The intriguing story of the pub sign, and why they still matter

Pub Signage – Restaurant signs – Night Club Signs

If you own or manage a pub, you probably know a fair bit about its history and possibly even about how it got its name. The names given to pubs and inns up and down the United Kingdom offer fascinating snapshots of the nation’s history, commemorating everything from battles, momentous events and monarchs to landowners, trades and the local landscape.

We’re a nation of pub-goers, and almost everyone will have their favourite local for a cheeky lunchtime pint or an evening out with friends or family. Pub signs have and will always have a very important role to play in capturing and preserving the history of our drinking dens, so if you’re thinking about upgrading your pub sign, here’s an intriguing glimpse into the fascinating history of pub signage.

What’s in a name?

The answer is, rather a lot. According to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), the top five most common pub names in Britain are The Red Lion, The Royal Oak, The White Hart, The Rose and Crown and The King’s Head, and we’re all likely to have propped up the bar in one of these at some point.

In the Medieval period, when few people would have been able to read a name written above a pub door, painted signs were used to tell travellers the name of the inn they were passing. As many people stayed at monasteries whilst journeying the length and breadth of the country, many enterprising landlords craftily gave their inns names with religious connotations in a bid to get into the hospitality industry – hence the prevalence of pubs named The Mitre, The Lamb and Flag (a reference to the Lamb of God) and The Cross Keys (symbol of St Peter guarding the gates of Heaven).

Henry VIII was directly or indirectly responsible for a number of our most well-known and widely used pub names. Big on his hunting and sports, the Tudor king’s love of falconry inspired many landlords to rename their inns The Bird in the Hand, while others plumped for The Greyhound, in celebration of the monarch’s favoured hunting dog. When the king sold off monastery land to wealthy families, many landlords tried to curry favour with their new lords of the manor by rebranding, and so pubs named after various Dukes, Earls and other landed gentry became more common.

While many drew inspiration from common local trades (The Sailor, The Plough, The Golden Fleece), others used their pub signs as more overt advertising. Pubs named The Bear or The Bull, for instance, were promoting the fact they put on bear- or bull-baiting, while other sports such as fox hunting and hare coursing were celebrated in names such as The Fox and Hounds or The Hare and Hounds.

Pretty as a picture

Given literacy rates remained low until well into the twentieth century, it’s easy to see why the image on a pub sign mattered so much historically. As both an indication of the pub’s name and a form of advertising for their wider services and forms of entertainment, the picture above the door really could paint a thousand words. Clever branding on behalf of landlords meant they were more likely to capture the ever-flowing passing trade, as people journeying on foot or horseback sought out places to stay for the night. But do pub signs still matter in an age where potential customers can simply read online reviews?

Arguably, they matter as much as they ever did! We’re all acutely aware just what a difficult time pubs around the country are having at the moment, with the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) suggesting that close to thirty pubs are being forced to close every week. With every pub forced to shut down, all that rich history goes with it, so it’s little wonder landlords are constantly on the lookout for ways to attract new custom and keep their heads above water.

If you’re a landlord, one of the best ways to stay ahead of the competition is by upgrading and maintaining that historically significant signage. A new pub sign says that you mean business and have sticking power, despite the difficult economic circumstances. A well-made, well-maintained sign shows just how much pride you take in your establishment. After all, how many people really want to while away an evening in a pub or bar which looks run-down and shabby from the outside? A well-kept façade is a warm and welcoming invitation, and good signage is the key to that.

Making a statement

Bold, bright and beautiful signage which celebrates your pub’s history and looks to its future will encourage both regulars and passing trade to venture in. Pub signage is often the best advertising you can invest in as a landlord, because it is the most prominent, visible way of announcing your presence and getting people to take an interest.

Pub signs hold a very special place in the hearts of many. Quintessentially British, they have been copied the world over, so whether you opt for something traditional and timeless or something more modern or tongue-in-cheek, making sure you get the highest quality, most well-designed sign is vital.

Here at The Sussex Sign Company, we’ve spent many years supplying pubs both large and small with bespoke and beautifully crafted signage. We understand the cultural and historic significance of pub signs, and will work with you to create the perfect sign to capture your establishment’s unique character.

For more information about the services we can provide, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with The Sussex Sign Company today. Celebrate the past and look to the future with new pub signage.

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