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It’s a Sign!

The White Horse Pub

The White Horse Inn, Hailsham, UK

Posting one last time about the Hoare Family, Stourhead and interesting tidbits………….that led from one thing to another!

When Richard Hoare, Goldsmith, moved his shop from Cheapside to Fleet Street he took his trading sign with him, that of the Golden Bottle, which was a gilded leather bottle that hung outside the shop. This sign was used to distinguish his business from another.

I am fascinated with the signs in the UK. Everyone has a sign!  Cottages in the villages have signs rather than numbered addresses and looking for cottage signs and pub signs while visiting there is very enjoyable!

But how did all this sign business start?  Well, with the Romans! In 43 AD, it was traditional for landlords, in Rome, to hang branches of vine leaves outside their premises to promote the drinking of wine within. People could not read, so an image that made sense was needed. When one saw the grape vines, one thought of grapes and then wine! Voila a sign! However, when the Romans got to the UK, they were lacking the customary vine leaf and hung any kind of evergreen plant over the door instead. The Romans built an extensive road network and with large numbers of troop movements, inns opened at suitable stopping points. Hence the beginnings of the local pub!

By the 12th century people were doing pilgrimages to cathedral towns, such as to the shrine of Thomas Beckett in Canterbury. As Chaucer’s pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales reveal, the pilgrims started their journey at the Tabard Inn in London. Other inns and taverns welcomed pilgrims and knights on their way to the Crusades in the Holy Land.

Pub signs as we know them today were originated with the Royal Act of 1393 when Richard II declared that anyone brewing ale in a town, with the intention of selling it, must hang out a sign or forfeit his ale.

It was Charles I who gave people the right to hang out signs as they pleased.  Prior to that signs were for innkeepers only. So an elaborate language of symbols began with a common understanding. Most common was a dragon for an apothecary, a sugar loaf for a grocer, a wheatsheaf for a baker, a frying pan for a confectioner and a spool for a silk weaver, or in the case of goldsmith, Hoare, the leather sack of gems.

By the 18th Century heavy wrought iron brackets with their sign hung outside every single establishment in Cheapside. During bad weather or a strong wind, these huge signs groaned and creaked and in 1718 a huge sign collapsed killing four people and took out much of the shop front. There was such a problem of hanging signs crowding the streets and knocking people from their horses, that a commission was formed in 1762 to take them all down and fix them to the store fronts. So that became the standard system to identify properties.

But, the British like their traditions and I am glad many, many shops, pubs and cottages use the hanging of signs to identify their property, albeit with lighter, smaller signs!

Here are some of my pub signs collected during my “Garden Tours of England.”

The Bucket of Blood, Cornwall, UK

The Bucket of Blood, Cornwall, UK

According to local folklore, the Bucket of Blood got its name many years ago when the landlord went to the well to get a bucket of water, but found a bucket of blood.  Investigating  further he found there was the badly mutilated corpse of a local smuggler at the bottom of the well! An alternative theory is that the well on the grounds would provide red water due to run off from local tin mining.

Downlong Cottage, St Ives, Cornwall, UK

Downlong Cottage, St Ives, Cornwall, UK

The Mermaid Restaurant, St Ives

The Mermaid Restaurant, St Ives

The Golden Lion, St Ives

The Golden Lion, St Ives

Warninglid Village Sign, UK

Warninglid Village Sign, UK

The Wolfpack Inn, Tenterden, UK

The Woolpack Inn, Tenterden, UK

The Star Inn, Alfriston, UK

The Star Inn, Alfriston, UK

The George Inn, Alfriston, UK

The George Inn, Alfriston, UK

The Bull Inn , Benenden

The Bull Inn, Benenden, Uk

These were a few of my favorite signs! I hope you enjoyed learning about them! See you soon!

5 Responses to “It’s a Sign!”

  1. GeorgieMoon

    Fabulous post as usual. All looks very familiar to me, as I’m from England and see things like this all the time, but it must be more exciting for an overseas traveller.

    Reply

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