Reality behind pub names | Ferment Magazine

Some interesting facts taken from an article by Louise Crane in Ferment 68:

  • Pub and inn names/signs became a thing in Britain in the 12th Century, after a Royal decree from King Richard II that all such places would have a locally distinctive name and bear a painted sign clearly communicating that name for those who could not read. This was partly because a lot of Crown-employed Ale Tasters (a job that would check beer was up to standard, measures were fair etc.) were illiterate.
  • As a result, lots of pubs became "The White Hart", which was the official symbol of Richard II (hence the common crown around the deer's neck).
  • Similarly, the White Lion is the symbol of Edward IV; the White Boar is Richard III; and the common Red Lion is James I of unification fame. There are so many Red Lions because James I actually forced all "important buildings" to display his heraldic animal, and pubs were often the most important place in a community, so many just changed their names for simplicity.
  • The shortest pub name in the UK is the Q Inn, in Stalybridge, Manchester.
  • Pubs named along the lines of The Swan with Two Necks or The Two Necked Swan these days often have signs with, well, multi-headed Galliformes, but the name actually makes more sense. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the queen would occasionally gift swans to lucky patrons. These royal birds would have their webbed feet "notched" with two small incisions, or "nicks", to show their heritage. Over time, "two nicks" became "two necks", and the pub name was born. Definitely not common, but if seen it means that royalty once stopped there (or favoured the pub in some way).

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