Crowns, Roses and Britannia

by Esmerelda Weatherwax (January 2011)

I touched on the origins and popularity of pub signs called the Crown and/or Rose and Crown in my very first article on pub signs back in 2009.  Since then I have taken quite a lot of photographs of signs of that name which is popular in every county I have had cause to visit.

As I said then, heraldic symbols were very popular, as are Royal ones. The most popular pub name is (or was) the Red Lion which was the device of John of Gaunt and centuries later King James VI of Scotland I of England.  The Rose and Crown combination became particularly popular at about the time of his reign. It too hinted at loyalty to the Crown – but the Crown of England.


According to my birthday present, Green Men and White Swans by Jacqueline Simpson, paired names became common from the latter part of the 17th century for the simple reason that landlords acquired further premises and wished to remind patrons that they were the proprietor of, say, the Crown, but now they are also the proprietor of the Anchor. She also believes the Crown and Thistle to be a reference to the Union of England and Scotland in 1707. This may also be the origin of some pubs called simply The Union.


I can understand the pairing a Crown which the Cushion upon which it would sit until being placed on the head of the Monarch but this theory would account for the strange juxtaposition of the Crown and Dolphin in Cable Street. I am not entirely certain that name has not got a shipping history behind it. It is closed, has been for some time and I cannot see it reopening as a pub. Another long closed pub is the Little Crown in Bermonsey. The local man I spoke to as I photographed it told me that it had been closed for some 10 years but that he had no idea why the sign depicted a ghostly hand holding the crown, and why it is only a ‘little’ one. The Crown and Mitre I always think of as symbolic of the separation of church and state.

The Rose is one of the emblems of England. Ultimately this goes back to the second English Civil War, the one known as the War of the Roses when the Lancastrian party took the red rose, the Yorkist Party the white rose (still the emblem of Yorkshire) and the two were combined into the Tudor Rose when Henry Tudor married Elizabeth of York. But it is also a beautiful flower in its own right. There is a lovely pub in Margate, although I have not been there for over 20 years, called the Rose in June which is named in tribute to the flower at its loveliest season. The Rose in Lambeth is not far from the site of the Rose Theatre, and the rebuilt Globe.


Britannia, the female personification of Britain has been a symbol of these islands since the time of the Roman Empire. She has been a feature of our coinage since 1665 and is usually depicted wearing a centurion’s helmet and holding a shield. In the last 300 years or so that shield has been emblazoned with a Union flag.

The Britannia posing for a statue in the bottom right hand corner of the photo was the sign for the Britannia pub in Barking. The Britannia was owned by Youngs, a well thought of (in beer brewing and drinking circles) family run traditional brewery in South London which had a few houses north of the river. Last year they decided to sell some of their houses off. The East India Arms, the only Youngs House in the City of London was bought by the (also very well thought of) Kent brewery Shepherd Neame, and has been given a new sign which I have filed under ships. A businessman who used the Britannia as his local believed, as it was a flourishing pub, that he could continue to run it as a viable business and so he put in a bid. He was outbid by the owner of the boarding house next door who is extending his business into this magnificent Victorian pub.  The Barking Park hotel, according to its website, “has a close relationship with several organisations such as the Social Services and local Government authorities. We specialize in helping people with housing issues, which is one of the main reasons why organizations approach us for assistance”.  In other words, DSS bed and breakfast accommodation.

The pictures above show the difference. The upper photograph shows the pub in June 2009 offering the people of Barking Sunday dinners and Young's special bitter. Below, by April 2010 work was in progress. The hotel is the green building at the far left. Somehow the owner got planning permission to rip the period feature sash windows out to replace them with PVC fittings despite the building being on the Local List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest No. 129.

Inside used to be cut glass mirrors, polished brass fittings, rich woodwork; I doubt that is needed in cubicles and shared kitchenettes. I wonder how long the nymphs outside will last? The Barking Muslim Community Centre now occupies the row of what used to be local shops opposite and I don’t know what they make of their pulchritude. I hope they are protected.

Gazetteer (that’s a good word for a list of the places where the pubs are to be found)

Left to right and top to bottom

Photograph 1: Crowns -  New Oxford Street London, Romford, Sheringham, Wells next the Sea,  Monmouth Street London, Romford (again)

Photograph 2: Crowns and things – Crown and Anchor Covent Garden London, Crown and Cushion Lambeth, Crown and Thistle Gravesend, both sides of the Crown and Mitre Kings Lynn, Old Crown Gloucester, Crown and Dolphin Cable Street Stepney, Angel and Crown St Martins Lane London, Crown Hotel Southwold.

Photograph 3: Roses and more – The Rose Lambeth, The Rose Southminster, Rose and Crown Lambeth, Rose and Crown Trowbridge, Rose and Crown Snettisham, Rose and Crown Beverley, Rose and Crown Hyde Park Corner, The Little Crown Bermondsey, Ye Olde Crown Lincoln.

Photograph 4: Britannia – Boston Lincolnshire, Chatham, Euston Station London, Guildford, Monument London, Barking.


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