The History Behind Pub Signs in Britain

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Pub sign

As you know, Pubs and Britain go hand in hand. When people think of England most of the time they think of pubs or cold weather, but Pub signs are unique to Great Britain. Naming their pubs after royalty, landmarks, sports, heroes, religion, and just funny names… But many people don’t know where they came from. This blog is designed to help you understand the origin of pub names.

Pubs and pub signs have been around for centuries. Romans were the first people to have a pub sign outside where they sell alcoholic drinks. This was the first time a pub sign or sign was reported, the Romans owned a wine shop which was called the “The Tabernae” and would let green vines grow over it.

In Britain, they substituted the vines for evergreen bushes because vines can’t grow in the UK due to climate problems. The Romans then made a tavern sign called “The Bush”. Pubs would put up long poles if Ale was sold there. If they sold ale and wine, they would hang a pole and bush outside.

During the 12th-century pub signs and names were becoming more common because King Richard the II made it compulsory for pubs to have his signature on them which was a “white hart”. He did this because most of the population couldn’t read nor write so the sign showed them that Ale was sold there.

Prior to King Henry VIII, many pubs had a religious theme as catholic churches were popular and many people were catholic. The names were religious with names like “The Crossed Keys” and a logo of St peter. Then when King Henry split with the catholic churches, he decided to make pub signs and logos changes as well, now calling them “The Kings Head”.

Later, in Scotland James, the 1st of Scotland decided to make many pubs have a symbol of a red lion to imply importance. Then pubs were named after significant people in history like Shakespeare or other royal members.

Nowadays, pubs tend to have various imagery and names each one unique.

Why are pubs named after Royalty?

When pubs were introduced many Kings and Queens decided to get pubs to be named after themselves as a symbol of authority like “the Kings head” or “the Queens head”. Some of the popular names like King William are because he legalized selling and brewing beer, making him very popular amongst the people. 

The Military Influence on Pub Names

During war times while the British empire went around the world fighting and winning battles. To pay their respect to the military, many pub owners would name their pubs the names of their boats or animals like horses or use a horse logo. Such as Waterloo, Trafalgar, or a symbol of a lion.

Trafalgar was a battle in 1805 in which Admiral Lord Nelson ruled Britain and won but then died in battle. In London, there are many pubs named after Trafalgar to pay respect to Lord Nelson.

Another popular pub name is “Waterloo” which was named after another battle but many of these are in the northern part of the country. There are also many pubs named after Lord Nelson and Duke of Wellington who won the battle in Waterloo making the name more popular. 

Naming Your Pub, The Importance

Picking the right name for your pub is easily one of the most important parts of pub owning.  Picking names can be hard, that’s why many people add names of Royal monarchs or influential figures. Also, many pubs have the word “cock” involved, not in a crude way but because they were previous venues for cockfights that were very popular.

After the pandemic, bar signs and pub signs have grown in popularity because a lot of people have begun building their own home pubs. Brands such as Two Fat Blokes have taken off enormously, stocking a large selection of traditional and novelty home bar signs.

A lot of pub sign stockists still follow tradition and sell home bar signs that are traditional, quirky, historical, mythical. As well as whatever else you fancy.

Read about the history of aluminium here