Tracing history through the names of pubs and inns - The History Press (2024)

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16th May, 2019 in ,

By Susan McGowan

Tracing history through the names of pubs and inns - The History Press (2)

Much has been written about the origin of pub names, and the way they reflect the changes in royal houses, from The White Hart of Richard II to The Bear and Ragged Staff of the Earl of Warwick. A keen local historian can also glean a wealth of information about the local area by looking at the names of inns and pubs, finding pointers to local industry, local patronage, and even information about local historical events. Kent is a prime example of this, with many examples throughout the county.

Although the UK has been involved in armed conflict almost constantly throughout its history, and many pub names remind us of our history and how we came to be the nation we are today. The names of such pubs as The Dragoo, The Rifleman and The Kentish Rifleman, show the close connection with the military that existed in Kent, England’s Front Line County.

Three pubs in particular represent the role of the RAF in Kent. The Tiger Moth in Chatham refers to the two-man bi-planes which were used for training pilots at Rochester Airport. The Spitfire in Kings Hill is a direct reference to the plane which epitomises the heroic pilots of The Battle of Britain who fought in the skies over Kent, and The Mayfly in Hawkinge.

Tracing history through the names of pubs and inns - The History Press (3)

Ships and the sea also explain the names of many pubs. With a coastline of 350 miles, Kent has strong links with the sea and shipbuilding. As well as referencing links with ships known outside the county, pubs and inns were often named after local types of craft, and would have been a magnet to those who sailed on them.

The Deal Cutter in Ramsgate is named after such a craft – a small boat designed for speed rather than for capacity and The Smack Inn, Whitstable, represents the fishing trade.

The Hovelling Boat Inn in Ramsgate has recently re-opened more than 100 years after its license lapsed. The work of the hoveller encompassed rendering assistance to vessels passing or at anchor off shore, either by ferrying supplies or passengers across, by acting as a pilot or by effecting rescues during stormy weather and salvaging wrecked cargoes.

Hufflers were men who ferried goods from ship’s chandlers to vessels waiting offshore and The Huffler’s Arms in Dartford is a tribute to those tradesmen of days past.

Tracing history through the names of pubs and inns - The History Press (4)

By far the most useful to the local historian are the names of pubs which are associated with local industry, as they give an idea of the range of industries and trades undertaken in an area.

In Kent, several inns called The Woolpack reflect the importance of wool in the area and the Gunpowder Mill just outside the town of Faversham is reference to the hugely important gunpowder industry there. he name of The Gun in Horsmonden, however, refers to the local iron and smelting works, so important in the west of the county.

The name of The Malt Shovel in Dartford, is a clear allusion to the very Kentish business of brewing beer. The Hop Marketing Board was inaugurated at The Vine in Goudhurst, and Faversham is the home to Britain’s oldest brewer, so it is no surprise to hear that there are more pubs with name such as The Hop Pocket or The Hop Bine than can be mentioned in this short article.

The Coats of Arms of the tradesman’s guilds often played a part in the naming of a pub or inn. The Three Horseshoes in Lower Hardres is named for the blacksmith. The Three Compasses, Deal comes from the compasses on the carpenter’s coat of arms and although you might think The Wheatsheaf in West Malling refers to arable farming, it is in fact the sign of the baker.

The Basketmakers Arms is in Littlebourne, but there are also pubs which reflect the wealth of industries at once time carried out in rural Kent: butchers , bricklayers, brickmakers, foresters, farriers , wheelwrights, mechanics, divers, shipwrights, coopers, carriers, millers, bookmakers, barbers, woodmen, waggoners, miners, tanners, curriers, paperhangers, plasterers, weavers, goldsmiths, dredgermen, fishermen, joiners, tailors, watermen, shoemakers, coachmakers, plumbers, mercers, mechanics, masons, miners and sailors all have establishments named for their craft.

Tracing history through the names of pubs and inns - The History Press (5)

The patronage of a local landowner was often the inspiration for the name of a public house or inn, showing allegiance and indicating respect. There are at least three pubs called The Granville which are named after the one-time Warden of the Cinque Ports.

The Stanhope Arms, Brasted is named after the lord of the manor, General Stanhope, who went on to become Earl Stanhope, The Blighs, Sevenoaks is named after local farmer Samuel Bligh and The Pearson’s Arms, Whitstable, was opened by Charles Pearson in the 1830s named after his father who had made money in the copperas industry in nearby Tankerton.

Pubs are also named after local celebrities, many of whom, actually drank in the pubs mentioned, although many more never did. The Sir John Franklin, Greenhithe is named after an English Royal Navy officer and The John Brunt V.C. pub is in Paddock Wood.

JD Wetherspoon often name their pubs after high-profile personalities with local connections. Thus, we have The Peter Cushing in Whitstable, The Norman Wisdom in Deal, and The Thomas Becket in Canterbury.

Tracing history through the names of pubs and inns - The History Press (6)

Sometimes the name of a pub comes from something as simple as its location within the county.

The Halfway House on Sheppey is halfway between the two major towns of Minster and Sheerness and the Halfway House at Challock is halfway between Faversham and Ashford, whereas The Halfway House at Brenchley is halfway between Royal Tunbridge Wells and Tenterden.

So next time you are out and about, seeking a place of refreshment, take time to consider the name of the establishment you choose and it will give you an insight into the history of the county you are in and the lives of the people who went before.

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    Tracing history through the names of pubs and inns - The History Press (43)
    Tracing history through the names of pubs and inns - The History Press (44)
    Tracing history through the names of pubs and inns - The History Press (2024)


    What is the history of naming pubs? ›

    Many pub names derive from their names from hunting – near old hunting grounds there are plenty of pubs called The Greyhound, The Fox & Hounds, Dog & Duck or Hare & Hounds. The Bird in Hand is said to derive from King Henry VIII's love of falconry and The co*ck from the days when co*ck fighting was a popular pastime.

    What is the history of the pub? ›

    The history of pubs can be traced to taverns in Roman Britain, and through Anglo-Saxon alehouses, but it was not until the early 19th century that pubs, as they are today, first began to appear.

    What is the history of inn signs? ›

    In 1393, King Richard II passed an Act making it compulsory for pubs and inns to have a sign (his own emblem the 'White Hart' in London) in order to identify them to the official Ale Taster. Ever since then, inn names and signs have reflected, and followed, British life at that time.

    Why do pubs all have similar names? ›

    British pubs may be named after and depict anything from everyday (particularly agricultural) objects, to sovereigns, aristocrats and landowners (shown by their coats of arms). Other names come from historic events, livery companies, occupations, sports, and craftsmen's guilds.

    What is the oldest pub name? ›

    Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham, claimed 1189

    In bold black letters, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem claims to be 'the oldest inn in England'. It is widely assumed that the name refers to crusading knights who stopped off for a crafty pint on their way to the Holy Land.

    What is pub short for? ›

    Pub is a shortened form of public house that dates from 1859.

    Why is a pub called an inn? ›

    However, there is no longer a formal distinction between an inn and several other kinds of establishments: many pubs use the name "inn", either because they are long established and may have been formerly coaching inns, or to summon up a particular kind of image.

    What is the oldest pub in the United States? ›

    The White Horse Tavern was constructed before 1673 and is believed to be the oldest tavern building in the United States. It is located on the corner of Farewell and Marlborough streets in Newport, Rhode Island.

    What is the most named pub? ›

    Here are the stories behind the 10 most common pub names in Britain today.
    1. The Red Lion. The Red Lion, Oxfordshire, England. / ...
    2. The Crown. A 1936 illustration of The Crown Inn in Chiddingfold, England. / ...
    3. The Royal Oak. ...
    4. The White Hart. ...
    5. The Railway. ...
    6. The Plough. ...
    7. The Swan. ...
    8. The White Horse.
    Dec 11, 2023

    What is the history of tavern signs? ›

    Long before the bright oversize signs that we see on the highways today, painted tavern signs were the predominent form of roadside advertising. Towns were required by colonial legislation to have an inn or tavern to provide essential services, and these signs marked those establishments for travelers.

    What is the history of the Halfway Inn? ›

    Our History

    Constructed of cob and purpose built as a thatched-roof-farmhouse, the Halfway Inn is believed to date back to the 16th Century. Several original features remain including wattle and daub walls and flagstone floors.

    What are the different types of pub signs? ›

    Styles of Sign

    Pillory signs are freestanding and often situated away from the pub – perhaps in the car park. Banged-up is a term coined for signs that are fitted or mounted directly on to the wall of the pub building. Pinioned signs are free-standing and supported by two stout posts or columns on either side.

    Why is it called 12 pubs? ›

    The 12 Pubs Of Christmas is said to have started in Ireland about 10 years ago, but now it appears to be taking over the UK. The idea is simple: wear the most garish Christmas jumper or festive outfit you can find, join a large group of people – perhaps 100 or so – then try to drink in 12 pubs on the same day.

    What did pubs used to be called? ›

    Alehouses, inns and taverns collectively became known as public houses and then simply as pubs around the reign of King Henry VII.

    Why is a bar in a pub called a bar? ›

    The term derives from the metal or wooden bar (barrier) that is often located along the length of the "bar". Over many years, heights of bars were lowered, and high stools added, and the brass bar remains today. Bars provide stools or chairs that are placed at tables or counters for their patrons.

    Why are bars called pubs? ›

    1. The term 'pub'- is shortened for 'public house' and was initially a focal point of small towns and designated as drinking establishments. They typically offered beer, wine, and spirits. In the mid 1900s, windows of pubs were generally frosted or obscured so that clientele couldn't be seen from the street.

    How did the word pub originate? ›

    The word pub (n.) 1859, originated as a slang shortening of public house which originally meant "any building open to the public" (1570s), then "inn that provides food and is licensed to sell ale, wine, and spirits" (1660s), and finally "tavern" (1768).

    Why are pubs always named after animals? ›

    Ever noticed how many pubs are named after creatures like the "Fox & Hounds" or “The Pheasant”? These names aren't randomly plucked from a hat; they're steeped in history and tradition, often harking back to the days of hunting.

    Why are pubs named after arms? ›

    Why do Pub Names End in Arms? Like the Red Lion, pub names that end in arms are to do with heraldry. 'Arms' is referencing the heraldic coat of arms, it represents royal families, towns, cities and historic guilds. 'Kings Arms' is in the top 10 most popular British pub names.

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