MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

1 December 2020

Pubs and Their Signs Guest Post by Richard Tearle

On his website blog, recently, Richard posted a short story about pub signs. (Link will also be below at the end of this article.) With many modern pubs having nonsensical names such as 'Slug and Lettuce' (whatever idiot thought that one up?) have we lost sight of the importance - and the history - behind the names, and signs, of our British pubs?

Helen Hollick pointing out 
The King's Arms pub sign
(King George III)
 in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia USA...
on 4th July 2015
Independence Day!
(Maybe she shouldn't have shouted
'God Save The King!' quite so loudly!)

The signs were important because many people of the past could not read, so visual information was needed, and the signs could convey much more than merely the name of a pub... over to Richard:

The art of the pub sign is something that I am quite passionate about, but the trade is slowly dying. Pubs are closing daily – and that is without taking Covid-19 into account – and signs are changing; many just showing the name on a blank background. Like barges and funfairs, the style of the artwork of many pub signs is unique and characteristic as well as being extremely skilful. It will be a shame if the skill disappears, perhaps if more people knew about the meanings behind a pub sign, more people would show an interest and care?

Kings and Queens: Whilst medieval kings are not particularly favoured, probably the earliest king represented is King Ethelbert at Reculver, Herne Bay, Kent. He was King of Kent from an early age and reigned until the year 616 AD. Birth Year unknown, but believed to be 550 AD. There is a King Henry VIII at Hever Castle in Kent and The Queen and Castle, unsurprisingly, at Kenilworth showing Elizabeth I with the castle behind her.

Charles II seems to be very popular and I have an example taken in Ross on Wye. Georges abound, including one in Lichfield, the George IV, and a few Williams. Few 20th Century monarchs have been so honoured - perhaps patriotism died with Victoria (of which there are many pub signs!)? Does anyone know of a 'Queen Elizabeth II', or a 'George VI'? Surely, there must be a 'Prince Of Wales' somewhere, (or a 'Princess Diana'?)

The King Charles II
Ross On Wye
King George IV
Lichfield, Staffs

For Pubs named The Kings/Queens Arm or Head, a sign is essential for us to identify the monarch, whereas in the case of the Arms, they may give us a clue as to who they represent simply by the heraldic structure of the sign – are the arms of Scotland present, for example, or the Fleur de Lis of France? 

Princes and Princesses are not forgotten – especially the daughters of Queen Victoria – and the hierarchy is represented  all the way down the scale through Dukes and Lords, Marquises and Viscounts.

(Helen: where I used to live in Walthamstow, there is the Lord Palmerston, named for the Victorian statesman and Prime Minister)

The Lord Palmerston

HERALDRY: Studying pub signs invariably leads to a study of Heraldry: apart from the above mentioned 'Arms' of leading dignitaries,many pubs are named after occupations and Worshipful Companies, such as the Forester's Arms in Swadlincote and the well-known sign of London's Elephant and Castle - although the origin of its name remains disputed. One explanation is an English corruption of La Infanta de Castilla, a reference to a Spanish princess with an English connection, such as Eleanor of Castile or Katherine of Aragon (who before her marriage was la ynfante doña Catalina de Castille y Aragon, "infanta of Castile and Aragon". Previously the site was occupied by a blacksmith and cutler – the crest of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers features an elephant with a castle (a howdah) on its back, which in turn was used because of the use of elephant ivory in handles; this association with the Worshipful Company of Cutlers is considered a far more likely explanation for the name.

The crest of the
Worshipful Company of Cutlers.

Heraldry is a fascinating science with its own rules, symbols and conventions. All knights of the realm, and many other titled people, are entitled to bear arms and these are designed by the Royal College of Arms.

Also part of this are the 'badges' that kings and others adopted: The White Hart was the badge of Richard II, the Red Lion the badge of John of Gaunt – most probably the pub was so named because it stood on land owned by him. One interesting story: the White Boar was the badge of Richard III but following his death and subsequent 'disgrace' nervous pub owners changed the sign to The Blue Boar in favour of the Earl of Oxford, a supporter of Henry VII.

WAR: Wars are remembered in the names of battles, The Maida, The Alma and, perhaps strangely, The Case is Altered, which is a derivation of Casa Alta. Perhaps most prominent in this category are the ships and seamen of the Napoleonic Wars. Examples are The Enterprise, The Good Intent, The Earl St Vincent and, of course, Lord Nelson and the Victory.

FARMING: Just about every small village has a pub recalling its farming heritage – The Bull, The Plough, The Share and Coulter.

TRANSPORT: This is quite well represented, though mostly by pubs situated close to a railway station – The Railway Arms, the Railway Bell, The Station etc. Some famous trains are also featured – The Royal Scot and the Silver Bullet at Finsbury Park which depicts the streamlined train, The Silver Jubilee. At  Swadlincote is the Sir Nigel Gresley, designer of the revolutionary streamlined class A4 (which includes the record breaking Mallard). In Margate, The Shakespeare features not the playwright but a picture of the Britannia Class locomotive of the same name that would often haul the Golden Arrow from Victoria to Dover

SPORT: Very little here though many  sporting venues may have a pub nearby which  represents the club and/or stadium. (White Hart Lane- - Tottenham Hotspur FC as example.) Horse racing is very popular, though, and there are some famous racehorses depicted - the Red Rum, the Altisidora, Brown Jack. Boxers, too, have been honoured, such as Tom Cribb.

SOME ODDITIES AND 'INTERESTING' BITS! Some names may seem to be a strange combination of objects. Often, a landlord would move from one pub to another and remember his old one by incorporating its name with the new one. This is the story behind The Queen's Head and Artichoke, in London. The Uxbridge Arms in Burton-upon-Trent not only honours the Earl of Uxbridge, but also the fact that, on land that he owned, he built streets of houses for workers in the brewery industry which still stand today. He was also the guy who famously lost his leg at Waterloo whilst sitting astride his horse next to Wellington!

The Panniers
depicting the historical indoor market
at Barnstaple, Devon

The Shrew Beshrewed (now demolished) near Canterbury depicted a woman on a ducking stool and the Duke Without A Head showed a picture of a 'toff's' shoulders, a blank space and then a top hat above it! The story is that the Dukes Head stood on a crossroads but a road widening scheme meant it would need to be demolished. The instructions on the plans were marked 'Remove the Duke's Head' and when it was rebuilt it adopted the new name!

The Swan at Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal joins the Trent and Mersey Canal, not only shows a fine swan, but also the pub itself in the background!

A humorous one is The Drunken Duck, near Ambleside in the Lake District. Apparently. The story goes that several barrels of beer were spilt over the road and the pub's ducks had a fine time splashing about. A while later the landlady found them all and assumed they were dead - she started plucking one, only to find it was 'dead' drunk!

The Tame Otter at Tamworth shows a lovely little creature – but is it actually tame, or does it inhabit the River Tame? Then there is the often used Rose and Crown, and pubs named after places or destinations...

over to Helen...

Thanks Richard! The lovely old coaching inn pub in my Devon Village of Chittlehamholt is the Exeter Inn (recently under new, highly welcoming management and now boasts a newly re-thatched roof!) The original parts of the building are late 16th Century... but it is thirty or so miles from Exeter - so why 'The Exeter Inn'?

Exeter Inn

The answer is simple: the road it is situated on used to be the 'main' (probably only!) road from Barnstaple (about 12 miles away) to Exeter, and was, therefore, a stopping point for a 'comfort break' and to rest or change the horses. A pity, though, it doesn't boast an original old pub sign. 

What is your local pub - what sign does it show? 

Please leave a comment or email 



10 November 2020

Tuesday Talk: NARCISSI, something a little controversial?

The one thing that keeps most people going through the long, dark, usually cold and wet dark days of a British winter is the prospect of spring returning come February.

The first signs are the snowdrops. Here on my 13 acre ‘estate’ (well, ok, farm) the bank alongside our lane is smothered in these beautiful little bell-like white flowers – last year they appeared in early February. They are followed by the bright yellows and oranges of the daffodils, narcissi and the primroses. Apparently, yellow attracts the bees, which is why most spring flowers are sunshine yellow.

Again, the banks along the lane, and my ‘rustic’ garden (a code word for very overgrown) are covered in flowers – it never ceases to amaze me just how many different types of daffs there are – when buying a bunch from a shop, you’ll probably get the familiar golden yellow with the large ‘trumpet’ in the middle, but you can get a huge variety of different yellows, lemons, whites,  and orange tinged... I love the smell in my house when I come down first thing in the morning when I’ve got a huge bunch of daffs in a vase – the scent is gorgeous.

I don’t pick the daffs from the lane – unless the wind (or the dogs or a horse) have broken the stems, but down in our bottom field there used to be a sort of shepherd’s hut (long, long, gone now) and someone must have planted daffs outside. These have now naturalised and abound in the hedge among the brambles, holly and hawthorn. Those that have wandered out into the field – and those I can reach without being scratched or stung – I do pick. Otherwise the horses will stomp on them.


After the daffs, come the bluebells – but I’m not here to talk about them.

There is another Narcissus. He of Greek myth fame.

John William Waterhouse – Narcissus and Echo

Narcissus was the son of the river god, Cephissus and the nymph Liriope, (another version claims  he was the son of the lunar goddess Selene and her mortal lover Endymion – so take your pick.)

There are several different versions of the story, all derived from different sources. The classic, most familiar one comes from Ovid... the story of Echo and Narcissus...

One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, a mountain nymph, saw him, fell in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted, "Who's there?". Echo repeated "Who's there?"

She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him but he told her to leave him alone. Heartbroken, she spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, heard the story and decided to punish Narcissus. Come the summer it was hot and he was thirsty so the goddess lured him to a pool where he leaned over the water and saw a beautiful youth. Staring back at him. Narcissus fell deeply in love, not realising that he was looking at himself. Unable to leave the allure of his image, he eventually died, still staring at his reflection. What remained of his body disappeared, and all that was left was a white and gold narcissus flower that grew in the spot where he died.

Caravaggio - Narcissus

It is unfortunate, however, that such a beautiful little flower, and such a sad story is today reflected (excuse the pun) in a rather insidious human trait. Narcissism.

Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one's idealized self-image and attributes. Narcissism, or pathological self-absorption, was first identified as a disorder in 1898. The American Psychiatric Association has listed the classification narcissistic personality disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 1968, drawing on the historical concept of megalomania.

It is distinct from egocentrism or egoism, and from healthy forms of responsibility and care for oneself. Narcissism, by contrast, is considered a problem for relationships with self and others, and for maintaining a functional culture. It is one of the three dark triadic personality traits – the others being psychopathy and Machiavellianism. There are four dimensions of narcissism as a personality variable: leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, self-absorption/self-admiration, and exploitative/entitlement. It is a personality disorder which often reflects traits related to self-importance, entitlement, aggression, and dominance. Also, sometimes, a defensive and fragile grandiosity, which functions as a cover for feelings of inadequacy.

Although most individuals have some narcissistic traits, high levels of narcissism can manifest into a pathological form, whereby the individual overestimates his or her abilities and has an excessive need for admiration and affirmation. Some narcissists may have a limited or minimal capability to experience emotions.

Freud's idea of narcissism described a pathology which manifests itself in the inability to love others, a lack of empathy, emptiness, boredom, and an unremitting need to search for power.

Narcissists tend to possess the following "basic ingredients": 

  • think they are better than others
  • views tend to be contrary to reality
  • self-views tend to be greatly exaggerated
  • perceive themselves to be unique and special people
  • behaviour tends to be selfish
  • oriented toward success
  • tend to demonstrate a lack of interest in warm and caring interpersonal relationships
  • tend to show aloofness, have expressions of mild irritation or annoyance, to serious outbursts, including violent attacks
  • may show paranoid delusion

Sexual narcissism can be an egocentric pattern of behaviour that shows an inflated sense of ability and entitlement. It can be the preoccupation with oneself as a superb lover through a desire to merge sexually with a mirror image of oneself. It is an intimacy dysfunction in which sexual exploits are pursued, generally in the form of extramarital affairs, to overcompensate for low self-esteem and an inability to experience true intimacy.

In the workplace, individuals high in narcissism are more likely to engage in counterproductive work behaviour that harms organisations or other people. The narcissistic manager will have two main sources of narcissistic supply: status symbols like company cars or prestigious offices; and flattery and attention from colleagues and subordinates. High-profile leaders have only one thing on their minds: profits. Such narrow focus may yield positive short-term benefits, but ultimately it drags down individual employees as well as entire companies.

Or, alas, an entire country. 

(information taken from Wikipedia)

20 October 2020

Writing Historical fiction... but what about the bad bits?


I've been writing as a published author for more years than I care to think about. (I was accepted by William Heinemann/Random House UK) in April 1993 - You can do the maths.) During that time, views on historical fiction have changed - back in the pre-1980s the popular writers were Catherine Cookson, Georgette Heyer, Victoria Holt etc. Good stories, but not necessarily accurate history. Then, as the 1990s began to fade, Historical Fiction took a down-turn and lost it's popularity, despite Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe and the arrival of Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Kay Penman Barbara Erskine (friends of mine, I must add ([OK name dropping bragging, sorry!]) 

Barbara Erskine, Me, Elizabeth Chadwick

Fortunately, interest in the genre picked up again and is still going strong - but it did change. Accuracy and the overall feel of reality became expected, probably, I suspect, influenced by the expansion of the Internet where factual facts can be easily discovered. (Who uses a library now to look something up?)

I agree that an author of historical fiction should get the facts right...

  •  No, you couldn't smell the sea from London's Embankment in Tudor times (until relevantly recently the only smell coming from the Thames was of sewage, the Embankment did not exist before late Victorian era, and anyway the sea is more than thirty miles away from London.)
  • No, England does not have hummingbirds. (Our smallest bird is the wren fact amended! The Goldcrest is our smallest bird... my fault for not checking, but I always thought it was the Wren!)
  • No, English oak trees are not tall and spindly - that's the American version
  • No, Richard III did not drink coffee...

English Oak

But what about the other things? That unpleasant, nastier side of history?

I've had grumbles from readers complaining that the battle scenes I've written are too violent. (Well, yes, battles were not exactly nice places to be!) Sex, if it is explicit is another contentious issue, particularly when the female involved is regarded as underage. In an historical context, however, many girls (especially those of noble, important families) were betrothed before they were fourteen - often much younger. A woman was regarded as 'old' by the time she passed twenty-five. Life expectancy in the past was nowhere near as long as it is now. Violence, torture, cruelty (hanging-drawing and quartering, bear-baiting, cock-fighting...) was accepted in historical times. Newgate, Bedlam, the Bastille - places where mercy and caring were never entertained. A child could be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread. Women were regarded as part of the furniture - how much do we, as writers, include these 'nastier' things in our novels?

The Roman Empire - slaves in chains

And then there is slavery. I know one author who said she would not read any novel that involved slaves. Another said she would never write anything about slavery. Other novels gloss over the truth, or romanticise it, or elaborate, or dumb down. And now we also have the toppling of statues and the debate about how should this era of the past be portrayed in real life, let alone that of fiction.

Dare I, in a future adventure of my Sea Witch Voyages (set during the early 1700s) write anything about the Slave Trade? My lead character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne was (well, still is, quietly on the side) a pirate. The Atlantic was full of ships transporting black Africans to a life of misery. These poor people were a valuable trade commodity. To be accurate of the period, Capt Acorne should be happy to transport slaves in dreadful condition aboard his ship in order to make a fat profit for himself. As it happens, however, he will not ever do so. My guy values freedom, for himself and others, regardless of the colour of their skin or country of origin. 

But taking a 21st century moralistic view of the past is, I feel, as bad as denying the truth of the awful things that happened. We must talk open and honestly about the cruelties of the Roman Amphitheatre where the spilling of blood and slaughter - of humans and animals - was undertaken purely as entertainment. We must never forget the Holocaust, or the deliberate massacres of those of a different belief to the Christian Church. I'm not a fan of glorifying the Crusades - I think it's time to stop promoting those knights who went off to fight the Infidel as heroes. (And yes, I include Richard the Lionheart here. I detest the man). Murder and massacre is murder and massacre, even if it is done in the name of Christ. Or any god, come to that!

My point, I suppose, is that an historical novel is a work of fiction, but the author has a duty of care to write, where possible, the facts, when they are known, as accurately as possible. And we should not flinch from portraying the facts, even when they do not sit comfortable in our hearts and minds.