Off to the pub for a British history lesson

Off to the pub for a British history lesson

As a kid, I was fascinated by the name of a pub near my grandmother's home in Farnborough, Hampshire.

It was called the Tumbledown Dick, which sounded quite funny to my immature ears.

My father explained it was a derogatory nickname given to Richard Cromwell (son of the more famous Oliver), who was briefly in power in England during the late 1650s and highly unpopular.

The pub dated back to those times and became a stop for stagecoaches on the London-Southampton route.

That's when I first realised you could learn a fair bit of local history from pub names, which later provided a great excuse for visiting a vast array of such establishments.

Not all the names are as eye-catching as Tumbledown Dick. People around the world are familiar with standard English pub names such as Red Lion, Crown, Royal Oak, White Hart, Swan and the Plough.

Then there's the White Horse, King's Arms, King's Head and Queen's Head. All these names are steeped in history and many have a royal flavour.

The Royal Oak became popular after Prince Charles (later King Charles II) escaped from Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads by hiding up an oak tree in a Staffordshire wood.

It became a celebrated event and Royal Oak pubs sprouted up throughout England. We've even got one in Bangkok.

Alas, there is not a happy ending to the Tumbledown Dick tale -- the pub was recently turned into a McDonald's.

Bloody alcohol

Some pub names can disguise murky goings on. One that catches the eye is the Three-Legged Mare in Petergate, Yorkshire. It is, however, not a reference to an unfortunate horse, but medieval slang for a gallows that could hang three people at once.

Then there is The Quiet Woman in York, with a sign showing a woman carrying her own severed head. Her ghost is said to frequent the pub, which one suspects would go down well with Thai visitors.

However, there is nothing misleading about The Bucket of Blood pub in Hayle, Cornwall. Two centuries ago, the landlord drew a bucket from the adjacent well only to find it full of blood, after which they discovered a murdered smuggler in the well.

Ordering a "Bloody Mary" there can only add to the atmosphere.

We must also not forget The Hung, Drawn and Quartered pub near the Tower of London, which reflects some rather unpleasant goings on in that vicinity in the old days.

Mustard to custard

Some pubs have experienced intriguing name changes like The Cat and Custard Pot in Paddlesworth, Kent. According to local folklore, the pub was originally called the Red Lion.

After the sign was destroyed in a storm, the village artist painted a new one, but his "lion" looked more like a domestic cat.

So locals renamed the pub The Cat and Mustard Pot, although it is unclear where the mustard came from.

Later, "mustard" evolved into "custard" for unexplained reasons. It doesn't really matter as everybody calls it "The Cat".

Then there is the pub in Staffordshire that was formerly known as the Bull's Head, but changed to Bull & Spectacles.

Apparently it was prompted by a drunken patron who climbed up the pub and left his spectacles on an image of the bull.

Goats and ferrets

Goats feature quite a lot in pub names and there are some really curious combinations. The Goat and Compasses in Hull is quite famous and some believe it is a corruption of the ancient phrase "And God encompasses us all".

In Bournemouth, there is also the oddly named Goat and Tricycle. Other intriguing names featuring furry things are The Ferret and Radiator, The Elusive Camel and The Roaring Donkey.

The honour of the longest pub name goes to The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn in Stalybridge, Greater Manchester. Locals settle for calling it "the pub".

Stalybridge also happens to host the pub with the shortest name, Q.

These few names are just the tip of the iceberg and readers no doubt have their own quirky offerings from local digs. But my favourite, because of its improbable message, is the Portsmouth pub called…the Jolly Taxpayer.

Yard of Ale

The first pub I frequented in Bangkok had a very English name, The Yard of Ale, a lovely little spot on the corner of Convent Road and Silom.

The pub actually possessed an authentic yard of ale, a tall thin glass holding a couple of pints or more, hanging above the bar.

On occasion, the yard would come off the wall as customers foolishly tried to drink the contents in one go. They usually ended up covered in beer as the bulb-like bottom of the glass made the beer gush out like a waterfall.

However, the ensuing spillage was much appreciated by the resident rodents.

The Yard of Ale was run by an amiable pianist, Sam Scott, who was particularly adept at Noel Coward songs. One of the most popular was Coward's Mad Dogs and Englishman, which of course gives Thailand an honourable mention: "In Bangkok, at 12 o'clock, they foam at the mouth and run/But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun."

Well, it's approaching midday, so it's time for me to go out for the daily walk with the dog.

I might even pop in the pub to brush up on some history.

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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