Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

What’s In a Name?

September 13th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Mostly people go to pubs because of a certain atmosphere, good service, good ale, etc. But why I really like pubs is because of their diverse, and often strange, names. Within walking distance of the hotel we have a few pubs with names such as The Court, The Brick Layer and Marlborough Arms. Stopping at the Brick Layer’s Arms pub the other day got me wondering about pub names in general.

After reading an article from the London Times it gave me more insight into the meaning of these names. More than just leaving you to question if these places serve bodily parts, these names tell about the history involved with the place. The Times listed the five most used pub names as of 2007 which were: The Red Lion (759); The Royal Oak (626); The White Hart (427); The Rose and Crown (326) and The King’s Head (310). After reading further into my post, you’ll learn probably why a few of these names are so common.

Some pub names are sometimes easy to figure out, for they often have religious, political, heraldic, personal, occupational or sporting names. A religious sign might have objects such as a lamb and flag (representing Christ and the Christian flag). Many decided to show allegiance to the monarchy and have names such as The King’s Head (or Arms) or The Crown. Nearby to the hotel, The Brick Layer’s Arms pub was probably named such because of the trade that went on in that area. Also close by there is a pub named The Marquis of Granby, which I learned with a quick search that many pubs were named after this man. Apparently John Manners, the Marquis of Granby, was a general in the 18th century who looked out for the welfare of men upon their retirement and established funds for the creation of taverns, thus why many are named after him.

The sign though is the beacon of the pub, and a way to attract its visitors to it. For those who could not read, the picture was how they often distinguished one pub from another. The Times states, “before the widespread use of signs, pubs would hang a recognizable object, such as a boot or a bent branch, which became known as a crooked billet.” Another website on local British history, Britain Express, http://www.britainexpress.com/History/culture/pub-names.htm
remarks that this practice originated in Roman times where they would hang vine leaves outside to distinguish the place as a tavern.

Pubs are not just a place to eat or drink, they each tell a story about the history of England and their location. They can also tell about the politics or the status of the place and the owner. So the next time that you decided to go drinking or dining at a local pub, perhaps take a moment and consider about the meaning behind the sign. Perhaps after you figure out its past (potentially dark) and you may decided you might not want to stop there for a drink!

Tags: Alli · Pubs

The Moon Under Water—Certainly My Favorite Pub

September 11th, 2009 · No Comments

Reading George Orwell’s “The Moon Under Water” I was almost getting giddy at the prospect of such a pub existing.  Now I have not spent much time in the pubs here in London not being a huge fan of pub food, excessive drinking, and loud music—however I have made an effort to visit a few pubs and have specifically noted their “atmosphere” to use Orwell’s term.

To be completely frank I had no real interest in discussing this topic until I met up with friends a couple of nights ago at The Sports Café off of Piccadilly Circus.  Prior to this experience I had felt most of the pubs I ventured into were fairly similar. The food offerings were all about the same: pies, jacket potatoes, a burger, the crowd was similar: middle aged men in suits at lunch and after work, with a handful of older gentlemen creeping in the corners, and the music was undistinguishable pop music in every locale.  Depending on how close the pub was to London proper I found there were more men in work clothes.  At the pubs closer to a college I tended to find a mixed clientele of young college students and middle-aged men.  However, in every pub almost all of the pub-goers were British. That was until I went to The Sports Café.

I wasn’t even halfway into the door when I found myself surrounded by young college aged (or younger) people and (get ready for it..) American accents! It was so loud I could barely hear myself thinking, a combination of the music volume and the stereotypical loud American voices.  I never even saw a food menu, I’m not sure if this was because they didn’t serve food or because food had stopped serving by this hour, but either way I would assume that a place like this would serve chicken fingers, burgers, pizza, and fries (not even chips).  I recognized almost every song that came on the blaring stereo, and additionally recognized half a dozen people at the bar (most of whom I had never met before, but also happened to be Dickinson students).

Now I don’t think George Orwell was looking for the first pub I described, but I also don’t think he would have imagined a place like the later that I visited.  I have come to realize that pub life is a huge part of the British culture, and I am trying to appreciate it for what it is, but none of the places I have visited have been a place where I would want to spend extended periods of time, or return to.  But, if I ever find The Moon Under Water where the atmosphere is just right with good food, no music (okay well my perfect pub would have some music), families in the back garden, and a friendly staff I could certainly spend some time there. But I’m still looking.

Tags: Amanda