Much of a nation's history, and more of its
manners and feelings, may be gleaned from its public-house signs. A
very large number of them are selected out of compliment to the lord of
the manor, either because he is the “great man” of the neighbourhood,
or because the proprietor is some servant whom “it delighted the lord
to honour;” thus we have the Earl of March, in compliment to the
Duke of Richmond: the Green Man or gamekeeper, married and
promoted “to a public.” When the name and titles of the lord have been
exhausted, we get his cognisance or his favourite pursuit, as the Bear and Ragged Staff, the Fox and Hounds. As the object of
the sign is to speak to the feelings and attract, another fruitful
source is either some national hero or great battle; thus we get the Marquis of Granby and the Duke of Wellington, the Waterloo and the Alma. The proverbial loyalty of our nation
has naturally shown itself in our tavern signs, giving us the Victoria, Prince of Wales, the Albert, the Crown, and
so on. Some signs indicate a speciality of the house, as the Bowling
Green, the Skittles; some a political bias, as the Royal
Oak; some are an attempt at wit, as the Five Alls; and some
are purely fanciful. The following list will serve to exemplify the
In allusion to the angel that saluted the Virgin Mary. The Bag
o'Nails. A corruption of the “Bacchanals.”
From the popular sport of bear-baiting.
The Bear and Bacchus,
in High Street, Warwick. A corruption of Bear and Baculus - i.e. Bear and Ragged Staff, the badge of the Earl of Warwick.
The Bear and Ragged Staff.
The cognisance of the Earl of Warwick, the Earl of Leicester, etc. The Bell. In allusion to races, a silver bell having been the
winner's prize up to the reign of Charles II. La Belle Sauvage. (See Bell Savage.)
The Blue Boar.
The cognisance of Richard III. The Blue Pig (Bevis Marks). A
corruption of the Blue Boar. (See above.) The Boar's Head. The
cognisance of the Gordons, etc.
The punning heraldic badge of Prior Bolton, last of the clerical
rulers of Bartholomew's, previous to the Reformation.
A public-house sign in St. Lawrence Lane, London; a corruption of Blossom's Inn, as it is now called, in allusion to the hawthorn
blossoms surrounding the effigy of St. Lawrence on the sign.
The Bowling Green.
Signifying that there are arrangements on the premises for playing
bowls. The Bull. The cognisance of Richard, Duke of York. The Black Bull is the cognisance of the house of Clare. The Bull's
Head. The cognisance of Henry VIII.
The Bully Ruffian.
A corruption of the Bellerophon (a ship).
This, being the arms of Spain, symbolises that Spanish wines are to
be obtained within. In some cases, without doubt, it is a complimentary
sign of the manor castle.
The Cat and Fiddle.
A corruption of Caton Fidèle- i.e. Caton, the faithful
governor of Calais. In Farringdon (Devon) is the sign of La Chatte
Fidèle, in commemoration of a faithful cat. Without scanning the
phrase so nicely, it may simply indicate that the game of cat (trap-ball) and a fiddle for dancing are provided for
The Cat and Mutton,
Hackney, which gives name to the Cat and Mutton Fields. The Cat
and Wheel. A corruption of “St. Catherine's Wheel;” or an
announcement that cat and balance—wheels are provided
for the amusement of customers.
(1) In honour of the Stuarts, whose shield was “checky,” like a
Scotch plaid. (2) In commemoration of the licence granted by the Earls
of Arundel or Lords Warrenne. (3) An intimation that a room is set
apart for merchants and accountants, where they can be private and make
up their accounts, or use their “chequers” undisturbed. (See Lattice.)
The Coach and Horses.
This sign signifies that it is a posting-house, a stage-coach
house, or both. The Cock and Bottle. A corruption of the “Cork
and Bottle,” meaning that wine is sold there in bottles. Probably in
some cases it may indicate that the house provides poultry, eggs, and
The Cow and Skittles.
The cow is the real sign, and alludes to the dairy of the hostess,
or some noted dairy in the neighbourhood. Skittles is added to indicate
that there is a skittle ground on the premises.
The Cross Keys.
Common in the mediaeval ages, and in allusion to St. Peter, or one
of the bishops whose cognisance it is- probably the lord of the manor
or the patron saint of the parish church. The cross keys are
emblems of the papacy, St. Peter, the Bishop of Gloucester, St.
Servatus, St. Hippolytus, St. Genevièe, St. Petronilla, St. Osyth, St.
Martha, and St. Germanus.
A public-house sign two doors from Temple Bar, Fleet Street. The
sign represents St. Dunstan seizing the devil by the nose. (See
under Devil, Proverbial Phrases.
The Dog and Duck.
Tea gardens at Lambeth (suppressed); to signify that the sport so
called could be seen there. A duck was put into water, and a dog set to
hunt it; the fun was to see the duck diving and the dog following it
The Red Dragon.
The cognisance of Henry VII. or the principality of Wales. The
Spread Eagle. The arms of Germany; to indicate that German wines
may be obtained within. The Fox and Goose. To signify that there
are arrangements within for playing the royal game of Fox and Goose.
St. George and the Dragon.
In compliment to the patron saint of England, and his combat with
the dragon. The legend is still stamped upon our gold coin.
The George and Cannon.
A corruption of “George Canning.”
The cognisance of Alfonso, King of Portugal; and intimating that
Portuguese wines may be obtained within.
The Goat in Golden Boots.
A corruption of the Dutch Goed in der Gouden Boots (the god
Mercury in his golden sandals).
The Goat and Compasses.
A Puritan sign, a corrupt hieroglyphic reading of “God encompasses
us.” The Black Goats. A public-house sign, High Bridge,
Lincoln, formerly The Three Goats- i.e. three gowts (gutters or
drains), by which the water from the Swan Pool (a large lake that
formerly existed to the west of the city) was conducted into the bed of
The Golden Cross.
This refers to the ensigns carried by the Crusaders. The Grecian
Stairs. A corruption of “The Greesen or Stairs” (Greesen is gree, a step, our de-gree). The allusion is to a flight of
steps from the New Road to the Minister Yard. In Wickliffe's Bible,
Acts xxi. 40 is rendered- “Poul stood on the greezen.”
Let me speak like yourself, and lay a sentence
Which, like a grize or step, may help these lovers Into your favour.
The Green Man.
The late game-keeper of the lord of the manor turned publican. At
one time these servants were dressed in green.
The Green Man and Still
- i.e. the herbalist bringing his herbs to be distilled. The Hare and
Hounds. In compliment to the sporting squire or lord of the manor. The Hole-in-the-Wall (London). So called because it was
approached by a passage or “hole” in the wall of the house standing in
front of the tavern.
The Iron Devil.
A corruption of “Hirondelle” (the swallow). There are numerous
public-house signs referring to birds; as, the Blackbird, the Thrush, the Peacock, the Martin, the Bird-in-the-Hand, etc. etc.
The Three Kings.
A public-house sign of the mediæval ages, in allusion to the three
kings of Cologne, the Magi who presented offerings to the infant Jesus.
Very many public-house signs of the mediaeval period had a reference
to ecclesiastical matters, either because their landlords were
ecclesiastics, or else from a superstitious reverence for “saints” and
The Man Laden with Mischief.
A public-house sign, Oxford Street, nearly opposite to Hanway
Yard. The sign is said to have been painted by Hogarth, and represents
a man carrying a woman and a good many other creatures on his back.
The Marquis of Granby
(London, etc.). In compliment to John Manners, eldest son of John,
third Duke of
Rutland- a bluff, brave soldier, generous, and greatly beloved by
What conquest now will Britain boast,
Or where display her banners?
Alas! in Granby she has lost
True courage and good Manners.
To signify that pack-horses could be hired there.
The Palgrave's Head.
A public-house sign near Temple Bar, in honour of Frederick,
Palgrave of the Rhine. The Pig and Tinder Box. A corrupt
rendering of The Elephant and Castle; the “pig” is really an
elephant, and the “tinder-box” the castle on its back.
The Pig and Whistle.
Wassail is made of apples, sugar, and ale.
The Plum and Feathers.
A public-house sign near Stoken Church Hill, Oxford. A corruption
of the “Plume of Feathers,” meaning that of the Prince of Wales.
The Queen of Bohemia.
In honour of Lady Elizabeth Stuart. (See Bohemia.) The
Queer Door. A corruption of Coeur Doré} (Golden Heart).
A symbol of England, as the Thistle is of Scotland, and the Shamrock of Ireland. The Red Rose. The badge of the
Lancastrians in the Civil War of the Roses.
The White Rose.
The badge of the Yorkists in the Civil War of the Roses. The
Rose of the Quarter Sessions. A corruption of La Rose des Quatre
Saisons. The Salutation and Cat. The “Salutation” (which refers to
the angel saluting the Virgin Mary) is the sign of the house, and the
“Cat” is added to signify that arrangements are made for playing cat or tipcat.
The Saracen's Head.
In allusion to what are preposterously termed “The Holy Wars;”
adopted probably by some Crusader after his return home, or at any rate
to flatter the natural sympathy for these Quixotic expeditions.
near Temple Bar, and opposite The Palgrave's Head; in honour
of Sir Francis Drake, the circumnavigator.
The Ship and Shovel.
Referring to Sir Cloudesley Shovel, a favourite admiral in Queen
Anne's reign. The Seven Stars. An astrological sign of the
The Three Suns.
The cognisance of Edward IV.
The Sun and the Rose.
The cognisance of the House of York. The Swan with Three Necks. A public-house sign in Lad Lane, etc.; a corruption of “three nicks”
(on the bill)
The Swan and Antelope.
The cognisance of Henry V. The Talbot [a hound] The arms of
the Talbot family. The Turk's Head Alluding to the Holy Wars,
when the Crusaders fought against the Turks. The Unicorn. The
Scottish supporter in the royal arms of Great Britain.
The White Hart.
The cognisance of Richard II.: the White Lion, of Edward
IV., as Earl of March; the White Swan, of Henry IV. and Edward
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894