Some time ago, I picked up this gem of a second-hand coat-pocket-sized book at my local market for the magical price of £1.25, a steal from the original RRP of £8.99 for a 2007 publication. Packed within it are 128 pages, including over 100 photographs of notable inn signs, and short insights to the stories behind them. The ideal companion to the history-loving, trivia-obsessed tipple-quenching Londoner. Can you think of anyone...?
Here are some of my favourites:
The Assembly House: (Kentish Town Road NW5)
The name refers to the fact that travellers gathered here before making their journey to the north across Hampstead Heath hoping that as a group they would avoid being attacked by highwaymen.
The Barley Mow: (Dorset Street W1)
Dates back to 1791 claiming to be the 'oldest pub in Marylebone', and it probably did serve farmers who came to the village of Marylebone from what was then countryside surrounding London. Many of its original features are intact including small snugs and a private bar. The name is more often attached to country pubs as a 'mow' is a stack and as barley is an ingredient of beer, the barley mow sign merely indicated that beer was sold in the house.
The Black Friar: (Queen Victoria Street EC4)
This pub, built in 1878, remodelled by H. Fuller Clark 1903-05, and refurbished in the early twentieth century, is a miraculous survival of art nouveau decoration. The area takes its name from the Dominican friary, which was situated here from the thirteenth century until its dissolution in 1536. The friars, founded by St Dominic in 1216, were known as the Black Friars from the colour of their robes. The trial of Catherine of Aragon, wife of Henry VIII took place in the Blackfriars Hall. The whole facade and interior of the pub is ornate with friars imbibing drink or having other connections with beer. The vaulted back room was added after the First World War to provide extra seating space.
The Blind Beggar: (Whitechapel Road E1)
The Blind Beggar was Henry, son of Simon de Montfort who was killed at the battle of Evesham in 1265. Henry was left for dead but escaped by assuming the guise of a beggar. The sign shows him accompanied by a nobleman's daughter who is said to have married him in the east of London. The event was recorded in a play, The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green, first performed in 1659. General Booth of the Salvation Army 'opened fire' in the pub with his first sermon in 1865. The pub was also the site of the murder of George Connell by the rival gangster Ronnie Kray in March 1966. Connell greeted Kray with the words, 'Well, look who's here' before being shot through the forehead.
The Cannon: (Cannon Street EC4)
The sign shows a trooper by the sign of a cannon, which he is about to fire. Though the name is taken from the street, Cannon Street was once Candelewrithstreet, where candlewrights had their shops.
Cat & Mutton: (Broadway Market E8)
This is a splendid Victorian pub with a sign showing a cat running away on hind legs waving a leg of mutton in its right paw being chased by a furious butcher. There has been a pub on this site since at least 1680 when the building stood on the Porters' Path, a drovers' road leading to Smithfield Market. John Rocque's map of 1745 identifies it as the Leg of Mutton and it has also been known as the Shoulder of Mutton.
The Dublin Castle: (Parkway NW1)
The pub shows a castle purporting to be that in Dublin. The name dates from the time when the main railway line to the North West from Euston was being driven through Camden Town and Chalk Farm. Navvies from all parts of the British Isles dug the line, but this often led to violence between the national groups. To try to stop the fighting separate pubs were built in the Camden area. The Dublin Castle was the base of the Irish navvies, the Windsor Castle served the English, the Edinboro Castle the Scottish and the Pembroke the Welsh. As the pubs were placed far apart this strategy seems to have kept the peace.
The Flask: (Flask Walk NW3)
Dates back to 1663. The sign shows a thirsty soldier drinking from his flask. The pub was originally called the Thatched House then the Lower Flask. There was an Upper Flask, which has now been demolished. Mineral waters, which were discovered in the vicinity, were exploited for their presumed medicinal qualities and flasks of this mineral water could be bought at the pub. The present building dates from a rebuilding of 1874 intended to serve the local workers and at one time had separate bars dividing the gentry from the working class.
The Hand & Shears: (Middle Street EC3)
The pub stands on the site of a twelfth-century alehouse which served the monks and guests of St Bartholomew's Priory. The sign, which is the guild sign of the Merchant Tailors' Co., commemorates their role in the Smithfield Fair or St Bartholomew's Fair held at Michaelmas every September and one of the largest in London. The officials of the company checked the cloth to ensure that the cloth was sold with the right measure. The Lord Mayor opened the fair, first recorded in 1133, by cutting the first piece of cloth, which seems to have given rise to the tradition of cutting a piece of tape to open an event. The last Cloth Fair was held in 1855. The pub claims to have provided refreshment to those who wished to watch the prisoners leave Newgate Prison for their execution at Tyburn.
The Jerusalem Tavern: (Britton Street EC1)
This is a small building dating back to 1720, through having the sign of the head of St John on a platter, has reference to the Knights Templar who protected pilgrims on their way to and from the Holy Land. The Templars were suppressed in 1314 and their duties were taken over by the Knights Hospitallers, the Knights of the St John of Jerusalem, whose priory was close by.