Pubs and Their Signs

I LOVE pub signs!  From the unimaginative to the incredibly creative, a pub sign gives you a glimpse into what lies behind the door.  All across the U.K. pub signs abound.  They beckon you to enter, to relax, make yourself comfortable and enjoy a pint.   From the U.K. pub signs crossed the Atlantic and made their way to the U.S. and throughout all (of what were and some still are) British territories.  How did pubs (or public houses) get such interesting names?  Where did these names come from?

The Pony and Trap  .  The Bird in Hand  .  The Fighting Cocks
The Adam and Eve  .  The Blind Beggar  .  The Hare and Hounds
The Bricklayers Arms

Let’s start at the beginning.  Public houses (pubs) originated almost 2,000 years ago, during the time of the Roman occupation of Great Britain.  To  make it easier for their armies to travel across the country, the Romans began building roads and creating infrastructure throughout the land … and people began to travel in greater numbers.  Whether walking, on horseback or in a horse-drawn carriage, travel was tiring and difficult.  A weary traveler needed a place to rest.  By the 12th century, monasteries provided travelers with these services, but after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, travelers were at a loss.  Seeing the opportunity to make a few guineas, enterprising women (of course) opened their homes and welcomed travelers with food, home brewed ale, and often times a place to sleep.

"The Alehouse Door" by Henry Singleton 1790

“The Alehouse Door” by Henry Singleton 1790

The literacy rate at this time in Great Britain was very low.  Most people couldn’t read.  Education was for the upper classes only.  To advertise and ‘signify’ their services, tradesmen began to hang pictorial siblacksmith-signgns outside their shop or home, something that could easily be identified.  A blacksmith might hang the sign of an anvil.  A joiner (carpenter) might hang a hammer.  If a home was open to the “public”, some foliage or a green bush was hung outside the door to signify that ale was served.

Public homes had very distinct categories … an “ale” house served ale and cider.  A “tavern” served wine.  And if an ale house or tavern also provided sleeping arrangements, they became known as an “inn”.  Eventually all public homes, ale houses, taverns and inns melded into being called “pubs”.

In an effort to control what was fast becoming a growing industry, and to make these public “pub” homes more visible, King Richard II ruled in 1393 that outdoor signs were mandatory, stating “Whosoever shall brew ale in the town with intention of selling it must hang out a sign, otherwise he shall forfeit his ale.”  

A sign for a pub?  What kind of sign?  Where should the image come from?  Simply painted on wooden boards, the first signs came from the inspiration and images of the church … angels, demons, saints.  From there, inspiration came from the monarchy and landowners … kings, queens, lords and ladies.  Many public house owners paid homage to the monarchy and aristocracy by naming their establishments “The King’s Arms” , “Lord Crewe”, and more.

The king was an avid sportsman so signs began to be created honoring his favorite pastime or his pets … “Fox and Hounds”, “The Dog and Duck”.  Sometimes signs were to associate the establishment with a local trades group, such as “The Carpenter’s Arms” where local carpenters would meet in the hopes of finding work, or “The Golden Fleece” for wool traders.  The symbol of an ark or a ship became widely popular in coastal communities, not to mention “The Mermaid”.

thegeorgesouthwarksignAlong with the church, pubs became the hub of social activity.  Villagers would meet to share stories, exchange ideas, relax and enjoy a home-brewed pint. With many people not knowing how to read, you simply mentioned the sign of the public house, such as “The Pig and Fiddle” and it was very easy to find. Lettering on signs didn’t come for quite some time.

Pubs became an outlet for not only sharing the news of the day, but where locals would play and be entertained. Fiddlers sang and games were played … darts, cribbage, and dominoes are as popular today as they were 200 years ago.

By the 16th century, “pubs” were in every village and town.  They were so popular, town officials had to pass a law requiring a license in order to operate a “pub” and then they needed to limit the number of licenses that were issued.

There are so many romantic and sometimes frightening stories surrounding pubs from ghosts and highwaymen walking the halls at night to priests hiding in tunnels to avoid the King, objects moving about on their own, even a large black dog who guards the stoop.  The 750 year old “Ye Olde Man and Scythe” pub claims the 7th Earl of Derby, who originally owned the public house, causes mayhem at night when the pub is closed.  To have a resident ghost just adds to the charm … none of this,of course, keeps pub goers away.

the-swan

Original pub signs are highly collected works of art, commanding high price tags.  But should you want your own personalized pub sign, that’s not a problem at all.  Today there are many local artisans who specialize in creating hand-painted, high-quality pub signs.

Meanwhile, should you be walking down the street in any of the big cities or small villages in the U.K., be sure to look up.  You’ll get a brief glimpse into Great Britain, and the cultural and historic events of past times.   I’m hoping you now have a little better understanding of the significance of these treasures and will grow to LOVE them as I do.

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References:  History of Pubs, Great British Pub, Historic UK, Wikipedia, Antique Pub Signs,
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A Medieval Inn ….

We just returned from a trip to the U.K. where we had the opportunity to stay in a 14th century medieval inn, the Shaven Crown, for a couple of nights.  Overlooking the village green, the Shaven Crown Inn is located in a quaint little village called “Shipton-under-Wychwood” * in the picturesque Cotswold district of England.

The-Shaven-Crown 6When you approach the Shaven Crown Inn you are immediately transported back in time … to 14th century Medieval England with flashes of Excalibur, jousting knights and coats of armor.  The architecture is solid, heavy, grey … made of timber, adobe, stone and slate.  And as you step through the arch into the inner cobbled courtyard with its massive double wooden doors, original hand-forged hinges and bolts, you know this building has tales to tell.  The Great Hall is a magnificent beam-laden Tudor room with an impressive staircase leading off to the bedrooms on either side. I’m certain the large central fireplace provided the only heating source for this great room at one time, and was also the cooking center where heavy, cast-iron cauldrons were hung with soups, where bread was baked, and game was roasted.

Intrigued by the uniqueness of this building, of course, I had to do a little research.  Little did we know that the Shaven Crown was one of the ten oldest inns in all of Great Britain, and has been documented as having been built by Bruern monks in 1384, specifically for what it is now, an Inn. No Inn could be complete without, of course, its resident ghost; and this one is no exception. From its monastic days, Brother Sebastian is said to be the ghost that haunts this venerable old hostelry.

Originally called ‘the Church of St. Mary’, Bruern Abbey was founded in 1147 by the Monks of Waverly in a remote, bucolic area just outside of Wychwood Forest.   The name, Bruern, comes from a French and Latin word meaning ‘heath’, a large, uncultivated track of land.  The monks, who then became known as the Bruern monks, built a small monastery to live and worship, to farm the land and raise sheep. Over the next hundred and more years the monastery grew and flourished, providing employment for hundreds of lay workers.  After the monastery, came a grand Abbey, then a chapel for the lay people.  A school was built, as well as a manor house, a convent for women, a mill, a tannery and many out buildings.  The farm provided not only for the monks, but for the surrounding villages.

Rendering of a Medieval Monastery Village

Rendering of a Medieval Monastic Village

Then in 1384 the monks of Bruern Abbey constructed their last building, the Shaven Crown Inn, specifically as an Inn to house poor pilgrims and travelers.  During these Medieval times, monasteries were not only part of the religious, economic and social fabric for the villages, they provided important centers for the poor and the needy, as well as resting places for travelers.

The Church of England, at that time, was very rich and very powerful.   Enter King Henry VIII. (I’ve written about him before … see “From the Wine Trail to the Whisky Trail“.)  Henry was a man of many appetites, not only food, but women as well.  Henry was first married to Catherine of Aragon, Princess of Wales and a powerful woman in her own right.  Their marriage produced one child, a girl, named Mary.  Henry was desperate to have a son who would be heir to the throne. He became infatuated with Catherine’s hand-maiden, Anne Boleyn (perhaps you’ve heard of her), and they began an affair, from which she became pregnant.

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn

Hoping for a son, Henry appealed to the most powerful ruler of all Europe, the Pope, to get an annulment from his marriage to Catherine in order to wed Anne**.  He was refused.  Despite the Pope’s rulings, Henry and Anne wed in a secret ceremony and the Pope retaliated by excommunicating them both.  This angered Henry so much he decided to break England away from the church completely … and in 1538 King Henry VIII began what was to become the “Dissolution of the Monasteries”.

Now with a vendetta against the church, King Henry VIII began his strategy to break that powerful relationship between Rome and England.  The Church held large, valuable tracts of land and buildings, paying little or no taxes to the landholders or the government.  Henry started slowly so as not to cause an uproar among the local townspeople and began crossing the country, confiscating the property and buildings of the smaller, less powerful monasteries.  Then he began taking larger, more important houses and holdings, systematically closing, selling or dismantling monastery after monastery.

King-Henry-VIII-Dissolution-Monasteries

King Henry VIII Dissolution of the Monasteries

This was devastating to the villagers and to the travelers and pilgrims who depended upon these community centers.  Not only was there the great loss of the monastery as the center of the social and economic life of the village, monasteries housed great libraries with invaluable collections of manuscripts and paintings.  Henry didn’t care.  He may have begun this destruction as a way to control the Church and its holdings, but now greed took over and he wasn’t about to stop.

It took over four years, but during that time more than 800 monasteries were destroyed, home to more than 10,000 monks, nuns and friars, and their lands and treasures taken for the crown. King Henry VIII, now the self-declared Head of the Church of England, took control and sold the monastic lands for such bargain prices that if you could afford it, you found a way to buy it.   Not everyone was against this.  The wealthy were able to grow their own estates by purchasing large tracks of land.  The middle class merchants, eager to become wealthy landowners, purchased the smaller tracks of land.

Courtyard at the Shaven Crown Inn

Courtyard at the Shaven Crown Inn

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in October 1536, Bruern Abbey and its buildings were destroyed.  Today there are no visible remains of the original Abbey.  The Shaven Crown, however, was not destroyed and remained under ownership of the Crown.  In 1580 Queen Elizabeth I (King Henry VIII’s daughter by Anne Boleyn) used it as a royal hunting lodge, but then decided to give it back to the village, with the condition that it be turned back to an inn; the proceeds being used to help the poor.

Over the years, the Inn fell into disrepair, but in the early part of the 20th century the Inn was sold into private ownership.  The new owners purchased the Inn just two years ago and have returned it to its original grandeur.  The Bruern monks would be very proud of the Shaven Crown Inn if they could see it today.  Bold, gracious and grand, the Inn remains to welcome all for many more centuries to come.

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* With a population of 1244
**Anne gave birth to a little girl, the future Queen of England, Elizabeth I.  But, Henry got tired of Anne as well, and with trumped up charges of adultery against her, he had her publicly beheaded at the Tower of London.

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References:  Shipton-under-Wychwood, Abbeys of England, Britain Express, Victoria County History, The Shaven Crown Inn, Wikipedia

Scotch Eggs …. the original Fast Food!

I’ve been to Scotland, but I never saw a Scotch Egg.  In fact, I’ve never eaten a Scotch Egg.  What are they?  You certainly don’t see them here in the States.  And in the U.K., for the most part, they had faded into obscurity …… until recently that is.   It seems this food item was for the longest time considered among the “worst foods in Great Britain”.

Most often you find Scotch Egg s in the convenience foods aisle of the supermarkets or in the take-away section of a roadside rest area.  Morrisons, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose all sell them as frozen foods ready to take home, throw in the microwave and enjoy (?) for afternoon tea.

But, wait a minute . . . Tesco has just introduced a new version of the Scotch Egg wrapped in pastry . . .  and this hand-held snack recently appeared on a foodie magazine’s list as one of the “cool” new foods . . . not to mention Chef Tom Kerridge who has a gourmet version of the Scotch Egg in his Michelin-starred restaurant.  Scotch Eggs are being wrapped in patés, in avocado, in Black Pudding.  There are Scotch Eggs using quail eggs, ginger, tumeric, Panko ….  Apparently, what is old is new again.

Fortnum & MasonSo where did the Scotch Egg come from?  The posh London department store, Fortnum & Mason, takes credit for inventing this snack in the 18th century as part of its portable luncheon for travelers. In the 18th century traveling was a long and arduous event for even the shortest distances.  If you got hungry, there were no fast food restaurants along the way.  MacDonalds, Burger King’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken,Taco Bell?  So what did you do when you did get hungry?  Hopefully, you planned ahead.

Dr. Andrea Tanner, Fortnum & Mason’s archivist says “From the very beginning of the business Fortnum’s used to produce ready-made dishes like pork pies for travelers, which were put in baskets with disposable bamboo cutlery. The Scotch egg was one of those foods. It was small enough to fit in a handkerchief or pocket, and maybe was rather less smelly than tucking into a hardboiled egg on a coach.”

If they were a convenient luncheon or snack item in the 18th century, then why not now?  They are easily transportable . . . perfect for tailgating parties, backyard cookouts or school lunches.  Low cal?  No!  High protein?  Absolutely!  How do they taste?  Let’s find out!

SCOTCH EGGS
Recipe adapted from Simon Rimmer’s “SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND”

5 large eggs  (soft, medium or hard boiled)
12 oz. sausage meat
fresh thyme – 1 tsp.
fresh parsley – 1 tblsp.
1/2 onion, minced
flour seasoned with salt and pepper
bread crumbs (or Panko)
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for frying

 If you don’t know how to boil eggs, let’s start there.  Place 5 eggs in cold water.  Bring to a boil. Cover, turn off heat and let sit.  Depending upon how hard you want the yoke, it can be 4, 6, 8 minutes.  Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, cool and shell under cold running water.

Prepare three dishes for coating the mixture:  an egg wash, seasoned flour, and breadcrumbs.


If you are using sausage in a casing, remove the casing.  In a bowl add sausage meat, thyme, parsley and minced onion.  Add salt and pepper.  Mix well.  Divide this mixture into five mounds (for five eggs).


In your hand take one mound of sausage and form a flattened round.  Place the cooked egg in the center and form the ball around it.  Do this for each egg.

Take the sausage wrapped egg and dip each one into the beaten egg wash, then the flour and finally the breadcrumbs, making sure they are completely covered.

Heat the vegetable oil to about 325.  Carefully place the eggs into the oil to cook.  It will take approximately 6 to 8 minutes per egg.  With slotted spoon remove the egg and place onto a paper towel to drain.   (You may need to finish the eggs in the oven – which is what I did.)

How were they?  If you love pork sausage, you’ll love these.  For me, they were dense and a bit heavy. They really are perfect for a portable lunch or snack.  Very filling and satisfying, I can’t imagine eating more than one (but hubby certainly can).  I think next time I’ll “oven fry” them and see if that lightens then up a bit.  Also I think I’m going to undercook the eggs so they are a bit softer and I’ll try chicken instead of pork sausage.   Hmmmm, I think we have may something!!

 

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References:  BBC Food, The Guardian, Something for the Weekend, Fortnum & Mason