequently found today, and often giving rise to complex explanations (see below, Puns, Jokes and Corruptions) The use of pairs of words in the name of an inn or tavern was rare before the mid-17th century, but by 1708 had become frequent enough for a pamphlet to complain of 'the variety and contradictory language of the signs', citing absurdities such as 'Bull and Mouth', 'Whale and Cow', and 'Shovel and Boot'. Two years later an essay in the Spectator echoed this complaint, deriding among others such contemporary paired names as 'Bell and Neat's Tongue', though accepting 'Cat and Fiddle'.

A possible explanation for doubling of names is the combining of businesses, for example when a landlord of one pub moved to another premises. Fashion, as in the rise of intentionally amusing paired names like 'Slug and Lettuce' and 'Frog and Firkin' in the late 20th century, may also be responsible.[11]

Personal names or titles

The Marquis of Gransby, after whom a number of pubs are named.

A number of pubs are known by the names of former landlords and landladies, for instance Nellie's (originally the White Horse) in Beverley, and Ma Pardoe's (officially the Olde Swan) in Netherton, West Midlands. The Baron of Beef (now simply The Baron), Welwyn, Hertfordshire is named after a Nineteenth-Century landlord, George Baron, listed in Kelly's Directory for 1890 as "Butcher and Beer Retailer".

  • General Burgoyne
  • Duke of Cambridge
  • Marquis of Granby: a general in the 18th century. He showed a great concern for the welfare of his men upon their retirement and provided funds for many ex-soldiers to establish taverns, which were subsequently named after him.[12](See right).
  • Nell Gwyn: mistress of King Charles II.
  • Lord Nelson: Quite a common name (in various forms) throughout England but especially in Norfolk, where the admiral was born. The Hero of Norfolk at Swaffham, Norfolk, portrays Nelson.
  • Duke of Wellington
  • Prince of Wales: see Royalty below.


Plants and horticulture

The most common tree-based pub name is the Royal Oak, which refers to a Historical event. Horticultural names such as Gardener's Arms are not uncommon: see "Trades, tools and products".

Politically incorrect

  • All labour in vain or Labour in vain. At various locations. Probably of Biblical origins, in past times the name was often illustrated by a person trying to scrub the blackness off a black child. Such signs, now deemed offensive, have been mostly replaced with more innocuous depictions of wasted effort.[14]
  • There are numerous old pubs and inns in England with the name of the Black Boy, many now claimed to refer either to child chimneysweeps or coal miners, or to a (genuine) historic description of King Charles II. The Black Boy Inn, Caernarfon, North Wales, has received at least a dozen complaints from visitors over the name, which dates back at least 250 years. However, the police say they have not received any formal complaints.[15]

The pub itself (including nicknames)

'The Crooked House', Himley, is known for the extreme lean of the building, caused by subsidence produced by mining
  • Candlestick, West End, Essendon, Hertfordshire: Once the Chequers, lit by a single candle and plunged into darkness when the landlord took the candle to the cellar to fetch beer.
  • Crooked Chimney, Lemsford, Hertfordshire : The pub's chimney is distinctively crooked.
  • Crooked House, nickname of the Glynne Arms, Himley, Staffordshire. Because of mining subsidence, one side of the pub has a pronounced list—so much so that it is difficult to put one's glass on a table without spilling beer. It is said that if after leaving the pub you turn round and the building is perfectly perpendicular, you've had too much to drink.
  • Cupola House, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, has a cupola on its roof.
  • Hole in the Wall. The official name or nickname of a number of very small pubs.
  • Jackson Stops, Stretton, Rutland: The pub was once closed for a period when the only sign on the outside was that of London estate agent Jackson Stops. The name stuck.
  • Kilt and Clover, Port Dalhousie, Ontario, named after the owners. The husband is of Scottish descent, and the wife is of Irish heritage. The split theme runs throughout the pub.
  • Nutshell, Bury St Edmunds: one of the foremost claimants to be the smallest pub in the UK and maybe the world.
  • Push Inn, Beverley: At one time the pub had no external sign except for that on the entrance door which read, simply, PUSH.
  • Red House, Newport Pagnell, and on the old A43 between Northampton and Kettering: red or reddish painted buildings.
  • Swiss Cottage was built in Swiss chalet style. It gave its name to an underground station and an area of London.
  • Swiss Gardens, Shoreham-by-Sea, originally the pub of a Swiss themed Victorian picnic garden and amusement park.
  • Vaults, a number of pubs, not all having vaults as an architectural feature; the word also had the general meaning of 'storeroom'. [16] By extension 'the vaults' was formerly used to designate a particular type of bar. At a time (mid 19th-mid 20th century) when the several areas in a pub served different clientele, 'the vaults' would cater largely for working-class drinkers and would most usually be men-only.
  • White Elephant, Northampton, Northamptonshire. Originally built as a hotel to accommodate visitors to the adjacent Northampton Racecourse, the building became a "white elephant" (useless object) when horse racing was stopped at Northampton Racecourse in 1904.

Puns, jokes and corruptions

Pub heritage: Nowhere Inn Particular, now closed

Although puns became increasingly popular through the twentieth century, they should be considered with care. Supposed corruptions of foreign phrases usually have much simpler explanations. Many old names for pubs that appear nonsensical are often alleged to have come from corruptions of slogans or phrases, such as "The Bag o'Nails" (Bacchanals), "The Cat and the Fiddle" (Caton Fidele) and "The Bull and Bush", which purportedly celebrates the victory of Henry VIII at "Boulogne Bouche" or Boulogne-sur-Mer Harbour.[17][18] Often, these corruptions evoke a visual image which comes to signify the pub; these images had particular importance for identifying a pub on signs and other media before literacy became widespread. Sometimes the basis of a nickname is not the name, but its pictorial representation on the sign that becomes corrupt, through weathering, or unskillful paintwork by an amateur artist. Apparently, many pubs called the Cat or Cat and Custard Pot were originally Tigers or Red Lions with signs that "looked more like a cat" in the opinion of locals.

  • Bag o'Nails: Thought by the romantic to be a corrupted version of "Bacchanals" but really is just a sign once used by ironmongers. The pub of this name (closed as of November 2010) in Bristol, England was named in the 1990s for the former reason, though the latter is more prevalent.
  • Barge Inn. A play on words 'barge in'. Also, the Barge Inn in Wiltshire is located on a canal, where barges tie up.
  • Beartown Tap, Congleton, Cheshire. 'Beartown' is the nickname for Congleton, as local legend claims its townsfolk once 'sold the bible to buy the bear', that is, spent money set aside to buy a parish bible on providing bear-baiting at their fair.[19]
  • 'Bird and Baby', the familiar name used by the Inklings for the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford (see above under Heraldry).
  • Bull and Mouth: Believed to celebrate the victory of Henry VIII at "Boulogne Mouth" or Harbour. Also applies to Bull and Bush (Boulogne Bouche).
  • Case is Altered: The title of a play by Ben Jonson (circa 1599), based on a remark by lawyer Edmund Plowden which entered into common currency. Also said to be a corruption of the Latin phrase Casa Alta ('high house') or Casa Altera ('second house').
  • Cat and Fiddle: a corruption of Caton le Fidèle (a governor of Calais loyal to King Edward III).[20] Alternatively from Katherine la Fidèle, Henry VIII's first wife.
  • Cock and Bull: a play on "cock and bull story". This term is said to derive from the Cock and the Bull, two pubs in Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire, which are close neighbours and rival coaching inns. There was a great rivalry between the clientèles of the two houses and they would tell increasingly unbelievable stories of their own prowess. Thus, stories containing fictitious tosh are now known as "cock and bull stories".
  • Dew Drop Inn: A pun on "do drop in".
  • Dirty Duck: The Black Swan, as in Stratford-on-Avon; also The Mucky Duck in Portsmouth and the Students Union pub at the University of Warwick
  • Dirty Habit: Sited on the route of the Pilgrims' Way, the name is a play on the contemptuous phrase and a reference to the clothing of monks who passed by on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral.
  • Dogs Bollocks: A pub in a "traditional English" style located at 817 Queen Street West in Toronto, Canada deriving its name from the slang for "the best" e.g. "That beer is excellent, it's the dog's bollocks".
  • Elephant and Castle: Possibly a corruption of "la Infanta de Castile". It is popularly believed amongst residents of Elephant and Castle that a 17th century publican near Newington named his tavern after the Spanish princess who was affianced 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 can also be seen on the arms of the City of Coventry.
  • Fawcett Inn ("force it in"), Portsmouth.
  • Gate Hangs Well, common in the Midlands: "This Gate Hangs Well, and hinders none. Refresh and pay and travel on." Also frequently found as 'Hanging Gate'.
  • Goat and Compasses: Believed by some to be a corrupted version 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.
  • Honest lawyer Folkestone, The Honest Politician, Portsmouth.
  • Hop Inn: similar to the Dew Drop Inn.
  • Jolly Taxpayer in Portsmouth.
  • Letters Inn ("let us in")
  • Library: So students and others can say they're in 'the library'.
  • Nag's Head. Pub signs can play on the double meaning of Nag — a horse or a scolding woman.
  • Nowhere, Plymouth; Nowhere Inn Particular, Croydon: Wife calls husband on his mobile and asks where he is. He answers truthfully "Nowhere".
  • Office: as above.
  • Ostrich, Ipswich: originally Oyster Reach (the old name has since been restored on the advice of historians).
  • Pig and Whistle: a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon saying piggin wassail meaning "good health".
  • Quiet Woman, York.
  • Swan With Two Necks: In the United Kingdom, 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. In order to be able to tell which Swan belonged to whom, it was decided that Vintners' swans should have their beaks marked with two notches, or nicks. In those days, 'neck' was another form of 'nick' and so the Vintners spotted that a Swan With Two Necks could afford them a rather clever pun, and a striking pub sign.

While these corruptions are amusing there are usually more substantiated explanations available.[citation needed]


The amount of religious symbolism in pub names decreased after Henry VIII's break from the church of Rome. For instance, many pubs now called the King's Head were originally called the Pope's Head.

  • Anchor, Hope & Anchor, Anchor & Hope: From the Letter to the Hebrews (6:19): "We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope."
  • Cross Keys: The sign of St Peter, the gatekeeper of Heaven.
  • Lamb & Flag: From the Gospel of John (1:29): "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world." The Lamb is seen carrying a flag (usually of St. George) and is the symbol of the Knights Templar, the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors, and St John's College, Oxford. A pub of this name appeared in the popular BBC sitcom Bottom.
  • Five Ways: Possibly referring to the "Five Ways" of Thomas Aquinas, five reasons for the existence of God.
  • Lion & Lamb: The lion is a symbol of the Resurrection, the lamb a symbol of the Redeemer.
  • Mitre: A bishop's headgear, a simple sign easily recognisable by the illiterate. In Glastonbury and in Oxford a Mitre is adjacent to a church.
  • Salutation: The greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary when informing her she was to carry Jesus Christ.
  • Shepherd & Flock may refer to Christ (the Shepherd) and the people (his flock) but may also just mean the agricultural character and his charges.
  • Three Crowns: The Magi, but also see Heraldry above.
  • Three Kings: The Magi.


Royal names have always been popular (except under the Commonwealth). It demonstrated the landlord's loyalty to authority (whether he was loyal or not), especially after the restoration of the monarchy.

  • Crown
  • King's Arms
  • King's Head
  • King and Queen: Celebrates the dual monarchy of William III and Mary II.
  • Queen's Arms
  • Queen's Head
  • British Queen
  • Alexandra: Wife of Edward VII.
  • Prince Leopold, Southsea, Hampshire: Queen Victoria's fourth son.
  • Queen Victoria reigned at the time of greatest expansion of housing stock and associated public houses, and at the height of the British Empire. She inspired great loyalty and affection, and publicans aimed to reflect this.
  • Prince of Wales: the title of the heir to the monarchy was also popular in Victorian times, when Albert Edward was the longest-serving holder of the title.
  • Princess of Wales: Following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, a number of pubs were renamed Princess of Wales, including the Prince of Wales on Morden Road in South Wimbledon. The sign replaced with an image of a white rose; Diana was called "England's Rose" in a popular song at the time by Elton John.
  • Prince Regent: the title of the future George IV, in the Regency period.
  • Sovereign

See also Heraldry above.


The Llandoger Trow in the early 1930s before part was bombed in World War II



  • Bat and ball: a reference to cricket used by a number of pubs, one of which gave its name to a railway station.
  • Boathouse, Cambridge — not far from the real boathouses.
  • Bowling GreenBowls has been for many years a popular sport in the Manchester area: many of the greens are attached to public houses, e.g. the Lloyd's Hotel and the Bowling Green Hotel in Chorlton-cum-Hardy.[21] The Bowling Green Hotel in Grafton Street, Chorlton on Medlock, no longer has a green.[22]
  • Cricketers: can be sited near or opposite land on which cricket is (or was) played.
  • Cricket Players: a version of the Cricketers found in Nottingham and probably elsewhere.
  • Hand and Racquet, Wimbledon, near the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. A fictional version is referenced several times in Tony Hancock scripts.
  • Larwood and Voce, West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire: Harold Larwood and Bill Voce were two internationally renowned fast-bowlers who played for Nottinghamshire and England between the world wars. This pub is at the side of the Trent Bridge cricket ground, the home of Nottingham County Cricket Club.
  • Test Match, West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire: an international game of cricket. This beautiful art deco Grade II listed pub is to be found near Trent Bridge at the other end of Central Avenue, a ground on which test matches are played.
  • Trent Bridge Inn, West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire, the most famous of cricketing pubs sited on the edge of the Trent Bridge Cricket Ground, is not named after the ground but for the bridge itself. This was a strategic crossing place of the River Trent protected by Nottingham Castle. Ben Clark, the owner of the Inn in 1832, was a cricket enthusiast and decided he would like a cricket pitch in his back garden. It was that small pitch which evolved into one of the world's premier test match venues.
  • Wrestlers: Great North Road, Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

Football club nicknames can be used for pub names:

  • Hammers, London E6: West Ham United although elsewhere in the country it could refer to blacksmiths (see Heraldry above).
  • Magpies, Meadow Lane, Nottingham: Notts County who play close by at the other end of Meadow Lane.

Hunting and blood sports

  • Bird in Hand: the bird sitting on the left gauntlet in falconry.
  • Blue Posts: boundary-markers of Soho Fields, the (former) royal hunting grounds to the north-east of Whitehall Palace.
  • Cock: Cock fighting; but also could be a heraldic sign.
  • Dog and Bear: Bear baiting, where a bear was tethered to a stake and dogs set upon it to see who would kill who first. Bear Inn may refer to the sport or to the coat of arms of a prominent local family.
  • Dog and Duck where Duck-baiting events were held.[23]
  • Dog and Fox
  • Dog and Gun
  • Dog and Partridge
  • Fighting Cocks: Cock fighting. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in Saint Albans rivals Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham for the title of oldest pub.
  • Fox and Hounds: Fox hunting
  • Hare and Hounds: Beagling, hare coursing or greyhound racing
  • Tally Ho: A hunting cry which was also used as a name for a stagecoach. The Tally Ho at Trumpington, Cambridgeshire shows a Spitfire as the call became used by some local wartime RAF pilots.
  • Bay Horse: West Woodburn, Northumberland. Refers to the use of horses in fox hunting, bay being a color of horses.
  • See Ho (Shorne, Kent): a hare coursing term.
  • Fox Goes Free (Charlton, West Sussex). Particularly appropriate after the ban on fox hunting in the United Kingdom in the early 2000s.


  • Bishop's Finger: after a type of signpost found on the Pilgrims' Way in Kent, said to resemble a bishop's finger.
  • Castle: usually a prominent local landmark.
  • Fountain Inn: Might refer to an actual fountain or natural spring.
  • First In, Last Out: A pub on the edge of a town. It's the first pub on the way in and last on the way out. Does not refer to the habits of any of the pub's clientele as some signs suggest.
  • Half Way House: This one is situated half-way between two places; but with the pub of this name at Camden Town it's anyone's guess which two places it's half-way between.
  • First and Last, nickname of The Redesdale Arms, the nearest pub to the border between England and Scotland, on the A68 between Rochester and Otterburn in Northumberland.
  • (number) Mile Inn : Usually the distance to the centre of the nearest prominent town, as in the Four Mile Inn at Bucksburn, Aberdeen, and the Five Mile House, near Cirencester.
  • Strugglers, near a gallows, refers to how people being hanged would struggle for air. Ironically the famous executioner Albert Pierrepoint was landlord of the Help the Poor Struggler at Hollinwood, near Oldham, for several years after World War II, and had to hang one of his own regulars, James Corbitt.
  • Tunnel Top: near Runcorn, Cheshire, named for its position over a canal tunnel.
  • Windmill: a prominent feature of the local landscape at one point. Pubs with this name may no longer be situated near a standing mill, but there's a good chance they're close to a known site and will almost certainly be on a hill or other such breezy setting. Clues to the presence of a mill may also be found in the naming of local roads and features.
  • World's End. A pub on the outskirts of a town, especially if on or beyond the protective city wall. Examples are found in Camden and Edinburgh.

Trades, tools and products



  • Flying Bedstead, Hucknall, Nottinghamshire: Name given to the prototype aircraft which eventually led to the development of the Harrier VTOL jet. It was based at Rolls Royce's test station near Hucknall and now can be seen in the Science Museum, London. The Harrier is also the name of a pub in Hucknall, and one in Hamble-le-Rice, Hampshire.
  • Red Arrow, Lutterworth, Leicestershire: a pub with a sloping triangular roof, named after the RAF aerobatics team. The pub was formerly called the "flying saucer" for its unusual shape, and has also been described as a Star Destroyer from the Star Wars films.
  • Flying Boat (now demolished) in Calshot, Hampshire, commemorated the part that the area played in the development of these aircraft between 1920 and 1940.
  • Hinkler road and pub in Thornhill, Hampshire, named after Bert Hinkler.
  • Comet, Hatfield: In the 1950s the pub sign depicted the de Havilland DH.88 wooden monoplane racer named "Grosvenor House" , famous for its winning of the 1934 McRobertson Cup air race race from England to Australia and for its distinctive Post Box red colour. Also known as the DH Comet, this plane is not a precursor of the famous civilian jet airliner of the same name, but rather of the WW2 fast bomber, the DH Mosquito.[citation needed]
  • Canopus, Rochester, Kent: Named after the flying boats produced at the nearby Short Brothers aircraft factory (now demolished).


A large number of pubs called the Railway, the Station, the Railway Hotel, etc are situated near current or defunct rail stations. Five stations on the London Underground system are named after pubs: Royal Oak, Elephant & Castle, Angel, Manor House, Swiss Cottage. 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.

Mainline stations named after pubs include Bat & Ball in Sevenoaks.


  • Coach and Horses: A simple and common name found from Clerkenwell to Kew, Soho to Portsmouth.
  • Four In Hand Method of reining horses so four may be controlled by a single coach driver.
  • Perseverance: Name of a stage coach. The Perseverance in Bedford probably alludes to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Bedford being Mr Bunyan's home town.
  • Steamer, Welwyn, Hertfordshire: It is found at the top of a steep hill where carriers required an extra horse (a cock-horse) to help get the wagon up the hill. After its exertion the cock-horse could be seen standing steaming on a cold day as its sweat evaporated.
  • Terminus: Usually found where a tram route once terminated, sited near the tram terminus.
  • Scotchman and his Pack, Bristol. Nothing to do with Scotland. The pub is situated at the bottom of the very steep St Michael's Hill. Vehicles going up the hill were prevented from rolling downwards by means of wooden wedges, called scotches, placed behind the wheels by a scotchman who carried the scotches in a pack.
  • Waggon and Horses: Another simple transport name (prior to American influence, the British English spelling of 'wagon' featured a double 'g',[24] retained on pub signs such as this one).
  • Wait for the Waggon, Bedford and Wyboston, Bedfordshire: This is the name of the regimental march of The Royal Corps of Transport (now The Royal Logistic Corps), whose troops frequently use this route; the latter is sited on the Great North Road.
  • Traveller's Rest, Northfield, Birmingham: a historic coaching inn on the main road to Bristol.



  • Air Balloon, Birdlip, Gloucestershire. Near a field where early ascents were made.[26]
  • Goat and Tricycle, Bournemouth, Dorset, a humorous modern name.
  • Rusty Bicycle, new name of the Eagle in Oxford. Oxford's students often cycle round the town. [27]
  • Sedan Chair, Bristol. The Two Chairmen,London, is named after the carriers of sedan chairs.
  • Tram Depot, Cambridge: Occupies the building which once was the stables of Cambridge's tramway depot.
  • Zeppelin Shelter, Aldgate, London, circa 1894, located opposite solid railway warehouses that were used in World War One (1914–1918) as East End civilian air raid shelters.

Most common

One of the Swans, this one in Stroud, Gloucestershire

An authoritative list of the most common pub names in Great Britain is hard to establish, owing to ambiguity in what classifies as a public house as opposed to a licensed restaurant or nightclub, and so lists of this form tend to vary hugely. The two surveys most often cited, both taken in 2007, are by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) and CAMRA.

According to BBPA, the most common names are:[6]

  1. Red Lion (759)
  2. Royal Oak (626)
  3. White Hart (427)
  4. Rose and Crown (326)
  5. Kings Head (310)
  6. Kings Arms (284)
  7. Queens Head (278)
  8. The Crown (261)

and according to CAMRA they are:[28]

  1. Crown (704)
  2. Red Lion (668)
  3. Royal Oak (541)
  4. Swan (451)
  5. White Hart (431)
  6. Railway (420)
  7. Plough (413)
  8. White Horse (379)
  9. Bell (378) [29][30]
  10. New Inn (372)

The number of each is given in brackets.

Unusual names

The pubs with the shortest and longest names in Britain are both in Stalybridge: Q and The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn. The longest name of a London pub, I am the Only Running Footman, was used as the title of a mystery novel by Martha Grimes.

There is a "pub with no name" in Southover Street, Brighton.

The Case is Altered, an early comedy by Ben Jonson, gives its name to several pubs.

Two famous fictitious names are "The Frog and Nightgown" and "The Ghost and Gumboil", often referred to in Ted Ray's popular radio comedies.

See also



  1. ^ Culture UK – Pub and Inn Signs
  2. ^ Website history page
  3. ^ a b c Dictionary of Pub Names – Google Books. Retrieved 2009-07-26. 
  4. ^ A Guide to Shropshire – Google Books. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  5. ^ "The Old Canals of Telford – Bits, Speculations and References". Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  6. ^ a b "British Beer and Pub Association Fact Sheet, 2007". BBPA. 
  7. ^ Dunkling L, Wright G (1994) [1987]. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Pub Names. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Reference. ISBN 1-85326-334-6. 
  8. ^ Lass o'Gowrie[1]
  9. ^ "The Silent Woman Inn - Welcome to The Silent Woman". Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  10. ^ a b Dictionary of Pub Names. Wordsworth Editions. 2006. p. 354. ISBN 1840222662. Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  11. ^ Jacqueline Simpson (2010). Green Men and White Swans. Random House Books. ISBN 978-1-847-94515-0. 
  12. ^ Dictionary of Pub Names – Google Books. Retrieved 2009-07-26. 
  13. ^ History of the Twelve Pins (brief). Retrieved on 2009-04-05.
  14. ^ "The present sign is the innocuous replacement for one that became the centre of a storm a dozen or so years ago. As readers may remember, the original illustration was of a white couple trying to scrub the blackness off a black child in a tub. It was deemed by many to be in poor taste and potentially offensive, but there was an outcry when it was removed following a protest by two schoolgirls." [2]
  15. ^ [3] Is Historic Black Boy Inn Racist?
  16. ^ 'A place of this kind used as a cellar or storeroom for provisions or liquors.'Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, 1989; online version June 2011. <>; accessed 01 September 2011.
  17. ^ Brewer, E. Cobham (1898). "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable". Retrieved 17 October 2008. 
  18. ^ Dictionary of Pub Names – Google Books. 2006-09-10. ISBN 978-1-84022-266-1. Retrieved 31 August 2009. 
  19. ^ [4] Congleton history website
  20. ^ "E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898". Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  21. ^ Lloyd, John (1972) The Township of Chorlton-cum-Hardy. Manchester: E. J. Morten; pp. 104–06
  22. ^ Bruderer, Adam. "The not Oxford Road pub survey, Oct. 2008". Retrieved 13 July 2010. 
  23. ^ 1716, Dog and Duck sign from tavern on land belonging to the Bridge House Estates at St George's Fields: Image ( from the Bolles Collection (MS004) at the Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University.
  24. ^ Bill Bryson, Mother Tongue, Penguin Books p169
  25. ^ [5] The Shroppie Fly website
  26. ^ Air Balloon
  27. ^ Rusty Bicycle
  28. ^ "Article at Solihull CAMRA site, 2007". CAMRA. 
  29. ^ In 2008 it was claimed that the total number of names incorporating the word 'Bell' totalled 412.
  30. ^ Names Incorporating "Bell" "Pub Names Incorporating "Bell"" at


  • Brewer, E. Cobham (1898) Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. London: Cassell and Co.
  • Dunkling, Leslie (1994) Pub Names of Britain, London: Orion (1994), ISBN 1-85797-342-9
  • Dunkling, Leslie & Wright, Gordon (2006) The Dictionary of Pub Names. Ware: Wordsworth Editions ISBN 1-84022-266-2
  • Myrddin ap Dafydd (1992) Welsh Pub Names. Llanrwst: Gwasg Carreg Gwalch ISBN 0-86381-185-X (Translation of: Enwau tafarnau Cymru)
  • Wright, Gordon & Curtis, Brian J. (1995) Inns and Pubs of Nottinghamshire: the stories behind the names. Nottingham: Nottinghamshire County Council ISBN 0-900943-81-5

Further reading

  • [Anonymous] (1969) Inn Signs: their history and meaning. London: the Brewers' Society
  • Douch, H. L. (1966) Old Cornish Inns and their place in the social history of the County. Truro: D. Bradford Barton
  • Richardson, A. E. (1934) The Old Inns of England. London: B. T. Batsford

External links

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