Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Inn Sign Society

"After 2,000 years of history, pub signs are dying and I think it is a shame," says David Cole, secretary of the Inn Sign Society. "When you walk down the road nowadays, you don't know whether it is a pub, a bank, a café or what it is. They all have the same lettering. It is sad that we are allowing a great tradition to slip away without anyone noticing."

The Inn Sign Society is planning to create an online archive of historic pub signs with the help of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The society believe there is an urgent need to establish an online archive of the old signs before they disappear. The country's 55,000 pubs are being reduced at the rate of 5 a day.

The pub sign started life with the Romans who used vine leaves to signify a tavern. By the 12th century, the naming of inns and pubs had became common practice and a picture was used to illustrate the name as the majority of the population could not read or write.

Two hundred years later, King Richard II passed an Act making it compulsory for pubs and inns to have a sign (his crest was a White Hart) in order to identify them to the Official Ale Taster and, ever since, those signs have reflected British life. Before the Reformation, pubs, many of which were attached to monasteries, frequently had religious names such as The Lamb And Flag (the flag was the cross and the lamb holding the cross was a symbol of the church) and The Cross Keys (the sign of St Peter, the gatekeeper to heaven). Later when Henry VIII split with the Catholic church, pubs changed to royal themes such as The Crown.

The most common pub name is still the Red Lion, named after King James VI of Scotland who, when he became King James I of Eng­land and Ireland in 1603, ordered that the heraldic red lion of Scotland be displayed on all buildings of importance, including pubs. Boar's Head, Baron Of Beef, Shoulder Of Mutton and Haunch Of Venison were all signs advertising particular foods that were served, while references to drink were common too with names like The Barley Mow and The Barley Sheaf (barley being a principal constituent of beer). Other names featured the title and crests of landowners who owned the building. They favoured royalty (Queen Victoria) and great warriors.

The increasing dominance of corporate chains in the licensing trade has contributed to the disappearance of traditional British pub names and a profusion of Slug And Lettuces, Rat And Parrots and Pitcher And Pianos.

The Inn Sign Society

1 comment:

  1. Britain's pub signs are a picture history book along the High Street. They have reflected the changing times for 2000 years and have been inspired by religion, royalty, ambition, heroes and trade. Losing this valuable historical reference is like someone emptying the National Gallery.

    The Inn Sign Society's work will help conserve this unique and irreplacable record of our history since Roman times. Good luck to them

    Elaine Saunders
    Author – A Book About Pub Names
    It’s A Book About….blog


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