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History of Pub Signs

The history of pub signs date back to the Roman times, when reliefs made of stone or terracotta were hung outside to denote the trade or profession of the occupants of the building. The sign of 'The Goat' suggested a dairy, 'The Mule driving a Mill' a bakery and 'Bacchus' (the Roman God) a wine merchant. One of the first Roman tavern signs was the 'Bush'. The 'Tabernae' would also hang vine leaves outside to show that they sold wine - in Britain, as vine leaves are rare, small bushes were placed outside. Early pubs hung long poles or ale stakes, which might have been used to stir the ale, outside their doors. If both wine and ale were sold, then both bush and pole would be hung outside. (Culture UK, Inn Sign Society, History .)

The naming of inns and pubs became common by the 12th century. With pub names came pub signs - since the majority of the population could not read or write. The pub signs were very simple, quite religious symbols such as 'The Sun', 'The Star' and 'The Cross', but later they became influenced by the coat-of-arms of the landowners on whose site the inn stood. In 1393, King Richard II passed an act which made it compulsory for pubs and inns to have a sign (his own emblem the 'White

The 'Red Lion' is maybe the most common name for a pub. It dates back to the time of James I and VI of Scotland who came to the throne in 1603. James ordered that the heraldic red lion of Scotland be displayed on all important buildings, including pubs. Other royal signs include 'White Lion', which dates from the time of Edward IV and the 'White Boar', which was the emblem of Richard III. (Inn Sign Society, History .)

More recently, social and industrial changes have been reflected in pub names, for example 'The Railway'. Sport and famous sportsmen are well represented with names like 'The Cricketers' or 'The Jockey'. Infamous goings-on are also remembered in 'The Smugglers Haunt' and 'The Highwayman'. (Culture UK.)

Some pub names are really unique, or rather weird, like 'Flute & Flypaper', 'Filthy McNasty's', 'Now Inn Particular', 'I Am the Only Running Footman' and 'My Father's Moustache' (Gates).

Pubs have also been named after the breweries, for example the Tap and Spile and the Firkin Brewery (with over 150 outlets) in the 1980s. The Firkin Brewery has since been lost and the pubs are being renamed. (Inn Sign Society, History .)

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