2 Jun 2021

The Crown & Tankard

Restrictions are lifting and finally the great British summer has arrived. Where better to salute the beginnings of normality than in a traditional English pub? As you settle down for that celebratory pint, you might like to ponder the origins of the pub’s name.

Traditional British pub names have long been intertwined with royalty and nobility, so to celebrate the return of a very British institution, here’s Debrett’s royal history of pub names in the UK.

ROYAL FAVOURITES: The Red Lion, The Crown
The Red Lion is the most common pub name in the UK. It rose in popularity following the union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603 when King James I and VI of Scotland ordered that the heraldic red lion of Scotland be displayed on all buildings of importance. Canny publicans over the centuries have opted for the simpler The Crown, which shows loyalty but never needs changing – perhaps why it’s the second most common name.

BATTLE ROYAL: The Rose & Crown and Royal Oak
The Royal Oak, Britain’s third most common pub, honours of the future Charles II, who hid from pursuing Roundheads in an oak tree a short distance from Boscobel House in Staffordshire, after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The name Rose & Crown celebrates the end of the War the Roses when Henry Tudor married Elizabeth York.

OFF WITH HER HEAD: The King’s/Queen’s Head and King’s/Queen’s Arms
Pubs called The King’s/Queen’s Head are named not after grisly beheadings but their signs, loyally bearing a portrait of a monarch. The King’s/Queen’s Arms, meanwhile, are in reference to coats of arms rather than in homage to royal limbs. Modern protocol dictates reigning monarchs should not be depicted on pub signs during their lifetime so pubs named after queens are usually in honour of Elizabeth I or Victoria.

ROYAL SONS: The Prince of Wales and Duke of York
Prince of Wales and Duke of York, titles traditionally bestowed on the oldest and second sons of the monarch respectively, are common – the Prince of Wales is the most popular pub name in London. Most pubs named the Prince of Wales refer to Albert Edward, son of Victoria and later Edward VII. He served as Prince of Wales for almost 60 years before becoming King Edward VII in 1901.

UNOFFICIAL BUSINESS: Mrs Fitzherbert’s and the Nell Gwynne
It isn’t only members of the Royal family who get a nod from publicans but royal mistresses, too. Mrs Fitzherbert’s in Brighton is named after Maria Anne Fitzherbert, the Roman Catholic, twice-widowed long-time companion of George IV. The Nell of Old Drury and The Nell Gwynne Tavern in London bear the name of ‘pretty, witty’ actress Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwynne, who grew up in the area around Covent Garden and worked as a fruit seller in the market before taking to the stage and catching the eye of King Charles II. The pair are said to have met up using a secret tunnel running from the Theatre Royal to the inn now known as The Nell of Old Drury.

PUBS ON TOUR? The Devonshire Arms and Shrewsbury Arms
Derbyshire and Devon may be over 200 miles apart but there are three pubs named The Devonshire Arms within five miles of each other in Derbyshire. The reason? Chatsworth house, the family seat of the Duke of Devonshire, is near Bakewell in the county. The three Shrewsbury Arms within 30 miles of Chester are explained by the long connection of the Earls of Shrewsbury, regarded as the Premier Earl of England, with Cheshire, running back to the 2nd Earl who was Chief Justice of Chester in 1459.

HERALDRY: The White Hart, White Swan and White Horse
Many pubs are named in honour of royalty with reference to an element of their coats of arms. The White Hart was the badge of Richard II, The White Swan could be Henry IV, V or VI while The White Horse could be part of the Hanoverian coat of Arms.

A pub named The Duchess of Cambridge opened in Windsor two months after the royal wedding in 2011 and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s children all have pubs named after them: The Prince George in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, The Princess Charlotte in Colchester, Essex, and The Prince Louis in Great Notley, Essex.


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