Saturday, October 25, 2008

Down the Pub

When I lived in London, I was obsessed with noticing pub names. Unfortunately, due to my rather large and hulking camera, I never really got around to photo-documenting my favorites. It's just not practical to lug your digital SLR around every day. I especially loved the ones on the way to work in the City or in East London, because they are the oldest and the most authentic I'd seen. Taking the bus from St. Paul's to Covent Garden, you pass the Cheshire Cheese, billed as one of the (if not the) oldest pubs in London. There's also a long row of shops selling lawyer's robes and wigs. Most of the pubs in the area are frequented by the same lawyers who work and buy their goods all along the road.

Pubs in Hackney, Shoreditch, and Hoxton were mostly for working men, and as such had silly or somewhat commonplace names. The pubs near my flat in South Kensington or Knightsbridge were royalty-related, like the Queen's Arms. The ones I visited in South Ken were usually gorgeous, with curving doors, brass fixtures, and heavily leaded windows or ones that ran from floor to ceiling. My favorite pub, The Drayton Arms, was in Old Brompton Road, Chelsea. The pub quiz drew a large, rowdy crowd once a week. We were the only Americans who had found it, so the quiz master often repeated things for we who couldn't "understand proper English". He also made sure to throw in one Super Bowl question per sports round, for those of us who don't know anything about premiereship cricket.

Then there were random pubs all over London with fantasy names or ones (supposedly) that had come from years of improper speaking. The Goat and Compass = "God encompasses us". My favorites, of course, were about dragons and foxes, or else just sounded pretty-- The Dew Drop.

One of my friends put up some pictures from London and I noticed some pub signs sprinkled throughout, and it made me remember my fascination with those signs.

1 comment:

Elaine Saunders - Complete Text said...

We should record pub signs where we see them as there's a chance they won't be around for much more.

The economic crisis and smoking ban mean that many are now closing, losing not only the pub but also the sign outside.

Pubs came to us 2000 years ago with the Roman invasion and have adapted to the changing times. Their names reflect those times, having been inspired by royalty, religion, heroes, villains and the odd scandal.

It's great that you take notice of them because it's like having a giant historical encyclopedia down the High Street. Make sure you carry a smaller camera next time you're over!

Thanks for a great post.

Elaine Saunders
Author - A Book About Pub Names

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