Creatures exotic and not

by Esmerelda Weatherwax (April 2012)


I said in June last year that exotic animals would be worthy of another pub sign article. This is it.

The Antelope Leyton: A very weatherbeaten sign but that the pub is still functioning at all is an achievement. It is the only one left within a 10 minute walk; the Oliver Twist, the Wakefield, the Holly Bush all closed.

The Bear Wembley, The Brown Bear Stepney and The Bear Bradford on Avon.  I accidently repeated two of these from June. Whoops!

The Porcupine by Leicester Square.

The Salamander in Bath.

The Tiger Inn Beverley Yorkshire.  This building in Lairgate is old and has been used as a pub since at least the 18th century but it was originally the Black Bull. The original Tiger (or Tyger) was the town’s premier coaching inn and was in the street named North Bar Within. It closed as an inn in 1847 and the name transferred to the Black Bull. The derivation of the name, despite the fearsome beastie on the sign may be nothing to do with magnificent Asian big cats. The young boy servants whose job it was to stow luggage on the coaches and ride at the back were called ‘the tiger’.  The building is now a row of shops.

Streets in old northern towns are often called Something gate. In London, Bishopsgate and Ludgate  ran through the gates in the city wall; their ultimate root is Old Norse gat, meaning opening. In the north of England (definitely the area east of the Pennines but I’m not sure about west of them) names such as Lairgate in Beverley, Coppergate in York (street of the coppersmiths, now the site of the Jorvik Centre) Flaxengate in Lincoln have their roots in the old Norse gata meaning path or way. I was reminded of the street names of York while visiting Stockholm many years ago where nearly every street is Something gatan.

The Elephant’s Head Camden Town, London; The Elephant Fenchurch Street, City of London; The White Elephant, Diss, Norfolk.

I don’t have a good example of the famous name Elephant and Castle, the best known example of which has given its name to the area of South East London where five major routes, including the New Kent Road meet. Jacqueline Simpson, author of Green Men and White Swans – the Folklore of British Pub Names discounts the theory that the name was a corruption of Infanta of Castile the title of certain Spanish Princesses, in particular that of Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I. She gives several different much more likely derivations, including the excavation of the bones of a prehistoric elephant in Camden Town in 1690.

The Giraffe Walworth. I didn’t take this. The pub closed in 1999 and most of it has been demolished and is awaiting redevelopment. The pub was near the site of the Royal Surrey Zoological Gardens which, during the 19th century kept some of the first giraffes seen in London. A better copy of this picture can be seen at Geo-location.

The Panther Reigate. I had to take this one from Pubsgalore website. The one I would have liked to use, that of The Panther in Bethnal Green, a pub known to my family, was demolished in 2005 before I started this madness.

I used photographs of signs depicting some of the sea creatures in Britain’s waters in June. Some of these are from a little further afield, deep into the North Atlantic.

The Walrus London SE1; This is really a hostel with a social club attached. So what? It sells beer, people meet there and some of them have accommodation. He has nice whiskers. It looks like a pub.

The Whalebone, South Woodham Ferrers; Moby Dick’s Weymouth, provided by Andy of March for England, The Moby Dick on the corner of Whalebone Lane Romford.

Whalebone Lane runs from Dagenham into Romford. It gets its name from a pair of whalebones which were in place at the crossroads with the main route to Colchester (now the A12) from the 17th century. The earliest mention is 1641. The bones were replaced over the years; in 1904 two whalebones hung over the entrance to Whalebone House and a second set stood opposite. The first pair remain in Valance House museum in Dagenham. The pub was built in the mid-20th century and rapidly became an important landmark for the new estates for east London overflow built nearby. A newly-wed couple were considered to be nicely set up if they had a new little house ‘out by the Moby Dick’.

The Dolphin Mare Street Hackney and the Dolphin Felixstowe (old sign from 2008)

Beautiful creatures, their name on a pub isn’t confined to the coast – there are Dolphins as far inland as you can get, in Coventry, Walsall and Macclesfield.

Horses, Cats and Dogs are a work in progress.


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