Denis Kilcommons: History and heritage of the British pub

Let’s toast the great local pub

The Red Lion - The most popular pub name in the country

The Egyptians invented beer 5,000 years ago but the English invented the pub.

Beer has been the national drink since before the Romans came and was still the staple drink of the population after they had taken their civilisation and wine back to mainland Europe.

Pubs have, over the centuries, had the patronage of royalty and thieves. Prince Hal enjoyed going to the local boozer with Falstaff (who was the local boozer), until he moved up two books and became Henry V. Dick Turpin rode 200 miles non stop from London to York for a pint in his local and a rock solid alibi.

For my money, the pub (and it’s taken plenty of my money) is as important to our heritage as the parish church. This great institution, which is now under threat from closures, is peculiarly English and does not travel well. Licensed premises around the world can be entertaining but don’t compare with the civilised ambience of hostelries whose very names reflect history, local and national.

Victoria and Albert may have lived 100 years or more ago, but their names live on as pub signs. The Slubbers recalls the days of textiles, The Pack Horse is from the time before roads when wool was carried by donkey or horse along trails across the Pennines.

The connotations of Lord Nelson, Little John and The Shepherd’s Rest are obvious. The Chartist is from troubled days of the 19th century when Chartism was a radical movement of the working class demanding political reform, which caused riots and strikes.

The Jacob’s Well at Honley, which was built in 1835, was named after a pig farmer named Jacob who lived on the site and had a well.

Some names are linked with long forgotten monarchs or titled men. The White Hart was the livery badge of Richard II, The White Horse the sign of the House of Hanover, The Rose and Crown originated from the Wars of the Roses, The Albion is the ancient name for Britain.

The Red Lion was introduced when James VI of Scotland also took the English throne as James I in 1603. He ordered all public buildings, including taverns, to display a heraldic red lion.

Waterloo celebrates the famous battle of 1815, The Alma a mostly forgotten battle from the Crimean War in 1854, The Wellington is named after the general who became Prime Minister.

And the most popular pub name in the country? The Red Lion. There are supposed to be more than 600 of them.

North of the border may be looking forward to an independence referendum next year, but they have left England with a lasting memory of a Scottish king.

 
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