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Hang on to pub names please

Established pub names are worth fighting for. In fact there should be some sort of preservation order on them. We have to stop self-styled trendy landlords from throwing away time honoured declarations of local history and, sometimes, centuries of tradition

The Jolly Caulkers in Rotherhithe, for example, was close to the docks. Caulkers were the chaps who resealed joints on boats –  it’s all there in the name. The Travellers’ Rest at Hollingbourne in Kent is on the Pilgrim’s Way and it – or buildings on the same site which preceded it – has done what it said on the sign since Chaucer’s time. It should never have been renamed The Dirty Habit.

Sometimes sense prevails. The Black Horse and Harrow in Catford  had a long stint with a silly modern name despite the “proper” name being engraved in the Victorian coping above. It is now, praise be, back to being called The Black Horse and Harrow and we can all happily recall that when my grandfather was a London child in the 1890s, Catford was a rural place visied by poor East End children on Sunday School Trips.  The Hoops in Great Eversden, Cambridgeshire dates from at least the 1830s, presumably, named for local barrel makers. Today it is The Hoops Tandoori restaurant and three cheers for the enlightened person who decided to retain the old name.

At some point in the last twenty years, someone in the department of transport  quietly decided that every roundabout and major junction should have an official name, often confirming the one already in use by the locals. Good idea and quite often – unintended consequences – that helps to preserve an old pub name. The A249/A2 junction at Sittingbourne in Kent is called Key Street after a long demolished pub. The big intersection on Bromley Common is called The Fantail although the eponymous hostelry has long since been called something else.

Pub names offer all sorts of quirky insights into history and we should not be casually throwing them away in the interests of minimalist modernisation. Yes, pubs are closing rapidly because the need for, and popularity of,  the traditional pub has dramatically declined but we shouldn’t let the names slide away too. The Green Man at Bellingham in South London has gone but there’s a community centre on the site. It’s named the Green Man Community Hub and they have the old pub sign outside the café. Even the bus stop has Green Man in its name. It’s a good example of what should happen but usually doesn’t.

And there is no excuse whatever for changing the historic old Railway Tavern into The Tart’s Knickers or renaming The Carpenters’ Arms  Fred’s Fries.  OK, I made those up but you get my drift and it’s happening all over the country all the time.




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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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