A short History of the Pub Sign

History of the Pub Sign

No pub (or pub shed) is complete without the familiar sign adoring the exterior and featuring a matching name and image (usually witty – the Pork Scratch Inn, anyone?). You see them everywhere, but why do pubs across the UK have them? Just what is the history of the pub sign?

To explore the history of pub signs in Britain, you have to first time travel back over 2,000 years ago to when the Romans invaded these shores in 43 AD.

In Ancient Rome, landlords of the local tabernae would hang vine leaves outside to signify that they sold wine, but upon reaching Britain, they had to improvise with any evergreen plant or bush they could find.

One of the first Roman tavern signs was the ‘Bush’ and it’s still possible to find pubs called The Bush or The Hollybush up and down the country today. Early pubs would also hang long poles or ale stakes outside their doors, so if both wine and ale were sold, then both bush and pole would be hung outside to alert potential patrons.

The naming of pubs and inns became commonplace by the 12th century, and with pub names came pub signs, as the majority of the population could not read or write. Fast forward to 1393 and King Richard II passed an Act to make it compulsory for pubs to have a sign in order to identify them to the official Ale Taster – not a bad job to have, eh?

Since then, the names of pubs and inns have reflected British life at that particular time. Before King Henry VIII and the Reformation, many watering holes had a religious theme, such as The Crossed Keys with the symbols of St. Peter, the Apostle. When Henry split with the Catholic Church, many pub names were changed to more monarchical subjects – for example, The King’s Head or The Rose & Crown.

Perhaps the most common name for a pub in Britain is The Red Lion, which originates from the time of James VI, King of Scotland, who ascended to the throne of England as James I in 1603. After taking the throne, James ordered that the heraldic red lion of Scotland be displayed on all buildings of importance in Britain, including pubs!

Aside from religious motifs or the monarchy, many pubs across the UK are simply named after famous people in history. No doubt you’ll have seen something like The Duke of Wellington or The Shakespeare in your home town!

In recent times, social and industrial change have been reflected in the names of British pubs, whether it be The Railway or something sport-related like The Cricketers. A popular choice for bars can be the remembrance of infamous goings-on like The Smuggler’s Haunt or The Highwaymen.

No matter what you are thinking of naming your pub shed, make sure to get a matching sign from Barsigns.UK to really bring your home bar to life and possibly inject a little bit of history in there too!

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