This week PETER FROST embarks on a pub crawl with a difference. His destinations are pubs that have intriguing names or have been frequented by the least expected guests.
Without doubt my favourite pub name is The Land of Liberty, Peace and Plenty. This unassuming boozer is situated in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire in what used to be the Chartist village of Heronsgate. It takes its name from the Chartist land company slogan. Both Clement Attlee and Kim Philby lived in Heronsgate and drank in the pub.
Almost my nearest local is the Olde Coach House in Ashby St Leger, Northamptonshire. This is the village that played a central role in the Gunpowder Plot. Robert Catesby, his servant Thomas Bates and other conspirators made the room above the gate house in his house in the village their command centre in the plot to blow up parliament.
Karl Marx loved his beer and a favourite pub was The Museum Tavern, opposite the British Museum. The pub is actually older than the museum and was first known as the Dog and Duck but was renamed in honour of the museum when it opened in 1823.
Robert Kett led a great rebellion against enclosures that had ruined peasants and agricultural labourers all over East Anglia. Kett was hanged in Norwich but The Ketts Tavern in the town keeps his name alive.
The Rosemary Branch in Islington is a very old pub indeed. It gets its name from the bunches of rosemary worn by the Levellers — the very early socialist group who used to meet at this pub.
What else would you call a pub in Tolpuddle, the Dorset village where they invented trades unions? What else but the The Martyrs Inn? The name commemorates the brave men who were transported for their political beliefs.
There are an amazing number of pubs called The Saracen’s Head. The gory name dates back to the crusades when English knights brought back severed and dried Muslim heads. They sold them to inn keepers who mounted them on spikes as adverts outside their pub doors.
Barford is a pretty small village three miles south of Warwick. It was home to a hedge layer who would found the first ever trades union for agricultural labourers. They named the village pub after this workingclass hero — The Joseph Arch.
When it comes to pubs named after working-class heroes you can’t really beat the renamed Lord Palmerston in Annette Road, Holloway N7 — it has become El Comandante in memory of Che Guevara.
At The Pyrotechnists Arms in Nunhead Green in South London regulars may try to tell you Guy Fawkes drank here. In fact, that wonderful name comes from the pub’s proximity to the oldest firework factory in Britain. The firm Brooks made its reputation with spectacular displays at nearby Crystal Palace.
Marketing is getting desperate when a publican has to claim they have the only pub in Britain with the word carrot in the title. It is the Bunch of Carrots at Hampton Bishop, Hereford but I bet some of our readers are ready to argue.
The Three Legged Mare at High Petergate, York has nothing to do with an injured horse. The “three-legged mare” was a medieval gallows that could hang three people at once. There is a replica of this gory device in the pub’s garden.
Stalybridge on Tameside has two claims to fame in any lexicon of pub names. The longest in Britain — The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn, and the shortest name too — The Q Inn.
Many a brave rebel came to a nasty end in the Tower of London, too many to name here but they are all commemorated in a pub in Great Tower Street called The Hung Drawn and Quartered. Before you pedants write in, yes, I know it should be hanged not hung.
There are plenty of pubs named after Robbie Burns, Scotland’s greatest poet. There are also a good few named after his poems or characters in the poems. Burns himself often drank at Poosie Nansie’s at Mauchline, Ayrshire and it’s quite hard to pronounce the name after a few whiskies.
The Swan with Two Necks, Newcastle is pub named for a spelling error. It is one of many with this curious name. The Queen owns most of our wild swans and her swan uppers mark them with a nick on the beak.
When Elizabeth I gave some swans away to other people they were marked with two nicks.
Some 40 years ago I used to drink in a pub near the Grunwick picket line in Willesden called The Case Is Altered; it was a pretty common name for pubs and still is. Arrested Grunwick pickets would meet their lawyers here as it was handy for the magistrates’ court and I always assumed that had something to do with the name. I was wrong. It’s actually a reference to 1609 play Casa Alta by Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s.
There are plenty of pubs called The Goat and Compasses. I always think that any title with the word compasses has a masonic connection and there are many pubs with masonic symbols in their name. However, devour Christian drinkers claim that the name is a distortion of the phrase “And God encompasses us all.”
The Legend of Oily Johnnies at Winscales, Cumbria had me worried. Did I really want to know the origin of that name? In fact, it was simply an early landlord of a pub called The Oak Tree who changed it in honour of a regular patron called Johnnie, who used to sell paraffin oil locally.
Located in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, The John Hewitt is unique, it is owned by The Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre. John Hewitt was a poet, socialist and trade unionist who helped found the Unemployed Centre.
There is only one way to finish this tour of some of my favourite pub names. This one is right in the centre of Belfast. It is one of that city’s most popular pubs. Its name? What else, The Morning Star.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 2 December 2016.