The Humble Pub Sign: Some of Britain’s More Unusual Pubs

Pub Signage And Traditional Signs

Britain is well-known for being a land of eccentrics and a country which values its rich heritage and often quirky traditions. Perhaps one of the most obvious places the two meet is in the quintessential British pub, many of which are hundreds of years old and have some fascinating stories to tell. Pub signs often give a little glimpse into the history of our wonderful watering holes, and here are just a few of the more unusual pubs you’ll find around the British Isles.

The Crooked House, Himley, Staffordshire

Originally built as a farmhouse in 1765, The Crooked House pub gained its lopsided appearance after mining in the area caused half of it to start sinking. Once scheduled for demolition because of the subsidence, the pub was saved by the Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries, who paid to have the building underpinned and made safe. Its off-kilter structure means that you feel tipsy before you’ve even touched your first pint, and it also gives rise to some wonderful optical illusions, such as glasses sliding off apparently level tables.

The Marsden Grotto, Marsden, Tyne and Wear

The Marsden Grotto is one of only a handful of ‘cave pubs’ in Europe, partly built into the cliff face and looking out over the North Sea towards Denmark. It was originally thought to have been a smugglers’ haunt, and the ghost of ‘John the Jibber’ is said to return, after he was starved to death by fellow crooks for passing on information to HM Customs.

The Warren Inn, Dartmoor, Devon

Named after the network of rabbit warrens which once existed nearby, this pub is said to have had a fire burning since it was built in 1845. According to local legend, the fire was started with embers from the original pub across the road and has never gone out since, although its current owners use locally sourced wood to keep the flames going, rather than the less environmentally friendly peat which was used in the past.

The Canny Man, Edinburgh

With its eclectic décor and collection of stuffed animals, The Canny Man is one of the most unusual pubs in the UK, and it has a strict set of rules on who it allows in. Making good use of their signage, The Canny Man warns ‘No smoking, no credit cards, no mobile phones, no cameras, no backpackers’. Those who do make it over the threshold, however, are in for a treat, with celebrity chef Rick Stein describing the Edinburgh institution as ‘the best pub in the world’.

Cahoots, Soho, London

Decked out as a 1940s-style wartime Tube station, Cahoots is a tiny cocktail bar in an old air raid shelter in London’s Soho. You enter the pub via a wooden escalator and the staff behind the bar remain in character as they serve you, all of which leads to a very surreal but enjoyable experience.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham

One of many pubs which claim to be the oldest in Britain, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem is said to be able to trace its roots back to 1189, when Richard the Lionheart became king. The name refers to the Crusades which were taking place around the time, and soldiers in Richard’s armies are said to have congregated here to have one for the road before heading off to battle. The interior features a quirky collection of historical artefacts, including suits of armour which watch over you while you sup your pint.

The WC, Clapham, London

Today the ‘WC’ stands for ‘Wine and Charcuterie’, but this pub is aptly named because it is located in the former public toilets beneath Clapham Common station. Head underground and you’ll find the old tiled bathroom stalls have been transformed into seating booths, making this one of the cosiest but most unusual pubs to spend an evening in.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Another pub claiming to be the oldest in the land, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks takes its name and the image on its pub signs from the fact that it was a hotspot for the sport during the 1800s. With foundations thought to date back to 793 AD, the tunnels beneath this quirky drinking den are said to have been connected to the nearby cathedral, supplying the clergy with a nice steady stream of ale for centuries.

Although they may be able to trade on their unusual appearances and traditions alone, all these pubs make great use of their signage. A pub sign was crucial in an age when the majority of people couldn’t read and had to identify the name of an establishment through the picture over the door, and signs were often used to announce the secondary purpose of the establishment, to express support for a person or cause or to reflect an important local industry. While they may not run bear-baiting events any more, pubs still require great signs to preserve their rich histories and tell their intriguing stories.

Pub signs are just as relevant today, particularly given the struggle that pubs have in the face of the economic downturn and fierce competition for trade. Here at The Sussex Sign Company, we have a long and distinguished track record in providing some of the most historic watering holes across London and the South East with beautiful, bespoke pub signs. For more information on the services we can provide, simply get in touch with our expert team today.

For more information contact us on 01273 417057 or contact us using the contact form.