Pubs and bars are essential to our social fabric and the heritage of British pub signs can be observed in any UK city or town. Even small villages will often have a handful of pubs to haunt. Taking inspiration from Game of Thrones, Jaws, Winnie The Pooh, LOTR and more, Vivid Doors have created some fictional pubs that any fan would love to be their regular. Get a flagon of ent-draught in the Golden Ring or how about some extra-terrestrial cocktails in the Moon & Bicycle? These awesome pub signs would make for fantastic stops on a dream bar crawl for any TV & movie fan.
Before we get started, let’s take a closer look at the role pubs and bars have had to play, especially in the UK, which these signs are inspired by.
The Heritage of British Pubs
Pubs, bars, taverns, watering holes – these have been an essential part of the social fabric of the UK for centuries. Where did the Brits get their penchant for drinking flagons of ale? Well, it can be traced way back to the Middle Ages.
The brewing process of beer requires water to be boiled. This meant that beer was safer to drink than water as it was less likely to carry water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid and dysentery. Beer is also how the Christian monks of the time would fund themselves and their monastery. Monks were supposed to be self-sufficient and not accept charity. Brewing and selling beer was the favoured method of gaining revenue. There is still one monastic order in North Yorkshire that makes and sells their own ale.
The oldest pub in the world can be found in Ireland, and it is known as ‘Sean’s Bar’. It won a Guinness World Record in 2004 after it was able to prove that the pub dates back to 900 AD.
As for the oldest pub in the UK, there are six taverns fighting for that title. It’s hard to crown one for obvious reasons and all of them have been rebuilt at least once which makes things tricky. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans has foundations that date back to 743 AD, but it has only been a pub since 1756. Ye Olde Jerusalem Inn in the city of Nottingham claims to have existed since 1189, but that claim is yet to be verified.
Since then though, the British pub has become a focal point for any community. If there’s one thing you notice about Britain, is that there are pubs everywhere. Even small villages can have a handful of pubs to choose from. Many pubs that you encounter will have centuries of history behind them too.
How Did British Pubs Get Their Distinctive Names?
One thing you notice about British pubs are their names. They often relate to royalty, animals or notable events, people or things. Names like The George & Dragon, The Red Lion, The Anchor, The Bull Inn, these are all names that crop up frequently across the UK, with a sign to match.
So where does this come from? Estimates vary, but by and large, the vast majority of the British public were illiterate up until 1550. Even then, the literacy rate was still thought to be around 15% but it broke the 50% barrier in the next hundred years.
Pubs had to rely on visual imagery to create their ‘brand’ in the Middle Ages. Simply putting up a sign that read The Crown didn’t work, a visual sign had to accompany.
Vivid Doors decided to have some fun with this age-old tradition and inescapable feature of British culture and combine it with pop culture of the modern age. Here’s what they came up with…
When Pop Culture Meets British Pub Signs
Game of Thrones – The Three Crowns
The biggest television series of this decade, Game of Thrones and most fantasy films, series, books and more pay homage to pub culture. It’s part of the medieval aesthetic and in the first few seasons especially, you’re never away from a pub or tavern for long.
The Three Crowns is in reference to Cersei, Daenerys and Jon Snow, but the latest season is laying waste to that, as they always do. ‘The Crown’ is a very popular pub name in the UK and features heavily up and down the nation.
Jaws – The Fisherman’s Tale
As a sea-faring nation, there are lots of nautical references in British pub names. ‘The Anchor’ is another very popular pub name and this Jaws-inspired pub is named after the legend of Sir Martin of Brody. He was a fisherman who came into this pub and regaled everyone with a tale of how he had slain a gigantic beast of the ocean…
Winnie The Pooh – The Hunney Pot
One tradition in pub names was using simple, inanimate objects to identify the watering-hole. Couldn’t afford a sign? Hang a boot from the door and your pub is called ‘The Boot Inn’.
If Winnie the Pooh was to become a medieval publican, he might hang his trademark pot outside, creating ‘The Hunney Pot’. A free house where people came from far and wide to be entertained by a talking bear and pig. Must be something in the ale?
Game of Thrones – The Ned’s Head
You will come across many, many pubs in the UK with the name ‘The King’s Head or ‘King’s Arms’. This is often referencing a few things, but one particular event is the execution of Charles I in 1649 as part of the English Civil War. The only English monarch to have been executed, Charles I’s decapitation marked the end of constitutional monarchy and the dawn of a new English republic…which lasted for eleven years…
Ned Stark may not have been King, but as Hand of the King, and perhaps the most high-profile decapitation in the whole series, this one works well.
E.T. – The Moon & Bicycle
Paired pub names are a big feature of UK taverns. Before the 17th Century, there weren’t many around at all. Fast forward to the mid-18th Century and they’re everywhere. Some explanations for this are when landlords would combine businesses. Eventually, it just catches on and when we get to the 20th Century, we see lots of paired pub names like the Slug & Lettuce, a popular chain of pubs with an intentionally humourous paired name.
Expect extraterrestrial cocktails, out of this world ales and if you’re over the legal driving limit, just phone home and ask for a lift. Sorry.
Star Wars – The Cross Sabers
One of the most popular pub names in the UK is ‘The Cross keys’, a reference to gatekeeper of Heaven, St Peter. Local parish churches would often be dedicated to a saint, and the nearest public house would then be likely to make a reference to that saint in its name, as the laity would saunter over to the local public house after church to be merry, drink ale and play sports. Others include ‘The Eagle’ for St John, the ‘Lion & Lamb’ as a reference to the Resurrection or ‘The Shepherd & Flock’.
Considering the strong religious allegorical theme running throughout the Star Wars saga, the ‘Cross Sabers’ is a natural fit. More inviting than Mos Eisley, this would be the favoured drinking hole of any fan of the franchise.
Lord of the Rings – The Golden Ring
Lord of the Rings featured inns and taverns in their seminal movies because the fantasy genre and taverns go hand in hand. The film series had such inns like ‘The Prancing Pony’ in Bree and ‘The Green Dragon Inn’ in Bywater. The Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring also had a very British summer fete feel. Travel across rural England in the summer and you’ll see much of the same thing, celebration, hearty drinking, sports, dancing, music and more.
‘The Golden Ring’ would naturally be a shrine to all things LOTR. Get yourself a flagon of ale, order a honey-cake and get some lembas bread to soak it all up!