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Title: The History of Signboards, from the Earliest times to the Present Day

Author: Jacob Larwood

John Camden Hotten

Release date: March 28, 2014 [eBook #45249]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Chris Curnow, Harry Lamé and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at (This
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Internet Archive)


Please see the Transcriber’s Notes at the end of this text.

Drawn by Experience

Engraved by Sorrow

a Man Loaded with Mischief, or Matrimony.
A Monkey, a Magpie, and Wife; Is the true Emblem of Strife.

Large image (263 kB)

From the Earliest Times to the Present Day


“He would name you all the signs as he went along”


“Oppida dum peragras peragranda poemata spectes”


Cock and Bottle



Thomas Wright, Esq., M.A., F.S.A.,
the Accomplished Interpreter of English Popular Antiquities,

Little Volume is Dedicated



The field of history is a wide one, and when the beaten tracks have been well traversed, there will yet remain some of the lesser paths to explore. The following attempt at a “History of Signboards” may be deemed the result of an exploration in one of these by-ways.

Although from the days of Addison’s Spectator down to the present time many short articles have been written upon house-signs, nothing like a general inquiry into the subject has, as yet, been published in this country. The extraordinary number of examples and the numerous absurd combinations afforded such a mass of entangled material as doubtless deterred writers from proceeding beyond an occasional article in a magazine, or a chapter in a book,—when only the more famous signs would be cited as instances of popular humour or local renown. How best to classify and treat the thousands of single and double signs was the chief difficulty in compiling the present work. That it will in every respect satisfy the reader is more than is expected—indeed much more than could be hoped for under the best of circumstances.

In these modern days, the signboard is a very unimportant object: it was not always so. At a time when but few persons could read and write, house-signs were indispensable in city life. As education spread they were less needed; and when in the last century, the system of numbering houses was introduced, and every thoroughfare had its name painted at the beginning and end, they were no longer a positive necessity—their original value was gone, and they lingered on, not by reason of their usefulness, but as instances of the decorative humour of our ancestors, or as advertisements of established reputation and business success. For the names of many of our streets we are indebted to the sign of the old inn or public-house, which frequently was the first building in the street—commonly enough suggesting its erection, or at least a few houses by way of commencement. The huge “London Directory” contains the names of hundreds of streets in the metropolis which derived their titles from taverns or public-houses in the immediate neighbourhood. As material for the etymology of the names of persons and places, the various old signs may be studied with advantage. In many other ways the historic importance of house-signs could be shown.

Something like a classification of our subject was found absolutely necessary[vi] at the outset, although from the indefinite nature of many signs the divisions “Historic,” “Heraldic,” “Animal,” &c.—under which the various examples have been arranged—must be regarded as purely arbitrary, for in many instances it would be impossible to say whether such and such a sign should be included under the one head or under the other. The explanations offered as to origin and meaning are based rather upon conjecture and speculation than upon fact—as only in very rare instances reliable data could be produced to bear them out. Compound signs but increase the difficulty of explanation: if the road was uncertain before, almost all traces of a pathway are destroyed here. When, therefore, a solution is offered, it must be considered only as a suggestion of the possible meaning. As a rule, and unless the symbols be very obvious, the reader would do well to consider the majority of compound signs as quarterings or combinations of others, without any hidden signification. A double signboard has its parallel in commerce, where for a common advantage, two merchants will unite their interests under a double name; but as in the one case so in the other, no rule besides the immediate interests of those concerned can be laid down for such combinations.

A great many signs, both single and compound, have been omitted. To have included all, together with such particulars of their history as could be obtained, would have required at least half-a-dozen folio volumes. However, but few signs of any importance are known to have been omitted, and care has been taken to give fair samples of the numerous varieties of the compound sign. As the work progressed a large quantity of material accumulated for which no space could be found, such as “A proposal to the House of Commons for raising above half a million of money per annum, with a great ease to the subject, by a TAX upon SIGNS, London, 1695,” a very curious tract; a political jeu-d’esprit from the Harleian MSS., (5953,) entitled “The Civill Warres of the Citie,” a lengthy document prepared for a journal in the reign of William of Orange by one “E. I.,” and giving the names and whereabouts of the principal London signs at that time. Acts of Parliament for the removal or limitation of signs; and various religious pamphlets upon the subject, such as “Helps for Spiritual Meditation, earnestly Recommended to the Perusal of all those who desire to have their Hearts much with God,” a chap-book of the time of Wesley and Whitfield, in which the existing “Signs of London are Spiritualized, with an Intent, that when a person walks along the Street, instead of having their Mind fill’d with Vanity, and their Thoughts amus’d with the trifling Things that continually present themselves, they may be able to Think of something Profitable.”

Anecdotes and historical facts have been introduced with a double view; first, as authentic proofs of the existence and age of the sign; secondly, in the hope that they may afford variety and entertainment. They will call up many a picture of the olden time; many a trait of bygone manners and customs—old shops and residents, old modes of transacting business, in short, much that is now extinct and obsolete. There is a peculiar pleasure in pondering over these old houses, and picturing them to ourselves as again inhabited by the busy tenants of former years; in meeting the great names of history in the hours of relaxation, in calling up the scenes which must have been often witnessed in the haunt of the pleasure-seeker,—the tavern with its noisy company, the coffee-house with its politicians and[vii] smart beaux; and, on the other hand, the quiet, unpretending shop of the ancient bookseller filled with the monuments of departed minds. Such scraps of history may help to picture this old London as it appeared during the last three centuries. For the contemplative mind there is some charm even in getting at the names and occupations of the former inmates of the houses now only remembered by their signs; in tracing, by means of these house decorations, their modes of thought or their ideas of humour, and in rescuing from oblivion a few little anecdotes and minor facts of history connected with the house before which those signs swung in the air.

It is a pity that such a task as the following was not undertaken many years ago; it would have been much better accomplished then than now. London is so rapidly changing its aspect, that ten years hence many of the particulars here gathered could no longer be collected. Already, during the printing of this work, three old houses famous for their signs have been doomed to destruction—the Mitre in Fleet Street, the Tabard in Southwark, (where Chaucer’s pilgrims lay,) and Don Saltero’s house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. The best existing specimens of old signboards may be seen in our cathedral towns. Antiquaries cling to these places, and the inhabitants themselves are generally animated by a strong conservative feeling. In London an entire street might be removed with far less of public discussion than would attend the taking down of an old decayed sign in one of these provincial cities. Does the reader remember an article in Punch, about two years ago, entitled “Asses in Canterbury?” It was in ridicule of the Canterbury Commissioners of Pavement, who had held grave deliberations on the well-known sign of Sir John Falstaff, hanging from the front of the hotel of that name,—a house which has been open for public entertainment these three hundred years. The knight with sword and buckler (from “Henry the Fourth,”) was suspended from some ornamental iron-work, far above the pavement, in the open thoroughfare leading to the famous Westgate, and formed one of the most noticeable objects in this part of Canterbury. In 1787, when the general order was issued for the removal of all the signs in the city—many of them obstructed the thoroughfares—this was looked upon with so much veneration that it was allowed to remain until 1863, when for no apparent reason it was sentenced to destruction. However, it was only with the greatest difficulty that men could be found to pull it down, and then several cans of beer had first to be distributed amongst them as an incentive to action—in so great veneration was the old sign held even by the lower orders of the place. Eight pounds were paid for this destruction, which, for fear of a riot, was effected at three in the morning, “amid the groans and hisses of the assembled multitude,” says a local paper. Previous to the demolition the greatest excitement had existed in the place; the newspapers were filled with articles; a petition with 400 signatures—including an M.P., the prebends, minor canons, and clergy of the cathedral—prayed the local “commissioners” that the sign might be spared; and the whole community was in an uproar. No sooner was the old portrait of Sir John removed than another was put up; but this representing the knight as seated, and with a can of ale by his side, however much it may suit the modern publican’s notion of military ardour, does not please the owner of the property, and a fac-simile of the time-honoured original is in course of preparation.


Concerning the internal arrangement of the following work, a few explanations seem necessary.

Where a street is mentioned without the town being specified, it in all cases refers to a London thoroughfare.

The trades tokens so frequently referred to, it will be scarcely necessary to state, were the brass farthings issued by shop or tavern keepers, and generally adorned with a representation of the sign of the house. Nearly all the tokens alluded to belong to the latter part of the seventeenth century, mostly to the reign of Charles II.

As the work has been two years in the press, the passing events mentioned in the earlier sheets refer to the year 1864.

In a few instances it was found impossible to ascertain whether certain signs spoken of as existing really do exist, or whether those mentioned as things of the past are in reality so. The wide distances at which they are situated prevented personal examination in every case, and local histories fail to give such small particulars.

The rude unattractive woodcuts inserted in the work are in most instances fac-similes, which have been chosen as genuine examples of the style in which the various old signs were represented. The blame of the coarse and primitive execution, therefore, rests entirely with the ancient artist, whether sign painter or engraver.

Translations of the various quotations from foreign languages have been added for the following reasons:—It was necessary to translate the numerous quotations from the Dutch signboards; Latin was Englished for the benefit of the ladies, and Italian and French extracts were Anglicised to correspond with rest.

Errors, both of fact and opinion, may doubtless be discovered in the book. If, however, the compilers have erred in a statement or an explanation, they do not wish to remain in the dark, and any light thrown upon a doubtful passage will be acknowledged by them with thanks. Numerous local signs—famous in their own neighbourhood—will have been omitted, (generally, however, for the reasons mentioned on a preceding page,) whilst many curious anecdotes and particulars concerning their history may be within the knowledge of provincial readers. For any information of this kind the compilers will be much obliged; and should their work ever pass to a second edition, they hope to avail themselves of such friendly contributions.

London, June 1866.




(Pompeii, A.D. 70.)
(Pompeii, A.D. 70.)
(Pompeii, A.D. 70.)
(Banks’s Bills, 1770.)



In the cities of the East all trades are confined to certain streets, or to certain rows in the various bazars and wekalehs. Jewellers, silk-embroiderers, pipe-dealers, traders in drugs,—each of these classes has its own quarter, where, in little open shops, the merchants sit enthroned upon a kind of low counter, enjoying their pipes and their coffee with the otium cum dignitate characteristic of the Mussulman. The purchaser knows the row to go to; sees at a glance what each shop contains; and, if he be an habitué, will know the face of each particular shopkeeper, so that under these circumstances, signboards would be of no use.

With the ancient Egyptians it was much the same. As a rule, no picture or description affixed to the shop announced the trade of the owner; the goods exposed for sale were thought sufficient to attract attention. Occasionally, however, there were inscriptions denoting the trade, with the emblem which indicated it;[1] whence we may assume that this ancient nation was the first to appreciate the benefit that might be derived from signboards.

What we know of the Greek signs is very meagre and indefinite. Aristophanes, Lucian, and other writers, make frequent allusions, which seem to prove that signboards were in use with the Greeks. Thus Aristotle says: ὡσπερ επι των καπηλιων γραφομενοι, μικροι μεν εισι, φαινονται δε εχοντες πλατη και βαθη.[2] And Athenæus: εν προτεροις θηκη διδασκαλιην.[3] But what their signs were, and whether carved, painted, or the natural object, is entirely unknown.

With the Romans only we begin to have distinct data. In the Eternal City, some streets, as in our mediæval towns, derived their names from signs. Such, for instance, was the vicus Ursi Pileati, (the street of “The Bear with the Hat on,”) in the Esquiliæ. The nature of their signs, also, is well known. The Bush, their tavern-sign, gave rise to the proverb, “Vino vendibili suspensa hedera non opus est;” and hence we derive our sign of the Bush,[2] and our proverb, “Good Wine needs no Bush.” An ansa, or handle of a pitcher, was the sign of their post-houses, (stathmoi or allagæ,) and hence these establishments were afterwards denominated ansæ.[4] That they also had painted signs, or exterior decorations which served their purpose, is clearly evident from various authors:—

“Quum victi Mures Mustelarum exercitu
(Historia quorum in tabernis pingitur.)”[5]

Phædrus, lib. iv. fab. vi.

These Roman street pictures were occasionally no mean works of art, as we may learn from a passage in Horace:—

“Contento poplite miror
Proelia, rubrico picta aut carbone; velut si
Re vera pugnent, feriant vitentque moventes
Arma viri.”[6]

Cicero also is supposed by some scholars to allude to a sign when he says:—

“Jam ostendamcujus modi sis: quum ille ‘ostende quæso’ demonstravi digito pictum Gallum in Mariano scuto Cimbrico, sub Novis, distortum ejectâ linguâ, buccis fluentibus, risus est commotus.”[7]

Pliny, after saying that Lucius Mummius was the first in Rome who affixed a picture to the outside of a house, continues:—

“Deinde video et in foro positas vulgo. Hinc enim Crassi oratoris lepos, [here follows the anecdote of the Cock of Marius the Cimberian] . . . In foro fuit et illa pastoris senis cum baculo, de qua Teutonorum legatus respondit, interrogatus quanti eum æstimaret, sibi donari nolle talem vivum verumque.”[8]

Fabius also, according to some, relates the story of the cock, and his explanation is cited:—“Taberna autem erant circa Forum, ac scutum illud signi gratia positum.”[9]

But we can judge even better from an inspection of the Roman[3] signs themselves, as they have come down to us amongst the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii. A few were painted; but, as a rule, they appear to have been made of stone, or terra-cotta relievo, and let into the pilasters at the side of the open shop-fronts. Thus there have been found a goat, the sign of a dairy; a mule driving a mill, the sign of a baker, (plate 1.) At the door of a schoolmaster was the not very tempting sign of a boy receiving a good birching. Very similar to our Two Jolly Brewers, carrying a tun slung on a long pole, a Pompeian public-house keeper had two slaves represented above his door, carrying an amphora; and another wine-merchant had a painting of Bacchus pressing a bunch of grapes. At a perfumer’s shop, in the street of Mercury, were represented various items of that profession—viz., four men carrying a box with vases of perfume, men occupied in laying out and perfuming a corpse, &c. There was also a sign similar to the one mentioned by Horace, the Two Gladiators, under which, in the usual Pompeian cacography, was the following imprecation:—Abiat Venerem Pompeiianama iradam qui hoc læserit, i.e., Habeat Venerem Pompeianam iratam, &c. Besides these there were the signs of the Anchor, the Ship, (perhaps a ship-chandler’s,) a sort of a Cross, the Chequers, the Phallus on a baker’s shop, with the words, Hic habitat felicitas; whilst in Herculaneum there was a very cleverly painted Amorino, or Cupid, carrying a pair of ladies’ shoes, one on his head and the other in his hand.

It is also probable that, at a later period at all events, the various artificers of Rome had their tools as the sign of their house, to indicate their profession. We find that they sculptured them on their tombs in the catacombs, and may safely conclude that they would do the same on their houses in the land of the living. Thus on the tomb of Diogenes, the grave-digger, there is a pick-axe and a lamp; Bauto and Maxima have the tools of carpenters, a saw, an adze, and a chisel; Veneria, a tire-woman, has a mirror and a comb:—then there are others who have wool-combers’ implements; a physician, who has a cupping-glass; a poulterer, a case of poultry; a surveyor, a measuring rule; a baker, a bushel, a millstone, and ears of corn; in fact, almost every trade had its symbolic implements. Even that cockney custom of punning on the name, so common on signboards, finds its precedent in those mansions of the dead. Owing to this fancy, the grave of Dracontius bore a dragon; Onager, a wild ass; Umbricius, a shady[4] tree; Leo, a lion; Doleus, father and son, two casks; Herbacia, two baskets of herbs; and Porcula, a pig. Now it seems most probable that, since these emblems were used to indicate where a baker, a carpenter, or a tire-woman was buried, they would adopt similar symbols above ground, to acquaint the public where a baker, a carpenter, or a tire-woman lived.

We may thus conclude that our forefathers adopted the signboard from the Romans; and though at first there were certainly not so many shops as to require a picture for distinction,—as the open shop-front did not necessitate any emblem to indicate the trade carried on within,—yet the inns by the road-side, and in the towns, would undoubtedly have them. There was the Roman bush of evergreens to indicate the sale of wine;[10] and certain devices would doubtless be adopted to attract the attention of the different classes of wayfarers, as the Cross for the Christian customer,[11] and the Sun or the Moon for the pagan. Then we find various emblems, or standards, to court respectively the custom of the Saxon, the Dane, or the Briton. He that desired the patronage of soldiers might put up some weapon; or, if he sought his customers among the more quiet artificers, there were the various implements of trade with which he could appeal to the different mechanics that frequented his neighbourhood.

Along with these very simple signs, at a later period, coats of arms, crests, and badges, would gradually make their appearance at the doors of shops and inns. The reasons which dictated the choice of such subjects were various. One of the principal was this. In the Middle Ages, the houses of the nobility, both in town and country, when the family was absent, were used as hostelries for travellers. The family arms always hung in front of the house, and the most conspicuous object in those arms gave a name to the establishment amongst travellers, who, unacquainted with the mysteries of heraldry, called a lion gules or azure by the vernacular name of the Red or Blue Lion.[12] Such coats of arms gradually became a very popular intimation that there was


“Good entertainment for all that passes,—
Horses, mares, men, and asses;”

and innkeepers began to adopt them, hanging out red lions and green dragons as the best way to acquaint the public that they offered food and shelter.

Still, as long as civilisation was only at a low ebb, the so-called open-houses few, and competition trifling, signs were of but little use. A few objects, typical of the trade carried on, would suffice; a knife for the cutler, a stocking for the hosier, a hand for the glover, a pair of scissors for the tailor, a bunch of grapes for the vintner, fully answered public requirements. But as luxury increased, and the number of houses or shops dealing in the same article multiplied, something more was wanted. Particular trades continued to be confined to particular streets; the desideratum then was, to give to each shop a name or token by which it might be mentioned in conversation, so that it could be recommended and customers sent to it. Reading was still a scarce acquirement; consequently, to write up the owner’s name would have been of little use. Those that could, advertised their name by a rebus; thus, a hare and a bottle stood for Harebottle, and two cocks for Cox. Others, whose names no rebus could represent, adopted pictorial objects; and, as the quantity of these augmented, new subjects were continually required. The animal kingdom was ransacked, from the mighty elephant to the humble bee, from the eagle to the sparrow; the vegetable kingdom, from the palm-tree and cedar to the marigold and daisy; everything on the earth, and in the firmament above it, was put under contribution. Portraits of the great men of all ages, and views of towns, both painted with a great deal more of fancy than of truth; articles of dress, implements of trades, domestic utensils, things visible and invisible, ea quæ sunt tamquam ea quæ non sunt, everything was attempted in order to attract attention and to obtain publicity. Finally, as all signs in a town were painted by the same small number of individuals, whose talents and imagination were limited,[6] it followed that the same subjects were naturally often repeated, introducing only a change in the colour for a difference.

Since all the pictorial representations were, then, of much the same quality, rival tradesmen tried to outvie each other in the size of their signs, each one striving to obtrude his picture into public notice by putting it out further in the street than his neighbour’s. The “Liber Albus,” compiled in 1419, names this subject amongst the Inquisitions at the Wardmotes: “Item, if the ale-stake of any tavern is longer or extends further than ordinary.” And in book iii. part iii. p. 389, is said:—

“Also, it was ordained that, whereas the ale-stakes projecting in front of taverns in Chepe, and elsewhere in the said city, extend too far over the King’s highways, to the impeding of riders and others, and, by reason of their excessive weight, to the great deterioration of the houses in which they are fixed;—to the end that opportune remedy might be made thereof, it was by the Mayor and Aldermen granted and ordained, and, upon summons of all the taverners of the said city, it was enjoined upon them, under pain of paying forty pence[13] unto the Chamber of the Guildhall, on every occasion upon which they should transgress such ordinance, that no one of them in future should have a stake, bearing either his sign, or leaves, extending or lying over the King’s highway, of greater length than seven feet at most, and that this ordinance should begin to take effect at the Feast of Saint Michael, then next ensuing, always thereafter to be valid and of full effect.”

The booksellers generally had a woodcut of their signs for the colophon of their books, so that their shops might get known by the inspection of these cuts. For this reason, Benedict Hector, one of the early Bolognese printers, gives this advice to the buyers in his “Justinus et Florus:”

“Emptor, attende quando vis emere libros formatos in officina mea excussoria, inspice signum quod in liminari pagina est, ita numquam falleris. Nam quidam malevoli Impressores libris suis inemendatis et maculosis apponunt nomen meum ut fiant vendibiliores.”[14]

Jodocus Badius of Paris, gives a similar caution:—

“Oratum facimus lectorem ut signum inspiciat, nam sunt qui titulum nomenque Badianum mentiantur et laborem suffurentur.”[15]

Aldus, the great Venetian printer, exposes a similar fraud, and points out how the pirate had copied the sign also in his colophon; but, by inadvertency, making a slight alteration:—


“Extremum est ut admoneamus studiosissimum quemque, Florentinos quosdam impressores, cum viderint se diligentiam nostram in castigando et imprimendo non posse assequi, ad artes confugisse solitas; hoc est Grammaticis Institutionibus Aldi in sua officina formatis, notam Delphini Anchoræ Involuti nostram apposuisse; sed ita egerunt ut quivis mediocriter versatus in libris impressionis nostræ animadvertit illos impudenter fecisse. Nam rostrum Delphini in partem sinistram vergit, cum tamen nostrum in dexteram totum demittatur.”[16]

No wonder, then, that a sign was considered an heirloom, and descended from father to son, like the coat of arms of the nobility, which was the case with the Brazen Serpent, the sign of Reynold Wolfe. “His trade was continued a good while after his demise by his wife Joan, who made her will the 1st of July 1574, whereby she desires to be buried near her husband, in St Faith’s Church, and bequeathed to her son, Robert Wolfe, the chapel-house, [their printing-office,] the Brazen Serpent, and all the prints, letters, furniture,” etc.—Dibdin’s Typ. Ant., vol. iv. p. 6.

As we observed above, directly signboards were generally adopted, quaintness became one of the desiderata, and costliness another. This last could be obtained by the quality of the picture, but, for two reasons, was not much aimed at—firstly, because good artists were scarce in those days; and even had they obtained a good picture, the ignorant crowd that daily passed underneath the sign would, in all probability, have thought the harsh and glaring daub a finer production of art than a Holy Virgin by Rafaelle himself. The other reason was the instability of such a work, exposed to sun, wind, rain, frost, and the nightly attacks of revellers and roisters. Greater care, therefore, was bestowed upon the ornamentation of the ironwork by which it was suspended; and this was perfectly in keeping with the taste of the times, when even the simplest lock or hinges could not be launched into the world without its scrolls and strapwork.

The signs then were suspended from an iron bar, fixed either in the wall of the house, or in a post or obelisk standing in front of it; in both cases the ironwork was shaped and ornamented with that taste so conspicuous in the metal-work of the Renaissance period, of which many churches, and other buildings of that[8] period, still bear witness. In provincial towns and villages, where there was sufficient room in the streets, the sign was generally suspended from a kind of small triumphal arch, standing out in the road, partly wood, partly iron, and ornamented with all that carving, gilding, and colouring could bestow upon it, (see description of White-Hart Inn at Scole.) Some of the designs of this class of ironwork have come down to us in the works of the old masters, and are indeed exquisite.

Painted signs then, suspended in the way we have just pointed out, were more common than those of any other kind; yet not a few shops simply suspended at their doors some prominent article in their trade, which custom has outlived the more elegant signboards, and may be daily witnessed in our streets, where the ironmonger’s frying-pan, or dust-pan, the hardware-dealer’s teapot, the grocer’s tea-canister, the shoemaker’s last or clog, with the Golden Boot, and many similar objects, bear witness to this old custom.

Lastly, there was in London another class of houses that had a peculiar way of placing their signs—viz., the Stews upon the Bankside, which were, by a proclamation of 37 Hen. VIII., “whited and painted with signs on the front, for a token of the said houses.” Stow enumerates some of these symbols, such as the Cross-Keys, the Gun, the Castle, the Crane, the Cardinal’s Hat, the Bell, the Swan, &c.

Still greater variety in the construction of the signs existed in France; for besides the painted signs in the iron frames, the shopkeepers in Paris, according to H. Sauval, (“Antiquités de la Ville de Paris,”) had anciently banners hanging above their doors, or from their windows, with the sign of the shop painted on them; whilst in the sixteenth century carved wooden signs were very common. These, however, were not suspended, but formed part of the wooden construction of the house; some of them were really chefs-d’œuvres, and as careful in design as a carved cathedral stall. Several of them are still remaining in Rouen and other old towns; many also have been removed and placed in various local museums of antiquities. The most general rule, however, on the Continent, as in England, was to have the painted signboard suspended across the streets.

An observer of James I.’s time has jotted down the names of all the inns, taverns, and side streets in the line of road between Charing Cross and the old Tower of London, which document lies now embalmed amongst the Harl. MS., 6850, fol. 31. In imagination we can walk with him through the metropolis:—


“On the way from Whitehall to Charing Cross we pass: the White Hart, the Red Lion, the Mairmade, iij. Tuns, Salutation, the Graihound, the Bell, the Golden Lyon. In sight of Charing Crosse: the Garter, the Crown, the Bear and Ragged Staffe, the Angel, the King Harry Head. Then from Charing Cross towards ye cittie: another White Hart, the Eagle and Child, the Helmet, the Swan, the Bell, King Harry Head, the Flower-de-luce, Angel, the Holy Lambe, the Bear and Harroe, the Plough, the Shippe, the Black Bell, another King Harry Head, the Bull Head, the Golden Bull, ‘a sixpenny ordinarye,’ another Flower-de-luce, the Red Lyon, the Horns, the White Hors, the Prince’s Arms, Bell Savadge’s In, the S. John the Baptist, the Talbot, the Shipp of War, the S. Dunstan, the Hercules or the Owld Man Tavern, the Mitar, another iij. Tunnes Inn, and a iij. Tunnes Tavern, and a Graihound, another Mitar, another King Harry Head, iij. Tunnes, and the iij. Cranes.”

Having walked from Whitechapel “straight forward to the Tower,” the good citizen got tired, and so we hear no more of him.

In the next reign we find the following enumerated by Taylor the water-poet, in one of his facetious pamphlets:—5 Angels, 4 Anchors, 6 Bells, 5 Bullsheads, 4 Black Bulls, 4 Bears, 5 Bears and Dolphins, 10 Castles, 4 Crosses, (red or white,) 7 Three Crowns, 7 Green Dragons, 6 Dogs, 5 Fountains, 3 Fleeces, 8 Globes, 5 Greyhounds, 9 White Harts, 4 White Horses, 5 Harrows, 20 King’s Heads, 7 King’s Arms, 1 Queen’s Head, 8 Golden Lyons, 6 Red Lyons, 7 Halfmoons, 10 Mitres, 33 Maidenheads, 10 Mermaids, 2 Mouths, 8 Nagsheads, 8 Prince’s Arms, 4 Pope’s Heads, 13 Suns, 8 Stars, &c. Besides these he mentions an Adam and Eve, an Antwerp Tavern, a Cat, a Christopher, a Cooper’s Hoop, a Goat, a Garter, a Hart’s Horn, a Mitre, &c. These were all taverns in London; and it will be observed that their signs were very similar to those seen at the present day—a remark applicable to the taverns not only of England, but of Europe generally, at this period. In another work Taylor gives us the signs of the taverns[17] and alehouses in ten shires and counties about London, all similar to those we have just enumerated; but amongst the number, it may be noted, there is not one combination of two objects, except the Eagle and Child, and the Bear and Ragged Staff. In a black-letter tract entitled “Newes from Bartholomew Fayre,” the following are named:—

“There has been great sale and utterance of Wine,
Besides Beer, Ale, and Hippocrass fine,
In every Country, Region, and Nation,
Chiefly at Billingsgate, at the Salutation;
[10] And Boreshead near London Stone,
The Swan at Dowgate, a tavern well knowne;
The Mitre in Cheap, and the Bullhead,
And many like places that make noses red;
The Boreshead in Old Fish Street, Three Cranes in the Vintree,
And now, of late, Saint Martin’s in the Sentree;
The Windmill in Lothbury, the Ship at the Exchange,
King’s Head in New Fish Street, where Roysters do range;
The Mermaid in Cornhill, Red Lion in the Strand,
Three Tuns in Newgate Market, in Old Fish Street the Swan.”

Drunken Barnaby, (1634,) in his travels, called at several of the London taverns, which he has recorded in his vinous flights:—

“Country left I in a fury,
To the Axe in Aldermanbury
First arrived, that place slighted,
I at the Rose in Holborn lighted.
From the Rose in Flaggons sail I
To the Griffin i’ th’ Old Bailey,
Where no sooner do I waken,
Than to Three Cranes I am taken,
Where I lodge and am no starter.
...... Yea, my merry mates and I, too,
Oft the Cardinal’s Hat do fly to.
There at Hart’s Horns we carouse,” &c.

Already, in very early times, publicans were compelled by law to have a sign; for we find that in the 16 Richard II., (1393,) Florence North, a brewer of Chelsea, was “presented” “for not putting up the usual sign.”[18] In Cambridge the regulations were equally severe; by an Act of Parliament, 9 Henry VI., it was enacted: “Quicunq; de villa Cantebrigg ‘braciaverit ad vendend’ exponat signum suum, alioquin omittat cervisiam.”—Rolls of Parliament, vol. v. fol. 426 a.[19] But with the other trades it was always optional. Hence Charles I., on his accession to the throne, gave the inhabitants of London a charter by which, amongst other favours, he granted them the right to hang out signboards:—

“And further, we do give and grant to the said Mayor, and Commonalty, and Citizens of the said city, and their successors, that it may and shall be lawful to the Citizens of the same city and any of them, for the time being, to expose and hang in and over the streets, and ways, and alleys of the said city and suburbs of the same, signs, and posts of signs, affixed to their houses and shops, for the better finding out such citizens’ dwellings,[11] shops, arts, or occupations, without impediment, molestation, or interruption of his heirs or successors.”

In France, the innkeepers were under the same regulations as in England; for there also, by the edict of Moulins, in 1567, all innkeepers were ordered to acquaint the magistrates with their name and address, and their “affectes et enseignes;” and Henri III., by an edict of March 1577, ordered that all innkeepers should place a sign on the most conspicuous part of their houses, “aux lieux les plus apparents;” so that everybody, even those that could not read, should be aware of their profession. Louis XIV., by an ordnance of 1693, again ordered signs to be put up, and also the price of the articles they were entitled to sell:—

“Art. XXIII.—Taverniers metront enseignes et bouchons. . . . Nul ne pourra tenir taverne en cette dite ville et faubourgs, sans mettre enseigne et bouchon.”[20]

Hence, the taking away of a publican’s licence was accompanied by the taking away of his sign:—

“For this gross fault I here do damn thy licence,
Forbidding thee ever to tap or draw;
For instantly I will in mine own person,
Command the constables to pull down thy sign.”

Massinger, A New Way to Pay Old Debts, iv. 2.

At the time of the great Civil War, house-signs played no inconsiderable part in the changes and convulsions of the state, and took a prominent place in the politics of the day. We may cite an earlier example, where a sign was made a matter of high treason—namely, in the case of that unfortunate fellow in Cheapside, who, in the reign of Edward IV., kept the sign of the Crown, and lost his head for saying he would “make his son heir to the Crown.” But more general examples are to be met with in the history of the Commonwealth troubles. At the death of Charles I., John Taylor the water-poet, a Royalist to the backbone, boldly shewed his opinion of that act, by taking as a sign for his alehouse in Phœnix Alley, Long Acre, the Mourning Crown; but he was soon compelled to take it down. Richard Flecknoe, in his “Ænigmatical Characters,” (1665,) tells us how many of the severe Puritans were shocked at anything smelling of Popery:—“As for the signs, they have pretty well begun their reformation already, changing the sign of the Salutation of Our Lady into the Souldier and Citizen, and the Catherine Wheel[12] into the Cat and Wheel; such ridiculous work they make of this reformation, and so jealous they are against all mirth and jollity, as they would pluck down the Cat and Fiddle too, if it durst but play so loud as they might hear it.” No doubt they invented very godly signs, but these have not come down to us.

At that time, also, a fashion prevailed which continued, indeed, as long as the signboard was an important institution—of using house-signs to typify political ideas. Imaginary signs, as a part of secret imprints, conveying most unmistakably the sentiments of the book, were often used in the old days of political plots and violent lampoons. Instance the following:—

Vox Borealis, or a Northerne Discoverie, by Way of Dialogue, between Jamie and Willie. Amidst the Babylonians—printed by Margery Marprelate, in Thwack Coat Lane, at the sign of the Crab-Tree Cudgell, without any privilege of the Catercaps. 1641.”

Articles of High Treason made and enacted by the late Halfquarter usurping Convention, and now presented to the publick view for a general satisfaction of all true Englishmen. Imprinted for Erasmus Thorogood, and to be sold at the signe of the Roasted Rump. 1659.”

A Catalogue of Books of the Newest Fashion, to be sold by auction at the Whigs’ Coffeehouse, at the sign of the Jackanapes in Prating Alley, near the Deanery of Saint Paul’s.”

The Censure of the Rota upon Mr Milton’s book, entitled ‘The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth,’ &c. Printed at London by Paul Giddy, Printer to the Rota, at the sign of the Windmill, in Turn-again Lane. 1660.”

An Address from the Ladies of the Provinces of Munster and Leinster to their Graces the Duke and Duchess of D——t, Lord G——, and Caiaphas the High Priest, with sixty original toasts, drank by the Ladies at their last Assembly, with Love-letters added. London: Printed for John Pro Patria, at the sign of Vivat Rex. 1754.”

Chivalry no Trifle, or the Knight and his Lady: a Tale. To which is added the Hue and Cry after Touzer and Spitfire, the Lady’s two lapdogs. Dublin: Printed at the sign of Sir Tady’s Press, etc. 1754.”

An Address from the Influential Electors of the County and City of Galway, with a Collection of 60 Original Patriot Toasts and 48 Munster Toasts, with Intelligence from the Kingdom of Eutopia. Printed at the sign of the Pirate’s Sword in the Captain’s Scabbard. London, 1754.”

The C——t’s Apology to the Freeholders of this Kingdom for their conduct, containing some Pieces of Humour, to which is added a Bill of C——t Morality. London: Printed at the sign of Betty Ireland, d——d of a Tyrant in Purple, a Monster in Black, etc.”

In the newspapers of the eighteenth century, we find that signs were constantly used as emblems of, or as sharp hits at, the politics of the day; thus, in the Weekly Journal for August 17, 1718, allusions are made to the sign of the Salutation, in Newgate Street, by the opposition party, to which the Original[13] Weekly Journal, the week after, retaliates by a description and explanation of an indelicate sign said to be in King Street, Westminster. In 1763, the following pasquinade went the round of the newspapers, said to have been sent over from Holland:—

De l’Empereur,
À la Bonne Volonté; rue d’Impuissance.
De Russie,
Au Chimère; rue des Caprices.
De France,
Au Coq déplumé; rue de Canada.
À la Mauvaise Alliance, rue des Invalides.
À la Fortune, Place des Victoires, rue des Subsides.
De Prusse,
Aux Quatre vents, rue des Renards, près la Place des Guinées.
De Suede,
Au Passage des Courtisans, rue des Visionaires.
De Pologne,
Au Sacrifice d’Abraham, rue des Innocents, près la Place des Devôts.
Des Princes de l’Empire,
Au Roitelêt, près de l’Hôpital des Incurables, rue des Charlatans.
De Wirtemberg,
Au Don Quichotte, rue des Fantômes près de la Montagne en Couche.
À la Baleine, sur le Marché aux Fromages, près du Grand Observatoire.”

On the morning of September 28, 1736, all the tavern-signs in London were in deep mourning; and no wonder, their dearly beloved patron and friend Gin was defunct,—killed by the new Act against spirituous liquors! But they soon dropped their mourning, for Gin had only been in a lethargic fit, and woke up much refreshed by his sleep. Fifteen years after, when Hogarth painted his “Gin Lane,” royal gin was to be had cheap enough, if we may believe the signboard in that picture, which informs us that “gentlemen and others” could get “drunk for a penny,” and “dead drunk for twopence,” in which last emergency, “clean straw for nothing” was provided.

Of the signs which were to be seen in London at the period of the Restoration,—to return to the subject we were originally considering,—we find a goodly collection of them in one of the “Roxburghe Ballads,” (vol. i. 212,) entitled:—

THROUGH the Royal Exchange as I walked,
Where Gallants in sattin doe shine,
[14] At midst of the day, they parted away,
To seaverall places to dine.
The Gentrie went to the King’s Head,
The Nobles unto the Crowne:
The Knights went to the Golden Fleece,
And the Ploughmen to the Clowne.
The Cleargie will dine at the Miter,
The Vintners at the Three Tunnes,
The Usurers to the Devill will goe,
And the Fryers to the Nunnes.
The Ladyes will dine at the Feathers,
The Globe no Captaine will scorne,
The Huntsmen will goe to the Grayhound below,
And some Townes-men to the Horne.
The Plummers will dine at the Fountaine,
The Cookes at the Holly Lambe,
The Drunkerds by noone, to the Man in the Moone,
And the Cuckholdes to the Ramme.
The Roarers will dine at the Lyon,
The Watermen at the Old Swan;
And Bawdes will to the Negro goe,
And Whores to the Naked Man.
The Keepers will to the White Hart,
The Marchants unto the Shippe,
The Beggars they must take their way
To the Egge-shell and the Whippe.
The Farryers will to the Horse,
The Blackesmith unto the Locke,
The Butchers unto the Bull will goe,
And the Carmen to Bridewell Clocke.
The Fishmongers unto the Dolphin,
The Barbers to the Cheat Loafe,[21]
The Turners unto the Ladle will goe,
Where they may merrylie quaffe.
The Taylors will dine at the Sheeres,
The Shooemakers will to the Boote,
The Welshmen they will take their way,
And dine at the signe of the Gote.
The Hosiers will dine at the Legge,
The Drapers at the signe of the Brush.
The Fletchers to Robin Hood will goe,
And the Spendthrift to Begger’s Bush.
The Pewterers to the Quarte Pot,
The Coopers will dine at the Hoope,
The Coblers to the Last will goe,
And the Bargemen to the Sloope.
The Carpenters will to the Axe,
The Colliers will dine at the Sacke,
Your Fruterer he to the Cherry-Tree,
Good fellowes no liquor will lacke.
The Goldsmith will to the Three Cups,
For money they hold it as drosse;
Your Puritan to the Pewter Canne,
And your Papists to the Crosse.
The Weavers will dine at the Shuttle,
The Glovers will unto the Glove,
The Maydens all to the Mayden Head,
And true Louers unto the Doue.
The Sadlers will dine at the Saddle,
The Painters will to the Greene Dragon,
The Dutchmen will go to the Froe,[22]
Where each man will drinke his Flagon.
The Chandlers will dine at the Skales,
The Salters at the signe of the Bagge;
The Porters take pain at the Labour in Vaine,
And the Horse-Courser to the White Nagge.
Thus every Man in his humour,
That comes from the North or the South,
But he that has no money in his purse,
May dine at the signe of the Mouth.
The Swaggerers will dine at the Fencers,
But those that have lost their wits:
With Bedlam Tom let that be their home,
And the Drumme the Drummers best fits.
The Cheter will dine at the Checker,
The Picke-pockets in a blind alehouse,
Tel on and tride then up Holborne they ride,
And they there end at the Gallowes.”

Thomas Heywood introduced a similar song in his “Rape of Lucrece.” This, the first of the kind we have met with, is in all probability the original, unless the ballad be a reprint from an older one; but the term Puritan used in it, seems to fix its date to the seventeenth century.

“THE Gintry to the Kings Head,
The Nobles to the Crown,
The Knights unto the Golden Fleece,
And to the Plough the Clowne.
The Churchmen to the Mitre,
The Shepheard to the Star,
The Gardener hies him to the Rose,
To the Drum the Man of War.
The Huntsmen to the White Hart,
To the Ship the Merchants goe,
But you that doe the Muses love,
The sign called River Po.
The Banquerout to the World’s End,
The Fool to the Fortune his,
Unto the Mouth the Oyster-wife,
The Fiddler to the Pie.
The Punk unto the Cockatrice,[23]
The Drunkard to the Vine,
The Begger to the Bush, there meet,
And with Duke Humphrey dine.”[24]

After the great fire of 1666, many of the houses that were rebuilt, instead of the former wooden signboards projecting in the streets, adopted signs carved in stone, and generally painted or gilt, let into the front of the house, beneath the first floor windows. Many of these signs are still to be seen, and will be noticed in their respective places. But in those streets not visited by the fire, things continued on the old footing, each shopkeeper being fired with a noble ambition to project his sign a few inches farther than his neighbour. The consequence was that, what with the narrow streets, the penthouses, and the signboards, the air and light of the heavens were well-nigh intercepted from the luckless wayfarers through the streets of London. We can picture to ourselves the unfortunate plumed, feathered, silken gallant of the period walking, in his low shoes and silk stockings, through the ill-paved dirty streets, on a stormy November day, when the honours were equally divided between fog, sleet, snow, and rain, (and no umbrellas, be it remembered,) with flower-pots blown from the penthouses, spouts sending down shower-baths from almost every house, and the streaming signs swinging overhead on their rusty, creaking hinges. Certainly the evil was great, and demanded that redress which Charles II. gave in the seventh year of his reign, when a new Act “ordered that in all the streets no signboard shall hang across, but that the sign shall be fixed against the balconies, or some convenient part of the side of the house.”

The Parisians, also, were suffering from the same enormities; everything was of Brobdignagian proportions. “J’ai vu,” says an essayist of the middle of the seventeenth century, “suspendu aux boutiques des volants de six pieds de hauteur, des perles grosses comme des tonneaux, des plumes qui allaient au troisième étage.”[25] There, also, the scalpel of the law was at last applied to the evil; for, in 1669, a royal order was issued to prohibit these monstrous signs, and the practice of advancing them too far into the streets, “which made the thoroughfares close in the daytime, and prevented the lights of the lamps from spreading properly at night.”

(MS. of the 14th century.)
(Bayeux tapestry, 11th cent.)
(Luttrell Psalter, 11th century.)
(Picture of Wouwverman, 17th cent.)
(Print by Schavelin, 1480.)
(Cheapside. 1640.)
(MS. of the 15th cent.)


Still, with all their faults, the signs had some advantages for the wayfarer; even their dissonant creaking, according to the old weather proverb, was not without its use:—

“But when the swinging signs your ears offend
With creaking noise, then rainy floods impend.”

Gay’s Trivia, canto i.

This indeed, from the various allusions made to it in the literature of the last century, was regarded as a very general hint to the lounger, either to hurry home, or hail a sedan-chair or coach. Gay, in his didactic—flâneur—poem, points out another benefit to be derived from the signboards:—

“If drawn by Bus’ness to a street unknown,
Let the sworn Porter point thee through the town;
Be sure observe the Signs, for Signs remain
Like faithful Landmarks to the walking Train.”

Besides, they offered constant matter of thought, speculation, and amusement to the curious observer. Even Dean Swift, and the Lord High Treasurer Harley,

“Would try to read the lines
Writ underneath the country signs.”

And certainly these productions of the country muse are often highly amusing. Unfortunately for the compilers of the present work, they have never been collected and preserved; although they would form a not unimportant and characteristic contribution to our popular literature. Our Dutch neighbours have paid more attention to this subject, and a great number of their signboard inscriptions were, towards the close of the seventeenth century, gathered in a curious little 12mo volume,[26] to which we shall often refer. Nay, so much attention was devoted to this branch of literature in that country, that a certain H. van den Berg, in 1693, wrote a little volume,[27] which he entitled a “Banquet,” giving verses adapted for all manner of shops and signboards;[18] so that a shopkeeper at a loss for an inscription had only to open the book and make his selection; for there were rhymes in it both serious and jocular, suitable to everybody’s taste. The majority of the Dutch signboard inscriptions of that day seem to have been eminently characteristic of the spirit of the nation. No such inscriptions could be brought before “a discerning public,” without the patronage of some holy man mentioned in the Scriptures, whose name was to stand there for no other purpose than to give the Dutch poet an opportunity of making a jingling rhyme; thus, for instance,

“Jacob was David’s neef maar ’t waren geen Zwagers.
Hier slypt men allerhande Barbiers gereedschappen, ook voor vischwyven en slagers.”[28]

Or another example:—

“Men vischte Moses uit de Biezen,
Hier trekt men tanden en Kiezen.”[29]

In the beginning of the eighteenth century, we find the following signs named, which puzzled a person of an inquisitive turn of mind, who wrote to the British Apollo,[30] (the meagre Notes and Queries of those days,) in the hope of eliciting an explanation of their quaint combination:—

“I’m amazed at the Signs
As I pass through the Town,
To see the odd mixture:
A Magpie and Crown,
The Whale and the Crow,
The Razor and Hen,
The Leg and Seven Stars,
The Axe and the Bottle,
The Tun and the Lute,
The Eagle and Child,
The Shovel and Boot.”

All these signs are also named by Tom Brown:[31]—“The first amusements we encountered were the variety and contradictory language of the signs, enough to persuade a man there were no rules of concord among the citizens. Here we saw Joseph’s Dream, the Bull and Mouth, the Whale and Crow, the Shovel and Boot, the Leg and Star, the Bible and Swan, the Frying-pan and Drum,[19] the Lute and Tun, the Hog in Armour, and a thousand others that the wise men that put them there can give no reason for.”

From this enumeration, we see that a century had worked great changes in the signs. Those of the beginning of the seventeenth century were all simple, and had no combinations. But now we meet very heterogeneous objects joined together. Various reasons can be found to account for this. First, it must be borne in mind that most of the London signs had no inscription to tell the public “this is a lion,” or, “this is a bear;” hence the vulgar could easily make mistakes, and call an object by a wrong name, which might give rise to an absurd combination, as in the case of the Leg and Star; which, perhaps, was nothing else but the two insignia of the order of the Garter; the garter being represented in its natural place, on the leg, and the star of the order beside it. Secondly, the name might be corrupted through faulty pronunciation; and when the sign was to be repainted, or imitated in another street, those objects would be represented by which it was best known. Thus the Shovel and Boot might have been a corruption of the Shovel and Boat, since the Shovel and Ship is still a very common sign in places where grain is carried by canal boats; whilst the Bull and Mouth is said to be a corruption of the Boulogne Mouth—the Mouth of Boulogne Harbour. Finally, whimsical shopkeepers would frequently aim at the most odd combination they could imagine, for no other reason but to attract attention. Taking these premises into consideration, some of the signs which so puzzled Tom Brown might be easily accounted for; the Axe and Bottle, in this way, might have been a corruption of the Battle-axe. The Bible and Swan, a sign in honour of Luther, who is generally represented by the symbol of a swan, a figure of which many Lutheran Churches have on their steeple instead of a weathercock; whilst the Lute and Tun was clearly a pun on the name of Luton, similar to the Bolt and Tun of Prior Bolton, who adopted this device as his rebus.

Other causes of combinations, and many very amusing and instructive remarks about signs, are given in the following from the Spectator, No. 28, April 2, 1710:—

“There is nothing like sound literature and good sense to be met with in those objects, that are everywhere thrusting themselves out to the eye and endeavouring to become visible. Our streets are filled with blue boars, black swans, and red lions, not[20] to mention flying-pigs and hogs in armour, with many creatures more extraordinary than any in the deserts of Africa. Strange that one, who has all the birds and beasts in nature to choose out of, should live at the sign of an ens rationis.

“My first task, therefore, should be like that of Hercules, to clear the city from monsters. In the second place, I should forbid that creatures of jarring and incongruous natures should be joined together in the same sign; such as the Bell and the Neat’s Tongue, the Dog and the Gridiron. The Fox and the Goose may be supposed to have met, but what has the Fox and the Seven Stars to do together? And when did the Lamb and Dolphin ever meet except upon a signpost? As for the Cat and Fiddle, there is a conceit in it, and therefore I do not intend that anything I have here said should affect it. I must, however, observe to you upon this subject, that it is usual for a young tradesman, at his first setting up, to add to his own sign that of the master whom he served, as the husband, after marriage, gives a place to his mistress’s arms in his own coat. This I take to have given rise to many of those absurdities which are committed over our heads; and, as I am informed, first occasioned the Three Nuns and a Hare, which we see so frequently joined together. I would therefore establish certain rules for the determining how far one tradesman may give the sign of another, and in what case he may be allowed to quarter it with his own.

“In the third place, I would enjoin every shop to make use of a sign which bears some affinity to the wares in which it deals. What can be more inconsistent than to see a bawd at the sign of the Angel, or a tailor at the Lion? A cook should not live at the Boot, nor a shoemaker at the Roasted Pig; and yet, for want of this regulation, I have seen a Goat set up before the door of a perfumer, and the French King’s Head at a sword-cutler’s.

“An ingenious foreigner observes that several of those gentlemen who value themselves upon their families, and overlook such as are bred to trades, bear the tools of their forefathers in their coats of arms. I will not examine how true this is in fact; but though it may not be necessary for posterity thus to set up the sign of their forefathers, I think it highly proper that those who actually profess the trade should shew some such mark of it before their doors.

“When the name gives an occasion for an ingenious signpost,[21] I would likewise advise the owner to take that opportunity of letting the world know who he is. It would have been ridiculous for the ingenious Mrs Salmon to have lived at the sign of the trout, for which reason she has erected before her house the figure of the fish that is her namesake. Mr Bell has likewise distinguished himself by a device of the same nature. And here, sir, I must beg leave to observe to you, that this particular figure of a Bell has given occasion to several pieces of wit in this head. A man of your reading must know that Abel Drugger gained great applause by it in the time of Ben Jonson. Our Apocryphal heathen god is also represented by this figure, which, in conjunction with the Dragon,[32] makes a very handsome picture in several of our streets. As for the Bell Savage, which is the sign of a savage man standing by a bell, I was formerly very much puzzled upon the conceit of it, till I accidentally fell into the reading of an old romance translated out of the French, which gives an account of a very beautiful woman, who was found in a wilderness, and is called la Belle Sauvage, and is everywhere translated by our countrymen the Bell Savage.[33] This piece of philology will, I hope, convince you that I have made signposts my study, and consequently qualified myself for the employment which I solicit at your hands. But before I conclude my letter, I must communicate to you another remark which I have made upon the subject with which I am now entertaining you—namely, that I can give a shrewd guess at the humour of the inhabitant by the sign that hangs before his door. A surly, choleric fellow generally makes choice of a Bear, as men of milder dispositions frequently live at the Lamb. Seeing a Punchbowl painted upon a sign near Charing Cross, and very curiously garnished, with a couple of angels hovering over it and squeezing a lemon into it, I had the curiosity to ask after the master of the house, and found upon inquiry, as I had guessed by the little agrémens upon his sign, that he was a Frenchman.”

Another reason for “quartering” signs was on removing from one shop to another, when it was customary to add the sign of the old shop to that of the new one.

“WHEREAS Anthony Wilton, who lived at the Green Cross publick-house against the new Turnpike on New Cross Hill, has been removed for two years past to the new boarded house now the sign of the[22] Green Cross and Kross Keyes on the same hill,” &c.—Weekly Journal, November 22, 1718.

“THOMAS BLACKALL and Francis Ives, Mercers, are removed from the Seven Stars on Ludgate Hill to the Black Lion and Seven Stars over the way.”—Daily Courant, November 17, 1718.

“PETER DUNCOMBE and Saunders Dancer, who lived at the Naked Boy in Great Russell Street, Covent Garden, removed to the Naked Boy and Mitre, near Sommerset House, Strand,” &c.—Postboy, January 2-4, 1711.

“RICHARD MEARES, Musical Instrument maker, is removed from y’ Golden Viol in Leaden Hall Street to y’ North side of St Paul’s Churchyard, at y’ Golden Viol and Hautboy, where he sells all sorts of musical instruments,” &c.—[Bagford bills.]

To increase this complexity still more, came the corruption of names arising from pronunciation; thus Mr Burn, in his introduction to the “Beaufoy Tokens,” mentions the sign of Pique and Carreau, on a gambling-house at Newport, Isle of Wight, which was Englished into the Pig and Carrot; again, the same sign at Godmanchester was still more obliterated into the Pig and Checkers. The sign of the Island Queen I have frequently heard, either in jest or in ignorance, called the Iceland Queen. The editor of the recently-published “Slang Dictionary” remarks that he has seen the name of the once popular premier, George Canning, metamorphosed on an alehouse-sign into the George and Cannon; so the Golden Farmer became the Jolly Farmer; whilst the Four Alls, in Whitechapel, were altered into the Four Awls. Along with this practice, there is a tendency to translate a sign into a sort of jocular slang phrase; thus, in the seventeenth century, the Blackmoorshead and Woolpack, in Pimlico, was called the Devil and Bag of Nails by those that frequented that tavern, and by the last part of that name the house is still called at the present day. Thus the Elephant and Castle is vulgarly rendered as the Pig and Tinderbox; the Bear and Ragged Staff, the Angel and Flute; the Eagle and Child, the Bird and Bantling; the Hog in Armour, the Pig in Misery; the Pig in the Pound, the Gentleman in Trouble, &c.

Some further information, in illustration of the different signboards, is to be obtained from the Adventurer, No. 9, (1752:)

“It cannot be doubted but that signs were intended originally to express the several occupations of their owners, and to bear some affinity in their external designations with the wares to be disposed of, or the business carried on within. Hence the Hand and Shears is justly appropriated to tailors, and the Hand and[23] Pen to writing-masters; though the very reverend and right worthy order of my neighbours, the Fleet-parsons, have assumed it to themselves as a mark of ‘marriages performed without imposition.’ The Woolpack plainly points out to us a woollen draper; the Naked Boy elegantly reminds us of the necessity of clothing; and the Golden Fleece figuratively denotes the riches of our staple commodity; but are not the Hen and Chickens and the Three Pigeons the unquestionable right of the poulterer, and not to be usurped by the vender of silk or linen?

“It would be useless to enumerate the gross blunders committed in this point by almost every branch of trade. I shall therefore confine myself chiefly to the numerous fraternity of publicans, whose extravagance in this affair calls aloud for reprehension and restraint. Their modest ancestors were contented with a plain Bough stuck up before their doors, whence arose the wise proverb, ‘Good Wine needs no Bush;’ but how have they since deviated from their ancient simplicity! They have ransacked earth, air, and seas, called down sun, moon, and stars to their assistance, and exhibited all the monsters that ever teemed from fantastic imagination. Their Hogs in Armour, their Blue Boars, Black Bears, Green Dragons, and Golden Lions, have already been sufficiently exposed by your brother essay-writers:—

‘Sus horridus, atraque Tigris,
Squamosusque Draco, et fulva cervice Leæna.


‘With foamy tusks to seem a bristly boar,
Or imitate the lion’s angry roar;
Or kiss a dragon, or a tiger stare.’—Dryden.

“It is no wonder that these gentlemen who indulged themselves in such unwarrantable liberties, should have so little regard to the choice of signs adapted to their mystery. There can be no objection made to the Bunch of Grapes, the Rummer, or the Tuns; but would not any one inquire for a hosier at the Leg, or for a locksmith at the Cross Keys? and who would expect anything but water to be sold at the Fountain? The Turkshead may fairly intimate that a seraglio is kept within; the Rose may be strained to some propriety of meaning, as the business transacted there may be said to be done ‘under the rose;’ but why must the Angel, the Lamb, and the Mitre be the designations of the seats of drunkenness or prostitution?

“Some regard should likewise be paid by tradesmen to their situation; or, in other words, to the propriety of the place; and[24] in this, too, the publicans are notoriously faulty. The King’s Arms, and the Star and Garter, are aptly enough placed at the court end of the town, and in the neighbourhood of the royal palace; Shakespeare’s Head takes his station by one playhouse, and Ben Jonson’s by the other; Hell is a public-house adjoining to Westminster Hall, as the Devil Tavern is to the lawyers’ quarter in the Temple: but what has the Crown to do by the ’Change, or the Gun, the Ship, or the Anchor anywhere but at Tower Hill, at Wapping, or Deptford?

“It was certainly from a noble spirit of doing honour to a superior desert, that our forefathers used to hang out the heads of those who were particularly eminent in their professions. Hence we see Galen and Paracelsus exalted before the shops of chemists; and the great names of Tully, Dryden, and Pope, &c., immortalised on the rubric posts[34] of booksellers, while their heads denominate the learned repositors of their works. But I know not whence it happens that publicans have claimed a right to the physiognomies of kings and heroes, as I cannot find out, by the most painful researches, that there is any alliance between them. Lebec, as he was an excellent cook, is the fit representative of luxury; and Broughton, that renowned athletic champion, has an indisputable right to put up his own head if he pleases; but what reason can there be why the glorious Duke William should draw porter, or the brave Admiral Vernon retail flip? Why must Queen Anne keep a ginshop, and King Charles inform us of a skittle-ground? Propriety of character, I think, require that these illustrious personages should be deposed from their lofty stations, and I would recommend hereafter that the alderman’s effigy should accompany his Intire Butt Beer, and that the comely face of that public-spirited patriot who first reduced the price of punch and raised its reputation Pro Bono Publico, should be set up wherever three penn’orth of warm rum is to be sold.

“I have been used to consider several signs, for the frequency of which it is difficult to give any other reason, as so many hieroglyphics with a hidden meaning, satirising the follies of the people, or conveying instruction to the passer-by. I am afraid that the stale jest on our citizens gave rise to so many Horns in public streets; and the number of Castles floating with the wind[25] was probably designed as a ridicule on those erected by soaring projectors. Tumbledown Dick, in the borough of Southwark, is a fine moral on the instability of greatness, and the consequences of ambition; but there is a most ill-natured sarcasm against the fair sex exhibited on a sign in Broad Street, St Giles’s, of a headless female figure called the Good Woman.

‘Quale portentum neque militaris
Daunia in latis alit esculetis,
Nec Jubæ tellus generat, leonum
Arida Nutrix.’—Horace.
‘No beast of such portentous size
In warlike Daunia’s forest lies,
Nor such the tawny lion reigns
Fierce on his native Afric’s plains.’—Francis.

“A discerning eye may also discover in many of our signs evident marks of the religion prevalent amongst us before the Reformation. St George, as the tutelary saint of this nation, may escape the censure of superstition; but St Dunstan, with his tongs ready to take hold of Satan’s nose, and the legions of Angels, Nuns, Crosses, and Holy Lambs, certainly had their origin in the days of Popery.

“Among the many signs which are appropriated to some particular business, and yet have not the least connexion with it, I cannot as yet find any relation between blue balls and pawnbrokers. Nor could I conceive the intent of that long pole putting out at the entrance of a barber’s shop, till a friend of mine, a learned etymologist and glossariographer, assured me that the use of this pole took its rise from the corruption of an old English word. ‘It is probable,’ says he, ‘that our primitive tonsors used to stick up a wooden block or head, or poll, as it was called, before their shop windows, to denote their occupation; and afterwards, through a confounding of different things with a like pronunciation, they put up the parti-coloured staff of enormous length, which is now called a pole, and appropriated to barbers.’”[35]

The remarks of the Adventurer have brought us down to the middle of the eighteenth century, when the necessity for signs was not so great as formerly. Education was spreading fast, and reading had become a very general acquirement; yet it would appear that the exhibitors of signboards wished to make up in extravagance what they had lost in use. “Be it known, however,[26] to posterity,” says a writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine, “that long after signs became unnecessary, it was not unusual for an opulent shopkeeper to lay out as much upon a sign, and the curious ironwork with which it was fixed in the house, so as to project nearly in the middle of the street, as would furnish a less considerable dealer with a stock in trade. I have been credibly informed that there were many signs and sign irons upon Ludgate Hill which cost several hundred pounds, and that as much was laid out by a mercer on the sign of the Queen’s Head, as would have gone a good way towards decorating the original for a birthday.” Misson, a French traveller who visited England in 1719, thus speaks about the signs:—

“By a decree of the police, the signs of Paris must be small, and not too far advanced from the houses. At London, they are commonly very large, and jut out so far, that in some narrow streets they touch one another; nay, and run across almost quite to the other side. They are generally adorned with carving and gilding; and there are several that, with the branches of iron which support them, cost above a hundred guineas. They seldom write upon the signs the name of the thing represented in it, so that there is no need of Molière’s inspector. But this does not at all please the German and other travelling strangers; because, for want of the things being so named, they have not an opportunity of learning their names in England, as they stroll along the streets. Out of London, and particularly in villages, the signs of inns are suspended in the middle of a great wooden portal, which may be looked upon as a kind of triumphal arch to the honour of Bacchus.”

M. Grosley, another Frenchman, who made a voyage through England in 1765, makes very similar remarks. As soon as he landed at Dover, he observes,

“I saw nothing remarkable, but the enormous size of the public-house signs, the ridiculous magnificence of the ornaments with which they are overcharged, the height of a sort of triumphal arches that support them, and most of which cross the streets,” &c. Elsewhere he says, “In fact nothing can be more inconsistent than the choice and the placing of the ornaments, with which the signposts and the outside of the shops of the citizens are loaded.”

But gaudy and richly ornamented as they were, it would seem that, after all, the pictures were bad, and that the absence of inscriptions was not to be lamented, for those that existed only “made fritters of English.” The Tatler, No. 18, amused his readers at the expense of their spelling:—“There is an offence I have a thousand times lamented, but fear I shall never see remedied, which is that, in a nation where learning is so frequent as in Great Britain, there should be so many gross errors as there[27] are, in the very direction of things wherein accuracy is necessary for the conduct of life. This is notoriously observed by all men of letters when they first come to town, (at which time they are usually curious that way,) in the inscriptions on signposts. I have cause to know this matter as well as anybody, for I have, when I went to Merchant Taylor’s School, suffered stripes for spelling after the signs I observed in my way; though at the same time, I must confess, staring at those inscriptions first gave me an idea and curiosity for medals, in which I have since arrived at some knowledge. Many a man has lost his way and his dinner, by this general want of skill in orthography; for, considering that the paintings are usually so very bad that you cannot know the animal under whose sign you are to live that day, how must the stranger be misled, if it is wrong spelled as well as ill painted? I have a cousin now in town, who has answered under bachelor at Queen’s College, whose name is Humphrey Mopstaff, (he is akin to us by his mother;) this young man, going to see a relation in Barbican, wandered a whole day by the mistake of one letter; for it was written, ‘This is the Beer,’ instead of ‘This is the Bear.’ He was set right at last by inquiring for the house of a fellow who could not read, and knew the place mechanically, only by having been often drunk there. . . . I propose that every tradesman in the city of London and Westminster shall give me a sixpence a quarter for keeping their signs in repair as to the grammatical part; and I will take into my house a Swiss count[36] of my acquaintance, who can remember all their names without book, for despatch’ sake, setting up the head of the said foreigner for my sign, the features being strong and fit to hang high.”

Had the signs murdered only the king’s English, it might have been forgiven; but even the lives of his majesty’s subjects were not secure from them; for, leaving alone the complaints raised about their preventing the circulation of fresh air, a more serious charge was brought against them in 1718, when a sign in Bride’s Lane, Fleet Street, by its weight dragged down the front of the house, and in its fall killed two young ladies, the king’s jeweller, and a cobbler. A commission of inquiry into the nuisance was appointed; but, like most commissions and committees, they talked a great deal and had some dinners; in the meantime the[28] public interest and excitement abated, and matters remained as they were.

In the year 1762 considerable attention was directed to signboards by Bonnell Thornton, a clever wag, who, to burlesque the exhibitions of the Society of Artists, got up an Exhibition of Signboards. In a preliminary advertisement, and in his published catalogue, he described it as the “Exhibition of the Society of Sign-painters of all the curious signs to be met with in town or country, together with such original designs as might be transmitted to them, as specimens of the native genius of the nation.” Hogarth, who understood a joke as well as any man in England, entered into the spirit of the humour, was on the hanging committee, and added a few touches to heighten the absurdity. The whole affair proved a great success.[37]

This comical exhibition was the greatest glory to which signboards were permitted to attain, as not more than four years after they had a fall from which they never recovered. Education had now so generally spread, that the majority of the people could read sufficiently well to decipher a name and a number. The continual exhibition of pictures in the streets and thoroughfares consequently became useless; the information they conveyed could be imparted in a more convenient and simple manner, whilst their evils could be avoided. The strong feeling of corporations, too, had set in steadily against signboards, and henceforth they were doomed.

Paris, this time, set the example: by an act of September 17, 1761, M. de Sartines, Lieutenant de Police, ordered that, in a month’s time from the publication of the act, all signboards in Paris and its suburbs were to be fixed against the walls of the houses, and not to project more than four inches, including the border, frame, or other ornaments;—also, all the signposts and sign irons were to be removed from the streets and thoroughfares, and the passage cleared.

London soon followed: in the Daily News, November 1762, we find:—“The signs in Duke’s Court, St Martin’s Lane, were all taken down and affixed to the front of the houses.” Thus Westminster had the honour to begin the innovation, by procuring an act with ample powers to improve the pavement, &c., of the streets; and this act also sealed the doom of the signboards,[29] which, as in Paris, were ordered to be affixed to the houses. This was enforced by a statute of 2 Geo. III. c. 21, enlarged at various times. Other parishes were longer in making up their mind; but the great disparity in the appearance of the streets westward from Temple Bar, and those eastward, at last made the Corporation of London follow the example, and adopt similar improvements. Suitable powers to carry out the scheme were soon obtained. In the 6 Geo. III. the Court of Common Council appointed commissions, and in a few months all the parishes began to clear away: St Botolph in 1767; St Leonard, Shoreditch, in 1768; St Martin’s-le-Grand in 1769; and Marylebone in 1770.[38] By these acts

“The commissioners are empowered to take down and remove all signs or other emblems used to denote the trade, occupation, or calling of any person or persons, signposts, signirons, balconies, penthouses, showboards, spouts, and gutters, projecting into any of the said streets, &c., and all other encroachments, projections, and annoyances whatsoever, within the said cities and liberties, and cause the same, or such parts thereof as they think fit, to be affixed or placed on the fronts of the houses, shops, warehouses, or buildings to which they belong, and return to the owner so much as shall not be put up again or otherwise made use of in such alterations; and any person having, placing, erecting, or building any sign, signpost, or other post, signirons, balcony, penthouse, obstruction, or annoyance, is subject to a penalty of £5, and twenty shillings a day for continuing the same.”[39]

With the signboards, of course, went the signposts. The removing of the posts, and paving of the streets with Scotch granite, gave rise to the following epigram:—

“The Scottish new pavement well deserves our praise;
To the Scotch we’re obliged, too, for mending our ways;
But this we can never forgive, for they say
As that they have taken our posts all away.”

After the signs and posts had been removed, we can imagine how bleak and empty the streets at first appeared; how silent in the night-time; what a difficulty there must have been in finding out the houses and shops; and how everybody, particularly the old people, grumbled about the innovations.

Now numbers appeared everywhere. As early as 1512 an[30] attempt had been made in Paris at numbering sixty-eight new houses, built in that year on the Pont Nôtre-Dame, which were all distinguished by 1, 2, 3, 4, &c.; yet more than two centuries elapsed before the numerical arrangement was generally adopted. In 1787 the custom in France had become almost universal, but was not enforced by police regulations until 1805. In London it appears to have been attempted in the beginning of the eighteenth century; for in Hatton’s “New View of London,” 1708, we see that “in Prescott Street, Goodman’s Fields, instead of signs the houses are distinguished by numbers, as the staircases in the Inns of Court and Chancery.” In all probability reading was not sufficiently widespread at that time to bring this novelty into general practice. Yet how much more simple is the method of numbering, for giving a clear and unmistakable direction, may be seen from the means resorted to to indicate a house under the signboard system; as for instance:—

“TO be lett, Newbury House, in St James’s Park, next door but one to Lady Oxford’s, having two balls at the gate, and iron rails before the door,” &c., &c.—Advertisement in the original edition of the Spectator, No. 207.

“AT her house, the Red Ball and Acorn, over against the Globe Tavern, in Queen Street, Cheapside, near the Three Crowns, liveth a Gentlewoman,” &c.

At night the difficulty of finding a house was greatly increased, for the light of the lamps was so faint that the signs, generally hung rather high, could scarcely be discerned. Other means, therefore, were resorted to, as we see from the advertisement of “Doctor James Tilbrogh, a German Doctor,” who resides “over against the New Exchange in Bedford Street, at the sign of the Peacock, where you shall see at night two candles burning within one of the chambers before the balcony, and a lanthorn with a candle in it upon the balcony.” And in that strain all directions were given: over against, or next door to, were among the consecrated formulæ. Hence many dispensed with a picture of their own, and clung, like parasites, to the sign opposite or next door, particularly if it was a shop of some note. Others resorted to painting their houses, doors, balconies, or doorposts, in some striking colour; hence those Red, Blue, or White Houses still so common; hence also the Blue Posts and the Green Posts. So we find a Dark House in Chequer Alley, Moorfields, a Green Door in Craven Building, and a Blue Balcony in Little Queen Street, all of which figure on the seventeenth century trades[31] tokens.[40] Those who did much trade by night, as coffee-houses, quacks, &c., adopted lamps with coloured glasses, by which they distinguished their houses. This custom has come down to us, and is still adhered to by doctors, chemists, public-houses, and occasionally by sweeps.

Yet, though the numbers were now an established fact, the shopkeepers still clung to the old traditions, and for years continued to display their signs, grand, gorgeous, and gigantic as ever, though affixed to the houses. As late as 1803, a traveller thus writes about London:—“As it is one of the principal secrets of the trade to attract the attention of that tide of people which is constantly ebbing and flowing in the streets, it may easily be conceived that great pains are taken to give a striking form to the signs and devices hanging out before their shops. The whole front of a house is frequently employed for this purpose. Thus, in the vicinity of Ludgate Hill, the house of S——, who has amassed a fortune of £40,000 by selling razors, is daubed with large capitals three feet high, acquainting the public that ‘the most excellent and superb patent razors are sold here.’ As soon, therefore, as a shop has acquired some degree of reputation, the younger brethren of the trade copy its device. A grocer in the city, who had a large Beehive for his sign hanging out before his shop, had allured a great many customers. No sooner were the people seen swarming about this hive than the old signs suddenly disappeared, and Beehives, elegantly gilt, were substituted in their places. Hence the grocer was obliged to insert an advertisement in the newspapers, importing ‘that he was the sole proprietor of the original and celebrated Beehive.’ A similar accident befell the shop of one E—— in Cheapside, who has a considerable demand for his goods on account of their cheapness and excellence. The sign of this gentleman consists in a prodigious Grasshopper, and as this insect had quickly propagated its species through every part of the city, Mr E—— has in his advertisements repeatedly requested the public to observe that ‘the genuine Grasshopper is only to be found before his warehouse.’ He has, however, been so successful as to persuade several young beginners to enter into engagements with him, on conditions very advantageous to himself, by which they have obtained a licence for hanging out the sign of a Grasshopper[32] before their shops, expressly adding this clause in large capitals, that ‘they are genuine descendants of the renowned and matchless Grasshopper of Mr E—— in Cheapside.’”[41]

Such practices as these, however, necessarily gave the deathblow to signboards; for, by reason of this imitation on the part of rival shopkeepers, the main object—distinction and notoriety—was lost. How was a stranger to know which of those innumerable Beehives in the Strand was the Beehive; or which of all those “genuine Grasshoppers” was THE genuine one? So, gradually, the signs began to dwindle away, first in the principal streets, then in the smaller thoroughfares and the suburbs; finally, in the provincial towns also. The publicans only retained them, and even they in the end were satisfied with the name without the sign, vox et præterea nihil.

(Cheapside, 1640.)
(Wouwverman, 17th cent.)
(Roxburghe Ballads. 17th century.)
(Circa 1700.)

In the seventeenth century signs had been sung in sprightly ballads, and often given the groundwork for a biting satire. They continued to inspire the popular Muse until the end, but her latter productions were more like a wail than a ballad. There is certainly a rollicking air of gladness about the following song, but it was the last flicker of the lamp:—

At each inn on the road I a welcome could find:—
At the Fleece I’d my skin full of ale;
The Two Jolly Brewers were just to my mind;
At the Dolphin I drank like a whale.
Tom Tun at the Hogshead sold pretty good stuff;
They’d capital flip at the Boar;
And when at the Angel I’d tippled enough,
I went to the Devil for more.
Then I’d always a sweetheart so snug at the Car;
At the Rose I’d a lily so white;
Few planets could equal sweet Nan at the Star,
No eyes ever twinkled so bright.
I’ve had many a hug at the sign of the Bear;
In the Sun courted morning and noon;
And when night put an end to my happiness there,
I’d a sweet little girl in the Moon.
To sweethearts and ale I at length bid adieu,
Of wedlock to set up the sign:
Hand-in-hand the Good Woman I look for in you,
And the Horns I hope ne’er will be mine.
Once guard to the mail, I’m now guard to the fair;
But though my commission’s laid down,
Yet while the King’s Arms I’m permitted to bear,
Like a Lion I’ll fight for the Crown.”


This was written in the beginning of the century, when eighteen hundred was still in her teens. A considerable falling off may be observed in the following, contributed by a correspondent of William Hone:—

By an Inn-consolable Lover.
She’s as light as The Greyhound, as fair as The Angel,
Her looks than The Mitre more sanctified are;
But she flies like The Roebuck, and leaves me to range ill,
Still looking to her as my true polar Star.
New Inn-ventions I try, with new art to adore,
But my fate is, alas, to be voted a Boar;
My Goats I forsook to contemplate her charms,
And must own she is fit for our noble King’s Arms;
Now Cross’d, and now Jockey’d, now sad, now elate,
The Checquers appear but a map of my fate;
I blush’d like a Blue Cur, to send her a Pheasant,
But she call’d me a Turk, and rejected my present;
So I moped to The Barley Mow, grieved in my mind,
That The Ark from the Flood ever rescued mankind!
In my dreams Lions roar, and The Green Dragon grins,
And fiends rise in shape of The Seven Deadly Sins,
When I ogle The Bells, should I see her approach,
I skip like a Nag and jump into The Coach.
She is crimson and white like a Shoulder of Mutton,
Not the red of The Ox was so bright when first put on;
Like The Holly-bush prickles she scratches my liver,
While I moan and die like a Swan by the river.”

But tame as this last performance is, it is “merry as a brass band” when compared with a ballad sung in the streets some twenty years later, entitled, “Laughable and Interesting Picture of Drunkenness.” Speaking of the publicans, who call themselves “Lords,” it says:—

“If these be the Lords, there are many kinds,
For over their doors you will see many signs;
There is The King, and likewise The Crown,
And beggars are made in every town.
There is The Queen, and likewise her Head,
And many I fear to the gallows are led;
There is The Angel, and also The Deer,
Destroying health in every sphere.
There is The Lamb, likewise The Fleece,
And the fruit’s bad throughout the whole piece;
There is The White Hart, also The Cross Keys,
And many they’ve sent far over the seas.
There is The Bull, and likewise his Head.
His Horns are so strong, they will gore you quite dead;
[34] There’s The Hare and Hounds that never did run,
And many’s been hung for the deeds they’ve done.
There are Two Fighting Cocks that never did crow,
Where men often meet to break God’s holy vow;
There is The New Inn, and the Rodney they say,
Which send men to jail their debts for to pay.
The Hope and The Anchor, The Turk and his Head,
Hundreds they’ve caused for to wander for bread;
There is The White Horse, also The Woolpack,
Take the shoes off your feet, and the clothes off your back.
The Axe and the Cleaver, The Jockey and Horse,
Some they’ve made idle, some they’ve made worse;
The George and the Dragon, and Nelson the brave,
Many lives they’ve shorten’d and brought to the grave.
The Fox and the Goose, and The Guns put across,
But all the craft is to get hold of the brass;
The Bird in the Cage, and the sign of The Thrush,
But one in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

There is an unpleasant musty air about this ballad, a taint of Seven Dials, an odour of the ragged dresscoat, and the broken, ill-used hat. The gay days of signboard poetry, when sparks in feathers and ruffles sang their praises, are no more. Our forefathers were content to buy “at the Golden Frying-pan,” but we must needs go to somebody’s emporium, mart, repository, or make our purchases at such grand places as the Pantocapelleion, Pantometallurgicon, or Panklibanon. The corruptions and misapplications of the old pictorial signboards find a parallel in the modern rendering of our ancient proverbs and sayings. When the primary use and purpose of an article have fallen out of fashion, or become obsolete, there is no knowing how absurdly it may not be treated by succeeding generations. We were once taken many miles over fields and through lanes to see the great stone coffins of some ancient Romans, but the farmer, a sulky man, thought we were impertinent in wishing to see his pig-troughs. In Haarlem, we were once shewn the huge cannon-ball which killed Heemskerk, the discoverer of Nova Zembla. When not required for exhibition, however, the good man in charge found it of great use in grinding his mustard-seed. Amongst the middle classes of to-day, no institution of ancient times has been more corrupted and misapplied than heraldry. The modern “Forrester,” or member of the “Ancient Order of Druids,” is scarcely a greater burlesque upon the original than the beer retailers’ “Arms” of the present hour.


Good wine and beer were formerly to be had at the Boar’s Head, or the Three Tuns; but those emblems will not do now, it must be the “Arms” of somebody or something; whence we find such anomalies as the Angel Arms, (Clapham Road;) Dunstan’s Arms, (City Road;) Digger’s Arms, (Petworth, Surrey;) Farmer’s Arms and Gardener’s Arms, (Lancashire;) Grand Junction Arms, (Praed Street, London;) Griffin’s Arms, (Warrington;) Mount Pleasant Arms, Paragon Arms, (Kingston, Surrey;) St Paul’s Arms, (Newcastle;) Portcullis Arms, (Ludlow;) Puddler’s Arms, (Wellington, Shropshire;) Railway Arms, (Ludlow;) Sol’s Arms, (Hampstead Row;) the Vulcan Arms, (Sheffield;) General’s Arms, (Little Baddon, Essex;) the Waterloo Arms, (High Street, Marylebone,) &c. Besides these, a quantity of newfangled, high-sounding, but unmeaning names seem to be the order of the day with gin-palaces and refreshment-houses, as, Perseverance, Enterprise, Paragon, Criterion.

Notwithstanding these innovations, the majority of the old objects still survive, in name at least, on the signboards of alehouses and taverns. Their use may still be regarded as a rule with publicans and innkeepers, although they have become the exception in other trades. Occasionally, also, we may still come upon a painted signboard, but these are daily becoming scarcer. Not so in France; there the good old tradition of the painted signboard is yet kept up. We get a good glimpse of this subject in the following:[42]—“But it is the signs that so amuse and absolutely arrest a stranger. This is a practice that has grown into a mania at Paris, and is even a subject for the ridicule of the stage, since many a shopkeeper considers his sign as a primary matter, and spends a little capital in this one outfit. Many of them exhibit figures as large as life, painted in no humble or shabby style; while history, sacred and classical, religion, the stage, &c., furnish subjects. You may see the Horatii and Curiatii—a scene from the ‘Fourberies de Scapin’ of Molière—a group of French soldiers, with the inscription, A la Valeur des Soldats Français, or a group of children inscribed à la réunion des Bons Enfants,[43]—or à la Baigneuse, depicting a beautiful nymph just issuing from the bath; or à la Somnambule, a pretty girl walking in her sleep and nightdress, and followed by her gallant.[44]


“In ludicrous things, a barber will write under his sign:—

‘La Nature donne barbe et cheveux,
Et moi, je les coupe tous les deux.’[45]
‘A toutes les figures dédiant mes rasoirs,
Je nargue la censure des fidèles miroirs.’[46]

“Also a frequent inscription with a barber is, ‘Ici on rajeunit.’ A breeches-maker writes up, M——, Culottier de Mme. la Duchesse de Devonshire. A perruquier exhibits a sign, very well painted, of an old fop trying on a new wig, entitled, Au ci-devant jeune homme. A butcher displays a bouquet of faded flowers, with this inscription, Au tendre Souvenir. An eating-house exhibits a punning sign, with an ox dressed up with bonnet, lace veil, shawl, &c., which naturally implies, Bœuf à-la-mode. A pastry-cook has a very pretty little girl climbing up to reach some cakes in a cupboard, and this sign he calls, A la petite Gourmande. A stocking-maker has painted for him a lovely creature, trying on a new stocking, at the same time exhibiting more charms than the occasion requires to the young fellow who is on his knees at her feet, with the very significant motto, A la belle occasion.”[47]

Though it is forty years since these remarks were written, they still, mutatis mutandis, apply to the present day. Even the greatest and most fashionable shops on the Boulevards have their names or painted signs; the subjects are mostly taken from the principal topic of conversation at the time the establishment opened, whether politics, literature, the drama, or fine arts: thus we have à la Présidence; au Prophète; au Palais d’Industrie; aux Enfants d’Edouard, (the Princes in the Tower;) au Colosse de Rhodes; à la Tour de Malakoff; à la Tour de Nesles, (tragedy;) au Sonneur de St Paul, (tragedy;) à la Dame Blanche; à la Bataille de Solferino; au Trois Mousquetaires; au Lingot d’Or, (a great lottery swindle in 1852;) à la Reine Blanche, &c.[48] Some of these signs are remarkably well painted, in a vigorous, bold style, with great bravura of brush; for instance, les Noces de Vulcain, on the Quai aux Fleurs, is painted in a style which would do no discredit to the artist of les Romains de la Décadence. Roger Bontemps is still frequent[37] on the French signboard, where he is represented as a jolly rubicund toper, crowned with vine-leaves and seated astride a tun, with a brimming tumbler in his hand; this is a favourite sign with publicans. At the tobacconist’s door we may see a sign representing an elderly Paul Pry-looking gentleman enjoying a pinch of snuff. The Bureaux des Remplacements Militaires particularly excel in a gaudy display of military subjects, where the various passages of a soldier’s life are represented with all the romance of the warriors of the comic opera. Here can be seen the gallant troopers now courting Jeanette or Fanchon; now charging Russians, Cabyles, or Austrians, according to the date of the picture. Elsewhere a lancer on a fantastic wild horse; a guide, walking with a pretty vivandière, or an old grenadier with the Legion of Honour upon his breast;—“all the glorious pomp and circumstance of war” portrayed to entice the French clodhopper to sell himself “to death or to glory.” More pacific pictures may be observed at the door of the midwife; there we see a sedate-looking matron in ecstasy over the interesting young stranger she has just ushered forth into the world, whilst paterfamilias stands with a triumphant look in the background. Then there is the Herculean coalheaver at the door of the auvergnat, who sells coals and firewood; and landscapes with cattle at the dairyshops. But amongst the best painted are those at the doors of the marchands de vins et de comestibles, where we see frequently bunches of fruit, game, flowers, glasses, hams, fowls, fish, all cleverly grouped together, and painted in a dashing style. There is one, for instance, in the Rue Bellechasse, and another in the Rue St Lazare, that are well worth inspection. These paintings are generally on the door-posts and window-frames; they are painted on thin white canvas, fixed with varnish at the back of a thick piece of plateglass, and so let into the woodwork.

And now a few words concerning the painters of signs. Their head-quarters were in Harp Alley, Shoe Lane, where, until lately, gilt grapes, sugar-loaves, lasts, teapots, &c., &c., were displayed ready for the market. Here Messrs Barlow, Craddock, and others, whose names are now as completely lost as their works, had their studios, and produced some very creditable signs, both carved and painted. A few, however, were the productions of no mean artists. The Spectator, January 8, 1743, No. 744, says:—

“The other day, going down Ludgate Street, several people were gaping at a very splendid sign of Queen Elizabeth, which by far exceeded all the[38] other signs in the street, the painter having shewn a masterly judgment and the carver and gilder much pomp and splendour. It looked rather like a capital picture in a gallery than a sign in the street.”

Unfortunately the name of the artist who painted this has not come down to us.

Those who produced the best signs, however, were not exactly the Harp Alley sign-painters, but the coach-painters, who often united these two branches of art. In the last century, both the coaches and sedans of the wealthy classes were walking picture galleries, the panels being painted with all sorts of subjects.[49] And when the men that painted these turned their hands to sign-painting, they were sure to produce something good. Such was Clarkson, to whom J. T. Smith ascribed the beautiful sign of Shakespeare that formerly hung in Little Russell Street, Drury Lane, for which he was paid £500.—John Baker, (ob. 1771,) who studied under the same master as Catton, and was made a member of the Royal Academy at its foundation.—Charles Catton (ob. 1798) painted several very good signs, particularly a Lion for his friend Wright, a famous coachmaker, at that time living in Long Acre. This picture, though it had weathered many a storm, was still to be seen in J. T. Smith’s time, at a coachmaker’s on the west side of Well Street, Oxford Street. A Turk’s head, painted by him, was long admired as the sign of a mercer in York Street, Covent Garden.—John Baptist Cipriani, (ob. 1785,) a Florentine carriage-painter, living in London, also a Royal Academician.—Samuel Wale, R.A. (ob. 1786) painted a celebrated Falstaff and various other signs; the principal one was a whole length of Shakespeare, about five feet high, which was executed for and displayed at the door of a public-house at the north-west corner of Little Russell Street, Drury Lane. It was enclosed in a most sumptuous carved gilt frame, and was suspended by rich ironwork. But this splendid object of attraction did not hang long before it was taken down, in consequence of the Act of Parliament for removing the signs and other obstructions in the streets of London. Such was the change in the public appreciation consequent on the new regulations in signs, that this representation of our great dramatic poet was sold for a trifle to Mason the broker in Lower Grosvenor Street, where it stood at his door for several years, until it was totally destroyed by the weather and other accidents.[50]


The universal use of signboards furnished no little employment for the inferior rank of painters, and sometimes even to the superior professors. Among the most celebrated practitioners in this branch was a person of the name of Lamb, who possessed considerable ability. His pencil was bold and masterly, and well adapted to the subjects on which it was generally employed. There was also Gwynne, another coach-painter, who acquired some reputation as a marine painter, and produced a few good signs. Robert Dalton, keeper of the pictures of King George III., had been apprenticed to a sign and coach-painter; so were Ralph Kirby, drawing-master to George IV. when Prince of Wales, Thomas Wright of Liverpool, the marine painter, Smirke, R.A., and many artists who acquired considerable after-reputation.

Peter Monamy (ob. 1749) was apprenticed to a sign and house-painter on London Bridge. It was this artist who decorated the carriage of Admiral Byng with ships and naval trophies, and painted a portrait of Admiral Vernon’s ship for a famous public-house of the day, well known by the sign of the Portobello, a few doors north of the church in St Martin’s Lane.[51]

Besides these, we have the “great professors,” as Edwards calls them, who occasionally painted a sign for a freak. At the head of these stands Hogarth, whose Man loaded with Mischief is still to be seen at 414 Oxford Street, where it is a fixture in the alehouse of that name.

Richard Wilson, R.A., (ob. 1782,) painted the Three Loggerheads for an alehouse in North Wales, which gave its name to the village of Loggerheads, near the town of Mould. The painting was still exhibited as a signboard in 1824, though little of Wilson’s work remained, as it had been repeatedly touched up.

George Morland painted several; the Goat in Boots on the Fulham Road is attributed to him, but has since been painted often over; he also painted a White Lion for an inn at Paddington, where he used to carouse with his boon companions, Ibbetson and Rathbone; and in a small public-house near Chelsea Bridge, Surrey, there was, as late as 1824, a sign of the Cricketers painted by him. This painting by Morland, at the date mentioned, had been removed inside the house, and a copy of it hung up for the sign; unfortunately, however, the landlord used to travel about with the original, and put it up before his booth at Staines and Egham races, cricket matches, and similar occasions.


Ibbetson painted a sign for the village alehouse at Troutbeck, near Ambleside, to settle a bill run up in a sketching, fishing, and dolce-far-niente expedition; the sign represented two faces, the one thin and pale, the other jolly and rubicund; under it was the following rhyme:—

“Thou mortal man that liv’st by bread,
What made thy face to look so red?
Thou silly fop, that looks so pale,
‘Tis red with Tommy Burkett’s ale.”[52]

David Cox painted a Royal Oak for the alehouse at Bettws-y-Coed, Denbighshire; fortunately this has been taken down, and is now preserved behind glass inside the inn.

The elder Crome produced a sign of the Sawyers at St Martins, Norwich; it was afterwards taken down by the owner, framed, and hung up as a picture.

At New Inn Lane, Epsom, Harlow painted a front and a back view of Queen Charlotte, to settle a bill he had run up; he imitated Sir Thomas Lawrence’s style, and signed it “T. L.,” Greek Street, Soho. When Lawrence heard this, he got in a terrible rage and said, if Harlow were not a scoundrel, he would kick him from one street’s end to the other; upon which Harlow very coolly remarked, that when Sir Thomas should make up his mind to it, he hoped he would choose a short street.

In his younger days Sir Charles Ross painted a sign of the Magpie at Sudbury, and the landlady of the house, with no small pride, gave the informant to understand that, more than thirty years after, the aristocratic portrait-painter came in a carriage to her house, and asked to be shewn the old sign once more.

Herring is said to have painted some signs. Amongst them are the Flying Dutchman, at Cottage Green, Camberwell, and a White Lion at Doncaster; underneath the last are the words,—“Painted by Herring.”

Millais painted a Saint George and Dragon, with grapes round it, for the Vidler’s Inn, Hayes, Kent; and we learn that a sign at Singleton, Lancashire, was painted by an R.A. and an R.S., each painting one side of it; on the front was represented a wearied pilgrim, at the back the same refreshed, but the sign was never hung up.

Great men of former ages, also, are known to have painted signs;[41] in the museum at Basle, in Switzerland, there are two pictures of a school, painted by Holbein when fourteen years old, for a sign of the schoolmaster of the town. The Mule and Muleteer in the Sutherland collection, is said to have been painted by Correggio as a sign for an inn; a similar legend is told about the Young Bull of Paul Potter, in the museum of the Hague, in Holland, which is reported to have been painted for a butcher’s signboard. The Chaste Susannah (la chaste Susanne) was formerly a fine stone bas-relief in the Rue aux Fèves, Paris; it was attributed to Goujon, and bought as such by an amateur. A plaster cast of it now occupies its place. Watteau executed a sign for a milliner on the Pont Nôtre-Dame, which was thought sufficiently good to be engraved. Horace Vernet has the name of having produced some signs in his younger days; and there is still at the present time a sign of the White Horse, in one of the villages in the neighbourhood of Paris, which is pointed out as a work of Guéricault.

Besides these, there are, and have been at various times, excellent signboards in Paris, the artists of which are not known. Thus there was, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, a sign at the foot of the Pont Neuf, called le Petit Dunkerque, which was greatly admired; and in the reign of Louis XV. an armourer on the Pont Saint Michel had a sign, which was so fine a work of art that it was bought as a cabinet picture by a wealthy citizen. In the beginning of this century there was a much admired sign on the shutters of a glass and china shop in the Rue Royale St Honoré, which unfortunately was destroyed during some repairs that took place upon the building passing into other hands. In 1808, the sign of la Fille mal gardée, (a vaudeville,) at a mercer’s, attracted great attention. About this period the Rue Vivienne was very rich in good signboards; there were la Toison de Cachemire; les Trois Sultanes; le Couronnement de la Rosière, and la Joconde, all very good works of art. There was a gay Comte Ory on the Boulevard des Italiens, and la Blanche Marguerite, most comely to look upon, in the Rue Montmartre. All these are now gone, but many good specimens of French signboard painting may yet be met with.

Before closing this general survey of signboard history, we must direct attention to the number of streets named after signs, both in England and abroad. A walk down Fleet Street will give, in a small compass, as many illustrations as are to be met[42] with in any other thoroughfare in town, for there nearly all the courts are named after signs that were either hung within them, or at their entrance. Not only streets, but families also have to thank signs for their names.

“Many names that seem unfitting for men, as of brutish beasts, etc., come from the very signes of the houses where they inhabited; for I have heard of them which sayd they spake of knowledge, that some in late time dwelling at the signe of the Dolphin, Bull, White Horse, Racket, Peacocke, etc., were commonly called Thomas at the Dolphin, Will at the Bull, George at the White Horse, Robin at the Racket, which names, as many other of like sort, with omitting at the, became afterwards hereditary to their children.”—Camden’s Remaines, p. 102.

As examples of such names we have, “Arrow, Axe, Barrell, Bullhead, Bell, Block, Board, Banner, Bowles, Baskett, Cann, Coulter, Chisell, Clogg, Crosskeys, Crosier, Funnell, Forge, Firebrand, Grapes, Griffin, Horns, Hammer, Hamper, Hodd, Harrow, Image, (the sign originally in honour of some saint perhaps,) Jugg, Kettle, Knife, Lance, Mallet, Maul, Mattock, Needle, Pail, Pott, Potts, Plowe, Plane, Pipes, Pottle, Patten, Posnet, (a purse or money-bag,) Pitcher, Rule, Rainbow, Sack, Saw, Shovel, Shears, Scales, Silverspoon, Swords, Tankard, Tabor, (a drum,) Trowel, Tubb and Wedge, and a good many others.”[53]

And now, having taken a passing glance at signboard history, from the earliest times down to the present day, we may not improperly conclude this chapter with an enumeration of the inn, tavern, and public-house signs which occur most frequently in London, in this present year of grace, 1864:—

12 Adam and Eves, 13 Albions, 5 Alfred’s Heads, 13 Anchor and Hopes, 18 Angels, 8 Angels and Crowns, 3 Antigallicans, 5 Artichokes, 13 Barley Mows, 9 Beehives, 31 Bells, 7 Ben Jonsons, 5 Birds in Hand, 5 Black Boys, 16 Black Bulls, 5 Black Dogs, 29 Black Horses, 10 Black Lions, 6 Black Swans, 19 Blue Anchors, 5 Blue Coat Boys, 6 Blue Lasts, 14 Blue Peters, 27 Bricklayers’ Arms, 5 Bridge Houses, 22 Britannias, 15 Brown Bears, 8 Builders’ Arms, 17 Bulls, (some combined with Bells, Butchers, &c.,) 22 Bull’s Heads, 4 Camden Heads, 6 Capes of Good Hope, 14 Carpenters’ Arms, 19 Castles, 6 Catherine Wheels, 7 Champions, 5 Chequers, 5 Cherry-trees, 8 Cheshire Cheeses, 11 City Arms, 18 Cities of London, and other cities, (as Canton, Paris, Quebec, &c.,) 52 Coach and Horses, 12 Cocks, 16 Cocks in combination with Bottles, Hoops, Lions, Magpies, &c., 6 Constitutions, 17[43] Coopers’ Arms, 7 Crooked Billets, 5 Cross Keys, 61 Crowns, 18 Crown and Anchors, 5 Crown and Cushions, 11 Crown and Sceptres, 17 Crowns, combined with other objects, as Anvils, Barley Mows, Thistles, Dolphins, &c., (in all, 112 Crowns; certainly we are a loyal nation!) 12 Devonshire Arms, 2 Devonshire Castles, 10 Dolphins, 6 Dover Castles, 34 Dukes of Wellington, 32 Dukes of York, 6 Dukes of Sussex, 16 Dukes of Clarence, 7 Dukes of Cambridge, 26 other Dukes, (including Albemarle, Argyle, Bedford, Bridgewater, Gloucester, &c.,) 7 various Duchesses, (as Kent, York, Oldenburgh, &c.,) 14 Duke’s Heads, 18 Earls, (Aberdeen, Cathcart, Chatham, Durham, Essex, &c.,) 6 Edinburgh Castles, 5 Elephants and Castles, 9 Falcons, 21 Feathers, 4 Fishmongers’ Arms, 4 Five Bells, 5 Fleeces, 6 Flying Horses, 5 Fortunes of War, 24 Fountains, 8 Foxes, 12 Foxes, combined with Grapes, Hounds, Geese, &c., 8 Freemasons’ Arms, 8 various Generals, (Elliott, Hill, Abercrombie, Picton, Wolfe, &c.,) 52 Georges, 14 George and Dragons, 19 George the Fourths, 31 Globes, 6 Gloster Arms, 7 Goats, 5 Golden Anchors, 5 Golden Fleeces, 15 Golden Lions, 6 Goldsmith’s Arms, 56 Grapes, 15 Green Dragons, 4 Green Gates, 24 Green Men, 9 Greyhounds, 7 Griffins, 5 Grosvenor Arms, 8 Guns, 4 Guy of Warwicks, 6 Half-moons, 4 Hercules, 2 Hercules Pillars, 5 Holes in the Wall, 5 Hoop and Grapes, 4 Hop-poles, 12 Hopes, 11 Horns, 21 Horses and Grooms, 7 Horseshoes, 5 Horseshoe and Magpies, 6 Jacob’s Wells, 5 John Bulls, 16 various “Jolly” people, as Jolly Anglers, Caulkers, Gardeners, &c., 12 Kings of Prussia, 10 Kings and Queens, 89 King’s Arms, 63 King’s Heads, (loyalty again!) 8 Lambs, 3 Lambs and Flags, 4 Lion and Lambs, 55 different Lords, amongst which, 23 Lord Nelsons, 4 Magpie and Stumps, 3 Mail-coaches, 3 Men in the Moon, 2 Marlborough Arms, 6 Marlborough Heads, 18 Marquis of Granbys, 6 Marquis of Cornwallises, 14 various Marquises, 9 Masons’ Arms, 17 Mitres, 4 Mulberry-trees, 15 Nag’s Heads, 3 Nell Gwynns, 7 Noah’s Arks, 7 Norfolk Arms, 4 North Poles, 9 Northumberland Arms, 3 Old Parr’s Heads, 6 Olive Branches, 6 Oxford Arms, 10 Peacocks, (1 Peahen,) 5 Perseverances, 5 Pewter Platters, 10 Phœnixes, 3 Pied Bulls, 5 Pine Apples, 9 Pitt’s Heads, 15 Ploughs, 6 Portland Arms, 5 Portman Arms, 19 Prince Alberts, 5 Prince Alfreds, 3 Prince Arthurs, 15 other Princes, (mostly of the Royal Family,) 43 Princes of Wales, 12 Prince Regents, 6 Princess Royals, 3 Princess Victorias, and a few of the younger Princesses,[44] 2 Punchbowls, 3 Queens, 3 Queen and Prince Alberts, 17 Queen Victorias, 23 Queen’s Arms, 49 Queen’s Heads, 8 Railway Taverns, 8 Red Cows, 4 Red Crosses, 73 Red Lions, 26 Rising Suns, 9 Robin Hoods, 5 Rodney Heads, 10 Roebucks, 14 Roses, 48 Rose and Crowns, 4 Royal Alberts, 28 various Royal personages and objects, as Champions, Cricketers, Crowns, Dukes, Forts, &c., 8 Royal Georges, 26 Royal Oaks, 13 Royal Standards, 7 Running Horses, 23 Saints, (3 Saint Andrews, 4 St Georges, 3 St Jameses, 3 St Johns, 2 St Luke’s Heads, 2 St Martins, 2 St Pauls, &c.,) 5 Salisbury Arms, 2 Salmons, 4 Salutations, 6 Scotch Stores, 4 Seven Stars, 8 Shakespeare Heads, 2 Shepherds and Flocks, 2 Shepherds and Shepherdesses, 53 Ships, (23 in combination, on launch, aground, &c.,) 3 Ship and Stars, 2 Ships and Whales, 19 Sirs, (including 4 Falstaffs, Sir John Barleycorn, Middleton, Newton, Wren, Abercrombie, Pindar, Peel, Raleigh, Walworth, &c.,) 5 Skinners’ Arms, 4 Southampton Arms, 4 Sportsmen, 3 Spotted Dogs, 14 Spread Eagles, 3 Stags, 3 Staghounds, 11 Stars, 17 Star and Garters, 8 Sugar-loaves, 19 Suns, 19 Swans, 9 Talbots, 4 Telegraphs, 3 Thatched Houses, 5 Thistles and Crowns, 21 Three Compasses, 8 Three Crowns, 3 Three Cranes, 3 Three Cups, 3 Three Kings, 19 Three Tuns, 8 Tigers, (1 Tiger Cat,) 10 Turk’s Heads, 28 Two Brewers, 5 Two Chairmen, 4 Unicorns, 10 Unions, 2 Union Flags, 11 Victories, 5 Vines, 3 Waggon and Horses, 10 Watermen’s Arms, 9 Weavers’ Arms, 3 Westminster Arms, 20 Wheat Sheaves, 15 White Bears, 63 White Harts, 44 White Horses, 25 White Lions, 35 White Swans, 3 Whittington and Cats, (1 Whittington and Stone,) 16 William the Fourths, 11 Windmills, 12 Windsor Castles, 4 Woodmen, 8 Woolpacks, 10 York Arms and York Minster, 12 Yorkshire Greys.

[1] Sir Gardiner Wilkinson’s Ancient Egyptians, vol. iii. p. 158. Also, Rosellini Monumenti dell’Egitto e della Nubia.

[2] Aristotle, Problematum x. 14: “As with the things drawn above the shops, which, though they are small, appear to have breadth and depth.”

[3] “He hung the well-known sign in the front of his house.”

[4] Hearne, Antiq. Disc., i. 39.

[5] “When the mice were conquered by the army of the weasels, (a story which we see painted on the taverns.)”

[6] Lib. ii. sat. vii.: “I admire the position of the men that are fighting, painted in red or in black, as if they were really alive; striking and avoiding each other’s weapons, as if they were actually moving.”

[7] De Oratore, lib. ii. ch. 71: “Now I shall shew you how you are, to which he answered, ‘Do, please.’ Then I pointed with my finger towards the Cock painted on the signboard of Marius the Cimberian, on the New Forum, distorted, with his tongue out and hanging cheeks. Everybody began to laugh.”

[8] Hist. Nat., xxxv. ch. 8: “After this I find that they were also commonly placed on the Forum. Hence that joke of Crassus, the orator. . . . On the Forum was also that of an old shepherd with a staff, concerning which a German legate, being asked at how much he valued it, answered that he would not care to have such a man given to him as a present, even if he were real and alive.”

[9] “There were, namely, taverns round about the Forum, and that picture [the Cock] had been put up as a sign.”

[10] The Bush certainly must be counted amongst the most ancient and popular of signs. Traces of its use are not only found among Roman and other old-world remains, but during the Middle Ages we have evidence of its display. Indications of it are to be seen in the Bayeux tapestry, in that part where a house is set on fire, with the inscription, Hic domus incenditur, next to which appears a large building, from which projects something very like a pole and a bush, both at the front and the back of the building.

[11] In Cædmon’s Metrical Paraphrase of Scripture History, (circa A.D. 1000,) in the drawings relating to the history of Abraham, there are distinctly represented certain cruciform ornaments painted on the walls, which might serve the purpose of signs. (See upon this subject under “Religious Signs.”)

[12] The palace of St Laurence Poulteney, the town residence of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and also of the Dukes of Buckingham, was called the Rose, from that badge being hung up in front of the house:—

“The Duke being at the Rose, within the parish
Of St Laurence Poultney.”—Henry VIII., a. i. s. 2.

“A house in the town of Lewes was formerly known as The Three Pelicans, the fact of those birds constituting the arms of Pelham having been lost sight of. Another is still called The Cats,” which is nothing more than “the arms of the Dorset family, whose supporters are two leopards argent, spotted sable.”—Lower, Curiosities of Heraldry.

[13] Rather a heavy fine, as the best ale at that time was not to be sold for more than three-halfpence a gallon.

[14] “Purchaser, be aware when you wish to buy books issued from my printing-office. Look at my sign, which is represented on the title-page, and you can never be mistaken. For some evil-disposed printers have affixed my name to their uncorrected and faulty works, in order to secure a better sale for them.”

[15] “We beg the reader to notice the sign, for there are men who have adopted the same title, and the name of Badius, and so filch our labour.”

[16] “Lastly, I must draw the attention of the student to the fact that some Florentine printers, seeing that they could not equal our diligence in correcting and printing, have resorted to their usual artifices. To Aldus’s Institutiones Grammaticæ, printed in their offices, they have affixed our well-known sign of the Dolphin wound round the Anchor. But they have so managed, that any person who is in the least acquainted with the books of our production, cannot fail to observe that this is an impudent fraud. For the head of the Dolphin is turned to the left, whereas that of ours is well known to be turned to the right.”—Preface to Aldus’s Livy, 1518.

[17] The number of taverns in these ten shires was “686, or thereabouts.”

[18] “The original court roll of this presentation is still to be found amongst the records of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster.”—Lyson’s Env. of London, vol. iii. p. 74.

[19] “Whosoever shall brew ale in the town of Cambridge, with intention of selling it, must hang out a sign, otherwise he shall forfeit his ale.”

[20] “Art. XXIII.—Tavernkeepers must put up signboards and a bush. . . . Nobody shall be allowed to open a tavern in the said city and its suburbs without having a sign and a bush.”

[21] A Cheat loaf was a household loaf, “wheaten seconds bread.”—Nares’s Glossary.

[22] Froe—i.e. Vrouw, woman.

[23] This was in those days a slang term for a mistress.

[24] i.e. Walk about in St Paul’s during the dinner hour.

[25] “I have seen, hanging from the shops, shuttlecocks six feet high, pearls as large as a hogshead, and feathers reaching up to the third story.”

[26] “Koddige en ernstige opschriften op Luiffels, wagens, glazen, uithangborden en andere tafereelen door Jeroen Jeroense. Amsterdam, 1682.”

[27] “Het gestoffeerde Winkelen en Luifelen Banquet. H. van den Berg. Amsterdam, 1693.”


“Jacob was David’s nephew, but not his brother-in-law.
All sorts of barbers’ tools ground here, also fishwives’ and butchers’ knives.”


“Moses was pick’d up among the rushes.
Teeth and grinders drawn here.”

[30] The British Apollo, 1710, vol. iii. p. 34.

[31] Amusements for the Meridian of London, 1708, p. 72.

[32] Bell and the Dragon, still to be met on the signboard.

[33] Addison is wrong in this derivation, (see under Miscellaneous Signs, at the end.)

[34] From Martial and other Latin poets, we learn that it was usual for the bibliopoles of those days to advertise new works by affixing copies of the title-pages to a post outside their shops; but whether this method obtained in the last century, the history of Paternoster Row does not inform us.

[35] For the Three Balls of the Pawnbrokers, see under Miscellaneous Signs; for the Barber’s Pole, under Trades’ Signs.

[36] Probably John James Heidegger, director of the Opera, a very ugly man.

[37] For a full account of the “Exhibition,” see in the Supplement at the end of this work.

[38] The last streets that kept them swinging were Wood Street and Whitecross Street, where they remained till 1773; whilst in Holywell Street, Strand, not more than twenty years ago, some were still dangling above the shop doors. In the suburbs many may be observed even at the present day.

[39] Laws, Customs, Usages, and Regulations of the City and Port of London. By Alexander Pulling. London, 1854.

Under the 72d section of the 57 Geo. III. ch. 29, post. 315, Mr Ballantine, some years ago, decided against a pawnbroker’s sign being considered a nuisance, notwithstanding it projected over the footway, unless it obstructed the circulation of light and air, or was inconvenient or incommodious.

[40] Trades tokens were brass farthings issued by shopkeepers in the seventeenth century, and stamped with the sign of the shop and the name of its owner.

[41] Memorials of Nature and Art collected on a Journey in Great Britain during the Years 1802 and 1803. By C. A. G. Gœde. London, 1808. Vol. i. p. 68.

[42] Mementos, Historical and Classical, of a Tour through part of France, Switzerland, and Italy, in the Years 1821 and 1822. London, 1824.

[43] Un bon enfant is in French “a jolly good fellow,” as well as a “good child.”

[44] Taken from the Opera “La Somnambula.”


“Nature provides man with hair and beard,
But I cut them both.”


“I devote my razors to all faces,
And defy the criticism of faithful mirrors.”

[47] A sort of pun, “la belle occasion” implying the same idea that our shopkeepers express by their “Now is your time,” and similar puffs.

[48] Similar instances may also be occasionally met with in London; for instance, the Corsican Brothers, (Coffee-house, Fulham Road.)

[49] Two or three good examples are to be seen in the South Kensington Museum.

[50] Edwards’s Anecdotes of Painters, 1808, p. 117.

[51] J. T. Smith’s Nollekens and his Times, vol. i. p. 25.

[52] Tommy Burkett was the name of mine host. The painting is now gone, but the verses remain.

[53] M. A. Lower’s Essay on Family Nomenclature, vol. i. p. 201.



The Greeks honoured their great men and successful commanders by erecting statues to them; the Romans rewarded their popular favourites with triumphal entries and ovations; modern nations make the portraits of their celebrities serve as signs for public-houses.

“Vernon, the Butcher Cumberland, Wolfe, Hawke,
Prince Ferdinand, Granby, Burgoyne, Keppel, Howe,
Evil and good have had their tithe of talk,
And fill’d their signpost then, like Wellesley now.”

As Byron hints, popular admiration is generally very short-lived; and when a fresh hero is gazetted, the next new alehouse will most probably adopt him for a sign in preference to the last great man. Thus it is that even the Duke of Wellington is now neglected, and in his place we see General Havelock, Sir Colin Campbell, Lord Palmerston, and Mr Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not omitting the fair Princess of Denmark. We will not now dwell upon these modern celebrities, but rather direct our attention to those illustrious dead upon whom the signboard honours were bestowed in bygone ages.

Many signboards have an historic connexion of some sort with the place where they are exhibited. Thus the Alfred’s Head, at Wantage, in Berkshire, was in all probability chosen as a sign because Wantage was the birthplace of King Alfred. So the Canute Castle, at Southampton, owes its existence to a local tradition; whilst admiration for the great Scotch patriot made an innkeeper in Stowell Street, Newcastle, adopt Sir William Wallace’s Arms. The Cæsar’s Head was, in 1761, to be seen near the New Church in the Strand,[54] and, in the beginning of this century, was the sign of a tavern in Soho, which afterwards removed to Great Palace Yard, Westminster. Even at the present day, his head may be seen outside certain village alehouses; but this we may attribute to that provincial popularity which the Roman hero shares with Oliver Cromwell; for as the Protector gets the blame of having made nearly all the ruins which are to be found in the three kingdoms, so Cæsar is generally named by country people as the builder of every old wall or earthwork the origin of which is unknown.


Notwithstanding the popular censure, Cromwell is still honoured with signboards in places where his memory has lingered, as at Kate’s Hill, near Dudley.

In most cases, however, signboard popularity is rather short-lived; “dulcique animos novitate tenebo” seems to be essentially the motto of those that choose popular characters for their sign. Had this modern tribute of admiration been in use at the time of the Preacher, it might have afforded him one more illustration of the vanity of vanities to be found in all sublunary things. Horace Walpole noticed this fickleness of signboard fame in one of his letters:—

“I was yesterday out of town, and the very signs, as I passed through the villages, made me make very quaint reflections on the mortality of fame and popularity. I observed how the Duke’s Head had succeeded almost universally to Admiral Vernon’s, as his had left but few traces of the Duke of Ormond’s. I pondered these things in my breast, and said to myself, ’Surely all glory is but as a sign!’”[55]

Some favourites of the signboard have, however, been more fortunate than others. Henry VIII., for instance, may still be seen in many places; indeed, for more than two centuries after his death, almost every King’s Head invariably gave a portrait of Bluff Harry.

Older kings occasionally occur, but their memories seem to have been revived rather than handed down by successive innkeepers. If we are to believe an old Chester legend, however, The King Edgar Inn, in Bridge Street of that city, has existed by the same name since the time of the Saxon king. The sign represents King Edgar rowed down the river Dee by the eight tributary kings. The present house has the appearance of being built anterior to the reign of Elizabeth, and the sign looks almost as old, but it would be unwise to give the place or the sign a much higher antiquity. King John is the sign under whose auspices Jem Mace, the pugilist, keeps a public-house in Holywell Lane, Shoreditch. The same king also figures in Albemarle Street and in Bermondsey; whilst the great event of his reign, Magna Charta, is a sign at New Holland, Hull. John of Gaunt may be seen in many places; and we may surmise that his upholders are stanch Protestants, who value his character as a reformer and supporter of Wicliffe. The Black Prince may not unlikely have come down to us in an uninterrupted line of signboards; so little was his identity sometimes understood, that there is a shop-bill[47] in the “Banks Collection”[56] on which this hero is represented as a negro!

There is a Queen Eleanor in London Fields, Hackney, probably the beautiful and affectionate queen of Edward I., buried in Westminster Abbey, 1290, in honour of whom Charing Cross, Cheapcross, and seven other crosses, were erected on the places where her body rested on its way to the great Abbey. What prompted the choice of this sign it is hard to say.

At Hever, in Kent, a rude portrait of Henry VIII. may be seen. Near this village the Bolleyn or Bullen family formerly held large possessions; and old people in the district yet shew the spot where, as the story goes, King Henry often used to meet Sir Thomas Bolleyn’s daughter Anne. Be this as it may, years after the unhappy death of Anne, the village alehouse had for its sign, Bullen Butchered; but the place falling into new hands, the name of the house was altered to the Bull and Butcher, which sign existed to a recent date, and would probably have swung at this moment, but for a desire of the resident clergyman to see something different. He suggested the King’s Head; and the village painter was forthwith commissioned to make the alteration. The latter accepted the task, drew the bluff features of the monarch, and represented it as other King’s Heads, but in his hands placed a large axe, which signboard exists to this day.

As for Queen Elizabeth, she was the constant type of the Queen’s Head, as her father was of the King’s Head; and, like him, she may still be seen in many places. It is somewhat more difficult to ascertain who is meant by the Queen Catherine in Brook Street, Ratcliffe Highway; whether it be Queen Catherine of Aragon, or Queen Catherine of Braganza. Queen Anne, in South Street, Walworth, has evidently come down to us as the token of that house since the day of its opening, just as the Queen of Bohemia, who, until about fifty years ago, continued as a sign in Drury Lane.[57] This was Elizabeth, daughter of James I., married to Frederic V., Elector-Palatine, who, after her husband’s death, lived at Craven House, Drury Lane, and died there, February 13, 1661, having been privately married, it is thought, to Lord Craven, who was foremost in fighting the battles of her husband.

Of King’s Heads, Henry VIII. is the oldest on authentic record.[48] But this does not prove that he was the first; for, as there lived great men before Agamemnon, so most kings during their reign will, in all probability, have had their signs. Among Henry’s successors, we find the head of Edward VI. on a trades token; whilst Charles the First’s Head was the portrait hanging from the house of that scoundrel Jonathan Wild, in the Old Bailey. Even at the present day there is a sign of Charles the First at Goring Heath, Reading. The Martyr’s Head in Smithfield, 1710, seems also to have been a portrait of Charles I.; so, at least, the following allusion gives us to understand:—

“May Hyde, near Smithfield, at the Martyr’s Head,
Who charms the nicest judge with noble red,
Thrive on by drawing wines, which none can blame,
But those who in his sign behold their shame;”[58]

which seems to be an allusion to Puritanical water-drinkers. To this unfortunate king belongs also the sign of the Mourning Bush, set up by Taylor the water-poet over his tavern in Phœnix Alley, Long Acre, to express his grief at the beheading of Charles I.; but he was soon compelled to take it down, when he put up the Poet’s Head, his own portrait, with this inscription:—

“There is many a head hangs for a sign;
Then, gentle reader, why not mine?”

This “Poeta Aquaticus,” as he sometimes called himself, was a boatman on the Thames, and alehouse-keeper by profession, besides being the author of fourscore books of very original poetry. At the same time that he put up his new sign of the Poet’s Head, he issued a rhyming pamphlet, in which occur the following lines:—

“My signe was once a Crowne, but now it is
Changed by a sudden metamorphosis.
The crowne was taken downe, and in the stead
Is placed John Taylor’s, or the Poet’s Head.
A painter did my picture gratis make,
And (for a signe) I hang’d it for his sake.
Now, if my picture’s drawing can prevayle,
‘Twill draw my friends to me, and I’ll draw ale.
Two strings are better to a bow than one;
And poeting does me small good alone.
So ale alone yields but small good to me,
Except it have some spice of poesie.
The fruits of ale are unto drunkards such,
To make ‘em sweare and lye that drinke too much.
But my ale, being drunk with moderation,
Will quench thirst, and make merry recreation.
My book and signe were publish’d for two ends,
T’ invite my honest, civill, sober friends.
From such as are not such, I kindly pray,
Till I send for ‘em, let ‘em keep away.
From Phœnix Alley, the Globe Taverne neare,
The middle of Long Acre, I dwell there.

John Taylor, Poeta Aquaticus.”

(Banks’s Bills, circa 1750.)
(Roxburghe Ballads, 1600.)
(Banks’s Bills, 1790.)
(Fleet Street).
(Longhborough, Linc., 1806.)


The Mourning Crown was afterwards revived, and in the last century it was the sign of a tavern in Aldersgate, where, on Saturdays, when Parliament was not sitting, the Duke of Devonshire, the Earls of Oxford, Sunderland, Pembroke, and Winchelsea, Mr Bagford the antiquary, and Britton the musical small-coalman, used to refresh themselves, after having passed the forepart of the day in hunting for antiquities and curiosities in Little Britain and its neighbourhood.

Not only was the Crown put in mourning at the death of Charles I., but also the Mitre. Hearne has an anecdote which he transcribed from Dr Richard Rawlinson:—“Of Daniel Rawlinson, who kept the Mitre Tavern in Fenchurch Street, and of whose being sequestered in the Rump time, I have heard much. The Whigs tell this, that upon the king’s murder he hung his sign in mourning. He certainly judged right; the honour of the mitre was much eclipsed through the loss of so good a parent of the Church of England. Those rogues say, this endeared him so much to the Churchmen that he soon throve amain, and got a good estate.”

Charles the Second’s Head swung at the door of a “music-house” for seafaring men and others, in Stepney, at the end of the seventeenth century. In a great room of this house there was an organ and a band of fiddles and hautboys, to the music whereof it was no unusual thing for parties, and sometimes single persons,—and those not of very inferior sort,—to dance. At the present day, that king’s memory is still kept alive on a signboard in Herbert Street, Hoxton, under the name of the Merry Monarch.

To his miraculous escape at Boscobel we owe the Royal Oak, which, notwithstanding a lapse of two centuries and a change of dynasty, still continues a very favourite sign. In London alone it occurs on twenty-six public-houses, exclusive of beerhouses, coffee-houses, &c. Sometimes it is called King Charles in the Oak, as at Willen Hall, Warwickshire. The Royal Oak, soon after the Restoration, became a favourite with the shops of[50] London; tokens of some half a dozen houses bearing that sign are extant. What is rather curious is that, not many years since, one of the descendants of trusty Dick Pendrell kept an inn at Lewes, in Sussex, called the Royal Oak.

There is a trades token of “William Hagley, at the Restoration, in St George’s Fields;” but how this event was represented does not appear. At Charing Cross it was commemorated by the sign of the Pageant Tavern, which represented the triumphal arch erected at that place on occasion of the entry of Charles II., and which remained standing for a year after. This was evidently the same house which Pepys calls the Triumph. It seems to have been a fashionable place, for he went there, on the 25th May 1662, to see the Portuguese ladies of Queen Catherine. “They are not handsome,” says he, “and their fardingales a strange dress. Many ladies and persons of quality come to see them. I find nothing in them that is pleasing; and I see they have learned to kiss and look freely up and down already, and, I believe, will soon forget the recluse practice of their own country. They complain much for lack of good water to drink.” The Triumph is still the sign of a public-house in Skinner Street, Somers Town.

Queen Mary was in her day a very popular sign, as may be gathered from many of the shop-bills in the Banks Collection; whilst William and Mary are still to be seen in Maiden Causeway, Cambridge. The accession of the house of Brunswick produced the Brunswick, still very common, particularly in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Then come the Georges, of whom George III. and George IV. still survive in nearly as many instances as their successor, William IV.; with them a few of the royal Dukes of Clarence, Suffolk, and, above all, “the Butcher Cumberland;” until at length we come to Princess Victoria, and, finally, the Queen Victoria, the British Queen, Island Queen, &c. Under one of her signs at Coopersale, in Essex, is the following inscription:—

“The Queen some day
May pass this way,
And see our Tom and Jerry.
Perhaps she’ll stop,
And stand a drop,
To make her subjects merry.”

Among the foreign kings and potentates who have figured in our open-air walhalla, the Turkish sultans seem to have stood[51] foremost. Morat (Amurat) and Soliman were constant coffee-house signs in the seventeenth century. Trades tokens are extant, in the Beaufoy and other collections, of a coffee-house in Exchange Alley, the sign of Morat, with this distich:—

Morat  .  ye  .  Great  .  Men  .  Did  .  Mee  .  Call
Where  .  Ere  .  I  .  Came  .  I  .  Conquer’d  .  All.

On the reverse: “Coffee, tobacco, sherbett, tea, and chocolat retal’d in Exchange Alley.” The same house figures in advertisements of the time, giving the prices of those various articles:—

At the Coffee-house in Exchange Alley is sold by Retail the right Coffee-powder, from 4s. to 6s. per pound, as in goodness: that pounded in a mortar at 3s. per pound; also that termed the right Turkie Berry, well garbled, at 3s. per pound—the ungarbled for less; that termed the East India Berry at 20d. per pound, with directions gratis how to make and use the same. Likewise, there you may have Tobacco, Verinas and Virginia, Chocolatta—the ordinary pound-boxes at 2s. per pound; also Sherbets (made in Turkie) of Lemons, Roses, and Violets perfumed; and Tea according to its goodness, from 6s. to 60s. per pound. For all of which, if any Gentleman shall write or send, they shall be sure of the best as they shall order; and to avoid deceit, warranted under the House Seal—viz., Morat the Great,” &c.—Mercurius Publicus, March 12-19, 1662.

The Great Mogol also had his share of signboards, of which a few still survive; one, for instance, in New Bartholomew Street, Birmingham. Kouli Khan we find only in one instance, (though there were probably many more,) namely, on the sign of a tavern by the Quayside, Newcastle, in 1746.[59] This house had formerly been called the Crown, but changed its sign in honour of Thomas Nadir Shah, or Kouli Khan, who, from having been chief of a band of robbers, at last sat himself on the throne of Persia. He was killed in 1747. One of the reasons of his popularity in this country was the permission he granted to the English nation to trade with Persia, the most chimerical ideas being entertained of the advantages to be derived from that commerce. Hanway, the philanthropist, was for some time concerned in it, but died before he could carry out the scheme; ultimately, the death of Nadir Shah himself put an end to it.

The Indian King, which we meet with so frequently, is an extremely vague personage, which various Indian potentates might take for themselves as the cap fitted. It was generally set up when some king from the far East visited the metropolis, and for a short time created a sensation. Thus, in 1710, there were four Indian kings from “states between New England, New York[52] and Canada,” who had audiences with Queen Anne, and seems to have been a good deal talked about. (See Spectator, No. 50.)

Again, in 1762, London was honoured with the visit of a Cherokee king, and thus many before and after him have created their nine days’ wonder.

Visits of European monarchs were also commemorated by complimentary signs. One of the oldest was the King of Denmark, and few kings better than he deserved the exalted place at the alehouse door; yet, such is the ingratitude of the world, that he seems now completely forgotten. The sign originated in the reign of James I., who married a daughter of Christian IV., King of Denmark. In July 1606, the royal father-in-law came over on a visit, when the two kings began “bousing” and carousing right royally, the court, of course, duly following the example. “I came here a day or two before the Danish king came,” says Sir John Harrington, “and from that day he did come till this hour, I have been well-nigh overwhelmed with carousal and sport of all kinds. I think the Dane has strangely wrought on our English nobles; for those whom I could never get to taste good liquor, now follow the fashion and wallow in beastly delights. The ladies abandon their society, and are seen to roll about in intoxication,” &c.[60] So late as thirty years ago, not less than three of these signs were left, the most notorious being in the Old Bailey. It used to be open all night for the sale of creature comforts to the drunkard, the thief, the nightwalker, and profligates of every description. Slang was the language of the place, and doubtless the refreshments were mostly paid for with stolen money. On execution nights, the landlord used to reap a golden harvest; then there were such scenes of drunkenness as must have done the old king on the signboard good to survey, and made him wish to be inside. The visit of another crowned votary of Bacchus is commemorated by the sign of the Czar’s Head, Great Tower Street:—

“Peter the Great and his companions, having finished their day’s work, used to resort to a public-house in Great Tower Street, close to Tower Hill, to smoke their pipes and drink beer and brandy. The landlord had the Czar of Muscovy’s Head painted, and put it up for his sign, which continued till the year 1808, when a person of the name of Waxel took a fancy to the old sign, and offered the then occupier of the house to paint him a new one for it. A copy was accordingly made of the original, which maintains its station to the present day as the Czar of Muscovy.”[61]


The sign is now removed, but the public-house still bears the same name. Prince Eugene also was at one time a popular tavern portrait in England, more particularly after his visit to this country in January 1712. It is named as one of the signs in Norwich in 1750,[62] but is now, we believe, completely extinct in England; in Paris there is still one surviving on the Boulevard St Martin.

The Grave Maurice is of very old standing in London, being named by Taylor the water-poet as an inn at Knightsbridge in 1636; at present there are two left, one in Whitechapel Road, the other in St Leonard’s Road. Who this Grave Maurice was is not quite clear. Grave (Ger. Graf, Dutch Graaf, i.e. Count,) Maurice of Nassau, afterwards Maurice, Prince of Orange, was, on account of his successful opposition to the Spanish domination in the Netherlands, very popular in this country. In Baker’s Chronicles, anno 1612, we read that:—“Upon St Thomas-day, the Paltzgrave and Grave Maurice were elected Knights of the Garter; and the 27th of December, the Paltzgrave was betrothed to the Lady Elizabeth. On Sunday the 7th of February, the Paltzgrave in person was installed a Knight of the Garter at Windsor, and at the same time was Grave Maurice installed by his deputy, Count Lodewick of Nassau.” The Garter conferred on the Grave Maurice was that which had been previously worn by Henri Quatre, King of France and Navarre. The Palzgrave was Grave Maurice’s nephew, the Palatine Count Frederick, by whose marriage with King James’s daughter were born the brothers Rupert and Maurice, (the latter in 1620,) who distinguished themselves in England during the civil wars. It was this Prince Maurice’s great uncle, the Grave Maurice of Nassau, whose counterfeit presentment still gives a name to two of our taverns. Another Maurice, about this period, was very popular in England—viz., Maurice Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, who “carried away the palm of excellency in whatever is to be wished in a brave prince.”[63] Peacham, enumerating this prince’s qualifications, says that he was a good musician, spoke ten or twelve languages, was a universal scholar, could dispute, “even in boots and spurs,” for an hour with the best professors on any subject, and was the best bone-setter in the country. He gained, too, much of his popularity by his adherence to the Protestant religion during the Thirty Years’ War.


The Paltsgrave became a popular sign at the marriage of Frederick Casimir V., Elector and Count Palatine of the Rhine, King of Bohemia, with Elizabeth, daughter of James I. Trades tokens are extant of a famous tavern, the sign of the Palsgrave’s Head, without Temple Bar,[64] which gave its name to Paltsgrave Court, whilst the Palatine Head was an inn near the French ’Change, Soho. Prince Rupert, the Palsgrave’s son, who behaved so gallantly in many of the fights during the Civil War, was no doubt a favourite sign after the Restoration. We have an instance of one on the trades token of Jacob Robins, in the Strand.

One of the last foreign princes to whom the signboard honour was accorded, was the King of Prussia. This still occurs in many places. After the battle of Rosbach, Frederick the Great, our ally, became the popular hero in England. Ballads were made, in which he was called “Frederick of Prussia, or the Hero.” “Portraits of the hero of Rosbach, with his cocked hat and long pigtail, were in every house. An attentive observer will at this day find in the parlours of old-fashioned inns, and in the portfolios of printsellers, twenty portraits of Frederick for one of George II. The sign-painters were everywhere employed in touching up Admiral Vernon into the King of Prussia.[65]

These words of Macaulay remind us of a passage in the Mirror, No. 82, Saturday, February 19, 1780, bearing on the same subject. In 1739, after the capture of Portobello, Admiral Vernon’s “portrait dangled from every signpost, and he may be figuratively said to have sold the ale, beer, porter, and purl of England for six years. Towards the close of that period, the admiral’s favour began to fade apace with the colours of his uniform, and the battle of Culloden was total annihilation for him. . . . The Duke of Cumberland kept possession of the signboard a long time. In the beginning of the last war, our admirals in the Mediterranean, and our generals in North America, did nothing that could tend in the least degree to move his Royal Highness from his place; but the doubtful battle of Hamellan, followed by the unfortunate convention of Stade, and the rising fame of[55] the King of Prussia, obliterated the glories of the Duke of Cumberland as effectually as his Royal Highness and the battle of Culloden had effaced the figure, the memory, and the renown of Admiral Vernon. The duke was so completely displaced by his Prussian majesty, that we have some doubts whether he met with fair play. One circumstance, indeed, was much against him; his figure being marked by a hat with the Kevenhuller cock, a military uniform, and a very fierce look, a slight touch of the painter converted him into the King of Prussia. But what crowned the success of his Prussian majesty, was the title bestowed upon him by the brothers of the brush, ‘The Glorious Protestant Hero,’ words which added splendour to every signpost, and which no British hero could read without peculiar sensation of veneration and of thirst.

“For two years, ‘the glorious Protestant hero’ was unrivalled; but the French being defeated at Minden, upon the 1st of August 1759, by the army under Prince Frederick of Brunswick, the King of Prussia began to give place a little to two popular favourites, who started at the same time; I mean Prince Ferdinand, and the Marquis of Granby. Prince Ferdinand was supported altogether by his good conduct at Minden, and by his high reputation over Europe as a general. The Marquis of Granby behaved with spirit and personal courage everywhere; but his success on the signposts of England was very much owing to a comparison generally made between him and another British general of higher rank, but who was supposed not to have behaved so well. Perhaps, too, he was a good deal indebted to another circumstance—to wit, the baldness of his head.”

That crowned heads, as well as other human beings, were subject to the law of change on the signboard, is amusingly illustrated in an anecdote told by Goldsmith:—

“An alehouse keeper near Islington, who had long lived at the sign of the French King, upon the commencement of the last war, pulled down his old sign, and put up that of the Queen of Hungary. Under the influence of her red nose and golden sceptre, he continued to sell ale, till she was no longer the favourite of his customers; he changed her therefore, some time ago, for the King of Prussia, who may probably be changed in turn for the next great man that shall be set up for vulgar admiration.”[66]

Of all great men, “bene meriti de patria,” military men appear at all times to have captivated the popular favour much more than those men who promoted the welfare of the country in[56] the Cabinet, or who made themselves famous by the arts of peace, and the more quiet productions of their genius. We find hundreds of admirals and generals on the signboard, but we are not aware that there is one Watt, or one Sir Walter Scott; yet, what glory and pleasure has the nation not derived from their genius! Booksellers formerly honoured the heads and names of great authors with a signboard; but that custom fell into disuse when signs became unnecessary. At present, the publicans only have signs, and they and their customers can much better appreciate “the glorious pomp and pageantry of war,” than a parliamentary debate. A victory, with so many of the enemy killed and wounded, and so many colours and stands of arms captured, awakens much more thrilling emotions in their breasts than the most useful invention, or the most glorious work of art.

The sea being our proper element, admirals have always had the lion’s share of the popular admiration, and their fame appears more firmly rooted than that of generals. Signs of Admiral Drake, Sir Francis Drake, or the Drake Arms, so common at the water-side in our seaports, shew that the nation has not yet forgotten the bold navigator of good Queen Bess. Sir Walter Raleigh has not been quite so fortunate; for though he also came in for a great share of signboard honour, yet it was less owing to his qualities as a commander, than to his reputation of having introduced tobacco into England, whence he became a favourite tobacconist’s sign; and in that quality, we find him on several of the shop-bills in the Banks Collection. Signs being frequently used in the last century for political pasquinades, advantage was taken of a tobacconist’s sign for the following sharp hit at Lord North:—

“To the Printer of the General Advertiser:—

Sir,—Being a smoaker, I take particular notice of the devices used by different dealers in tobacco, by way of ornament to the papers in which that valuable plant is enclosed for sale; and that used by the worthy Alderman in Ludgate Street, has often given me much pleasure, it having the head of Sir Walter Raleigh, and the following motto round it:—

‘Great Britain to great Raleigh owes
This plant and country where it grows.’

“To which I offer the following lines by way of contrast; the truth thereof no one can doubt:—

‘To Rubicon and North, old England owes
The loss of country where tobacco grows.’

“I suppose no dealer will chuse to adopt so unfortunate a subject for[57] their insignia; but perhaps, when you have a spare corner in your General Advertiser, it may not be inadmissible, which will oblige.—Yours, &c.,

“Feb. 1, 1783.

A Smoaker.
General Advertiser, March 13, 1784.”

Brave old Admiral Benbow, who held up the honour of the British flag in the reign of William III., is still far from uncommon. Admiral Duncan, Howe, and Jervis still preside over the sale of many a hogshead of beer or spirits; whilst Admiral Vernon seems to have secured himself an everlasting place on the front of the alehouse, by reason of his dashing capture of Portobello; the name of that town, or sometimes the Portobello Arms, being also frequently adopted, instead of the admiral’s name. Admiral Keppel is another great favourite. There is a public-house with that sign, on the Fulham Road, where, some years ago, the portrait of the admiral used to court the custom of the passing traveller, by a poetical appeal to both man and beast:—

“Stop, brave boys, and quench your thirst;
If you won’t drink, your horses murst.”

But, above all, Admiral Rodney seems to have obtained a larger share of popularity than even Nelson himself. In Boston there is the Rodney and Hood; and in Creggin, Montgomeryshire, the Rodney Pillar Inn, with the following Anacreontic effusion on a double-sided signboard:—

“Under these trees, in sunny weather,
Just try a cup of ale, however;
And if in tempest or in storm,
A couple then to make you warm;
But when the day is very cold,
Then taste a mug a twelvemonth old.”

On the reverse:—

“Rest and regal yourself, ’tis pleasant;
Enough is all the present need,
That’s the due of the hardy peasant
Who toils all sorts of men to feed.
Then muzzle not the ox when he treads out the corn,
Nor grudge honest labour its pipe and its horn.”

The last addition to this portrait gallery, before Sir Charles Napier, was the head of the gallant besieger of Algiers, Lord Exmouth. In 1825, there was one at Barnstaple, in Devon, with the following address to the wayfarer:—

“All you that pace round field or moor,
Pray do not pass John Armstrong’s door;
There’s what will cheer man in his course,
And entertainment for his horse.”


Finally, there is still one sign left in honour of that deserving but unfortunate commander, Captain Cook, murdered by the natives of Owhyhee in 1779. His name is preserved as the sign of an alehouse in Mariner Street, London.

Though the fame of generals seems to be more short-lived than that of admirals, yet a few ancient heroes still remain. Amongst these, General Elliott, or Lord Heathfield, the defender of Gibraltar, seems to be one of the greatest favourites; perhaps his popularity in London was not a little increased by the present which he made to Astley, of his charger named Gibraltar; who, performing every evening in the ring, and shining forth in the circus bills, would certainly act as an excellent puff for the general’s glory. This hero’s popularity is only surpassed by that of the Marquis of Granby. Though nearly a century has elapsed since the death of the latter, (Oct. 19, 1770,) his portrait is still one of the most common signs. In London alone, he presides over eighteen public-houses, besides numerous beerhouses. The first one is said to have been hung out at Hounslow, by one Sumpter, a discharged trooper of the regiment of Horse Guards, which the Marquis of Granby had commanded as colonel.

Among the generals of a later period, are General Tarleton, (or, as he is called on a sign in Clarence Street, Newcastle, Colonel Tarlton,) General Wolfe, General Moore, and Sir Ralph Abercrombie. At a tavern of this last denomination in Lombard Street, some thirty-five or forty years ago, the “House of Lords’ Club” used to meet, not composed, as might be expected from the name, of members of the peerage, but simply of the good citizens of the neighbourhood, each dubbed with a title. The president was styled Lord Chancellor; he wore a legal wig and robes, and a mace was laid on the table before him. The title bestowed upon the members depended on the fee—one shilling constituted a Baron, two shillings a Viscount, three shillings an Earl, four shillings a Marquis, and five shillings a Duke; beyond that rank their ambition did not reach. This club originated early in the eighteenth century, at the Fleece in Cornhill, but removed to the Three Tuns in Southwark, that the members might be more retired from the bows and compliments of the London apprentices, who used to salute the noble lords by their titles as they passed to and fro in the streets about their business. One of their last houses was the Yorkshire Grey, near Roll’s Buildings. At present they are, we believe, extinct. In Newcastle, also, there was[59] a House of Lords, of which Bewick the wood-engraver was a member. They used to hold their meetings in the Groat Market of that town.

The Duke’s Head, and the Old Duke, are signs that, for the last two or three centuries, have always been applied to some ducal hero or other, for the time being basking himself in the noontide sun of fame. One of the first to whom it was applied, was Monck, Duke of Albemarle after the Restoration; then came Ormond, Marlborough, Cumberland, York, and, at present, Wellington and the Duke of Cambridge. The Duke’s Head in Upper Street, corner of Gad’s Row, Islington, was the sign of a public-house kept by Thomas Topham, the strong man, who, in 1741, in honour of Admiral Vernon’s birthday, lifted three hogsheads of water, weighing 1859 lb., in Coldbath Fields.[67]

The Duke of Albemarle figured on numberless signboards after the Restoration; but at the same period, there existed still older signs, on which his grace was simply called Monck; as for instance, that hung out by “Will. Kidd, suttler to the Guard at St James’s,”[68] which was the Monck’s Head. Kidd had probably followed the army in many a campaign in former years, and was much more accustomed to the name of General Monck than that of his Grace the Duke of Albemarle. Of the Duke of Ormond there is still one instance remaining in Longstreet, Tetbury, Gloucester, under the name of the Ormond’s Head. A very few Dukes of Marlborough are also left. In the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Duke of Marlborough’s Head in Fleet Street, was a tavern used for purposes very similar to those which we are accustomed now-a-days to behold at the St James’ and the Egyptian Halls. Among the Bagford Bills, and in the newspapers of the time, it is constantly mentioned as the place where something wonderful or amusing was to be seen—panoramas, dioramas, moving pictures, marionnettes, curious pieces of mechanism, &c., &c.[69]

The Lord Craven was once a very popular sign in London. It occurs amongst the trades tokens of Bishopsgate Street Without, and even at present there is a Craven Head and two Craven[60] Arms in London. These signs were in honour of William Craven, eldest son of Sir William Craven, knt., (Sheriff of London temp. Queen Elizabeth.) This nobleman passed the greater part of his life abroad, serving the Protestant cause in Holland and in Germany. During the Civil War, he at various times gave pecuniary assistance to King Charles II., who at the Restoration created him Viscount Craven of Uffington, &c. He is said to have been privately married to Elizabeth, daughter of James I., the Queen of Bohemia. He died, April 19, 1697. Though his public and military career had certainly been brilliant, yet he owed his popularity probably more to his civic virtues, shewn during the plague period, when he and General Monck were almost the only men of rank that remained in town to keep order. He even erected a pesthouse at his own expense in Pesthouse Field, Carnaby Market, (now Marshall Street, Golden Square.) His assistance during the frequent London fires, also tended to make him a favourite with the Londoners.

“Lord Craven, in the time of King Charles II., was a constant man at a fire; for which purpose he always had a horse ready saddled in his stables, and rewarded the first that gave him notice of such an accident. It was a good-natured fancy, and he did a good deal of service; but in that reign everything was turned to a joke. The king being told of a terrible fire that was broke out, asked if Lord Craven was there yet. ‘Oh!’ says somebody by, ‘an’t please your majesty, he was there before it began, waiting for it, he has had two horses burnt under him already.’[70] On such occasions he usually rode a white horse, well known to the London mob, which was said to smell the fires from afar off.”

The Earl of Essex, Elizabeth’s quondam favourite, might have been met with on many signs long after the Restoration. There are trades tokens of a shop or tavern with such a sign on the Bankside, Southwark, and tokens are extant of two other shops that had the Essex Arms. In the last century there was an Essex Head in Essex Street; in this tavern the Robin Hood Society, “a club of free and candid inquiry,” used to meet. It was originally established in 1613, at the house of Sir Hugh Middleton, the projector of the New River for supplying London with water. Its first meetings were held at the houses of members, but afterwards, the numbers increasing, they removed to the above tavern, and its name was altered into the “Essex Head Society.” In 1747 it removed to the Robin Hood in Butcher Row, near Temple Bar. The society attained a position of so much importance, that a history of its proceedings was published[61] in 1764, giving an account of the subjects debated, and reports of some of the speeches. Seven minutes only were allowed to each speaker, at the expiration of which the Baker, or president, summed up. Many a young politician here winged his first flight.[71]

In 1784, the year of his death, Dr Johnson instituted at this house a club of twenty-four members, in order to insure himself society for at least three days in the week. He composed the regulations himself, and wrote above them the following motto from Milton:—

“To-day deep thoughts with me resolve to drench
In mirth which after no repenting draws.”

The house at that time was kept by Samuel Greaves, an old servant of Mrs Thrale. Each night of non-attendance was visited on the members by a fine of threepence. Members were to spend at least sixpence, besides a penny for the waiter. Each member had to preside one evening a month.

That the Earl of Essex, who had taken up arms against his queen, should have continued more than a century after his death, is easily accounted for by the immense popularity he enjoyed, exceeding that of any of his cotemporaries. More difficult to explain is the presence on English signboards of the Dutch Admiral van Tromp; yet we find him in Church Street, Shoreditch, and in St Helen’s, Lancashire. His countryman, Mynheer van Donck, would certainly make a much more appropriate public-house sign.

Names of battles and glorious faits d’ armes have also been much used as signs,—thus, Gibraltar, Portobello, the Battle of the Nile, the Mouth of the Nile, Trafalgar, the Battle of Waterloo, the Battle of the Pyramids, are all more or less common. The Bull and Mouth is said to have a similar origin, being a corruption of Boulogne Mouth, the entry to Boulogne Harbour, which grew into a popular sign after the capture of that place by Henry VIII. The first house with this sign is said to have been an inn in Aldgate. In less than a century the name was already corrupted into the “Bull and Mouth,” and the sign represented by a black bull and a large mouth. Thus it appears on the trades tokens, and also in a sculpture in the façade of the Queen’s Hotel, St Martin’s-le-Grand, formerly the Bull and Mouth Inn. Of the same time also dates the Bull and[62] Gate, a corruption of the Boulogne Gates, which Henry VIII. ordered to be taken away, and transported to Hardes, in Kent, where they still (?) remain. The Bull and Gate was a noted inn in the seventeenth century in Holborn, where Fielding makes his hero Tom Jones put up on his arrival in London. It is still in existence under the same name, though much reduced in size. There is another in New Chapel Place, Kentish Town; and a few imitations of it were carried to distant provincial towns by the coaches of old times.

Another sign of the same period, although not commemorative of a battle, was the Golden Field Gate, mentioned by Taylor the water-poet, in 1632, as the sign of an inn at the upper end of Holborn. It was put up in honour of the Champ du Drap d’Or, where Henry VIII. and Francis I.,

“Those suns of glory, those two lights of men,
Met in the vale of Arde.”—Henry VIII., a. i. s. 1.

The signs of great men who have distinguished themselves in the civil walks of life are much more scarce. Archimedes we meet with as an optician’s sign. He had been adopted by that class of workmen on account of the burning lenses with which he set the Roman fleet on fire at Syracuse. Various implements of their trade were added as distinctions by the several shops who sold spectacles under his auspices, such as Golden Prospects of Perspectives, (i.e., spectacles or any other glass that assisted the sight,) Globes, King’s Arms, &c. Among the Bagford Bills there is one of John Marshall, optician on Ludgate Hill, “at the sign of the Old Archimedes and Two Golden Spectacles,” which represents Archimedes taking astronomical observations, a huge pair of spectacles being suspended on one side of the sign, and on the other a lantern.[72] Archimedes and Three Pair of Golden Spectacles was the sign of another optician in Ludgate Street, 1697, who evidently had adopted Marshall’s sign with the addition of one pair of spectacles, in the hope of filching some of his customers. Sir Isaac Newton was another telescope-maker’s sign in Ludgate Street circa 1795.[73] At the present day he occurs on a few public-houses; but it is somewhat more gratifying for our national pride to see a coffee-house in the Rue Arcade, Paris,[63] named after him. Lord Bacon’s Head was the sign of W. Bickerton, a bookseller, without Temple Bar, in 1735; Locke’s Head, of T. Peele, between the Temple Gates, 1718; James Ferguson figured at the door of an optical instrument maker in New Bond Street in 1780.[74] No doubt this optician was a Scotchman, who had given preference to a national celebrity. Just so, Andrew Miller, the great publisher and friend of Thomson, Hume, Fielding, &c., took the Buchanan Head for the sign of his shop in the Strand, opposite St Catherine Street, the house where the famous Jacob Tonson had lived, in whose time it was the Shakespeare’s Head. But Miller preferred his countryman, and put up the less known head of George Buchanan, (1525-1582.) Buchanan was author of a version of the Psalms, and at various times of his life tutor to Queen Mary Stuart, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Principal of St Leonard’s, preceptor to James I., director of the Chancery, Privy Seal, &c.

Cardinal Wolsey occurs in many places, particularly in London, Windsor, and the neighbourhood of Hampton Court. Andrew Marvel is still commemorated on a sign in Whitefriargate, Hull, of which town he was a native. Thomas Gresham, the founder of the Royal Exchange, was a favourite in London after the opening of the first Exchange in 1566; and Sir Hugh Middleton, the projector of the New River, is duly honoured with two or three signs in Islington.

There exists a curious alehouse picture, called the Three Johns, in Little Park Street, Westminster, and in White Lion Street, Pentonville. The same sign, many years ago, might have been seen in Bennett Street, near Queen Square, in the former locality. It represented an oblong table, with John Wilkes in the middle, the Rev. John Horne Tooke at one end, and Sir John Glynn (sergeant-at-law) at the other. There is a mezzotinto print of this picture (or the sign may be from the print) drawn and engraved by Richard Houston, 1769. John Wilkes, on whom the popular gratitude for writing the Earl of Bute out of power conferred many a signboard, still survives in a few spots. In a small Staffordshire town called Leek-with-Lowe, there is a stanch re-publican, who to this day keeps the Wilkes’-Head as his sign, whilst another one occurs in Bridges Street, St Ives. Sir Francis Burdett is also far from forgotten, and may still be seen “hung[64] in effigy” at Castlegate, Berwick, in Nottingham, and in a few other places.

In 1683, we find Sir Edmundbury Godfrey on the picture-board of Langley Curtis, a bookseller near Fleetbridge. Being the martyr of a party, he undoubtedly for a while must have been a popular sign. Lord Anglesey was, in 1679, adopted by an inn in Drury Lane. This, we suppose, was Arthur, second Viscount Valentia, son of Sir Thomas Annesley, (Lord Mountmorris,) and elevated to the British peerage by the title of Earl of Anglesey in 1661; he died in 1686. One of the acts which probably contributed most to his popularity was that he, with the Lord Cavendish, Mr Howard, Dr Tillotson, Dr Burnet, and a few others, appeared to vindicate Lord Russell in the face of the court, and gave testimony to the good life and conversation of the prisoner.

The bulky figure of Paracelsus, or, as he called himself, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Paracelsus Bombastus von Hohenheim, used formerly to be a constant apothecaries’ symbol. From an advertisement in the London Gazette, July 22-26, 1680, about a stolen horse “with a sowre head,” we gather that there was at that time a sign of Paracelsus in Old Fish Street. Information about the horse with “the sowre head” would also be received at a house in Lambeth, with no less a dignitary for its sign than the Bishop of Canterbury, his grace having been thus honoured from a neighbourly feeling.

Doctor Butler, (ob. 1617,) physician to James I., and, according to Fuller, “the Æsculapius of that age,” invented a kind of medicated ale, called Dr Butler’s ale, “which, if not now, (1784,) was, a few years ago, sold at certain houses that had the Butler’s Head for a sign.”[75] One of the last remaining Butler’s Heads was in a court leading from Basinghall into Coleman Street.

(France, 1520.)
(Antwerp, 1639.)
(Banks’s Bills, 1780.)
(Banks’s Bills, 1812.)
(Harleian Collection, 1710.)

That singularly successful quack, Lilly, though he ought not to be placed in such good company as the king’s physician, was also a constant sign, in the last century, at the door of sham doctors and astrologers. Not unfrequently they combined the Balls (a favourite sign of the quacks) with Lilly’s head, as the Black Ball and Lillyhead, the sign of Thomas Saffold, “an approved and licensed physician and student in astrology: he hath practised astronomy for twenty-four years, and hath had the Bishop of London’s licence to practise physick ever since the 4th day of September 1674, and hath, he thanks God for it, great experience and wonderful success in those arts.” He promised to perform the usual tours de force.


———“foretell what s’ever was
By consequence to come to pass;
As death of great men, alterations,
Diseases, battles, inundations,
Or search’d a planet’s house to know
Who broke and robb’d a house below.
Examined Venus and the Moon
To find who stole a silver spoon.”

Butler’s Hudibras.

This address was “at the Black Ball and Lilly Head, next door to the Feather shops that are within Blackfriars gateway, which is over against Ludgate Church, just by Ludgate in London.”[76]

Classic authors also have come in for their share of signboard popularity in this country, which, at the time they flourished, was about as little civilized as the Sandwich Islands in the days of Captain Cook. These signs were set up by booksellers; thus Homer’s Head was, in 1735, the sign of Lawton Gilliver, against St Dunstan’s Church, publisher of some of Pope’s works, and in 1761, of J. Walker at Charing Cross. Cicero, under the name of Tully’s Head, hung at the door of Robert Dodsley, a famous bookseller in Pall Mall. In a newspaper of 1756, appeared some verses “on Tully’s head in Pall Mall, by the Rev. Mr G——s, of which the following are the first and the last stanzas:—

“Where Tully’s bust and honour’d name
Point out the venal page,
There Dodsley consecrates to fame
The classics of his age.
..... Persist to grace this humble post,
Be Tully’s head the sign,
Till future booksellers shall boast
To sell their tomes at thine.”

About the same time, the favourite Tully’s Head was also the sign of T. Becket, and P. A. de Hondt, booksellers in the Strand, near Surrey Street. Horace’s Head graced the shop of J. White in Fleet Street, publisher of several of Joseph Strutt’s antiquarian works; and Virgil’s Head of Abraham van den Hoeck and George Richmond, opposite Exeter Change in the Strand, in the middle of the last century. Of Seneca’s Head two instances occur, J. Round in Exchange Alley in 1711, and[66] —— Varenne, near Somerset House, in the Strand, at the same period.

A few of our own poets are also common tavern pictures. As early as 1655 we find a (Ben) Jonson’s Head tavern in the Strand, where Ben Jonson’s chair was kept as a relic.[77] In that same year it was the sign of Robert Pollard, bookseller, behind the Royal Exchange. Ten years later it occurs in the following advertisement:—

“WHEREAS Thomas Williams, of the society of real and well-meaning Chymists hath prepaired certain Medicynes for the cure and prevention of the Plague, at cheap rates, without Benefit to himself, and for the publick good, In pursuance of directions from authority, be it known that these said Medicynes are to be had at Mr Thomas Fidges, in Fountain Court, Shoe Lane, near Fleet Street, and are also left by him to be disposed of at the Green Ball, within Ludgate, the Ben Jonson’s Head, near Yorkhouse,” &c.[78]

There is still a Ben Jonson’s Head tavern with a painted portrait of the poet in Shoe Lane, Fleet Street; a Ben Jonson’s Inn at Pemberton, Wigan, Lancashire; and another at Weston-on-the Green, Bicester.

Shakespeare’s Head is to be seen in almost every town where there is a theatre. At a tavern with that sign in Great Russell Street, Covent Garden, the Beefsteak Society (different from the Beefsteak Club,) used to meet before it was removed to the Lyceum Theatre. George Lambert, scene-painter to Covent Garden Theatre, was its originator. This tavern was at one time famous for its beautifully painted sign. The well-known Lion’s Head, first set up by Addison at Button’s, was for a time placed at this house.[79] There was another Shakespeare Head in Wych Street, Drury Lane, a small public-house at the beginning of this century, the last haunt of the Club of Owls, so called on account of the late hours kept by its members. The house was[67] then kept by a lady under the protection of Dutch Sam the pugilist. After this it was for one year in the hands of the well-known Mr Mark Lemon, present editor of Punch, then just newly married to Miss Romer, a singer of some renown, who assisted him in the management of this establishment. The house was chiefly visited by actors from Covent Garden, Drury Lane, and the Olympic, whilst a club of literati used to meet on the first floor.

Sir John Falstaff, who so dearly loved his sack, could not fail to become popular with the publicans, and may be seen on almost as many signboards as his parent Shakespeare.

Milton’s Head was, in 1759, the sign of George Hawkins, a bookseller at the corner of the Middle Temple gate, Fleet Street; at present there are two Milton’s Head public-houses in Nottingham. Dryden’s Head was to be seen in 1761, at the door of H. Payne and Crossley, booksellers in Paternoster Row. At Kate’s Cabin, on the Great Northern Road, between Chesterton and Alwalton, there is a sign of Dryden’s head, painted by Sir William Beechey, when engaged as a house-painter on the decoration of Alwalton Hall. Dryden was often in that neighbourhood when on a visit to his kinsman, John Dryden of Chesterton.

Pope’s Head was in favour with the booksellers of the last century; thus the Gentleman’s Magazine, Sept. 1770, mentions a head of Alexander Pope in Paternoster Row, painted by an eminent artist, but does not say who the painter was. Edmund Curll, the notorious bookseller in Rose Street, Covent Garden, had Pope’s head for his sign, not out of affection certainly, but out of hatred to the poet. After the quarrel which arose out of Curll’s piratical publication of Pope’s literary correspondence, Curll, in May 22, 1735, addressed a letter of thanks to the House of Lords, ending thus,—“I have engraved a new plate of Mr Pope’s head from Mr Jervas’s painting, and likewise intend to hang him up in effigy for a sign to all spectators of his falsehood and my own veracity, which I will always maintain under the Scotch motto, ‘Nemo me impune lacessit.’” R. Griffiths, a bookseller in St Paul’s Churchyard since 1750, had the Dunciad for his sign. He was agent for a very primitive social-evil movement; advertisements emanating from this “sett of gentlemen sympathising with the misfortunes of young girls” occur in the papers of June and July 1752. One of the regulations was, “ None need to apply but such as are Fifteen years of age, and not above Twenty-five: older are thought past being reclaim’d,[68] unless good Recommendations are given. Drinkers of spirits and swearers have a bad chance.”

The Man of Ross is at the present day a signboard at Wye Terrace, Ross, Herefordshire; the house in which John Kyrle, the Man of Ross, dwelt, was, after his death, converted into an inn. Twenty or thirty years ago the following poetical effusion was to be read stuck up in that inn:—

“Here dwelt the Man of Ross, O traveller here,
Departed merit claims the rev’rent tear.
Friend to the friendless, to the sick man health,
With generous joy he view’d his modest wealth.
If ’neath this roof thy wine-cheer’d moments pass,
Fill to the good man’s name one grateful glass.
To higher zest shall memory wake thy soul,
And virtue mingle in th’ ennobled bowl,
Here cheat thy cares, in generous visions melt,
And dream of goodness thou hast never felt.”

The head of Rowe, the first emendator, corrector, and illustrator of Shakespeare, was in 1735 the sign of a bookseller in Essex Street, Strand. The Camden Head and Camden Arms occur in four instances as the sign of London publicans. Camden Town, however, may perhaps take the credit of this last sign. Addison’s Head was for above sixty years the sign of the then well-known firm of Corbett & Co.—first of C. Corbett, afterwards of his son Thomas, booksellers in Fleet Street from 1740 till the beginning of this century. Dr Johnson’s Head, exhibiting a portrait of the great lexicographer, is a modern sign in Bolton Court, Fleet Street, opposite to where the great man lived, and which was in his time occupied by an upholsterer. It is sometimes asserted to be the house in which the Doctor resided, but this statement is wrong, for the house in which he had apartments was burned down in 1819. Finally, a portrait of Sterne, under the name of the Yorick’s Head, was the sign of John Wallis, a bookseller in Ludgate Street in 1795.

Of modern poets Lord Byron is the only one who has been exalted to the signboard. In the neighbourhood of Nottingham his portrait occurs in several instances; his Mazeppa also is a great favourite, but it must be confessed its popularity has been greatly assisted by the circus, by sensational engravings, and, above all, by that love for horse flesh innate to the British character. Don Juan also occurs on a publican’s signboard at Cawood, Selby, West Riding; and Don John at Maltby, Rotheram, in the same county; but perhaps these are merely the names of race horses.


The latest of all literary celebrities who attained sufficient popularity to entitle him to a signboard was Sheridan Knowles, who was chosen as the sign of a tavern in Bridge Street, Covent Garden, facing the principal entrance to Drury Lane Theatre, (now a nameless eating-house.) There the Club of Owls used to meet. Sheridan Knowles was one of the patrons, and Augustine Wade, an author and composer of some fame, was chairman of the club in those days. Pierce Egan and Leman Rede were amongst its members; so that it may be conjectured that the nights were not passed in moping.[80]

Mythological divinities and heroes, also, have been very fairly represented on our signboards. At this head, of course, Bacchus (frequently with the epithet of Jolly) well deserves to be placed. In the time when the Bush was the usual alehouse sign, or rather when it had swollen to a crown of evergreens, a chubby little Bacchus astride on a tun was generally a pendant to the crown. In Holland and Germany we have seen a Beer king, (a modern invention, certainly,) named Cambrinus, taking the place of Bacchus at the beer-house door; but, according to the sixteenth century notions, Bacchus included beer in his dominions. Hence he is styled “Bacchus, the God of brew’d wine and sugar, grand patron of robpots, upsey freesy tipplers, and supernaculum takers, this Bacchus, who is head warden of Vintner’s Hall, ale connor, mayor of all victualling houses,” &c.—Massinger’s Virgin Martyr, a. ii. s. l. Next to Bacchus, Apollo is most frequent, but whether as god of the sun or leader of the Muses it is difficult to say. Sometimes he is called Glorious Apollo, which, in heraldic language, means that he has a halo round his head.[81] In the beginning of this century there was a notorious place of amusement in St George’s Fields, Westminster Road, called the Apollo Gardens—a Vauxhall or a Ranelagh of a very low description. It was tastefully fitted up, but being small and having few attractions beyond its really good orchestra, it became the resort of the vulgar and the depraved, and was finally closed and built over.

Minerva also is not uncommon—probably not so much because she was the goddess of wisdom, but as “ye patroness of scholars, shoemakers, diers,” &c.[82] Juno has a temple in Church[70] Lane, Hull, and Neptune of course is of frequent occurrence in a country that holds the

“Imperium pelagi sævumque tridentem.”

The smith “being generally a thirsty soul, his patron Vulcan constitutes an appropriate alehouse sign, and in that capacity he frequently figures, particularly in the Black country. Amongst the quaint Dutch signboard inscriptions there is one which, in the seventeenth century, was written under a sign of Vulcan lighting his pipe:—

In Vulcanus. Hy steekt zyn pyp op aan ’t vyer
Die goed tabak wil hebben die komt alhier.
Je krygt een gestopte pyp toe en op kermis een glas dik bier.”[83]

Vulcan, as the god of fire, without which there is no smoke, was a common tobacconist’s sign in Holland two hundred years ago. One of these dealers had the following rhymes affixed to his Vulcan sign:—

“Vulcan die lamme smid als hy was moei van smeden
Ging hy wat zitten neer en ruste zyne leden
De Goden zagen ’t aan, hy haalde uit zyn zak
Zyn pypye en zyn doos en rookte doen tabak.”[84]

Mercury, the god of commerce, was of frequent occurrence, as might be expected. Amongst the Banks collection of shop-bills there is one of a fanshop in Wardour Street with the sign of the Mercury and Fan. Both Cupid and Flora were signs at Norwich in 1750,[85] and Comus is frequently the tutelary god of our provincial public-houses. Castor and Pollux, represented in the dress of Roman soldiers of the empire standing near a cask of tallow, was the sign of T. & J. Bolt, tallow-chandlers, at the corner of Berner Street, Oxford Street, at the end of the last century, for the obvious reason that, like the Messrs Bolt, they were two brothers that spread light over the world. Our admiration for athletic strength and sports suggested the sign of Hercules, as well as his biblical parallel Samson.

As for the Hercules Pillars, this was the classic name for the Straits of Gibraltar, which by the ancients was considered the end of the world; in the same classic sense it was adopted on outskirts of towns, where it is more common now to see the[71] World’s End. In 1667 it was the sign of Richard Penck in Pall Mall, and also of a public-house in Piccadilly, on the site of the present Hamilton Place, both which spots were at that period the end of the inhabited world of London. The sign generally represented the demi-god standing between the pillars, or pulling the pillars down—a strange cross between the biblical and the pagan Hercules.

The Pillars of Hercules in Piccadilly is mentioned by Wycherley in the “Plain Dealer,” 1676:—“I should soon be picking up all our own mortgaged apostle spoons, bowls, and beakers out of most of the alehouses betwixt the Hercules Pillars and the Boatswain in Wapping.” The Marquis of Granby often visited the former house, and here Fielding, in “Tom Jones,” makes Squire Western put up:—“The Squire sat down to regale himself over a bottle of wine with his parson and the landlord of the Hercules Pillars, who, as the Squire said, would make an excellent third man, and would inform them of the news of the town; for, to be sure, says he, he knows a great deal, since the horses of many of the quality stand at his house.”[86] In Pepys’ time there was a Hercules Pillars tavern in Fleet Street. Here the merry clerk of the Admiralty supped with his wife and some friends on Feb. 6, 1667-8; his return home gives a good idea of London after the fire:—

“Coming from the Duke of York’s playhouse I got a coach, and a humour took us and I carried them to the Hercules Pillars, and there did give them a kind of supper of about 7s. and very merry, and home round the town, not through the ruins. And it was pretty how the coachman by mistake drives us into the ruins from London Wall unto Coleman Street, and would persuade me that I lived there. And the truth is, I did think that he and the linkman had contrived some roguery, but it proved only a mistake of the coachman; but it was a cunning place to have done us a mischief in, as any I know, to drive us out of the road into the ruins, and there stop, while nobody could be called to help us. But we came home safe.”

Atlas carrying the World was the very appropriate sign of the map and chart makers. In 1674 there was one in Cornhill,[87] and under a print of Blanket fair (the fair held on the Thames when frozen over) occurs the following imprint:—“A map of the river Thames merrily called Blanket-fair, as it was frozen in the memorable year 1683-4, describing the Booths, Footpaths, Coaches, Sledges, Bull-baitings, and other remarks. Sold by[72] Joseph Moxon on the West side of Fleet ditch, at the sign of the Atlas.” Equally appropriate was Orpheus as the sign of the music shop of L. Peppard, next door to Bickerstaffe’s coffee-house, Russell Street, Covent Garden, 1711. No fault either can be found with the Golden Fleece as the sign of a woollen draper—Jason’s golden fleece being an allegory of the wool trade, but at the door of an inn or public-house it looks very like a warning of the fate the traveller may expect within—in being fleeced. In the seventeenth century there was a Fleece Tavern in St James’s:—

“A RARE Consort of four Trumpets Marine, never heard of before in England.[88] If any person desire to come and hear it, they may repair to the Fleece Tavern near St James’s about 2 o’clock in the afternoon every day in the week except Sundays. Every consort shall continue one hour and so to begin again. The best places are 1 shilling, the others sixpence.”—London Gazette, Feb. 1-4, 1674.

This is amongst the earliest concerts on record in London. Another example of this sign worth mentioning was the Fleece Tavern, (in York Street,) Covent Garden, which, says Aubrey, “was very unfortunate for homicides; there have been several killed—three in my time. It is now (1692) a private house. Clifton, the master, hanged himself, having perjured himself.”[89] Pepys does not give this house a better character:—“Decemb. 1, 1660. Mr Flower did tell me how a Scotch knight was killed basely the other day at the Fleece in Covent Garden, where there had been a great many formerly killed.” On the Continent, also, this symbol was used; for instance, in 1687, by Jean Camusat, a printer in the Rue St Jacques, Paris; his colophon represented Jason taking the golden fleece off a tree, with the motto—“Tegit et quos tangit inaurat.

Another sign, of which the application is not very obvious, is Pegasus or the Flying Horse, unless it refers to this rhyme:—

“If with water you fill up your glasses,
You’ll never write anything wise;
For wine is the horse of Parnassus,
Which hurries a bard to the skies.”

“John Gay, at the Flying Horse, between St Dunstan’s Church[73] and Chancery Lane, 1680,” is an imprint under many ballads. John Gay undoubtedly had adopted this sign as a compliment to the Templars, in whose vicinity he lived, and whose arms are a Pegasus on a field arg. As for the poor balladmongers, whose works Gay printed, they certainly put Pegasus too much to the plough, to imagine that he alluded to theirs as a Flying Horse. Instead of the Flying Horse, a facetious innkeeper at Rogate Petersfield, has put up a parody in the shape of the Flying Bull.

The Hope and the Hope and Anchor are constant signs with shop and tavern keepers. Pepys spent his Sunday, the 23d September 1660, at the Hope Tavern, in a not very godly manner; and his account shews the curious business management of the taverns in the time:—

“To the Hope and sent for Mr Chaplin, who with Nicholas Osborne and one Daniel come to us, and we drank of two or three quarts of wine, which was very good; the drawing of our wine causing a great quarrel in the house between the two drawers which should draw us the best, which caused a great deal of noise and falling out, till the master parted them, and came up to us and did give us a long account of the liberty he gives his servants, all alike, to draw what wine they will to please his customers; and we eat above two hundred walnuts.”

In consequence of these excesses Master Pepys was very ill next day, but the particulars of the illness, though very graphically entered into the diary, are “unfit for publication.”

The Fortune was adopted from considerations somewhat similar to those that prompted the choice of the Hope. It occurs as the sign of a tavern in Wapping in 1667. The trades tokens of this house represent the goddess by a naked figure standing on a globe, and holding a veil distended by the wind,—a delicate hint to the customers, for it is a well-known fact that a man who has “a sheet in the wind” is as happy as a king. Doubtless the name of the Elysium, a public-house in Drury Lane about thirty years ago, had also been adopted as suggestive of the happiness in store for the customers who honoured the place by their company.

Ballads, novels, chapbooks, and songs, have also given their contingent. Thus, for instance, the Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green—still a public-house in the Whitechapel Road—has decorated the signpost for ages. The ballad was written in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; but the legend refers to Henry de Montfort, son of the Earl of Leicester, who was supposed to have fallen at the battle of Evesham in the reign of Henry III. Not only was[74] the Beggar adopted as a sign by publicans, but he also figured on the staff of the parish beadle; and so convinced were the Bethnal Green folks of the truth of the story, that the house called Kirby Castle was generally pointed out as the Blind Beggar’s palace, and two turrets at the extremity of the court wall as the place where he deposited his gains.

Still more general all over England is Guy of Warwick, who occurs amongst the signs on trades tokens of the seventeenth century: that of Peel Beckford, in Field Lane, represents him as an armed man holding a boar’s head erect on a spear. The wondrous strange feats of this knight form the subject of many a ballad. In the Roxburgh Collection there is one headed, “The valiant deads of chivalry atchieved by that noble knight, Sir Guy of Warwick, who, for the love of fair Phillis, became a hermit, and dyed in a cave of a craggy rock a mile distant from Warwick. In Normandy stoutly won by fight the Emperor’s daughter of Almayne from many a valiant, worthy knight.”[90] His most popular feat is the slaying of the Dun Cow on Dunsmore Heath, which act of valour is commemorated on many signs.

“By gallant Guy of Warwick slain
Was Colbrand, that gigantick Dane.
Nor could this desp’rate champion daunt
A dun cow bigger than elephaunt.
But he, to prove his courage sterling,
His whinyard in her blood embrued;
He cut from her enormous side a sirloin,
And in his porridge-pot her brisket stew’d,
Then butcher’d a wild boar, and eat him barbicu’d.”

Huddersford Wiccamical Chaplet.

A public-house at Swainsthorpe, near Norwich, has the following inscription on his sign of the Dun Cow:—

“Walk in, gentlemen, I trust you’ll find
The Dun Cow’s milk is to your mind.”

Another on the road between Durham and York:—

“Oh, come you from the east,
Oh, come you from the west,
If ye will taste the Dun Cow’s milk,
Ye’ll say it is the best.”

The King and Miller is another ballad-sign seen in many places. It alludes to the adventure of Henry II. with the Miller[75] of Mansfield.[91] Similar stories are told of many different kings: of King John and the Miller of Charlton, (from whom Cuckold’s Point got its name;) of King Edward and the tanner of Drayton Basset; of Henry VIII.; of James V. of Scotland, (the guidman of Ballageich;) of Henry IV. of France and the pig-merchant; of Charles V. of Spain and the cobbler of Brussels; of Joseph II.; of Frederick the Great; and even of Haroun-al-Raschid, who used to go about incognito under the name of Il Bondocani.

The most frequent of all ballad signs is unquestionably Robin Hood and Little John, his faithful accolyte. Robin Hood has for centuries enjoyed a popularity amongst the English people shared by no other hero. He was a crack shot, and of a manly, merry temper, qualities which made the mob overlook his confused notions about meum and tuum, and other peccadilloes. His sign is frequently accompanied by the following inscription:—

“You gentlemen, and yeomen good,
Come in and drink with Robin Hood.
If Robin Hood be not at home,
Come in and drink with Little John.”

Which last line a country publican, not very well versed in ballad lore, thus corrected:—

“Come in and drink with Jemmie Webster.”

At Bradford, in Yorkshire, the following variation occurs:—

“Call here, my boy, if you are dry,
The fault’s in you, and not in I.
If Robin Hood from home is gone,
Step in and drink with Little John.”

At Overseal, in Leicestershire:—

“Robin Hood is dead and gone,
Pray call and drink with Little John.”

Finally, at Turnham Green:—

“Try Charrington’s ale, you will find it good.
Step in and drink with Robin Hood.
If Robin Hood,” &c.

And to shew the perfect application of the rhyme, mine host informs the public that he is “Little John from the old Pack Horse,” (a public-house opposite.)

One of the ballads in Robin Hood’s Garland has given another signboard hero, namely, the Pindar of Wakefield,[92] George a Green.


“In Wakefielde there lives a jolly Pindar,
In Wakefielde all on the greene.
‘There is neither knight nor squire,’ said the Pindar,
‘Nor baron so bold, nor baron so bold,
Dares make a trespass to the town of Wakefielde,
But his pledge goes to the Pinfold.’”

Drunken Barnaby mentions the sign in Wakefield in 1634:—

“Straight at Wakefielde I was seen, a’,
Where I sought for George-a-Green, a’,
But could find not such a creature,
Yet on sign I saw his feature.
Whose strength of ale had so much stirr’d me,
That I grew stouter far than Jordie.”

There was formerly a public-house near St Chad’s Well, Clerkenwell, bearing this sign, which at one period, to judge from the following inscription, would seem to have been more famous than the celebrated Bagnigge Wells hard by. A stone in the garden-wall of Bagnigge House said:—

S. T.
This is Bagnigge
House, neare
the Pindar A

Among the more uncommon ballad signs, we find the Babes in the Wood at Hanging Heaton, Dewsbury, West Riding. Jane Shore was commemorated in Shoreditch in the seventeenth century, as we see from trades tokens. Valentine and Orson we find mentioned as early as 1711,[93] as the sign of a coffee-house in Long Lane, Bermondsey; and there they remain till the present day.

Other chapbook celebrities are Mother Shipton, Kentish Town, and Low Bridge, Knaresboro’; which latter village disputes with Shipton, near Londesborough, the honour of giving birth to this remarkable character in the month of July 1488. The fact is duly commemorated under her signboard in the former place:—

“Near to this petrifying wall[94]
I first drew breath, as records tell.”

Her life and prophecies have at all times been a favourite theme in popular literature. If we may believe her biographers, she[77] predicted the fall of Cardinal Wolsey, the dissolution of the monasteries, the establishment of the Protestant religion under Edward VI., the cruelty of Queen Mary, the glorious reign of Queen Elizabeth, the defeat of the Armada, the Plague and Great Fire, and many things not yet come to pass. Like the Delphic oracles, her predictions were given in metre, and veiled in mystery. The plague and fire, for instance, are thus foretold:—

“Triumphant death rides London thro’,
And men on tops of houses go.”

She is represented as of a most unprepossessing appearance; although we certainly might have expected better from the daughter of a necromancer, or “the phantasm of Apollo, or some aerial dæmon who seduced her mother;”—“her body was long, and very big-boned; she had great goggling eyes, very sharp and fiery; a nose of unproportionable length, having in it many crooks and turnings, adorned with great pimples, and which, like vapours of brimstone, gave such a lustre in the night, that the nurse needed no other light to dress her by in her childhood.”[95]

Another necromancer, Merlin, shares renown with Mother Shipton, both in chapbooks and on signboards. Merlin’s Cave is the sign of a public-house in Great Audley Street, and in Upper Rosomon Street, Clerkenwell, in which places he doubtless still plays his old pranks, of changing men into beasts. Innumerable romances and histories of Merlin were printed in the middle ages. He appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth as early as the twelfth century, and Alain de l’Isle gave an ample explanation of his prophecies in seven books, printed in 1608. “This Merlin,” says M. de la Monnoye, “tout magicien et fils du diable que l’on l’a cru,” has by the good Carmelite, Baptiste Mantuanus, been metamorphosed into a saint. At the end of his “Tolentinum,” a poem in three books, in honour of St Nicholas, (anno 1509,) he thus speaks of Merlin:—

“Vitæ venerabilis olim
Vir fuit et vates, venturi præscius ævi,
Merlinus, laris infando de semine cretus.
Hic satus infami coitu pietate refulsit
Eximia superum factus post funera consors.”[96]


His prophecies were also translated into Italian, and printed at Venice in 1516. The annotators say it was reported that Merlin, by his enchantments, transported from Ireland those huge stones found in Salisbury plain. His cave was in Clerkenwell, on the site where the alehouse now stands, and was in the reign of James I., one of the London sights strangers went to see.[97]

We have a well-known chapbook hero in Jack of Newbury, who had already attained to the signboard honours in the seventeenth century, when we find him on the token of John Wheeler, in Soper Lane (now Queen Street, Cheapside,) whilst at present, he may be seen in a full-length portrait in Chiswell Street, Finsbury Square. This Jack of Newbury, alias Winchcombe, alias Smallwoode, “was the most considerable clothier England ever had. He kept an hundred looms in his house, each managed by a man and a boy. He feasted King Henry VIII. and his first Queen Catherine at his own house in Newbury, now divided into sixteen clothiers’ houses. He built the Church of Newbury, from the pulpit westward to the town.”[98] At the battle of Flodden in 1513, he joined the Earl of Surrey with a corps of one hundred men, well equipped at his sole expense, who distinguished themselves greatly in that fight. He is buried in Newbury, where his brass effigy is still to be seen, purporting that he died February 15, 1519. An inn bearing his sign in Newbury, is said to be built on the site of the house where he entertained King Harry. Thomas Deloney, the ballad-writer, wrote a tale about him, entitled, “The pleasant history of John Winchcomb, in his younger years called Jack of Newberry, the famous and worthy clothier of England, declaring his life and love, together with his charitable deeds and great hospitalitie. Entered in the Stationers’ Book, May 7, 1596.”

Whittington and his Cat is still very common, not only in London but in the country also. Sometimes the cat is represented without her master, as on the token of a shop in Longacre, 1657, and on the sign of —— Varney, a seal-engraver in New Court, Old Bailey, 1783, whose shopbill[99] represents a large cat carved in wood holding an eye-glass by a chain. The story of Whittington is still a favourite chapbook tale, and has its parallel in the fairy tales of various other countries. Straparola, in his “Piacevole Notte,” is, we believe, the first who mentions[79] it. The earliest English narrative occurs in Johnson’s “Crown Garland of Golden Roses,” 1612, but there is an allusion to “Whittington and his Puss” in the play of “Eastward Hoe!” 1603. For more than a century it was one of the stock pieces of Punch and his dramatic troop. Sept. 21, 1688, Pepys went to see it: “To Southwark Fair, very dirty, and there saw the puppet-show of Whittington, which is pretty to see; and how that idle thing do work upon people that see it, and even myself too.” Foote, in his comedy of the “Nabob,” makes Sir Matthew Mite account for the legend by explaining the cat as the name of some quick-sailing vessels by which Whittington imported coals, which should have been the source of the Lord Mayor’s wealth. In the Highgate Road there is a skeleton of a cat in a public-house window, which by the people who visit there is firmly believed to be the earthly remains of Whittington’s identical cat. The house is not far distant from the spot where the future Lord Mayor of London stopped to listen to the city bells inviting him to return. It is now marked by a stone, with the event duly inscribed thereon.

King Arthur’s Round Table is to be seen on various public-houses. There is one in St Martin’s Court, Leicester Square, where the American champion, Heenan, put up when he came to contest the belt with the valiant Tom Sayers. The same sign is also often to be met with on the Continent. In the seventeenth century there was a famous tavern called la Table Roland in the Vallée de Misère at Paris. John-o’-Groat’s House is also used for a sign; there was one some years ago in Windmill Street, Haymarket; and at present there is a John-o’-Groat’s in Gray Street, Blackfriars Road. Both these and the Round Table contain, we conceive, some intimation of that even-handed justice observed at the houses, where all comers are treated alike, and one man is as good as another.

Darby and John, a corruption of Darby and Joan, and borrowed from an old nursery fable, is a sign at Crowle, in Lincolnshire; and Hob in the Well, with a similar origin, at Little Port Street, Lynn; whilst Sir John Barleycorn is the hero of a ballad allegorical of the art of brewing, &c.

A favourite ballad of our ancestors originated the sign of the London Apprentice, of which there are still numerous examples. How they were represented appears from the Spectator, No. 428, viz., “with a lion’s heart in each hand.” The ballad informs us[80] that the apprentice came off with flying colours, after endless adventures, one of which was that like Richard Cœur-de-Lion—he “robbed the lion of his heart.” The ballad is entitled “The Honour of an Apprentice of London, wherein he declared his matchless manhood and brave adventures done by him in Turkey, and by what means he married the king’s daughter of that same country.”

The Essex Serpent is a sign in King Street, Covent Garden, and in Charles Street, Westminster, perhaps in allusion to a fabulous monster recorded in a catalogue of wonders and awful prognostications contained in a broadside of 1704,[100] from which we learn that, “Before Henry the Second died, a dragon of marvellous bigness was discovered at St Osyph, in Essex.” Had we any evidence that it is an old sign, we might almost be inclined to consider it as dating from the civil war, and hung up with reference to Essex, the Parliamentary general; for though we have searched the chroniclers fondest of relating wonders and monstrous apparitions, we have not succeeded in finding any authority for the St Osyph Dragon, other than the above-mentioned broadside.

Literature of a somewhat higher class than street ballads, has likewise contributed material to the signboards. One of the oldest instances is the Lucrece, the chaste felo-de-se of Roman history, who, in the sixteenth century, was much in fashion among the poets, and was even sung by Shakespeare. We find that “Thomas Berthelet, prynter unto the kynges mooste noble grace, dwellynge at the sygne of the Lucrece, in Fletestrete, in the year of our Lorde 1536.” In 1557, it was the sign of Leonard Axtell, in St Paul’s Churchyard; and in the reign of Charles I., of Thomas Purfoot, in New Rents, Newgate Market, both booksellers and printers. The Complete Angler was the usual sign of fish-tackle sellers in the last century, and the essays of the Spectator made the character of Sir Roger de Coverley very popular with tobacconists.[81] Doctor Syntax hangs at the door of many public-houses, as at Preston, Oldham, Newcastle, Gateshead, &c.; the Lady of the Lake at Lowestoft; Dandie Dinmont at West Linton, Carlisle; Pickwick in Newcastle; the Red Rover, Barton Street, Gloucester;[101] Tam o’ Shanter, Laurence Street, York, and various other towns; Robin Adair, Benwell, Newcastle. Popular songs also belong to this class, as the Lass o’ Gowrie, Sunderland and Durham; Auld Lang Syne, Preston Street, Liverpool; Tulloch-Gorum and Loch-na-Gar, both in Manchester; Rob Roy, Titheburn Street, Liverpool; Flowers of the Forest, Blackfriars Road. On the whole, however, this class of names is much more prevalent in the northerly than in the southerly districts of England. In the south, if we except The Old English Gentleman, who occurs everywhere, the great Jim Crow is almost the only instance of the hero of a song promoted to the signboard. Robinson Crusoe is common to all the seaports of the kingdom, whilst Uncle Tom, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is to be found everywhere, not only in England, but also on the Continent. Any little underground place of refreshment or beer-house difficult of access, is considered as fittingly named by Mrs Beecher Stowe’s novel.

A very appropriate, and not uncommon public-house sign is the Toby Philpott. That he well deserves this honour, appears from the following obituary notice, (in the Gent. Mag., Dec. 1810:)

“At the Ewes farm-house, Yorkshire, aged 76, Mr Paul Parnell, farmer, grazier, and maltster, who, during his lifetime, drank out of one silver pint cup upwards of £2000 sterling worth of Yorkshire Stingo, being remarkably attached to Stingo tipple of the home-brewed best quality. The calculation is taken at 2d. per cupful. He was the bon-vivant whom O’Keefe celebrated in more than one of his Bacchanalian songs under the appellation of Toby Philpott.”

Between St Albans and Harpenden, there was, some years ago, and perhaps there is still, a public-house called the Old Roson. This name also appears to be borrowed from the well-known song, “Old Rosin the Beau,” beginning thus:—

“I have travell’d this wide world over,
And now to another I’ll go,
[82] I know that good quarters are waiting
To welcome old Rosin the Beau (ter.)
When I am dead and laid out on the counter,
A voice you will hear from below,
Singing out brandy and water
To drink to old Rosin the Beau (ter.)
You must get some dozen good fellows,
And stand them all round in a row,
And drink out of half-gallon bottles,
To the name of old Rosin the Beau,” &c.

These stanzas, and one or two more to the same import, were quite sufficient to make the old Beau a fit subject for the signboard, irrespective of his other amiable qualities held forth in the song. The very common Old House at Home, too, is borrowed from a once-popular ballad, the verse of which is too well known to need quotation here.

The equally common Hearty Good Fellow is adopted from a Seven Dials ballad:—

“I am a hearty good fellow,
I live at my ease,
I work when I am willing,
I play when I please.
.... With my bottle and my glass,
Many hours I pass,
Sometimes with a friend,
And sometimes with a lass,” &c.

Of signboards portraying artists, but few instances occur; and when they do, they are almost exclusively the property of printsellers. We have only met with three: Rembrandt’s Head, the sign of J. Jackson, printseller, at the corner of Chancery Lane, Fleet Street, 1759; and of Nathaniel Smith, the father (?) of J. T. Smith, in Great May’s Buildings, St Martin’s Lane. Another member of that family, J. Smith, who kept a printshop in Cheapside, where several of Hogarth’s engravings were published, assumed the Hogarth’s Head for his sign. The third is the Van Dyke’s Head, the sign of C. Philips, engraver and print-publisher in Portugal Street, in 1761. Hogarth also had a head of Van Dyke as his trade symbol, made from small pieces of cork, but being gilt, he called it the Golden Head, (see under Miscellaneous Signs.)

In old times, more than at present, music was deemed a necessary adjunct to tavern hospitality and public-house entertainment.[83] The fiddlers and ballad singers of the “tap” room, however, gave way to the newer brass band at the doors, and this, in its turn, is now gradually fading before the “music hall” and so-called “concert” arrangement. Singing, it may be remarked, is one of the first follies into which a man falls after a too free indulgence in the cup. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that musical signboards should have swung from time to time over the alehouse door. Paganini, who contributed so much to the popularity of that well-known part of the “Carnival de Venise”—still the shibboleth of all fiddlers—is of very common occurrence.

The love for music is also eloquently expressed by the sign of the Fiddler’s Arms, Gornal Wood, Staffordshire. Jenny Lind seems to be the only musician of modern times who has found her way to the signboard. In the last century, Handel’s Head was common; but at the present moment, no instance of its use remains. The Maid and the Magpie, a very common tavern title, is believed to be the only sign borrowed from an opera. In Queen Anne’s time, there was a Purcell’s Head in Wych Street, Drury Lane, the sign of a music-house. It represented that musician in a brown, full-bottomed wig, and green nightgown, and was very well painted. Purcell, who died in 1682, greatly improved English melody; he composed sonatas, anthems, and the music to various plays. His “Te Deum” and “Jubilate” are still admired.

Actors, and favourite characters from plays, have frequently been adopted as signs. The oldest instance we find is Tarleton, or Dick Tarleton, who, in the sixteenth century, seems to have been common enough to make Bishop Hall allude to him in his “Satyres,” (b. vi., s. 1)

“O honour far beyond a brazen shrine,
To sit with Tarlton on an ale-post’s sign.”

Tarleton is seen on the trades token of a house in Wheeler Street, Southwark; and it is only within a very few years that this sign has been consigned to oblivion. Richard, or “Dick” Tarleton was a celebrated low-comedy actor, born at Condover in Shropshire, and brought to town in the household of the Earl of Leicester. He first kept an ordinary in Paternoster Row, called the Castle, much frequented by the booksellers and printers of St Paul’s Churchyard. Afterwards, he kept the Tabor, in Gracechurch Street. He was one of Queen Elizabeth’s twelve players, in receipt of wages, and was at that time living as one of the[84] grooms of the chamber at Barn Elms, but lost his situation by reason of some scurrilous reflections on Leicester and Raleigh. He probably also performed at the Curtain in Shoreditch, in which parish he was buried, September 3, 1588. “The great popularity which Tarlton possessed may be readily seen from the numerous allusions to him in almost all the writers of the time, and few actors have been honoured with so many practical tokens of esteem. His portrait graced the ale-house, game-cocks were named after him, and a century after his death, his effigy adorned the jakes.”[102] The portrait of this famous wit is prefixed to the edition of his jests, printed in 1611, where he is represented in the costume of a clown playing on the tabor and pipe. Another portrait of him occurs as an accompaniment to the letter T, in a collection of ornamental letters,[103] with the following rhymes:—

“This picture here set down within his letter T,
Aright doth shew the forme and shape of Tharleton unto thee.
When he in pleasaunt wise the counterfeit expreste,
Of clowne with cote of russet hew, and startups wth the reste;
Who merry many made when he appear’d in sight,
The grave, the wise, as well as rude, att him did take delight.
The partie now is gone, and closlie clad in claye;
Of all the jesters in the lande, he bare the praise awaie.
Now hath he plaied his parte, and sure he is of this,
If he in Christe did die to live with Him in lasting bliss.”

Spiller’s Head was the sign of an inn in Clare Market, where one of the most famous tavern clubs was held. This meeting of artists, wits, humorists, and actors originated with the performances at Lincoln’s Inn, about the year 1697. They counted many men of note amongst their members. Colley Cibber was one of the founders, and their best president, not even excepting Tom d’Urfey. James Spiller, it should be stated, was a celebrated actor circa 1700. His greatest character was “Mat o’ the Mint,” in the Beggar’s Opera. He was an immense favourite with the butchers of Clare Market, one of whom was so charmed with his performances, that he took down his sign of the Bull and Butcher, and put up Spiller’s Head. At Spiller’s death, (Feb. 7, 1729,) the following elegiac verse was made by one of the butchers in that locality:—

“Down with your marrow-bones and cleavers all,
And on your marrow-bones ye butchers fall!
For prayers from you who never pray’d before,
[85] Perhaps poor Jimmie may to life restore.
‘What have we done?’ the wretched bailiffs cry,
‘That th’ only man by whom we lived should die!’
Enraged they gnaw their wax and tear their writs,
While butchers’ wives fall in hysteric fits;
For, sure as they’re alive, poor Spiller’s dead.
But, thanks to Jack Legar! we’ve got his head.
He was an inoffensive, merry fellow,
When sober, hipp’d, blythe as a bird when mellow.”

A ticket for one of his benefit representations, engraved by Hogarth, is still a morceau recherché amongst print collectors, as much as £12 having been paid for one. “Spiller’s Life and Jests” is the title of a little book published at that time.

Garrick’s Head was set up as a sign in his lifetime, and in 1768 it hung at the door of W. Griffiths, a bookseller of Catherine Street, Strand. It is still common in the neighbourhood of theatres. There is one in Leman Street, Whitechapel, not far from the place of his first successes, where, in 1742, he played at the theatre in Goodman’s Fields, and “the town ran horn-mad after him,” so that there were “a dozen dukes of a night at Goodman’s Fields sometimes.”[104]

Roxellana was, in the seventeenth century, the sign of Thomas Lacy, of Cateaton Street, (now Gresham Street,) City. It was the name of the principal female character in “The Siege of Rhodes,” and was originally the favourite part of the handsome Elizabeth Davenport, whose sham marriage to the Earl of Oxford, (who deceived her by disguising a trumpeter of his troop as a priest,) is told in De Grammont’s Memoirs. After she had found out the Earl’s deception, she continued under his protection, and is occasionally mentioned, (always under the name of Roxellana,) with a few words of encomium on her good looks by that entertaining gossip, Pepys.

Formerly there was a sign of Joey Grimaldi at a public-house nearly opposite Sadler’s Wells Theatre; not only had it the name, but addidit vultum verbis, in the shape of a clown with a goose under his arm, and a string of sausages issuing from his pocket. Joey’s name being less familiar to the public of the present day, the house is now called the Clown. This, we think, is the last instance of an actor being elevated to signboard honours.

Abel Drugger is one of the dramatis personæ in Ben Jonson’s comedy of the Alchymist, and from the character given[86] him by his friend Captain Face, we get some curious information concerning the mysteries of the tobacco trade of that day:—

“This is my friend Abel, an honest fellow,
He lets me have good tobacco, and he does not
Sophisticate it with sack lees or oil,
Nor washes it with muscadel and grains,
Nor buries it in gravel underground,
Wrapp’d up in greasy leather or p—— clouts,
But keeps it in fine lily pots, that open’d
Smell like conserve of roses, or French beans.
He has his maple block, his silver tongs,
Winchester pipes, and fire of juniper.
A neat, spruce, honest fellow, and no goldsmith.”

This worthy was, in the end of the last century, the sign of Peter Cockburn, a tobacconist in Fenchurch Street, formerly shopman at the Sir Roger de Coverley, as he informs the public on his tobacco paper.[105] According to the custom of the times, and one which has yet lingered in old-fashioned neighbourhoods, this wrapper is adorned with some curious rhymes:—

“At Drugger’s Head, without a puff,
You’ll ever find the best of snuff,
Believe me, I’m not joking;
Tobacco, too, of every kind,
The very best you’ll always find,
For chewing or for smoaking.
Tho’ Abel, when the Humour’s in,
At Drury Lane to make you grin,
May sometimes take his station;
At number Hundred-Forty-Six,
In Fenchurch Street he now does fix
His present Habitation.
His best respects he therefore sends,
And thus acquaints his generous Friends,
From Limehouse up to Holborn,
That his rare snuffs are sold by none,
Except in Fenchurch Street alone,
And there by Peter Cockburn.”

Falstaff, whom we have already mentioned when speaking of Shakespeare, and Paul Pry, are both very common. The last is even of more frequent occurrence than “honest Jack” himself.

Lower down in the scale of celebrities and public characters, we find the court-jester of Henry VIII., Old Will Somers, the sign of a public-house in Crispin Street, Spittalfields, at the present day. He also occurs on a token issued from Old Fish Street, in which he is represented very much the same as in his[87] portrait by Holbein, viz., wearing a long gown, with hat on his head, and blowing a horn. Under an engraving of this picture are the following lines:—

“What though thou think’st me clad in strange attire,
Knowe I am suted to my own deseire;
And yet the characters described upon mee
May shew thee that a king bestowed them upon mee.
This horn I have betokens Sommers’ game,
Which sportive tyme will bid thee reade my name,
All with my nature well agreeing to
As both the name, and tyme, and habit doe.”

Formerly there used to be in the town a wooden figure of Will with rams’ horns and a pair of large spectacles; and the story was told that he never would believe that his wife had presented him with the “bull’s feather” until he had seen it through his spectacles.

Two portraits of Sommers are preserved at Hampton Court, one in a picture after Holbein, representing Henry VII. with his queen, Elizabeth, and Henry VIII. with his queen, Jane Seymour. Will is on one side, his wife on the other. The other portrait is by Holbein, three-quarter life size, where he is represented looking through a closed window.[106] He also figures in Henry VIII.’s illuminated Psalter,[107] in which King Henry’s features are given to David, and those of Will Sommers to the fool who accompanies him.

Sommers was born at Eston Neston, Northamptonshire, where his father was a shepherd. His popularity arose from his frankness, which is thus eulogised by Ascham in his “Toxophilus:”—“They be not much unlike in this to Wyll Sommers, the kingis foole, which smiteth him that standeth alwayes before his face, be he never so worshipful a man, and never greatlye lokes for him which lurkes behinde another man’s backe that hurte him indeede.”

We next come to Broughton, the champion pugilist of England in the reign of George II. He kept a public-house in the Haymarket, opposite the present theatre; his sign was a portrait of himself, without a wig, in the costume of a bruiser. Underneath was the following line, from Æneid, v. 484:—

Hic victor cæstus, artemque repono.

Numerous public-houses already retail their good things under[88] the auspices of the great Tom Sayers. One in Pimlico, Brighton, deserves especial mention, as it is reported to be the identical house in which the mighty champion made his entry on the stage of this world, for the noble purpose of dealing and receiving the blows of fistic fortune. But, as in the case of Homer’s birthplace, the honour is contested; almost every house in Pimlico lays claim to his nativity, and unless the great man writes his life and settles this mooted point, it is likely to give serious trouble to future historiographers.

Another athlete, Topham, “the strong man,” had also his quantum of signboards. “The public interest which his extraordinary exhibitions of strength had always excited did not die with him. His feats were delineated on many signs which were remaining up to 1800. One in particular, over a public-house near the Maypole, in East Smithfield, represented his first great feat of pulling against two dray horses.”[108]

Thomas Topham was born in London in 1710. His strength almost makes the feats of Homer’s heroes credible, for, besides pulling against two dray horses, in which he would have been successful if he had been properly placed, he lifted three hogsheads of water, weighing 1836 lbs, broke a rope two inches in circumference, lifted a stone roller, weighing 800 lbs., by a chain with his hands only, lifted with his teeth a table six feet long, with half a hundredweight fastened to the end of it, and held it a considerable time in a horizontal position, struck an iron poker, a yard long and three inches thick, against his bare left arm until it was bent into a right angle, placed a poker of the same dimensions against the back of his neck, and bent it until the ends met, and performed innumerable other remarkable feats.

In Daniel Lambert, whose portly figure acts as sign to a coffee-house on Ludgate Hill, and to a public-house in the High Street, St Martins, Stamford, Lincolnshire, we behold another wonder of the age. This man weighed no less than 52 stone 11 lb. (14 lbs. to the stone.) He was in his 40th year when he died, and the circumstances of his burial give a good idea of his enormous proportions. His coffin, in which there was great difficulty of placing him, was 6 ft. 4 in. long, 4 ft. 4 in. wide, and 2 ft. 4 in. deep. The immense size of his legs made it almost a square case. It consisted of 112 superficial feet of elm, and was built upon two axletrees and four clogwheels, and upon[89] them his remains were rolled into the grave, a regular descent having been made by cutting the earth away for some distance slopingly down to the bottom. The window and part of the wall had to be taken down to allow his exit from the house in which he died. His demise took place on June 21, 1809.

Over the entrance to Bullhead Court, Newgate Street, there is a stone bas-relief, according to Horace Walpole once the sign of a house called The King’s Porter and the Dwarf, with the date 1660. The two persons represented are William Evans and Jeffrey Hudson. Evans is mentioned by Fuller.[109] Jeffrey Hudson, the dwarf, had a very chequered life. He was born in 1609 at Okeham in Rutlandshire, from a stalwart father, keeper of baiting-bulls to the Duke of Buckingham. Having been introduced at court by the Duchess, he entered the Queen’s service. On one occasion, at an entertainment given by Charles I. to his queen, he was served up in a cold pie; at another time at a court ball, he was drawn out of the pocket of Will Evans, the huge door porter, or keeper, at the palace. In 1630 he was sent to France to bring over a midwife for the queen, but on his return was taken prisoner by Flemish pirates, who robbed him of £2500 worth of presents received in France. Sir John Davenant wrote a comic poem on this occasion entitled “Jeffereïdos.” During the civil wars Jeffrey was a captain of horse in the royal army; he followed the queen to France, and there had a duel with a Mr Crofts (brother of Lord Crofts) whom he shot, for which misdemeanour he was expelled the court. Taken prisoner by pirates a second time, he was sold as a slave in Barbary. When he obtained his liberty he returned to London, but got into prison for participation in the Titus Oates plot, and died shortly after his release in 1682. Walter Scott has introduced him in his “Peveril of the Peak.”

Jeffrey is not the only dwarf who has figured on a signboard, for in the last century there was a Dwarf Tavern in Chelsea Fields, kept by John Coan, a Norfolk dwarf. It seems to have been a place of some attraction, since it was honoured by the repeated visits of an Indian king. “On Friday last the Cherokee king and his two chiefs, were so greatly pleased with the curiosities of the Dwarf’s Tavern in Chelsea Fields, that they were there again on Sunday at seven in the evening to drink tea, and will be there again in a few days.”—Daily Advertiser, July 12, 1762. Two[90] years after we find the following advertisement:—“Yesterday died at the Dwarf Tavern in Chelsea Fields, Mr John Coan, the unparalleled Norfolk Dwarf.”—Daily Advertiser, March 17, 1764.

The name of Dirty Dick, which graces a public-house in Bishopsgate Without, was transferred to those spirit stores from the once famous Dirty Warehouse formerly in Leadenhall Street, a hardware shop kept in the end of the last century by Richard Bentley, alias Dirty Dick, in which premises, until about fifteen or twenty years ago, the signboard of the original shop was still to be seen in the window. Bentley was an eccentric character, the son of an opulent merchant, who kept his carriage and lived in great style. In his early life he was one of the beaux in Paris, was presented at the court of Louis XVI., and enjoyed the reputation of being the handsomest and best dressed Englishman at that time in the capital of France. On his return to London he became a new, though not a better, man. Brooms, mops, and brushes were rigorously proscribed from his shop; all order was abolished, jewellery and hardware were carelessly thrown together, covered by the same shroud of undisturbed dust. So they remained for more than forty years, when he relinquished business in 1804. The outside of his house was as dirty as the inside, to the great annoyance of his neighbours, who repeatedly offered Bentley to have it cleaned, painted, and repaired at their expense; but he would not hear of this, for his dirt had given him celebrity, and his house was known in the Levant, and the East and West Indies, by no other denomination than the “Dirty Warehouse in Leadenhall Street.” The appearance of his premises is thus described by a contemporary:—

“Who but has seen, (if he can see at all,)
‘Twixt Aldgate’s well-known pump and Leadenhall,
A curious hardware shop, in generall full
Of wares from Birmingham and Pontipool!
Begrimed with dirt, behold its ample front,
With thirty years’ collected filth upon’t;
In festoon’d cobwebs pendant o’er the door,
While boxes, bales, and trunks are strew’d around the floor.
....... Behold how whistling winds and driving rain
Gain free admission at each broken pane,
Safe when the dingy tenant keeps them out,
With urn or tray, knife-case or dirty clout!
[91] Here snuffers, waiters, patent screws for corks,
There castors, cardracks, cheesetrays, knives and forks;
There empty cases piled in heaps on high,
There packthread, papers, rope, in wild disorder lie.”

The present Dirty Dick is a small public-house, or rather a tap of a wholesale wine and spirit business in Bishopsgate Street Without. It has all the appearance of one of those establishments that started up in the wake of the army at Varna and Balaclava, or at newly-discovered gold-diggings. A warehouse or barn without floorboards; a low ceiling, with cobweb festoons dangling from the black rafters; a pewter bar battered and dirty, floating with beer; numberless gas-pipes, tied anyhow along the struts and posts, to conduct the spirits from the barrels to the taps; sample phials and labelled bottles of wine and spirits on shelves,—everything covered with virgin dust and cobweb,—indeed, a place that would set the whole Dutch nation frantic.

Yet, though it has been observed that cleanliness of the body is conducive to cleanliness of the soul, and vice versa, the regulations of this dirty establishment, (hung up in a conspicuous place,) are more moral than those of the cleaner gin-palaces,—as, for instance:—“No man can be served twice.”[110] “No person to be served if in the least intoxicated.” “No improper language permitted.” “No smoking permitted;” whilst the last request, for fear of this charming place tempting customers to lounge about, says, “Our shop being small, difficulty occasionally arises in supplying the customers, who will greatly oblige by bearing in mind the good old maxim:—

‘When you are in a place of business,
Transact your business
And go about your business.’”

By a trades token we see that Old Parr’s Head was already in the seventeenth century the sign of a house in Chancery Lane. Circa 1825, a publican in Aldersgate put up the old patriarch, with the following medical advice:—

“Your head cool,
Your feet warm,
But a glass of good gin
Would do you no harm.”


Thomas Parr was born in 1483, and dying November 15, 1635, at the age of 152, had lived in the reigns of ten several princes,—viz., Edward IV., Edward V., Richard III., Henry VII., Henry VIII., Edward VI., Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I. He was not the only one of the family who attained to a great age, for the London Evening Post, August 24, 1757, has the following note:—“Last week died at Kanne, in Shropshire, Robert Parr, aged 124. He was great-grandson of old Thomas Parr, who died in the reign of King Charles I., and lies buried in Westminster Abbey. What is very remarkable is, that the father of Robert was 109; the grandfather 113; and the great-grandfather, the said Thomas, is well known to have died at the age of 152.” Signs of old Parr are still remaining at Gravesend and at Rochester.

Thomas Hobson, (Hobson’s Choice,) the benevolent old carrier, is the sign of two public-houses in Cambridge,—the one called Old Hobson, the other Hobson’s House. His own inn in London was the Bull Inn in Bishopsgate Street, where he was represented in fresco, having a £100 bag under his arm, with the words, “The fruitful mother of an hundred more.” There is an engraving of him by John Payne, his contemporary, which also represents him holding a bag of money. Under it are these lines:—

“Laugh not to see so plaine a man in print;
The shadow’s homely, yet there’s something in’t.
Witness the Bagg he wears, (though seeming poore,)
The fertile Mother of a thousand more.
He was a thriving man, through lawful gain,
And wealthy grew by warrantable faime.
Men laugh at them that spend, not them that gather,
Like thriving sonnes of such a thrifty father.”

The print also informs us that he died at the age of eighty-six, in the year 1630. Milton, who wrote two epitaphs upon him, says, that “he sickened in the time of his vacancy, being forbid to go to London by reason of the plague.”

Among this class of minor celebrities we may also place those who put up their own head for signs. Taylor, the water poet, (see Mourning Crown, pp. 49,) was one of the first. Next to him followed Pasqua Rosee; according to his handbill, “the first who made and publicly sold coffee-drink in England.” His establishment was “in St Michael’s Alley, in Cornhill, at the sign of his own head.” This handbill largely enters into the virtues of the “coffee-drink,” gives the natural history of the plant,[93] prescribes how to make the drink, and advises that “it is to be drunk, fasting an hour before, and not eating an hour after, and to be taken as hot as possibly can be endured; the which will never fetch the skin off the mouth, or raise any blisters by reason of that heat.” The next enters upon a glowing description of all the evils cured by that drink, as fumes, headaches, defluxions of rhumes, dropsy, gout, scurvy, king’s-evil, spleen, hypochondriac, winds, stone, &c. This coffee-house was opened in 1652.

Lebeck’s Head was another instance of the owner setting up his own head as a sign; and though his name has not filled the trumpet of fame, yet had he many times bravely stood the fire, and filled the mouths of his contemporaries, for he kept an ordinary (about 1690) at the north-west corner of Half-moon Passage, (since called Bradford Street.) The sign seems to have found imitators at the time, and is even yet kept up by tradition. There is Lebeck’s Head in Shadwell, High Street; a Lebeck’s Inn and Lebeck’s Tavern in Bristol; and a Lebeck and Chaff-cutter at a village in Gloucestershire.

A still more famous house was the Pontack’s Head, formerly called the White Bear, in Christ Church Passage, (leading from Newgate Street to Christ Church.) This tavern having been destroyed by fire, Pontack, the son of a president of the parliament of Bordeaux, opened a new establishment on its site, and assuming his father’s portrait as its sign, called it the Pontack’s Head. It was the first fashionable eating-house in London, was opened soon after the Restoration, and continued in favour until about the year 1780, when it was pulled down to make room for the building of the vestry hall of Christ Church. De Foe describes it as “a constant ordinary for all comers at very reasonable prices, where you may bespeak a dinner from four or five shillings a head to a guinea, or what sum you please.”[111] In the beginning of the eighteenth century the dinners had become proverbially extravagant:—

“Now at Pontack’s we’ll take a bit,
Shall quicken Nature’s appetite.
Here, shew a room! what have you got?
The waiter (cries) What have we not?
All that the season can afford,
Fresh, fat, and fine, upon my word
A Guinea ordinary, sir.”

This Guinea ordinary was:—

“—— every way compleat,
Adorn’d and beautifully dress’d.
But what it was could not be guess’d.”


The waiter, however, gives the menu, which contains—Bird’s nest soup from China; a ragout of fatted snails; bantam pig, but one day old, stuffed with hard row and ambergris; French peas stewed in gravy, with cheese and garlick; an incomparable tart of frogs and forced meat; cod, with shrimp sauce; chickens en surprise, (they had not been two hours from the shell,) and similar dainties.[112] Pontack contributed much towards bringing the French wines in fashion, being proprietor of some of the Bordeaux vineyards which bore his name.

About the same time another tavern flourished, with its master’s head for sign; this was Caveac’s,[113] celebrated for wine; of him Amhurst sang:—

“Now sumptuously at Caveac’s dine,
And drink the very best of wine.”

Though it cannot be said that Don Saltero put up his portrait for a sign, yet his coffee-house was named after him, and is still extant under the same denomination in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. This house was opened in 1695 by a certain Salter, who had been servant to Sir Hans Sloane, and had accompanied him on his travels. Chelsea at that time was a village, full of the suburban residences of the aristocracy, and the pleasant situation of Salter’s house soon made it the resort of merry companions, on their way to or from friends’ villas, or Vauxhall, Jenny Whin’s, and other places of public resort in the neighbourhood. Vice-Admiral Mundy, on his return from the coast of Spain, amused with the pedantic dignity of Salter, christened him Don Saltero, and under that name the house has continued till this day.

From his connexion with the great Sir Hans Sloane, and the tradition of a descent from the Tradescants, Salter was of course in duty bound to have a museum of curiosities, which, by gifts from Sir Hans and certain aristocratic customers in the army and navy, soon became sufficiently interesting to constitute one of the London sights. It existed more than a century, and was at last sold by auction in the summer of 1798. From his catalogue[114] (headed with the words, “O Rare!”) we gather that the curiosities fully deserved that name, for amongst them we find: “a piece of St Catherine’s skin;” “a painted ribbon from Jerusalem, with which our Saviour was tied to the pillar when[95] scourged, with a motto;”[115] “a very curious young mermaid-fish;” “manna from Canaan, it drops from the clouds twice a year, in May and June, one day in each month;” “a piece of nun’s skin;” “a necklace made of Job’s tears;” “the skeleton (sic) of a man’s finger;” “petrified rain;” “a petrified lamb, or a stone of that animal;” “a starved cat in the act of catching two mice, found between the walls of Westminster Abbey when repairing;” “Queen Elizabeth’s chambermaid’s hat,” &c.[116]

A most amusing paper in the Tatler, No. 34, gives a full-length portrait of Salter, who appears to have been an “original.” Music was his besetting sin, and with very little excuse for it. In that paper the museum, too, is taken to task. Richard Cromwell used to be a visitor to this house, where Pennant’s father, when a child, saw him, “a very neat old man, with a placid countenance.” Franklin also, when a printer’s apprentice, “one day made a party to go by water to Chelsea in order to see the college, and Don Saltero’s curiosities.”

There is a rather amusing advertisement of the Don’s in the Weekly Journal for June 23, 1723:—

Sir,—Fifty years since to Chelsea great,
From Rodnam on the Irish main,
I stroll’d with maggots in my pate,
Where much improved they still remain.
Through various employs I’ve past,
Toothdrawer, trimmer, and at last,
I’m now a gimcrack whim-collector.
Monsters of all sorts here are seen,
Strange things in nature as they grew so;
Some relicks of the Sheba queen,
And fragments of the famed Bob Cruso;
Knicknacks to dangle round the wall,
Some in glass cases, some on shelf;
But what’s the rarest sight of all,
Your humble servant shows himself.
On this my chiefest hope depends.
Now if you will the cause espouse,
[96] In journals pray direct your friends
To my Museum-Coffeehouse;
And in requital for the timely favour
I’ll gratis bleed, draw teeth, and be your shaver.
Nay, that your pate may with my noddle tally,
And you shine bright as I do—marry shall ye.
Freely consult my revelation Molly;
Nor shall one jealous thought create a huff,
For she has taught me manners long enough.

Chelsea Knackatory.

Don Saltero.

At the end of his catalogue a list of the donors is added, most of whom, doubtless, also frequented his house. Amongst them the following names appear:—the Duke of Buccleuch, the Earl of Sutherland, Sir John Balchen, Sir Rob. Cotton, Bart., Sir John Cope, Bart., Sir Thomas de Veil, Sir Francis Drake, Lady Humphrey, Sir Thomas Littleton, Sir John Molesworth, the Hon. Capt. William Montague, Sir Yelverton Peyton, George Selwyn, the Hon. Mr Verney, Sir Francis Windham, &c., besides numbers of naval and military officers.

The Mother Redcap is a sign that occurs in various places, as in Upper Holloway, in the High Street, Camden Town, in Blackburn, Lancashire, in Edmund’s Lowland, Lincolnshire, &c.: whilst there is a Father Redcap at Camberwell Green, but he is merely a creature of the publican’s fancy. From the way in which Brathwaite mentions this sign in his “Whimsies of a new Cast of Characters,” 1631, it would seem to have been not uncommon at that time. “He [the painter] bestows his pencile on an aged piece of decayed canvas, in a sooty alehouse where Mother Redcap must be set out in her colours.” Who the original Mother Redcap was, is believed to be unknown, but not unlikely it is an impersonification of Skelton’s famous “Ellinor Rumming,” the alewife.

The Mother Redcap at Holloway is named by Drunken Barnaby in his travels. Formerly the following verses accompanied this sign:—

“Old Mother Redcap, according to her tale,
Lived twenty and a hundred years by drinking this good ale;
It was her meat, it was her drink, and medicine besides,
And if she still had drank this ale, she never would have died.”

At one time the Mother Redcap, in Kentish Town, was kept by an old crone, from her amiable temper surnamed Mother Damnable.[117] This was probably the same person we find elsewhere alluded to under the name of Mother Huff, as in Baker’s “Comedy of Hampstead Heath,” 1706, a. ii. s. 1. “Arabella.—Well, this Hampstead’s a charming place, to dance all night at the Wells, and be treated at Mother Huff’s.”

(Fleet Street, circa 1668.)
(Modern sign, Aldermanbury, City.)
(Newgate Street, circa 1668.)
(Roxburghe Ballads, 1660.)


Only a few more celebrities now remain to be disposed of; but they are of such a varied character, and so heterogeneous, that they can scarcely be ranged under any of the former divisions: thus we meet with the stern reformer, Melancthon’s Head, as the sign of an orthodox publican, in Park Street, Derby. Pretty Nell Gwynn occurs on several London public-houses: one in Chelsea, where she must have been well known, since her mother resided in that neighbourhood, and popular tradition allows Nell to have been one of the principal promoters of the erection of the famous hospital there. Another house, named after Charles II.’s favourite mistress, may be observed in Drury Lane, in which street she lived, and where Pepys, on May-day, 1667, saw her “standing at her lodgings door, in her smock sleeves and boddice,” and thought her “a mighty pretty creature.”

The Sir John Oldcastle was a tavern, in Coldbathfields, in the beginning of the last century; near this house, Bagford and a Mr Conyers, an antiquarian apothecary of Fleet Street, discovered the skeleton of an elephant in a gravel pit.[118] This house is also named in the following bill:—[119]

“All gentlemen, who are lovers of the ancient and noble exercise of archery, are hereby invited, by the stewards of the annual feast for the Clerkenwell Archers, to dine with them at Mrs Mary Barton’s, at the sign of Sir John Oldcastle, upon Friday, the 18th day of July 1707, at one of the clock, and to pay the bearer, Thomas Beaumont, Master of the Regiment of Archers, two shillings and sixpence, and to take a sealed ticket, that the certain number may be known, and provision made accordingly.

Nathaniel Axtell, Esq. Edward Bromwick, Gent. } Stewards.”

Opposite this house stood the Lord Cobham’s Head, as appears from the Daily Advertiser for August 9, 1742, which contains an advertisement puff of this place, praising its beer at 3d. a tankard, and mentioning the concert and illuminations. The correspondent concludes his letter by saying: “Note.—In seeing this great preparation, I thought it a duty incumbent upon me to inform my fellow-citizens and others, that they may distinguish this place from any pretended concerts, which are nothing but[98] noise and nonsense, in particular, one that is rightly-styled the Hog-concert,” &c.

Both these houses were named after “the Good Lord Cobham,”—Sir John Oldcastle, who married the heiress of the Cobham family—the first author, as well as the first martyr of noble family in England. Being one of the Lollards, he was accused of rebellion, hanged in chains, and burned alive at St Giles in the Fields, in December 1417. Lord Cobham’s estates were close to the site of these two public-houses, which were supposed to comprise a part of the ancient mansion of that nobleman.

The Sir Paul Pindar public-house, in Bishopsgate Street Without, is all that remains of the splendid mansion of the rich merchant of that name, who had here a beautiful park, well stocked with game. The house continues almost in its original state, in the Cinque Cento style of ornament; the best part of it is the façade. In “Londiniana,” ii. p. 137, is an engraving of a lodge, standing in Half-Moon Alley, ornamented with figures, which tradition says was the keeper’s lodge of Sir Paul Pindar’s Park. Mulberry trees, and other park-like vestiges, were still within memory in 1829. In Pennant’s time it was already a public-house, having for a sign, “a head, called that of the original owner.” Sir Paul was a contemporary of Gresham, the founder of the Exchange. He travelled much, and by that means acquired many languages, which, at that time, was a sure way to advancement. James I. sent him as ambassador to the Sultan, from whom he obtained valuable concessions for the English trade throughout the Turkish dominions. After his return, he was appointed farmer of the customs, and frequently advanced money to King James, and afterwards to Charles I. In 1639 he was esteemed worth £236,000, exclusive of bad debts. He expended £19,000 in repairing St Paul’s Cathedral, and contributed large sums to various charities, yet, strange to say, died insolvent, Aug. 22, 1650, the year after his royal master had been beheaded. His executor, William Toomes, was so shocked at the hopeless state of Sir Paul’s affairs, that he committed suicide, and was buried with all the degrading ceremonies of a felo-de-se.

The Welch Head was the sign of a low public-house in Dyot Street, St Giles. In the last century there was a mendicants’ club held here, the origin of which dated as far back as 1660, at which time they used to hold their meetings at the Three[99] Crowns in the Poultry. Saunders Welch was one of the justices of the peace for Westminster, and kept a regular office for the police of that district, in which he succeeded Fielding. He died Oct. 31, 1784, and lies buried in the church of St George’s, Bloomsbury. He was a very popular magistrate: a story is told that in 1766 he went unattended into Cranbourne Alley, to quell the riotous meetings of the journeymen shoemakers there, who had struck for an advance of wages. One of the crowd soon recognised him, when they at once mounted him on a beer barrel, and patiently listened to all that he had to say. He quieted the rioters, and prevailed upon the master shoemakers to grant an additional allowance to the workmen. This little incident, joined to his well-known benevolence, and skill in capturing malefactors, gave him that popularity which rewards by a signboard fame.

The Bedford Head, Covent Garden, represented the head of one of the Dukes of Bedford, ground landlords of that district. Pope twice alludes to this tavern, as a place where to obtain a delicate dinner. This house Mr Cunningham[120] suspects to have occupied the north-east corner of the Piazza, and there it appears in a view of old Covent Garden, about 1780, preserved in the “Crowle Pennant,” (vii. p. 25.) There was another Bedford Head in Southampton Street, which was kept by Wildman, the brother-in-law of Horne Tooke. A Liberal club used to meet at this house, of which Wilkes was a member, for several years. There is still a Bedford Head in Maiden Lane, hard by, at which the Reunion Literary Club is held.

Under the historical signs may be ranged a class of more modern signs, referring to local celebrities,—“mighty hunters before the Lord” probably—such as Captain Harmer, White Horse Plain, Yarmouth; Captain Ross on Clinker, at Natland, a village in Westmoreland; Captain Digby (the name of a vessel wrecked), at St Peter’s, Margate; Colonel Linskill, Charlotte Street, North Shields, &c.

The Don Cossack, so frequently seen, dates from the celebrity acquired by those troops in the extermination of the unfortunate half-starved and frozen soldiers, on their retreat from Moscow; though a more intimate acquaintance with the formidable Cossacks, during the Crimean campaign, considerably damaged their ancient reputation. The signs of the Druid, the Druid’s Head,[100] the Druid and Oak, and the Royal Arch Druid, are more to be attributed to various kinds of masonic brotherhoods, than as a mark of respect paid to our aboriginal clergy. The Union originated with the union of Ireland with this kingdom; the Jubilee dates from the centenary of the revolution of 1688, held with considerable pomp and national rejoicing, in 1788. The Hero of Switzerland, Loughborough Road, Brixton, and in a few other places, refers to William Tell; and the Spanish Patriot, (Lambeth Lower Marsh and White Conduit Street,) dates from the excitement of our proposed intervention in the Spanish Succession question, in 1833. The Spanish Galleon, Church Street, Greenwich, simply owes its origin to the pictures of our naval victories in the Greenwich Hospital.

These, then, are some of the principal and most curious historic signs. From the perusal of this catalogue, we can draw one conclusion—namely, that only a few of what we have termed “historical signs,” outlive the century which gave them birth. If the term of their duration extends over this period, there is some chance that they will remain in popular favour for a long time. Thus, in the case of most heroes of the last century, few publicans certainly will know anything about the Marquis of Granby, Admiral Rodney, or the Duke of Cumberland, yet their names are almost as familiar as the Red Lion, or the Green Dragon, and have indeed become public-household words. Once that stage past, they have a last chance of continuing another century or two—namely, when those heroes are so completely forgotten, that the very mystery of their names becomes their recommendation; such as the Grave Morris, the Will Sommers, the Jack of Newbury, &c.

[54] Lloyd’s Evening Post, February 11-13, 1761.

[55] Horace Walpole’s Letters. Thirteenth Letter to Mr Conway, April 16, 1747.

[56] In the Print-room of the British Museum.

[57] Pennant’s History of London, vol. i. p. 99.

[58] “The Quack Vintners, 1710,” a tract written against Brooke and Hilliers, the famous wine-merchants of that time, frequently mentioned by the Spectator.

[59] Newcastle Journal, June 28, 1746.

[60] Nugæ Antiquæ, vol. i. p. 348.

[61] Barrow’s Life of Peter the Great.

[62] Gent. Mag., March 1842.

[63] Peacham’s Compleat Gentleman, p. 79.

[64] The taverns of the seventeenth century appear in many instances to have been upstairs, above shops. In 1679, there was a “Mr Crutch, goldsmith, near Temple Bar, at the Palsgrave Head.” In a similar way, a bookseller lived at the sign of the Rainbow, at the same time as one Farr, who opened this place as a coffee-house. Another bookseller, James Roberts, who printed most of the satires, epigrams, and other wasp-stings against Pope, lived at the Oxford Arms, a carriers’ inn in Warwick Lane. Finally, Isaac Walton sold his “Complete Angler” “at his shopp in Fleet Street, under the King’s Head Tavern.”

[65] Macaulay’s Biographical Essays, Frederick the Great.

[66] Goldsmith’s Essay on the Versatility of Popular Favour.

[67] For more particulars about Topham, see p. 88.

[68] Trades tokens in the Beaufoy Collection.

[69] For several centuries, Fleet Street was the head-quarters for shows and exhibitions out of fair-time. Ben Jonson speaks of “the City of Nineveh at Fleetbridge.” This was in the reign of James I. Mrs Salmon’s waxworks were among the last remaining sights in that locality.

[70] Richardsoniana, p. 140.

[71] Grosley, in his Tour to London, 1772, vol i. p. 150, mentions this society, which at that period was held at the Robin Hood, and says it was a semi-public club, into which all sorts of people were admitted, and all sorts of topics, religious as well as political, were discussed. He makes an odd mistake, however, when he says that the president was a baker by trade.

[72] This John Marshall afterwards, when he was appointed the king’s optician, changed his sign into the Archimedes and King’s Arms, under which we find him, in 1718, advertising his “chrystall dressing-glasses for ladies, which shew the face as nature hath made it, which other looking-glasses do not.”

[73] Banks’s Collection.

[74] Banks’s Collection.

[75] The Angler. Hawkins’s edition. 1784.

[76] Bagford Bills, Bib. Harl. 5964.

[77] “On the chair of Ben Johnson, now remaining at Robert Wilson’s, at the sign of the Johnson’s Head, in the Strand.”—Wit and Drollery, 1655, p. 79.

[78] The Newes, August 24, 1655. This may have been the above-mentioned tavern, as York House was situated in the Strand on the site of the present York Buildings.

[79] Addison’s Lion’s Head, the box for the deposition of the correspondence of the Guardian, was originally placed at Button’s, over against Tom’s in Great Russell Street. “After having become a receptacle of papers and a spy for the Guardian, it was moved to the Shakespeare’s Head Tavern, under the Piazza in Covent Garden, kept by a person named Tomkins, and in 1751 was for a short time placed in the Bedford Coffeehouse, immediately adjoining the Shakespeare Tavern, and there employed as a medium of literary communication by Dr John Hill, author of the ‘Inspector.’ In 1769, Tomkins was succeeded by his waiter, named Campbell, as proprietor of the tavern and Lion’s Head, and by him the latter was retained till 1804, when it was purchased by the late Charles Richardson, after whose death in 1827 it devolved to his son, and has since become the property of his Grace the Duke of Bedford.”—Till, in his Preface to Descriptive Catalogue of English Medals.

[80] Our slang friends the burlesque writers and parodists, would probably say something about mopping.—Ed.

[81] An “Apollo in his glory” is a charge in the apothecaries’ arms.

[82] Aubrey, Remains of Gentilisme and Judaism. Lansdowne MSS. 231, p. 106.

[83] At the Vulcan. He lights his pipe at the fire;—whosoever wants to buy good tobacco let him come here;—you will get a pipe filled into the bargain, and a glass of strong beer in fair time.

[84] Vulcan, that lame blacksmith, when he got tired over his work, sat down a while to rest his limbs. The gods saw it; he took his cutty pipe and his tobacco box out of his pocket and smoked a pipe of tobacco.

[85] Gent. Mag., March 1842.

[86] The History of Tom Jones, book xvi. ch. ii.

[87] Lond. Gaz., June 18-22, 1674.

[88] This was not true, for Pepys went (24th Oct. 1667) to hear the same instrument played by a Mr Prin, a Frenchman, “which he do beyond belief, and the truth is, it do so far outdo a trumpet as nothing more, and he do play anything very true. The instrument is open at the end I discovered, but he would not let me look into it.” Philips, in his “New World of Words,” 1696, describes it as “an instrument with a bellows, resembling a lute, having a long neck with a string, which being struck with a hairbow sounds like a trumpet.”

[89] Aubrey, Miscellanies upon various subjects.

[90] See in Bib. Top. Brit., vol. iv., a Critical Memoir on the Story of Guy of Warwick, by the Rev. Samuel Pegge, who supposes that Guy lived in Saxon times, and was the son of Simon, Baron of Wallingford. He married Felicia, (Phillis,) the daughter and heiress of Rohand, Earl of Warwick, who flourished in the reign of Edward the Elder, and so became Earl of Warwick.

[91] In Ritson’s Ancient Songs and Ballads.

[92] The “pindar” was the man who took care of stray cattle, which he kept in the pinfold, or pound, until it was claimed and the expenses paid.

[93] Daily Courant, Feb. 19, 1711.

[94] The “Dropping Well,” one of the most noted petrifying springs in England, and so named on account of its percolating through the rock that hangs over it.

[95] This information we gather from a chapbook entitled “The Strange and Wonderful History and Prophecies of Mother Shipton, by Ferraby, printer on the Market Place, Hull.” It is evidently a reprint of a chapbook of the time of Charles II., as appears from many allusions.

[96] Once there was a man who led a holy life, and was a prophet, who could see what would come to pass; his name was Merlin, and he was the offspring of an evil and fiendish spirit. But though born from such a father, he shone forth in virtue, and after his death, became a companion of the saints.

[97] Henry Peacham’s Compleat Gentleman.

[98] John Collet’s Historical Anecdotes, Add. MSS. 8890, p. 113.

[99] In the Banks Collection.

[100] This broadside is reprinted in Notes and Queries for January 15, 1859. Sussex had its snake as late as 1614. There is a pamphlet In the Harl. Collection, entitled, “True and Wonderful—a discourse relating a strange and monstrous serpent, (or dragon,) lately discovered, and yet living, to the great annoyance and divers slaughter both of men and cattell, by his strong and violent Poyson, in Sussex, two miles from Horsam, in a woode called St Leonard’s Forrest, and thirtie miles from London, this present month of August 1614.” That this Sussex snake caused a great sensation, appears from the fact that seventeen years after, it is alluded to in “Whimsies: or, A New Cast of Characters,” 1631: “Nor comes his [the ballad-monger’s] invention far short of his imagination. For want of truer relations for a neede, he can find you out a Sussex dragon, some sea or inland monster, drawn out by some Shoe Lane man, [i.e., a sign-painter; they all lived in Harp Alley, Shoe Lane,] in Gorgon-like features, to enforce more horror in the beholder.”

[101] The title of Cooper’s novel seems to have taken hold of the popular fancy to an astonishing degree: not only are there several public-houses who have adopted it as their sign, but also race-horses, ships, and locomotive engines have been named after it. There is even a baked potato-can in the streets of London, decorated with that name; it is built in the shape of a locomotive-engine, japanned red, and wheeled about the streets by an old woman. The name on a brass plate is screwed to the can, similar to the names of locomotive-engines.

[102] Introduction to Tarlton’s Jests, by J. O. Halliwell.

[103] Harl. MSS. 3885.

[104] Gray’s Letter to Chute. Mitford, ii. 138.

[105] Banks’s Collection.

[106] This is engraved in Caulfield’s Portraits of Remarkable and Eccentric Characters, as well as the wooden figure in the Tower.

[107] MSS. Reg., 2 A. xvi.

[108] Fairholt, Remarkable and Eccentric Characters, p. 56.

[109] Fuller’s Worthies, voce Monmouthshire.

[110] This is an old “dodge,” mentioned long ago by Decker in his “Seven Deadly Sins, seven times pressed to Death,” &c.:—“Then you have another brewing called Huff’s ale, at which, because no man must have but a pot at a sitting, and so be gone, the restraint makes them more eager to come in, so that by this policie one may huffe it four or five times a day.”

[111] Journey through England, vol. i. p. 175.

[112] Metamorphosis of the Town; or, a View of the Present Fashions. London: Printed for J. Wilford at the Three Flower de Luces, behind the Chapter House in St Paul’s Churchyard, 1730.

[113] Oddly enough, both Cave and Ponto are terms of some games at cards.

[114] There is a copy in the British Museum.

[115] This motto was: “Misura della Colonna di Christo nro,” i.e., Measure of the column of our Saviour.

[116] A brother Boniface, Adams, “at the Royal Swan in Kingsland Road, leading from Shoreditch Church,” (1756) had also a knackatory, which, from his catalogue, looks very like a parody on the Don’s. He exhibited, for instance, “Adam’s eldest daughter’s hat;” “the heart of famous Bess Adams, that was hanged with Lawyer Carr, January 18, 1736-37;” “the Vicar of Bray’s clogs;” “an engine to shell green peas with;” “teeth that grew in a fish’s belly;” “Black Jack’s ribs;” “the very comb that Adam combed his son Isaac’s and Jacob’s head with;” “rope that cured Captain Lowry of the headach, earach, toothach, and bellyach;” “Adam’s key to the fore and back door of the garden of Eden,” &c., &c., and 500 other curiosities.

[117] Her portrait, with a poem upon her, too long to quote, occurs in “Portraits and Lives of Remarkable and Eccentric Characters,” Westminster, 1819.

[118] Harl. MSS. 5900.

[119] Bagford Bills. Harl. MSS. 5962.

[120] London, Past and Present, p. 48.



Royalty stands prominently at the head of the heraldic signs in its triple hieroglyphic of the Crown, (no coronets ever occur,) the King’s or Queen’s Arms, and the various royal badges.

The Crown seems to be one of the oldest of English signs. We read of it as early as 1467, when a certain Walter Walters, who kept the Crown in Cheapside, made an innocent Cockney pun, saying he would make his son heir to the Crown, which so displeased his gracious majesty, King Edward IV., that he ordered the man to be put to death for high treason.

The Crown Inn at Oxford was kept by Davenant, (Sir William Davenant’s father.) Shakespeare, on his frequent journeys between London and his native place, generally put up at this inn, and the malicious world said that young Davenant (the future Sir William) was somewhat nearer related to him than as a godson only. One day, when Shakespeare was just arrived, and the boy sent for from school to see him, a master of one of the colleges, pretty well acquainted with the affairs of the family, asked the boy why he was going home in so much haste, who answered, that he was going to see his godfather Shakespeare. “Fie, child,” said the old gentleman, “why are you so superfluous? Have you not learnt yet that you should not use the name of God in vain?”

On the site occupied by the present Bank of England there used to stand four taverns; one of them bore the sign of the Crown, and was certainly in a good line of business, for, according to Sir John Hawkins,[121] it was not unusual in those toping days to draw a butt (120 gallons) of mountain in half-pints in the course of a single morning.

About the same period there was another Crown Tavern in Duck Lane, W. Smithfield. One of the rooms in that house was decorated by Isaac Fuller (ob. 1672) with pictures of the Muses, Pallas, Mars, Ajax, Ulysses, &c. Ned Ward praises them highly in his “London Spy.” “The dead figures appeared with such lively majesty that they begot reverence in the spectators towards the awful shadows!” Such painted rooms in taverns were not uncommon at that period.


The origin of the sign of the Three Crowns is thus accounted for by Bagford:[122]—“The mercers trading with Collen (Cologne) set vp ther singes ouer ther dores of ther Houses the three kinges of Collen, with the Armes of that Citye, which was the Three Crouens of the former kinges, in memory of them, and by those singes the people knew in what wares they deld in.” Afterwards, like all other signs, it was used promiscuously, and thus it gave a name to a good old-fashioned inn in Lichfield, the property of Dr Johnson, and the very next house to that in which the doctor was born.

Frequently the Royal Crown is combined with other objects, to amplify the meaning, or to express some particular prerogative; such are the Crown and Cushion, being the Crown as it is carried before the king in coronation, and other ceremonies. We even meet with the Two Crowns and Cushions; that is, the Crown for the King and for the Queen, which was the sign of a Mr Arne, an upholsterer in Covent Garden, the hero of several Tatlers and Spectators, and father of the celebrated musician and composer, Dr Arne. This political upholsterer also figures in a farce by Murphy, entitled “The Upholsterer; or what news?” The four Indian princes referred to in Tatler, No. 155, who came to England in the reign of Queen Anne, to implore the help of the British Government against the encroachments of the French in Canada, seem to have lodged in this man’s house,—a circumstance frequently alluded to in the papers of the Tatler and other periodicals of the time.

The Crown and Glove refers to the well-known ceremony of the Royal Champion at the Coronation. It occurs as a sign at Stannington, Sheffield, Eastgate Row, South Chester, &c. The Royal Champion himself figures in George Street, Oxford. In the Gazetteer for August 20, 1784, we find an anecdote recorded concerning the Royal Champion, which is almost too good to be true:—“At the coronation of King William and Queen Mary, the Champion of England dressed in armour of complete and glittering steel; his horse richly caparisoned, and himself, and beaver finely capped with plumes of feathers, entered Westminster Hall while the King and Queen were at dinner. And, at giving[103] the usual challenge to any one that disputed their majesties’ right to the crown of England, (when he has the honour to drink the Sovereign’s health out of a golden cup, always his fee,) after he had flung down his gauntlet on the pavement, an old woman, who entered the hall on crutches, (which she left behind her,) took it up, and made off with great celerity, leaving her own glove, with a challenge in it to meet her the next day at an appointed hour in Hyde Park. This occasioned some mirth at the lower end of the hall: and it was remarkable that every one was too well engaged to pursue her. A person in the same dress appeared the next day at the place appointed, though it was generally supposed to be a good swordsman in that disguise. However, the Champion of England politely declined any contest of that nature with the fair sex, and never made his appearance.”

The Crown and Sceptre, another of the royal insignia, is named by Misson[123] in the following incident:—“Butler, the keeper of the Crown and Sceptre tavern, in St Martin’s Lane, told me that there was a tun of red port drunk at his wife’s burial, besides mulled white wine. Note.—No men ever goe to women’s burials, nor the women to the men’s; so that there were none but women at the drinking of Butler’s wine. Such women in England will hold it out with the men, when they have a bottle before them, as well as upon th’ other occasion, and tattle infinitely better than they.”

The Crown and Mitre, indicative of royalty and the church, is the sign of a High Church publican at Taunton; and the Bible and Crown has for more than a century and a half been the sign of Rivingtons the publishers. (See under Religious Signs.) The King and Parliament are represented by the well-known Crown and Woolpack, which at Gedney Holbeach, in Lincolnshire, has been corrupted into the Crown and Woodpecker. The Crown and Tower, at Taunton, may refer to the regalia kept in the Tower, or to the king being “a tower of strength.” A similar symbol seems to be intended in the Crown and Column, Ker Street, Devonport, perhaps implying the strength of royalty when supported by a powerful and united nation.

The Crown and Anchor, the well-known badge of the Navy, is a great favourite. One of the most famous taverns with this[104] sign was in the Strand, where Dr Johnson often used to “make a night of it.” “Soon afterwards,” says Boswell, “in 1768, he supped at the Crown and Anchor in the Strand, with a company whom I collected to meet him. There were Dr Percy, now bishop of Dromore; Dr Douglas, now bishop of Salisbury; Mr Langton; Dr Robertson, the historian; Dr Hugh Blair, and Mr Thomas Davis.” On this occasion the great doctor was unusually colloquial, and according to his amiable custom “tossed and gored several persons.”

The famous “Crown and Anchor Association” against so-called Republicans and Levellers—as the reformers were styled by the ministerial party in 1792—owed its name to this tavern. Its rise and progress is rather curious: it was undertaken at the instance of Pitt and Dundas, by John Reeves, a barrister. Reeves, at first, could get no one to join him, but, to meet the wishes of his employers, used to go to the Crown and Anchor, draw up some resolutions, pass them nem. con., and sign them John Reeves, chairman: thus being in his own person, meeting, chairman, and secretary. In this way they were inserted in all the papers of the three kingdoms, the expense being no object to the persons concerned. Meetings of the counties were advertised, but the first, second, and third consisted of Reeves alone, and it was not till the fourth meeting that he had any coadjutors. The political effervescence created by this society, its imitations and branches, form part of the history of the nation.

In the year 1800 the Farming Society proposed to have an experimental dinner in order to ascertain the relative qualities of the various breeds of cattle in the kingdom; the dinner was planned and patronised by Sir John Sinclair, and the execution intrusted to Mr Simpkins, landlord of the Crown and Anchor, who sent a tender of the most Brobdignagian dinner probably ever heard of. Twelve kinds of oxen and sheep of the most famous breed, eight kinds of pork, and various specimens of poultry, were to bleed as victims in this holocaust to the devil of gluttony; the fish was only to be from fresh waters, such as were “entitled to the attention of British farmers;” there were various kinds of vegetables, nine sorts of bread, besides veal, lamb, hams, poultry, tarts and puddings, all of which were to be washed down by a variety of strong and mild ales, stout, cider, Perry, and “British” spirits. Tickets one guinea each.[124]


The Anchor and Crown was also the sign of the great booth at Greenwich fair; it was 323 feet long, and 60 feet wide, was used for dancing, and could easily accommodate 2000 persons at a time. The other booths also had signs; amongst them were the Royal Standard, the Lads of the Village, the Black Boy and Cat, the Moonrakers, and others.

The Crown and Dove, Bridewell Street, Bristol, may refer to the order of the Holy Ghost, or may have been suggested by the Three Pigeons and Sceptre.

Objects of various trades, with a crown above them, were very common: the Crown and Fan was an ordinary fan-maker’s sign.[125] The Crown and Rasp, belonging to snuff-makers, occurs as the sign of Fribourg and Treyer, tobacconists, at the upper end of Pall Mall, near the Haymarket, in 1781: it is still to be seen on the façade of the house. The oldest form of taking snuff was to scrape it with a rasp from the dry root of the tobacco plant; the powder was then placed on the back of the hand and so snuffed up; hence the name of râpé (rasped) for a kind of snuff, and the common tobacconist’s sign of LA CAROTTE D’OR, (the golden root,) in France. The rasps for this purpose were carried in the waistcoat pocket, and soon became articles of luxury, being carved in ivory and variously enriched. Some of them, in ivory and inlaid wood, may be seen at the Hôtel Cluny in Paris, and an engraving of such an object occurs in “Archæologia,” vol. xiii. One of the first snuff-boxes was the so-called râpé, or grivoise box, at the back of which was a little space for a piece of the root, whilst a small iron rasp was contained in the middle. When a pinch was wanted, the root was drawn a few times over the iron rasp, and so the snuff was produced and could be offered to a friend with much more grace than under the above-mentioned process with the pocket grater.

The Crown and Last originated with shoemakers, but the gentle craft having the reputation of being thirsty souls, it[106] was also adopted as an alehouse sign: we find it as such in 1718:—

“ON Easter Monday, at the Crown and Last at Primlico (sic) in Chelsea road, a silver watch, value 30 sh., is to be bowled for; three bowls for six pence, to begin at Eight of the clock in the morning and continues till Eight in the evening. N.B.—They that win the watch may have it or 30s.”[126]

The Crown and Halbert was, in 1790, the sign of a cutler in St Martin’s Churchyard;[127] the Crown and Can occurs in St John Street; and the Crown and Trumpet at Broadway, Worcester: this last may either allude to the trumpet of the royal herald, or simply signify a crowned trumpet.

Of the King’s Arms, and the Queen’s Arms, there are innumerable instances; they are to be found in almost every town or village. The story is told that a simple clodhopper once walked ever so many miles to see King George IV. on one of his journeys, and came home mightily disgusted, for the king had arms like any other man, while he had always understood that his majesty’s right arm was a lion and his left arm a unicorn.

Grinling Gibbons, the celebrated carver and sculptor, lived at the sign of the King’s Arms in Bow Street, from 1678 until 1721, when he died. This house is alluded to in the Postman, January 24, 1701-2:—

“On Thursday, the house of Mr Gibbons, the carver in Bow Street, fell down, but by special providence none of the family were killed; but, ’tis said, a young girl which was playing in the court being missed, is supposed to be buried in the rubbish.”

At the Haymarket, corner of Pall Mall, stood the Queen’s Arms tavern, in the reign of Queen Anne. At the accession of George I. it was called the King’s Arms, and there, in 1734, the Whig party used to meet to plan opposition to Sir Robert Walpole. This club went by the name of the Rump-steak Club.

Faulkner[128] says that at the King’s Arms, in the High Street, Fulham, the Great Fire of London was annually commemorated on the 1st of September, and had been continued without interruption until his time. It was said to have taken its rise from a number of Londoners who had been burnt out, and who, having no employment, strolled out to Fulham, on their way collecting a quantity of hazel nuts, from the hedges, with which they[107] resorted to this house. A capital picture of the great conflagration used to be exhibited on that day.

In 1568 the prizes of the first lottery held in England were exhibited at the Queen’s Arms in Cheapside, the house of Mr Dericke, goldsmith to Queen Elizabeth. There were no blanks, and the prizes consisted of ready money, and “certain sorts of merchandises having been valued and prized.” It had 400,000 lots of 10s. each, and the profits were to go towards repairing the havens of the kingdom. The drawing was at first intended to have taken place at Dericke’s house, but finally was done at the west door of St Paul’s. The programme of this lottery, printed by Binneman, was exhibited to the Antiquarian Society by Dr Rawlinson in 1748. The next lottery was in 1612. It was drawn on the same plan, and granted by King James, as a special favour, for the establishment of English colonies in Virginia. Thomas Sharpley, a tailor, had the chief prize, which consisted of £4000 of “fair plate.”

“On Friday, April 6,” (1781) says Boswell,[129] “Dr Johnson carried me to dine at a club, which, at his desire, had been lately formed at the Queen’s Arms in St Paul’s Churchyard. He told Mr Hoole that he wished to have a City-club, and asked him to collect one; but, said he, don’t let them be patriots. The company were that day very sensible well-behaved men.” This same tavern was also patronised by Garrick. “Garrick kept up an interest in the city by appearing about twice in a winter at Tom’s coffeehouse in Cornhill, the usual rendezvous of young merchants at Changetimes; and frequented a club established for the sake of his company at the Queen’s Arms Tavern in St Paul’s Churchyard, where were used to assemble Mr Samuel Sharpe, the surgeon; Mr Paterson, the City solicitor; Mr Draper, the bookseller; Mr Clutterbuck, a mercer; and a few others: they were none of them drinkers, and in order to make a reckoning, called only for French wines. These were his standing counsel in theatrical affairs.”[130]

Sometimes we meet with the King’s or Queen’s Arms in very odd combinations; thus in the reign of Queen Anne there was a Queen’s Arms and Corncutter[131] in King Street, Westminster; the sign of Thomas Smith, who, according to his handbill,[108] (in the Bagford collection,) had, “by experience and ingenuity learnt the art of taking out and curing all manner of corns without any pain;” he also sold “the famoustest ware in all England, which never fails curing the toothache in half an hour.” It was customary with those who were “sworn servants to his Majesty,”—i.e., who had the lord chamberlain’s diploma, to set up the royal arms beside their sign. The said Thomas, however, does not appear to have had this honour, for not a word about it is mentioned in his bill, so that he must have set up the Queen’s Arms merely to blind the public. The name of the person who filled the important office of corncutter to Queen Anne, I am afraid is lost to posterity, but, en revanche, we know who drew King Charles II.’s teeth, for the Rev. John Ward has recorded in his Diary.[132] “Upon a sign about Fleetbridge this is written,—‘Here lives Peter de la Roch and George Goslin, both which, and no others, are sworn operators to the king’s teeth.’”

Royal badges, and the supporters of the arms of various kings, were in former times largely used as signs. The following is a list of the supporters:—

Of early royal badges an interesting list occurs in Harl. MS., 304, f. 12:—

“King Edward the first after the Conquest, sonne to Henry the third, gave a Rose gold, the stalke vert.

“King Edward the iij gave a lyon in his proper coulor, armed azure langued or. The oustrich fether gold, the pen gold, and a faucon in his proper coulor and the Sonne Rising.

“The prince of Wales the ostrich fether pen and all arg.


“Queen Philipe, wyff of Edward the iijd. gave the whyte hynd.

“Edmond, Duk of York, sonne of Edward the iij, gave the Faucon arg. and the Fetterlock or.

“Richard the second gave the White hart, armed, horned, crowned or, and the golden son.

“Henry, sonne to the Erl of Derby, first Duk of Lancaster, gave the red rose uncrowned, and his ancestors gave the Fox tayle in his prop. coulor and the ostrich fether ar. the pen ermyn.

“Henry the iiij gave the Swan ar. and the antelope.

“Henry the v gave the Antelope or, armed, crowned, spotted (?) and horned gold and the Red Rose oncrowned and the Swan silver, crown and collar gold, by the Erldom of Herford.

“Henry the vi gave the same that his father gave.

“Edward the iiij gave the Whyte Lyon and the Whyte Rose and the Blak Bull uncrowned.

“Richard the iij gave the Whyte Boar and the Whyte Rose, the clayes gold.

“Henry the seventh gave the hawthorn tree vert and the Porte Cullys and the Red Rose and the Whyte Crowned.

“The Ostrych fether silver, the pen gobone sylver and azur, is the Duk of Somerset’s bage.

“The Shypmast with the tope and sayle down is the bage of . . .

“The Cresset and burnyng fyer is the bage of the Admyraltye.

“The Egle Russet with a maydenshead, abowt her neke a Crowne gold, is the bage of the mannor of Conysborow.

“The Duk of York’s bage is the Faucon and the Fetterlock.

“The Whyte Rose by the Castell of Clyfford.

“The Black Dragon by the Erldom of Ulster.

“The Black Bull horned and clayed gold by the honor of Clare.

“The Whyte Hynd by the fayre mayden of Kent.

“The Whyte Lyon by the Erldom of Marche.

“The ostrych fether silver and pen gold ys the kinges.

“The ostrych fether pen and all sylver ys the Prynces.

“The ostrych fether sylver, pen ermyn is the Duke of Lancasters.

“The ostrych fether sylver and pen gobone is the Duke of Somersets.”

Many of these badges, as will be seen afterwards, have come down on signboards even to the present day. Equally common are the Stuart badges, which were:—

The red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York frequently placed on sunbeams; sometimes the red rose charged with the white.

The rose dimidiated with the pomegranate, symbolical of the connexion between England and Spain by the marriage of Catherine of Arragon; for the same reason the castle of Castille, and the sheaf of arrows of Granada, occur amongst their badges.

The portcullis, borne by the descendants of John of Gaunt, who was born in Beaufort Castle, whence, pars pro toto, the gate was used to indicate the castle.


The falcon and fetterlock, badge of Henry VII., on account of his descent from Edmond of Langley, Duke of York.

The red dragon, the ensign of the famous Cadwaller, the last of the British kings, from whom the Tudors descended.

The hawthorn bush crowned, which Henry VII. adopted in allusion to the royal crown of Richard III. having been found hidden in a hawthorn bush after the battle of Bosworth.

The white falcon crowned and holding a sceptre was the badge of Queen Anna Boleyn, and of Queen Elizabeth her daughter.

The phœnix in flames was adopted by Edward VI. in allusion to his birth, having been the cause of his mother’s death; afterwards he also granted this badge to the Seymour family.

In pondering over this class of signs great difficulty often arises from the absence of all proof that the object under consideration was set up as a badge, and not as a representation of the actual animal. As no amount of investigation can decide this matter, we have been somewhat profuse in our list of badges, in order that the reader should be able to form his own opinion upon that subject. Thus, for instance, with the first sign that offers itself, the Angel and Trumpet, it is impossible to say whether the supporters of Richard II. gave rise to it, or whether it represents Fame. Various examples of it still occur, and a very good carved specimen may be seen above a draper’s shop in Oxford Street. It is also the name of alehouses in King Street, Holborn, and in Stepney, High Street, &c.

The Antelope is not very common now, although in 1664 there was a tavern with this sign in W. Smithfield, the trades token of this house bearing the following legend:—Bibis. Vinum. Saluta. Antelop. The Rev. John Ward tells a very feeble college joke concerning the Antelope Tavern in Oxford:—

“I have heard of a fellow at Oxford, one Ffrank Hil by name, who kept the Antelope; and if one yawned, hee could not chuse but yawne, that vppon a time some schollars hawing stoln his ducks, hee had them to the Vice chancelor, and one of the scholars got behind the Vice chancelor, and when the fellow beganne to speak hee would presently fall a yawning, insomuch that the Vice chancelor turned the fellow away in great indignation.”[133]

Macklin, the centenarian comedian, who died in 1797, used for thirty years and upwards to visit a public-house called the Antelope in White Hart yard, Covent Garden, where his usual[111] beverage was a pint of stout made hot and sweetened almost to a syrup. This, he said, balmed his stomach, and kept him from having any inward pains.[134] He died at the age of upwards of 107, a proof that if, as the teetotallers inform us, fermented liquors be a poison, it is certainly a slow one.

The Dragon appears to have been one of the oldest heraldic charges of this kingdom. It was the standard of the West Saxons, and continued so until the arrival of William the Conqueror, for in the Bayeux tapestry a winged dragon on a pole is constantly represented near the person of King Harold. It was likewise the supporter of the royal arms of Henry VII. and all the Tudor sovereigns except Queen Mary. Before that time it had been borne by some of the early Princes of Wales, and also by several of the kings. Thus it is recorded, 28 Hen. III., the king ordered to be made

“Unum draconem in modum unius vexilli de quodam rubro sanulo, qui ubique sit de auro extensillatus, cujus lingua sit facta tamquam ignis comburens et continue appareat moveatur, et ejus oculi fiant de sapphiris vel de aliis lapidibus eidem convenientibus.”[135]

At the battle of Lewes, 1264, the chronicler says that

“The king schewed forth his schild his Dragon full austere.”[136]

In that time, however, it appears not to have been the royal standard, but it was borne along with it, for Matthew of Westminster says, “Regius locus erat inter Draconem et standardum.”[137] Edward III., at the battle of Crescy, also had a standard “with a dragon of red silk adorned and beaten with very broad and fair lilies of gold.” Then, again, it occurs on a coin struck in the reign of Henry VI., and was also one of the badges of Edward IV.

The Green Dragon was of very frequent occurrence on the signboard. When Taylor, the water poet, wrote his “Travels through London,” there were not less than seven Green Dragons amongst the metropolitan taverns of that day. One of these is still in existence, the well-known Green Dragon in Bishopsgate Street, for nearly two centuries one of the most famous coach and carriers’ inns. At present it is simply a public-house. The Red Dragon is much less common, whilst the White Dragon occurs[112] on a trades token of Holborn, representing a dragon pierced with an arrow, evidently some family crest.

The White Hart was the favourite badge of Richard II. At a tournament held in Smithfield in 1390, in honour of the Count of St Pol, Count of Luxemburg, and the Count of Ostrevant, eldest son of Albert, Count of Holland and Zealand, who had been elected members of the garter, “all the kynges house were of one sute; theyr cotys, theyr armys, theyr sheldes, and theyr trappours, were browdrid all with whyte hertys, with crownes of gold about their neck, and cheynes of gold hanging thereon, whiche hertys was the kynges leverye that he gaf to lordes, ladyes, knyghtes, and squyers, to knowe his household people from others.”[138]

The origin of this White Hart, with a collar of gold round its neck, dates from the most remote antiquity. Aristotle[139] reports that Diomedes consecrated a white hart to Diana, which, a thousand years after, was killed by Agathocles, king of Sicily. Pliny[140] states that it was Alexander the Great, who caught a white stag and placed a collar of gold round its neck. This marvellous story highly pleased the fancy of the mediæval writers, always in quest of the wonderful. They substituted Julius Cæsar for Alexander the Great, and transplanted the fable to western regions, in consequence of which various countries now claim the honour of having produced the white hart, collared with gold. One was said to have been caught in Windsor Forest, another on Rothwell Haigh Common, in Yorkshire, a third at Senlis, in France, and a fourth at Magdeburg. This last was killed by Charlemagne. The same emperor is also reported to have caught a white stag in the woods of Holstein, and to have attached the usual golden collar round its neck. More than three centuries after, in 1172, this animal was killed by Henry the Lion, and the whole story is, to this day, recorded in a Latin inscription on the walls of Lubeck Cathedral.

Amongst the oldest inns which bore this sign, the White Hart, in the High Street, Borough, ranks foremost in historical interest. Here it was that Jack Cade established his headquarters, July 1, 1450. “And you, base peasants, do ye believe him? Will you needs be hanged with your pardons about your necks? Hath my sword therefore broken through London gates, that ye should[113] leave me at the White Hart in Southwark.”—Henry VI., p. ii. a. 1. s. 8. In the yard of that inn he beheaded “one Hawaydyne of Sent Martyns.”[141] Many and wild must have been the scenes of riot and debauchery enacted in this place during the stay of the reckless rebel. The original inn that had sheltered Cade and his followers, remained standing till 1676, when it was burnt down in the great fire that laid part of Southwark in ashes. It was rebuilt, and the structure is still in existence; in Hatton’s time (1708) it could boast of the largest sign in London except one, which was at the Castle Tavern in Fleet Street. Charles Dickens has immortalised the White Hart Inn, by a most lifelike description in his “Pickwick Papers.”

The White Hart Tavern, in Bishopsgate, is also of very respectable antiquity. It has the date 1480 in the front. Standing on the boundary of the old hospital of Bethlehem, it is probable that this building formed part of that religious house. Doubtless it was the hostelry or inn for the entertainment of strangers, which was a usual outbuilding belonging to the great hospitals in those days.

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth there was a White Hart Inn in the Strand, mentioned in a copy of an indenture of lease, from the Earl of Bedford to Sir William Cecil (7th September 1570) of a portion of pasture in Covent Garden, “beinge thereby devyeded from certayne gardens belonginge to the Inne called the Whyte Heart, and other Tenements scituate in the high streate of Westm’ comunly called the Stronde.” It is not improbable that this inn gave its name to Hart Street and White Hart Yard, in that neighbourhood.

There was another inn of this name in Whitechapel, connected with the name of a rather curious character, Mrs Mapp, the female bone-setter. “On Friday, several persons who had the misfortune of lameness, crowded to the White Hart Inn in Whitechapel, on hearing Mrs Mapp, the famous bonesetter, was there. Some of them were admitted to her, and were relieved as they apprehended. But a gentleman who happened to come by declared Mrs Mapp was at Epsom, on which the woman thought proper to move off.”[142] The genuine Mrs Sarah Mapp was a female bone-setter, or “shape mistress,” the daughter of a bonesetter of Hindon, Wilts. Her maiden name was Wallis. It[114] appears that she made some successful cures before Sir Hans Sloane, in the Grecian Coffee-house. For a time she was in affluent circumstances, kept a carriage and four, had a plate of ten guineas run for at the Epsom races, where she lived, frequented theatres, and was quite the lion of a season. Ballads were made upon her, songs were introduced on the stage, in which the “Doctress of Epsom” was exalted to the tune of Derry Down; in short, she was called the “Wonder of the Age.” But, alas! the year after all this éclat, we read in the same Grub Street Journal, that had recorded all her greatness—“December 22, 1737. Died last week at her lodgings, near the Seven Dialls, the much-talked of Mrs Mapp, the bonesetter, so miserably poor, that the parish was obliged to bury her.” Sic transit gloria mundi!

Lastly, we must mention the White Hart, at Scole, in Norfolk, as most of all bearing upon our subject, for that inn had certainly the most extensive and expensive sign ever produced. It is mentioned by Sir Thomas Brown, March 4, 16634—“About three miles further, I came to Scoale, where is a very handsome inne, and the noblest sighnepost in England, about and upon which are carved a great many stories as of Charon and Cerberus, Actæon and Diana, and many others; the signe itself is a White Hart, which hanges downe carved in a stately wreath.” A century later, it is again mentioned. Speaking of Osmundestone, or Scole, Blomefield says—“Here are two very good inns for the entertainment of travellers. The White Hart is much noted in these parts, being called by way of distinction Scole Inn; the house is a large brick building adorned with imagery and carved work in several places, as big as the life; it was built in 1655 by James Peck, Esq., whose arms impaling his wife’s are over the porch door. The sign is very large, beautified all over with a great number of images of large stature carved in wood, and was the work of Fairchild; the arms about it are those of the chief towns and gentlemen in the county.” “There was lately a very round large bed, big enough to hold 15 or 20 couples, in imitation (I suppose) of the remarkable great bed at Ware. The house was in all things accommodated at first for large business; but the road not supporting it, it is much in decay at present.” A correspondent in Notes and Queries says:—“I think the sign was not taken down till after 1795, as I have a recollection of having passed under it when a boy, in going from Norwich to Ipswich.[115]” We obtain full details of this wonderful erection from an engraving made in 1740, entitled:—

“The North East side of ye sign of ye White Heart at Schoale Inn in Norfolk, built in the year 1655 by James Peck, a merchant of Norwich, which cost £1057. Humbly Dedicated to James Betts, Gent., by his most obt servt, Harwin Martin.”

The sign passed over the road, resting on one side on a pier of brickwork, and joined to the house on the other; its height was sufficient to allow carriages to pass beneath. Its ornamentation was divided into compartments, which contained the following subjects according to the numbers in the engraving:—1. Jonah coming out of the fish’s mouth. 2. A Lion supporting the arms of Great Yarmouth. 3. A Bacchus. 4. The arms of Lindley. 5. The arms of Hobart. 6. A Shepherd playing on his pipe. 7. An Angel supporting the arms of Mr Peck’s lady. 8. An Angel supporting the arms of Mr Peck. 9. A White Hart [the sign itself] with this motto,—“Implentur veteris Bacchi pinguisque ferinæ. Anno dom. 1655.” 10. The arms of the Earl of Yarmouth. 11. The arms of the Duke of Norfolk. 12. Neptune on a Dolphin. 13. A Lion supporting the arms of Norwich. 14. Charon carrying a reputed Witch to Hades. 15. Cerberus. 16. A Huntsman. 17. Actæon [addressing his dogs with the words “Actæon ego sum, dominum cognoscite vestrum.”] 18. A White Hart couchant [underneath, the name of the maker of the sign, Johannes Fairchild, struxit.] 19. Prudence. 20. Fortitude. 21. Temperance. 22. Justice. 23. Diana. 24. Time devouring an infant [underneath, “Tempus Edax rerum.”] 25. An Astronomer, who is seated on a “circumferenter, and by some chymical preparations is so affected that in fine weather he faces that quarter from which it is about to come.” There is a ballad on this sign in “Songs and other Poems,” by Alexander Brome, Gent. London, 1661, p. 123.

This herd of white harts has led us over a large tract of ground, but we will now return to other royal badges, and note the Hawk and Buckle, which occurs in Wrenbury, Nantwich, Cheshire; Etwall, Derby; and various other places. This is simply a popular rendering of the Falcon and the Fetterlock, one of the badges of the house of York. The Hawk and Buck, which appears to be only another version of the last corruption, occurs at Pearsly Sutton Street, St Helens, Lancashire; the Falcon and Horse-shoe, a sign in Poplar in the seventeenth century,[116] (see Trades’ Tokens,) may have had the same origin, whilst the Bull and Stirrup, in Upper Northgate, Chester, probably comes from the Bull and Fetterlock, another combination of badges of the house of York.

From this family are also derived the Blue Boar and the White Boar. One of the badges of Richard, Duke of York, father of Edward IV., was “a blewe Bore with his tuskis and his cleis and his membres of gold.”[143] The heraldic origin of this sign, of which there are still innumerable instances all over England, is now so completely lost sight of, that in many places it passes under the ignoble appellation of the Blue Pig.

The White Boar was the popular sign in Richard the Third’s time, that king’s cognizance being a boar passant argent, whence the rhyme which cost William Collingborne his life:—

“The Cat, the Rat, and Lovell our Dogge,
Rulen all England vnder an Hogge.”[144]

The fondness of Richard for this badge appears from his wardrobe accounts for the year 1483, one of which contains a charge “for 8000 bores made and wrought upon fustian,” and 5000 more are mentioned shortly afterwards. He also established a herald of arms called Blanc Sanglier, and it was this trusty squire who carried his master’s mangled body from Bosworth battle-field to Leicester.

After Richard’s defeat and death the White Boars were changed into Blue Boars, this being the easiest and cheapest way of changing the sign; and so the Boar of Richard, now painted “true blue,” passed for the Boar of the Earl of Oxford, who had largely contributed to place Henry VII. on the throne. Even the White Boar Inn at Leicester, in which Richard passed the last night of his royalty and of his life, followed the general example, and became the Blue Boar Inn, under which sign it continued until taken down twenty-five or thirty years ago. The bed in which the king slept was preserved, and continued for many generations one of the curiosities shewn to strangers at Leicester. It was said that a large sum of money had been discovered in its double bottom, which the landlord himself quietly appropriated. The discovery, however, got wind, and his widow was killed and robbed by some of her guests, in connivance with a maid-servant.[117] They carried away seven horse-loads of treasure. This murder was committed in 1605.[145]

The sign of the White Boar, however, did not become quite extinct with the overthrow of the York faction, for we find it still in 1542, as appears from the following title of a very scarce book:—

“David’s Harp full of most delectable harmony newly strung and set in Tune by Thos. Basille ye Lord Cobham. Imprinted at London in Buttolp lane at ye sign of ye White Boar by John Mayler for John Gough, 1542.”[146]

The Firebeacon, a sign at Fulston, Lincolnshire, was a badge of Edward IV., and also of the Admiralty.

The Hawthorn, or Hawthornbush, which we meet in so many places, may be Henry VII.’s badge, but various other causes may have contributed to the popularity of that sign, such as the custom of gathering bunches of hawthorn on the first of May. Magic powers, too, are attributed to this plant. “And now,” says Reginald Scott, “to be delivered from witches themselves they hange in their entrees an hearb called pentaphyllon, cinquefole, also an oliue branch, also franckincense, myrrh, valerian veruen, palme, anterihmon, &c.; also Haythorne, otherwise whitethorne, gathered on Maiedaie,” &c.[147]

The Gun, or Cannon, was the cognizance of King Edward VI., Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth. In the beginning of the eighteenth century it was of such frequent occurrence that the Craftsman, No. 638, observed—“Nothing is more common in England than the sign of a cannon.” Sarah Milwood, the “wanton” who led George Barnwell astray, lived, according to the ballad, in Shoreditch, “next door unto the Gun.” At the present day it is still a great favourite. In the neighbourhood of arsenals its adoption is easily explained.

About eighty years ago there was a famous Cannon Coffee-house at the corner of Trafalgar Square, at the end of Whitcombe Street or Hedgelane; its site is now occupied by the Union Club. From this coffeehouse Hackman saw Miss Ray drive past on her way to Covent Garden Theatre, when he followed and shot her as she was entering her coach after the performance. The Gun was also a sign with many booksellers, as in the case of[118] Edward White at the Little North Door of St Paul’s Church, 1579; Thomas Ewster in Ivy Lane, 1649; Henry Brome, at the West End of St Paul’s Churchyard, 1678, and various others.

The Swan was a favourite badge of several of our kings, as Henry IV., Edward III. At a tournament in Smithfield the last king wore the following rather profane motto:—

“Hay, hay, the wyth Swan,
By God’s soule I am thy man.”

Thomas Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, used the same cognizance; whence Gower styles him “cignus de corde benignus;” whilst Cecily Nevil, Duchess of York, mother of Edward IV. and Richard III., likewise had a swan as supporter of her arms.

The sign of the Swan and Maidenhead, at Stratford-on-Avon, may have originated in one of the royal badges; for we find that in 1375 the Black Prince bequeathed to his son Richard his hangings for a hall, embroidered with mermen, and a border of red and black empaled, embroidered with swans having ladies’ heads.[148] The Swan and Falcon (two badges of Edward III.) was a sign in Hereford, in 1775, as appears from the following advertisement:—


“IN a Day and a Half twice a week, continues flying from the Swan and Falcon, in Hereford, Monday and Thursday mornings; and from the Bolt-in-Tun, in Fleet Street, London, Monday and Thursday evenings. Fare 19s.; outsides half.”—Hereford Journal, January 12, 1775.

The Swan and White Hart may have been originally the Swan and Antelope, supporters of the arms of Henry IV., but as it at present stands two distinct royal badges are represented. This sign occurs on a trades-token of St Giles in the Fields, in the second half of the seventeenth century.

The Rising Sun was a badge of Edward III., and forms part of the arms of Ireland; but the Sun Shining was a cognizance of several kings. Various other causes may have led to the adoption of that luminary as a sign. (See Miscellaneous Signs.)

Lions have been at all times, and still continue, greater signboard favourites than any other heraldic animals. The lion rampant most frequently occurs, although in late years naturalism has crept in, and the felis leo is often represented standing or crouching, quite regardless of his heraldic origin. The lion of the signboard being seldom seen passant, it is more than probable that it was not derived from the national coat of arms, but rather from[119] some badge, either that of Edward III. or from the White Lion of Edward IV. Though silver in general was not used on English signboards yet, the White Lion was anything but uncommon. Several examples occur amongst early booksellers. Thus in 1604 the “Shepherd’s Calendar” was “printed at London by G. Elde, for Thomas Adams, dwelling in Paule’s Churchyarde, at the signe of the White Lion.” In 1652 we meet with another bookseller, John Fey, near the New Exchange; and about the same period John Andrews, a ballad printer, near Pye Corner, who both had the sign of the White Lion. For inns, also, it was not an uncommon decoration. Thus the White Lion in St John’s Street, Clerkenwell, was originally an inn frequented by cattle-drovers and other wayfarers connected with Smithfield market. Formerly it was a very extensive building, two of the adjoining houses and part of White Lion Street, all being built on its site. The house now occupied by an oilshop was in those days the gateway to the inn-yard, and over it was the sign, in stone relief, a lion rampant, painted white, inserted in the front wall. It still remains in its original position, with the date 1714, when it was probably renewed. Pepys’s cousin, Anthony Joyce, drowned himself in a pond behind this inn. He was a tavern-keeper himself, and kept the Three Stags at Holborn, (a house of which tokens are extant.) Heavy losses by the fire of 1666 preyed upon his mind. He imagined that he had not served God as he ought to have done, and in a moment of despair committed the rash act. We have another, and not uninteresting instance, of this sign. Sir Thomas Lawrence’s father kept the White Lion Hotel at Bristol. He afterwards removed to the Bear, at Devizes, where he failed in business. It seemed that it was this last speculation in hotel-keeping which ruined him, with reference to which local wits used to say, “It was not the Lion but the Bear that eat him up.”—Bristol Times, June 4, 1859.

Since pictorial or carved signs have fallen into disuse, and only names given, the Silver Lion is not uncommon, though in all probability simply adopted as a change from the very frequent Golden Lion. Thus there is one in the High Street, Poplar; in the London Road, and Midland Road, Derby; in the Lilly Road, Luton, Herts, &c. The Red Lion is by far the most common; doubtless it originated with the badge of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, married to Constance, daughter of[120] Don Pedro the Cruel, king of Leon and Castille. The duke bore the lion rampant gules of Leon as his cognizance, to represent his claim to the throne of Castille, when that was occupied by Henry de Transtamare. In after years it may often have been used to represent the lion of Scotland.

The Red Lion Inn at Sittingbourne is a very ancient establishment. A new landlord, who entered circa 1820, issued the following advertisement:—

“WM. WHITAKER having taken the above house, most respectfully solicits the custom and support of the nobility and gentry, &c., &c.

“The antiquity of the inn, and the respectable character which it has in history are recorded as under:—

“Sittingbourne, in Kent, is a considerable thoroughfare on the Dover Road, where there are several good inns, particularly the Red Lion, which is remarkable for an entertainment, made by Mr John Norwood, for King Henry the Fifth, as he returned from the battle of Agincourt, in France, in the year 1415, the whole amounting to no more than Nine Shillings and Ninepence. Wine being at that time only a penny a pint, and all other things being proportionably cheap.

P.S.—The same character in a like proportionate degree Wm. Whitaker hopes to obtain by his moderate charges at the present time.”

Red Lion Square, Holborn, was called after an inn known as the Red Lion. “Andrew Marvell lies interred under ye pews in the south side of St Giles church in ye Fields, under the window wherein is painted on glasse, a red lyon, (it was given by the Inneholder of the Red lyon Inne, Holborn.)”[149]

Another celebrated tavern was the Old Red Lion, St John’s Road, Islington,—which has been honoured by the presence of several great literary characters. Thomson, of the “Seasons,” was a frequent visitor; Paine, the author of the “Rights of Man,” lived, here; and Dr Johnson, with his friends, are said often to have sat in the parlour. Hogarth introduced its gable end in his picture of Evening.

The Black Lion is somewhat uncommon; it may have been derived from the coat of arms of Queen Philippa of Hainault, wife of Edward III.[150] We find an example of it in the following advertisement:—[151]

“AT the Union Society at the Black Lion against Short’s Garden in Drury Lane, a Linen Draper’s, on Thursday the 21st past, was[121] opened three offices of Insurance on the birth of Children, by way of dividend. At the same place there is two offices for marriages,” &c.

In this advertisement we touch upon the joint-stock mania then raging. Newspapers of the time teemed with advertisements of insurance companies of all sorts: the above paper, with less than a dozen advertisements, offers four schemes, by which on payment of 10s. per week £1000 were eventually to be received!

Among the badges of the Tudors, Henry VII. and Henry VIII. left us the still common sign of the Portcullis.

“A portcullis, or porte-coulisse, is French for that wooden instrument or machine, plated over with iron, made in the form of a harrow or lozenge, hung up with pullies in the entries of gates or castles, to be let down upon any occasion.”—Anstis Garter.

It is the principal charge in the arms of the city of Westminster, and is to be seen everywhere within and without the beautiful chapel of Henry VII., whose favourite device it was as importing his descent from the house of Lancaster. It was also one of the badges of Henry VIII., with the motto, Securitas Altera, and occurs on some of his coins.

To this same family we also owe the Rose and Crown, which sign, at the present day, may be observed on not less than forty-eight public-houses in London alone, exclusive of beer-houses. One of the oldest is in the High Street, Knightsbridge, which has been licensed above three hundred years, though not under that name, for anciently it was called the Oliver Cromwell. The Protector’s bodyguard is said to have been quartered here, and an inscription to that effect was formerly painted in front of the house, accompanied by an emblazoned coat of arms of Cromwell, on an ornamental piece of plaster work, which last is all that now remains of it. It is the oldest house in Brompton, was formerly its largest inn, and not improbably the house at which Sir Thomas Wyatt put up, while his Kentish followers rested on the adjacent green. Corbould painted this inn under the title of “The Old Hostelrie at Knightsbridge,” exhibited in 1849, but he transferred its date to 1497, altering the house according to his own fancy.

During the persecutions, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, of booksellers suspected as publishers of the mysterious Martin Marprelate tracts, we find one Bogue, at the loyal sign of the Rose and Crown, in St Paul’s Churchyard, who fell into the category[122] of the suspected, and who was so severely persecuted that he was almost ruined by it.

One more royal, or rather princely badge remains to be mentioned,—The Feathers, Prince of Wales’ Feathers, occasionally varied to the Prince of Wales’ Arms. Ostrich feathers were from a very early period among the devices of our kings and princes. King Stephen, for instance, according to Guillim, bore a plume of ostrich feathers with the motto:—VI NULLA INVERTITUR ORDO, No force alters their fashion, meaning that no wind can ruffle a feather into lasting disorder. Not only the Black Prince, but also Edward III., himself and his sons, bore ostrich feathers as their cognizances, each with some distinction in colour or metal. The badge originally took the form of a single feather. John Ardern, physician to the Black Prince, who is the first to mention the derivation of the feathers from the King of Bohemia, says:—

“Et nota quod talem pennam albam portabat Edwardus primogenitus filius Edwardi regis super crestam suam, et illam pennam conquisivit de rege Boemiæ, quem interfecit apud Cresse in Francia, et sic assumpsit sibi illam pennam quæ dicitur ostrich feather, quam prius dictus rex nobilissimus portabat super crestam.”[152]

The feather, also, is drawn in the margin of the MS. as single, and in that shape, too, it is represented on the Black Prince’s tomb. This feather, however, appears only to have been an ornament on the helmet of King John of Bohemia. A contemporary Flemish poem, quoted by Baron van Reiffenberg, thus describes his heraldic crest:—

“Twee ghiervogelen daer aen geleyt
Die al vol bespringelt zyn
Met Linden bladeren gult fyn,
Deze is, as ik merken kan
Van Bohemen Koninck Jan.”[153]

And in that shape it also occurs on the King’s seal. More difficulties are offered by the motto: Hou moet ich dien, for so it is in full,—the Black Prince himself wrote it after this fashion in a letter dated April 25, 1370. The last two words in German mean “I serve,” but no explanation is given of the remainder, “Hou moet.” Since no mottos in two languages occur, we must[123] look for a language which can account for both parts of the motto; and thus in Flemish we find these words to mean, “Keep courage, I serve,” or, in less concise language, “Keep courage, I serve with you, I am your companion in arms;” and though no parentage has as yet been found for this motto, it may not improbably have been derived from the Black Prince’s maternal family, since his mother, Queen Philippa of Hainault, was a Flemish princess.

Amongst the many shops which took the feathers for their sign we find the following noted in an advertisement:—

“THE Late Countess of Kent’s powder has been lately experimented upon divers infected persons with admirable success. The virtues of it against the Plague and all malignant distempers are sufficiently known to all the Physicians of Christendom, and the Powder itself prepared by the only person living that has the true Receipt, is to be had at the third part of the ordinary price at Mr Calvert’s, at the Feathers in the old Pall Mall near St James’s,” &c.

This, and other advertisements announcing equally efficacious panacea, appeared daily in the London papers during the plague of 1665. De Foe, in his little chronicle of the plague, often speaks of these quack medicines.

Less dismal images are called up by “the Feathers at the side of Leicester Fields,” which sign was evidently complimentary to its neighbour Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of George II., who lived at Leicester House, “the pouting house of princes,” when on bad terms with his father, and died there in 1751. The back parlour of this tavern was for some years the meeting-place of a club of artists and well-known amateurs, amongst whom Stuart, the Athenian traveller; Scott, the marine painter; Luke Sullivan, the miniature artist, engraver of the March to Finchley; burly Captain Grose, author of the “Antiquities of England,” and the greatest wit of his day; Mr Hearne, the antiquary; Nathaniel Smith, the father of J. T. Smith; Mr John Ireland, then a watchmaker in Maidenlane, and afterwards editor of Boydell’s edition of Dr Trusler’s “Hogarth Moralised,” and several others. When this house was taken down to make way for Dibdin’s theatre, called the Sans-souci, the club adjourned to the Coach and Horses, in Castle Street, Leicester Fields. But, in consequence of the members not proving customers sufficiently expensive for that establishment, the landlord one evening venturing to let them out with a farthing candle, they betook themselves to Gerard Street and thence to the [124]Blue Posts in Dean Street, where the club dwindled to two or three members and at last died out.

An amusing anecdote is told about the Feathers, Grosvenor Street West. A lodge of Oddfellows was held at this house, into the private chamber of which George, Prince of Wales, one night intruded very abruptly with a roystering friend. The society was, at the moment, celebrating some of its awful mysteries, which no uninitiated eye may behold, and these were witnessed by the profane intruders. The only way to repair the sacrilege was to make the Prince and his companion “Oddfellows,” a title they certainly deserved as richly as any members of the club. The initiatory rites were quickly gone through, and the Prince was chairman for the remainder of the evening. In 1851 the old public-house was pulled down and a new gin palace built on its site, in the parlour of which the chair used by the distinguished Oddfellow is still preserved, along with a portrait of his Royal Highness in the robes of the order.

Among the badges and arms of countries and towns, the national emblem the Rose is most frequent, and has been so for centuries. Bishop Earle observes, “If the vintner’s Rose be at the door it is sign sufficient, but the absence of this is supplied by the ivy-bush.” Hutton, in his “Battle of Bosworth,” says that “upon the death of Richard III., and the consequent overthrow of the York faction, all the signboards with white roses were pulled down, and that none are to be found at the present day.” This last part of the statement, we believe, is true, but that the White Roses were not all immediately done away with appears from the fact that, in 1503, a White Rose Tavern was demolished to make room for the building of Henry VII.’s chapel in Westminster; that tavern stood near the chapel of Our Lady, behind the high altar of the abbey church. At present, however, as the rose on the signboard represents in the eye of the public simply the Queen of Flowers,—its heraldic history having been forgotten long ago,—it is painted any colour according to taste, or occasionally gilt. Long after the famous battles between the White and Red Roses had ceased, the custom was continued of adding the colour to the name of the sign. Thus, in Stow, “Then have ye one other lane called Rother Lane, or Red Rose Lane, of such a sign,” &c. In Lancashire we meet, in one or two instances, with the old heraldic flower, as at Springwood, Chadderton, Manchester, where the Red Rose of Lancaster is still in full bloom on a publican’s signboard.


Skelton’s “Armony of Byrdes” was “imprynted at Londo’ by John Wyght dwelling in Poule’s Church yarde at the sygne of the Rose.” Machyn, in his Diary, mentions many instances:—“The vij day of Aprill (1563) at seint Katheryns beyond the Toure, the wyff of the syne of the Rose, a tavarne, was set on the pelere for ettyng of rowe flesse and rostyd boyth,” which in our modern English means that she was put in the pillory for breaking fast in Lent.

The Rose Tavern in Russell Street, Covent Garden, was a noted place for debauchery in the seventeenth century; constant allusions are made to it in the old plays. “In those days a man could not go from the Rose Tavern to the Piazzi once but he must venture his life twice.”—Shadwell, the Scowrers, 1691. “Oh no, never talk on’t. There will never be his fellow. Oh! had you seen him scower as I did; oh! so delicately, so like a gentleman! How he cleared the Rose Tavern!”—Ibid. In this house, November 14, 1712, the duel between the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Mohun was arranged, in which the latter was killed. In the reign of Queen Anne the place was still a great resort for loose women; hence in the “Rake Reformed,” 1718

“Not far from thence appears a pendant sign,
Whose bush declares the product of the vine,
Where to the traveller’s sight the full-blown Rose
Its dazzling beauties doth in gold disclose,
And painted faces flock in tallied cloaths.”

Hogarth has represented one of the rooms of the house in his “Rake’s Progress.” In 1766 this tavern was swallowed up in the enlargements of Drury Lane by Garrick, but the sign was preserved and hung up against the front wall, between the first and second floor windows.[154]

Two other Roses, not without thorns, are mentioned by Tom Brown:—

“Between two Roses down I fell,
As ’twixt two stools a platter;
One held me up exceeding well,
Th’ other did no such matter.
The Rose by Temple Bar gave wine
Exchanged for chalk, and filled me,
But being for the ready coin,
The Rose in Wood Street killed me.”

The “Rose by Temple Bar” stood at the corner of Thanet Place. Strype says it was “a well customed house, with good conveniences of rooms and a good garden.” Walpole mentions a painted[126] room in this tavern in his letters of January 26 and March 1, 1776. The Rose in Wood Street was a spunging-house: “I have been too lately under their [the Bayliffs’] clutches, to desire any more dealings with them, and I cannot come within a furlong of the Rose spunging-house without five or six yellow boys in my pocket to cast out those devils there, who would otherwise infallibly take possession of me.”—Tom Brown’s Works, iii. p. 24.

Innumerable other Rose inns and taverns might be mentioned, but we will conclude with noting the Rose Inn at Wokingham, once famous as the resort of Pope and Gay. There was a room here called “Pope’s room,” and a chair was shown in which the great little man had sat. It is also celebrated in the well-known song of Molly Mog, attributed to Gay, and printed in Swift’s “Miscellanies.” “This cruel fair, who was daughter of John Mog, the landlord of that inn, died a spinster at the age of 67. Mr Standen of Arborfield, who died in 1730, is said to have been the enamoured swain to whom the song alludes. The current tradition of the place is, that Gay and his poetic friends having met upon some occasion to dine at the Rose, and being detained within doors by the weather, it was proposed that they should write a song, and that each person present should contribute a verse: the subject proposed was the Fair Maid of the Inn. It is said that by mistake they wrote in praise of Molly, but that in fact it was intended to apply to her sister Sally, who was the greater beauty. A portrait of Gay still remains at the inn.”[155] The house at present is changed into a mercer’s shop.

Sometimes the Rose is combined with other objects, as the Rose and Ball, which originated in the Rose as the sign of a mercer, and the Ball as the emblem or device which silk dealers formerly hung at their doors like the Berlin wool shops of the present day. (See under Ball.) The Rose and Key was a sign in Cheapside in 1682.[156] This combination looks like a hieroglyphic rendering of the phrase, “under the rose,” but the key is of very common occurrence in other signs, as will be seen presently.

The Scotch Thistle and Crown is another not uncommon national badge, adopted mostly by publicans of North British origin. The Crown and Harp is less frequent; there is one at Bishop’s Cleeve, Cheltenham. Of the Crown and Leek we[127] know only one example, viz., in Dean Street, Mile End; but since both the rose and thistle are crowned, why not the leek also? It is “a wholesome food,” according to Fluellen, and would no doubt look just as well under a crown as in a Welshman’s cap. The Shamrock also is of common occurrence, but we have never seen it combined with the Crown.

Among heraldic signs referring to towns are the Bible and Three Crowns, the coat of arms of Oxford, which was not uncommon with the booksellers in former times. To one of them, probably, belonged the carved stone specimen walled up in a house at the corner of Little Distaff Lane and St Paul’s Churchyard. Such a sign is also mentioned in a rather curious advertisement in the Postboy, September 27, 1711:—

“THIS IS to give notice That ten Shillings over and above the Market price will be given for the Ticket in the £1,500,000 Lottery, No. 132, by Nath. Cliff at the Bible and Three Crowns in Cheapside.”

The Spectator in his 191st number took occasion from this advertisement to write a very amusing paper on the various lottery superstitions with regard to numbers.

There is also an Oxford Arms Inn in Warwick Lane, Newgate Street; a fine, old, galleried inn, with exterior staircases leading to the bed-rooms. This was already a carriers’ inn before the fire, as appears from the following advertisement:—

“THESE ARE to give notice that Edward Barlet, Oxford Carrier, hath removed his Inn in London from the Swan at Holborn Bridge, to the Oxford Arms in Warwick Lane, where he did inne before the fire. His coaches and waggons going forth on their usual days, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. He hath also a hearse with all things convenient to carry a corps to any part of England.”[157]

The Buck in the Park, Curzon Street, Derby, is the vernacular rendering of the arms of that town, which are—a hart cumbant on a mount, in a park paled, all proper. The Three Legs was the sign of a bookseller named Thomas Cockerill, over against Grocer’s Hall, in the Poultry, about 1700. Sometimes his house is designated on his publications as the Three Legs and Bible. These three legs were the Manx arms. It is still a not uncommon alehouse sign. There is one, for instance, in Call Lane, Leeds, which is known to the lower classes under the jocular denomination of “the kettle with three spouts.”

County arms also are sometimes represented on the signboards; as the Fifteen Balls, (which refer to the Cornish arms, fifteen[128] roundles arranged in triangular form) at Union Street, Bodmin, Cornwall; One and All, the motto of the county of Cornwall, occurs at Cheapside, St Heliers, Jersey; and in Market Jew Street, Penzance. This motto has, besides the advantage of being a hearty appeal to all the thirsty sons of Bacchus, and will call to the mind of a thoughtful toper, the relative position of one and many, or all, as explained by the al-fresco artists, who decorate the pavement in Piccadilly—“Many can help one, one cannot help many.” The Staffordshire Knot is common in the pottery districts; besides these almost every county is represented by its own arms, such as the Northumberland Arms, &c., but about these nothing need be said.

The Three Balls of the pawnbrokers are taken from the lower part of the coat of arms of the Dukes of Medici, from whose states, and from Lombardy, nearly all the early bankers came. These capitalists also advanced money on valuable goods, and hence gradually became pawnbrokers. The arms of the Medici family were five bezants azure, whence the balls formerly were blue, and only within the last half century have assumed a golden exterior, evidently to gild the pill for those who have dealings with “my uncle;” as for the position in which they are placed, the popular explanation is that there are two chances to one that whatever is brought there will not be redeemed.

The Lion and Castle, of which there are a few instances, (Cherry Garden Stairs, Rotherhithe, for example,) need not be derived from royal marriage alliances with Spain, as it may simply have been borrowed from the brand of the Spanish arms on the sherry casks, and have been put up by the landlord to indicate the sale of genuine Spanish wines, such as sack, canary, mountain.

The Flower de Luce was a frequent English sign in old times, either taken from the quartering of the French arms with the English, or set up as a compliment to private families who bear this charge in their arms or as crest. The preface of “Edyth, the lying widow,” ends with these words:—

“In the cyte of Exeter by West away
The time not passed hence many a day,
There dwelled a yoman discret and wise,
At the siggne of the Flower de lyse
Which had to name John Hawkyn.”

Tokens are extant of an inn at Dover, in the seventeenth century, with the sign of the French Arms, a tavern name sufficiently common also in London at that period to attract the travellers from across the Channel. Thus James Johnson was a goldsmith, “that kept running cash,”—i.e., a banker,—in Cheapside, in 1677, living at the sign of the Three Flower de Luces.[158] In the fifteenth century, Gascon merchants and other strangers in London were allowed to keep hostels for their countrymen, and, in order to get known, they most likely put up the arms of those countries as their signs. No doubt the Three Frogs, London Road, Wokingham, is a travesty of Johnny Crapaud’s Arms.

(Bynneman’s sign, 1560.)
(Banks’s Collection, 1765.)
(From an old chapbook, 17th cent.)
(Sign of Wynkyn de Worde, 1497.)
(Banks’s Bills, 1795.)


Boursault,[159] in his letter to Bizotin, has a burst of indignation at a “fournisseur” of something or other to the royal family, who had adopted as his sign the English Arms, with the arms of France in the first quarter, and endeavours to call down the ire of the Parisian police upon the head of the unfortunate shopkeeper who had committed this act of treason:—

“Laissons l’Angleterre se repaître de chimères,” saith he, “et s’imaginer que ses souverains sont Rois de France, mais que des Français soyent assez ignorants, ou assez mauvais sujets, pour mettre les armes de France écartelés dans celles d’Angleterre, c’est ce que des sujets aussi zélez que Monsieur d’Argenson et les autres officiers préposez pour la police ne doivent nullement souffrir.”[160]

He next, in a threatening manner, reminds the poor shopkeeper how, according to “Candem [sic] Historien Angloys,” Queen Mary Stuart was beheaded for having quartered the English arms with those of Scotland, though she was the heir-presumptive of the English throne; and if such was the fate of that queen, what then did the man deserve who quartered the arms of his sovereign with those of a foreign king? Indeed he deserved the same fate as the arms.

Another sign, apparently of French origin, is the Dolphin and Crown, the armorial bearing of the French Dauphin, and the sign of R. Willington, a bookseller in St Paul’s Churchyard circa 1700. Some years after, this house seems to have been occupied by James Young, a famous maker of violins and other musical instruments, who lived at the west corner of London[130] House Yard, St Paul’s Churchyard. On this man the following catch appeared in the Pleasant Musicall Companion, 1726:—

“You scrapers that want a good fiddle well strung,
You must go to the man that is old while he’s Young;
But if this same fiddle you fain would play bold,
You must go to his son, who’s Young when he’s old.
There’s old Young and young Young, both men of renown:
Old sells and young plays the best fiddle in town.
Young and old live together, and may they live long—
Young to play an old fiddle, old to sell a new song.”

This Young family afterwards removed to the Queen’s Head Tavern in Paternoster Row, where in a few years they grew rich by giving concerts, when they removed to the Castle in the same street. The Castle concerts continued a long time to be celebrated.

Many signs are exceedingly puzzling under the name by which they pass with the public. Such was that of “Rowland Hall, dwelling in Guttur Lane, at the sygne of the Half Eagle and Key.” This quaint sign is no other than the arms of Geneva, described in the non-heraldic language of the mob. Rowland Hall, a bookseller and printer, lived as a refugee in Geneva during the reign of Queen Mary; hence on his return to London he set up the arms of that town for his sign, as a graceful compliment to the hospitality he had received, and as a tribute of admiration to stanch Protestantism. Hall, at other periods of his life, lived at the Cradle in Lombard Street, and at the Three Arrows in Golden Lane, Cripplegate. In 1769 there was again the Geneva Arms among the London signs, before the shop of Le Grand, a “pastery-cook and cook,” as he styled himself, in Church Street, Soho. Formerly most pastry-cooks and confectioners were Swiss, and many from that country still follow those professions in Italy, Spain, and recently in England. This last sign has found imitators in Soho; for at the present day it figures at a public-house in Hayes Court, where it is put up, no doubt, in honour of the spirit which many call Geneva, but which we may name Gin. The origin of this name, as applied by publicans, is not a little curious. In Holland the juniper-berry is used for flavouring the gin or hollands which they distil there, and this, with the vulgar in that country, has gradually become corrupted from Juniper to Jenever, the latter term being still further corrupted here to Geneva, and Gin.


The Cross Keys are the arms of the Papal See, the emblem of St Peter and his successors:—

“Two massy keys he bore, of metals twain;
The golden opes, the iron shuts amaine.”


This sign was frequently adopted by innkeepers and other tenants of religious houses, even after the Reformation; for the Cross Keys figure in the arms of the Bishops of York, Cashel, Exeter, Gloster, and Peterborough. At the Cross Keys in Gracechurch Street, where Tarlton, the comic actor, went to see fashions, Banks used to perform with his wonderful bay horse before a crowded house. This was in the days of Queen Elizabeth, when the inn consisted of a large court with galleries all round, which, like many other old London inns, was often used as an extempore theatre by our ancestors. It is named in 1681[161] amongst the carriers’ inns, and is in existence at the present day. The Cross Keys was the sign of a tavern near Thavies Inn in 1712:—

“May the Cross Keys near Thavies Inn succeed,
And famous grow for choicest white and red;
That all may know, who view that costly sign,
Those golden keys command celestial wine.”

The Quack Vintners. A Satire. 1712.

Besides, it is famous as the sign of Bernard Lintot, 1736, the publisher of Gay’s works, and many other popular books of that day. His shop was situated between the Temple Gates, in Fleet Street. The Cross Keys and Bible was the sign of J. Bell, in Cornhill, 1711.

Most numerous among heraldic signs were the crests, arms, and badges[162] of private families. The causes which dictated the[132] choice of such subjects were various. One of the earliest was this:—

“In towns the hospitality of the burghers was not always given gratis, for it was a common custom even amongst the richer merchants to make a profit by receiving guests. These letters of lodgings were distinguished from the innkeepers or hostelers by the name of herbergeors, or people who gave harbour to strangers, and in large towns they were submitted to municipal regulations. The great barons and knights were in the custom of taking up their lodgings with those herbergeors rather than going to the public hostel, and thus a sort of relationship was formed between particular nobles or kings and particular burghers, on the strength of which the latter adopted the arms of their habitual lodgers as their sign.”[164]

This, again, led to the custom of prefixing to inns the arms of men of note who had sojourned in the house, as may be seen in Machyn’s Diary:—“The xxv day of January [1560] toke ys gorney into Franse, inbassadur to the Frenche kyng, the yerle of Bedford and he had iij dozen of logyng skochyons,” (lodging escutcheons). Thus, on the road from London to Westchester the coats of arms of several of the lord-lieutenants of Ireland might formerly have been observed, either as signs to inns or else framed and hung in the best rooms. That this was a general custom with ambassadors appears from Sir Dudley Digge’s “Compleat Ambassador,” 1654; who, alluding in his preface to the reserve of English ambassadors, observes:—“We have hardly any notion of them but their arms, which are hung up in inns where they passed.” Montaigne also mentions this practice as usual in France:—“A Plombières il me commanda à la faveur de son hostesse, selon l’humeur de la nation, de laisser un escusson de ses armes en bois, qu’un peintre dudict lieu fist pour un escu; et le fist l’hostesse curieusement attacher à la muraille pas dehors.”[165]

But the feudal relations between the higher and lower classes contributed above all to the adoption of this description of signs. A vassal, for instance, would set up the arms or crest of his[133] feudal lord; a retired soldier the arms of the knight under whose banneret he had gathered both glory and plunder; an old servant the badge he had worn when he stood at the trencher, or followed his master in the chase; and, doubtless, many publicans adopted for their sign the badge of the neighbouring wealthy noble, in order to court the custom of his household and servants.

Bagford, in his MS. notes about the art of printing,[166] has jotted down a list of signs originated from badges, which we will transcribe in all the unrestrained freedom of Bagford’s spelling, in which, as well as in bad writing, he surpassed all his contemporaries, (see note, p. 102:)

“Then for ye original of signes used to be set over ye douers of tradesmen, as Inkepers, Taverns, etc., thay hauing been domestic saruants to some nobleman, thay leauing ther Masters saruis toke to themselves for ther signes ye crest, bag,[167] or ye arms of ther Ld., and thes was a destincsion or Mark of one Mannes house from anouther, and [not] only by printers but all outher trades: and these seruants of kinges, queenes, or noblemen, being ther domestick saruants, and wor ther Leuirs[168] and Bages, as may be sene these day ye maner of the Leuirs and Bagges by ye wattermen:—

The arms of the lord of the manor were often put up as a sign,—a custom that has continued to our day, particularly in villages, where the inn invariably displays the name or coat-armour of the ground-landlord, whose steward once or twice in the year meets at the house the tenantry with their rents and land dues. Should the estate pass into other hands, the inn will most probably change its sign for the arms of the new purchaser. The house, as it were, wears the livery of the master, although, so far as heralds’ visitations are concerned, this may be as unauthorised as many other advertisements of noble descent, or gentle extraction, in use amongst the wealthy and the proud.

In ancient times, as we have seen, the great landowners performed the duties of innkeepers, and their arms were hung or carved at the entrances to the castles, as indications to wayfarers who was the lord and master in those parts. The keep in those days was rarely without a stranger or two, either travelling mechanics or persons acquainted with mysteries,—as trades and professions were termed in those days,—or vagabond soldiers on the tramp for a new master to fight under. Greater people were admitted further in the castle, but the common sort fared with the servants. According to the good-nature of the all-powerful lord was the fare good or bad, plentiful or meagre. It was, however, generally the custom in those early times to be profuse in all matters of food-bounty. The house-steward made charges for any extras, and the comfort obtainable generally depended on the liberality or greediness of these personages. As population increased, travellers became too numerous for the accommodation provided. Stewards also became old, and detached premises were given or built for them to carry on the business away from the castle or great house. The arms of the landlord were of course put up outside the house, and on occasion of predatory excursions or family fights, when other nobles joined their troops with those of the landlord, the soldiers were usually quartered at the[136] inn outside the castle. As in all cases of public resort, people soon began to have fancies, and this Red Lion and that Greyhound became famous through the country for the good entertainment to be had there. In this manner Red Lions and Greyhounds found their way on to the signboards of the inns within the walled cities. The men of the castle, too, used those houses bearing their master’s arms when they visited the town. It will be readily seen that the name of a favourite tavern would quickly suggest its adoption elsewhere, and in this way the heraldic emblem of a family might be carried where that family was neither known nor feared.

Latterly, however, as all traces of the origin and meaning of these “Arms” have died out, or become removed from the understanding of publicans and brewers, the uses to which the word has been applied are most absurd and ridiculous. Not only do we meet constantly with arms of families nobody ever heard of, nor cares to hear about, but all sorts of impossible “Arms” are invented, as Junction Arms, Griffin’s Arms, Chaffcutter’s Arms, Union Arms,[177] General’s Arms, Antigallican Arms, Farmers’ Arms, Drovers’ Arms, &c., (see Introduction.)

In tavern heraldry the Adam’s Arms ought certainly to have the precedence: the publicans generally represent these by a pewter pot and a couple of crossed tobacco pipes, differing in this from Sylvanus Morgan, a writer on heraldry, who says that Adam’s arms were “Paly Tranchy divided every way and tinctured of every colour,”[178] The shield was in the shape of a spade, which was used

“When Adam delved and Eve span,”

whilst from the spindle of our first mother the female lozenge-shaped shield is said to be derived.

One of the most popular heraldic signs is the Bear and Ragged Staff, the crest of the Warwick family:—


War. Now, by my father’s badge, old Nevil’s crest,
The rampant bear chain’d to the ragged staff,
This day I’ll wear aloft my burgonet.”

Henry VI., Part II. a. v. s. 1.

Arthgal, the first Earl of Warwick, in the time of King Arthur, was called by the ancient British the Bear, for having strangled such an animal in his arms; and Morvidius, another ancestor of this house, slew a giant with a club made out of a young tree; hence the family bore the Bear and Ragged Staff.

“When Robert Dudley was governor in the Low Countries with the high title of his Excellencie, disusing his own coat of the Green Lion[179] with two tails, he signed all instruments with the crest of the Bear and Ragged Staff. He was then suspected by many of his jealous adversaries to hatch an ambitious design to make himself absolute commander (as the lion is king of beasts) over the Low Countries. Whereupon some—foes to his faction and friends to the Dutch freedom—wrote under his crest set up in public places:—

‘Ursa caret cauda, non queat esse leo.’
‘The Bear he never can prevail
To lion it for lack of tail.’

Which gave rise to a Warwickshire proverb, in use at this day,—The Bear wants a tail and cannot be a Lion.[180]

The Bear and Ragged Staff is still the sign of an inn at Cumnor, to which an historic interest is attached owing to its connexion with the dark tragedy of poor Amy Robsart, who in this very house fell a victim to that stony-hearted adventurer, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Sir Walter Scott has introduced the house in the first chapter of “Kenilworth.” The power the Warwick family once enjoyed gave this sign a popularity which has existed to the present day, though the race of old Nevil, and the kings he made and unmade, have each and all passed away. Its heraldic designation has been better preserved than is the case of some other signs; only in one instance, at Lower Bridge Street, Chester, it has been altered into the Bear and Billet. Sometimes the sign of the Bear and Ragged Staff, we may inform the reader, is jocularly spoken of as the Angel and Flute.

The Ragged Staff figures also in single blessedness. A carriers[138]’ inn in West Smithfield possessed this sign in 1682.[181] In the wall of a house at the corner of Little St Andrew Street and West Street, St Giles, there is still a stone bas-relief sign of two ragged staves placed salterwise, with the initials S. F. G., and the date 1691. It was doubtless put there as a compliment to Robert Sydney, Earl of Leicester, who in the reign of Charles II. built Leicester House, which gave a name to Leicester Fields, now the site of Leicester Square. Stow mentions that the king-maker, Richard Warwick, came to town for the convention of 1458, accompanied by 600 men, all in red jackets, “embroidered with ragged staves before and behind.”

Equally well known with the last sign is that of the Eagle and Child, occasionally called the Bird and Bantling, to obtain the favourite alliteration. It represents the crest of the Stanley family, and the following legend is told to account for its origin:—In the reign of Edward III., Sir Thomas Latham, ancestor of the house of Stanley and Derby, had only one legitimate child, a daughter named Isabel, but at the same time he had an illegitimate son by a certain Mary Oscatell. This child he ordered to be laid at the foot of a tree on which an eagle had built its nest. Taking a walk with his lady over the estate, he contrived to bring her past this place, pretended to find the boy, took him home, and finally prevailed upon her to adopt him as their son. This boy was afterwards called Sir Oscatell Latham, and considered the heir to the estates. Compunction or other motive, however, made the old nobleman alter his mind and confess the fraud, and at his death the greater part of the fortune was left to his daughter, who afterwards married Sir John Stanley. At the adoption of the child, Sir Thomas had assumed for crest an eagle looking backwards; this, out of ill feeling towards Sir Oscatell, was afterwards altered into an eagle preying upon a child. How matters were afterwards arranged may be seen in “Memoirs containing a Genealogical and Historical Account of the House of Stanley,” p. 22. Manchester, 1767. Bishop Stanley made an historical poem upon the legend, which is not without parallel, and seems to be either a corruption of or suggested by the fable of Ganimede. Edward Stanley, in his “History of Birds,” (vol. i. p. 119,) cites several similar stories. But the Stanley family is not the only one that bears this crest. Randle Holme (b. iii. p. 403) gives the arms of the family of[139] Culcheth of Culcheth as “an infant in swaddling-clothes proper, mantle gules, swaddle band or, with an eagle standing upon it, with its wings expanded sable in a field argent.” “The fause fable of the Lo. Latham” is also told at length, with slight variations from the usual story, in a MS. in the College of Arms;[182] in this version the foundling is made the son of an Irish king. The Eagle and Child occurs as the sign of a bookseller, Thomas Creede, in the old Exchange, as early as 1584. Taylor the water-poet also names some instances of the sign among inns and taverns, and particularly extols one at Manchester:—

“I lodged at the Eagle and the Child,
Whereas my hostesse (a good ancient woman)
Did entertain me with respect not common,
She caused my linnen, shirts, and bands be washt,
And on my way she caused me be refresht;
She gave me twelve silke points, she gave me baken,
Which by me much refused at last was taken.
In troath she proued a mother unto me,
For which I ever more will thankefull be.”[183]

Another crest of the Derby family also occurs as a sign—namely, the Eagle’s Foot, which was adopted in the sixteenth century by John Tysdall, a bookseller at the upper end of Lombard Street.

The frequency of eagles in heraldry made them very common on the signboard, although it is now impossible to say whose armorial bearings each particular eagle was intended to represent. The Spread Eagle occurs as the sign of one of the early printers and booksellers, Gualter Lynne, who, in the middle of the sixteenth century, had two shops with that sign,—one on Sommer’s Key, near Billingsgate, and another next St Paul’s Wharf. In 1659 there was a Black Spread Eagle at the west end of St Paul’s, which shop was also a bookseller’s, one Giles Calvert. As the signs in large towns and cities were generally not altered when the house changed hands, it is not improbable but that this may be the same Black Eagle mentioned by Stow in the following words:—

“During a great tempest at sea, in January 1506, Philip, King of Castille, and his queen, were weather-driven at Falmouth. The same tempest blew down the Eagle of brass off the spire of St Paul’s Church in London, and in the falling the same eagle broke and battered the Black Eagle that hung for a sign in St Paul’s Churchyard.”

Milton’s father, a scrivener by trade, lived in Bread Street,[140] Cheapside, at the sign of the Spread Eagle, which was his own coat of arms, and in this house the great author of “Paradise Lost” was born, December 9, 1608. When the poet’s fame had gone forth, strangers used to come to see the house, until it was destroyed by the fire of 1666. Perhaps its memory is preserved in Black Spread Eagle Court, which is the name of a passage in that locality.

Another Spread Eagle was a noted “porter-house” in the Strand at the end of the last century:—

“And to some noted porter-house repair;
The several streets or one or more can claim,
Alike in goodness and alike in fame.
The Strand her Spreading Eagle justly boasts.
...... Facing that street where Venus holds her reign,
And Pleasure’s daughters drag a life of pain,[184]
There the Spread Eagle, with majestic grace,
Shows his broad wings and notifies the place.
...... There let me dine in plenty and in quiet.”[185]

The Grasshoppers on the London signboards were all descendants of Sir Thomas Gresham’s sign and crest, which is still commemorated by the weather-vane on the Royal Exchange, of which he was the first founder. The original sign appears to have been preserved up to a very recent date.

“The shop of the great Sir Thomas Gresham,” says Pennant, “stood in this [Lombard] street: it is now occupied by Messrs Martin, bankers, who are still in possession of the original sign of that illustrious person—the Grasshopper. Were it mine, that honourable memorial of so great a predecessor should certainly be placed in the most ostentatious situation I could find.”[186]

The ancients used the grasshopper as a fascinum, (fascination, enchantment;) for this purpose Pisistratus erected one as a καταχηνη before the Acropolis at Athens; hence grasshoppers, in[141] all sorts of human occupations, were worn about the person to bring good luck. The grasshopper sign certainly seems to have been a lucky one. Charles Duncombe and Richard Kent, goldsmiths, lived at the Grasshopper in Lombard Street, (no doubt Gresham’s old house,) in 1677,[187] and throve so well under its fascinum that Duncombe gathered a fortune large enough to buy the Helmsley estate in Yorkshire from George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. The land is now occupied by the Earl of Feversham, (Duncombe’s descendant,) under the name of Duncombe Park.

It is impossible to determine whether the Maidenhead was set up as a compliment to the Duke of Buckingham, to Catherine Parr, or to the Mercers’ Company, for it is the crest of the three. But at all events the Mercers’ crest had the precedence as being the oldest. Amongst the badges of Henry VIII. it is sometimes seen issuing out of the Tudor Rose:—

“This combination,” Willement says, “does not appear to have been an entire new fancy, but to have been composed from the rose-badge of King Henry VIII., and from one previously used by this queen’s family. The house of Parr had before this time assumed as one of their devices a maiden’s head couped below the breast, vested in ermine and gold, the hair of the head and the temples encircled with a wreath of red and white roses; and this badge they had derived from the family of Ros of Kendal.”

It was a sign used by some of the early printers. On the last page of a little work entitled “Salus Corporis, Salus Animæ,” we find the following imprint:—

“Hos cme Richardus quos Fax impressit ad unguem calcographus
summa sedulitate libros.

Impressum est presens opusculum londiniis in divi pauli semiterio sub virginei capitis signo. Anno millesimo quin getesimo nono. Mensis vero Decembris die xii.”[188]

Thomas Petit, another early printer, also lived “at the sygne of the Maydenshead in Paulis Churchyard,” 1541. He was probably a successor of Richard Fax.

An amusing anecdote is told of old Hobson, the Londoner, with regard to this sign:—

“Maister Hobson having one of his Prentices new come out of his time, and being made a free man of London, desired to set up for himself; so, taking a house not far from St Laurence Lane, furnished it with store[142] of ware, and set up the signe of the Maydenhead; hard by was a very rich man of the same trade, had the same signe, and reported in every place where he came, that the young man had set up the same signe that he had onely to get away his customers, and daily vexed the young man therewithall, who, being grieved in his mind, made it known to Maister Hobson, his late Maister, who, comming to the rich man, said, ‘I marvell, sir,’ (quoth Maister Hobson,) ‘why you wrong my man so much as to say he seketh to get away your customers.’ ‘Marry, so he doth,’ (quoth the other,) ‘for he has set up a signe called the Maidenhead, and mine is.’ ‘That is not so,’ (replied Maister Hobson,) ‘for his is the widdoe’s head, and no maydenhead, therefore you do him great wrong.’ The rich man hereupon, seeing himself requited with mocks, rested satisfied, and never after that envied Maister Hobson’s man, but let him live quietly.”[189]

This sign occurs occasionally as the Maid’s Head, but since Queen Elizabeth’s reign it has doubtless frequently referred to the virgin queen.

The Cross Foxesi.e., two foxes counter saliant—is a common sign in some parts of England. It is the sign of the principal inn at Oswestry in Shropshire, and of very many public-houses in North Wales, and has been adopted from the armorial bearings of Sir Watkin Williams Wynne, Bart., whose family hold extensive possessions in these parts. The late baronet, too, made himself very popular as a patron of agricultural improvements. Old Guillim, the heraldic writer’s remarks upon this coat of arms, which he says belongs to the Kadrod Hard family of Wales, are quaint:—

“These are somewhat unlike Samson’s foxes that were tied together by the tails, and yet these two agree in aliquo tertio: They came into the field like to enemies, but they meant nothing less than fight, and therefore they pass by each other, like two crafty lawyers, which come to the Bar as if they meant to fall out deadly about their clients’ cause; but when they have done, and their clients’ purses are well spunged, they are better friends than ever they were, and laugh at those geese that will not believe them to be foxes, till they (too late) find themselves foxbitten.”[190]

The Tiger’s Head was the sign of the house of Christopher and Robert Barker, Queen Elizabeth’s booksellers and printers, in Paternoster Row: it was borrowed from their crest; their shop exhibited the sign of the Grasshopper, in St Paul’s Churchyard. They came of an ancient family, being descended from Sir Christopher Barker, knight, king-at-arms, in the reign of Henry VIII. Barker is said to have printed the first series of English news-sheets, or, as we now call them, newspapers. The[143] earliest of those which remain (copies are preserved among Dr Birch’s Historical Collections in the British Museum, No. 4106) relate to the descent of the Spanish Armada upon the English coasts; but as they are numbered 50, 51, and 54 in the corner of their upper margins, it has been not improbably concluded that a similar mode of publishing news had been resorted to considerably earlier than the date of that event, though, as far as we know, none of the papers have been preserved. The title is:—

“THE ENGLISH MERCURIE, published by authoritie, for the prevention of false reports;”

and the last number contains an account of the queen’s thanksgiving at St Paul’s for the victory she had gained over the enemies of England. It is probable that when the great alarm of the Armada had subsided, no more numbers were published. The colophon runs:—

“Imprinted by Christopher Barker, her highnesse’s printer, July 23, 1588.”

It must not however be concealed that doubt is entertained of the genuineness of these papers. Two of them are not of the time, but printed in modern type; and no originals are known: the third is in manuscript of the eighteenth century, altered and interpolated with changes in old language, such only as an author would make.

The punning device, or printer’s emblem, of Barker was a man barking a tree, representations of which may be seen on the titles and last leaves of many of the old folio and quarto Bibles and New Testaments issued from his press. His descendants continued booksellers to the royal family until January 12, 1645, when Robert Barker, the last of the family, died a prisoner for debt in the King’s Bench. His misfortunes were probably occasioned by the embarrassments of his royal master, who for three years had been at war with the Parliament and a majority of his subjects.

Various other booksellers sold their books under the sign of the Tiger’s Head in St Paul’s Churchyard: apparently they succeeded each other in the same house. Thus we find Toby Cook, 1579-1590; Felix Kingston, 1599; and Henry Seile, 1634.

At Nortwich and Altringham, Chester, there is a sign called the Bleeding Wolf, which has not been found anywhere else. Its origin is difficult to explain, and the only explanation that can be immediately offered for it is the crest of Hugh Lupus and Richard, first and second Earls of Chester, which was a wolf[144]’s head erased; the neck of the animal being erased may, by primitive sign-painters, have been represented less conventionally than is done now, and probably exhibited some of the torn parts, whence the name of the Bleeding Wolf. As for the use of the term “wolf,” instead of “wolf’s head,” we have a parallel instance in one of the gates of Chester, which, from this crest, was called Wolfsgate instead of Wolfshead Gate. There is another equally puzzling sign, peculiar to this county and to Lancashire—namely, the Bear’s Paw. Of this sign, it must be confessed that no explanation can be offered; it certainly looks heraldic, and lions jambs erased are the crest of many families.

Easy enough to explain is the sign of Parta Tueri, (Cellarhead, Staffordshire,) which is the motto of the Lilford family: this is the only instance as yet met with of a family motto standing for a sign; though in Essex a public-house sign, representing a sort of Bacchic coat of arms, with the motto, In Vino Veritas, may be seen. The Oakley Arms, at Maidenhead, near Bray, deserves passing mention, on account of some amusing verses connected with the place. As it is frequently the custom with publicans to choose for their sign the name or picture of some real or imaginary hero connected with the locality in which their house stands, the following verses were written on the Oakley Arms, near Bray:—

“Friend Isaac, ’tis strange you that live so near Bray
Should not set up the sign of the Vicar.[191]
Though it may be an odd one, you cannot but say
It must needs be a sign of good liquor.”
“Indeed, master Poet, your reason’s but poor,
For the Vicar would think it a sin
To stay, like a booby, and lounge at the door,—
’Twere a sign ’twas bad liquor within.”

The Wentworth Arms, Kirby Mallory, Leicestershire, may also be mentioned on account of its peculiar inscription, which has a strange moral air about it, as if a pious Boniface drew beer and uncorked wine, and wished to compromise matters on high moral grounds, and limit with puritanical rigidity the government regulation above his door, “to be Drunk on the Premises”:—

“May he who has little to spend, spend nothing in drink;
May he who has more than enough, keep it for better uses.
[145] May he who goes in to rest never remain to riot,
And he who fears God elsewhere never forget him here.”

Other heraldic animals, different from those just mentioned, belong to so many various families, that it is utterly impossible to say in honour of whom they were first set up: such, for instance, is the Griffin, the armorial bearing of the Spencers, and innumerable other houses. Besides being an heraldic emblem, the griffin was an animal in whose existence the early naturalists firmly believed. Its supposed eggs and claws were carefully preserved, and are frequently mentioned in ancient inventories and lists of curiosities. “They shewed me,” [in a church at Ratisbonne,] says Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, in one of her letters, “a prodigious claw, set in gold, which they called the claw of a griffin; and I could not forbear asking the reverend priest that shewed it, whether the griffin was a saint? The question almost put him beside his gravity, but he answered, ‘They only kept it as a curiosity.’” The supposed eggs (no doubt ostrich eggs) were frequently made into drinking cups. The Tradescants had one in their collection, kept in countenance by an egg of a dragon, two feathers of the tail of a phœnix, and the claw of a ruck, “a bird able to trusse an elephant.” Sir John Mandeville gives the natural history of the griffin, in his “Right Merveylous Travels,” chap. xxvi. From him we learn that the body of this dreadful beast was larger and stronger than “8 lions or 100 eagles,” so that he could with ease fly off to his nest with a great horse, or a couple of oxen yoked together, “for,” says he, “he has his talouns so large and so longe, and so gret upon his feet as thowghe thei weren hornes of grete oxen, or of bugles or of kijgn.”

In the original edition of the Spectator, No. xxxiii.,[192] the griffin is mentioned as the sign of a house in Sheer Lane, Temple Bar. The advertisement begins oddly enough:—“Lost, yesterday, by a Lady in a velvet furbelow scarf, a watch,” &c. The Golden Griffin was a famous tavern in Holborn, of which there are trades tokens extant of the seventeenth century. Tom Brown talks of a “fat squab porter at the Griffin Tavern, in Fulwood’s rents,” which is the same house, as appears from Strype:—“At the upper end of this court is a passage into the Castle Tavern, a house of considerable trade, as is the Golden[146] Griffin Tavern, on the west side, which has a passage into Fulwood’s rents,” (Book iii., p. 253.)

The variously-coloured lions come under the same category of heraldic animals. Amongst them the Golden Lion stands foremost. A public-house with that sign in Fulham ought not to be passed unnoticed; it is one of the most ancient houses in the village, having been built in the reign of Henry VII. The interior is not much altered; the chimney-pieces are in their original state, and in good preservation. Formerly there were two staircases in the thick walls, but they are now blocked up. Tradition says that the house once belonged to Bishop Bonner, and that it has subterraneous passages communicating with the episcopal palace. When the old hostelry was pulled down in 1836, a tobacco-pipe of ancient and foreign fashion was found behind the wainscot. The stem was a crooked bamboo, and a brass ornament of an Elizabethan pattern formed the bowl of the pipe. This pipe Mr Crofton Croker[193] tries to identify as the property of Bishop Bonner, who, on the 15th June 1596, died suddenly at Fulham, “while sitting in his chair and smoking tobacco.” If Mr Croker be right, this inn should also have been honoured by the presence of Shakespeare, Fletcher, Henry Condell, (Shakespeare’s fellow actor,) John Norden, (author of A Description of Middlesex and Hertfordshire,) Florio, the translator of Montaigne, and divers other notabilities.

The Blue Lion is far from uncommon, and may possibly have been first put up at the marriage of James I. with Anne of Denmark. The Purple Lion occurs but once—namely, on a trades token of Southampton Buildings.

Signs borrowed from Corporation arms form the last subdivision of this chapter. Such, for instance, is the Three Compasses, a change in the arms of both the carpenters and masons. This sign is a particular favourite in London, where not less than twenty-one public-houses make a living under its shadow. Perhaps this is partly owing to the compasses being a masonic emblem, and a great many publicans “worthy brethren.” Frequently the sign of the compasses contains between the legs the following good advice:—

“Keep within compass,
And then you’ll be sure,
[147] To avoid many troubles
That others endure.”

Three Compasses were a frequent sign with the French, German, and Dutch printers of the sixteenth century. The Three Compasses, Grosvenor Row, Pimlico, a well-known starting point for the Pimlico omnibuses, was formerly called the Goat and Compasses, for which Mr P. Cunningham suggests the following origin:—

“At Cologne, in the church of S. Maria di Capitolio, is a flat stone on the floor, professing to be the ‘Grabstein der Bruder und Schwester eines Ehrbahren Wein und Fass Ampts, Anno 1693.’ That is, as I suppose, a vault belonging to the Wine Cooper’s Company. The arms exhibit a shield with a pair of compasses, an axe, and a dray or truck, with goats for supporters. In a country like England, dealing so much at one time in Rhenish wine, a more likely origin for such a sign could hardly be imagined.”

Others have considered the sign a corruption of a puritanical phrase, “God encompasseth us.” But why may not the Goat have been the original sign, to which mine host added his masonic emblem of the compasses, a practice yet of frequent occurrence.

The Globe and Compasses seems to have originated in the Joiners’ arms, which are a chevron between two pairs of compasses and a globe. It occurs, amongst other instances, as the sign of a bookseller, in the following quaint title:—

“Sin discovered to be worse than a Toad; sold by Robert Walton, at the Globe and Compasses, at the West end of Saint Paul’s Church.”

The Three Goatsheads, a public-house on the Wandsworth Road, Lambeth, was originally the Cordwainers’ (shoemakers) arms, which are azure, a chevron or, between three goats’ heads, erased argent. Gradually the heraldic attributes have fallen away, and the goats’ heads now alone remain. As there were rarely names under the London signs, the public unacquainted with heraldry gave a vernacular to the objects represented. Thus the Three Leopards’ Heads is given on a token as the name of a house in Bishopsgate; yet the token represents a chevron between three leopards’ heads, the arms of the Weavers’ Company. The sign of the Leopard’s Head was anciently called the Lubber’s Head. Thus in the second part of Henry IV., ii. 1, the hostess says that Falstaff “is indited to dinner at the Lubbar’s Head in Lumbert Street, to Master Smooth’s the silkman.” “Libbard,” vulgo “lubbar,” was good old English for “leopard.”


The Green Man and Still is a common sign. There is one in White Cross Street, representing a forester drinking what is there called “drops of life” out of a glass barrel. This is a liberty taken with the Distillers’ arms, which are a fess wavy in chief, the sun in splendour, in base a still; supporters two Indians, with bows and arrows. These Indians were transformed by the painters into wild men or green men, and the green men into foresters; and then it was said that the sign originated from the partiality of foresters for the produce of the still The “drops of life,” of course, are a translation of aqua vitæ.

The Three Tuns were derived from the Vintners, or the Brewers’ arms. On the 9th of May 1667, the Three Tuns in Seething Lane was the scene of a frightful tragedy:—

“In our street,” says Pepys, “at the Three Tuns Tavern, I find a great hubbub; and what was it but two brothers had fallen out, and one killed the other. And who should they be but the two Fieldings. One whereof, Bazill, was page to my Lady Sandwich, and he hath killed the other, himself being very drunk, and so is sent to Newgate.”[194]

There seems to have been a kind of fatality attached to this sign, for the London Gazette for September 15-18, 1679, relates a murder committed at the Three Tuns, in Chandos Street, and in this same house, Sally Pridden, alias Sally Salisbury, in a fit of jealousy stabbed the Honourable John Finch in 1723. Sally was one of the handsomest “social evils” of that day, and had been nicknamed Salisbury, on account of her likeness to the countess of that name. For her attempt on the life of Finch she was committed to Newgate, where she died the year after, “leaving behind her the character of the most notorious woman that ever infested the hundreds of old Drury.”[195] Her portrait has been painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller.

Sometimes the sign of the One Tun may also be seen. It occurs in the following newspaper item:—

“Last Thursday four highwaymen drinking at the One Tun Tavern near Hungerford Market in the Strand, and falling out about dividing their booty, the Drawer overheard them, sent for a constable, and secured them, and next day they were committed to Newgate.”—Weekly Journal, December 6, 1718.

That these fellows meant mischief is evident from a subsequent[149] article. They had a complete arsenal about them, viz., two blunderbusses, one loaded with fifteen balls, the other with seven, and five pistols loaded with powder and shot.

The Golden Cup, from the form in which it was generally represented, seems to have been derived from the Goldsmiths’ arms, which are quarterly azure, two leopards’ heads or, (whence the mint mark,) and two golden cups covered between two buckles or. It was a sign much fancied by booksellers, as: Abel Jeff’s in the Old Bailey, 1564; Edward Allde, Without Cripplegate, from 1587 until 1600; and John Bartlet the Elder, in St Paul’s Churchyard; whilst the Three Cups was a famous carriers’ inn in Aldersgate in the seventeenth century.

The Ram and Teazel, Queenshead Street, Islington, is a part of the Clothworkers’ arms, which are sable, a chevron ermine between two habicks in chief arg., and a teasel in base or. The crest is a ram statant or on a mount vert.

The Hammer and Crown appears from a trades token to have been the sign of a shop in Gutter Lane, in the seventeenth century. It was a charge from the Blacksmiths’ arms: sable, a chevron between three hammers crowned or. The Lion in the Wood was a tavern of some note a hundred years ago in Salisbury Court, Fleet Street. It seems originally to have been the Woodmongers’ arms, whose crest is a lion issuing from a wood. At the present day it is the sign of a public-house in the same locality, namely, in Wilderness Lane, Dorset Street, Fleet Street.

To these Corporation arms we may add two belonging to companies. During the South Sea mania the South Sea Arms was a favourite sign; in 1718, the very year that Queen Anne had established the company and granted them arms, they appeared as the sign of a tavern near Austin Friars: they are a curious heraldic compound. “Azure, a globe representing the Straights of Magellan and Cape Horn, all proper. On a canton the arms of the United Kingdoms of Great Britain, and in sinister chief two herrings salterwise arg., crowned or.”

The Sol’s Arms, Sol’s Row, Hampstead Road, immortalised by Dickens in “Bleak House,” derives its name from the Sol’s Society, who were a kind of freemasons. They used to hold their meetings at the Queen of Bohemia’s Head, Drury Lane, but on the pulling down of that house the society was dissolved.

[121] History of Musick.

[122] Harl. MSS. 5910, vol. i. fol. 193. The reader will be amused with the spelling of this extract from the original manuscript, written when Addison was penning “Spectators,” and many classic English compositions were issuing from the press. Old Mr Bagford was a genuine antiquary, and despised new hats, new coats, and anything approaching the new style of spelling, with other changes then being introduced.

[123] Misson’s Memoirs and Observations in his Travels over England. London, 1719.

[124] England is the country, par excellence, for gigantic dinners, amongst which agricultural repasts stand foremost; even that nuptial dinner of Camacho, at which honest Sancho Panza did such execution, would scarcely rank as a lunch beside the Homeric dinners of our farmers. In our times we have seen Soyer roast a whole ox for the Agricultural Society at Exeter; the details of this culinary feat are somewhat interesting: it was called a “baron with saddle back of beef à la magna charta, weighing 535 lbs., the joints being the whole length of the ox, rumps, rounds, loins, ribs, and shoulders to the neck. It was roasted in the open air within a temporary enclosure of brick work, the monster joint steaming and frizzling away over 216 jets of gas from pipes of an inch diameter, the whole being covered in with sheet iron; when in 5 hours the beef was dressed for 5 shillings.”—Hints for the Table.

[125] Various examples of it occur in the Banks Bills.

[126] Original Weekly Journal, March 29 to April 3, 1718.

[127] Banks Bills.

[128] Historical and Topographical Account of the Parish of Fulham, 1813, p. 271.

[129] Boswell’s Johnson, vol. iv. p. 60.

[130] Hawkins’s Life of Dr Johnson, p. 433.

[131] This corncutter was probably the antique statue of the boy picking a thorn out of his foot, and was usual with pedicures. See under the sign “Old pick my toe.”

[132] Diary of the Rev. John Ward, M.A., 1648-1679. London, 1839.

[133] Diary of Rev. John Ward, M.A., 1648-1679, p. 122.

[134] Memoirs of Charles Macklin, Esq. By J. F. Kirkman. Vol. ii. p. 419.

[135] “A dragon in the manner of a banner, of a certain red silk embroidered with gold; its tongue like a flaming fire must always seem to be moving; its eyes must be made of sapphire, or of some other stone suitable for that purpose.”

[136] Peter Langtoffe’s Chronicle of Robert of Brunne, p. 217.

[137] “The king’s place was between the Dragon and the standard.”

[138] Caxton’s Chronicle at the end of Polychronicon, lib. ult. chap. vi.

[139] Hist., lib. ix. cap. vi.

[140] Nat. Hist., lib. viii. cap. ii.

[141] Chronicle of the Grey Fryars, Camden Society, p. 19.

[142] Grub Street Journal, Sept. 2, 1736.

[143] Badges of Cognizance of Richard, Duke of York, written on a blank leaf at the beginning of Digby MS. 82. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Archæologia xvii. 1814.

[144] The Cat, William Catesby; the Rat, Sir Richard Ratcliffe; Lovell our dog, Lord Lovel.

[145] Sir Roger Twisden’s Commonplace Books, 1653, as quoted in extenso in Notes and Queries, Aug. 8, 1857. Mr James Thompson, in his “History of Leicester,” informs us that one man was hanged and a woman burned for this crime, and not seven persons capitally executed, according to the popular tradition.

[146] Harl. MS. 5910; of this printer Bagford says: “I do not find he prented many books, or at lest few of them have come to my hand.”

[147] Reginald Scot, The Discovery of Witchcraft, b. xii. ch. xviii. p. 268, 1584.

[148] Archæologia. vol. xxix. 1840.

[149] Aubrey, iii. 438.

[150] Owen Glendower also bore a lion rampant sable, “the black lion of Powyss;” his arms were Paly of eight, arg. and gules, over all a lion sable. The black lion was the royal ensign of his father Madoc ap Meredith, last sovereign prince of Powyss; he died at Winchester in 1160. The black lion consequently might sometimes be set up by Welshmen.

[151] Daily Courant, January 1, 1711.

[152] “And observe that such a white feather was borne on his crest by Edward the eldest son of K. Edward; and this feather he conquered from the King of Bohemia whom he killed at Cressy in France, and so he assumed the feather, called the ostrich feather, which that most noble king had formerly worn on his crest.”—Sloane MSS. No. 56.

[153] Added to this were two vultures, sprinkled all over with finely-gilt linden leaves. Therefore I know this is King John of Bohemia.

[154] See the engraving in Pennant’s History of London, vol. i. p. 100.

[155] Lyson’s Berkshire, vol. i. p. 442.

[156] London Gazette, Sept. 18-21, 1682.

[157] London Gazette, March 12, 1672-3.

[158] Little London Directory for 1677, the oldest printed lists of bankers and merchants in London, reprinted, with historical introduction by John Camden Hotten, 1863.

[159] A very amusing French author of the time of Louis XIV., celebrated for his witty letters.

[160] “Let England amuse herself with idle fancies, and imagine that her kings are kings of France; but that there be Frenchmen who are ignorant enough, or bad subjects enough, to quarter the arms of France with those of England, that is a thing which such zealous subjects as M. d’Argenson, and the other police magistrates, ought by no means to permit.”

[161] Thos. Delaune’s Present State of London, 1681.

[162] These badges consisted of the master’s arms, crest, or device, either on a small silver shield or embroidered on a piece of cloth, and fastened on the left arm of servants. A ballad in the Roxburgh collection thus alludes to this custom:[163]

“The nobles of our Land
were much delighted then,
To have at their command
a Crue of lustie Men,
Which by their Coats were knowne,
of Tawnie, Red, or Blue;
With crests on their sleeves showne
when this old cap was new.”


“Time’s alteration;
The old man’s rehearsall what brave days he knew
A great while agone, when his old cap was new.”

Rox. Ball., i. fol. 407.

Stow gives us a good picture of a great nobleman’s retinue in the good old time, before the nobility took to hotel-keeping:—“The late Earl of Oxford, father to him that now liveth, has been noted within these forty years, to have ridden into this city and so to his house by London Stone, with eighty gentlemen, in a livery of Reading tawny, and chains of gold about their necks, before him, and one hundred tall yeomen in the like livery to follow him, without chains, but all having his cognisance of the blue boar embroidered on their left shoulder.” These badges fell into disuse in the reign of James I.

[164] Wright’s Domestic Manners and Sentiments in England during the Middle Ages, p. 333.

[165] “At Plombières he ordered me to leave with his hostess, according to the fashion of the country, an escutcheon of his arms in wood, which a painter of that town made for a crown and the hostess had it carefully hung upon the wall outside the house.”

[166] Harl. MSS., 5910, vol. ii. p. 167.

[167] Badge.

[168] Liveries.

[169] Portcullises.

[170] Leopard.

[171] Wiltshire.

[172] A transcript adds to these the names of Archbishop Parker and Jugge.

[173] This statement is modified lower down.

[174] Rivers.

[175] Raleigh.

[176] Silver.

[177] The Union Arms in Panton Street, Haymarket, was the public-house of Cribb, the pugilist champion, a fact commemorated by a poet of the prize ring, in all probability a better “fist” at smashing than at “wooing the Muses:”—

“The champion I see is again on the list,
His standard—the Union Arms.
His customers still he will serve with his fist,
But without creating alarms.
Instead of a floorer, he tips them a glass,
Divested of joking or fib;
Then, ‘lads of the fancy,’ don’t Tom’s house pass,
But take a hand at the game of Cribb.”

[178] Sylvanus Morgan’s Sphere of Gentry. London, 1661.

[179] There is a sign of the Green Lion in Short Street, Cambridge, the only one I have ever seen.

[180] Fuller, in voce Warwickshire.

[181] Delaune’s Present State of London, 1682.

[182] Printed in the Journal of Brit. Archæolog. Assoc., vol. vii. p. 71.

[183] Taylor’s Pennylesse Pilgrimage, 1630.

[184] Catherine Street, in the Strand, was a disreputable thoroughfare in the last century. Gay alludes to it in his “Trivia:”—

“Oh, may thy virtue guard thee through the roads
Of Drury’s mazy courts and dark abodes!
The harlots’ guileful path, who nightly stand
Where Catherine Street descends into the Strand.
With empty bandbox she delights to range,
And feigns a distant errand from the ‘Change.
Nay, she will oft the Quaker’s hood profane,
And trudge demure the rounds of Drury Lane.”

Tom Brown describes, con amore, the wickedness of that part of the town. Catherine Street at present is not quite so bad as formerly, but the hundred of Drury Lane cannot by any means be called the most virtuous part of London.

[185] Art of Living in London. Printed for William Griffin, at the Garrickshead, in Catherine Street, in the Strand, 1768.

[186] Pennant’s Account of London, 1813, p. 618.

[187] Little London Directory for 1677, the oldest list of London merchants.

[188] “Buy these books, which Richard Fax the printer has printed with the wedge, with the greatest care. This little book was printed at London, in St Paul’s Churchyard, at the Maidenhead, in the year 1509, on the 12th of December.” The printing with the wedge was the first attempt of the art, whence the books produced in this manner are sometimes called incunables.

[189] Pleasant Conceits of old Hobson the Londoner, 1607. Hobson’s answer proves the truth of Misson’s remark, that there were no inscriptions on the London signs to tell what they represented, otherwise the maid could not have been passed off as a widow.

[190] Guillim’s Display of Heraldry, folio, p. 197.

[191] The Vicar of Bray, the hero of Butler’s comic poem, appears to have been a certain Simon Aleyn, ob. 1583; he was by turns, and as the times suited, Roman Catholic and Protestant, in the times of Henry VIII., Edward VI., Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth.

[192] The original edition of the Spectator contained bona fide advertisements like any other newspaper.

[193] In 1847, Mr Crofton Croker read a paper at a meeting of the Brit. Arch. Assoc. at Warwick, “On the probability of the Golden Lion Inn at Fulham having been frequented by Shakespeare about the year 1595 and 1596,” in which the possible genealogy of this pipe is given.

[194] Pepys here makes a mistake, for he tells as afterwards, July 4, when he went to the Session House to hear the trial, that Basil was the murdered man.

[195] Caulfield’s Memoirs of Remarkable Persons. A curious epitaph upon her occurs in the Weekly Oracle, February 1, 1735; unfortunately it is too highly spiced to be introduced here.



It is in many cases impossible to draw a line of demarcation between signs borrowed from the animal kingdom and those taken from heraldry: we cannot now determine, for instance, whether by the White Horse is meant simply an equus caballus, or the White Horse of the Saxons, and that of the House of Hanover; nor, whether the White Greyhound represented originally the supporter of the arms of Henry VII., or simply the greyhound that courses “poor puss” on our meadows in the hunting-season. For this reason this chapter has been placed as a sequel to the heraldic signs.

As a rule, fantastically coloured animals are unquestionably of heraldic origin: their number is limited to the Lion, the Boar, the Hart, the Dog, the Cat, the Bear, and in a few instances the Bull; all other animals were generally represented in what was meant for their natural colours. The heraldic lions have already been treated of in the last chapter; but sometimes we meet with the lion as a fera naturæ, recognisable by such names as the Brown Lion, the Yellow Lion, or simply the Lion. There is a public-house in Philadelphia with the sign of the Lion, having underneath the following lines:

“The lion roars, but do not fear,
Cakes and beer sold here.”

Which inscription is certainly as unnecessary as that over the nonformidable-looking lions under the celebrated fountain in the Spanish Alhambra, “O thou who beholdest these lions crouching, fear not, life is wanting to enable them to exhibit their fury.”

Lions occur in numerous combinations with other animals and objects, which in many cases seem simply the union of two signs, as the Lion and Dolphin, Market Place, Leicester; the Lion and Tun, at Congleton: the Lion and Swan in the same locality may owe its joint title to the name of the street in which the public-house is situated, viz., Swanbank. The combination of the Lion and Pheasant, Wylecop, Shrewsbury, seems rather mysterious, unless the Pheasant has been substituted for the Cock, just as in the Three Pheasants and Sceptre, they were substituted for the Three Pigeons and Sceptre. As for the[151] Cock and Lion, a very common sign, their meeting, if we may believe ancient naturalists, is anything but agreeable to the lion.

“The lyon dreadeth the white cocke, because he breedeth a precious stone called allectricium, like to the stone that hight Calcedonius. And for that the Cocke beareth such a stone, the Lyon specially abhorreth him.”[196]

Some more information about this stone may be gathered from a mediæval treatise on natural history:

“Allectorius est lapis obscuro cristallo sĩlis e vẽtriculo galli castrati trahitur post quartũ añũ. Ultima eius quãtitas ẽ ad magnitudinẽ fabe—quẽ gladiator. hñs in ore penanct̃. ĩvictus ac sine siti.”[197]

The Lion and Ball owes its origin to another mediæval notion:

“Some report that those who rob the tiger of her young use a policy to detaine their damme from following them, by casting sundry looking-glasses in the way, whereat she useth to long to gaze, whether it be to beholde her owne beauty or because when she seeth her shape in the glasse she thinketh she seeth one of her young ones, and so they escape the swiftness of her pursuit.”[198]

The looking-glass thrown to the tiger was spherical, so that she could see her own image reduced as it rolled under her paw, and would therefore be more likely to mistake it for her cub. Lions and tigers being almost synonymous in mediæval zoology, the spherical glass was generally represented with both. In sculpture it could only be represented by a ball, which afterwards became a terrestrial globe, and the lion resting his paw upon it, passed into an emblem of royalty.

In the last century an innkeeper at Goodwood put up as his sign the Centurion’s Lion, the figure-head of the frigate Centurion, in which Admiral Anson made a voyage round the world. Under it was the following inscription:—

“Stay, Traveller, a while and view
One that has travelled more than you,
Quite round the Globe in each Degree,
Anson and I have plow’d the Sea;
Torrid and Frigid Zones have pass’d,
And safe ashore arriv’d at last.
In Ease and Dignity appear
He—in the House of Lords, I—here.”


When Anson was in general disfavour about the Minorca affair, the following biting reply to this inscription went the round of the newspapers:—

The Traveller’s reply to the Centurion’s Lion.
“O King of Beasts, what pity ’twas to sever
A pair whose Union had been just for ever!
So diff’rently advanced! ’twas surely wrong,
When you’d been fellow-travellers so long.
Had you continued with him, had he born
To see the English Lion dragg’d and torn?
Brittannia made at every vein to bleed,
A ravenous Crew of worthless Men to feed?
No; Anson once had sought the Land’s Relief;
Now—Ease and Dignity have banish’d Grief.
Go, rouse him then, to save a sinking nation,
Or call him up, the partner of your station.
We often see two Monsters for a sign,
Inviting to good Brandy, Ale, or Wine.”

The Tiger is of rare occurrence on signboards; there is a Golden Tiger in Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, and a bird-fancier on Tower Dock, not far from the then famous menagerie which attracted crowds to the Tower, chose the Leopard and Tiger for his sign. In 1665 there was a Leopard Tavern in Chancery Lane; the same animal is still occasionally seen on public-house signs. Generally speaking, the carnivorous animals are not great favourites, and those named above are almost the only examples that occur. As for the popularity of the Bear, it is entirely to be attributed to the old vulgar pleasure of seeing him ill-treated, a relic of the once common amusements of bear-baiting and whipping. The colours in which he is represented are the Black Bear, the Brown Bear, the White Bear, and in a very few instances (as at Leeds) the Red Bear.

Besides bear-whipping and bear-baiting, another barbarous fancy led sometimes to the choice of this animal for a sign,—viz., the lamentable pun which the publican made upon the article he sold, and the name of the animal. Will. Rose of Coleraine, in Ireland, for instance, issued trades tokens with a bear passant, on the reverse Exchange.for.a.can (i.e., of Bear!), and as if the pun was not ridiculous enough, there was a rose as a rebus for his name. Thomas Dawson of Leeds perpetrated a similar pun on his token, dated 1670; it says,—, evidently alluding to the strength of his beer.[199]


Bears used often to be represented with chains round their neck, (as on the stone sign in Addle Street, with the date 1610.) This led to the following amusing rejoinder:—It happened that a pedestrian artist had run up a bill at a road-side inn which he was unable to pay, whereupon the landlord, in order to settle the account, commissioned him to paint a bear for his sign. The painter, wanting to make a little besides, suggested that, if the bear was painted with a chain round his neck, which he strongly advised him to have, it would cost him half-a-guinea more, on account of the gold, &c. But the host was not agreeable to this extra expense; accordingly, the sign was painted, (but in distemper,) and the painter went his way. Not many days after it began to rain, and the bear was completely washed from the board. The first time the landlord met the painter, he accused him in great dudgeon of having imposed upon him, for that, in less than a month, the bear had gone from his signboard. “Now, look here,” replied the painter; “did not I advise you to have a chain put about the bear’s neck? but you would not hear of it; had that been done he could not have run away, and would still be at your door.”

Among the most famous Bear inns and taverns were,—the Bear “at Bridgefoot,” i.e., at the foot of London Bridge, on the Southwark side, for many centuries one of the most popular London taverns; as early as the reign of Richard III. we find it the resort of the aristocratic pleasure-seeker. Thus, in March 14634, it was repeatedly visited by Jocky of Norfolk, the then Sir John Howard, who went there to drink wine and shoot at the target, at which he lost 20 pence.[200] It is also frequently named by the writers of the seventeenth century.[201] Pepys mentions it April 3, 1667. “I hear how the king is not so well pleased of this marriage between the Duke of Richmond and Mrs Stuart, as is talked; and that he by a wile did fetch her to the Bear at the Bridgefoot, where a coach was ready, and they are stole away into Kent without the king’s leave.” The wine of this establishment did not meet with the approbation of the fastidious searchers after claret in 1691.

“Through stinks of all sorts, both the simple and compound,
Which through narrow alleys, our senses do confound,
We came to the Bear, which we now understood
Was the first house in Southwark built after the flood;
[154] And has such a succession of vintners known,
Not more names were e’er in Welsh pedigrees shown;
But claret with them was so much out of fashion,
That it has not been known there a whole generation.”

Last Search after Claret in Southwark, 1691.

This old tavern was pulled down in 1761, at the removal of the houses from London Bridge. “Thursday last the workmen employed in pulling down the Bear Tavern, at the foot of London Bridge, found several pieces of gold and silver coin of Queen Elizabeth, and other money, to a considerable value.”—Public Advertiser, Dec. 26, 1761. Coins, no doubt, dropped between the boards by the revellers of bygone generations.

There was another famous Bear Tavern at the foot of Strandbridge; the vicinity of the “Bear” and “Paris Gardens” had evidently suggested the choice of those signs. At the Bear Tavern in the Strand, the earliest meetings of the Society of Antiquaries took place, when there were as yet only three members, Mr Talman, Mr Bagford, and Mr Wanley. Their first meeting was on Friday, Nov. 5, 1707; subsequently they met at the Young Devil Tavern in Fleet Street, and then at the Fountain, opposite Chancery Lane. Mr Talman was the first president; Mr Wanley was a savant of considerable acquirements. It was he who purchased Bagford’s MS. collection for the Harleian Library.

The White Bear at Soper’s Lane End, (now Queen Street,) Cheapside, was the shop in which Baptist Hicks, as a silk mercer, by selling silks, velvets, lace, and plumes to the courtiers of James I., amassed that fortune which led to the Peerage, and the title of Viscount Campden. There was another White Bear Tavern in Thames Street, of which the sign is still extant, a stone bas-relief with the date 1670, and the initials M. E. In 1252, Henry III. received a white bear as a present from the king of Norway; and in King Edward VI.’s time, May 29, 1549, the French ambassadors, after they had supped with the Duke of Somerset, went to the Thames and saw the bear hunted in the river.[202] Such an occurrence might easily lead to the adoption of this animal as a sign in that locality. The following little fact connected with another White Bear Inn forcibly calls up the dark ages before gas was invented. In 1656, John Wardall gave by will to the Grocers’ Company a tenement called “The White Bear in Walbrook,[155]” upon condition that they should yearly pay to the church-wardens of St Botolph’s, Billingsgate, £4 to provide a lanthorn with a candle, so that passengers might go with more security to and from the waterside during the night. This lamp was to be fixed at the north-east corner of the parish church of St Botolph, from St Bartholomew’s-day to Lady-day; out of this sum £1 was to be paid to the sexton for taking care of the lanthorn. The annuity is now applied to a lamp lighted with gas in the place prescribed by the will.[203]

The White Bear Inn, at the east end of Piccadilly, was for more than a century one of the busiest coaching houses. In this house died Luke Sullivan, engraver of some of Hogarth’s works; also Chatelain, another engraver, the last in such penurious circumstances, that he was buried at the expense of some friends in the poor ground of St James’s workhouse. It was in this inn that West passed the first night in London on his arrival from America. The sign of the White Bear is still common; at Springbank, Hull, there is one called, with zoological precision, the Polar Bear. This may, however, refer to the constellation.

The Bear’s Head occurs in Congleton, Cheshire; probably it is a family crest, the same as the Bear’s Paw,—both of which, it is believed, occur only in that county and in Lancashire. The Bear is also met in frequent combinations; one of the most common is the Bear and Bacchus, which looks like a hieroglyphic rendering of the words Beer and Wine, having the additional attraction of alliteration. Since mythology does not mention a Beer-God, the animal was probably chosen as a rebus for the drink. In the Bear and Rummer, Mortimer Street, the rummer implies the sale of liquors, in the same manner as the Punchbowl is often used. The Bear and Harrow seems to be a union of two signs. In the seventeenth century it formed the house-decoration of an ordinary at the entrance of Butcher Row, (now Picket Street, Strand.) One night in 1692, Nat Lee, the mad poet, in going home drunk from this house, fell down in the snow and was stifled.

The Elephant, in the middle ages, was nearly always represented with the castle on his back. For instance, in the Latin MS., Bestiarium Harl., 4751, a tower is strapped to him, in which are seen five knights in chain-armour, with swords, battle-axes, and cross-bows, their emblazoned shields hanging round the[156] battlements; and, in the description of the animal, it is said, “In eorum dorsis, P[er] si et Indi ligneis turribus collocati tamquam de muro jaculis dimicant.” The rook, in Chinese chess-boards, still represents an elephant thus armed.

Cutlers in the last century frequently used the Elephant and Castle as their sign, on account of it being the crest of the Cutlers’ Company, who had adopted it in reference to the ivory used in the trade. Hence the stone bas-relief in Belle Sauvage Yard, which was the sign of some now forgotten shopkeeper, who had chosen it out of regard to his landlords. The houses in the yard are the property of the Cutlers’ Company. The Elephant and Castle public-house, Newington Butts, was formerly a famous coaching inn, but, by the introduction of railways, it has dwindled down to a starting-point for omnibuses. The occasion of this sign being put up was the following:—Some time about 1714, a Mr Conyers, an apothecary in Fleet Street, and a great collector of antiquities, was digging in a gravel-pit in a field near the Fleet, not far from Battle Bridge, when he discovered the skeleton of an elephant. A spear with a flint head, fixed to a shaft of goodly length, was found near it, whence it was conjectured to have been killed by the British in a fight with the Romans,[204] though now, since the late discoveries concerning the flint implements, very different conclusions would be drawn from this fact. But be this as it may, that elephant, whether post-tertiary or Roman, gave its name to the public-house soon after erected in that locality; and, regardless of the venerable antiquity of this origin, it is often now-a-days jocularly degraded into the Pig and Tinder-box.

What is meant by the whimsical combination of the Elephant and Fish, at Sandhill, Newcastle, is hard to say, unless we assume the fish originally to have been a dragon. Between elephants and dragons there was supposed to be a deadly strife, and their battles are recorded by Strabo, Pliny, Ælianus, and their mediæval followers. The fight always ended in the death of both, the dragon strangling the elephant in the windings of his tail, when the elephant, falling down dead, crushed the dragon by his weight.

The Elephant and Friar, in Bristol, may possibly have originated from the representation of an elephant accompanied by a[157] man in Eastern costume, whose flowing garment might be mistaken for the gown of a friar. That sign would have admirably suited the fancy of the landlord of the Elephant and Castle, formerly in Leeds; his name happening to be Priest, he had the following inscription above his door:

“He is a priest who lives within,
Gives advice gratis, and administers gin.”

In the seventeenth century, the Reindeer began to make its appearance on the signboard, where it has kept its place to the present day. At first it was called Rained Deer, as we see from the newspapers of that period:—“Mr John Chapman, York carrier in Hull, at the sign of the Rained Deer.” This led to the answer of a sailor who had made a voyage to Lapland, and on his return, being asked if he had seen any rained deer? “No,” answered Jack, “I have seen it rain cats, dogs, and pitchforks, but I never saw it rain deer.” The first instance we find of this animal on the signboards of London, is in 1682, when there was

“Right Irish Usquebaugh to be sold at the Reindeer in Tuttle Street, Westminster, in greater or smaller quantities, by one from Ireland.”—London Gazette, Nov. 23-27, 1682.

Pepys mentions it as early as October 7, 1667, at Bishop Stortford, as the sign of a tavern kept by a Mrs Elizabeth Aynsworth. Of this woman a good story is told:—Mrs A. had been a noted procuress at Cambridge, for which reason she was expelled the town by the University authorities. Subsequently keeping the Reindeer at Bishop Stortford, the Vice-chancellor and some of the heads of colleges, on their way to London, had occasion to sleep at her house, little thinking under whose roof they were. She received them nobly, served the supper up in plate, and brought forth the best wine; but, when the hour of reckoning came, would receive no money, “for,” said she, “I am too much indebted to the Vice-chancellor for expelling me from Cambridge, which has been the means of making my fortune.” For all this, however, she does not seem to have mended her evil courses, for, shortly after, she was implicated in the murder of a Captain Wood in Essex, for which one man was executed, whilst Mrs Aynsworth was only acquitted by some flaw in the evidence.

Dragons, when apothecaries’ signs, were not derived from heraldry, but were used to typify certain chemical actions. In[158] an old German work on Alchemy,[205] one of the plates represents a dragon eating his own tail; underneath are the words,

“Das ist gros Wunder und seltsam List,
Die höchst Artzney im Drachen ist.”[206]

In mediæval alchemy, the dragon seems to have been the emblem of Mercury, which appears from these words on the same print: “Mercurius recte et chymice præcipitatus vel sublimatus in sua propria aqua resolutus et rursum coagulatus.”[207] To which are added the following rhymes:—

“Ein Drach im Walde wohnend ist,
An Gifft demselben nichts gebrisst;
Wenn er die Sonne sieht und das Fewr
So speusst er Gifft fleugt ungehewr,
Kein Lebend Thier für ihm mag gnesn
Der Basilisc mag ihm nit gleich wesn.
Wer diesen Wurmb wol weiss zu tödtn
Der kömpt auss allen seinen Nöthen.
Sein Farber in seinem Todt sich vermehrn;
Auss seiner Gifft Artzney thut werden.
Sein Gifft verzehrt er gar und gans
Und frisst sein eign vergiften Schwantz.
Da mus er in sich selbst volbringen
Der edelst Balsam auss ihm thut tringen,
Solch grosse Tugend wird man schawen
Welches alle Weysn sich hoch erfrawen.”[208]

Hence the dragon became one of the “properties” of the chemist and apothecary, was painted on his drug-pots, hung up as his sign, and some dusty, stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling in the laboratory had to do service for the monster, and inspire the vulgar with a profound awe for the mighty man who had conquered the vicious reptile.

The Salamander was another animal of the same class, and also represented certain chemical actions, owing to its fabled powers of resisting the fire. The notions of early naturalists concerning this creature were very extraordinary. A Bestiarium[159] in the Royal Library of Brussels, No. 10074, says that it lives on pure fire, and produces a substance which is neither silk nor linen, nor yet wool, of which garments are made that can only be cleaned by fire; and that if the animal itself falls into a burning fire, it would at once extinguish the flames. Bossewell, besides incombustibility, attributes to the salamander some other qualities fully as extravagant.

“Among all venomenous beastes he is the mightiest of poyson and venyme. For if he creepe upon a tree, he infecteth all the apples or other fruit that groweth thereon with his poyson, and killeth them which eate thereof. Which apples, also, if they happen to falle into any pitte of water, the strength of the poyson killeth them that drinke thereof.”[209]

This incombustibility made it a very proper sign for alchemists and apothecaries, and with the last it still continues as such, at least on the Continent. Why the early Venetian printers adopted it as a sign is less evident. In France it was certainly a favourite sign with this class of workmen; but this was from the fact of its having been the badge of Francis I., a liberal patron of the arts and sciences.

The qualities attributed to the Unicorn caused this animal to be used as a sign both by chemists and goldsmiths. It was believed that the only way to capture it was to leave a handsome young virgin in one of the places where it resorted. As soon as the animal had perceived her, he would come and lie quietly down beside her, resting his head in her lap, and fall asleep, in which state he might be surprised by the hunters who watched for him. This laying his head in the lap of a virgin made the first Christians choose the unicorn as the type of Christ born from the Virgin Mary.[210] The horn, as an antidote to all poison, was also believed to be emblematic of the conquering or destruction of sin by the Messiah. Religious emblems being in great favour with the early printers, some of them for this reason adopted the unicorn as their sign; thus John Harrison lived at the Unicorn and Bible in Paternoster Row 1603. Again, the reputed power of the horn caused the animal to be taken as a supporter for the apothecaries’ arms, and as a constant signboard by chemists. Albertus Magnus says:—“Cornu cerastis sunt qui dicunt præsenti veneno sudare et ideo ferri ad mensas nobilium, et fieri inde manubria cultellorum quæ infixa mensis prodant[160] presens venenum. Sed hoc non satis probatum est.”[211] Whatever it was that passed for unicorn’s horn, (probably the horn of the narwal,) it was sold at an immense price. “The unicorn whose horn is worth a city,” says Decker in his Gull’s Hornbook; and Andrea Racci, a Florentine physician, relates that it had been sold by the apothecaries at £24 per ounce, when the current value of the same quantity of gold was only £2, 3s. 6d. In a MS. table of customs entitled, “The Book of Rates in ye first yeare of Queen Mary 1531,”[212] we find the duty paid upon “cornu unicorn ye ounce 20s.” An Italian author who visited England in the reign of Henry VII.,[213] speaking of the immense wealth of the religious houses in this country says:—“And I have been informed that, amongst other things, many of these monasteries possess unicorns’ horns of an extraordinary size.” Hence such a horn was fit to be placed among the royal jewels, and there it appears at the head of an inventory taken in the first year of Queen Elizabeth, and preserved in Pepys’s library.[214] “Imprimis, a piece of unicorn’s horn,” which, as the most valuable object, is named first.

This was no doubt the piece seen by the German traveller Hentzner, at Windsor: “We were shown here, among other things, the horn of a unicorn of above eight spans and a half in length, valued at above £10,000.”[215] Peacham places “that horne of Windsor (of an unicorne very likely)”[216] amongst the sights worth seeing. Fuller also speaks of a unicorn’s horn—“in my memory shewn to people in the Tower”[217]—and enters on a long dissertation about its virtues; but it seems to have been lost, or at least, no longer exhibited in his time.

The belief in the efficacy and value of this horn continued to the close of the seventeenth century; for the Rev. John Ward in his diary, p. 172, says:—

“Mr Hartman had a piece of unicorn’s horn, which one Mr Godeski gave him; hee had itt att some foraine prince’s court. I had the piece in my hand. Hee desired Dr Willis to make use of itt in curing his ague; but the Dr refusd because hee had never seen itt used. Mr Hartman told me the forementioned gentleman has as much of itt as would make a cup, and he intended to make one of itt. It approved ittself as a true one, as he said by this: if one drew a circle with itt about a spider, she would not move out off itt.”[218]

(Banks’s Collection, 1730.)
(Harleian Collection, 1708.)
(Banks’s Collection, 1760.)
(St Martin’s-le-Grand, 1835.)
(Angel St., St Martin’s-le-Grand, circa 1800.)


The great value set upon unicorns’ horn caused the goldsmiths to adopt this animal as their sign. There is one recorded in Machyn’s Diary: the first of May 1561, “at afternone dyd Mastyr Godderyke’s sune the goldsmyth go hup into hys father’s gyldyng house, toke a bowe-strynge, and hanged ymseylff at the syne of the Unycorne in Chepesyd.” In 1711 the Unicorn and Dial was the sign of a watchmaker near the Strand Bridge.[219]

Another fabulous animal that formerly (though rarely) occurred on signboards was the Cockatrice, which was the sign of a place of amusement in Highbury circa 1611. The “Bestiaria,” or ancient natural histories, give most extraordinary particulars about the birth of this creature:—

“When the cock is past seven years old an egg grows in his belly, and when he feels this egg, he wonders very much, and sustains the greatest anxiety any animal can suffer. He seeks, privately, a warm place on a dunghill or in a stable, and scratches with his feet, until he has formed a hole to lay his egg in. And when the cock has dug his hole he goes ten times a day to it, for all day he thinks that he is going to be delivered. And the nature of the toad is such that it smells the venom which the cock carries in his belly, consequently it watches him, so that the cock cannot go to the hole without being seen by it. And as soon as the cock leaves the place where he has to lay his egg, the toad is immediately there to see if the egg has been laid; for his nature is such, that he hatches the egg if he can obtain it. And when he has hatched it, until it is time to open, it produces an animal that has the head, and neck, and breast of a cock, and from thence downwards, the body of a serpent.”—Translation from the MS. Bestiarium, Bib. Roy. Brussels, No. 10074.

That cocks, sometimes in the middle ages, forgot themselves so far as to lay eggs, appears from a lawsuit which poor chanticleer had at Basle in 1474, when he was convicted, condemned, and, with his egg, burned at the stake for a sorcerer, with as much pomp and ceremony as if he had been a Protestant or other heretic.

The Ape was, in bygone times, the sign of an inn in Philip Lane, near London wall; all that now remains of this ancient hostelry is a stone carving of a monkey squatted on its haunches, and eating an apple; under it the date 1670, and the initial B. The[162] courtyard, where the lumbering coaches used to arrive and depart, is now an open space, round which houses are built. The Racoon is a painted sign at Dalston, but a hyæna seems to have sat for the portrait; the Hippopotamus occurs in New-England Street, Brighton; the Ibex at Chadelworth, Wantage; the Crocodile in Higham Street, Norwich; the Camel may be met with in a few instances, and at Weston Peverell, Plymouth, there is the sign of the Camel’s Head. Finally, there is the Kangaroo, of which, occasionally, an example may be seen, set up probably by some landlord who had tried his luck in Australia. The Civet is common all over Europe as a perfumer’s sign, as it was said to produce musk. A Dutch perfumer in the seventeenth century wrote under his sign:—

“Dit ’s in de Civet kat, gelyk gy kunt aanschouwen,
Maar komt hier binnen, hier zyn parfuimen voor mannen en vrouwen.”[220]

The Hedgehog was never very common. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth it was the sign of William Seeres, bookseller, in St Paul’s Churchyard, who put it up, according to Bagford, on account of its being the badge of his former master Sir Henry Sydney.[221] Apparently this same house was concerned in the following strange affair:—

“By a lettere dated London, 11 May 1555, it appears that in Powles Churchyearde at the sign of the Hedgehog, the goodwife of the house was brought to bed of a manchild, being of the age of 6 dayes and dienge the 7th daye followinge; and half an hour before it departed spake these words followinge: (rise and pray) and so continued half an houre in thes words and then cryinge departed the worlde. Hereupon the Bishope of London examined the goodman of the house and other credible persones who affirmed it to be true and will dye uppon the same.”[222]

The Hedgehog is now very scarce on signboards; at Dadlington, near Market Bosworth, there is a Dog and Hedgehog, doubtless borrowed from the well-known engraving of “A Rough Customer.”

Signs relating to sport or the chase are comparatively common; thus we have the Rat and Ferret at Wilson, near Ashby de la Zouch; the Three Conies, or rabbits, figure on an old trades[163] token of Blackman Street; the Hare, on the token of John Perris in the Strand, 1666; and Nicholas Warren, in Aldersgate.[223] Warren evidently made a cockney mistake, thinking that hares, instead of rabbits, lived in warrens. Another Hare was the sign of Philip Hause in Walbrook in 1682.[224] The Hare and Squirrel occur together on a sign at Nuneaton; what the combination means it is difficult to surmise.

“Cages with climbing Squirrels and bells to them were formerly the indispensable appendages of the outside of a Tinman’s shop, and were, in fact, the only live sign. One, we believe, still (1826) hangs out on Holborn; but they are fast vanishing with the good old modes of our ancestors.”[225]

The Three Squirrels was the sign of an inn at Lambeth, mentioned by Taylor the Water poet in 1636; and from a trades token it appears that in the seventeenth century there was a similar sign in Fleet Street. Probably it was the same house which, in 16734, was occupied by Gosling the banker, “over against St Dunstan’s Church,” where the triad of squirrels may still be seen in the iron-work of the windows. Gosling’s was one of the leading banking establishments in the reign of Charles II. Among the curiosities of this old firm is a bill for £640, 8s., paid out of the secret service money for gold lace and silver lace, bought by the Duchess of Cleveland for the wedding clothes of the Lady Sussex and Litchfield.

The Hare and Hounds are very common; some fifty years ago it was the sign of a notorious establishment in St Giles’s, one of those places associated with “the good old customs of our ancestors.” As the few houses of this character that remain are difficult of access, a description of this place may not be uninteresting.

“The Hare and Hounds was to be reached by those going from the west end towards the city, by going up a turning on the left hand, nearly opposite St Giles’s churchyard. The entrance to this turning or lane was obstructed or defended by posts with cross bars, which being passed, the lane itself was entered. It extended some twenty or thirty yards towards the north, through two rows of the most filthy, dilapidated, and execrable buildings that could be imagined; and at the top or end of it stood the citadel, of which ’Stunning Joe’ was the corpulent castellan;—I need not say that it required some determination and some address to gain this strange place of rendezvous. Those who had the honour of an introduction to the great man were considered safe, wherever his authority extended, and in[164] this locality it was certainly very extensive. He occasionally condescended to act as a pilot through the navigation of the alley to persons of aristocratic or wealthy pretensions, whom curiosity, or some other motive best known to themselves, led to his abode. Those who were not under his safe conduct frequently found it very unsafe to wander in the intricacies of this region. In the salon of this temple of low debauchery were assembled groups of all ‘unutterable things,’ all that class distinguished in those days, and, I believe, in these, by the generic term ‘cadgers.’

Hail cadgers, who in rags array’d,
Disport and play fantastic pranks;
Each Wednesday night in full parade,
Within the domicile of Bank’s.

A ‘lady’ presided over the revels, collected largess in a platter, and, at intervals, amused the company with specimens of her vocal talent. Dancing was ‘kept up till a late hour,’ with more vigour than elegance, and many terpsichorean passages, which partook rather of the animation of the ‘Nautch’ than the dignity of the minuet, increased the interest of the performance. It may be supposed that those who assembled were not the sort of people who would have patronised Father Matthew had he visited St Giles’s in those times. There was indeed an almost incessant complaint of drought, which seemed to be increased by the very remedies applied for its cure; and had it not been for the despotic authority with which the dispenser of the good things of the establishment exercised his rule, his liberality in the dispensation would certainly have led to very vigorous developments of the reprobation of man and of woman also. In the lower tier, or cellars, or crypt of the edifice, beds or berths were provided for the company, who, packed in bins after the ‘fitful fever’ of the evening, slept well.”[226]

In 1750 there was a sign of the Hare and Cats at Norwich,[227] which was clearly a travesty of the Hare and Hounds.

The Stag may in early times have been put up as a religious type. As such it is of constant occurrence in the catacombs and in early Christian sculptures, in allusion to Psalm xlii., “Like as the hart desireth the water brook, so longeth my soul after thee, O God!”[228] The Stag is still a very common sign. A publican on the Fulham Road has put up the sign of the Stag, and added to this on the tympanum: “Rex in regno suo non habet parem,” the application of which is best known to mine host himself.

The Baldfaced Stag is seen in many places: baldfaced is a term applied to horses who have a white strip down the forehead to the nose. At Chigwell in Essex there is a Bald Hind, and[165] in the High Street, Reading, a Bald Face, both evidently derived from the last-named stag.

Various combinations also occur, as the Stag and Castle, at Thornton, near Hinckly; the Stag and Pheasant, rather common; both these, doubtless, allude to the game seen in parks, or in the neighbourhood of noblemen’s seats; the Stag and Oak, the Cape, Warwickshire, points towards a similar origin, but the Stag and Thorn at Traffick Street, Derby, seems to be a union of two signs, for the Thorn appears in the same street on another public-house. There is, however, a sort of tree called the Buck-Thorn, which possibly may have been corrupted into the Buck and Thorn, and hence the Stag and Thorn. The Rising Deer (Brampton-en-le-Morthen, Yorkshire) and the Rising Buck (Sheinton, Shropshire) have a decided deer-stalking smack about them, affording us a glimpse of the cautious stag rising from the heather, pricking his ears and sniffing the wind.

The Ranged Deer was the sign of the King’s gunsmith in the Minories, 1673.[229] At that period this street was full of smiths:

“The Mulcibers who in the Minories sweat
And massive bars on stubborn anvils beat,
Deform’d themselves, yet forge those stays of steel
Which arm Aurelia with a shape to kill.”—Congreve.

This ranged deer was simply intended for the Reindeer, which animal had then just newly come under the notice of the public; their knowledge of it was still confused, and its name was spelled in various ways, such as: rain-deer, rained-deer, range-deer, and ranged-deer.

The Roebuck is equally common with the Stag; the Golden Buck, near St Dunstan, was the shop of P. Overton, publisher of “The Cries of the City of London, consisting of 74 copper-prints, each figure drawn after the life, by the famous Mr Laron.” The Buck and Bell is a sign at Long Itchington: the bell was frequently added to the signs of public-houses in honour of the bell-ringers, who were in the habit of refreshing themselves there. Hence we have the Bull and Bell, Briggate, Leeds; the Raven and Bell, at Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton, and Newport; the Bell and Talbot, at Bridgenorth; the Dolphin and Bell on the token of John Warner, Aldersgate, 1668; the Fish and Bell, (evidently the same sign,) Charles Street, Soho; the Three[166] Swans and Peal at Walsall; the Nelson and Peal, and many others.

Among the taverns with the sign of the Roebuck that have become famous, the house in Cheapside may be mentioned as a notorious place during the Whig riots in 1715.

Not only the Deer tribe themselves, but their Horns also make a considerable figure on the signboard. It is probably to the sign of the Horns that allusion is made in the roll of the Pardoner, “Cocke Lorells Bote:”

“Here is Maryone Marchauntes at Allgate
Her Husbõde dwells at ye siggne of ye Cokeldes Pate.”

The Horns was a tavern of note in Fleet Street in the reign of Queen Elizabeth:

“The xvj day of September (1557), cam owt of Spayn to the Quens Cowrt in post Monser Regamus, gorgysly apparelled, with divers Spaneardes, and with grett cheynes, and their hats sett with stones and perlles, and sopyd [supped], and by vij of the cloke were again on horsẽbake, and so thrugh Flet Strett, and at the Hornes they dronke, and at the Grayhonde, and so thrugh Chepesyde, and so over the bryge, and so rod all nyght toward Dover.”—Machyn’s Diary.

Sometimes the Horns are specified as the Hart’s Horns Inn, Smithfield, near Pie Corner, one of the houses in the yard of which Joe Miller used to play during Bartholomew Fair time, when he was associated with Pinkethman at the head of a troop of actors. The London Daily Post for August 24, &c., 1721, contains several advertisements of his troop, and the parts played by himself.

What most contributed to the popularity of this sign in the environs of London was the custom alluded to by Byron:

“And many to the steep of Highgate hie,
Ask ye, Bœotian shades! the reason why,
’Tis to the worship of the solemn horn,
Grasp’d in the holy hand of mystery,
In whose dread name both men and maids are sworn,
And consecrate the oath with draught and dance till morn.”[230]

Highgate was the headquarters for this swearing on the horn. Hone gives the oath in the following form:—

“An old and respectable inhabitant of the village says, that 60 years ago, upwards of 80 stages stopped every day at the Red Lion, and that out of every 5 passengers 3 were sworn. The oath was delivered standing, and ran thus: ‘Take notice what I now say unto you, for that is the first word of your oath—mind that! You must acknowledge me to be your adopted father, I must acknowledge you to be my adopted son (or daughter). If you do not call me father, you forfeit a bottle of wine. If I do not call[167] you son, I forfeit the same. And now, my good son, if you are travelling through this village of Highgate, and you have no money in your pocket, go call for a bottle of wine at any house you think proper to go into, and book it to your father’s score. If you have any friends with you you may treat them as well, but if you have money of your own you must pay for it yourself. For you must not say you have no money when you have, neither must you convey the money out of your own pockets into your friends’ pockets, for I shall search you as well as them; and if it is found that you or they have money, you forfeit a bottle of wine for trying to cozen and cheat your poor old ancient father. You must not eat brown bread while you can get white, except you like the brown the best; you must not drink small beer while you can get strong, except you like the small the best. You must not kiss the maid while you can kiss the mistress, except you like the maid the best, but sooner than lose a good chance you may kiss them both. And now, my good son, for a word or two of advice: keep from all houses of ill repute, and every place of public resort for bad company. Beware of false friends, for they will turn to be your foes, and inveigle you into houses where you may lose your money and get no redress. Keep from thieves of every denomination. And now, my good son, I wish you a safe journey through Highgate and this life. I charge you, my good son, that if you know any in this company who have not taken the oath you must cause them to take it, or make each of them forfeit a bottle of wine, for if you fail to do so you will forfeit a bottle of wine yourself. So now my good son, God bless you. Kiss the horns or a pretty girl, if you see one here which you like best, and so be free of Highgate.’”

After that, the new-made member became fully acquainted with the privileges of a freeman, which consisted in:

“If at any time you are going through Highgate, and want to rest yourself, and you see a pig lying in the ditch, you have liberty to kick her out and take her place; but if you see three lying together, you must only kick out the middle one and lie between the other two.”

These last liberties, however, are a later addition to the oath introduced by a blacksmith, who kept the Coach and Horses. Nearly every inn in Highgate used to keep a pair of horns for this custom. In Hone’s time the principal inn, the Gatehouse, had stag-horns:—

Hone supposes the custom to have originated in a sort of graziers’ club.[231] Highgate being the place nearest London where[168] cattle rested on their way from the north, certain graziers were accustomed to put up at the Gatehouse for the night. But as they could not wholly exclude strangers who, like themselves, were travelling on business, they brought an ox to the door, and those who did not choose to kiss its horns, after going through the ceremony described, were not deemed fit members of their society. Similar customs prevailed in other places, as at Ware, at the Griffin in Hoddesdon, &c.

On the Continent the sign of the Horns was formerly equally common, often accompanied with some sly allusion to what Othello calls “the forked plague.” Thus in the Rue Bourg Chavin, in Lyons, there is now a pair of horns with the inscription “Sunt similia tuis;” and a Dutch shopkeeper of the seventeenth century wrote under his sign of the Horns

“Ik draag Hoornen dat ider ziet,
Maar menig draagt Hoornen en weet het niet.”[232]

The Fox, as might be expected, is to be seen in a great many places; there is one at Frandley, Cheshire, with the following rhymes:—

“Behold the Fox, near Frandley stocks,
Pray catch him when you can,
For they sell here, good ale and beer,
To any honest man.”

A still more absurd inscription accompanies the sign of the Fox at Folkesworth, near Stilton, Hunts:—

I . ham . a . cunen . fox
You . see . ther . his .
No . harm . atched .
To . Me . it . is . my . Mrs
Wish . to . place . me
Here . to . let . you . no .
He . sells . good . beere .

Formerly there used to be a sign of the Three Foxes in Clement’s Lane, Lombard Street, carved in stone, representing three foxes sitting in a row. But a few years ago the house came into the possession of a legal firm, who, no doubt afraid of the jokes to which the sign might lead, thought it advisable to do away with the carving by covering it over with plaster.

One of the most favourite combinations is the Fox and Goose, represented by a fox currant, with the neck of the goose in his mouth and the body cast over his back. It seems suggested[169] by an incident in the old tale of “Reynard the Fox,” and was a subject which mediæval artists were never tired of representing; it occurs in stall carvings, as in Gloucester Cathedral; in the border of the Bayeux tapestry, and in endless MS. illuminations. It is, or was, a coat of arms borne by the families of Foxwist and Foxfeld. Derived from this sign are the Fox and Duck, (two in Sheffield,) and the Fox and Hen, of which there is an example at Long Itchington. Reynard’s predatory habits are further illustrated by the Fox and Lamb, in Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, in Allendale, &c., and the Fox and Grapes, borrowed from the fable. From the same well-known source also arose the sign of the Fox and Crane. But we see the punishment of all Reynard’s misdemeanours in the Fox and Hounds, a sign of old standing, as there is one in Putney on a house which professes to have been “established above three hundred years.” The Fox and Owl at Nottingham, seems to owe its origin to a curious qui pro quo in language. A bunch of ivy, or ivy tod, was generally considered the favourite haunt of an owl; but a tod also signifies a fox; and so the owl’s nest, owls-tod, may have led to the owl and tod, the fox and owl. The Owl’s Nest is still a sign at St Helen’s, Lancashire. See under Bird Signs.

In the sign of the Fox and Bull, at Knightsbridge, the bull has been added of late years. About fifty years ago a magistrate used to sit once a week at this public-house to settle the small disputes of the neighbouring inhabitants. At that period Knightsbridge was still in such a benighted condition that neither a butcher’s nor draper’s shop was to be found between Hyde Park Corner and Sloane Street; and the whole locality could only boast of one stationer where note-paper and newspapers could be obtained. The voyage to London in those days was performed in a sort of lumbering stagecoach, over an ill-paved and dimly-lighted road. To this Fox Inn, by a very old wooden gate at the back, the bodies of the drowned in the Serpentine used to be conveyed, to the care of the Royal Humane Society, who had a receiving-house here. Among the many unhappy young and fair ones who were carried through that “Lasciate-ogni-speranza” gate, was Harriet Westbrook, the first wife of Shelley the poet, who had drowned herself in the Serpentine upon hearing that her husband had run off to Italy with Mary, the daughter of William Godwin, bookseller and philosopher of Snow Hill. The[170] ancient inn remained much in its Elizabethan condition till the year 1799, when certain alterations cleared away the old-fashioned fire-places, chimney-pieces, and dog-irons, by which had sat the weather-beaten soldiers of Cromwell, the highwaymen lying in ambush for the mail coaches, and the fair London ladies out on a sly trip.

Some other combinations are not so easily explained, such as the Fox and Cap, Long Lane, Smithfield: but when we see the bill of this shop[233] the mystery is explained; it was the sign of Tho. Tronsdale, a capmaker, and represented a fox running, with a cap painted above him, to intimate the man’s business. The Fox and Crown, Nottingham and Newark, is evidently a combination of two signs. The Fox and Knot, Snow Hill, seems to be of old standing, as it has given its name to a court close by. Its origin, doubtless, is exactly similar to that of the Fox and Cap; the knot or top-knot being a head-dress worn by ladies in the last century. The Flying Fox at Colchester, may either allude to some kind of bat or flying squirrel (?) thus denominated, or is a landlord’s caprice.

It is certainly somewhat strange that in this sporting country the sign of the Brush or the Fox’s Tail should be so rare; in fact, no instance of its use is now to be found, although, beside the interest attached to it in the hunting field, it had the honour of being one of the badges of the Lancaster family. What is still more surprising is, that the Fox’s Tail should have been the sign of a Parisian bookseller, Jean Ruelle, in 1540; but what prompted him to choose this sign is now rather difficult to guess.


Notwithstanding the ballad of the “Vicar and Moses,” which says,

At the sign of the Horse old Spintext of course
Each night took his pipe and his pot,”

the horse rarely or never occurs without a distinctive adjective to determine its colour, action, or other attribute. All natural colours of the horse, and some others, are found on the signboard—black, white, bay, sorrel, (rare,) pied, spotted, red, sometimes golden, and in one instance, at Grantham, a Blue Horse is met[171] with. Frequently the sign of the Horse is accompanied by the following hippophile advice:—

“Up hill hurry me not;
Down hill trot me not;
On level ground spare me not;
And in the stable I’m not forgot.”

Many years ago, at Greenwich, there was a public-house with the sign of a Horse. Behind the house was a large grass field, to which referred the following notice, painted under the sign:—“Good Grass for Horses. Long Tails three shillings and sixpence per week.” An inquisitive person passing that way, and not understanding the meaning of the notice, went in and questioned the landlord, who informed him that a difference was made for the bob-tailed horses; “for,” said he, “long-tailed horses can whisk off the flies, and eat at their leisure; but bob-tails have to shake their heads and run about from morning till night, and so do eat much less.”

The Red Horse is now almost extinct; it occurs as the sign of a house in Bond Street, in an advertisement about a spaniel lost by the Duke of Grafton.[234] By the term red was not meant vermilion; at that time it was the accepted word for what we now call roan. The Bay Horse is a great favourite in Yorkshire; in 1861 there were, in the West Riding alone, not less than seventy-seven inns, taverns, and public-houses, with such a sign, besides innumerable ale-houses. One would expect the Yorkshire Grey more indigenous to that county. The Dapple Grey is apparently a tribute of gratitude of the publicans to the “Dapple Grey” of the nursery rhyme

“I had a little bonny nag,
His name was Dapple Grey,
And he would bring me to an ale-house
A mile out of the way.”

Dappled grey, too, was the fashionable colour of horses in the last century; thus Pope’s mercenary Duchess

“The gods, to curse Pamela with her prayers,
Gave her gilt coach and dappled Flanders mares.”

Of the White Horse innumerable instances occur, and many are connected with names known in history. At the White Horse, near Burleigh-on-the-Hill, the noted Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, spent the last years of his life, and died.


“The Duke of Queensbury being present at his death, knowing the Duke to be a dissenter, and thinking he must be a Catholic, offered to send for a Catholic priest, to which the Duke answered, ‘No,’ said he, ‘those rascals eat God; but if you know of any set of fellows that eat the devil, I should be obliged to you if you would send for one of them!’”

All of a piece! So ended

“That life of pleasure, and that soul of whim.”[235]

At the White Horse in Kensington, Addison wrote several of his Spectators. His favourite dinner, when he stayed at this house, was fillet of veal and a bottle of claret. The old inn remained in its original state till about forty years ago, when it was pulled down, and the name changed to the Holland Arms; but the sign is still preserved in the parlour of the new establishment.

Edinburgh also has its famous White Horse; in a close in the Canongate, an inn dating from the time of Queen Mary Stuart, and which Scott has introduced in one of his novels, may still be seen. It was well-known to runaway couples, and hundreds have been made happy or unhappy for life “at a moment’s notice,” in its large room, in which, as well as in the White Hart in the Grassmarket, these impromptu marriages were as regularly performed as at Gretna Green. The White Horse Cellar, Piccadilly, now a tame omnibus office, was for more than a century one of the bustling coaching inns for the West. “Some persons think the sublimest object in nature is a ship launched on the bosom of the ocean; but give me, for my private satisfaction, the mail coaches that pour down Piccadilly of an evening, tear up the pavement, and devour the way before them to the Land’s-End.”—Hazlitt. This place calls up pleasant fancies of travelling by the mail, through merry roads, with blooming hawthorn and chestnut trees, larks singing aloft, the village bells, and the blacksmith’s hammer tinkling in the distance; but another White Horse Inn shows the dark side of the picture—the unsafety of the roads, for the White Horse, corner of Welbeck Street, Cavendish Square, was long a detached public-house, where travellers customarily stopped for refreshment, and to examine their firearms before crossing the fields to Lisson Green.[236] The last White Horse we shall mention was in Pope’s Head Alley, the sign of John Sudbury and George Humble, the first men that opened a printshop in London, in the beginning of the seventeenth century. Peacham, in his “Compleat Gentleman,” says that Goltzius’ engravings[173] were commonly to be had in Pope’s Head Alley. There also, in 1611, the first edition of Speed’s “Great Britain” was published.

At a certain place in Warwickshire a fellow started a public-house near four others, with signs respectively of the Bear, the Angel, the Ship, and the Three Cups. Yet quite undaunted at his neighbours, he put up the White Horse as his sign, and under it wrote the following spirited and prophetic rhymes:—

“My White Horse shall bite the Bear,
And make the Angel fly;
Shall turn the Ship her bottom up,
And drink the Three Cups dry.”

And so it did; the lines pleased the people, the other houses soon lost their custom, and tradition says that the fellow made a considerable fortune.

The Running Horse or the Galloping Horse—perhaps originally the horse of Hanover—is also very common. In the London Gazette, Feb. 12-15, 1699, a horse race is advertised at Lilly Hoo, in Hertford; the advertisement concludes: “and on the same day a smock worth £3 will be run for, besides other encouragements for those that come in 2d. or 3d. Any woman may run gratis, that enters her name at the Running Horse, where articles may be seen,” &c. Races by women were not uncommon in those days, and instances may yet occasionally be heard of, particularly in the east end of London, where every great match generally concludes with a race among the free and easy ladies of the neighbourhood.

The combinations in which we meet with the Horse are all very plain, and require no explanation. The Horse and Groom, and the Horse and Jockey, are the most prevalent. Racing, from time immemorial, has been a favourite English sport. Fitzstephen mentions the races in the days of Henry II., and in the ballad of Syr Bevys of Hampton,[237] full details are given.

“In somer at Whitsontide,
Whan knighten most on horseback ride,
A course let they make or a daye
Steedes and Palfraye for to assaye;
Which horse that best may ren,
Three miles the cours was then,
Who that might ride them shoulde
Have forty pounds of redy golde.”

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth races were much in vogue,[174] and betting carried to great excess. The famous George Earl of Cumberland is recorded to have wasted more money than any of his ancestors, chiefly by racing and tilting. In 1599, private matches by gentlemen who rode their own horses were of frequent occurrence. In the reign of James I. public races were celebrated at various places, under much the same regulations as now. The most celebrated were called Bellcourses. In the latter part of the reign of Charles I. there were races in Hyde Park as well as at Newmarket. Charles II. was very fond of this diversion, and appointed meetings at Datchet Mead when he resided at Windsor. Gradually, however, Newmarket became the principal place. The king, a constant attendant, established a house for his own accommodation, and entered horses in his royal name. Instead of bells, he gave a silver bowl or a cup, value 100 guineas, on which the exploit and pedigree of the winning horse were generally engraved. William III. and Queen Anne both added to the plate. George I., towards the end of his reign, discontinued the plate and gave 100 guineas instead; George II. made several racing regulations, about the age of horses, the weight of jockeys, &c. Already, in 1768, the horses had obtained great swiftness; for Misson, in his “Travels,” mentions one that ran 20 miles in 55 minutes upon uneven ground, which for those times was certainly a remarkable feat.

The Bell and Horse is an old and still frequent sign; it occurs on trades tokens; as John Harcourt at the Bell and Black Horse in Finsbury, 1668, and on various others; whilst at the present day it may be seen at many a roadside alehouse. Bells were a favourite addition to the trappings of horses in the middle ages. Chaucer’s abbot is described:—

“When he rode men his bridle hear,
Gingling in a whistling wind as clere,
And eke as loud as doth a chapel bell.”

In a MS. in the Cottonian Library[238] relating the journey of Margaret of England to Scotland, there to be married to King James, we find constant mention of these bells. The horse of Sir William Ikarguil, companion of Sir William Conyars, sheriff of Yorkshire, is described as “his Hors Harnays full of campanes [bells] of silver and gylt.” Whilst the master of the horse of the Duke of Northumberland was “monted apon a gentyll horse, and campanes[175] of silver and gylt.” And a company of knights is introduced, “some of their hors harnes was full of campanes, sum of gold and sylver, and others of gold.” This led to the custom of giving a golden bell as the reward of a race. In Chester, such a bell was run for yearly on St George’s day; it was “dedicated to the kinge, being double gilt with the Kynges Armes upon it,” and was carried in the procession by a man on horseback “upon a septer in pompe, and before him a noise of trumpets in pompe.”[239] This custom of racing for a bell led to the adoption of the still common phrase, bearing off the BELL.

Names of celebrated race horses are found on signboards as well as human celebrities. Such are Bay Childers at Dronfield, Derby; Flying Childers at Melton Mowbray; Wild Dayrell, Oldham; Filho da Puta, Nottingham; and Filho tavern, Manchester. Blink Bonny is common in Northumberland; Flying Dutchman occurs in various places; and the Arabian Horse at Aberford, in Yorkshire, may perhaps represent the great Arabian Godolphin, the sire of all our famous racers.

The Horse and Tiger, at Rotherham, is said to refer to the accident in a travelling menagerie which took place many years ago, when the tiger broke loose and sprang upon the leaders of a passing mail coach, although visitors from London generally suppose the “tiger” to mean the spruce groom, or horse attendant, coming from the country to London in such numbers. Even that poor hack, the Manage Horse, is not forgotten, as he may be seen going through his paces before a public-house in Cottles Lane, Bath. In one of the turnings in Cannon Street, City, there is an old sign of the Horse and Dorsiter, which is simply an old rendering of the more common Pack Horse, formerly the usual sign of a posting inn. No doubt the Frighted Horse, which occurs in many places, belongs to this class of horses,—the expression “fright” being a corruption of freight. Some publicans who, with their trade combine the calling of farrier, set up the sign of the Horse and Farrier,—in Ireland rendered as the Bleeding Horse. A Dutch farrier in the village of Schagen, in the seventeenth century, put up the sign of the White Horse, and wrote under it the following very philosophical verse:—

“In ’t witte Paard worden de paarden haar voeten met yzer beslagen
[176] Dat men de menschen dat mee kon doen zy hoefden dan geen schoenen te dragen.”[240]

The Horse and Stag, (Finningley, Nottinghamshire,) and the Horse and Gate, are both hunting signs; yet the last may have been suggested by the Bull and Gate. The Horse and Trumpet is a very common sign, illustrating the war horse; the Horse and Chaise (or shaze, as it is spelled) in the Broad Centry, (sanctuary,) Westminster, is named in an advertisement in the Postboy, Jan. 23-25, 1711; whilst the Chaise and Pair is still to be seen at Northill, Colchester.

The Nag’s Head—which only in one instance is varied by the Horse’s Head, namely, at Brampton in Cumberland—is a sign that has become famous in history; it is represented on the print of the entry of Queen Marie de’ Medici on her visit to her daughter Henriette Marie, Queen of Charles I., being the sign of a notorious tavern opposite the Cheapside Cross. It is suspended from a long square beam, at the end of which a large crown of evergreens is seen. As none of the other houses are decked with greens, this apparently represents the Bush.[241] This tavern was the fictitious scene of the consecration of the Protestant bishops at the accession of Queen Elizabeth in 1559. It was pretended by the adversaries of the Protestant faith, that a certain number of ecclesiastics, in a hurry to take possession of the vacant sees, assembled here; where they were to undergo the ceremony from Antony Kitchen, alias Dunstane, Bishop of Llandaff, a sort of occasional Nonconformist, who had taken the oath of supremacy to Elizabeth; Bonner, Bishop of London, (then confined in the Tower,) hearing of it, sent his chaplain to Kitchen, threatening him with excommunication in case he proceeded. On this the prelate refused to perform the ceremony; whereupon, according to Catholics, Parker and the other candidates, rather than defer possession of their dioceses, determined to consecrate one another, which they did, without any sort of scruple. Scorey began with Parker, who instantly rose Archbishop of Canterbury. The refutation of this tale may be read in Strype’s life of Archbishop Parker.[242]

A curious anecdote is told concerning the sign of a Gelding.[177] Golden Square, it appears, was originally called Gelding Square, from the sign of a neighbouring inn; but the inhabitants, indignant at the vulgarity of the name, changed it to its present title.

Some publicans appear to be of opinion that the Grey Mare is the best horse for their signboards; in Lancashire, especially, this sign abounds. Others put up the Mare and Foal; but they are evidently not very well acquainted with the old ballad of the “Mare and Foal that went to church,” for there the Mare says:—

“Oh! to pray for those publicans I am very loath,
They fill their pots full of nothing but froth,
Some fill them half full, and others the whole;
May the devil go with them!—Amen, says the foal.
Derry down,” &c.

Besides the Mare and Foal, there is the Cow and Calf, which is very common. A still more happy mother, the Cow and Two Calves, was, in 1762, a sign near Chelsea Pond; whilst a touching picture of paternal bliss might have been seen on a sign in Islington in the last century, viz., the Bull and Three Calves; that animal, doubtless, was placed there in the company of his offspring, to illustrate the homely old proverb, “He that bulls the cow must keep the calf.” The Goat and Kid was a sign at Norwich in 1711;[243] the Sow and Pigs is common; and the Ewe and Lamb occurs on a trades token of Hatton Garden in 1668, and may still be seen in many places. A practical traveller in the coaching days, staying at the Ewe and Lamb in Worcester, wrote on a pane of glass in that inn the following very true remark:—

“If the people suck your ale no more
Than the poor Lamb, th’ Ewe at the door,
You in some other place may dwell,
Or hang yourself for all you’ll sell.”

The Cat and Kittens was, about 1823, a sign near Eastcheap; it may have come from the publican’s slang expression, cat and kittens, as applied to the large and small pewter pots. In the police courts it is not uncommon to hear that such and such low persons have been “had up” for “cat and kitten sneaking,” i.e., stealing quart and pint pots.

So much for quadrupeds. Happy families of birds are equally abundant; there was the Sparrow’s Nest in Drury Lane, of which trades tokens are extant; the Throstle Nest, (a not inappropriate name for a free-and-easy singing club!) is the sign of[178] a public-house at Buglawton, near Congleton; the Martin’s Nest, at Thornhill Bridge, Normanton; the Kite’s Nest, (an unpromising name for an inn, if there be anything in a name,) at Stretton, in Herefordshire; and finally, the Brood Hen, or Hen and Chickens, which latter is more common than any of the former. Not improbably it originated with the sign of the Pelican’s Nest, to which several of the above-named nests may be referred. Under the name of the “Brood Hen,” it occurs on a trades token of Battle Bridge, Southwark; as the “Hen and Chickens,” it was also known in the seventeenth century, for there are tokens of John Sell “at ye Hen and Chickens on Hammond’s Key;” it is likewise mentioned in the following daily occurrence of the good old times:—

“Wednesday night last, Captain Lambert was stopt by three footpads near the Hen and Chickens, between Peckham and Camberwell, and robbed of a sum of money and his gold watch.”[244]

The prevalence of this sign may be accounted for by the kindred love for the barleycorn in the human and gallinaceous tribes. It was also used as a sign by Paulus Sessius, a bookseller of Prague, in 1606, who printed some of Kepler’s astronomical works; above his colophon, representing the hen and her offspring, is the motto: “GRANA DAT A FIMO SCRUTANS,” the application of which is not very obvious.

Speaking of birds’ nests figuring as signs, we may mention that, at the beginning of the present century, the small shops under the tree at the corner of Milk Street, City, used to describe themselves as “under the Crow’s Nest, Cheapside.” An old-fashioned snuff shop, still in existence, issued its tobacco papers in this way, and the small bookshop there at present advertises itself as “under the tree,” although it was only very recently that the crow ceased to visit and repair his nest here.

The Three Colts, in Bride Lane, 1652, is represented on a trades token by three colts running; such a sign gave its name to a street in Limehouse. The Horseshoe is a favourite in combination with other subjects. Aubrey, in his “Miscellanies,” p. 148, says:—

“It is a very common thing to nail horseshoes on the thresholds of doors, which is to hinder the power of witches that enter into the house. Most houses of the West End of London have the horseshoe on the threshold; it should be a horseshoe that one finds.”

Elsewhere he says:—


“Under the Porch of Staninfield Church in Suffolk, I saw a tile with a horseshoe upon it placed there for this purpose, though one would imagine that the holy water would have been sufficient.”

Concerning the same superstition Brand observes:—

“I am told there are many other similar instances. In Monmouth Street (probably the part alluded to by Aubrey) many horseshoes nailed to the threshold are still to be seen. In 1813 not less than 17 remained, nailed against the steps of doors. The bawds of Amsterdam believed in 1687, that a horseshoe which had either been found or stolen placed on the hearth would bring good luck to their houses.”[245]

The charm of the horseshoe lies in its being forked and presenting two points; thus Herrick says:—

“Hang up hooks and sheers, to scare
Hence the hag that rides the mare;
Till they be all over wet
With the mire and the sweat,
This observ’d the manes shall be
Of your horses all knot-free.”[246]

Any forked object, therefore, has the power to drive witches away. Hence the children in Italy and Spain are generally seen with a piece of forked coral (coral is particularly efficacious) hung round their necks, whilst even the mules and other cattle are armed with a small crescent formed by two boars’ tusks, or else a forked piece of wood, to avert the spells of what Macbeth calls “the juggling fiends.” Even the two forefingers held out apart are thought sufficient to avert the evil eye, or prevent the machinations of the lord and master of the nether world. Great power also lies in the pentagram and Solomon’s seal, which, being composed of two triangles, present not less than six forked ends. Both these figures are much used by the Moors, with the same object in view as the horseshoe by western nations. In this country, at the present day, scarcely a stable can be seen where there is not a horseshoe nailed on the door or lintel; there is one very conspicuous at the gate of Meux’s brewery at the corner of Tottenham Court Road, and conspicuous on the horse trappings of this establishment the shoe in polished brass may be seen; in fact, it has become the trade-mark of the firm, the same as the red triangle which distinguishes the pale ale of the Burton brewers. The iron heels of workmen’s boots are also frequently seen fixed against the doorpost, or behind the door, of houses of the lower classes.

The Horseshoe, by itself, is comparatively a rare sign. There is a Horseshoe Tavern, mentioned by Aubrey in connexion with[180] one of those reckless deeds of bloodshed so common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries:—

“Captain Carlo Fantom, a Croatian, spake 13 languages, was a captain under the Erle of Essex. He had a world of cuts about his body with swords and was very quarrelsome and a great ravisher. He met coming late at night out of the Horseshoe Tavern in Drury Lane with a lieutenant of Colonel Rossiter, who had great jingling spurs on. Said he, the noise of your spurrs doe offend me, you must come over the kennel and give me satisfaction. They drew and passed at each other, and the lieutenant was runne through and died in an hour or two, and it was not known who killed him.”[247]

This tavern was still in existence in 1692, as appears from the deposition of one of the witnesses in the murder of Mountfort the actor by Captain Hill, who, with his accomplice, Lord Mohun, whilst they were laying in wait for Mrs Bracegirdle, drank a bottle of canary which had been bought at the Horseshoe Tavern.

The Three Horseshoes are not uncommon; and the single shoe may be met with in many combinations, arising from the old belief in its lucky influences: thus the Horse and Horseshoe was the sign of William Warden, at Dover, in the seventeenth century, as appears from his token. The Sun and Horseshoe is still a public-house sign in Great Tichfield Street, and the Magpie and Horseshoe may be seen carved in wood in Fetterlane; the magpie is perched within the horseshoe, a bunch of grapes being suspended from it. The Horns and Horseshoe is represented on the token of William Grainge in Gutterlane, 1666,—a horseshoe within a pair of antlers. The Lion and Horseshoe appears in the following advertisement of a shooting match:—

“ON Friday the 16th of this instant, at two in the afternoon, will be a plate to be (sic) shot for, at twenty-five guineas value, in the Artillerie Ground near Moorfields. No gun to exceed four feet and a half in the barrel, the distance to be 200 yards, and but one shot a piece, the nearest the centre to win. No person that shoots to be less than one guinea, but as many more as he pleases to compleat the sum. The money to be put in the hands of Mr Jones, at the Lion and Horseshoe Tavern, or Mr Turog, gunsmith in the Minories. Note, that if any gentleman has a mind to shoot for the whole, there is a person will shoot with him for it, being left out by mistake in our last.”[248]

The Hoop and Horseshoe on Towerhill, was formerly called the Horseshoe. This, like every old tavern, has its murder to record:—


“The last week one Colonel John Scott took an occasion to kill one John Buttler, a hackney coachman, at the Horse Shoe Tavern on Tower Hill, without any other provocation ’tis said, but refusing to carry him and another gentleman pertaining to the law, from thence to Temple Bar for 1s. 6d. Amongst the many pranks that he hath played in other countries ’tis believed this is one of the very worst. He is a very great vindicator of the Salamanca Doctor. He is a lusty, tall man, squint eyed, thin faced, wears a peruke sometimes and has a very h—— look. All good people would do well if they can to apprehend him that he may be brought to justice.”[249]

The Horseshoe and Crown is named in the following handbill, which is too characteristic to curtail:—

Daughter of a Seventh daughter.
Removed to the sign of the Horseshoe and Crown in Castle Street, near the 7 Dials in St Giles.

Liveth a Gentlewoman, the Daughter of a Seventh Daughter, who far exceeds all her sex, her business being very great amongst the quality, has now thought fit to make herself known to the benefit of the Publick.

She resolves these questions following:—As to Life whether happy or unhappy? the best time of it past or to come? Servants or lodgers if honest or not? To marry the person desir’d or who they shall marry and when? A Friend if real or not? a Woman with child or not, or ever likely to have any! A friend absent dead or alive, if alive when return? Journey by Land or voyages by Sea, the Success thereof. Lawsuits, which shall gain the better? She also Interprets Dreams. These and all other lawful questions which for brevity sake are omitted, she fully resolves.

Her hours are from 7 in the Morning till 12, and from 1 till 8 at Night.”[250]

These quack “gentlewomen” were as much the order of that day as the broken-down clergymen who advertise medicines for nervous and rheumatic complaints are in our own time. Heywood, in his play of “the Wise Woman of Hogsden,” enumerates the following occupations as their perquisites:—

“Let me see how many trades have I to live by: First, I am a wise woman and a fortuneteller, and under that I deale in physick and fore-speaking, in palmestry and things lost. Next I undertake to cure madd folks; Then I keepe gentlewomen lodgers, to furnish such chambers as I let out by the night; Then I am provided for bringing young wenches to bed; and for a need you see I can play the matchmaker.”

Generally they proclaimed themselves the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, a relationship that is still thought to be accompanied by powers not vouchsafed to ordinary mortals. This belief in the virtue of the number 7 doubtless originated from the Old Testament, where that number seems in greater favour than all others. The books of Moses are full of references to it; the creation of the world in 7 days, sevenfold vengeance on whosoever[182] slayeth Cain; Noah had to take 7 males and females of every clean beast, 7 males and females of every fowl of the air, for in 7 days it would begin to rain; the ark rested in the 7th month, &c., &c. From this the middle ages borrowed their predilection for this number, and its cabalistic power.[251]

Horned cattle are just as common as horses on the signboards; the Bull, in particular, is a favourite with the nation, whether as a namesake—so much so, indeed, as to have given it a popular name abroad—or as the source of the favourite roast-beef, or from the ancient sport of bull-baiting, it is difficult to say. From Ben Jonson we gather that there was another reason which sometimes dictated the choice of this animal on the signboard. In the “Alchymist” he introduces a shopkeeper, who wishes the learned Doctor to provide him with a sign.

Face. What say you to his Constellation, Doctor, the Balance?
Sub. No, that is stale and common:
A Townsman born in Taurus gives the Bull
Or the Bull’s head: in Aries, the Ram,
A poor device.”—Alchymist, a. ii. s. i.

Newton dates a letter from “the Bull,” at Shoreditch, September 1693; it is addressed to Locke, and a curious letter it is, containing an apology for having wished Locke dead.

The Bull is generally represented in his natural colour, black, white, grey, pied, “spangled” (in Yorkshire,) and only rarely red and blue; yet these two last colours may simply imply the natural red, brown, and other common hues, for newspapers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries often contain advertisements about blue dogs; and whatever shade that was intended for, it may certainly with as much justice be applied to a bull as to a dog. The Chained Bull at North Allerton, Leeds, and the Bull and Chain, Langworthgate, Lincoln, doubtless refer to the old cruel pastime of bull-baitings. Occasionally we meet also with a Wild Bull, as at Gisburn, near Skipton.

Leigh Hunt observes:—“London has a modern look to the inhabitants; but persons who come from the country find as odd and remote-looking things in it as the Londoners do in York and Chester; and among these are a variety of old inns with corridors running round the yard. They are well worth a glance from anybody who has a respect for old times.” Such a one is the[183] Bull’s Inn in Bishopsgate Street, where formerly plays were acted by Burbadge, Shakespeare’s fellow-comedian, and Tarlton in good Queen Bess’s time amused our forefathers on summers’ afternoons with his quaint jokes and comic parts.[252] This inn is also celebrated as the London house of the famous Hobson, (Hobson’s choice,) the rich Cambridge carrier. Here a painted figure of him was to be seen in the eighteenth century, with a hundred pound bag under his arm, on which was the following inscription:—“The fruitful Mother of a Hundred More.”[253] At the Bull public-house on Towerhill, Thomas Otway, the play writer, died of want at the age of 33, on the 14th of April 1685, having retired to this house to escape his creditors.[254]

The Bull, at Ware, obtained a celebrity by its enormous bed. Taylor, the Water poet, in 1636 remarked, “Ware is a great thorowfare, and hath many fair innes, with very large bedding, and one high and mighty Bed called the Great Bed of Ware: a man may seeke all England over and not find a married couple that can fill it.” Nares, in his “Glossary,” quotes Chauncey’s, Hertfordshire; for a story of twelve married couple who, laid together in the bed, each pair being so placed at the top and bottom of the bed, that the head of one pair was at the feet of another. Shakespeare alludes to it in “Twelfth Night,” where Sir Toby Belch in his drunken humour advises Aguecheek to write: “as many lies as will lie in this sheet of paper, though the sheet were big enough for the Bed of Ware in England,” (a. iii. s. 2.) Where the “high and mighty Bed” was located, seems a mooted point; some say at the Bull, others at the Crown, and Clutterbuck places it at the Saracen’s Head, where there is or was a bed of some twelve feet square, in an Elizabethan style of carved oak, but with the date 1463 painted on the back. Tradition says that it was the bed of Warwick the king-maker, and was bought at a sale of furniture at Ware Park. Recently it has been sold, and Charles Dickens is now said to be its possessor.

The Bull Inn at Buckland, near Dover, deserves to be mentioned for its comical caution to the customers:

“The Bull is tame so fear him not,
All the while you pay your shot.
[184] When money’s gone, and credit’s bad,
It’s that which makes the Bull run mad.”

The famous Old Pied Bull Inn, Islington, was pulled down circa 1827, the house having existed from the time of Queen Elizabeth. The parlour retained its original character to the last. There was a chimney-piece containing Hope, Faith, and Charity, with a border of cherubims, fruit and foliage, whilst the ceiling in stucco represented the five senses. Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have been an inhabitant of this house.

“This conjecture is somewhat strengthened by the nature of the border [in a stained glass window,] which was composed of seahorses, mermaids, parrots, &c., forming a most appropriate allusion to the character of Raleigh, as a great navigator, and discoverer of unknown countries; and the bunch of green leaves [two seahorses supporting a bunch of green leaves,] has been generally asserted to represent the tobacco plant, of which he is said to have been the first importer into this country.”[255]

At what time the house was converted into an inn does not appear. The sign of the Pied Bull in stone relief, on the front towards the south, bore the date 1730, which was probably the year this addition was made to the building. That it was an inn in 1665, appears from the following episode of the Plague-time:

“I remember one citizen, who, having thus broken out of his house in Aldersgate Street, or there about, went along the road to Islington. He attempted to have gone in at the Angel Inn, and after that at the White Horse, two inns known still by the same signs, but was refused; after which he came to the Pied Bull, an inn also still continuing the same sign. He asked them for lodging for one night only, pretending to be going into Lincolnshire, and assuring them of his being very sound, and free from the infection, which also at that time had not reached much that way. They told him they had no lodging, that they could spare but one bed up in the garret, and that they could spare that bed but for one night, some drovers being expected the next day with cattle; so if he would accept of that lodging, he might have it, which he did; so a servant was sent up with a candle with him, to show him the room. He was very well dressed, and looked like a person not used to lie in a garret; and when he came to the room he fetched a deep sigh, and said to the servant, ‘I have seldom lain in such a lodging as this;’ however, the servant assured him again that they had no better. ‘Well,’ says he, ‘I must make shift; this is a dreadful time, but it is but for one night.’ So he sat down upon the bed-side, and bade the maid, I think it was, fetch him up a pint of warm ale. Accordingly the servant went for the ale; but some hurry in the house, which perhaps employed her otherwise, put it out of her head, and she went up no more to him. The next morning, seeing no appearance of the gentleman, somebody in the house asked the servant that had showed him up stairs, what was become of him. She started; ‘alas,’ said she, ‘I never thought more of him; he bade me carry him some warm ale, but I[185] forgot.’ Upon which, not the maid, but some other person was sent up to see after him, who coming into the room found him stark dead, and almost cold, stretched out across the bed. His clothes were pulled off, his jaw fallen, his eyes open in a most frightful posture, the rug of the bed being grasped hard in one of his hands; so that it was plain he died soon after the maid left him; and that it is probable, had she gone up with the ale, she had found him dead in a few minutes after he sat down upon the bed. The alarm was great in the house, as any one may suppose, they having been free from the distemper till that disaster; which bringing the infection to the house, spread it immediately to other houses round about it. I do not remember how many died in the house itself, but I think the maid-servant who went up first with him, fell presently ill by the fright, and several others; for whereas there died but two in Islington of the plague the week before, there died seventeen the week after, whereof fourteen were of the plague. This was in the week from the 11th of July to the 18th.”[256]

The Red Bull was the sign of another of the inn-playhouses in Shakespeare’s time; but, like the Fortune, mostly frequented by the meaner sorts of people. It was situated in Woodbridge Street,[257] Clerkenwell, (its site is still called Red Bull Yard,) and is supposed to have been erected in the early part of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. At all events, it was one of the seventeen playhouses that arose in London between that period and the reign of Charles I. Edward Alleyn the actor, founder of Dulwich College, says in a memorandum, Oct. 3, 1617, “went to the Red Bull and received for the ‘Younger Brother’ [a play], but £3-6-4.” Killigrew’s troop of the king’s players performed in it until the theatre in Lincoln’s-Inn-fields opened. The place was then abandoned to exhibitions of gladiators and feats of strength. The names of the principal theatres at the time of the Commonwealth occur in the following puritanical curse:—

“—— That the Globe
Wherein (quoth he) reigns a whole world of vice,
Had been consumed, the Phenix burnt to ashes,
The Fortune whipp’d for a blind—Blackfriars,
He wonders how it ’scaped demolishing
I’ the time of Reformation; lastly he wished
The Bull might cross the Thames to the Bear-gardens,
And there be soundly baited.”[258]

The Bull’s Head is often seen instead of the Bull; its origin may be from the butchers’ arms, which are azure two axes salterwise, arg. between two roses arg. as many bulls’ heads couped of[186] the second attired or, &c.; in Holland a carved bull’s head is always a leather-seller’s sign. At the Bull’s Head, in Claremarket, the artists’ club used to meet, of which Hogarth was a member, and Dr Ratcliffe a constant visitor. The Bull’s Head was already used in signs three hundred years ago, as we may see from an entry in Machyn’s Diary, which does not say much for the morality of the period:—

“The xij day of June (1560) dyd ryd in a care[259] abowt London ij men and iij women; one man, for he was the bowd and to brynge women unto strangers; and on women was the wyff of the Bell in Gracyous Strett; and a-nodur the wyff of the Bull-hed besyd London Stone, and boyth were bawdes and hores and the thodur man and the woman were brodur and syster and wher taken nakyd together.”

As a variation, on the Bull’s Head there is the Cow’s Face:—

“GEORGE TURNIDGE, aged about 16, a short thickset Lad with a little dark brown Hair, a scar in his left cheek under his eye, wears a canvass jacket lined with red and canvass Breeches, with a red cap, run away from his Master the 7th instant. Whoever secures him and gives Notice to Mr Henry Davis, Waxchandler at the Cow’s Face in Miles Lane in Canon Street, shall have a Guinea Reward, and reasonable charges.”—London Gazette, Jan. 13-17, 1697.

The Bull’s Neck is a sign at Penny Hill, Holbeach, and the Buffalo Head is common in many places. The latter was the sign of one of the coffee-houses near the Exchange, during the South Sea bubble, and was hung up over the head quarters of a company for a grand dispensary, capital £3,000,000. The rage for joint-stock companies had come to such a pitch at that period, that an advertisement appeared stating:—

“THIS day the 8th instant at Sam’s Coffeehouse behind the Royal Exchange, at three in the afternoon, a book will be opened, for entering into a joint copartnership for carrying on a thing that will turn to the advantage of those concerned.”

Not less than £28,000,000 were asked for at that period to enter upon various speculations. At the Buffalo Head Tavern, Charing Cross, Duncan Campbell, the deaf and dumb fortune-teller, used at one time to deliver his oracles. He is immortalised in the Spectator, No. 474, where, in answer to the letter of a lady inquiring about Duncan’s address, a note is entered, “That the[187] Inspector I employ about Wonders, inquire at the Golden Lyon, opposite the Halfmoon Tavern, Drury Lane, into the merit of this silent sage.”[260]

Among the combinations in which the Bull is met with on signboards, the Bull and Dog is one of the most common, derived, like the Bull and Chain, from the favourite sport of bull-baiting, which amusement is described at full length and in brilliant colours by Misson, in his “Travels.” A comical variation of this is the Bull and Bitch at Husborn Crawley, Woburn. In the sign of the Bull and Butcher,[261] the bull is placed in still worse company; this was very forcibly expressed on the sign of a butcher in Amsterdam, who was represented with a glass of wine in his hand, standing between two calves, and pledging them with the cruel words,

“Zyt verblyt
Soo lang gy er zyt.”[262]

The Bull and Magpie, which occurs at Boston, has been explained as meaning the Pie, πιναξ, and the Bull of the Romish Church; but this looks very like a cock-and-bull story. As “some help to thicken other proofs that also demonstrate thinly,” as Iago has it, it may be asked whether this might not have arisen out of the sign of the “Pied Bull,” thus leading to the “Pie and Bull,” or the “Bull and Magpie;” the transition seems simple and easy enough; but should this not be considered satisfactory, since we have the “Cock and Bull,” and the “Cock and Pie,” we may by a sort of rule of three manœuvre obtain the Bull and Pie or Magpie. See under Bird Signs.

The Black Bull and Looking-Glass is named in an advertisement in the original edition of the Spectator, No. lxviii., as a house in Cornhill. It was evidently a combination of two signs.

Still more puzzling is the Bull and Bedpost; but as the actual use of this sign as a house decoration remains to be corroborated, we may dismiss it with the remark, that the Bedpost, in all probability, was a jocular name for the stake to which the[188] bull was tied when being baited, in allusion to the stout stick formerly used in bed-making to smooth the clothes in their place. The Bull and Swan, High Street, Stamford, may be heraldic, both these animals being badges of the York family; but the Swan in all probability was the first sign, the Bull being added on account of the singular custom of Bull Running, which yearly took place, both at Tamworth and Stamford, on St John’s eve. The Bull in the Pound, is the Bull punished for trespass, and put in the pound or pinfold; whilst the Bull and Oak at Wicker, Sheffield, (at Market Bosworth there is a house with the sign of the Bull in the Oak,) may have originated from the sign of “the Bull” being suspended from an oak tree, or referring to an oak tree standing near the house. Bulls are often tied to trees or posts in pastures, and this also may have given rise to the sign.

Visitors to the Isle of Wight will have noticed the word Bugle frequently inscribed under the picture of a Bull on the inn signboards there. Bugle is a provincial name in those parts for a wild bull. It is an old English word, and is used by Sir John Mandeville; “homes of grete oxen, or of bugles, or of kygn.” It was still current in the seventeenth century, for Randle Holme, 1688, classes the “Bugle, or Bubalus,” amongst “the savage beasts of the greater sort.” The horns of this animal, used as a musical instrument, gave a name to the Buglehorn. It may be remarked that the term bugle doubtless came, in old times, with other Gallicisms common to Sussex and Hampshire, from across the Channel, where the word bugle is still preserved in the verb beugler, the common French word for the lowing of cattle.

The Ox is rather uncommon; the Durham Ox and the Craven Ox, two famous breeds, are sometimes met with; then there is a Craven Ox Head, in George Street, York, and a Grey Ox at Brighouse, in the West Riding. The Ox and Compasses at Poulton Swindon, in Cumberland, is evidently a jocular imitation of the London sign of the Goat and Compasses.

The Cow is more common; its favourite colours being Red, Brown, White, Spotted, Spangled, &c. The Red Cow occurs as a sign near Holborn Conduit, on the seventeenth century trades tokens. It also gave a name to the alehouse in Anchor and Hope Lane, Wapping, in which Lord Chancellor Jeffries was taken prisoner, disguised as a sailor, and trying to escape to the Continent after the abdication of James II. Thinking himself[189] safe in this neighbourhood, he was looking out of the window to while the time away, when he was recognised by a clerk who bore him a grudge, and at once betrayed him. An heraldic origin is not necessary for this colour of the cow.

“Cows (I mean that whole species of horned beasts) are more commonly black than Red in England. ’Tis for this reason that they have a greater value for Red Cow’s Milk than for Black Cow’s Milk. Whereas in France we esteem the Black Cow’s Milk, because Red Cows are more common with us.”[263]

Speaking of the Green Walk, St James’s Park, Tom Brown says: “There were a cluster of senators talking of state affairs, and the price of corn and cattle, and were disturbed with the noisy Milk folk crying: A can of Milk, Ladies; a can of Red Cow’s Milk, sirs?”[264] The preference for the Red Cow’s milk may, however, have a more remote origin, namely, from the ordinance of the law contained in Numbers xix. 2, where a red heifer is enjoined to be sacrificed as a purification for sin. Hence, Red Cow’s milk is particularly recommended in old prescriptions and panacea, as, for instance, in the following receipt of “a Cock water for a Consumption and Cough of the Lunges:”

“Take a running cock and pull him alive, then kill him and cutt him in pieces and take out his intrailes and wipe him cleane, breake the bones, then put him into an ordinary still with a pottle of sack and a pottle of Red Cow’s Milk,” &c., &c.[265]

The Red Cow, in Bow Street, was the sign of a noted tavern, (afterwards called the Red Rose,) which stood at the corner of Rose Alley. It was when going home from this tavern that Dryden was cudgelled by bravoes, hired by Lord Rochester, for some remarks in Lord Mulgrave’s Essay on Satire, in the composition of which Dryden had assisted his lordship. The king offered £50, and a free pardon, but “Black Will with a cudgel,” to whom Lord Rochester had intrusted the task of thrashing the laureate, showed that there was such a thing as honour amongst rogues, and did not betray him for the king’s £50. In all probability, however, he received a larger sum from his lordship. In Dryden’s old age, Pope, then a boy, came here to look at the great man whose fame in after years he was to[190] equal if not to eclipse. This tavern was the famous mart for libels and lampoons; one Julyan, a drunken dissipated “secretary to the Muses,” as he calls himself, was the chief manufacturer.

Near Marlborough, Wilts, there is an alehouse having the sign of the Red Cow, with the following rhyme:—

“The Red Cow
Gives good Milk now.”

That under a Brown Cow at Oldham is still more sublime:—

“This Cow gives such Liquor,
’Twould puzzle a Viccar (sic.)”

The Heifer is to be met with sometimes in Yorkshire, but always with some local adjective, as the Craven Heifer; the Airesdale Heifer, the Durham Heifer, &c. The Pied Calf at Spalding seems to present a solitary instance of a calf on the signboard. Neither are sheep very common; the Ram was a noted carrier’s inn in the seventeenth century, in West Smithfield, and, indeed, continued as such until the recent destruction of this old cattle market. The crest of the cloth-workers was a mount vert, thereon a ram statant; so that this sign in that locality was very well chosen, being in honour of the cattle-dealers on ordinary occasions, and serving for the cloth-workers in the time of Bartholomew fair, for whose benefit the fair was founded. In 1668 there were two Ram’s Head inns in Fenchurch Street; one of them was a carriers’ inn for the Essex people. The Ram’s Skin, which occurs at Spalding in Lincolnshire, is another name for the Fleece. The Black Tup figures on a sign near Rochdale, perhaps in allusion to the black ram frail matrons used to bestride in the old custom of Free Bench, thus related in Jacob’s “Law Dictionary:”

“In the manors of East and West-Enbourne in the Co. of Berks, and the manor of Torre in Devonshire, and other parts of the West of England, there is a custom, that when a Copyhold Tenant dies his widow shall have ‘Free Bench’ in all his customary lands ‘dum sola et casta fuerit,’ but if she commits incontinency she forfeits her estate. Yet nevertheless on her coming into the court of the manor, riding backwards on a black ram with his tail in her hand and saying the words following, the steward is bound by the custom to readmit her to her free bench; The words are these:—

Here I am
Riding upon a Black Ram
Like a w——e as I am;
And for my crincum crancum
I have lost my bincum bancum;
[191] And for my T——’s game
Have done this worldly shame.
Therefore pray, Mr Steward, let me have my land again.

This is a kind of penance among jocular tenures to purge the offence.”

Though the ram is rarely, and the sheep never seen on the signboard, the Lamb is not uncommon. In 1586, it was the sign of Abraham Veale, (agreeably to the punning practices of the time, one would have expected the Calf from him,) a bookseller in St Paul’s Churchyard, and in 1728 of Thomas Cox, also a bookseller, under the Royal Exchange in Cornhill. Doubtless, these signs had originally represented the Lamb with the flag of the Apocalypse. The sign was used by other trades: in 1673, it was the distinctive ornament of a confectioner at the lower end of Gracechurch Street;[266] and an instance of an alehouse is found in the following advertisement, which at the same time affords us a peep at the homely proceedings of the Admiralty in those days:—

“THIS is to give notice to the Officers and Company of His Majesty’s Frigate Boreas, who were on Board her at the taking the Ship Vrow Jacoba and Briggantyne Leon, that they will be paid their respective Shares of said Prizes, on Wednesday the Eight of April next, at the sign of the Lamb, in Abchurch Lane. Paying will begin at Eight o’clock of the forenoon of the said Day.”[267]

Think of that, ye clerks in Her Majesty’s offices, eight o’clock in the forenoon!

A few combinations also occur, as the Lamb and Breeches, the sign of Churches & Christie, leather-sellers and breeches-makers, on London Bridge, in the last century; this was a sign like that of the Hat and Beaver, in which the living animal, and the article manufactured from its skin, were juxtaposed. The Lamb and Crown was a sort of colonial or emigration office in Threadneedle Street, near the Southsea House in 1759.[268] At the present day there is a Lamb and Lark at Keynsham, Bath, and in Printing House Lane, Blackfriars. It is a typical representation of the proverb, “Go to bed with the Lamb and rise with the Lark.”

The Lamb and Hare figure together in Portsmouth Place, Lower Kennington Lane. The Lamb and Still is a combination intimating the sale of distilled waters. It was the sign of a house in Compton Street, in 1711, which had the honour to lodge[192] Mr Fert, a dancing-master, and author of a work called “A Discourse or Explanation of the ground of Dancing.”[269]

If we except the heraldic Blue Boar, and the Sow and Pigs, we shall find no other pigs on the signboard but the Pig and Whistle,[270] the Little Pig at Amblecote, Stourbridge, and the Hog in the Pound in Oxford Street, jocularly called the gentleman in trouble. This latter was formerly a starting-point for coaches, and became notorious through the crime committed by its landlady, Catherine Hayes. Having formed an illicit connexion, she was induced by her paramour to murder her husband, after which she cut off his head, put it in a bag, and threw it in the Thames. It floated ashore, and was put on a pole in St Margaret’s Churchyard, Westminster, in order that it might be recognised; and by this primitive means the murderess was detected. The man was hanged, and Catherine burnt alive at Tyburn in 1726.

The Goat is not very common; there was a Goat Inn at Hammersmith, taken down in 1826, and rebuilt under the name of Suspension Bridge Inn; up to that time, the sign, and the woodwork from which it was suspended, used to extend across the street. The Goat in Boots, on the Fulham Road,[271] was in old times called simply “the Goat.” Besides these, there is a Black Goat in Lincoln, and a Grey Goat in Penrith and Carlisle, and a few others without addition of colour.

A walk through town on a fine Sunday morning will at once convince anybody of the good understanding that exists between the Englishmen and the canine species, “l’ami de l’homme” as Buffon calls the dog. From every lane and alley in the lower parts of the town sally forth men and youths in clean moleskins and corduroys, each invariably accompanied by some yelping cur, the least of whose faults is to be ugly. It is no wonder, then, that the Dog should be of frequent occurrence on the signboard. Pepys mentions a tavern of that name in Westminster, where, about the time of the Restoration, he used occasionally to show his merry face. In 1768, the author of the “Art of Living in London,” recommended the Dog in Holywell Street for a quiet good dinner:—

“Where disencumbered of all form or show,
We to a moment might or sit or go;
Eat what the palate recommends us hot,
Yet not considered as a useless guest.”
(St Paul’s Churchyard, circa 1800.)
(Harleian Collection, 1710.)
(Banks’s Collection, 1720.)
(Child’s Bank, Fleet Street, circa 1670.)
(Roxburghe Ballads, circa 1650.)


For some unknown reason, the Black Dog seems the greatest favourite; perhaps the English terrier is meant by it, a dog who “once had its day,” as the Scotch terrier appears to have it now. In the seventeenth century, there was a Black Dog Tavern near Newgate; a house of old standing, of which trades tokens are yet extant.

Mr Akerman, in his work on “Trades Tokens issued between 1648-1672,” makes a mistake in surmising that Luke Hutton’s “Black Dog of Newgate” had anything to do with this tavern. That poem is simply against “coney-catchers,” i.e., roguish detectives or informers of the Jonathan Wild stamp, and even worse. Such a one is impersonificated under the name of the Black Dog of Newgate, because the coney-catchers used to hunt people down threatening them with Newgate. This Black Dog may have derived its name from the canine spectre that still frightens the ignorant and fearful in our rural districts, just as the terrible Dun Cow, and the Lambton Worm were the terror of the people in old times. Near Lyme Regis, Dorset, there is an alehouse which has this black fiend in all his ancient ugliness painted over the door. Its adoption there arose from a legend that the spectral black dog used to haunt at nights the kitchen fire of a neighbouring farm-house, formerly a Royalist mansion, destroyed by Cromwell’s troops. The dog would sit opposite the farmer; but one night, a little extra liquor gave the man additional courage, and he struck at the dog, intending to rid himself of the horrid thing. Away, however, flew the dog and the farmer after him, from one room to another, until it sprang through the roof, and was seen no more that night. In mending the hole, a lot of money fell down, which, of course, was connected in some way or other with the dog’s strange visit. Near the house is a lane still called Dog Lane, which is now the favourite walk of the black dog, and to this genius loci the sign is dedicated.

There was another notorious Black Dog next door to the Devil Tavern, the shop of Abel Roper, who printed and distributed the majority of the pamphlets and ballads that paved the way for the Revolution of 1688. He was the original printer of the famous ballad of “Lillibulero.” Whatever pleased the public, whether good or bad, he was always ready to provide and send into the world; he was also the editor of the newspaper called the Postman. In the beginning of the reign of Charles II. he lived “at the Sun, over against St Dunstan’s Church, in Fleet Street.”[272]


Tokens are extant of the Pied Dog in Seething Lane, 1667, a sign still frequently to be seen at the present day.

We very rarely meet with the Blue Dog; but there is an example in Grantham, and the sign occurs in a few other places.

Sometimes a peculiar breed is chosen, as the Setter Dog at Redford, Notts; the Pointer at Peckfield, Milford Junction; the Beagle at Shute, Axminster, and the Merry Harriers, common in hunting counties. Equally common is the Greyhound, particularly in the North country, where coursing has long been a favourite sport. In the seventeenth century, it was the sign of a fashionable tavern in London, for in a sprightly ballad in the Roxburgh collection,[273] a young gallant is introduced who is going to forsake his evil courses and turn over a new leaf. He gives a last farewell to all his doxies:

“Farewell unto black patches,
And farewell powder’d locks;”

and remembers all those delightfully wicked places he used to haunt formerly, and amongst them:

“Farewell unto the Greyhound,
And farewell to the Bell,
And farewell to my landlady,
Whom I do love so well.”

This was probably the same Greyhound mentioned by Machyn, which seems to have been situated in Fleet Street, where the gaudily dressed Spanish ambassador took his stirrup-cup before leaving London. The same author mentions the sign elsewhere, apparently in Westminster; and the little picture of manners which accompanies it is rather curious:—

“The viij day of January (1557) dyd ryd in a care in Westmynster the wyff of the Grayhound, and the Abbot’s servand was wypyd [whipped] becawse that he toke her owt of the car, at the care h—e, [the back of the cart.]”

—another example that the course of true love never does run smooth, even though it runs upon wheels.

The White Greyhound was the sign of John Harrison, in St Paul’s Churchyard, a bookseller who published some of Shakespeare’s early works, as “The Rape of Lucrece,” “Venus and Adonis,” &c. White greyhounds, or rather silver greyhounds, were, until eighty years ago, the badges worn on the arm by king’s messengers.


The sign of the Black Greyhound is also of frequent occurrence, and at Grantham there is a Blue Greyhound. Indeed, although Lincoln was formerly famous for green, it seems also to have taken a great fancy to blue, for there we find the Blue Bull and the Blue Cow, the Blue Dog, the Blue Fox, (all in Colsterworth,) besides the Blue Pig, the Blue Ram, in Grantham, which town can also boast of the unique sign of the Blue Man.

The Talbot—old and now almost obsolete term for a large kind of hunting dog—has acquired a literary celebrity from having been substituted for the old sign of the Tabard Inn in Southwark, whence the pilgrims started on their merry journey to Canterbury. In 1606, we find the Talbot the sign of Thomas Man, bookseller in Paternoster Row, which, however, at that time, was not such a book market as now, being occupied by “eminent mercers, silkmen, and lacemen; and their shops were so resorted unto by the nobility and gentry in their coaches, that ofttimes the street was so stopped up, that there was no passage for foot passengers.”[274] So it continued until the fire; and it was only in the middle of the last century that the booksellers began to make their appearance in it.

A Talbot Inn in the Strand is mentioned in the following very quaint advertisement:—

“TO BE SOLD, a fine Grey Mare, full fifteen hands high, gone after the hounds many times, rising six years and no more; moves as well as most creatures upon earth, as good a road mare as any in 10 counties and 10 to that; trots at a confounded pace; is from the country, and her owner will sell her for nine guineas; if some folks had her she would fetch near three times the money. I have no acquaintance, and money I want, and a service in a shop to carry parcels or to be in a gentleman’s service. My father gave me the mare to get rid of me, and to try my fortune in London, and I am just come from Shropshire, and I can be recommended, as I suppose nobody takes servants without, and have a voucher for my mare. Enquire for me at the Talbot Inn near the New Church at the Strand.

“A. R.”[275]

At the foot of Burdley’s Hill, Gloucester, there is a Talbot Inn, which has a sign painted with two inscriptions; at the side where the road is level, it says:—

“Before you do this hill go up,
Stop and drink a cheerful cup.”

On the side of the hill it says:

“You’re down the hill, all danger’s past,
Stop and drink a cheerful glass.”


A publican at Odell has chosen the Mad Dog for a sign, evidently his beau ideal of a “jolly fellow,” one having a great horror for water; another at Pidley, Hunts, not to be behindhand with the Mad Dog, has put up the Mad Cat. We have as odd and apparently as unmeaning a sign in Tabernacle Walk, namely, the Barking Dogs.

All the combinations of the sign of the Dog point towards sports, as the Dog and Bear, which was very common in the seventeenth century, when bear-baiting was in fashion, and kings and queens countenanced it by their presence. The Dog and Duck refers to another barbarous pastime, when ducks were hunted in a pond by spaniels. The pleasure consisted in seeing the duck make her escape from the dog’s mouth by diving. It was much practised in the neighbourhood of London till the beginning of this century, when it went out of fashion, as most of the ponds were gradually built over. One of the most notorious Dog and Duck Taverns stood in St George’s Fields, where Bethlem Hospital now stands; it had a long room with tables and benches, and an organ[276] at the upper end. In its last days it was frequented only by thieves, prostitutes, and other low characters. After a long and wicked existence it was at length put down by the magistrates. In the seventeenth century it was famous for springs, but already in Garrick’s time its reputation was very equivocal:

“St George’s Fields, with taste and fashion struck,
Display Arcadia at the Dog and Duck,
And Drury Misses, here in tawdry pride,
Are there “Pastoras” by the fountain side;
To frowsy bowers they reel through midnight damps,
With Fauns half drunk and Dryads breaking lamps.”[277]

In an unpublished paper from the MS. collection of William Hone, we have a mention of it:—

“It was a very small public-house till Hedger’s mother took it, who had been a barmaid to a tavern-keeper in London, who left this house to her at his death. Her son Hedger then was a postboy to a yard I believe at Epsom, and came to be master there. After making a good deal of money he left the house to his nephew, one Miles, (though it still went in Hedger’s name,) who was to allow him £1000 per annum out of the profits,[197] and it was he that allowed the house to acquire so bad a character that the licence was taken away. I have this from one William Nelson who was servant to old Mrs Hedger, and remembers the house before he had it. He is now [1826] in the employ of the Lamb Street Water Works Company, and has been for thirty years. In particular, there never was any duck hunting since he knew the Gardens. Therefore, if ever, it must have been in a very early time indeed. Hedger, I am told, was the first person who sold the mineral water, (whence the St George’s Spa.) In 1787, when Hedger applied for a renewal of his licence, the magistrates of Surrey refused, and the Lord Mayor came into Southwark and held a court and granted the licence, in despite of the magistrates, which occasioned a great disturbance and litigation in the law courts.”

The old stone sign is still preserved, embedded in the brick wall of the garden of Bethlehem Hospital, visible from the road, and representing a dog squatted on his haunches, with a duck in his mouth, and the date 1617.

Another famous Dog and Duck inn formerly stood on the site of Hertford Street, in the now aristocratic precincts of May Fair. It was an old-fashioned wooden public-house, extensively patronised by the butchers and other rough characters during May Fair time. The pond in which the cruel sport took place was situated behind the house, and for the benefit of the spectators was boarded round to the height of the knee, to preserve the over-excited spectators from involuntary immersions. The pond was surrounded by a gravel walk shaded with willow trees.

The Dog and Badger, Kingswood, Gloucester, refers to the now obsolete sport of badger-baiting. More genial sports, however, are called to mind by the Dog and Gun, Dog and Partridge, Dog and Pheasant, all of which are very common.

“As I was going through a street of London, where I never had been till then, I felt a general clamp and faintness all over me, which I could not tell how to account for, till I chanced to cast my eyes upwards and found that I was passing under a signpost on which the picture of a cat was hung.” This little incident of the cat-hater, told in No. 538 of the Spectator, is a proof of the presence of cats on the signboard, where, indeed, they are still to be met with, but very rarely. There is a sign of the Cat at Egremont, in Cumberland, a Black Cat at St Leonard’s Gate, Lancaster, and a Red Cat at Birkenhead. There is also a sign of the Red Cat in the Hague, Holland, and “thereby hangs a tale.” It was put up by a certain Bertrand, a Frenchman, who had left his native country, having been mixed up in some conspiracy against Mazarin. Arrived at the Hague, he opened a[198] cutler’s shop, and put up a double sign, representing on the one side a red cat, on the other a portrait of his Eminence Cardinal Mazarin in his red gown, and with his bristling moustache; underneath he wrote “aux deux méchantes bêtes” (the two obnoxious animals.) Holland, however, was at peace with France at that time, and so the Burgomaster, afraid of offending the French ambassador, requested Bertrand to alter his sign. Mazarin’s face was then painted out and another red cat put in its place. Gradually as the first sign was forgotten, the name became unmeaning, and was finally altered into the Red Cat, and in this shape it has come down to the present day, still the sign of a cutler, and a descendant of Bertrand.[278]

The Cat and Lion, which we meet with sometimes, as at Stockport, was probably at one time the Tiger and Lion. It is occasionally accompanied by the following elegant distich:—

“The lion is strong, the cat is vicious,
My ale is strong, and so is my liquors.”

The Cat and Parrot was, in 1612, the sign of Thomas Pauer, a bookseller, dwelling near the Royal Exchange. At Santry, near Dublin, and in some other places, we meet with the Cat and Cage, which is represented by a cat trying to pull a bird out of a cage; but its origin may be found in the Cat in the Basket, a favourite sign of the booths on the Thames when that river was frozen over in 173940. The sign was a living one, a basket hanging outside the booth, with a cat in it. It was revived when the river was again frozen in 1789, and seems to have had many imitators, for on a print[279] representing a view of the river at Rotherithe during the frost, there is a booth with a merry company within, whose sign, inscribed the Original Cat in the Cage, represents poor Tabby in a basket. This sign of the Cat in the Basket, or in the Cage, doubtless originated from the cruel game, once practised by our ancestors, of shooting at a cat in a basket. Brand, in his “Popular Superstitions,” gives a quotation, from which it appears that a similar cruel sport was still practised at Kelso in 1789; but instead of shooting at the cat, it was placed in a barrel, the bottom of which had to be beaten out. The same game is still practised in Holland, and generally, if not always, on the ice.

[196] J. Bossewell, Workes of Armourie, London, 1597, p. 97.

[197] “Allectorius is a stone similar to a dark crystal, which is taken from the stomach of a capon when it is four years old. Its utmost size is that of a bean. Gladiators take it in their mouths in order to be invincible, and not to suffer from thirst.”—Tractatus de Animalibus et Lapidibus, 4to, circa 1465-75.

[198] Guillim’s Display of Heraldry. The same is also related in the Latin Bestiarium. Harl. MSS. 4751; and by Albertus Magnus, Camerarius, &c.

[199] “Boyne’s and Akerman’s Trades Tokens of the 17th Century,” in England, Ireland, and Wales.

[200] Steward’s Accounts of Sir John Howard.

[201] See Cunningham’s London Past and Present, p. 41.

[202] Burnet’s History of the Reformation, Lib. ii., vol. ii., p. 14. It is possible also that the White Bear was set up in compliment to Anne, daughter of the Earl of Warwick, queen to Richard III., who, as a difference from her father’s bear and ragged staff, had adopted the White Bear as a badge.

[203] Timbs’s Flyleaves.

[204] Bagford, who was present at the excavations, relates this story in a letter prefixed to Leland’s Collectanea, p. lxiii., 1770. See also Sir John Oldcastle.

[205] “Lambspring, das ist ein herzlichen Teutscher Tractat von Philosophischen Steine, welchen für Jahren ein adelicher Teutscher Philosophus, Lampert Spring geheissen mit schöne Figuren beschrieben hat. Frankfort am Main, 1625.”

[206] “This is a great wonder, and very strange: the dragon contains the greatest medicament.”

[207] “Mercury rightly precipitated or sublimated in its own water dissolved and again coagulated.”

[208] “There is a dragon lives in the forest who has no want of poison: when he sees the sun or fire he spits venom, which flies about fearfully. No living animal can be cured of it; even the basilisk does not equal him. He who can properly kill this serpent has overcome all his danger. His colours increase in death; physic is produced from his poison, which he entirely consumes, and eats his own venomous tail. This must be accomplished by him in order to produce the noblest balm. Such great virtue as will point out herein that all the learned shall rejoice.”

[209] Bossewell, Workes of Armourie, p. 61.

[210] Allusions to the unicorn occur frequently in the Old Testament, and commentators inform us that these references were typical of the coming Saviour.

[211] “It is reported that the unicorn’s horn sweats when it comes in the presence of poison, and that for this reason it is laid on the tables of the great, and made into knife-handles, which, when placed on the tables, show the presence of poison. But this is not sufficiently proved.”—Albertus Magnus, De Animalibus, lib. xxv.

[212] Bib. Harl. 5953, vol. i., p. 403.

[213] Relation of the Island of England, published by the Camden Society.

[214] See Bib. Harl. 5953, vol. i., p. 407.

[215] Hentzner’s Travels, p. 54.

[216] Henry Peacham’s Compleat Gentleman.

[217] Fuller’s Worthies, voce Middlesex.

[218] “It is rather peculiar that the same superstitious notions should be found in India in connexion with the horn of the rhinoceros, whom some consider as the fabled unicorn divested of his romantic garb. His horn, too, was thought useful in diseases, and for the purpose of discovering poisons.”—Calmet’s Dictionary of the Bible. “The fine shavings were supposed to cure convulsions and spasms in children. Goblets made of these would discover a poisonous draught that was poured into them, by making the liquor ferment till it ran quite out of the goblet.”—Thunberg’s Journey to Caffraria.

[219] Daily Courant, February 2, 1711.

[220] “This is the Civet, as you may see; but enter. Perfumes sold here for men and women.”

[221] The reason why the hedgehog was generally represented with apples stuck on his quills, appears from the following words in Bossewell, (p. 61,)—“He clymeth upon a vine or an apple-tree and biteth off their braunches and twigges, and when they [the apples] be fallen downe, he waloweth on them, and so they sticke on his prickes, and he beareth them unto a hollow tree or some other hole.” The early naturalists also said that if, when he was so loaded, one of the apples happened to drop off, he would throw all the others down in anger and return to the tree for a new load.

[222] Harl. MSS. 353, fol. 145.

[223] London Gazette, No. 368.

[224] London Gazette, Sept. 18-21, 1682. I am confident the newspapers made a misprint, and that the man’s name was Haase, Dutch or German, for the Hare he represented on his sign.

[225] Hone’s Every-Day Book, Oct. 17, fol. 1.

[226] Rev. J. Richardson, LL.B., Recollections of the Last Half Century. See also under Stunning Joe Banks in the Slang Dictionary, recently issued by the publisher of this work.

[227] Gentleman’s Magazine, March 1842.

[228] See under Religious Signs.

[229] London Gazette, Oct. 2-6, 1673.

[230] Childe Harold, canto I. lxx.

[231] Hone’s Every Day Book, Jan. 17, vol. ii.


“I wear horns, which everybody sees,
But many a one wears horns and does not know it.”

[233] Bagford Bills. Bib. Harl. 5962.

[234] Postman, February 1-3, 1711.

[235] Richardsoniana, p. 168.

[236] Timbs, Curiosities of London, p. 402.

[237] As quoted by Strutt in “Gliggam,” &c.

[238] Printed in Leland’s Collectanea, pp. 270, 272.

[239] A MS. of the sixteenth century, Bib. Harl. 2150, fol. 356, gives full particulars of this fête and procession.


“At the White Horse, horses are shod with iron,
Pity the same cannot be done to men, for then they would need no shoes.”

[241] Crowns exactly similar to this, made of box, tinsel, and coloured paper, are yearly hung out by the fishmongers in Holland on the first arrival of the salt herring after the summer fishery.

[242] Pennant’s Account of London, p. 423.

[243] Gentleman’s Magazine, March 1842; and London Gazette, Dec. 30, 1718.

[244] Lloyd’s Evening Post, Jan. 16-19, 1761.

[245] Brand’s Popular Superstitions.

[246] Robert Herrick, Hesperides, p. 234.

[247] Aubrey, Anecdotes and Traditions, p. 3.

[248] Postman, June 1703.

[249] Intelligencer, May 30, 1681.

[250] Bagford Bills. Bib. Harl. 5964.

[251] Hence we have 7 ages, 7 churches, 7 champions, 7 penitential psalms, 7 sleepers of Ephesus, 7 years’ apprenticeship, 7 cardinal virtues and deadly sins, 7 make a gallows-ful, boots of 7 leagues, 7 liberal arts, and innumerable other instances.

[252] Collier’s Annals, vol. iii. p. 271, and Halliwell’s Introduction to Tarlton’s Jests, p. 16.

[253] Spectator, No. 509.

[254] “He went about almost naked in the rage of hunger,” says Dr Johnson, “and finding a gentleman in a neighbouring coffeehouse asked him for a shilling; and Otway going away bought a roll and was choked with the first mouthful.”

[255] Lewis’s Islington, p. 160.

[256] The History of the Plague, by Defoe.

[257] There is still a Bull’s Head public-house in this street, built on the site of the house of Thomas Britton, the Musical Small-Coal Man, where he gave his celebrated concerts for a period of 36 years, powdered duchesses and fastidious ladies of the Court tripping through his coal repository, and climbing up a ladder to assist at these famous meetings.

[258] Randolph’s Muses’ Looking-Glass.

[259] This riding in a cart was a very ancient punishment, probably introduced by the Normans; in the romance of Lancelot du Lac the cart is mentioned with the following remarks:—“At that time a cart was considered so vile that nobody ever went into it, but those who had lost all honour and good name; and when a person was to be degraded, he was made to ride in a cart, for a cart served at that time for the same purpose as the pillory now-a-days, and each town had only one of them.” In the old English laws it was called the Tumbrill; thus Edward I. in 1240 enacted a law by which millers stealing corn were to be chastised by the Tumbrill.—See Fabian’s Chronicles, 2 Edw. I.

[260] For the chequered life of this strange individual, see Caulfield’s Memoirs of Remarkable Persons, vol. ii. From the Original Weekly Journal, Sept. 13, 1718, we gather the information that, “Last week Dr Campbell, the famous dumb fortune-teller, was married to a gentlewoman of considerable fortune in Shadwell.”

[261] A curious story of Bulleyn Butchered, the sign said to have been put up in commemoration of Henry VIII.’s unfortunate queen, and its corrupted form of Bull and Butcher will be found in the first division of this work. Vide Historical Signs.

[262] “Be happy while you live.”

[263] M. Misson’s Memoirs and Observations on his Travels in England, 1719.

[264] Tom Brown’s Amusements for the Meridian of London, 1700.

[265] From a MS., entitled “Medycine Boke” of one Samson Jones, doctor of Bettws, Monmouthshire, 1650-90; a note on the flyleaf says, “I had this book from Mr Owen of Bettws, Monmouth. He assured me he knew for a fact it was the receipt booke of Samson Jones, a good doctor of that parish, a hundred and fifty years agone.” It contains some extraordinary prescriptions. Surely if Master Samson Jones made use of them, the earth must very quickly have hidden his blunders.

[266] London Gazette, Nov. 10-13, 1673.

[267] Idem, March 24-28, 1761.

[268] Public Advertiser, March 4, 1759.

[269] Postman, Feb. 13, 1711.

[270] See under Humorous Signs, further on.

[271] See under Humorous Signs, further on.

[272] Kingdom’s Intelligencer, March 30 to April 6, 1683.

[273] The Merry Man’s Resolution, or his last farewell to his former acquaintance. Rox Ball. iii. f. 242.

[274] Strype, B. iii. p. 195.

[275] Public Advertiser, March 1759.

[276] Organs were first introduced in taverns during the Commonwealth. When the liturgy and the use of organs in Divine service were abolished, these instruments being removed from churches, were set up in inns and taverns. Hence a pamphlet of 1659 has these words:—“They have translated the organs out of their churches and set them up in taverns, chaunting their dithyrambics and bestial Bacchanalias to the tune of those instruments which were wonted to assist them in the celebration of God’s praises.”

[277] Garrick’s Prologue to the Maid of the Oaks, 1774.

[278] La Haye, par de Fonseca. 1853.

[279] Crowle Pennant, vol. viii.



Thomas Coryatt, a gentleman from Somerset, who travelled over a great part of Europe in the reign of King James I., and wrote an amusing account of his travels, gives a curious instance of the prevalence of signs in Paris representing birds. Speaking of the bridges over the Seine, he says one of them is “the Bridge of Birdes, formerly called the Millar’s Bridge. The reason why it is called the Bridge of Birdes is because all the signes belonging unto shops on each side of the streete are signes of birdes.”[280] They never were so general in England, though certainly the Cock and the Swan appear to have found more votaries than any other signboard animals. The Eagle is not nearly so common; some we have mentioned in a former part as undoubtedly of heraldic origin. From this source the Golden Eagle may be derived; it was the emblem of the Eastern Empire, and occurs in various family arms; but it is also a fera naturæ. It was, in 1711, the sign of James Levi, a bookseller in the Strand, near the Fountain Tavern. The Eagle and Ball, of which there are two in Birmingham, was suggested by the imperial eagle standing on the globe, or the spread eagle with the globe in his talon. The Eagle and Serpent, or the Eagle and Snake, is a mediæval emblem of courage united to prudence.

Mythical birds also have been in great favour. The burning and reviving of the Phœnix, for instance, like the salamander and the dragon, typified certain transformations obtained by chemistry, whence he was a very general sign with chemists, and may still be seen on their drug-pots and transparent lamps. The firm of Godfrey and Cooke, for instance, have adhered to it ever since the opening of their establishment, A.D. 1680. Persons of a highly imaginative turn will probably shudder to think of the awful quantities of physic prepared by this house in those 184 years. The pills, if piled up like cannon-balls, would make pyramids higher than those of Gizeh; the draughts would be sufficient to cover the earth with a nauseous deluge; and the powders, if blown about by an evil wind, levelling valleys and mountains, would change the whole of Europe into a medicated desert. The original shop referred to by the date 1680 stood in Southampton Street, and there phosphorus was first manufactured by the predecessor of this firm, Hanckwitz, a Pole or[200] Russian by birth, who advertised it wholesale at 50s., and retail at £3 the ounce. Ambrose Godfrey was his successor.

Not only apothecaries used this emblem, but all kinds of shops adopted it. In the time of James I. it was the sign of one of the places where plays were acted in Drury Lane,—sometimes also called the Cockpit Theatre. This was destroyed by the unruly apprentices during one of their saturnalia. Being rebuilt, it was sacked a second time by the Parliamentary soldiers. In Charles II.’s piping times of peace Killigrew’s troop of “the king’s servants” played in it, until they removed to the theatre in Lincoln’s Inn.

The character ascribed to the Pelican was fully as fabulous as that of the Phœnix. From a clumsy, gluttonous, piscivorous water-bird, it was transformed into a mystic emblem of Christ, whom Dante calls “nostro Pellicano.” St Hieronymus gives the story of the pelican restoring its young ones destroyed by serpents, as an illustration of the destruction of man by the old serpent, and his salvation by the blood of Christ. The “Bestiarium,” in the Royal Library at Brussels, says:—

“Phisiologus dist del Pellican qu’il aime moult ses oiseles et quant ils sont nés et creu ils s’esbanoient en lor ni contre lor pere et le fierent de lors eles en ventilant ensi come il li vont entor et tant le fierent qu’ils le blechent es ex. Et lors les refiert li peres et les occit. Et la mere est de tel nature que ele vient al ni al tierc jor et s’accoste sor ses oiselès mors et ell oevre son costé de son bec et en espant son sanc sor ses oiseles et ensi les resucite de mort; car li oiseles par nature rechoivent le sang si toit come il saut de la mere et le boivent.”[281]

In the Armory of Birds by Skelton, a similar notion is expressed:

“Than sayd the Pellycane,
When my Byrdts be slayne,
With my Bloude I them reuyue,
Scrypture doth record
The same dyd our Lord,
And rose from deth to lyue.”

There is still an old stone carving of the Pelican walled in the front of a house in Aldermanbury, and as a sign the bird appears to be a great favourite at the present day. An anecdote is told of Jekyl’s dissatisfaction at the prices at the Pelican Inn, Speenham[201] Land, and of his writing the following epigram upon the same:—

“The Pelican at Speenhamland,
That stands below the hill,
May well be called the Pelican,
From his enormous bill.”

Longfellow made a similar epigram on the Raven Inn at Zurich:—

“Beware of the raven of Zurich,
’Tis a bird of omen ill,
With a noisy and unclean breast,
And a very, very long bill.”

It is amusing to see how wit runs in the same channel. In “Scrapeana, a Collection of Anecdotes, 1792,” a similar anecdote is fathered upon Foote. “Pray what is your name?” said Foote to the Master of the Castle Inn at Salthill. “Partridge, sir!”—“Partridge! it should be Woodcock by the length of your bill!”

But the coincidence is most amusing in the case of Longfellow. It is observed by a contributor to Notes and Queries,[282] that the verses may be a plagiarism; at any rate they have a strange family resemblance to the following, said to have been written by a commercial traveller on an inside window shutter of the Golden Lion, Brecon, kept by a Mr Longfellow, alias Tom Longfellow:—

“Tom Longfellow’s name is most justly his due,
Long his neck, long his bill, which is very long too;
Long the time ere your horse to the stable is led,
Long before he’s rubbed down, and much longer till fed.
Long indeed may you sit in a comfortless room,
Till from kitchen, long dirty, your dinners shall come.
Long the often-told tale that your host will relate,
Long his face while complaining how long people eat,
Long may Longfellow long ere he see me again,
Long ’twill be ere I long for Tom Longfellow’s inn.”

And long, doubtless, was his face when he read the above.

The Raven, or the Black Raven, is still a common inn sign. There is one in Bishopsgate yet in existence, of which trades tokens of the seventeenth century are extant; and on the Great Western Road between Murrell Green and Basingstoke, the Raven Inn is still, or was not many years ago, to be seen, in which Jack the painter, alias James Aitken, the man who set fire to Portsmouth Dockyard, Dec. 7, 1776, was taken prisoner.[202] This house was built in 1653, and has preserved much of its original appearance. In 1711 the Raven or the Black Raven was the sign of S. Popping, bookseller in Paternoster Row; and about the same time John Dunton published at the Black Raven, in the Poultry, the earliest printed review of literary works, under the name of “Literature from the North, and News from all Nations.” What the work was worth we may judge from D’Israeli’s description of the man: “a crack-brained, scribbling bookseller, who boasted he had a thousand projects, fancied he had methodised six hundred, and was ruined by the fifty he executed.” Notwithstanding this, his autobiography, under the name of the “Life and Errors of John Dunton,” is one of the most curious works in existence. In Molesworth Street, Dublin, there is a sign of the Three Ravens, which may be called a living sign, for there are always some ravens kept on the premises. The Raven was the badge of the old Scotch kings, and thus may have been adopted as a kind of Jacobite symbol. To this may be attributed its frequency on the signboard as well as some other sable birds. The common occurrence of the Blackbird and the Cock and Blackbird as signs had long puzzled us, till one day turning over some old Scotch ballads we came upon one, which Allan Ramsay gives as a favourite old Scotch song. We shall merely quote the first two stanzas, (there are six in all,)—quite sufficient, as far as the poetry is concerned:—

“Upon a fair morning for soft recreation,
I heard a fair lady was making her moan,
With sighing and sobbing, and sad lamentation,
Saying, my blackbird most royal is flown.”
My thoughts they deceive me,
Reflections do grieve me,
And am o’erburthen’d with sad misery.
Yet if death should blind me,
As true love inclines me,
My blackbird I’ll seek out wherever he be.
“Once in fair England my blackbird did flourish,
He was the chief blackbird that in it did spring,
Prime ladies of honour his person did nourish,
Because he was the true son of a king.
But since that false fortune,
Which still is uncertain,
Has caused this parting between him and me,
His name I’ll advance,
In Spain and in France,
And I’ll seek out my blackbird wherever he be.”


To which dark-haired prince of the Stuart family the song alludes is not known; but there is a passage in a letter of Sir John Hinton, physician to Charles II., which seems to imply that the black boy was a nickname for Charles II.

“The day before General Monk went into Scotland he dined with me; and after dinner he called me into the next room, and after some discourse, taking a lusty glass of wine, he drank a health to his bonny black boy, (as he called Your Majesty,) and whispered to me, that if ever he had power, he would serve Your Majesty to the utmost of his life.”[283]

What lends strength to the supposition is the occurrence of such a sign as the Crow in the Oak, at Foleshill, Coventry, which seems to have been a covert way of representing the royal oak during the times of the Commonwealth, the disguise continuing after there was no more need of it, similar to the “Cat and Wheel,” and other signs dating from the same period, for no other reason than because the house had become known by them. In the same manner the Oak and Black Dog, (at Stretton on Dunsmoor,) if not a combination of two signs, may have been put up in derision of the Prince in the Royal Oak. The Crow or the Black Crow, is also a common sign; so are the Three Blackbirds;[284] then there is the Chough, at Chard in Sommerset, the Three Choughs at Yeovil; the Three Crows,—all of which belong to the same family, and seem to have the same origin.

On Friday, August 27, 1770, at the Three Crows in Brook Street, Holborn, the coroner sat on the body of Thomas Chatterton, and the ten jurymen returned a verdict of felo de se. One cannot think of this sign and the crowner (as the vulgar still term this officer) sitting on the body of poor Chatterton without calling to mind the ballad of the three corbies; but the poor suicide had no “fallow doe” that

“buried him before the prime,
And was dead herself ere even-song time.”

He was interred in the burying ground of Shoelane workhouse; at the present day Farringdon market-place occupies the spot.

The Stork now is of frequent occurrence, although it does not occur among the older English signs. Coryatt thus speaks of these birds:—


“There, [at Fontainebleau] I saw two or three birds that I never saw before; yet I have much read of admirable things of them, in Aelianus the Polyhistor, and other historians, even Storckes, which do much haunt many cities and towns of the Netherlands, especially in the sommer. For in Flushing, a towne of Zeland, I saw some of them, those men esteeming themselves happy in [on] whose houses they harbour, and those most unhappy whom they forsake. It is written of them that when the old one is become so old that it is not able to helpe itselfe, the young one purveyeth foode for it, and sometime carryeth it about on his backe, and if it seeth it so destitute of meate, that it knoweth not where to get any sustenance, it casteth out that which it hath eaten the day before, to the end to feede his damme. This bird is called in Greeke πελαργος where hence cometh the Greeke word αντιπελαργειν which signifieth to imitate the stork in cherishing our parents.”[285]

This fabled virtue of the stork suggested the sign to many Continental booksellers and printers. The Two Storks was the sign of Martin Nutius of Antwerp, 1550, and his son, Philip Nutius. Their colophons, which were varied continually, all represent a young stork feeding an old one, sometimes carrying him on his back, with the motto: “pietas homini . tutissima . virtus.” A similar sign was used, circa 1682, by Franciscus Canisius; and, in 1651, by Joan. Bapt. Verdussen, both of Antwerp. The Parisian booksellers adopted it as well, for we find it on the titlepages of Sebastien Nivelle, and of Sebastien Cramoisy, the king’s printer, of the Rue St Jacques, 1636. He used a Scripture motto with it: “honora patrem tuum et matrem tuam ut sis longaevus super terram, Ecc. XX.” In the Banks’ Collection of Bills there is one of the Stork Hotel at Basle, of the end of the last century. It gives the address in four languages. The English stands thus:—Christophe Imhoff, “a the Seigne off the Storgk at Basel.”

The Three Cranes was formerly a favourite London sign. With the usual jocularity of our forefathers, an opportunity for punning could not be passed, so instead of the three cranes, which in the vintry used to lift the barrels of wine, three birds were represented. The Three Cranes in Thames Street, or in the vicinity, was a famous tavern as early as the reign of James I. It was one of the taverns frequented by the wits in Ben Jonson’s time. In one of his plays he says:—

“A pox o’ these pretenders to wit, your Three Cranes, Mitre and Mermaid men! not a corn of true salt, not a grain of right mustard among them all!”—Bartholomew Fair, a. i. s. 1.


On the 23d of January 16612, Pepys suffered a strong mortification of the flesh in having to dine at this tavern with some poor relations. The sufferings of the snobbish secretary must have been intense:—

“By invitation to my uncle Fenner’s and where I found his new wife, a pitiful, old, ugly, ill-bred woman in a hatt, a midwife. Here were many of his and as many of her relations, sorry mean people; and after choosing our gloves we all went over to the Three Cranes Taverne, and though the best room of the house in such a narrow dogghole we were crammed, and I believe we were near 40, that it made me loath my company and victuals and a very poor dinner it was too.”

Opposite this tavern people generally left their boats to shoot the bridge, walking round to Billingsgate, where they would re-enter them.

The Cock occurs almost as frequently on the signboard as alive at the head of his family in the farm yard. It is one of the oldest signs, already in use at the time of the Romans, who record that one Eros, a freeman of Licius, Africanus Cerealis, kept an inn at Narbonne at the sign of the Cock—“a gallo gallinaceo.” In Christian times the sign acquired a new prestige. The cock is thus mentioned in “The Armory of Byrdes:”—[286]

“The Cocke dyd say
I use alway
To crow both first and last.
Lyke a Postle I am,
For I preche to Man,
And tell hym the nyght is past.
“I bring new tydynges
That the Kyng of all Kynges,
In tactu profudit chorus:
Then sang he mellodious
Te Gloriosus
Apostolorum chorus.”

This bird, in the legends of the middle ages, was surrounded with a mystical, religious halo:—

“It was about the time of cock-crowing when our Saviour was born,—the circumstance of the time of cock-crowing being so natural a figure and representation of the Morning of the Resurrection; the Night as shadowing out the night of the Grave; the third Watch being as some suppose the time our Saviour will come to judgment at; the noise of the cock awakening sleepy man and telling him as it were the night is far spent, and the day is at hand, representing so naturally the voice of the Archangel awakening the dead and calling up the righteous to everlasting day; so[206] naturally does the time of cock-crowing shadow out these things, that probably, some good, well meaning men might have been brought to believe that the very devils themselves when the cock crew and reminded them of them did fear and tremble and shun the light.”[287]

Ideas such as these continued a long time in the popular mind, for Aubrey tells us that in his younger days people “had some pious ejaculation too when the cock did crow, which put them in mind of ye Trumpet at ye Resurrection.”[288]

One of the oldest Cock taverns in London is the Cock in Tothill Street, Westminster, lately re-christened as the Cock and Tabard. An ancient coat of arms, carved in stone, England quartered with France, discovered in this house, is now walled up in the front of the building. In the back parlour is a jolly, bluff-looking man in a red coat, said to represent the driver of the first mail to Oxford, which started from this tavern. Tradition says that the workmen employed at the building of Westminster Abbey, in the reign of Henry VII., used to receive their wages at this house. It was formerly entered by steps; the building now exhibiting traces of great antiquity, and appears at one time to have been a house of considerable pretensions. The rafters and timber are principally of cedar wood. There is a curious hiding-place on the staircase, and a massive carving of Abraham about to offer his son Isaac; and another, in wood, representing the Adoration of the Magi, said to have been left in pledge, at some remote period, for an unpaid score. The cock may have been adopted as a sign here on account of the vicinity of the Abbey, of which St Peter was the patron, for in the middle ages a cock crowing on the top of a pillar was often one of the accessories in a picture of the apostle. This certainly was a very unkind allusion for the poor saint, particularly when accompanied with such a sneering rhyme as that under the sign of the Red Cock in Amsterdam in 1682. On the one side was written:—

“Doe de Haan begost te kraayen
Toen begost Petrus te schraayen.”

On the reverse:—

“De haan die kraait niet by ongeval
Vraagt Petrus die ’t U zeggen zal.”[289]


The Cock in Bow Street witnessed a disgraceful scene in the reign of Charles II.:—

“Sackville, who was then Lord Buckhurst, with Sir Charles Sedley and Sir Thomas Ogle, got drunk at the Cock, in Bow Street, by Covent Garden, and going into the balcony, exposed themselves to the public, in very indecent postures. At last, as they grew warmer, Sedley stood forth naked, and harangued the populace in such profane language, that the public indignation was awakened. The crowd attempted to force the door, and being repulsed, drove in the performers with stones, and broke the windows of the house. For this demeanour they were indicted, and Sedley was fined £500. What was the sentence of the others is not known. Sedley employed Killigrew and another to procure a remission of the king, but (mark the friendship of the dissolute!) they begged the fine for themselves and exacted it to the last groat.”[290]

It was on his way home from supper at this house, December 21, 1670, that Sir John Coventry was attacked by several men, and had his nose cut to the bone. Sir John had remonstrated in the House of Commons against the improper distribution of public money, and proposed to lay a tax on the theatres; this was opposed by the Court, the players being “the king’s servants and a part of his pleasure;” upon which Sir John asked “whether the king’s pleasure lay among the men or among the women that acted?” The assault was committed by Simon Parry, Miles Reeves, O’Brian, and Sir Thomas Sandys, instigated by the Duke of Monmouth.

Pepys much praises the Cock in Suffolk Street:—

“15th March 1669.—Mr Hewes and I did walke to the Cocke, at the end of Suffolke Street, where I never was, a great ordinary mightily cried up, and there bespoke a pullet, which, while dressing, he and I walked into St James’s Park, and thence back and dined very handsome with a good soup and a pullet for 4s. 6d. the whole.”

This first visit evidently had given great satisfaction, for, three weeks after, he took Mrs P. and some friends there, and was, as usual, “mighty merry, this house being famous for good meat, and particularly pease porridge.”

At the same period there was another celebrated Cock Tavern in Fleet Street, near Temple Bar, properly called the Cock and Bottle, a sign still of daily occurrence, which seems to be a figurative rendering of liquor on draught and in bottle, cock being an old English, and still provincial word for the spigot or tap in a barrel.[291] The sign is, however, generally represented by a cock standing on a bottle. The present sign of the house, still conspicuous[208] in gilt over the door, is said to have been carved by no less a hand than Grinling Gibbons. During the plague time of 1665, the following advertisement appeared in the Intelligencer:—

“THIS is to certify that the Master of the Cock and Bottle, commonly called the Cock alehouse, at Temple Bar, hath dismissed his servants and shut up his house for this long vacation, intending (God willing) to return at Michaelmass next so that all persons who have any accounts or farthings belonging to the said house are desired to repair thither before the 8th of this instant July and they shall receive satisfaction.”

Certainly those were dull times, and well might that fashionable establishment close for the “long vacation,” for the plague was then coming to its highest pitch; all the gallant customers had fled town, and according to Defoe’s computation, “not less than 10,000 houses were forsaken of the inhabitants in the city and suburbs:”

“There was not so much velvet stirring as would have bene a cover to a little booke in octavo, or seamde a Lieftenant’s Buff-doublet; a French hood would have been more wondered at in London, than the Polonyans with their long-tayld Gaberdynes; and, which was most lamentable, there was never a Gilt spur to be seene all the Strand over, never a feather wagging in all Fleet Streete, vnlesse some country Fore-horse came by, by meere chaunce with a Raine-beaten Feather in his costrill; the streete looking for all the world like a Sunday morning at six o’Clocke, three hours before service, and the Bells ringing all about London, as if the Coronation day had beene a half a yeare long.”[292]

But there was a good time coming after the plague and fire, when troops of gay courtiers might quaff their wine and sparkling ale, as happy as the “merry monarch” himself. Amongst them, our friend Pepys, who informs us, that on the 23d of April 1668, he went “by water to the Temple, and then to the Cock alehouse, and drank and eat a lobster, and sang, and mighty merry. So almost night, I carried Mrs Pierce home, and then Knipp and I to the Temple again and took boat, it being darkish, and to Foxhall, it being now night, and a bonfire burning at Lambeth for the king’s coronation day.”

Exactly one hundred years later, the Cock is named with encomiums on its porter, in the “Art of Living in London;” but it is to be hoped the porter was better than the poetry:—

“Nor think the Cock with these not on a par,
The celebrated Cock of Temple Bar,
Whose Porter best of all bespeaks its praise,
Porter that’s worthy of the Poet’s lays.”[293]


In William Waterproof’s Monologue, the fame of a waiter of this tavern is handed down to posterity in the harmonious verses of the Poet Laureate.

Jackson the pugilist, who has a pompous epitaph on his grave in the Brompton burial-ground, kept for some time the Cock alehouse, Sutton, on the Epsom Road; but being patronised by the Prince of Wales and a great many of the leading members of the “nobility and gentry,” he was in a very short time enabled to retire with a £10,000 fortune. Finally, some twenty years ago, there was a Cock and Bottle public-house in Bristol kept by a man named John England, who added to his sign the well known words:—

“England expects every man to do his duty.”

The sign of the Three Cocks occurs in the following advertisement:—

“ALL persons that have any Household Goods, Plate, Rings, Watches, Jewels, Wearing Apparel, etc., in the hands of Thomas Bastin, at the Three Cocks in St John’s Lane, Pawnbroker, which were pledged to him before the 25th of December 1709, are desired to fetch them away by the 25th of March next, or they will be disposed off.”—London Gazette, Jan. 18-21, 1711.

From this and innumerable other similar advertisements, it appears that pawnbrokers in those days did not always rigorously adhere to the Three Balls; that is to say, they were occasionally goldsmiths, and in that capacity used any sign.

It is rarely that the sign of the Cock designates any particular colour. There is a Black Cock in Owen Street, Tipton; a cock of this colour was always considered something more than an ordinary bird; with the Greeks it was a grateful sacrifice to Esculapius and Pluto, and in the middle ages it played a prominent part in matters of witchcraft. The Blue Cock is a sign at Leicester; but neither colour is common. At Hargrave, near Bury St Edmunds, there is a Cock’s Head, put up either in imitation of a nag’s,—bull’s,—bear’s,—or boar’s head, or as the crest of a fool’s cap, which, in old times, usually terminated with a cock’s head.

Though some sort of religious prestige may at first have prompted the choice of the cock, more profane ideas latterly contributed to make it popular, such as the pastimes of cock-throwing, or “shying,” and cock-fighting. To this first practice alludes the sign of William Brandon, on Dowgate Hill, which was called,[210] Have at it; his token representing a man about to throw a stick at a cock. This cruel game was very common in alehouses in former times; the whole sport consisting in throwing a stick at an unfortunate cock tied to a stake; if the animal was killed it was the thrower’s property; if not, he forfeited the small sum paid for each “shy.” What a slaughter of cocks was carried on in this way may be judged from the following:—

“Last Tuesday a Brewer’s servant in Southwark took his walk round Towerhill, Moorfield, and Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and knocked down so many cocks that by selling them again, he returned home twenty shillings odd pence richer man than he came out.”[294]

Medals are extant of the reign of William III., on which John Bull is represented throwing sticks at the French cock: not a very lofty allegory, it must be confessed; but in those days the public taste was not very refined; thus, after the victory of Blenheim, the simile was in equal bad taste, the same idea being expressed by a huge lion tearing an unfortunate cock in pieces.

Cock-fighting was a favourite diversion with the Romans, and we find continual traces of it during their occupation here. Fitz-Stephen says, it was the sport of schoolboys in his time; but as they grew up it seems the taste adhered to them. That sturdy bluebeard-king, Henry VIII., though always ready to chop off the heads of his subjects, felt his heart melt at the miseries of the cocks, and made edicts against cock-fights, yet with the inconsistency that marked his other tastes built a cock-pit unto himself at Whitehall. James I., also, was a great amateur. Though habitually suppressed by various sovereigns, the evil would always break out again, till it was finally abolished by an Act of Parliament in the 12 & 13 Queen Victoria. In Staffordshire, and other counties where this sport is still practised “on the sly,” the Fighting Cocks is a favourite sign.

The cock occurs in innumerable combinations with all kinds of heterogeneous objects, many of which seem merely selected for their oddity: among the most explicable is the Cock and Bottle, of which we have offered a solution, (p. 207) and which again occurs in the following title:—

Just Published,

“A full account of the Life and Visions of Nicholas Hart who has every year in his Life past, on the 5th of August, fall’n into a Deep Sleep and cannot be awaked till 5 Days and Nights are expired, and then gives a surprising Relation of what he hath seen in the other World. Taken from[211] his own mouth in September last; after he had slept 5 days in St Bartholomew’s Hospital, the August before. By William Hill, of Lincoln’s Inn. The Truth of all which the said Nicholas Hart hath attested under his Hand, the 3d Day of August 1711, before several credible Witnesses, and declared his Readiness to take oath of the same. He began to sleepe as usual the 5th Day of this instant August 1711 at Mr Dixies at the Cock and Bottle in Little Britain. Entered according to Law. Printed for J. Baker, at the Black Boy, in Paternoster Row, price 2d.”[295]

This same book, under the title of “Life and Visions of William Hart, in which are particularly described the state of the Blessed Spirits in the Heavenly Canaan, and also a Description of the Condition of the Damned in a State of Punishment, etc., by Will. Hill, senior of Lincoln’s Inn, London,” is still sold as a chapbook by the “running stationers.” The Spectator did not believe in Nicholas Hart, and introduced the subject to the public with his usual humour in No. 191. Hart seems to have tested the truth of the proverb which says, that fortune comes whilst we are sleeping, for he certainly made more by sleeping than many others by waking. Stow tells a similar story of one William Foxley, potmaker to the mint, who slept full fourteen days and fifteen nights, and when he woke up “was in all points found as if he had slept but one night.”

The Cock and Trumpet is a common sign, typifying those ideas about the cock expressed on p. 205. This simile is constantly used by the poets; and most beautifully enlarged upon by Shakespeare:—

“The Cock that is the Trumpet of the morn,” &c.—Hamlet, a. i. sc. 1.
“And now the Cock, the morning’s trumpeter,
Play’d hunt’s up to the day-star to appear.”—Drayton.
“All the night shrill chaunticler,
Day’s Proclaiming Trumpeter,
Claps his wings and loudly cries,
Mortals, mortals, wake, arise.”—Nativity Hymn.[296]

The Cock and Bell, if not a simple combination of two signs, may be derived from a custom formerly practised in some parts of England, for boys to have cock-fights on Shrove Tuesday; the party whose cock won the most battles, was held victorious in the cock-pit, and gained the prize—a small silver bell suspended to the button of the victor’s hat, and worn for three successive Sundays. It is an old sign, and occurs on a Birchin Lane trades token between 1648 and 1672.


The Cock and Breeches originated in a favourite form of gilt gingerbread at Bartholomew Fair, although the very objectionable anecdote of Joe Miller concerning such a sign is generally believed to have had something to do with its origin.

The Cock and Bull is still frequently seen, but though the meaning of the phrase is well understood, neither its origin, nor the meaning of the two animals on the signboard, have as yet been properly explained. As we have no sound theory to offer, we shall abstain from entering on the subject, for fear of giving an illustration of what a cock-and-bull story is, rather than clearing up the mystery of the signboard. It occurs amongst the seventeenth century trades tokens.

The Cock and Dolphin was the sign of one of the London carriers’ inns:—

“James Nevil’s Coach to Hampstead comes to the Cock and Dolphin in Gray’s Inn Lane, in and out every day.”—De Laune’s Present State of London, 1681.

Hatton, in 1708, placed this inn “on the east side of Gray’s Inn Lane, near the middle.” At the present day it is a public-house sign in Kendal, Westmoreland. It is more likely to be a combination of two signs, than to refer to the French Cock and the Dolphin in the arms of the Dauphin. The same applies to the Cock and Anchor in Gateshead and Dublin; the Cock and Swan, and the Cock and Crown, both in Wakefield; and the Cock and Bear at Nuneaton; whilst the Cock and House in Norwich may originally have been the cocking-house of the district,—that is, the house where cock-fights were held.

Fully as general as the sign of the Cock is that of the Swan; the reason why, is perhaps truly, though coarsely, expressed under an old Dutch signboard:—

“De Swaan voert ieder kroeg, zoowel in dorp als stad,
Om dat hy altyd graag is met de bek in ’t nat.”[297]

Not only is there a conformity of æsthetic symbolism in various parts of Europe, observable in the constant recurrence of the same objects on signboards, but even the same jokes are found. Thus the Swan at Bandon, near Cork, has the following rhymes, nearly akin to the Dutch epigram above, but strongly flavoured with Hibernian wit:—

“This is the Swan
That left her pond,
[213] To Dip her Bill in porter,
Why not we,
As well as she
Become regular Topers.”

Another Milesian at Mallow, also near Cork, has it thus modified:—

“This is the Swan that dips her neck in Water,
Why not we as well as she, drink plenty of Beamish and Crawford’s Porter.”

In London it was always a favourite sign by the river side:—

“‘I find the Swan to be your usual sign by the River,’ said I. ‘Why, yes,’ replied George. ‘I don’t know what a Coach or a Waggon and Horses or the High-mettled Racer have to do with our River.’ ‘Pray, now,’ said I to my oracle, ‘do enumerate the signs of the Swan remaining [this was in 1829] on the Banks of the River, between London and Battersea Bridges.’ ‘Why, let me see, Master, there’s the Old Swan at London Bridge, that’s one—there’s the Swan in Arundel Street, two,—then ours here, (Hungerford Stairs,) three,—the Swan at Lambeth; that’s down though. Well, then the Old Swan at Chelsea, but that has long been turned into a Brewhouse, though that was where our people [the Watermen] rowed to formerly, as mentioned in Doggett’s will; now they row to the sign of the New Swan, beyond the Physick Garden; we’ll say that’s four, then there’s the two Swan signs at Battersea, six.’”[298]

The Swan, by London Bridge, was a very ancient house, and gave a name to the Swan stairs. Trades tokens of this house are extant, representing a Swan walking on Old London Bridge, with the date 1657. This feat was performed by the Swan on the token, to intimate that it was the Swan above the Bridge in contradistinction to another tavern known as the Swan below the Bridge. Pepys once dined at this house; and though always very ready to be pleased, he has not much good to say about it. “27 June, 1660. Dined with my Lord and all the officers of his regiment, who invited my Lord and his friends, as many as he would bring to dinner, at the Swan at Dowgate, a poor house and ill dressed, but very good fish and plenty.” The landlady of this tavern is mentioned in a curious manner in a tract printed in 1712, entitled “The Quack Vintners:”

“May the chaste widow prosper at the Swan
Near London Bridge, where richest wines are drawn,
And win by her good humour and her trade,
Some jolly son of Bacchus to her bed.”

Previous to 1598 there was a Swan Theatre on the Bankside, near the Globe; so named from “a house and tenement called the Swan,” mentioned in a charter of Edward VI., granting[214] the manor of Southwark to the City of London. It fell into decay in the reign of James I., was closed in 1613, and subsequently only used for gladiatorial exhibitions. Yet, in its time, it had been well frequented, for a cotemporary author says—“it was the Continent of the world, because half the year a world of beauties and brave spirits resorted to it.” One of the oldest Swan signs on record is that of the old printer, Wynkyn de Worde, assistant, and finally successor to Caxton, who, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, issued some works “emprynted at the signe of the Swane in Fletestrete.”

From an anecdote preserved by Aubrey, iii. 415, it appears that Ben Jonson did not always “go to the Devil,” but was also in the habit of having his cup of sack at a Swan tavern near Charing Cross:—

A Grace by Ben Jonson extempore, before King James.
“Our king and queen, the Lord God blesse,
The Palsgrave and the Lady Besse,
And God blesse every living thing
That lives and breathes and loves the King.
God blesse the Councill of Estate,
And Buckingham the fortunate.
God blesse them all and keep them safe,
And God blesse me, and God bless Ralph.

“The king was mighty inquisitive to know who this Ralph was. Ben told him ’twas the drawer at the Swanne Taverne by Charing-crosse, who drew him good canarie. For this drollerie, his Matie gave him an hundred poundes.”

Tokens of this house of the plague year are extant, representing a Swan with a sprig in its mouth, and the inscription, “Marke Rider at the Swan against the Mewes,[299] 1665. His Halfe Penny.”

The Swan at Knightsbridge had a reputation which we should call “fast.” It was well known to young gallants, and was the terror of all such jealous husbands and fathers as the Sir David Dunce who figures in Otway’s “Soldier of Fortune,” 1681:—

“I have surely lost and never shall find her more. She promised me strictly to stay at home till I came back again; for ought I know, she may be up three pairs of stairs in the Temple now, or it may be taking the air as far as Knightsbridge with some smoothfaced rogue or another; ’tis a damned house that Swan; that Swan at Knightsbridge is a confounded house!”


Tom Brown also alludes to it; Peter Pindar (Dr Woolcot) commemorates a vestry dinner there:—

“At Knightsbridge at a Tavern called the Swan,
Churchwardens, Overseers, a jolly clan,
Order’d a dinner for themselves,
A very handsome dinner,” &c.

The old house was pulled down in 1788, and its name transferred to a public-house in Sloane Street, which, with three other houses, occupies the site of the old Swan.

The Swan tavern in Exchange Alley, Cornhill, was well known among the musical world in the last century. In this house, some celebrated concerts were given, at a time when there were no proper concert-rooms; they commenced in 1728, under the management of one Barton, formerly a dancing-master, and continued for twelve years, when the place was burnt down; at the rebuilding, it was christened the King’s Head.

In 1825, the landlord of the Swan tavern at Stratford, near London, recommended the charms of his place in the following poetical strain:—

“At the Swan Tavern kept by Lound
The best accommodation’s found,—
Wine, Spirits, Porter, Bottled Beer,
You’ll find in high perfection here.
If in the Garden with your lass
You feel inclin’d to take a glass,
There Tea and Coffee of the best,
Provided is for every guest.
And females not to drive from hence,
The charge is only fifteen pence.
Or if disposed a Pipe to smoke,
To sing a song or crack a joke,
You may repair across the Green,
Where nought is heard, though much is seen.
There laugh, and drink, and smoke away,
And but a mod’rate reckoning pay.
Which is a most important object
To every loyal British subject.
In short,
The best accommodation’s found
By those who deign to visit Lound.”

The Black Swan, though formerly considered a rara avis in terris, may now be seen in every town and village, swinging at the door of mine host, the picture painted just as fancy may have suggested, long before the actual bird was brought over from Australia. At the Black Swan tavern in Tower Street, the Earl[216] Rochester, when banished from the Court, took lodgings under the name of Alexander Bendo, his profession that of an Italian quack, and there he had those comical adventures with the waiting-maids of the Court. Hamilton says in his “Memoires de Grammont,” that the adventures Rochester had in this disguise are by far the most amusing given in his works. Another Black Swan alehouse is named in a broadside of 1704:—

“A most strange but true account of a very large sea monster that was found last Saturday in a common-shore in New Fleet Street in Spittlefields, where at the Black Swan alehouse thousands of people resort to see it,” &c.

This dreadful monster was simply “a dead Porpoise of a very large size, it being above Four Foot in length, and Three Foot about,” and the fact of it “leaving the deep to rove up into Fresh Water Rivers, and more especially to crawl up so far a common-shore,” prognosticated, it was thought, some dire calamities, which are told in not very parliamentary language.

The Swan with Two Necks is another lusus naturæ observable on the signboard, said to owe its origin to the corruption of the word nick into neck.[300] This explanation, however ingenious, is somewhat “sujet à caution,” for this reason: it is a well-known and established fact that the London signs of old had no inscriptions under them. Now, considering the small size of the nicks in question, they would scarcely have been perceptible at the height on which the sign was generally suspended, and even if visible, would never have been sufficiently noticed or understood to give a name to the sign. We shall not venture to propose another solution, as nothing of a sufficiently distinct character occurs to us: but it is just possible that a sign of two[217] swans represented swimming side by side may have given rise to the “Swan with two necks,” or that the symbol of two birds’ necks encircled by a coronet which was used by a foreign publisher—taken, it has been conjectured, by him from the arms of some trade company—may have been the origin.

Machyn, in his “Diary,” mentions the sign of “the Swane with the ij nekes at Mylke Street end,” in 1556, when on the 5th of August, a woman living next door to that sign drowned herself in Moorfields.

In 1636, the Two Necked Swan was already to be seen in Berkshire, at the town of Lamburne, where Taylor the water poet names it as the sign of a tavern. In later years it was a famous carriers’ inn in Lad Lane, Cheapside, whence, for more than a century and a half, passengers and goods were despatched to the North. To this inn the following couplet alludes:—

“True sportsmen know nor dread nor fear,
Each rides, when once the saddle in,
As if he had a neck to spare,
Just like the Swan in Ladlane.”

Huddersford Cape Hunt.

Notwithstanding the “double bill” suggested by the two heads, it still continues a favourite inn sign. Four is rather an unusual number on the signboard, but we have this quadruple alliance in one solitary instance, the Four Swans, Bishopsgate, which is internally one of the best remaining examples of those famous galleried inns of old London.

The Swan and Bottle, Uxbridge, is a variation of the Cock and Bottle; the Swan and Rummer was a coffee-house near the Exchange, during the South Sea bubble—the Rummer, a common addition, being simply joined to the Swan, to intimate that wine was sold; the Swan and Salmon are combined on many signs, doubtless in honour of the two ornaments of our English rivers. The very name is sufficient to call up a pleasant picture.

The Swan and Hoop, Moorfields, was the birthplace of Keats the poet. The Swan on the Hoop, “on the way called old Fysshe Strete,” is mentioned as early as 1413.[301] The same combination may still be seen on London signboards.

With regard to the Swan and Sugarloaf, which occurs amongst the trades tokens, and is still seen, (as in Fetter Lane, for instance,) the sugarloaf was at first added by a grocer, whose[218] sign having gained popularity as a noted landmark, or from other causes, was imitated by rivals or juniors, particularly on account of its presenting the favourite alliteration. Combinations with the sugarloaf are very common, all arising from its being the grocer’s sign: thus the Three Crowns and Sugarloaf, Kidderminster; Wheatsheaf and Sugarloaf, Ratcliff Highway, seventeenth century, (trades token;) Tobacco Roll and Sugarloaf, Gray’s Inn Gate, Holborn;[302] the Three Coffins and Sugarloaf, Fleet Street, 1720.

In the sign of the Swan and Rushes, at Leicester, the rushes were merely a pictorial accessory, placed in the background to bring out the white plumage of the Swan, whilst the Swan and Helmet, at Northampton, no doubt originated from a helmet with a Swan for crest.

In one instance, a Drake occurs as a sign, namely, on the token of Will. Johnson, at “ye Drake in Bell Yard,” near Temple Bar, 1667. The Duck is only to be seen in company with the Dog; in one instance it accompanies a Mallard. This last animal was otherwise well known to the Londoners, since in 1520, amongst “the articles of good gouernãce of the cite of London,” it was recommended to magistrates—“also ye shall enquyre, yf ony person kepe or norrysh hoggis, oxen, kyen, or mallardis within the ward in noying of ther neyhbours.”[303] The Duck and Mallard was the sign of a lock (and probably gun-) smith in East Smithfield in 1673.[304]

The Pigeon was a tavern at Charing Cross in 1675.[305] The Three Pigeons were very common; there still exists an inn of this name at Brentford:—

“It is a house of interest as being in all likelihood one of the few haunts of Shakespeare now remaining; as being indeed the sole Elizabethan tavern existing in England, which in the absence of direct evidence, may fairly be presumed to have been occasionally visited by him.”[306]

It was kept at one time by Lowin, one of the original actors in Shakespeare’s plays, and is often named by the old dramatists:

“Thou art admirably suited for the Three Pigeons at Brentford. I swear I know thee not.”—The Roaring Girl.

“We will turn our courage to Braynford, westward,
My Bird of the Night—to the Pigeons.”

Ben Jonson’s Alchymist.


There, also, George Peel played some of his merry pranks. In the parlour is an old painting dated 1704, representing a landlord attending to some customers seated at a table in the open air, with these lines:—

“Wee are new beginners
And thrive wee would fain,
I am honest Ralph of Reading,
My wife Susana to name.”

Bat Pidgeon, the famous hairdresser, immortalised by the Spectator, lived at the sign of the Three Pigeons, “in the corner house of St Clement’s Churchyard, next to the Strand.” There he remained as late as 1740, when he cut the “boyish locks” of Pennant.

In 1663 it was the sign of a bookseller in St Paul’s Churchyard,[307] and in 1698 of John Newton, also a bookseller over against Inner Temple Gate, Fleet Street.

The Dove was the sign of a coffeehouse on the riverside, between the two malls at Fulham. “In a room in this house, Thomson wrote part of his ‘Winter.’ He was in the habit of frequenting the house during the winter season, when the Thames was frozen and the surrounding country covered with snow. This fact is well authenticated, and many persons visit the house to the present day.”[308] The Stockdove is a sign at Romiley, Stockport; the Dovecote is a public-house at Laxton, Carlton-on-Trent, probably on account of the pigeons constantly flying out and in; and there is a Pigeon Box at Prior’s Lee, near Shiffnall. The pigeon-shooting matches may have something to do with the selection of this sign.

The Falcon was another of the devices used by Wynkyn de Worde over his shop in Fleet Street. Falcon Court, in that locality, perhaps derives its name from this house. Subsequently, Gordobuc, the earliest English tragedy, was “imprynted at London, in Flete Strete, at the sign of the Faucon,” no doubt Wynkyn’s house, by William Griffiths in 1565; and in 1612, Peacham’s “Garden of Heroical Devises” was published by Wa. Dight at the sign of the Falcon in Shoe Lane. These booksellers, perhaps, borrowed their device from the stationers’ arms, which are, argent on a chevron between three bibles, or, a falcon volant between two roses, the Holy Ghost in chief; it was also a badge of some of the kings. At the Falcon inn, Stratford-on-Avon, there is still a shovelboard on which William Shakespeare is said often to have[220] played. Another Falcon Tavern connected with Shakespeare’s name used to stand on the Bankside, where he and his companions occasionally refreshed themselves after the fatigues of the performances at the Globe. It long continued celebrated as a coaching inn for all parts of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex, till it was taken down in 1808. The name is still preserved in the Falcon Glass-house, which stands opposite its site, and in the Falcon Stairs. There was another Falcon Inn in Fleet Street, bequeathed to the company of cordwainers, by a gentleman named Fisher, under the obligation that they were yearly to have a sermon preached in the Church of St Dunstan, in the West, on the 10th of July. Formerly, on that day, sack and posset used to be drunk by those concerned, in the vestry of the church, if not to the health, at least to the “pious memory” of this Fisher; but that good custom has long since been abandoned.

The Falcon on the Hoop is named in 1443. “In the xxj yer of Kyng Harry the vjte,” the brotherhood of the Holy Trinity received “for the rent of ij yere of Wyllym Wylkyns for the Sarrecyn Head v li. vj s. viij d., paynge by the yer liij s. iiij d. and of the Faucon on the Hope, for the same ij yer vi li., that is to say paynge by the yer iij li.” Rent, it must be confessed, seems small, and landlords exceedingly accommodating in those days. Six days before that period, there is an entry in the church-wardens’ accounts for “kervyng and peinting of the seigne of the Faucon vj sh.”[309] This mention of the sign clearly shows that it was not a picture, but a carved and coloured falcon, suspended in a hoop, whence the name of the sign.

The Magpie being a bird of good omen, was, on that account, very often chosen; with this another reason concurred, namely, the sign of the eatable pie falling into disuse, it was transformed into the Magpie, (see Cock and Pie;) and this transition was so much the easier as the original name of the magpie was pie, (Latin pica, French pie,) and only subsequently for its knowing antics, did it receive the nickname of maggoty[310] pie, which gradually was abbreviated into Magpie. The full form of the epithet is preserved in the nursery rhyme:—

“Round about, round about,
Maggoty Pie,
My father loves good ale
And so do I.”


The Maggoty Pie was an inn in the Strand during the reign of James I.: it is alluded to in Shirley’s Comedy of “The Ball,” a. i. sc. 1, where Freshwater, the Italianised Englishman, says:—

“I do ly at the signe of Dona Margaretta de Pia in the Strand.”

which his man Gudgin explains to mean, “the Maggety Pie in the Strand, sir.”

As late as 1654, we find the name “maggoty pie” used in “Mercurius Fumigosus, or the Smoking Nocturnal,” July 26 to August 3, where the Welshman’s arms are described as a fly, a maggoty pie, &c.[311] The Magpie and Stump represents the magpie sitting on the stump of a tree; it was the sign of one of the Whig pothouses in the Old Bailey during the riots of 1715. There is still an old house with such a sign in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. The Magpie and Pewter Platter, in Wood Street, originated from a magpie standing by a dish and picking out of it. The Magpie and Crown, says the author of “Tavern Anecdotes,” (1825,) is a ridiculous association; but when once joined is not to be separated without injury to the concern, as it happened in the case of a Mr Renton, who was originally waiter at a house of this name in Aldgate, famous for its ale, which was sent out in great quantities. The landlord becoming rich, pride followed, and he thought of giving wing to the Magpie, retaining only the royal attribute of the crown. The ale went out for a short time, as usual, but it was not from the Magpie and Crown, and the customers fancied it was not so good as usual; consequently the business fell off. The landlord died, and Renton purchased the concern, caught the Magpie, and restored it to its ancient situation; the ale improved in the opinion of the public, and its consumption increased so much, that Renton, at his death, left behind him property amounting to £600,000, chiefly the profits of the Magpie and Crown ale. This danger of altering a sign is also illustrated by another example. When Joseph II., emperor of Germany, was at Maestricht, in the Netherlands, he stayed at the Gray Ass Inn, (L’Ane Gris,) in honour of which imperial visit the landlord discarded his humble quadruped sign, and put up the Emperor[222]’s Head. The customers seeing the Old Gray Ass gone, thought the business had fallen into other hands, and so went to various inns in the neighbourhood, and particularly to a New Gray Ass, which had just then opened in the same street. The landlord seeing his business falling off, through the change of his sign, yet unwilling to part with his Emperor’s head, after long thinking and pondering, at last hit upon a clever compromise: he kept up the portrait of the Emperor, but wrote under it, “At the Original Gray Ass, (au veritable Ane Gris.)”

The Parrot, or Popinjay, is an old sign now almost out of fashion, the Green Parrot, Swinegate, Leeds, being one of the few remaining. Andrew Maunsell, a bookseller and printer, resided at the Parrot in St Paul’s Churchyard in 1570, and continued to trade under this sign till 1600. Taylor, the water poet, mentions the Popinjay at Ewell, in 1636. It was a very appropriate sign for quacks, and one of these, at all events, had candour enough to adopt it. His handbill begins in a grandiloquent style:—

Noble or Ignoble, you may be foretold anything that may happen to your Elementary Life: as at what time you may expect prosperity; or if in Adversity the End thereof, or when you may be so happy as to enjoy the Thing desired. Also young Men may foresee their Fortunes as in a Glass, and pretty Maids their Husbands in this Noble, yea, Heavenlie art of Astrologie. At the sign of the Parrot opposite to Ludgate Church within Blackfriars’ Gateway.”[312]

The Parrot and Cage, in St Martin’s Lane, Strand, advertised in 1711 as a “just and substantial office of insurance” on marriages, births, &c. This office, apparently, had chambers in some bird-fancier’s house, at all events to that class of the community the sign belonged more exclusively. In 1787, there was one near the monument, the sign of a cagemaker who sold “likewise parrots and other forring birds.”

The Peacock, in ancient times, was possessed of a mystic character. The fabled incorruptibility of its flesh led to its typifying the Resurrection; and from this incorruptibility, doubtless, originated the first idea of swearing “by the Peacock,” an oath that was to be inviolably kept. Its first introduction on the signboard is lost in the unrecorded wastes of time; but the oath was a common one in early times, especially on occasions of military adventures. Near the Angel in Clerkenwell, there is the Peacock public-house, which bears the date 1564. This was[223] formerly a great house of call for the mail and other coaches travelling on the Great North Road, much the same as the Elephant and Castle was for the southern counties. The Peacock and Feathers was a sign in Cornhill in 1711.

The Ostrich seems more common at present than in ancient times. There is one on a stone-carved sign in Bread Street, probably the sign of a feather shop. Generally, the ostrich is represented with a horseshoe in his mouth, in allusion to its digestive powers; for this reason Cade says to Iden:—

“I’ll make thee eat iron like an ostrich, and swallow my sword like a great pin.”—Henry VI., 2d Part, a. iv. sc. 10.

The landlord of an alehouse at Calverley, near Leeds, has put his premises under the protection of Minerva’s bird, the Owl. At St Helens, Lancashire, there is a still more curious sign, viz., the Owl’s Nest, or the Owl in the Ivy Bush. A bush or tod of ivy was formerly supposed to be a favourite place for the owl to make its nest in. The old dramatists abound in allusions to this:

“And, like an owle, by night to go abroad,
Roosted all day within an ivy-tod.”[313]Drayton.
“Michael von Owle, how dost thou?
In what dark barn or tod of aged ivy
Hast thou been hid?”—Beaumont and Fletcher, a. iv. sc. 3.

In a masque of Shirley’s, entitled “The Triumph of Peace,” 1633, one of the scenes represented a wild, woody landscape, “a place fit for purse-taking,” where, “in the furthest part was seene an ivy-bush, out of which came an owle.” Opinion, one of the dramatis personæ, informed the public, that this scene was intended for “a wood, a broad-faced owl, an ivy-bush, and other birds beside her.”[314]

In districts where Grouse and Moorcock are found, these birds frequently court the patronage of the thirsty sportsman at the village alehouse door. One publican, at Upper Haslam, Sheffield, invites at once the follower of Nimrod and of Walton: his sign is the Grouse and Trout.

The last bird-sign which remains to be noticed, is unquestionably[224] the most puzzling of all. It occurs on an old trades token of Cornhill, and is there called “The Live Vulture.” That the man should have kept a live vulture at his door seems very improbable. The only explanation which occurs to us, is the possibility that, at some period or other, a live vulture had been exhibited at this house, and that from this event its name was derived.[315]

A curious instance of a tradesman exhibiting a living bird as an attraction to his house, is supplied us in a recent letter of a Paris correspondent, which gives at the same time an amusing anecdote of the well-known Alexandre Dumas. The writer, speaking of a magnificent new café which had recently been completed, says:—

“Writing of this newly started restaurant naturally recals the fact of the disappearance of the historic pavilion of Henry IV. at St Germain-en-Laye, kept for many years by the Duchess of Berry’s maître d’hôtel, Collinet. He was the pupil of Carême, and learnt to make sauces from Richout, saucemaker to the last of the Condés, and pastry from Heliot, “Ecuyer ordinaire de la bouche de Madame la Dauphine,” a title I have vainly searched for in the list of the queen’s household. The result of this combination of culinary instructions was that his “Bifsteaks à la Bearnaise,” and his woodcock pies, attracted not only all the fashionable world, but a brilliant galaxy of literary celebrities to the “Pavilion Henry IV.” Alexandre Dumas’s château of Monte Christo was close to St Germain. He sent daily for his cutlets to Collinet, who let his bill run on till it amounted to 25,000f. (£1000), in payment of which the distinguished chef received an autograph letter from the great novelist, accompanied by a live eagle. Alexandre Dumas expressed his regret at not being able to pay the bill, but suggested his exhibiting the eagle and the letter, which exhibition would inevitably attract crowds to his hotel, and there I myself have seen the eagle and read the letter.”

(Roxburghe Ballads, circa 1650.)
(Newgate Street, 1669.)
(Banks’s Collection, 1750.)
(Roxburghe Ballads, 1665.)
(Drury Lane, 1825.)

[280] Coryatt’s Crudities, vol. i. p. 29.

[281] “Phisiologus tells us that the Pelican is very fond of his young ones, and when they are born and begin to grow, they rebel in their nest against their parent and strike him with their wings, flying about him and beat him so much till they wound him in his eyes. Then the father strikes again and kills them. And the mother is of such a nature that she comes back to the nest on the third day and sits down upon her dead young ones, and opens her side with her bill and pours her blood over them, and so resuscitates them from death, for the young ones by their instinct receive the blood as soon as it comes out of the mother, and drink it.”—Bibl. Nat. Belg. No. 10074.

[282] Notes and Queries, No. 236, May 6, 1854.

[283] Letter of Memorial to King Charles II. from Sir John Hinton, physician in ordinary to His Majesty, 1679. Ellis, Orig. Letters, 3d series, vol. iii. p. 307.

[284] The Three Blackbirds, Choughs, Crows, Ravens, &c., may allude to Charles, James, and Rupert.

[285] Coryatt’s Crudities, vol. i. p. 39. In the East the same fable is current as to the paternal affection of young storks; their name in Hebrew is chesadao, which implies mercy or pity.

[286] “Armory of Byrdes, Imprynted at Londõ by John Wyght dwellĩg Poules Church yarde at the sygne of the Rose.” A poem of the time of Henry VIII., attributed to Skelton, the poet laureate.

[287] Bourne’s Observations on Popular Antiquities, 1725, p. 65.

[288] Aubrey’s Remains of Gentilisme and Judaism.—Lansdown MSS.

[289] On the obverse:—

“When the cock began to crow
St Peter began to cry.”


“The cock does not crow for nothing;
Ask St Peter, he can tell you.”

[290] Johnson’s Life of Lord Dorset.

[291] There was formerly a kind of ale called Cock ale, but what it was is not exactly known.

[292] Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinarie. London, 1604. Percy Society, 1841. Though this is a description of the state of London in 1603, it perfectly applies to the plague of 1665.

[293] The Art of Living in London. Poem in 2 cantos, 1768.

[294] Protestant Mercury, Feb. 14, 1700.

[295] Daily Courant, Aug. 9, 1711.

[296] Bisson’s Janus, or Small Tokens for the Old Year, and Little Gifts for the New Year. 1674. Luttrell Ballads, vol. ii. p. 20.

[297] “The reason why so many alehouses in town and country have the sign of the swan, is because that bird is so fond of liquid.”

[No English translation can convey the peculiar significance of the original. The above gives only the bare sense.]

[298] J. T. Smith, Book for a Rainy Day, p. 280.

[299] The king’s stables (which stood on the site now occupied by Trafalgar Square) called the “mews,” because formerly his majesty’s falcons were kept there, mue being a French word for a certain kind of bird-cage or coop: whence the words “mewed up.”

[300] These nicks were little horizontal, vertical, and diagonal notches cut in the swan’s bill, in order that each owner might know his own swans. In the Archæologia for 1812, a roll of 219 swan marks is given, together with the ordinances respecting swans on the river Witham, in Lincoln, belonging to various gentlemen; this paper bears the date of June 1570. The nicking was done by swanherds, appointed by the king’s licence, who kept a register of all the various marks. None but freeholders were to have marks, and these were to be perfectly distinct from those used by other gentlemen. The Corporation of London had the right of keeping swans on the Thames for fourteen leagues above and below bridge, and their flocks seem to have been very numerous, for Paulus Jovius describing the approach to London in 1552, says, “This river abounds in swans swimming in flocks, the sight of which, and their noise, are very agreeable to the fleets that meet them in their course.” Those of the company of the vintners had two nicks or marks on their bill, it is said, and hence the popular explanation of the sign. This nicking of swans on the river was formerly a matter of great state. The members of the Corporation of London used annually to go up the Thames in the month of August, in gaily decorated barges, and after the swans were nicked and counted, to land off Barn Elms, and there partake of a collation in the open air, ending which, history informs us, they used to dance, but it would require very reliable authority to convince us that an alderman could find enjoyment on the “light fantastic toe,” particularly after a hearty collation.

[301] For the origin of the sign, see under Hoop.

[302] Mercurius Publicus, Aug. 30-Sept. 16, 1660.

[303] Arnold’s Customs of London.

[304] London Gazette, October 2-6, 1673.

[305] City Mercury, or Advertisements concerning Trade, Nov. 4, 1675.

[306] Halliwell’s Local Illustrations to the “Merry Wives of Windsor.” Folio Shakespeare.

[307] Kingdom’s Intelligencer, March 30 to April 6, 1663.

[308] Faulkner’s Account of Fulham, 1813, p. 359.

[309] Hone’s Ancient Mysteries Described, p. 81.

[310] Magot is in French a quaint, little figure.

[311] For the benefit of those curious in Cambrian heraldry we will give these arms in a note:—“A fly, a maggoty pie, a gammon of bacon and a ——: the fly drinks before his master; a magpie doth prate and chatter, a gammon of bacon is never good till it be hanged, and a —— when it is out never returns to its country, no more will a Welshman; otherwise, his arms are two trees verdant, a beam tressant, a ladder rampant, and Taffe pendant.”

[312] Bagford Bills Harl. MSS., 5931.

[313] A tod is an old word for any entangled mass, but generally applied to flax and ivy.

[314] This comment of “Opinion” might lead to the conclusion that either there was no painted scene at all, or at least that it was badly executed; yet such can scarcely have been the case, for a notice occurs at the end of the masque, purporting that “the scene and ornament was the act of Inigo Jones, Esq., surveyor of His Majesty’s Works.” This play was acted by the gentlemen of the Inns-of-Court, in the presence of the king and queen, at Whitehall, Feb. 3, 1633.

[315] That vultures were exhibited as great curiosities, will be seen from our notice of the George and Vulture. See under Religious Signs.



The Mermaid, as a sign, must have had great attractions for our forefathers. Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and other dramatists, notice this taste for strange fishes. The ancient chronicles teem with captures of mermen, mermaids, and similar creatures. Old Hollinshed gives a detailed account of a merman caught at Orford, in Suffolk, in the reign of King John. He was kept alive on raw meal and fish for six months, but at last “fledde secretelye to the sea, and was neuer after seene nor heard off.” Another chronicler says, “About this time [1202] fishes of strange shapes were taken, armed with helmets and shields like armed men, only they were much bigger.” And Gervase of Tilbury roundly asserts that mermen and mermaids live in the British Ocean. Even in more modern times, every now and then a mermaid (the mermen seem to have been more scarce) made her appearance. In an advertisement at the beginning of the seventeenth century, we find:—

IN Bell Yard, on Ludgate Hill, is to be seen, at any hour of the day, a living Mermaid, from the waist upwards of a party colour, from thence downwards is very strange and wonderful.

Mulier formosa superne
Desinit in piscem.”

After which follows a most promising and tempting little bit of information in French:—“Son corps est de divers couleurs avec beaucoup d’autres curiosités qu’on ne peut exprimer.” Again, in 1747:—

“We hear from the north of Scotland, that some time this month a sea creature, known by the name of Mermaid, which has the shape of a human body from the trunk upwards, but below is wholly fish, was carried some miles up the water of Devron.”[316]

In 1824, a mermaid or merman (for the sex was discreetly left in dubio) made its appearance before “an enlightened public,” when, as the papers inform us, “upwards of 150 distinguished fashionables” went to see it. At Bartholomew Fair, in 1830, a stuffed mermaid was exhibited; but if once she had been such a “mulier formosa” as captivated the ancient mariners, she was certainly much altered.[317] A very different specimen had been exhibited in Fleet Street in 1822; but she disappeared all at[226] once most mysteriously, not, however, without a rumour of her being under the protection of the Lord Chancellor, which, as she was a comely maiden with flaxen hair, “mulier superne et inferne,” lies within the range of possibilities. The sea-serpent has now almost done away with the mermaid; yet, as late as 1857, there appeared an article in the Shipping Gazette, under the intelligence of 4th June, signed by some Scotch sailors, and describing an object seen off the North British coast, “in the shape of a woman, with full breast, dark complexion, comely face,” and the rest.

At one time it appears to have been a very common sign, if we may judge from the way in which it is mentioned by Brathwait in his New Cast of Characters, (1631):—

“If she [the hostess] aspire to the conceit of a sine and device, her birch pole pull’d downe, he will supply her with one, which he performes so poorely as none that sees it, but would take it for a sign he was drunk when he made it. A long consultation is had before they can agree what sign must be reared. ‘A meere-mayde’ says she, ‘for she will sing catches to the youths of the parish.’ ‘A lyon,’ says he, for that is the onely sign he can make; and this he formes so artlessly, as it requires his expression, this is a lyon. Which old Ellenor Rumming, his tapdame, denies, saying it should have been a meere-mayde.”

Among the most celebrated of the Mermaid taverns in London, that in Bread Street stands foremost. As early as the fifteenth century, it was one of the haunts of the pleasure-seeking Sir John Howard, whose trusty steward records, anno 1464:—“Paid for wyn at the Mermayd in Bred Stret, for my mastyr and Syr Nicholas Latimer, x d. ob.” In 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh established a literary club in this house, doubtless the first in England. Amongst its members were Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Selden, Carew, Martin, Donne, Cotton, &c. It is frequently alluded to by Beaumont and Fletcher in their comedies, but best known is that quotation from a letter of Beaumont to Ben Jonson:—

“What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been
So nimble and so full of subtle flame,
As if that any one from whence they came
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
And had resolved to live a fool the rest
Of his dull life; then when there hath been thrown
Wit able enough to justify the town
For three days past; wit that might warrant be
For the whole city to talk foolishly,
Till that were cancell’d; and when that was gone,
We left an air behind us, which alone
[227] Was able to make the two next companies
(Right witty, though but downright fools) more wise.”

There was another Mermaid in Cheapside, frequented by Jasper Mayne, and in the next reign by the poet laureate, John Dryden. Mayne mentions it in “The City Match,” (1638:)

“I had made an ordinary,
Perchance at the Mermaid.”

At one time the landlord’s name was Dun, which is told us in a somewhat amusing anecdote:—“When Dun, that kept the Meremaid Tavern in Cornhill, being himself in a room with some witty gallants, one of them (which, it seems, knew his wife) too boldly cryd out in a fantastick humour, ‘I’ll lay five pound there’s a cuckhold in this company.’ ‘’Tis Dun,’ says another.”[318] In 1681, there was a Mermaid in Carter Lane, which had a great deal of traffic as a carriers’ inn.[319]

The sign was also used by printers. John Rastall, for instance, brother-in-law of Sir Thomas More, “emprynted in the Cheapesyde at the sygne of the Meremayde; next to Poulysgate in 1527;” and in 1576 a translation of the History of Lazarillo de Tormes, dedicated to Sir Thomas Gresham, was printed by Henry Binnemann, the queen’s printer, in Knight-rider Street, at the sign of the Mermaid. A representation of this fabulous creature was generally prefixed to his books.

The Seahorse may be seen in Birmingham, York, and various other places. Bossewell, in his peculiar mixture of English and Latin, gives a quaint description of this animal:—

“This waterhorse of the sea is called an hyppotame, for that he is like an horse in back, mayne, and neying: rostro resupinato a primis dentibus: cauda tortuosa, ungulis binis. He abideth in the waters on the day, and eateth corn by night et hunc Nilus gignit.”[320]

The Dolphin is another sign of very old standing. One of the first instances of its use was probably the following inn:—

“The other side of this High Street, from Bishopsgate and Houndsditch, the first building is a large inn for the receipt of travellers, and is called the Dolphin, of such a sign. In the year 1513, Margaret Ricroft, widow, gave this house, with the gardens and appurtenances, unto William Gam, R. Clye, their wives, her daughters, and to their heirs, with condition they yearly do give to the warders or govornors of the Greyfriars’ Church, within Newgate, 40 shillings, to find a student of divinity in the university for ever.”[321]


Moser, in his “Vestiges Revived,” mentions this same inn as the Dolphin, or rather, Dauphin Inn; and says that it was adorned with fleur-de-lys, cognisances, and dolphins; and was reported to have been the residence of one of the dauphins of France, probably Louis, the son of Philip August, who, in 1216, came to England to contest the sceptre with King John.[322] The house was still in existence at the end of the seventeenth century, when it was a famous coaching inn. Perhaps it was to this tavern that Pepys and his company adjourned on 27th March 1661:—

“To the Dolphin to a dinner of Mr Harris’s, where Sir William and my Lady Batten and her two daughters, and other company, when a great deal of mirth, and there staid till 11 o’clock at night, and in our mirth I sang and sometimes fiddled, (there being a noise of fiddlers there,) and at last we fell to dancing, the first time that ever I did in my life, which I did wonder to see myself to do. At last we made Mingo, Sir W. Batten’s black, and Jack, Sir W. Penn’s, dance, and it was strange how the first did dance with a great deal of skill.”

Pepys might well wonder what a man may come to, he who had been born when “lascivious dancing” was considered a heinous crime. Another Dolphin, well worthy of remembrance, was the sign of Sam. Buckley, a bookseller in Little Brittain, at whose house Steele and Addison’s Spectator was published.

Ancient naturalists made a wonderful animal of the dolphin. Bossewell, for instance, from whom we have just quoted, tells most extraordinary stories about him; but they are unfortunately too long to quote. Londoners formerly might have seen the living fish from the river banks, for old chroniclers every now and then have entries to the effect that dolphins paid London a visit. Thus: “3 Henry V. Seven dolphins came up the river Thames, whereof 4 were taken.” “14 Rich. II. On Christmas day a dolphin was taken at London Bridge, being 10 ft. long, and a monstrous grown fish.”[323] The Dolphin and Anchor is still a common sign; and the Fish and Anchor, at North Littleton, Warwickshire, evidently implies the same emblem. Aldus Manutius, the celebrated Venetian printer, was the first to use the sign, adopting it from a silver medal of the Emperor Titus, presented to him by Cardinal Bembo, with the motto, σπευδε[229] βραδεως. Camerarius thus (in our translation) mentions this sign in his book on Symbols:—

“That the dolphin wound round the anchor was an emblem of the Emperors August and Titus, to represent that maturity in business which is the medium between too great haste and slowness; and that it was also used in the last century by Aldus Manutius, that most famous printer, is known to everybody. Erasmus clearly and abundantly explains the import of that golden precept.

“Our emblem is taken from Alciatus, and has a different meaning. He reports, namely, that ‘when violent winds disturb the sea, as Lucretius says, and the anchor is cast by seamen, the dolphin winds herself round it, out of a particular love for mankind, and directs it, as with a human intellect, so that it may more safely take hold of the ground; for dolphins have this peculiar property, that they can, as it were, foretell storms. The anchor, then, signifies a stay and security, whilst the dolphin is a hieroglyphic for philanthropy and safety.’”—Joach. Camerarius, “Symbolorum et Emblematum Centuriæ Quatuor.” Centuria iv. p. 19; Moguntia, 1697.

This sign was afterwards adopted by William Pickering, a worthy “Discipulus Aldi,” as he styled himself; Sir Egerton Bridges made some verses upon it, amongst which occur the following:—

“Would you still be safely landed,
On the Aldine Anchor ride;
Never yet was vessel stranded,
With the Dolphin by its side.
....... “Nor time, nor envy ever shall canker
The sign that is my lasting pride;
Joy then to the Aldus Anchor,
And the Dolphin at its side.
“To the Dolphin as we ’re drinking,
Life and health and joy we send;
A poet once he saved from sinking,
And still he lives—the poet’s friend.”

The Dolphin and Comb was the sign of E. Herne, a milliner on London Bridge in 1722. This is an instance of one of the articles sold within being added to the original sign of the house. Milliners in those days used to have a much more extensive variety of objects for sale than they have now, comprehending almost every article required for female apparel,—and including knives, scissors, combs, pattens, patches, poking sticks, fans, bodkins, &c. Such additions to signs were of frequent occurrence, thus the Fox and Topknot, the Lamb and Breeches, the Fox and Cap, and the Lamb and Inkbottle, which last figures on the imprint of Thomas Roch, Newgate Street, a bookseller who made[230] “the best ink for deeds and records,” 1677. Frequently the sign of the Fish is seen without any further specification; in this case it is probably meant for the Dolphin, which is the signboard-fish par excellence. The Fish sign is a very common public house decoration at the present day, probably for the same reason as the Swan, because he is fond of liquor,—nay, to such an extent goes his reputation for intemperance, that to “drink like a fish” is a quality of no small excellence with publicans. In Carlisle, however, there are two signs of the Fish and Dolphin, a rather puzzling combination,—unless it has reference to the dolphin’s chase after the shoals of small fishes. The Fish and Bell, Soho, may either allude to a well-known anecdote of a certain numskull, who, when he caught a fish, which he desired to keep for dinner on some future grand occasion, put it back into the river, with a bell round its neck, so that he should be able to know its whereabouts the moment he wanted it; or it may be the usual Bell added in honour of the bell-ringers. A quaint variety of this sign is the Bell and Mackerel, in the Mile-End Road. The Three Fishes was a favourite device in the Middle Ages, crossing or interpenetrating each other in such a manner, that the head of one fish was at the tail of another. We cannot prove that it had any emblematic meaning, but it may possibly represent the Trinity, the fish being a common symbol for Christ, derived from the Greek monogram or abbreviation, ΙΧΘΥΣ. It occurs as a sign in the following advertisement, which minutely describes the livery of a page in the year of the Restoration:—

“On Saturday night last run away from the Lord Rich, Christophilus Cornaro, a Turk christened; a French youth of 17 or 18 years of age, with flaxen hair, little blew eyes, a mark upon his lip, and another under his right eye; of a fair complexion, one of his ears pierced, having a pearl-coloured suit, trimmed with scarlet and blue ribbons, a coat of the same colour with silver buttons; his name Jacob David. Give notice to the Lord, lodging at the Three Fishes in New Street, in Covent Garden, a cook-shop, and good satisfaction shall be given.”[324]

The Three Herrings, the sign of James Moxton, a bookseller in the Strand, near Yorkhouse, in 1675, is evidently but another name for the Three Fishes; at the present day it is the sign of an ale-house in Bell Yard, Temple Bar. Several taverns with this sign are mentioned in the French tales and plays of the 17th century; two of them seem to have been very celebrated, one in the Faubourg St Marceau, the other near the Palais de Justice;[231] this last one seems to have been particularly famous, for it is named as a rival to the celebrated Pomme de Pin. “Si je vay au Palais, tous ces clercs sont alentour de moy; l’un me mène aux Trois Poissons, l’autre à la Pomme de Pin.”—Comédie de la Vefve, ac. iii. s. 3.[325] The Fish and Quart at Leicester must be passed by in silence, as the combination cannot immediately be accounted for. Were it in France a solution would be easier, for in French slang a “poisson,” or fish, means a small measure of wine. The Fish and Eels at Roydon, in Essex; the Fish and Kettle, Southampton; and the White Bait, Bristol, all tell their own tale, and need no comment. The Salmon is seen occasionally near places where it is caught. The Salmon and Ball is the well-known Ball of the silkmercers in former times, added to the sign of the Salmon; whilst the Salmon and Compasses is the masonic emblem that is added to the sign. Both these occur in more than one instance in London. The Fishbone is rarely met with as a public-house sign, though there is an example of it at Netherton in Cheshire, and also amongst the seventeenth century tokens of New Cheapside, Moorfields. But generally it is the sign of a rag and bone shop, or, in the euphonious language of the day, a “miscellaneous repository,” or “bank of commerce.” These shops, as their title of “marine stores” implies, used to buy all the odds and ends of rope, sails, seamen’s old clothes, in short all the rubbish of which a ship is cleared after its return from a long voyage. Bones of large fish would be often amongst the curiosities brought home by the sailors, these also they bought and hung them up outside their doors, and in the end these bones became their distinctive sign. The Sun and Whalebone at Latton, in Essex, may have originated from a whalebone hanging outside the house, or that the landlord had laid the foundation of his fortune as a rag merchant.

Insects are of very rare occurrence. The industrious habits of the bees, however, made their habitation a favourite object to imply a similar industry in the shopkeepers. Many years ago there used to be at Grantham in Lincolnshire, a signpost on which was placed a Beehive in full swarm, with the following lines under it:—

“Two wonders, Grantham, now are thine,
The highest spire and a living sign.”


Though the living bees were gone the following season, yet the sign and inscription remained until very recently. The following is a common inscription under the sign of the Beehive:—

“Within this hive we’re all alive,
Good liquor makes us funny;
If you are dry, step in and try
The flavour of our honey.”

A tea-dealer at the corner of Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road, in the end of the last century, had for his sign the Walking Leaf, (the Phyllium siccifolium of the naturalists,) an East Indian insect, of an anything but agreeable association, when we consider the remarkable vegetable appearance of this insect, and the possibility that it might be dried among the tea-leaves.

Although the frog cannot be considered either an insect or a fish, yet we may include it in this chapter. Of frogs there are some instances on the signboard; the Three Frogs, (see under Heraldic Signs,) and Froghall, formerly a public-house at the south end of Frog Lane, Islington. On the front of this house there was exhibited the ludicrous sign of a plough drawn by frogs. There is at the present day a Froghall Inn at Wolston, near Coventry; and a public-house of that name at Layerthorpe in the West Riding, but the picture of the sign was doubtless unique. The principal inn on the island of Texel is called the Golden Frog, (de Goude kikker.) We may wonder that there are not more examples of this sign in Holland, for there are, without doubt, as many frogs in that country as there are Dutchmen; and even unto this day it is a mooted point, which of the two nations has more right to the possession of the country; both, however, are of a pacific disposition, so that they live on in a perfect entente cordiale.

[316] General Magazine, Jan. 1747.

[317] It was sketched by George Cruikshank; and a wood-cut of it may be seen in Morley’s “Memoirs of Bartholomew Fair,” p. 488.

[318] “Coffeehouse Jests,” 1688, p. 128.

[319] Delaune’s “Present State of London,” 1681.

[320] Bossewell’s “Works of Armourie,” 1589, p. 65.

[321] Stow, p. 62. A striking instance of the depreciation of money within the last three centuries. At the present day, 40s. would scarcely keep an Oxford or Cambridge student in cigar-lights.

[322] Moser makes a slight error. The heir-apparent to the throne of France did not assume the title of Dauphin till 1349, when Humbert II., Dauphin of Vienne, having no posterity, retired to a monastery, and sold his estates to Philip VI., King of France, on behalf of his grandson, afterwards Charles V.

[323] Delaune’s “Present State of London.”

[324] “Mercurius Publicus,” Aug. 30; Sep. 6, 1660.

[325] “If I go to the Palace of Justice, all those clerks are constantly after me; one takes me to the Three Fishes, the other to the Pine Cone.”—Comedy of the Widow, a. iii. s. 3.



In old times, when signboards flourished, there would have been many reasons for choosing these house-decorations. 1. Their symbolic meaning, as the olive-tree, the fig-tree, the palm-tree. 2. To intimate what was sold within, as the vine, the coffee-plant, &c. 3. The use of some plants as badges. 4. The vicinity of some well-known tree or road-mark, near the place where the sign was displayed. 5. The desire of a landlord to have an unusual sign.

The oldest sign borrowed from the vegetable kingdom is the Bush; it was a bush or bunch of ivy, box or evergreen, tied to the end of a pole, such as is represented in many of the suttler’s tents in the pictures of Wouverman. The custom came evidently from the Romans, and with it the oft-repeated proverb, “Good wine needs no Bush.” (Vinum vendibile hedera non est opus; in Italian, Al buon vino non bisogna frasca; in French, à bon vin point d’enseigne.) Ivy was the plant commonly used: “The Tavern Ivy clings about my money and kills it,” says the sottish slave in Massinger’s “Virgin Martyr,” (a. iii. s. 3.) It may have been adopted as the plant sacred to Bacchus and the Bacchantes, or perhaps simply because it is a hardy plant, and long continues green. As late as the reign of King James I. many inns used it as their only sign. Taylor, the water poet, in his perambulation of ten shires around London, notes various places where there is “a taverne with a bush only;” in other parts he mentions “the signe of the Bush.” Even at the present day “the Bush” is a very general sign for inn and public-house, whilst sometimes it assumes the name of the Ivy Bush, or the Ivy Green, (two in Birmingham.) In Gloucester, Warwick, and other counties, where at certain fairs the ordinary booth people and tradesmen enjoy the privilege of selling liquors without a licence, they hang out bunches of ivy, flowers, or boughs of trees, to indicate this sale. As far away as the western States of North America, at the building of a new village, or station, it is no uncommon thing to see a bunch of hay, or a green bough, hung from above the “grocery,” or bar-room door, until such time as a superior decoration can be provided. The bunch being fixed to a long staff was also called the Alepole; thus among the processions of odd characters that came to purchase ale at the Tunnyng of Elinour Rummyng:—


“Another brought her bedes
Of jet or of coale,
To offer to the Alepole.”

How these Alepoles, from the very earliest times, continued to enlarge and encroach upon the public way, has been shown in our Introduction, pp. 16, 17. The Bunch gradually became a garland of flowers of considerable proportions, whence Chaucer, describing the Sompnour, says:—

“A garlond hadde he sette upon his hede
As gret as it were for an alestake.”

Afterwards it became a still more elegant object, as exemplified by the Nagshead in Cheapside, in the print of the entry of Marie de Medici; finally it appeared as a crown of green leaves, with a little Bacchus, bestriding a tun dangling from it. Thus the sign was used simultaneously with the bush.

“If these houses [ale-houses] have a boxe-bush, or an old post, it is enough to show their profession. But if they be graced with a signe compleat, it’s a signe of a good custome.”[326]

In a mask of 1633, the constituents of a tavern are thus described:—“A flaminge red lattice, seueral drinking roomes, and a backe doore, but especially a conceited signe and an eminent bush.” “Tavernes are quickly set up, it is but hanging out a bush at a nobleman’s or an alderman’s gate, and ’tis made instantly.”—Shirley’s Masque of the Triumph of Peace. In a woodcut from the “Cent Nouvelle Nouvelles,” introduced in Wright’s “Domestic Manners,” the Bush is suspended from a square board, on which the sign was painted; for in France as well as in England, signboard and bush went together:—

“La taverne levée
L’enseigne et le bouchon,
La dame bien peignée
Les cheveux en bouchon.”[327]

Chanson nouvelle des Tavernes et Tavernières, Fleur des Chansons Nouvelles, Lyon, 1586.

Whilst an English host in “Good News and Bad News,” says:—“I rather will take down my bush and sign than live by means of riotous expense.” Gradually, as signs became more costly, the bunch was entirely neglected and the sign alone remained.


The Hand and Flower is a sign very frequently adopted by alehouses in the vicinity of nursery grounds:—thus, there is one in the High Street, Kensington, and one in the King’s Road, a little past Cremorne, though there the nursery ground has very recently been built over.

The Rose, besides being the queen of flowers, and the national emblem, had yet another prestige which alone would have been sufficient to make it a favourite sign in the middle ages; this was its religious import. On the monumental brass of Abbot Kirton, formerly in Westminster Abbey, there was a crowned rose with I.H.C. in its heart, and round it the words


And in Caxton’s Psalter, above a woodcut representing an angel holding a shield with a rose on it, occur the words:—

“Per te rosa toluntur vitia,
Per te datur mestis leticia.”[329]

It was evidently an emblem of the Virgin, and may contain some allusion to the Rose of Jericho, or to the Christmas rose.

Three centuries ago roses were still very scarce, as we learn from an original MS. of the time of Henry VIII., and signed by him, preserved at the Remembrance Office, in which it says that a red rose cost two shillings; hence, roses were often amongst the terms of a tenure. Sir Christopher Hatton, the handsome Lord Chancellor, with the “bushy beard and shoe strings green,” who danced himself into Queen Elizabeth’s favour, paid the Bishop of Ely for the rent of Ely House for a term of twenty-one years in 1576, a red rose, ten loads of hay, and £10 a-year; but that roses then were plentiful, in that garden at all events, is also evident, for the Bishop and his successors had a right to gather yearly twenty bushels of roses out of it. Sir John Poulteney, 21 Edward III., gave and confirmed by charter to Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex, his tenement of Cold Harborough, and appurtenances, for one rose at Midsummer; a still more whimsical tenure was that of a farm at Brookhouse, Penistone, York, for which yearly a payment was to be made of a red rose at Christmas, and a snow ball at Midsummer.[330] Unless the flower of the Viburnum or Gueldres Rose, sometimes called a Snowball, was[236] meant, the payment will have been almost impossible in those days when ice-cellars were unknown.

At the present day some publicans take liberties with the old sign of the Rose; in Macclesfield, and at Preston, for instance, there is the Moss Rose; on Silkstone Common, in Yorkshire, the Bunch of Roses; on the London Road, Preston, the Rosebud, &c. The Three Roses was formerly a common sign; from the way they are represented, they appear to have been heraldic roses, (see our illustration of the ancient Lattice.) It was the sign of Jonathan Edwin, bookseller in Ludgate Street in 1673. At the Rose Garland, Robert Coplande, the bookseller and printer, published in 1534 Dame Juliana Berner’s “Boke of Hawkyng, Huntyng, and Fyshyng.” This shop was in “the Flete Strete.” Rose garlands or chaplets were not only worn in the middle ages as head-dresses, but also awarded as archery prizes.

“On euery syde a Rose garlonde
They shott under the lyne,
Whoso faileth of the Rose garlonde, sayth Robyn,
His tackyll he shall tyne.”

Merry Gestes of Robin Hoode.

Copland’s Rose garland, doubtless, suggested the sign of another bookseller, John Wayland, who also lived in Fleet Street about the year 1540; his sign was the Blue Garland.

The colloquial phrase, Under the Rose, is sometimes used as a sign, or written under the pictorial representation of the rose; it occurs on a trade’s token of Cambridge,[331] and may be seen on various public-houses of the present day. Numerous suppositions have been made concerning its origin, some holding that it arose from this flower being the emblem of Harpocrates; others from a rose painted on the ceiling, any conversations held under which were not to be divulged; whilst Gregory Nazianzen seems to imply that the rose, from its close bud, had been made the emblem of silence.

“Utque latet rosa verna suo putamine clausa,
Sic os vincla ferat, validis arcietur habenis,
Indicatque suis prolixa silentia labris.”[332]

At Lullingstone Castle, in Kent, the residence of Sir Percival Dyke, Bart., there is, says a correspondent of Notes and Queries,[237] a representation of a rose nearly two feet in diameter, surrounded with the following inscription:—

“Kentish true blue
Take this as a token,
That what is said here
Under the Rose is spoken.”

The Dutch have a similar phrase. In an old Book of Inscriptions of the seventeenth century is a device written round a rose painted on the ceiling:—

“Al wat hier onder de Roos geschied,
Laat dat aldaar en meld het niet.”[333]

There is one sign of the Rose, the origin of which it is difficult to ascertain, this is the Rose of Normandy, a public-house in the High Street, Marylebone. It was built in the seventeenth century, and is the oldest house in that parish. In 1659 it is described as having

“Outside a square brick wall set with fruit trees, gravel walks 204 paces long, 7 broad; the circular wall 485 paces long, 6 broad; the centre square, a bowling-green, 112 paces one way, 88 another—all, except the first, double set with quickset hedges, full grown, and kept in excellent order, and indented like town walls.”[334]

The street having been raised, the entrance to the house is at present some steps beneath the roadway. The original form of the exterior has been preserved, and the staircases and balusters are coeval with the building; but the garden and large bowling-green have dwindled into a miserable skittle-ground.

As a sign the Marygold, it is said, arose from a popular reading of the sign of the Sun; a very natural and plausible origin. At the same time, it is just worth mentioning, that this flower (originally called the Gold) seems to have been considered as an emblem of Queen Mary; so, at least, it would appear from a lengthy ballad of “the Marygolde,” composed by her chaplain, William Forrest, in which, amongst many other similar allusions, the following words are found:—

“She [the Queen] may be called Marygolde well,
Of Marie (chiefe) Christes mother deere,
That as in heaven she doth excell,
And golde on earth to have no peere,
So certainly she shineth cleere,
In grace and honour double fold,
[238] The like was never erst seen heere,
Such as this flower the Marygolde.”

The flower was a favourite one in the middle ages, deriving the first part of its name from the Virgin Mary. No mention of the actual use of the sign, however, has been met with previous to 1638, when it appears on the title-pages of Francis Eglisfield, a bookseller in St Paul’s Churchyard. His name still occurs at the same house in 1673,[335] when it was also the sign of “Mr Cox, milliner, over against St Clement’s Church in the Strand.”[336] This must have been the same house in which Richard Blanchard and Francis Child, the goldsmiths, kept their “running cashes.”[337] It is the oldest banking firm in London. Francis Child, the founder, was, in the reign of Charles I., apprenticed to a goldsmith, William Wheeler, whose shop stood on the same spot now occupied by the bank. He married his master’s daughter, and thus laid the foundation of his immense fortune. Many bills and other papers relating to Nell Gwynn are still preserved by this firm, as well as various documents concerning the sale of Dunkerque. Alderman Blackwell, who was ruined by the shutting up of the Exchequer in the reign of Charles II., was at one time a partner in this house. It was here that Dryden deposited the £50 offered for the discovery of the bullies of the “Rose-alley cudgel ambuscade.”[338] The old sign of the house is still preserved by their successors, together with various relics of the Devil Tavern, on the site of which it was built.

Only a few other flowers occur, mostly modern introductions. The Daisey, Bramley, Leeds; the Tulip, Springfield, Chelmsford; the Lilies of the Valley, Ible, near Wirksworth; the Snowdrop, near Lewes; Woodbine Tavern, South Shields; and the Forest Blue Bell, Mansfield. The Blue Bell is very common, but, inter doctores lis est, whether it signifies the little blue flower, or a bell painted blue.

As a sequel to the flowers, we may name the Myrtle tree, of which there are two in Bristol, and the Rosemary Branch, in Camberwell, and in many other places. Rosemary was formerly an emblem of Remembrance, in the same way as the Forget-me-not is now; “There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance,” says Ophelia, (Hamlet, ac. iv., s. 5,) and in Winter’s Tale, Perdita says:—


“For you, there’s Rosemary and Rue, these keep
Seeming and savour all the winter long,
Grace and remembrance be to you both.”

Winter’s Tale, ac. iv., s. 4.

Hence Rosemary and gloves were of old presented to those who followed the funeral of a friend.

Fruit trees are much more common, particularly the Apple-tree and the Pear-tree, which (owing to the favourite drinks of cider and perry) are next to the Rose; and the Oak, the most frequent among vegetable signs. The Apple-tree, near Coldbath Fields prison, was one of the numerous public-houses which Topham the strong man kept in 1745. At the Apple-tree Tavern, in Charles Street, Covent Garden, four of the leading London Free Masons’ lodges, considering themselves neglected by Sir Christopher Wren in 1716, met and chose a grandmaster, pro tem., until they should be able to place a noble brother at the head, which they did the year following, electing the Duke of Montague. Sir Christopher had been chosen in 1698. The three lodges that joined with the Apple-tree Lodge used to meet respectively at the Goose and Gridiron, St Paul’s Churchyard; the Crown, Parker’s Lane; and at the Rummer and Grapes Tavern, Westminster. The Hand and Apple was the sign, in 1782, of a shop in Thames Street, where “syder, Barcelona, cherry brandy, tobacco,” &c., were sold. It represented a hand holding an apple, and was chosen on account of the cider.[339] To this beverage other signs owe their origin: for instance, the Red-streak Tree, from the apple of which the best cider is made. Tickets used formerly to be in the windows of houses where cider was sold, with the words, “Bright Red-streak Cyder sold here,” illustrated with three merry companions in cocked hats, sitting under an apple-tree drinking cider, on the other side a pile of barrels, from which the landlord is drawing the liquor. In Maylordsham, Hereford, this sign is rendered as the “Red-streaked Tree;” there was a Red-streaked Tree Inn in that same town in 1775.[340] The Apple-tree and Mitre is an old painted sign, a great deal the worse for London smoke, in Cursitor Street. It represents an apple-tree abundantly loaded with fruit, standing in a landscape, with some figures; above it a gilt mitre. It is evidently a combination of two signs.

The Pear-tree is as common as the Apple-tree. The Iron Pear-tree at Appleshaw, Andover, Hants, and at Redenham in[240] the same county, may have been derived from some noted pear-tree in that neighbourhood, whose hollow and broken stem was secured with plates or bands of iron. Very general, also, is the Cherry-tree. It was the sign of a once famous resort in Bowling-green Lane, Clerkenwell, and was adopted on account of the quantities of cherry-trees which grew upon its grounds, even as late as thirty or forty years ago. In our younger days, this house was the resort of the fast men of Clerkenwell; its bowling-green gave the name to the alley in which the house stood. Down the river, at Rotherhithe, was the Cherry-garden, a famous place of entertainment in the reign of the Merry Monarch. Pepys went to it on June 15, 1664, and, with his usual pleasant flow of animal spirits, “came home by water, singing merrily.”

“Over against the parish church, [St Olave’s, Southwark,] on the south side of the street, was some time one great house, builded of stone, with arched gates, which pertained to the Prior of Lewis, in Sussex, and was his lodging when he came to London; it is now a common hostelry for travellers, and hath to sign the Walnut-tree.”[341]

The Walnut-tree was also the sign of a tavern at the south side of St Paul’s Churchyard, over against the New Vault, in which place a concert is advertised in July 1718, which, from the high price of the admission tickets—5s. each—must have been something out of the common.[342] The Walnut-tree was frequently adopted by cabinetmakers, and is at the present day a not uncommon alehouse sign.

The Mulberry-tree was introduced at an early period, but does not seem to have been used as a sign until modern times. James I., in 1609, caused several shiploads of mulberry trees to be imported from abroad to encourage the home manufacture of silk: these were planted in a part of St James’s Park; but the climate being too cold for the silk worms, it was changed into a pleasure garden, where even the serious Evelyn would occasionally relax. 10th May 1654:—

“My Lady Gerard treated us at the Mulberry Gardens, now ye only place of refreshment about ye towne for persons of ye best quality to be exceedingly cheated at; Cromwell and his partizans having shut up and seized on Spring Gardens, which till now had been ye usual rendezvous for ye ladys and gallants at this season.”

Here Dryden went to eat mulberry tarts, and here Pepys occasionally dined, as 5th April 1669, when he indulged in what he calls an “olio,” evidently an olla podrida, since it was prepared[241] by a Spanish cook; and the dish was so “noble,” and such a success, that he and his friends left the rest of their dinners untouched; and after a ride in a coach and a walk for digestion, they took supper “upon what was left at noon, and very good.”

Orange trees were one of the ornaments of St James’ Park in the reign of Charles II.; and at that period and long after, were mostly used as signboards of the seed-shops, and by Italian merchants. The Orange-tree and Two Jars was the sign of a shop of the latter description in the Haymarket in 1753.[343] No doubt, the orange tree must have obtained some popularity in the reign of William III., as it is the emblem of the Orange family. The orange tree is said to be originally a Chinese plant, (whence they were formerly called China oranges.) They were unknown to the ancients, and introduced by the Moors into Sicily in the twelfth century. France possessed them in the fourteenth century; and probably much about the same period they were brought to England, for we find “pome d’orring” mentioned as one of the items at the coronation dinner of Henry IV. in 1399, where they occur in the third course, along with quincys en comfyte doucettys, and other items of a modern dessert.[344] But a still earlier instance is mentioned in the “Book of Days,” (vol. ii. p. 694,) viz., in 1290, when a large ship from Spain arrived at Portsmouth laden with spices. On this occasion, Queen Eleanor of Castile, anxious to taste again the luscious fruit that reminded her of her home in sunny Spain and the days of her girlhood, bought out of the cargo “a frail of figs, of raisins, and of grapes, a bale of dates, 230 pomegranates, 15 citrons, and 7 oranges.” This probably is the oldest mention of the orange being brought to England. The tree is said to have been introduced into this country by a member of the Carew family. Oranges are named amongst the articles of diet consumed by the Lords of the Star Chamber in 1509, when their price is quoted one day at iijd., and another at ijd., whilst the charge for strawberries was vijd., and on another day iiijd.[345] Perhaps, however, they were only used[242] as hors d’œuvres, for Randle Holme, in his instructions how to arrange a dinner, (in that omnium gatherum, “Academy of Armory,”) mentions oranges and lemons as the first item of the second course. At all events, they were abundant enough in 1559, for on May day of that year the revellers “at the queen’s plasse at Westmynster shott and threw eges and orengs on a-gaynst a-nodur.”[346] In an “Account of several Gardens near London,” in 1691,[347] Beddington Gardens are mentioned—then in the hands of the Duke of Norfolk, but belonging to the Carew family—as having in it the best oranges in England. The orange and lemon trees grew in the ground, “and had done so near one hundred years, the house in which they were being above 200 feet long. Each of the trees was about 13 feet high, and generally full of fruit, producing above 10,000 oranges a year.” Sir William Temple’s oranges at Sheen are also praised. It is, indeed, a pity that this plant has so much gone out of fashion; for, besides being always green, it bears fruit and flowers all the year round, both appearing at the same time. The flowers have a delicious smell; the candied petals impart a very fine flavour to tea, if a few of them are infused with it; whilst the fruit may be preserved in exactly the same manner as other fruit. The sign of the orange-tree still occurs at Highgate, Birmingham; the Lemon Tree at Beacon Street, Lichfield.

The Olive Tree was a common Italian warehouse sign, but was occasionally used by other shops. Amongst the tokens in the Beaufoy Collection, there is the “Olfa Tree, Singon Strete,” an example of the liberties taken with our language on the old tokens, as this stands for the Olive Tree in St John’s Street. The usefulness of the olive tree made it in very early times a symbol of peace. In 1503 it was the sign of Henry Estienne, a bookseller and printer at the end of the Rue de St Jean Beauvais, otherwise Clos Bruneau, in Paris. This firm, for several generations, continued the leading publishers and printers in Paris. Sauval, who wrote in 1650, says that in his time the olive tree, carved in stone, was still to be seen in the front of the house. Here Francis I., in 1539, visited Robert Estienne, grandson of the founder of the firm, in his workshops; and to give him a proof of his favour, conferred upon him the title of Printer to the King for Latin and Hebrew; and presented him with those[243] beautiful letters which Estienne proudly mentions on his title-pages: “Ex officina Roberti Stephani, typographi regii, typis regiis.”

The Vine, or the Bunch of Grapes, is a very natural sign at a place where wine is sold. The last particularly was almost inseparable from every tavern, and was often combined with other objects

“Without there hangs a noble sign,
Where golden grapes in image shine;
To crown the bush, a little Punch-
Gut Bacchus dangling of a bunch,
Sits loftily enthron’d upon
What’s called (in miniature) a Tun.”

Compleat Vintner: London, 1720, p. 86.

The Bunch of Carrots, at Hampton Bishop, Hereford, is probably meant as a joke upon the Bunch of Grapes. Bagford, in a letter to his brother antiquary, Leland,[348] says:—

“I have often thought, and am now fully perswaded, that the planting of vines in the adjacent parts about this city, was first of all begun by the Romans, an industrious people, and famous for their skill in agriculture and gardening, as may appear from their rei agrariæ scriptores, as well as from Pliny and other authors. We had a vineyard in East Smithfield, another in Hatton Garden, (which at this time is called Vine Street,) and a third in St Giles-in-the-Fields.[349] Many places in the country bear the name of the Vineyard to this day, especially in the ancient monasteries, as Canterbury, Ely, Abingdon, &c., which were left as such by the Romans.”

In Bede’s time vineyards were abundant; and still later, tithes on wine were common in Gloucester, Kent, Surrey, and the adjacent counties. Winchester was famous for its vineyards in olden times, for Robert of Gloucester, in summing up the various commodities of the English counties, says:—

“And London ships most, and wine at Winchester.”

The Isle of Ely was called Isle des Vignes, and the tithe on the vines yielded as much as three or four tuns of wine to the bishop. Even in Richard II.’s time, the Little Park at Windsor was used as a vineyard for the home consumption; and the vale of Gloucester, according to William of Malmesbury, produced, in[244] the twelfth century, as good a wine as many of the provinces of France; this county, in fact, produced the best wine:—

“There is no province in England hath so many or such good vineyards as this county, [Gloucester,] either for fertility or sweetness of the grape; the wine whereof carrieth no unpleasant tartness, being not much inferior to French in sweetness.”[350]

From the household expenses of Richard de Swinfield, Bishop of Hereford, (1289-1290,) it appears that the white wine was at that period chiefly home-grown, whilst the greater proportion of red wine was imported from abroad. Even as late as the last century wine was made in England: Faulkner[351] quotes the following memorandum from the MS. notes of Peter Collinson:—

“October 18, 1765.—I went to see Mr Roger’s vineyards at Parson’s Green [at Fulham] all of Burgundy grapes, and seemingly all perfectly ripe; I did not see a green, half-ripe grape in all this quantity. He does not expect to make less than fourteen hogsheads of wine. The branches and fruit are remarkably large, and the wine very strong.”

Grosley[352] mentions a vineyard at Cobham, belonging to a Mr Hamilton, of about half an acre, planted with Burgundian vines; but the wine it produced will cause nobody to regret that the culture has been abandoned, for “it was a liquor of a darkish gray color; to the palate it was like verjuice and vinegar blended together by a bad taste of the soil.” This description, enough to set the teeth on edge, is most likely true, and gives us the reason why English wine came to be abandoned.

As the vine was set up as a sign in honour of wine, so the Hop-pole, or the Hop and Barleycorn, the Barley Mow, the Barley Stack, the Malt and Hops, and the Hopbine, are very general tributes of honour rendered to beer. In many ale-houses a bunch of hops may be seen suspended in some conspicuous place.

The Pine-apple, in the end of the last and the beginning of this century, was generally the emblem adopted by confectioners, though not exclusively, for it was the sign of an eating-house in New Street, Strand, at which Dr Johnson, on his first coming to town, used to dine.

“I dined very well for eightpence, with very good company, at the Pine-apple in New Street, just by.[353] Several of them had travelled; they expected[245] to meet every day, but did not know one another’s names. It used to cost the rest a shilling, for they drank wine; but I had a cut of meat for sixpence, and bread for a penny, and gave the waiter a penny; so that I was quite well served, nay, better than the rest, for they gave the waiter nothing.”

The pine-apple was first known at the discovery of America, and was preserved in sugar as early as 1556. The first pine-apple was brought from Santa Cruz to the West Indies, thence to the East Indies and China. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, writing in October 1716, informs her sister that she had been at a supper of the King of Hanover, “where there were,” says she, “what I thought worth all the rest, two ripe ananas, which, to my taste, are a fruit perfectly delicious. You know they are naturally the growth of Brazil, and I could not imagine how they came there, but by enchantment.” Upon inquiry she learned that they had been forced in stoves or hot-houses, and is “surprised we do not practise in England so useful an invention.” It was not till the end of the last century that they were introduced into English gardens, having been brought over from hot-houses in Holland; and from that time seems to date their introduction on the signboard. It is still in general use with public-houses.

Of the Fig Tree there are several examples among the London trades tokens, some of them, no doubt, grocers’ signs, but other trades may have adopted it, either in allusion to the text of every man “sitting under his own fig-tree,” or because the fig-tree was a symbol of quiet unassuming industry; as such, at least, Camerarius represents it:—

“Verno tempore ficus arbor speciosis floribus aut fructuum præcocium abundantia minime sese ostentat, nullamque inanem hominibus de se spem injicit: in autumno autem fructus suaviss. ac quidem in illis reconditos quasi flores quosdam proferre solet.”[354]

The Almond Tree was the sign of John Webster in St Paul’s Churchyard, in 1663; and the Peach Tree occurs sometimes as an ale-house sign, as, for instance, in Nottingham. Neither of these signs, however, are of frequent occurrence.

Not only fruit-trees but various forest-trees are constantly met with on the signboard: thus the Green Tree, which is very common, originally had allusion to the foresters of the “merry greenwood,” or was suggested by some large evergreen, or tree sheltering,[246] or standing near the inn; of this green tree the Green Seedling in Chester is evidently a sprout. Again, in Sheffield there are two signs of the Burnt Tree, which name possibly originated from some tree having been damaged in a fire, and becoming a well-known landmark. The Oak, the vigorous emblem of our mighty state, is deservedly much used for a sign; sometimes it is called the British Oak. At Kilpeck, in Herefordshire, the following rhyme accompanies it:—

“I am an oak and not a yew,
So drink a cup with good John Pugh.”

Druidical recollections are called up by the Oak and Ivy, at Bilston, Stafford; Hearts of Oak is the material out of which, according to the song, our ships and seamen are constructed, and therefore well deserves the favourite place it occupies amongst the signboards of the present day; whilst the Acorn, the fruit of the British oak, is nearly as common as the other oak signs.

Next to the oak the Elm seems to have had most followers. From the trades tokens it appears that the Three Elms was the sign of Edward Boswell in Chandos Street, in 1667; and also of Isaac Elliotson, St John Street, Clerkenwell. Besides these there was, about the same date, the One Elm, and the Elm. At present we have the Nine Elms, and the Queen’s Elm, Brompton, which is mentioned under the name of the Queen’s Tree, in the parish books of 1586. This tree is said to derive its name from the fact of Queen Elizabeth, when on a visit to Lord Burleigh, being caught in a shower of rain, and taking shelter under the branches of an elm-tree, then growing on this spot. The Seven Sisters, the sign of two public-houses in Tottenham, were seven elm-trees, planted in a circular form, with a walnut tree in the middle; they were upwards of 500 years old, and the local tradition said that a martyr had been burnt on that spot. They stood formerly at the entrance from the high road at Page Green, Tottenham. Within the last twenty years they have been removed. The Chestnut, the Sycamore, the Beech Tree, the Fir Tree, the Birch Tree, and the Ash Tree, all occur in various places where ale-houses are built in the shadow of such trees. The Thorn Tree is peculiar to Derbyshire. The Buckthorn Tree was, in 1775, the sign of “William Blackwell in Covent Garden, or at his garden in South Lambeth.” He had chosen this sign because he sold, amongst other herbs, “buckthorn and elder-berries, besides leeches and vipers.” What the use of the first was is well known;[247] as for the vipers, they were eaten in broth and soups, before Madame Rachel’s enamels were employed, by ladies who wished to continue “young and beautiful for ever.” The Crab Tree, our indigenous apple-tree, is also seen in a great many places. A house in Fulham, with that name, is well known to the oarsmen on the Thames. It derives its denomination from a large crab-tree growing near the public-house, which gave its name to the whole village. The Willow Tree is very rare; in the seventeenth century it was the sign of a shop in the Old Exchange, as appears from a trades token, but what business was carried on under this gloomy sign does not appear. Fuller, in his Worthies, (voce Cambridgeshire,) says of willows:—

“A sad tree whereof such who have lost their love make them mourning garlands; and we know that exiles hung their harps upon such doleful supporters; the twiggs hereoff are physick to drive out the folly of children. Let me add that if green ash may burn before a queen, withered willows may be allowed to burn before a lady.”

As an attribute of forsaken love it is of constant occurrence in old plays:—

Sylli. If you forsake me,
Send me word, that I may provide a willow garland
To wear when I drown myself.”

Massinger’s Maid of Honour, a. iv. s. 5, 1631.

And in the same play Sylli, who thinks himself the preferred lover, says to his rival:—

“You may cry willow, willow!”—Ibid., a. v. s. 1.

Shakespeare uses the same emblem frequently, particularly in Desdemona’s famous willow song. There is a quaint ballad which an old Northumberland woman used to sing, but which we have never seen in print: it begins as follows:—

“Young men are false, and they are so deceitful:
Young men are false, and they seldom will prove true;
For wi’ wrangling and jangling, their minds are always changing,
They’re always seeking for some pretty girl that’s new.
It’s all round my hat, I will wear a green willow,
It’s all round my hat for a twelvemonth and a day;
If any one should ask you the reason why I wear it,
Oh! tell them I have been slighted by my own true love.”

Douce, in his “Illustrations to Shakespeare,” says:—This tree might have been chosen as the symbol of sadness from the verse in Psalm cxxxvii.: “We hanged our harps upon the willows in the[248] midst thereof;” or else from a coincidence between the weeping willow and falling tears. Another reason has been assigned: the Agnus castus or vitex was supposed by the ancients to promote chastity, “and the willow being of a much like nature,” says an old writer, “it is yet a custom that he which is deprived of his love must wear a willow garland.”—Swan’s Speculum Mundi, ch. vi. sec. 4. 1635.

The frequency of the sign of the Yew Tree is not to be attributed to its association with the churchyard, but to its being the wood from which those famous bows were made that did such execution at Agincourt and Poictiers, and wherever the English armies trod the field before the invention of gunpowder. So great was the patronage our early kings granted to the practice of the bow, that the patten-makers, by an Act of Parliament of 4 Henry V., were forbidden, under a penalty of £5, to use in their craft any kind of wood fit to make arrows of.

The Cotton Tree is a sign generally put up in the neighbourhood of cotton factories, as at Manchester. The Palm Tree is one of the oldest symbols known: it was used as such by the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, and by them transmitted to the early Christians. St Ambrosius, in a very forcible image, compares the life of an early and faithful Christian to the palm tree, rough and rugged below, like its stem, but increasing in beauty upwards, where it bears heavenly fruit. It might also illustrate a more homely truth, namely, that business cannot flourish without patronage and custom; thus, Camerarius says:—

“Inter alias multas singulares proprietates quas scriptores rerum naturalium Palmæ attribuunt, ista non postrema est, quod hæc arbor non facile crescat, nisi radiis solaribus opt. foveatur nec non humore aliquo conveniente irrigetur.”[355]

The Cocoa Tree was frequently the sign of chocolate-houses when that beverage was newly imported and very fashionable. One of the most famous was in St James’ Street; it was, in the reign of Queen Anne, strictly a Tory house:—“A Whig will no more go to the Cocoa Tree, or Ozinda’s, [another chocolate-house in the same neighbourhood,] than a Tory will be seen at the coffee-house of St James’.”[356] Deep play was the order of the day[249] in that as in all other fashionable resorts at the end of the last century. Walpole, in 1780, wrote to one of his friends:—

“Within this week there has been a cast at hazard at the Cocoa Tree, the difference of which amounted to an hundred and four score thousand pounds. Mr O’Birne, an Irish gamester, had won £100,000 off a young Mr Harvey, of Chigwell, just started from a midshipman into an estate by his elder brother’s death. O’Birne said, ‘You can never pay me?’ ‘I can,’ said the youth, ‘my estate will sell for the debt.’ ‘No,’ said O., ‘I will win ten thousand, you shall throw for the odd ninety.’ They did, and Harvey won.”[357]

It afterwards became a club, of which Byron was a member. This gambling seems to have been inseparable from the chocolate-houses. Roger North, attorney-general to James II., says,

“The use of coffee-houses seems newly improved by a new invention called Chocolate-houses, for the benefit of rooks and cullies of all the quality, where gaming is added to all the rest, and the summons of wh—— seldom fails: as if the devil had erected a new university, and those were the colleges of its professors, as well as his school of discipline.”[358]

Chocolate was known in Germany as early as 1624, when Joan Franz. Rauch wrote a treatise against that beverage and the monks. In England, however, it seems to have been introduced much later, for in 1657 it was advertised as a new drink:—

“IN BISHOPSGATE STREET, in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house, is an excellent West India drink called Chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time, and also unmade, at reasonable rates.”[359]

It is amusing to observe the fluctuating reputation of chocolate on its first introduction. Mme. de Sévigné, in her letters, gives many proofs of it; at one time she fervently recommends it to her daughter as a perfect panacea, at other times she is as violently against it, and puts it down as the root of all evil.

The Coffee House is the now inappropriate sign of a gin-palace in Chalton Street, Somers Town. Early in the last century this neighbourhood was a delightful rural suburb, with fields and flower gardens. A short distance down the hill was the then famous Bagnigge Wells, and close by were the remains of Totten-Hall, with the Adam and Eve tea-gardens, and the so-called King John’s Palace. Many foreign Protestant refugees had taken up their residence in this suburb, on account of the retirement it afforded, and the low rates asked for the small houses. “The[250] Coffee House” was then the popular tea and coffee-gardens of the district, and was visited by the foreigners of the neighbourhood, as well as the pleasure-seeking Cockney from the distant city. There were other public-houses and places of entertainment near at hand, but the specialty of this establishment was its coffee. As the traffic increased, it became a posting-house, uniting the business of an inn to the profits of a pleasure garden. Gradually the demand for coffee fell off, and that for malt and spirituous liquors increased. At present the gardens are all built over, and the old gateway forms part of the modern bar; but there are aged persons in the neighbourhood who remember Sunday-school excursions to the place, and pic-nic parties from the crowded city, making merry here in the grounds.

The Holly Bush is a common public-house sign at the present day. Among the London trades tokens there is one of the Hand and Holly Bush at Templebar, evidently the same inn mentioned in 1708 by Hatton, “on the north side, and about the middle of the backside of St Clements, near the church.”[360] This combination with the hand does not seem to have any very distinct meaning, and apparently arose simply from the manner of representing objects in those days, as being held by a hand issuing from a cloud. Adorning houses and churches at Christmas with evergreens and holly is a very ancient custom, supposed, like some others of our old customs, to be derived from the Druids. Formerly the streets also appear to have been decked out, for Stow tells us that

“Against the feast of Christmas every man’s house, as also the parish churches, were decked with holme, ivy, and bayes, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be given. The conduits and standards in the streets were likewise garnished.”

Thus flowers, fruit trees, and forest trees were represented on the signboard, and with them even the homely but useful tenants of the kitchen garden found a place. The Artichoke, above all, used to be a great favourite, and still gives a name to some public-houses. As a seedsman’s sign it was common and rational; not so for a milliner, yet both among the Bagford and Banks’s shopbills there are several instances of its being the sign of that business; thus:—

“Susannah Fordham, att the Hartichoake, in ye Royal Exchange,” in the reign of Queen Anne, sold “all sorts of fine poynts, laces, and linnens, and all sorts of gloves and ribons, and all other sorts of millenary wares.”[361]


Probably the novelty of the plant had more than anything else to do with this selection; for though it was introduced in this country in the reign of King Henry VIII., yet Evelyn observes:—

“’Tis not very long since this noble thistle came first into Italy, improved to this magnitude by culture, and so rare in England that they were commonly sold for a crowne a piece.”[362]

The Cabbage is an ale-house sign at Hunslet, Leeds, and at Liverpool, and Cabbage Hall, opposite Chaney Lane, on the road to the Lunatic Asylum, Oxford, was formerly the name of a public-house kept by a tailor; but whether he himself had christened it thus, or his customers had a sly suspicion that it owed its origin to cabbaging, history has omitted to record. Another public-house, higher up the hill, was known by the name of Caterpillar Hall, a name clearly selected in compliment to Cabbage Hall, intimating that it meant to draw away the customers from Cabbage Hall, in other words, that the caterpillar would eat the cabbage. The Oxnoble, a kind of potato, is the name of a public-house in Manchester, and the homely mess of Pease and Beans was a sign in Norwich in 1750.[363] The Three Radishes was, in the seventeenth century, a common nursery and market gardener’s sign in Holland. There was one near Haarlem, to which was added a representation of Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene in the garden, with this rhyme

“Christus vertoont men hier
Na zyn dood in verryzen,
Als een groot hovenier
Die ieder een moet pryzen.
Dit ’s in de drie Radyzen.”[364]

Another, near Gouda, had a still more absurd inscription:—

“Adam en Eva leefden in den Paradyze
Zelden aten zy stokvisch maar veel warmoes, kropsla en radyzen.
Hier vindt gy allerley aardgewas om menschen mêe te spyzen.”[365]

The Wheatsheaf is an extremely common inn, public-house, and baker’s sign; it is a charge in the arms of these three corporations,[252] besides that of the brewers. In the middle of Farringdon Street, opposite the vegetable market, is Wheatsheaf Yard, once a famous waggon inn, which also did a roaring trade in wine, spirits, and Fleet Street marriages. Indeed, most of the large inns within the liberties of the Fleet served as “marriage shops” between 1734 and 1749; amongst the most famous were the Bull and Garter, the Hoop and Bunch of Grapes, the Bishop Blaize and Two Sawyers, the Fighting Cocks, and numerous others. The gateway entrance to the old coach-yard is adorned with very fine carvings of wheat ears and lions’ heads intermixed, finished in a manner not unworthy of Grinling Gibbons himself.

The Oatsheaf is very rare; it was the sign of a shop in Cree Church Lane, Leadenhall Street, in the seventeenth century, as appears from a trades token; but this seems the only instance of the sign.

With these plants we may also class Tobacco, that best abused of all weeds. Sometimes we see a pictorial representation of the Tobacco plant, but most usually it occurs in the form of Tobacco rolls, representing coils of the so-called spun or twist tobacco, otherwise pigtail, for the sake of ornament, painted brown and gold alternately. Decker, in his “Gull’s Hornbook,” mentions Roll Trinidado, leaf, and pudding tobacco, which probably were the three sorts smokers at that day preferred. That it was used mixed may be conjectured from the introduction to “Cinthia’s Revels,” a play by Ben Jonson; one of the interlocutors says,—“I have my three sorts of tobacco in my pocket.”

[326] “The Country Carbonadoed,” by D. Lupton, 1632. Voce “Alehouse.”


“The tavern opened
With signboard and bush;
The landlady’s hair neatly dressed.
Tied up in a knot.”

[328] Be thou, rose, queen of flowers, the cure of my diseases.


Through thee, rose, sins are taken away,
Through thee, gladness is given to the sorrowing.

[330] Blount’s “Fragmenta Antiquitatis, or Ancient Tenures,” p. 248.

[331] See Boynes’ Tokens issued in the seventeenth century in England, Wales, and Ireland.

[332] Like the rose in spring, hidden in its bud, so must the mouth be closed and restrained with strong reins, enforcing silence to the loquacious lips.


All that is done here, under the Rose,
Leave it here and do not divulge it.

[334] Memoirs by Samuel Sainthill, 1659, Gent. Mag., lxxxiii. p. 520.

[335] London Gazette, Nov. 6, 1673.

[336] Ibid., Oct. 20, 1673.

[337] See the “Little London Directory, 1677,” recently reprinted.

[338] Domestic Intelligencer, Sept. 9, 1679.

[339] Banks’s Bills in the British Museum.

[340] Hereford Journal, January 7, 1775.

[341] Stow’s Survey, p. 340.

[342] Daily Courant, July 1, 1718.

[343] Banks’s Bills.

[344] Harl. MSS., 279, p. 47, a cookery book of that period.


Lansdowne MS., No. 1, fol. 49. Three weeks’ diet of the Lords of the Star Chamber. These lords appear to have lived very well, as we may learn from some of the items of one day’s dinner:—
ffirst for bread, xijd.; ale, iijs. iiijd.; and wine, xvjd. Item to
viijd.vjd. vd. ijd. xiiijd. xd.
loyne of moton; maribones and beef; powdered beef; ij capons; ij geese; v conyes;
iiijd. xviijd. vd. xijd. vjd. xd.
j leg moton; vj places; vj pegions; ij doz. larkes; salt and sause; butter and eggs,
&c., &c., &c.

[346] Machyn’s Diary.

[347] Archæologia, vol. xii.

[348] Prefixed to Collectanea, 1770, p. lxxv.; there is also a paper on Vines in England in Archæologia, i. p. 321; and Roach Smith’s Collectanea Antiqua, vol. vi., p. 78, et seq. may be consulted with advantage upon this subject.

[349] Curiously enough, until about 1820, a public-house, the sign of the Vine, in Dobie Street, St Giles, occupied the very site assigned to this vineyard in Domesday Book, A.D. 1070.

[350] Hollinshed’s Description of Britain, p. 3.

[351] Faulkner, Antiquities of Kensington.

[352] Grosley, vol. i., p. 83.

[353] He lived then in Exeter Street, at a stay-maker’s. Boswell’s Johnson: London, 1819, p. 67.

[354] “In spring-time the fig-tree does not make any show of beautiful flowers or precocious fruit to deceive mankind with idle hope; but in autumn it generally produces exceedingly sweet fruit, with flowers as it were contained within them.”—Joachimus Camerarius, “Symbolorum Centuriæ Quatuor,” 1697, Centur. i., p. 18.

[355] “Among the many curious properties which the writers on natural history attribute to the palm tree, it is not one of the least singular that this tree cannot well thrive unless it be properly basked by the beams of the sun, and watered by some neighbouring stream.”—J. Camerarius, “Centuria,” i., 1697.

[356] Defoe’s Journey through England, p. 168.

[357] Horace Walpole’s Letters to Mr Mann, February 6, 1780.

[358] As quoted in Disraeli’s Curiosities of Literature, ii. p. 326.

[359] Publick Advertiser, Tuesday, June 16-22, 1657.

[360] Hatton’s New View of London, 1708, p. 36.

[361] Bagford Bills.

[362] Evelyn’s Miscellaneous Writings, p. 735.

[363] Gent. Mag., March 1842.


“Christ is represented here
After his death and resurrection,
As a great gardener
Whom every body must praise.
This is at the Three Radishes.”


“Adam and Eve lived in Paradise,
They rarely ate stock fish, but a great deal of hotchpotch, lettuce, and radishes.
All sorts of vegetables sold here for human food.”

A similarly dull joke occurs in an old English comedy, “Law Tricks,” by John Day, 1608. “I have heard old Adam was an honest man and a good gardener, loved lettuce well, salads and cabbage reasonably well, yet no tobacco.”



The earlier signs were frequently representations of the most important article sold in the shops before which they hung. The stocking denoted the hosier, the gridiron the ironmonger, and so on. The early booksellers, whose trade lay chiefly in religious books, delighted in signs of saints, but at the Reformation the Bible amongst those classes, to whom till then it had been a sealed book, became in great request, and was sold in large numbers. Then the booksellers set it up for their sign; it became the popular symbol of the trade, and at the present moment instances of its use still linger with us. There was one day in the year, St Bartholomew’s, the 24th of August, when their shops displayed nothing but Bibles and Prayer-books. It is not impossible that this may have been originally intended for a manifestation against Popery, since it was the anniversary of the dreadful Protestant massacre in Paris in 1572. The following, however, is the only allusion we have met with relating to this custom:—“Like a bookseller’s shop on Bartholomew day at London, the stalls of which are so adorned with Bibles and Prayer-books, that almost nothing is left within but heathen knowledge.”[366]

One of the last Bible signs was about twenty years ago, at a public-house in Shire Lane, Temple Bar. It was an old established house of call for printers.

The Bible being such a common sign, booksellers had to “wear their rue with a difference,” as Ophelia says, and adopt different colours, amongst which the Blue Bible was one of the most common. “Prynne’s Histrio-Mastrix” was “printed for Michael Sparke, and sold at the Blue Bible, in Green Arbour Court, Little Old Bailey, 1632.” This blue colour, so common on the signboard, was not chosen without meaning, but on account of its symbolic virtue. Blue, from its permanency, being an emblem of truth, hence Lydgate, speaking of Delilah, Samson’s mistress, in his translation from Boccacio, (MS. Harl. 2251,) says

“Insteade of blew, which steadfaste is and clene,
She weraed colours of many a diverse grene.”


It also signified piety and sincerity. Randle Holme[367] says

“This colour, blew, doth represent the sky on a clear, sun-shining day, when all clouds are exiled. Job, speaking to the busy searchers of God’s mysteries, saith (Job xi. 17,) ‘That then shall the residue of their lives be as clear as the noonday.’ Which to the judgment of men (through the pureness of the air) is of azure colour or light blew, and signifieth piety and sincerity.”

Other booksellers chose the Three Bibles, which was a very common sign of the trade on London Bridge in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: of one of them, Charles Tyne, trades tokens are extant,—great curiosities to the numismatist, as booksellers were not in the habit of issuing them. The sign of the Three Bibles seems to have originated from the stationers’ arms, which are arg. on a chevron between three bibles, or a falcon volant between two roses, the Holy Ghost in chief. One bookseller, on account of his selling stationery, also added three inkbottles to the favourite three Bibles, as we see from an advertisement, giving the price of playing cards in 1711:—

“SOLD by Henry Parson, Stationer at the Three Bibles and Three Inkbottles, near St Magnus’ Church, on London Bridge, the best principal superfine Picket Cards, at 2s. 6d. a dozen; the best principal Ombro Cards, at 2s. 9d. a dozen; the best principal superfine Basset Cards, at 3s. 6d. a dozen; with all other Cards and Stationery Wares at Reasonable Rates.”[368]

Combinations of the Bible with other objects were very common, some of them symbolic, as the Bible and Crown, which sign originated during the political troubles in the reign of Charles I. It was at this time when the clergy and the court party constantly tried to convince the people of the divine prerogative of the Crown, that the “Bible and Crown” became the standing toast of the Cavaliers and those opposed to the Parliament leaders. As a sign it has been used for a century and a half by the firm of Rivington the publishers. The old wood carving, painted and gilt in the style of the early signs, was taken down from over the shop in Paternoster Row in 1853, when this firm removed westward. It is still in their possession. Cobbett, the political agitator and publisher, in the beginning of this century chose the sign of the Bible, Crown, and Constitution; but the general tenor of his life was such, that his enemies said he put them up merely that he might afterwards be able to say he had pulled[255] them down. A Bible, Sceptre, and Crown, carved in wood, may still be seen on the top of an ale-house of that name in High Holborn. The crown and sceptre in this case are placed on two closed Bibles.

The Bible and Lamb, i.e., the Holy Lamb, we find mentioned in an advertisement in the Publick Advertiser, March 1, 1759

“TO BE HAD at the Bible and Lamb, near Temple Bar, on the Strand Side, the Skin for Pains in the Limbs, Price 2s.”

Books also were sold here, for in those days booksellers and toyshops were the usual repositories for quack medicines.

The Bible and Dove, i.e., the Holy Ghost, was the sign of John Penn, bookseller, over against St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, 1718; and the Bible and Peacock, the sign of Benjamin Crayle, bookseller, at the west end of St Paul’s, in 1688. If not a combination of two signs, the bird may have been added on account of its being the type of the Resurrection, in which quality it is found represented in the Catacombs, a symbolism arising from the supposed incorruptibility of its flesh.[369] Various other combinations occur, as the Bible and Key. Rowland Hall, a printer of the sixteenth century, had for his sign the Half Eagle and Key, (see Heraldic Signs,) of which the Bible and Key may be a free imitation. It was the sign of B. Dod, bookseller, in Ave Maria Lane, 1761; whilst the Golden Key and Bible was that of L. Stoke, a bookseller at Charing Cross, 1711. The “Bible and Key” is also the name of a certain Coscinomanteia, somewhat similar to the Sortes Virgilianæ. This method of divination was performed in two ways, in the first, (stated by Matthew of Paris to have been frequently practised at the election of bishops,) the Bible was opened on the altar, and the prediction taken from the chapter which first caught the eye on opening the book; the other was by placing two written papers, one negative, the other affirmative, of the matter in question, under the pall of the altar, which, after solemn prayers, was believed would be decided by divine judgment. Gregory of Tours mentions another method by the Psalms.[370]


At the present day “Bible and Key” divinations are often attempted by those who believe in fortune-telling and vaticinations. The method adopted is as follows:—A key is placed, with the bow or handle sticking out, between the leaves of a Bible, on Ruth i. 16:

“AND RUTH said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

The Bible is then firmly tied up, most effectually with a garter, and balanced by the bow of the key on the fore-fingers of the right hands of two persons, the one who wishes to consult the oracle, the other any person standing near. The book is then addressed with these words—“Pray, Mr Bible, be good enough to tell me if —— or not?” If the question be answered in the affirmative the key will swing round, turn off the finger, and the Bible fall down; if in the negative, it will remain steady in its position. Not only upon matrimonial, but upon all sorts of questions, this oracle may be consulted.

Further combinations are the Bible and Sun. The Sun was the sign of Wynkyn de Worde, and the printers that succeeded him in his house. It may, however, in this combination have been an emblem of the Sun of Truth, or the Light of the World. It was the sign of J. Newberry, in St Paul’s Churchyard, the publisher of Goldsmith’s “Vicar of Wakefield;” also of C. Bates, near Pie Corner; and of Richard Reynolds, in the Poultry, both ballad printers in the times of Charles II. and William III. Then there is the Bible and Ball, a sign of a bookseller in Ave Maria Lane in 1761, who probably hung up a Globe to indicate the sale of globes and maps; and the Bible and Dial, over against St Dunstan’s Church, Fleet Street, in 1720, was the sign of the notorious Edmund Curll, who was pilloried at Charing Cross, and pilloried in Pope’s verses. The Dial was, in all likelihood, a sun-dial on the front wall of his house.

Of the Apocryphal Books there is only one example among the signboards, viz., Bel and the Dragon, which was at one time not uncommon, more particularly with apothecaries. It was represented by a Bell and a Dragon, as appears from the Spectator, No. 28. “One Apocryphical Heathen God is also represented by this figure [of a Bell], which, in conjunction with the Dragon, makes a very handsome picture in several of our streets.” Although at the first glance this sign seems taken from the doubtful books of the Old Testament, still there is nothing in the Apocryphal book which could in any way prompt the choice of it for a signboard. After all, it may possibly be only a combination, or corruption, of two other signs. There still remain a few public-houses which employ it,—as in Worship Street; at Cookham, Maidenhead; at Norton in the Moors, &c., whilst in Boss Street, Horsely Down, there is a variation in the form of the Bell and Griffin. From a handbill of Topham, the Strong Man,[371] we see that it was vulgarly called the King Astyages Arms, for no better reason than because King Astyages is the first name in the story: the incident related in the Book of Bel and the Dragon having taken place after his death.

(“Guide for Malt-Worms.” Circa 1720.)
(MS., circa 1425.)
(Hogarth’s print of Beer St.)
(In the brick wall of
Bethlehem Hospital.)
(“Guide for Malt-Worms.” Circa 1720.)


A very common sign of old, as well as at present, is the Adam and Eve. Our first parents were constant dramatis personæ in the mediæval mysteries and pageants, on which occasions, with the naïveté of those times, Eve used to come on the stage exactly in the same costume as she appeared to Adam before the Fall.[372] The sign was adopted by various trades, including the publishers of books, as we may see from the following quaint title:—

“A PROTESTANT Picture of Jesus Christ, drawn in Scripture colours, both for light to sinners and delight to saints. By Tho. Sympson, M.A., Preacher of the Word at London. Sold by Edw. Thomas at the Adam and Eve, in Little Britain. 1662.”

In Newgate Street there yet remains an old stone sign of the Adam and Eve, with the date 1669. Eve is represented handing the apple to Adam, the fatal tree is in the centre, round its stem the serpent winding. It was the arms of the fruiterers’ company.

There is still an Adam and Eve public-house in the High Street, Kensington, where Sheridan, on his way to and from Holland House, used to refresh himself, and in this way managed to run up rather a long bill, which Lord Holland had to pay for him. A still older place of public entertainment was the Adam and Eve Tea-gardens, in Tottenham Court Road, part of which was the last remaining vestige “of the once respectable, if not magnificent, manor-house appertaining to the Lords of Tottenhall.” Richardson, in 1819, said that the place had long been celebrated as a tea-garden; there was an organ in the long room, and the company was generally respectable, till the end of last century,[258] when highwaymen, footpads, pickpockets, and low women, beginning to take a fancy to it, the magistrates interfered. The organ was banished, and the gardens were dug up for the foundation of Eden Street. In these gardens Lunardi came down after his unsuccessful balloon ascent from the Artillery ground, May 16, 1783. Hogarth has represented the Adam and Eve in the March of the Guards to Finchley. Upon the signboard of the house is inscribed, “Tottenham Court Nursery,” in allusion to Broughton’s Amphitheatre for Boxing, erected in this place. How amusing is this advertisement of the great Professor’s “Nursery:”

“From the Gymnasium at Tottenham Court
on Thursday next at Twelve o’clock will begin:

A lecture on Manhood or Gymnastic Physiology, wherein the whole Theory and Practice of the Art of Boxing will be fully explained by various Operators on the animal Œconomy and the Principles of Championism, illustrated by proper Experiments on the Solids and Fluids of the Body; together with the True Method of investigating the Nature of all Blows, Stops, Cross Buttocks, etc., incident to Combatants. The whole leading to the most successful Method of beating a Man deaf, dumb, lame, and blind.

by Thomas Smallwood, A.M.,
Gymnasiast of St. Giles,
Thomas Dimmock, A.M.,
Athleta of Southwark,
(Both fellows of the Athletic Society.)

*** The Syllabus or Compendium for the use of students in Athleticks, referring to Matters explained in this Lecture, may be had of Mr Professor Broughton at the Crown in Market Lane, where proper instructions in the Art and Practice of Boxing are delivered without Loss of Eye or Limb to the student.”

The tree with the forbidden fruit, always represented in the sign of Adam and Eve, leads directly to the Flaming Sword, “which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life.” Being the first sword on record, it was not inappropriately a cutler’s sign, and as such we find it in the Banks Collection, on the shop-bill of a sword cutler in Sweeting’s Alley, Royal Exchange, 1780. It is less appropriate at the door of a public-house in Nottingham, for the landlord evidently cannot desire to keep anybody out, whether saint or sinner. The vessel by which the life of the first planter of the vine was preserved, certainly well deserves to decorate the tavern: hence Noah’s Ark is not an uncommon public-house sign, though it looks very like a sarcastic reflection on the mixed crowd that resort to the house,—not[259] to escape the “heavy wet,” as the animals at the Deluge, but in order to obtain some of it. Toy-shops also constantly use it, since Noah’s Ark is generally the favourite toy of children. Evelyn, in 1644, mentions a shop near the Palais de Justice in Paris:

“Here is a shop called Noah’s Ark, where are sold all curiosities, natural or artificial, Indian or European, for luxury or use, as cabinets, shells, ivory, porcelain, dried fishes, insects, birds, pictures, and a thousand exotic extravagances.”[373]

The Deluge was one of the standard subjects of mediæval dramatic plays. In the third part of the Chester Whitsun plays, for instance, Noah and the Flood make a considerable item; and at a much later period the same subject was exhibited at Bartholomew Fair. A bill of the time of Queen Anne[374] informs us that

“AT Crawley’s Booth, over against the Crown Tavern in Smithfield, during the time of Bartholomew Fair, will be presented a little Opera, called the Old Creation of the World, yet newly revived, with the addition of Noah’s Flood; also several fountains playing water during the time of the play. The last scene presents Noah and his family coming out of the Ark, with all the beasts, two by two, and all the fowls of the air, seen in a prospect, sitting upon trees. Likewise over the Ark is seen the sun rising in a most glorious manner: moreover, a multitude of angels will be seen, in a double rank, which presents a double prospect—one for the sun, the other for a palace, where will be seen 6 angels ringing of bells, etc.”

The Deluge was the mystery performed at Whitsuntide by the company of dyers in London, and from this their sign of the Dove and Rainbow might have originated, unless it were adopted by them on account of the various colours of the rainbow. On the bill of John Edwards, a silk-dyer in Aldersgate Street, the Dove, with an olive branch in her mouth, is represented flying underneath the Rainbow, over a landscape, with villages, fenced fields, and a gentleman in the costume of the reign of Charles II. Besides this there are various other dyers’ bills with the sign of the Dove and Rainbow, both among the Bagford and Banks Collections. A few public-houses at the present day still keep up the memory of the sign; there is one at Nottingham, and another in Leicester.

Abraham Offering his Son” was the sign of a shop in Norwich in 1750. A stone bas-relief of the same subject (Le Sacrifice d’Abraham) is still remaining in the front of a house in[260] the Rue des Prêtres, Lille, France. A Dutch wood-merchant, in the seventeenth century, also put up this sign, and illustrated its application by the following rhyme:—

“’T Hout is gehakt, opdat men ’t zou branden,
Daarom is dit in Abram’s Offerhande.”[375]

Thus, though the wood of the sacrifice played a very insignificant part in the story, yet the simple mention of it was enough to make it a fit subject for a Dutchman’s signboard. We have a similar instance in Jacob’s Well, which is common in London, as well as in the country. The allusion here is to the well at which Christ met the woman of Samaria, who said to him:

“ART thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” (S. John iv. 12.)

How cruelly these words apply to the gin-tap, at which generation after generation drink, and after which they always thirst again. Not unlikely the English use of this sign dates from the Puritan period.[376] Not always, however, had the sign any direct relation to the trade of the inmate of the house which it adorned; as, for example, Moses and Aaron, which occurs on a trades token of Whitechapel. In allusion to this, or a similar sign, Tom Brown says, “Other amusements presented themselves as thick as hops, as Moses pictured with horns, to keep Cheapside in countenance.”[377] Even the Dutch shopkeeper, whose imagination was generally so fertile in finding a religious subject appropriate as his trade sign, was at a loss what to do with Moses; for a baker in Amsterdam, in the seventeenth century, put up the sign of Moses, with this inscription:

“Moses wierd gevist in het water,
Die hier waar haalt krygt vry gist, een Paaschbrood,
En op Korstyd een Deuvekater.”[378]

In London, however, the use of this sign may at first have been suggested by the statues of Moses and Aaron that used to stand above the balcony of the Old Guildhall. Connected with the history of Moses, we find several other signs, one in particular,[261] mentioned by Ned Ward as the Old Pharaoh in the town of Barley, in Cambridgeshire. It was so named, says he, “from a stout, elevating malt liquor of the same name, for which this house had been long famous.”[379] Why this beer was called Pharaoh, Ned Ward does not seem to have known; but a story in the county is current that it was so named because the beer, like the Egyptian king of old, “would not let the people go!” It is now no longer drunk in England, but a certain strong beer of the same name is still a favourite beverage in Belgium. Next, in chronological order, connected with the history of Moses, follows the Brazen Serpent, the sign of Reynold Wolfe, a bookseller and printer in St Paul’s Churchyard, 1544, and also of both his apprentices, Henry Binneman and John Shepperde. It had probably been imported by the foreign printers, for it was a favourite amongst the early French and German booksellers. At the present day it is a public-house sign in Richardson Street, Bermondsey. What led to the adoption of this emblem was not the historical association, but the mystical meaning which it had in the middle ages:—

“A serpent torqued with a long cross; others blazon Christ, supporting the brazen serpent, because it was an anti-type of the passion and death of our Saviour; for as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, (Num. xxi. 8, 9; John iii. 14,) that all that behold him, by a lively faith, may not perish, but have everlasting life. This is the cognizance or crest of every true believer.”[380]

The idea was no doubt borrowed from the Biblia Pauperum. The Balaam’s Ass, again, was one of the dramatis personæ in the Whitsuntide mystery of the company of cappers, (cap-makers,) and this is the only reason we can imagine for his having found his way to the signboard. It occurs in 1722 in a newspaper paragraph, concerning a child born without a stomach, the details of which are too nauseous to be introduced here.[381]

The Two Spies is the last sign belonging to the history of Moses; it represents two of the spies that went into Canaan, “and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff,” (Num. xiii. 23.) This bunch of grapes made it a favourite with publicans; at many places it may still be seen, as in Catherine Street, Strand, (a house of old standing;) in Long Acre, &c. In Great Windmill Street, Leicester Square, it has been corrupted into the Three Spies.


After Moses there is a blank until we come to Samson, to whom our national admiration for athletic sports and muscular strength has given a prominent place on the signboard. Samson and the Lion occurs on the sign of various houses in London in the seventeenth century, as appears from the trades tokens. It is still of frequent occurrence in country towns, as at Dudley, Coventry, &c. It was also used on the Continent. In Paris there is, or was, not many years ago, a della Robbia ware medallion sign in the Rue des Dragons, with the legend “le Fort Samson,” representing the strong man tearing open the lion. To a sign of Samson at Dordrecht, in the seventeenth century, the following satirical inscription had been added:—

“Toen Samson door zyn kracht de leeuw belemmen kon,
De Philistynen sloeg, de vossen overwon.
Wiert hy nog door een Vrouw van zyn gezigt beroofd,
Gelooft geen vrouw dan of zy moet zyn zonder hoofd.”[382]

This admiration of strong men, which procured the signboard honours to Samson, also made Goliah, or Golias, a great favourite. In the Horse Market, Castle Barnard, he is actually treated just like a duke, admiral, or any other public-house hero, for there the sign is entitled the Goliah Head. Some doubts, however, may be entertained whether by Golias or Goliah, (for the name is spelt both ways,) the Philistine giant and champion was always intended. Towards the end of the twelfth century there lived a man of wit, with the real or assumed name of Golias, who wrote the “Apocalypsis Goliæ,” and other burlesque verses. He was the leader of a jovial sect called Goliardois, of which Chaucer’s Miller was one. “He was a jangler and a goliardeis.” Such a person might, therefore, have been a very appropriate tutelary deity for an alehouse.[383]

Goliah’s conqueror, King David, liberally shared the honours with his victim, and he still figures on various signboards. There is a King David’s inn in Bristol, and a David and[263] Harp in Limehouse; whilst in Paris, the Rue de la Harpe is said to owe its name to a sign of King David playing on the harp. David’s unfortunate son, Absalom, was a peruke-maker’s very expressive emblem, both in France and in England, to show the utility of wigs. Thus a barber at a town in Northamptonshire used this inscription:

Absalom, hadst thou worn a perriwig, thou hadst not been hanged.”

Which a brother peruke-maker versified, under a sign representing the death of Absalom, with David weeping. He wrote up thus:

“Oh Absalom! oh Absalom!
Oh Absalom! my son,
If thou hadst worn a perriwig,
Thou hadst not been undone.”

Psalm xlii. seems to be very profanely hinted at in the sign of the White Hart and Fountain, Royal Mint Street, which, if not a combination of two well-known signs, apparently alludes to the words, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” The Panting Hart (het dorstige Hert, or het Heigent Hert,) was formerly a very common beer-house sign in Holland. In the seventeenth century there was one with the following inscription at Amsterdam:—

“Gelyk het hert by frisch water sig komt te verblyden,
Komt also in myn huys om u van dorst te bevryden.”[384]

Another one at Leyden had the following rhyme:—

“Gelyk een hart van jagen moe lust te drinken water rein,
Also verkoopt men hier tot versterking van de maag, toebak, bier en Brandewyn.”[385]

The wise king Solomon does not appear to have ever been honoured with a signboard portrait, but his enthusiastic admirer, the Queen of Saba, figured before the tavern kept by Dick Tarlton the jester, in Gracechurch Street. This Queen of Saba, or Sheba, was a usual figure in pageants. There is a letter of Secretary Barlow, in “Nugæ Antiquæ,” telling how the Queen of Sheba fell down and upset her casket in the lap of the King of Denmark—when on his drunken visit to James I.—who “got not[264] a little defiled with the presents of the queen; such as wine, cream, jelly, beverages, cakes, spices, and other good matters.”

Douce, in his “Illustrations to Shakespeare,” has a very ingenious explanation for the sign of the Bell Savage, as derived from the Queen of Saba, which though non è vero, ma ben trovato. He bases his argument on a poem of the fourteenth century, the “Romaunce of Kyng Alisaundre,” wherein the Queen of Saba is thus mentioned:—

“In heore lond is a cité,
On of the noblest in Christianté,
Hit hotith Sabba in langage,
Thence cam Sibely Savage.
Of all the world the fairest queene,
To Jerusalem Salomon to seone.
For hire fair head and for hire love,
Salomon forsok his God above.”[386]

Elisha’s Raven, represented with a chop in his mouth, is the sign of a butcher in the Borough,—a curious conceit, and certainly his own invention; at least we do not remember any other instance of the sign. This tribute is certainly very disinterested in the butcher, for if there were any such ravens now, it is probable that they would sadly interfere with the trade.

Few signs have undergone so many changes as the well-known Salutation. Originally it represented the angel saluting the Virgin Mary, in which shape it was still occasionally seen in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as appears from the tavern token of Daniel Grey of Holborn. In the times of the Commonwealth, however, “sacrarum ut humanarum rerum, heu! vicissitudo est,” the Puritans changed it into the Soldier and Citizen, and in such a garb it continued long after, with this modification, that it was represented by two citizens politely bowing to each other. The Salutation Tavern in Billingsgate shows it thus on its trades token, and so it was represented by the Salutation Tavern in Newgate Street, (an engraving of which sign may still be seen in the parlour of that old established house.) At present it is mostly rendered by two hands conjoined, as at the Salutation Hotel, Perth, where a label is added with the words, “You’re welcome to the city.” That Salutation Tavern in Billingsgate was a famous place in Ben Jonson’s time; it is named in “Bartholomew Fayre” as one of the houses where there had been

“Great sale and utterance of wine,
Besides beere and ale, and ipocras fine.”


During the civil war there was a Salutation Tavern in Holborn, in which the following ludicrous incident happened,—if we may believe the Royalist papers:—

“A hotte combat lately happened at the Salutation Taverne in Holburne, where some of the Commonwealth vermin, called soldiers, had seized on an Amazonian Virago, named Mrs Strosse, upon suspicion of being a loyalist, and selling the Man in the Moon; but shee, by applying beaten pepper to their eyes, disarmed them, and with their own swordes forced them to aske her forgiveness; and down on their mary bones, and pledge a health to the king, and confusion to their masters, and so honourablie dismissed them. Oh! for twenty thousand such gallant spirits; when you see that one woman can beat two or three.”[387]

At the end of the last century there was a Salutation Tavern in Tavistock Row, called also “Mr Bunch’s,” which was one of the elegant haunts, patronised by “the first gentleman of Europe,” otherwise the Prince Regent. Lord Surrey and Sheridan were generally his associates in these escapades. The trio went under the pseudonyms of Blackstock, Greystock, and Thinstock, and disguised in bob wigs and smockfrocks. The night’s entertainment generally concluded with thrashing the “Charlies,” wrenching off knockers, breaking down signboards, and not unfrequently with being taken to the roundhouse.

The Salutation in Newgate Street, some time called the Salutation and Cat, (a combination of two signs,) was haunted by many of the great authors of the last century. There is a poetical invitation extant to a social feast held at this tavern, January 19, 17356, issued by the two stewards, Edward Cave (of the Gentleman’s Magazine,) and William Bowyer, the antiquary and printer:—

“Saturday, January 17, 17356.


You’re desired on Monday next to meet,
At Salutation Tavern, Newgate Street,
Supper will be on table just at eight.
(Stewards) one of St John, [Bowyer,] t’other of St John’s Gate, [Cave.]”

Richardson the novelist was one of the invités. He returned a poetical answer, too long to quote at length: the following is part of it:—

“For me, I’m much concern’d I cannot meet
At Salutation Tavern, Newgate Street.
Your notice, like your verse, (so sweet and short!)
[266] If longer I’d sincerely thank’d you for it.
Howev’r, receive my wishes, sons of verse!
May every man who meets your praise rehearse!
May mirth as plenty crown your cheerful board!
And every one part happy, —— as a lord!
That when at home by such sweet verses fir’d,
Your families may think you all inspir’d.
So wishes he, who, pre-engag’d can’t know
The pleasures that would from your meeting flow.”

In this tavern Coleridge the poet, in one of his melancholy moods, lived for some time in seclusion, until found out by Southey, and persuaded by him to return to his usual mode of life. Sir T. N. Talfourd, in his Life of Charles Lamb, informs us that here Coleridge was in the habit of meeting Lamb when in town on a visit from the University. Christ’s Hospital, their old school, was within a few paces of the place:—

“When Coleridge quitted the University and came to town, full of mantling hopes and glorious schemes, Lamb became his admiring disciple. The scene of these happy meetings was a little public-house called the Salutation and Cat, in the neighbourhood of Smithfield, where they used to sup, and remain long after they had ‘heard the chimes of midnight.’ There they discoursed of Bowles, who was the god of Coleridge’s poetical idolatry, and of Burns and Cowper, who of recent poets—in that season of comparative barrenness—had made the deepest impression on Lamb; there Coleridge talked of ‘fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute,’ to one who desired ‘to find no end’ of the golden maze; and there he recited his early poems with that deep sweetness of intonation which sunk into the heart of his hearers. To these meetings Lamb was accustomed, at all periods of his life, to revert, as the season when his finer intellects were quickened into action. Shortly after they had terminated, with Coleridge’s departure from London, he thus recalled them in a letter:—‘When I read in your little volume your nineteenth effusion, or what you call “The Sigh,” I think I hear you again. I imagine to myself the little smoky room at the Salutation and Cat, where we have sat together through the winter nights, beguiling the cares of life with poesy.’ This was early in 1769, and in 1818, when dedicating his works—then first collected—to his earliest friend, he thus spoke of the same meetings:—‘Some of the sonnets, which shall be carelessly turned over by the general reader, may happily awaken in you remembrances which I should be sorry should be ever totally extinct—the memory “of summer days and of delightful years,” even so far back as those old suppers at our old inn—when life was fresh and topics exhaustless—and you first kindled in me, if not the power, yet the love of poetry, and beauty, and kindliness.’”

The Angel was derived from the Salutation, for that it originally represented the angel appearing to the Holy Virgin at the Salutation or Annunciation, is evident from the fact that, even as late as the seventeenth century on nearly all the trades tokens[267] of houses with this sign, the Angel is represented with a scroll in his hands; and this scroll we know, from the evidence of paintings and prints, to contain the words addressed by the angel to the Holy Virgin: “Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.” Probably at the Reformation it was considered too Catholic a sign, and so the Holy Virgin was left out, and the angel only retained. Among the famous houses with this sign, the well-known starting-place of the Islington omnibuses stands foremost. It is said to have been an established inn upwards of two hundred years. The old house was pulled down in 1819; till that time it had preserved all the features of a large country inn, a long front, overhanging tiled roof, with a square inn-yard having double galleries supported by columns and carved pilasters, with caryatides and other ornaments. It is more than probable that it had often been used as a place for dramatic entertainments at the period when inn-yards were customarily employed for such purposes. “Even so late as fifty years since it was customary for travellers approaching London, to remain all night at the Angel Inn, Islington, rather than venture after dark to prosecute their journey along ways which were almost equally dangerous from their bad state, and their being so greatly infested with thieves.”[388] On the other hand, persons walking from the city to Islington in the evening, waited near the end of John Street, in what is now termed Northampton Street, (but was then a rural avenue planted with trees,) until a sufficient party had collected, who were then escorted by an armed patrol appointed for that purpose. Another old tavern with this sign is extant in London, behind St Clement’s Church in the Strand. To this house Bishop Hooper was taken by the Guards, on his way to Gloucester, where he went to be burnt, in January 1555. The house, until lately, preserved much of its ancient aspect: it had a pointed gable, galleries, and a lattice in the passage. This inn is named in the following curious advertisement:—

“TO BE SOLD, a Black Girl, the property of J. B——, eleven years of age, who is extremely handy, works at her needle tolerably, and speaks French perfectly well; is of excellent temper and willing disposition. Inquire of W. Owen, at the Angel Inn, behind St Clement’s Church, in the Strand.”—Publick Advertiser, March 28, 1769.

Older than either of these is the Angel Inn, at Grantham. This building was formerly in the possession of the Knights[268] Templars, and still retains many remains of its former beauty, particularly the gateway, with the heads of Edward III. and his queen Philippa of Hainault on either side of the arch; the soffits of the windows are elegantly groined, and the parapet of the front is very beautiful. Kings have been entertained in this house; but it seemed to bring ill luck to them, for the reigns of those that are recorded as having been guests in it, stand forth in history as disturbed by violent storms—King John held his court in it on February 23, 1213; King Richard III. on October 19, 1483; and King Charles I. visited it May 17, 1633.

Ben Jonson, it is said, used to visit a tavern with the sign of the Angel, at Basingstoke, kept by a Mrs Hope, whose daughter’s name was Prudence. On one of his journeys, finding that the house had changed both sign and mistresses, Ben wrote the following smart but not very elegant epigram:—

“When Hope and Prudence kept this house, the Angel kept the door,
Now Hope is dead, the Angel fled, and Prudence turned a w——.”

The Angel was the sign of one of the first coffee-houses in England, for Anthony Wood tells us that, “in 1650 Jacob, a Jew, opened a coffee-house at the Angel, in the parish of St Peter, Oxon; and there it [coffee] was by some, who delight in noveltie, drank.” Finally, there was an Angel Tavern in Smithfield, where the famous Joe Miller, of joking fame—a comic actor by profession—used to play during Bartholomew Fair time. A playbill of 1722 informs the public in large letters that

Miller is not with Pinkethman, but by himself, at the Angel Tavern, next door to the King’s Bench, who acts a new Droll, called the Faithful Couple or the Royal Shepherdess, with a very pleasant entertainment between Old Hob and his Wife, and the comical humours of Mopsy and Collin, with a variety of singing and dancing.

“The only Comedian now that dare,
Vie with the world and challenge the Fair.”

In France, also, the sign of the Angel is and was at all times, very common. The Hotel de l’Ange, Rue de la Huchette, appears to have been the best hotel in Paris in the sixteenth century. It was frequently visited by foreign ambassadors: those sent by Emperor Maximilian to Louis XII. took up their abode here; so did the ambassadors from Angus, King of Achaia, who, in 1552, came to see France, much in the same way as various ambassadors from all sorts of high and low latitudes occasionally honour our Court with a visit. Chapelle, a French poet of the[269] seventeenth century, thus celebrates a tavern with this sign in Paris, frequented by the wits of the period:—

“Je n’ay pas vu vostre theâtre
Qu’aussitot je ressors de là,
Pour un Ange que j’idolâtre,
A cause du bon vin qu’il a.”[389]

There being, then, such a profusion of Angels everywhere, it became necessary to make some distinctions, and the usual means were adopted; the Angel was gilded, and called the Golden Angel; this, for instance, was the sign of Ellis Gamble, a goldsmith in Cranbourn Alley, Hogarth’s master in the art of engraving on silver; shop-bills engraved for this house by Hogarth are still in existence. Another variety was the Guardian Angel, which is still the sign of an ale-house at Yarmouth. This, too, was used in France, as we find l’Ange Gardien, the sign of Pierre Witte, a bookseller in the Rue St Jacques, Paris, in the seventeenth century.

Very common, also, were the Three Angels, which may have been intended for the three angels that appeared to Abraham, or simply the favourite combination of three,[390] so frequent on the[270] signboard and in heraldry. That three angels were thought to possess mysterious power, is evident from the following Devonshire charm for a burn:—

“Three Angels came from the north, east, and west,
One brought fire, another ice,
And the third brought the Holy Ghost,
So out fire—and in frost—
In the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

The Three Angels was a very general linen-draper’s sign, for which there seems no reason other than that the long flowing garments in which they are generally represented, suggest their having been good customers to the drapery business.

Angels appear in combination with various heterogenous objects, in many of which, however, the so-called Angel is simply a Cupid. The Angel and Bible was a sign in the Poultry in 1680.[391] The Angel and Crown was a not uncommon tavern decoration. The following stanza from a pamphlet, entitled, “The Quack Vintners,” London, 1712, p. 18, shows the way in which this sign was represented:—

“May Harry’s Angel be a sign he draws
Angelick nectar, that deserves applause,
Such that may make the city love the Throne,
And, like his Angel, still support the Crown.”

From this we learn it was a Cupid or Amorino supporting a crown; the sign of the house had doubtless originally been the Crown, and the Cupid, so common in the Renaissance style, had been added by way of ornament, but was mistaken by the public as a constituent of the sign. The verses probably applied to the Angel and Crown, a famous tavern in Broad Street, behind the Royal Exchange. There was another Angel and Crown in Islington, where convivial dinners were held in the olden time. It was a common practice in the last and preceding centuries for the natives of a county or parish to meet once a year and dine together. The ceremony often commenced by a sermon, preached by a native, after which the day was spent in pleasant conviviality, after-dinner speeches, and mutual congratulations. The custom now has almost died out; but this is one of the invitation tickets:

St Mary, Islington.


You are desidered to meet many other Natives of this place on Tuesday [271]ye 11th day of April 1738 at Mrs Eliz. Grimstead’s ye Angel and Crown, in ye Upper Street, about ye hour of One; Then and there wth Full Dishes, Good Wine and Good Humour to improve and make lasting that Harmony and Friendship which have so long reigned among us.

Walter Sebbon.
John Booth.
Bourchier Durrell.
James Sebbon.

N.B. The Dinner will be on the table peremptorily at Two.
Pray pay the Bearer Five Shillings.

That same year, another Angel and Crown Tavern in Shire Lane obtained an unenviable notoriety, for it was there that a Mr Quarrington was murdered and robbed by Thomas Carr, an attorney from the Temple, and Elisabeth Adams. They were hanged at Tyburn, January 18, 1738.

The Angel and Gloves at first sight seems a whimsical combination, but is easily explained when we advert to the woodcut above the shop-bill of Isaac Dalvy, in Little Newport Street, Soho, who, in the reign of Queen Anne, sold gloves, &c., under this sign, which simply represented two Cupids, each carrying a glove,—in fact, exactly the same conceit as that of the Herculanese shoemaker, noticed in a former chapter. It is more difficult to find a rational explanation for the Angel and Stilliards. The Steelyard, or Stilliard, in Upper Thames Street, was the place where the Hanse merchants exposed their goods for sale, and was so called from the king’s steelyard, or beam, there erected for weighing the tonnage of goods imported into London.[392] Whether this sign represented a Cupid with such a weighing machine, or a view of the hall of the Hanse merchants, with a Fame flying over it, is now impossible to decide. It may be suggested that a variation of the well-known figure of Justice, with steelyards in place of the usual scales, was the origin. Be this as it may, the only mention we have found of the sign is in the following advertisement:—

“WILLIAM DEVAL, at the Angel & Stilliards, in St Ann’s Lane, near Aldersgate, London, maketh Castle (Castille), Marble, and white Sope as good as any Marseilles Sope; Tryed and Proved and sold at very Reasonable Rates.”[393]Domestic Intelligencer, January 2d, 1679.

A few years later we find the Angel and Still noticed, as in the following advertisement:—

“A WELL-SET Negro, commonly called Sugar, aged about twenty years, teeth broke before, and several scars in both his cheeks and forehead, having absented from his Master, whosoever secures him and[272] gives notice to Benjamin Maynard, at the Angel and Still, at Deptford, shall have a Guinea Reward and reasonable charges.”—Weekly Journal, October 18, 1718.

In this case the still was simply added to intimate the sale of spirituous liquors.

The Angel and Sun, apparently a combination of two signs, is named as a shop or tavern near Strandbridge, in 1663,[394] and is still the name of a public-house in the Strand. The Angel and Woolpack, at Bolton, is the same sign which, near London Bridge, is called the Naked Boy and Woolpack. A woolpack, with a negro seated on it, was at one time very common; for a change or distinction, this negro underwent the reputed impossible process of being washed white, and thus became a naked boy, which, in signboard phraseology, is equivalent to an angel.

The Virgin was unquestionably a very common sign before the Reformation, and it may be met with even at the present day, as, for instance, at Ebury Hill, Worcester, and in various other places. In France it was, and is still, much more common than in England, as might be expected. Tallemant des Réaux tells of a miraculous tavern sign of Notre Dame, on the bridge of that name, in Paris, which was observed by the faithful to cry and shed tears, probably on account of the bad company she had to harbour. It was taken down by order of the archbishop. At the end of the seventeenth century there was, in the Rue de la Seine, Paris, a quack doctor, who pretended to cure a great variety of complaints. He put up a holy Virgin for his sign, with the words, “Refugium Peccatorum,” which is one of the usual epithets of the holy Virgin in the Roman Catholic Church service, very wittily, although profanely, applied in this instance. The sign of the Virgin was also called Our Lady, as: “Newe Inne was a guest Inne, the sign whereof was the picture of our Lady, and thereupon it was also called Our Lady’s Inne.”[395] Our Lady of Pity was the sign of Johan Redman, a bookseller in Paternoster Row, in 1542. Johan Byddell, also a bookseller, had introduced this sign in the beginning of that century. This Byddell, or Bedel, (who lived in Fleet Street, next to Fleet Bridge,) had evidently borrowed it from a nearly similar figure in Corio’s History of Milan, 1505. He afterwards lived at the Sun, in Fleet Street, the house formerly occupied by Wynkyn de Worde.


The prevalence of the Baptist’s Head probably dated from the time when pilgrimages across the sea were considered good works, and the head of St John the Baptist at Amiens Cathedral came in for a large share of visits from English worshippers. The old monkish writers say that in 448 after Christ, the head was found in Jerusalem; in 1206 it was transferred to Amiens, where it was kept in a salver of gold, surrounded with a rim of pearls and precious stones.[396] Various other reasons may be adduced for the prevalence of this sign, as the conspicuous place occupied by St John in the Roman Catholic hagiology, and hence in mediæval plays and mysteries; the festivities of Midsummer, (a day of great moment in London for setting the watch;) and, finally, his being the patron saint of the Knights of Jerusalem. It was doubtless in compliment to those knights that the Baptist’s Head in St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell, was named. This house seems to be the remainder of some noble mansion of Queen Elizabeth’s time; it contains many Elizabethan ornaments, particularly a chimney-piece, with the coats of arms of the Radcliff and Forster families. When the house was adapted to its present purpose, it was distinguished by the head of St John the Baptist in a charger, now gone. Doctor Johnson is said to have been an occasional visitor here, when returning from Edward Cave’s, the editor of the Gentleman’s Magazine, whose office was close by at St John’s Gate. Goldsmith is also reported to have made frequent calls here, when business of a similar nature led him to the same spot. In later years it became the house of call of the prisoners on their way to the new prison in the parish—a circumstance commemorated by Dodd in the “Old Bailey Registers.” Another St John’s Head is mentioned by Stow in the following accident:—

“The 11th of July (1553) Gilbert Pot, drawer to Ninion Saunders, vintner, dwelling at St John’s Head within Ludgate, who was accused by the said Saunders, his maister, was set on the pillory in Cheape, with both his ears nailed and cleane cut off, for wordes speaking at the time of the proclamation of Lady Jane; at which execution was a trumpet bloune and a herault in his coat of armes redd his offence, in presence of William Garrard, one of the Sheriffes of London. About 5 of the clocke the same day, in the afternoone, Ninion Saunders, master to the said Gilbert Pot, and John Owen, a gunmaker, both gunners of the Tower, comming from the Tower of London by water in a whirrie and shooting London Bridge, towards[274] the Black Fryers, were drowned at S. Mary Loch[397] and the whirry-man saved by their oars.”

To this same saint also refers the John of Jerusalem, a sign at the present day in Rosoman Street, Clerkenwell, put up, like the Baptist Head, in remembrance of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, who formerly had their priory in this locality.

In France this sign was equally common. Jean Carcain, one of the early Parisian publishers and printers, (1487,) adopted it for his shop. One of his books has the following quaint impress:—

“Parisii Sancti Pons est Michaelis in Urbe;
Multae illic aedes; notior una tamen;
Hanc cano, quae Sacri Baptistae fronte notata est
Hic respondebit Bibliopola tibi;
Vis impressoris nomen quoque nosse? Joannis
Carcain nomen ei est. Ne pete plura, Vale.”[398]

It was an old signboard jocularity in France to represent St John the Baptist by a monkey with cambric (batiste) ruffles and wristbands, (singe en batiste.) From the parables the sign of the Good Samaritan was borrowed, which, even at the present day, may be seen in Turner Street, Whitechapel; Grimshaw Park, Blackburn, &c. When barbers combined with their trade the practice of letting blood—otherwise than by “easy shaving,”—of drawing teeth, and setting bones, they frequently adopted this sign. In the seventeenth century, a barber-surgeon at Leeuwarden, in Holland, wrote under his device of the Good Samaritan the following poetical effusion:—

“Gelyk den Wyn, fyn,
Dryft zorgen uit der herten
Zoo geneest Medicyn, pyn,
En ontlast van Smarten.”[399]

The Samaritan Woman (la Samaritaine) is the French version of our Jacob’s Well, and was a common sign in Paris; everybody knows the Bains de la Samaritaine, in which the luxurious Parisian indulges in a fresh water bath in his Seine, which at that place is about as clear as the Thames at Blackwall. In the Rue[275] Caquerel at Rouen there is a stone bas-relief of the Samaritan woman at the well, with the date 1580. Jacques Dupuy, a bookseller in the Rue St Jacques, also used the Samaritan woman as his sign, evidently because it was a subject in which he could introduce a well, and so have the satisfaction of punning on his name. This kind of pun was none the less relished for being far-fetched; thus there is a stone bas-relief in the Rue Froid, at Caen, of the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, (la Pêche Miraculeuse,) which, in the early part of the seventeenth century, was placed there by a bookseller of the name of Poisson, (Fish,) who, being an “odd fish,” adopted this sign as a pun on his own name. At the present day, the house is still inhabited by a bookseller of the same name and family.

Christ’s Passion does not seem to have suggested any signs in England, although the great symbol of His death, the Cross, was comparatively common. In Paris there was, in 1640, a bookseller, George Josse, in the Rue St Jacques, who had the Crown of Thorns (la Couronne d’Epine) for his sign, probably on account of the original Crown of Thorns being one of the relics kept at Paris. Coryatt’s remarks on this relic are rather amusing:—

“They report in Paris that the Thorny Crown, wherewith Christ was crowned on the Crosse, is kept in the Palace, which vpon Corpus Christi Day, in the afternoone, was publickly shewed, as some told me; but it was not my chance to see it. Truely, I wonder to see the contrarieties amongst the Papists, and most ridiculous varieties concerning their reliques, but especially about this of Christ’s Thorny Crowne. For whereas I was after that at the Citie of Vicenza in Italy, it was told me that in the monastery of the Dominican Fryers of that Citie, this Crowne was kept, which Saint Lewes, King of France, bestowed upon his brother Bartholomew, Bishop of Vicenza, and before one of the Dominican family. Wherefore I went to the Dominican Monastery and made suit to see it, but I had the repulse; for they told me that it was kept vnder three or four lockes, and neuer shewed to any by any favour whatsoeuer, but only upon Corpus Christi Day. If this Crowne of Paris, whereof they so much bragge, be true, that of Vicenza is false. Ho! the truth and certainty of Papistical reliques.”[400]

Crosses of various colours were probably amongst the first signs put up by the newly-converted Christians, (as soon as they could effect this with impunity,) on account of the recommendation of the early fathers, and for their beneficial influence. Father Lactantius, who lived in the fourth century, writes—“As Christ, whilst He lived amongst men, put the devils to flight by His[276] words, and restored those to their senses whom these evil spirits had possessed; so now His followers in the name of their Master, and by the sign of His passion, even exercise the same dominion over them.” St Ephrem says—“Let us paint and imprint on our doors the life-giving cross; thus defended no evil will hurt you.” St Chrysostom says the same—“Wherefore let us with earnestness impress this cross on our houses, and on our walls, and our windows.” St Cyril of Alexandria introduces the Emperor Julian the apostate saying, “You Christians adore the wood of the cross, you engrave it on the porches of your houses,” &c. Hence the still prevalent custom in Roman Catholic places of painting crosses on the walls of houses, to drive away witches, as it is said; and these crosses being painted in different colours, might easily serve as a sign by which to designate the house. At the Crusades the popularity of this emblem increased: a red cross was the badge of the Crusader, and would be put up as a sign by men who had been to the Holy Land, or wished to court the patronage of those on their way thither. Finally, the different orders of knighthood settled each upon a particular colour as their distinctive mark. Thus the knights of St John wore white crosses, the Templars red crosses, the knights of St Lazarus green crosses, the Teutonic knights black crosses, embroidered with gold, &c. But the most common in England was the red cross, which was the cross of St George, and also of the red cross knights, who acted as a sort of police on the roads between Europe and the Holy Land to protect pilgrims. This badge, therefore, could not fail to be very popular.

In France it used to be, and in all probability is still, a common rebus to see le signe de la croix represented by a swan with a cross on his back, (cygne de la croix.)

Only very few signs of the cross are now remaining. The Golden Cross in the Strand is one of these, and has been in that locality for centuries. It was one of the first upon which the Puritans brooked their ill-humour and hatred of popery; for in 1643 it was taken down by order of a committee from the House of Commons, as “superstitious and idolatrous.” This was the precursor of the fall of old Charing Cross itself. The sign, however, was put up again at the Restoration, and figures prominently in Canaletti’s well-known view of Charing Cross, in the Northumberland Collection. The tavern was probably pulled down at the formation of Trafalgar Square.


At a point on the road between Dunchurch and Daventry, where three roads meet, there was formerly an inn with the sign of the Three Crosses, in allusion to the three roads. Swift, in one of his pedestrian excursions, happened to stop at that inn. Not being very elegantly dressed, and rather importunate to be served, the landlady told him that she could not leave her customers for “such as he,” upon which the Dean, who was not the most modest, nor the most patient of men, wrote the following epigram on one of the windows:—

There hang three crosses at thy door,
Hang up thy wife and she’ll make four.”

The Resurrection was the sign of John Day, a bookseller, who, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, dwelt in St Sepulchre’s parish, a little above Holbourne Conduit. It was a sort of conundrum or charade on his name, which was carried out by his colophon, representing a man asleep, who is wakened by another with the words, “Arise, for it is day.” This, although somewhat profane, according to our present notions of such things, was nothing strange in a time when the people, though Protestants by name, were still strongly imbued with Roman Catholic ideas. John Cawoode, also a printer and publisher of St Paul’s Churchyard in 1558, had a still more profane sign—viz., the Holy Ghost. And this even continued till the beginning of the seventeenth century, for in 1602 we find this identical sign used by another printer, William Leake, who was probably his successor, and published in that year Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis.” Worse still was the sign of another bookseller in St Paul’s Churchyard in 1520, which was the Trinity.[401] We must bear in mind, however, that in Roman Catholic countries conversation upon matters of religion is not nearly so strict and guarded as amongst believers in Protestant nations. An amusing instance of this once occurred to the writer in Jerusalem, the great head-quarters of Christianity. Usually the pilgrims or travellers staying at the Latin convent there, which serves as an hotel, dine all together in a kind of table-d’hôte fashion; but for some reason it so fell out that our party one day dined in private. The holy brother who attended us happened to be a Spaniard, and as we had visited[278] that country, and were tolerably acquainted with Valladolid, his native town, worldly recollections began to overcome the sanctity of the good monk, and he became inexhaustible in reminiscences of his younger days. Whilst talking with him, and refreshing ourselves with a meal of salad, grown in the garden of Gethsemane, we had indulged in two tumblers of a pithy white wine, quite strong enough to justify our resisting the pressing invitations of the reverend butler to take a third glass; but the jovial monk was not to be beaten, and finally convinced us with the following argument: “Oh come, brother, you must take another glass, remember you are in Jerusalem, and so take one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Ghost!”

Although the English ale and refreshment houses continue to select fresh signs from the notabilities of the hour, the Palmerston’s Head and the Gladstone Arms for instance, they rarely choose anything of a religious or devotional cast. One instance, however, occurs to us, and that in the neighbourhood of London, which deserves mention. In Kentish Town, under the Hampstead hills, the noisiest and most objectionable public-house in the district bears the significant sign of the Gospel Oak. It is the favourite resort of navvies and quarrelsome shoemakers, and took its name, not from any inclination to piety on the part of the landlord, but from an old oak tree in the neighbourhood, near the boundary line of Hampstead and St Pancras parishes, a relic of the once general custom of reading a portion of the gospel under certain trees in the parish perambulations, equivalent to “beating the bounds.” “The boundaries and township of the parish of Wolverhampton are,” says Shaw, in his “History of Staffordshire,” (vol. ii., p. 165,) “in many points marked out by what are called Gospel Trees;” and Herrick, in his “Hesperides,” (Ed. 1859, p. 26,) says:—

“Dearest, bury me
Under that holy oak, or gospel tree;
Where, though thou see’st not, thou may’st think upon
Me, when thou yeerly go’st procession.”

The old Kentish Town Gospel Oak was removed a short time since, but not until it had given a name to the surrounding fields, to a village, (Oak village,) and to a chapel, as well as to the public-house alluded to.

[366] New Essays and Characters, by John Stephens the younger, of Lincoln’s Inn, Gent. London, 1631, p. 221.

[367] Randle Holme, “Academy of Armour and Blazon,” p. 52.

[368] Postman, Feb. 1-3, 1711.

[369] “Notandum quoq. eius (pavonis) carnem quod D. Augustinus quoq., lib. xxi. de civitate Dei, cap. iii., et Isidorus, lib. xii., affirmant non putrescere.”—Camerarius, Centur., iii. 20, 1697. How to make this agree with Skelton’s idea it is not very easy to explain—

“Then sayd the Pecocke,
All ye well wot,
I sing not musycal,
For my breast is decay’d.”—Skelton’s Armory of Birds.

[370] See Fosbrooke’s Encyclopædia of Antiquities, vol. ii., p. 673.

[371] For particulars of Topham, the Strong Man, see under Historical Signs.

[372] This statement is made on the authority of Hone, in his “Ancient Mysteries.” Doubts, however, have been expressed as to the accuracy of his data upon this particular subject.

[373] Diary of John Evelyn, Feb. 3, 1684.

[374] Bagford Collection, Bib. Harl., 5931.


“The wood is cut in order to be burned,
Therefore is this Abraham’s sacrifice.”

[376] Jacob’s Inn is mentioned by Hatton, 1708, “on the east side of Red Cross Street near the middle.”

[377] “Amusements for the Meridian of London,” 1706.


“Moses was found in the water.
Whosoever purchases his bread here shall have yeast for nought,
Besides a currant-loaf at Easter, and a spice-cake at Christmas time.”

[379] “A Step to Stirbitch Fair,” 1708.

[380] Randle Holme, B. ii., ch. xviii.

[381] Weekly Journal, August 4, 1722.


“Though Samson by his strength could overcome the lion,
Defeat the Philistines and master the foxes,
Yet a woman deprived him of his sight;
Never, therefore, believe a woman unless she has no head.”

This alludes to the Good Woman, described elsewhere in this work.

Samson’s history was not only painted on the signboard, but also sung in ballads, “to the tune of the Spanish Pavin.” Amongst the Roxburgh ballads (vol. i. fol. 366) there is one entitled “A most excellent and famous ditty of Sampson, judge of Israel, how hee wedded a Philistyne’s daughter, who at length forsooke him; also how hee slew a lyon and propounded a riddle, and after how hee was falsely betrayed by Dalila, and of his death.”

[383] See Bibliographia Britannica, voce Golias, and Wright’s History of Caricature.


“Like to the hart which comes to the water brook to refresh himself,
So you enter my house to quench your thirst.”

[385] The first six words are literally the beginning of the psalm in the Dutch version,—

“Like a hart the hunt escaped, wishes for the limpid water brooks,
So there is here tobacco, beer, and brandy for sale to strengthen the stomach.”

[386] For the true origin of this sign, see under Miscellaneous Signs.

[387] A Royalist paper, entitled, “The Man in the Moon discovering a world of wickedness under the Sun,” July 4, 1649.

[388] Cromwell’s History of Clerkenwell, p. 32.

[389] “As soon as I had seen your theatre I left it, to go to an Angel whom I adore on account of his good wine.”

[390] Even in the most remote periods of history three was considered a mystic number, and regarded with reverence. The Assyrians had their triads. In Ancient Egypt every town or district had its own triad, which it worshipped, and which was a union of certain attributes, the third member proceeding from the other two. Sir Gardiner Wilkinson, in his “Ancient Egyptians,” vol. iv., ch. xii., p. 230, mentions a stone with the words “one Bail, one Athor, one Akori, hail father of the world, hail triformous God.” Thoms, in his “Dissertation on Ancient Chinese Vases,” says:—“The Chinese have a remarkable preference for the number three; they say one produced two, two produced three, and three produced all things. There is something remarkable in this last phrase; perhaps it conveys an indistinct idea of the Trinity. The Buddhists, who are of modern date in China, use the term ‘the three precious ones’—‘the Deity that has ruled, the ruling Deity, and the Deity that shall rule.’ The Taore sect have also their ‘three pure ones.’ The number three has many associations, as the three bonds—a prince and minister, father and son, husband and wife; the three superintendents—the treasurer, judge, and collector of customs; the three powers—heaven, earth, and man,” &c. In the Hindoo religion combinations of three are equally frequent: they have several trimustis or trinities; three principal deities, Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahadeva; another triad is Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, or matter, spirit, and destruction; there are three plaited locks on the head of Radha, representing a mystical union of three principal rivers, Ganges, Yamuna, and Sarawati. Siva has three eyes; the sun is called three-bodied; the triangle with the Hindoos is a favourite type for the triune co-equality, hence the pentagram (a figure composed of two equilateral triangles, placed with the apex of the one towards the base of the other, and so forming six triangles by the intersections of their sides) is in great favour with them; further, they use three mystic letters to denote their deity; have 3 × 7 hells, (seven is also a mystic number with them and other ancient races,) and many other combinations of three. The same preference for this number is observable in the Greek and Roman mythology, which mentions three theocraties, three graces, three fates, three harpies, three syrens, three heads of Cerberus, three eggs of Leda, &c. And, taking 3 as a unit, 3 × 3 muses, 3 × 4 principal gods, (Dii Majores,) 3 × 4 labours of Hercules, &c.

[391] London Gazette, Nov 8 to 11, 1680.

[392] Cunningham’s Handbook to London, p. 470.

[393] Soap, wax, tallow, and similar articles were part of the merchandise in which the Hanse merchants dealt.

[394] Kingdom’s Intelligencer, April 6-13, 1663.

[395] Stow’s Survey of London.

[396] See a woodcut of an Amiens pilgrim’s token in the Journal of Brit. Arch. Assoc., vol. i., Oct. 1848; also a detailed account of this venerable relic in Coryatt’s Crudities vol. i, p. 17.

[397] Name of one of the arches of old London Bridge.


“In the town of Paris there is a bridge named St Michael,
On which there are many houses; but one of them is more known than the others.
That is the house I mean, which is known by the sign of the Baptist Head.
There the bookseller will answer you.
Would you also like to know the name of the printer? John
Carcain is his name. Now, do not ask any more. Farewell.”


“Like wine, fine,
Driveth away care;
So medicine cureth pain,
And delivers us from suffering.”

[400] Coryatt’s Crudities, vol i., p. 41.

[401] From his colophon we see that the Trinity on his sign was represented by a triangle with a circle at each angle, respectively containing the words PATER, FILIUS, SPIRITUS, and, between the circles, on each of the sides of the triangle, the words NON EST, a mystical way of representing the Trinity, very common in the middle ages.



At the end of the last chapter we spoke of the profane application of some of the most sacred things to signboard purposes. In France this was still worse than in England. That amusing gossip, Tallemant des Réaux, in his “Contes et Historiettes,” tells us how an innkeeper of the Rue Montmartre, in Paris, put up for his sign the God’s head, (la Tête Dieu,) and notwithstanding all the efforts of the curé of St Eustache to make him take it down he would not comply until compelled by the magistrates. Though two centuries have elapsed, the French of the present day are not much better; for in Paris, in the Rue Mondétour, there is actually a café known as the Nom de Jesus.

Boursault, a clever writer of the time of Louis XIV., whose indignant letter about the Royal Arms we have noticed in a former chapter, addressed a letter to Bizoton, one of the police magistrates, in which he vents his anger at some of the religious signs, and complains of the profanity of a lodging-house with the sign of the Annunciation in the Rue de la Huchette, in which there were as many rogues and reprobates as there were honest lodgers. Amongst the signs that shocked him most he names le Saint Esprit, (the Holy Ghost,) la Trinité, (the Trinity,) l’Image Notre Dame, &c.; but particularly one, representing Christ taken prisoner, with the profane motto, “Au juste prix.” This contains a blasphemous pun,—juste prix at once signifying a fixed price, and “just caught.” The sign was set up at a little ordinary in a lane between the Rue St Honoré and the Rue Richelieu. And, though Boursault says in his letter that he had so fumed and thundered against the landlord that he had taken it down, yet it made its appearance again afterwards, and was handed down to our time, since not many years ago it might have been observed in the Cour du Dragon, above the shop of an ironmonger.

Saints are still in full feather on the signboards in Roman Catholic countries. Amongst hundreds of others the following may be seen in Paris on cafés and hotels in the present day:—St Barbe, St Christophe, St Eustache, St Joseph, St Laurent, St Marie, St Louis, St Merri, St Michel, St Paul, St Phar, St Pierre, St Quentin, St Roc, St Thomas d’Aquin, St Vincent de Paul, &c., &c.


A curious French sign is mentioned by Coryatt, which he saw at Amiens. “I lay at the signe of the Ave Maria, where I read these two verses, written in golden letters upon the linterne of the doore, at the entry into the Inne. This in Greeke, Της φιλοξενιας μη ἐπιλανϐανεσθε, that is, Forget not your good entertainment; and this in Latine, Hospitibus hic tuta fides.”[402]

Saints were formerly very common on signboards, and this abuse also was wittily ridiculed by the pungent satire of Artus Desiré, a French poet of the fifteenth century:—

“En leur logis plein de vers et de teignes,
Où est logé le grand diable d’enfer,
Mettent de Dieu et de saints les enseignes,
Leurs ditz logis où n’y a que desroys.
Pendre font tous sur le pavé du roy
De grands tableaux et enseignes dorées,
Pour des montres qu’ils ont fort bien de quoy,
Et qu’il y a de tres grasses porées.
L’un pour enseigne aura la Trinité,
L’autre Saint Jehan, et l’autre Saint Savin,
L’autre Saint Maure, l’autre l’Humanité
De Jesus Christ notre Sauveur divin,
De Dieu, des saintz, sont leurs crieurs de vin,[403]
Tant aux citez que villes et villages,
Des susditz sainctz les devotes images,
En prophanant leur préciosité.”[404]


Many of these saints were patrons of particular trades, and were constantly adopted as the signs of those that followed them. Thus St Crispin was generally a shoemaker’s sign. At the present day, the gentle craft represented by this saint live up to the proverb, and keep to the “last;” but many publicans still have the sign of Crispin, Saint Crispin, Jolly Crispin, or Crispin and Crispian, and occasionally King Crispin, (as at Morpeth.) And well may they put their houses under the protection of this saint, since the proverb says, “Cobblers and tinkers are the best ale drinkers.” Crispin and Crispian were two Roman brothers, sons of a king; they travelled to France to preach Christianity, and worked at the trade of shoemakers, making sandals for the poor, which they gave away, the angels supplying them with leather. Hence they are considered the patrons of shoemakers. They were beheaded at Soissons in 308. What may have contributed to their popularity in this country is the fact of the battle of Agincourt having been fought on their day, October 25, 1415:—

“And Crispin Crispian shall never go by
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition,
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap, while any speaks
That fought with us upon St Crispin’s day.”

Henry the Fifth, iv. 3.

From Shakespeare we turn to the homely rhymes of a Dutch shoemaker at the Hague, who, in the seventeenth century, had this couplet over his door:—

“Dit is Sint Crispyn, maar ik hiet Stoffel,
Ik maak een laars, schoen en pantoffel.”[405]

A more spirited one about the same time was in Bergen op Zoom, which is not bad satire for a Dutchman:—


“Hier in Krispyn kan men de mensch uit beestevellen
Elk schoenen na zyn voet voor gelt terstond bestellen,
Doch menig beest alheir steekt in een menschevel,
Draagt zelf zyn broeder’s huid en ’t staat dat beest nog wel.”[406]

The St Hugh’s Bones was another sign of the gentle craft; it seems to be extinct now, but a trades token shows that, in 1657, it was the sign of a house in Stanhope Street, Claremarket. From a little chapbook, entitled,

“The Delightful, Princely, and Entertaining History of the Gentle Craft, &c. London printed for J. Rhodes, at the corner of Bride Lane, in Fleet Street, 1725,”

we gather that Saint Hugh was a prince’s son,[407] deeply in love with a saintly coquette called Winifred. Having been jilted by this lady in a very pious manner, he went travelling, resisted the temptations of Venice,[408] like another St Anthony, passed through numberless adventures, compared to which those of Baron Munchausen sink into insignificance, and was finally, by a jumble of most amusing anachronism, martyred in the reign of Diocletian, by being made to drink a cup of the blood of his lady-love, mixed with “cold poison,” after which, his body was hung on the gallows. But among other misfortunes in his travels, he had been shipwrecked and lost all his wealth, so that he had to choose a profession, which was that of shoemaker, and so well he liked his fellow-workmen that, having nothing else to give, he bequeathed his bones to them. After they had been “well picked by the birds,” some shoemakers took them from the gallows, and made them into tools, and hence their tools were named St Hugh’s Bones. They are specified in the following rhyme, which appears to have been the shoemakers’ shibboleth:—

“My friends, I pray, you listen to me,
And mark what Saint Hugh’s Bones shall be:
First a Drawer and a Dresser,
Two Wedges, a more and a lesser.
A pretty Block, Three Inches high,
In fashion squared like a die;
Which shall be called by proper name
A Heelblock, ah! the very same;
A Handleather and a Thumbleather likewise,
To put on Shooe-thread we must devise;
[283] The Needle and the Thimble shall not be left alone,
The Pinchers, the Pricking Awl, and Rubbing Stone;
The Awl, Steel and Jacks, the Sowing Hairs beside,
The Stirrop holding fast, while we sow the Cow hide;
The Whetstone, the Stopping Stick, and the Paring Knife,
All this does belong to a Journeyman’s Life:
Our Apron is the shrine to wrap these Bones in,
Thus shroud we S. Hugh’s Bones in a gentle lamb’s skin.

“Now you good Yeomen of the Gentle Craft,” the story goes on, “tell me (quoth he) how like you this? As well (replied they) as Saint George does of his horse: for as long as we can see him fight the Dragon, we will never part with this poesie. And it shall be concluded, That what journeyman soever he be hereafter that cannot handle his Sword and Buckler, his long Sword and Quarterstaff, sound the Trumpet, or play upon the Flute, or bear his part in a Three Man’s song, and readily reckon up his Tools in Rhime, (except he have borne colours in the Field, being a Lieutenant, a Sergeant or Corporal,) shall forfeit and pay a Bottle of Wine, or be counted a Colt; to which they answered all viva voce, Content, Content. And then, after many merry songs, they departed. And never after did they travel without these tools on their backs, which ever since have been called Saint Hugh’s Bones.”

Bishop Blaze, or Blaize, otherwise St Blasius, is another patron of a trade to be met with on the signboard. This worthy, Bishop of Sebaste, in Cappadocia, is considered the patron of woolcombers, whence the sign is very common in the clothing districts. He is represented with the instrument of his martyrdom in his hands, an iron comb, with which the flesh was torn from his body in 289; from this implement has been attributed to him the invention of woolcombing. His holiday is celebrated every seventh year by a procession and feast of the masters and workmen of the woollen manufactories in Yorkshire and Bedfordshire; in sheep-shearing festivals, also, a representation of him used to be introduced; a stripling in habiliments of wool was seated on a milk-white steed, with a lamb in his lap, the horse, the youthful bishop, and the lamb all covered with a profusion of ribbons and flowers.

St Julian, the patron of travellers, wandering minstrels, boatmen, &c., was a very common inn sign, because he was supposed to provide good lodgings for such persons. Hence two Saint Julian’s crosses, in saltier, are in chief of the innholders’ arms, and the old motto was:—“When I was harbourless ye lodged me.” This benevolent attention to travellers procured him the epithet of “the good herbergeor,” and in France “bon herbet.” His legend in a MS., Bodleian, 1596, fol. 4, alludes to this:—


“Therfore yet to this day, thei that over lond wende,
They biddeth Seint Julian, anon, that gode herborw he hem sende,
And Seint Julianes Pater Noster ofte seggeth also
For his faders soule and his moderes that he hem bring therto.”

And in “Le dit des Heureux,” an old French fabliau:—

“Tu as dit la patenotre
Saint Julian à cest matin,
Soit en Roumans, soit en Latin,
Or tu seras bien ostilé.”[409]

In mediæval French, L’hotel Saint Julien was synonymous with good cheer.

“Sommes tuit vostre.
Par Saint Pierre le bon Apostre,
L’ostel aurez Saint Julien,”[410]

says Mabile to her feigned uncle, in the fabliau of “Boivin de Provins;” and a similar idea appears in “Cocke Lorell’s bote,” where the crew, after the entertainment with the “relygyous women” from the Stews’ Bank, at Colman’s Hatch,

“Blessyd theyr shyppe when they had done
And dranke about a Saint Julyan’s torne.”

St Martin’s character as a saint was not unlike St Julian’s; hence we find him frequently on the signboard. The most favourite representation being the saint on horseback cutting off with his sword a piece of his cloak, in order to clothe a naked beggar. Not only inns, but booksellers also used his sign, as for instance Dionis Rose, (1514,) printer in the Rue St Jacques, Paris; and Bernard Aubrey, another printer in the same street.

“Avoir l’hotel St Martin,” in old French, meant exactly the same as “avoir l’hotel St Julian:” thus, in the romance of Florus and Blanche:—

Flor. Sovent dient par le bon vin
“Flor.Qu’ils ont l’ostel Saint Martin.”[411]

And in the story of “L’Anneau,” by Jean de Boves, (which is the same as Chaucer’s “Miller’s Tale,”) it is said of the two students at the end:—“C’est ainsi qu’ils eûrent à ses depens l’ostel Saint[285] Martin.”[412] These two saints, it is believed, are no longer to be found on the signboard, but another powerful patron of travellers, St Christopher, may still occasionally be met with, as for instance in Bath, where in the seventeenth century it was still very common. Taylor the Water poet mentions it as the sign of an inn at Eton, and it occurs on various trades tokens of London shops, inns, and taverns. This saint’s intercession was thought efficacious against all danger from fire, flood, and earthquake, whence it became a custom to paint his image of a colossal size on walls of churches and houses, sometimes occupying the whole height of the building, so that it might be seen from a great distance. Generally he was represented wading through a river, with the infant Christ on his shoulders, and leaning on a flowering rod. Such representations are met with in every part of Western Europe; they still remain in many places in England, as at St James’ Church, South Elmham, Suffolk; Bibury Church, Gloucestershire; Beddington, Surrey; Croydon; Hengrave; West Wickham, &c., &c., &c. They were also very numerous on the Continent; in the porch of St Mark’s, Venice, there is a mosaic bust of him, with these words:—

“Christophori Sancti speciem quicumque tuetur
Illo namque die nullo languore tenetur.”[413]

A somewhat similar inscription occurs under one of the very earliest block prints, (now in the possession of Earl Spencer,) evidently made for pasting against the walls in inns, and other places frequented by travellers and pilgrims. Under it are the following words:—

“Cristofori faciem die quacumque tueris
Illo nempe die morte malâ non morieris.

millesimo ccccxx. tercio.”[414]

Travellers even carried his figure about with them, either on their hat or on their breast, as we gather from Chaucer’s “Yeoman”

“A Cristofre on his brest of silver shene.”

In the “Pleasant Conceits of Old Hobson the Londoner,” 1607, a jest is related, made by that dry old joker at the expense of Saint Christopher, which again illustrates the levity with which religious matters were treated in those days:—


“Maister Hobson and another of his neighboris on a time walking to Southwarke faire, by chance dranke in a house, which had the signe of Sa. Christopher, of the which signe the goodman of the house gave this commendation, Saint Christopher (quoth he) when hee lived upon the earth bore the greatest burden that ever was, which was this, he bore Christ over a river; nay, there was one (quoth Maister Hobson) that bore a greater burden. Who was that? (quoth the innkeeper) Marry, (quoth Maister Hobson) the asse that bore him and his mother. So was the innekeeper called asse by craft.”

The house in which this joke was perpetrated is enumerated by Stowe amongst the principal inns of Southwark.

St Luke still figures as the sign of two or three public-houses in London. Being the patron of painters, it certainly was the least the sign-painters could do to honour his portrait with an occasional appearance on the signboard. Yet it must be confessed St Luke was but a sorry hand at painting. There is a portrait of the Holy Virgin painted by him preserved in the Church of Silivria, on the shores of the Sea of Marmora; but such a daub! the most modest village sign-painter would be ashamed of the production. Yet, for all that, the thing works miracles, and the only wonder is that its first effort in this line was not to change itself into a good picture. We wonder at the Virgin, too, and expected better from her taste; for in Valencia Cathedral there is another portrait of her painted by Alonzo Cano, which is one of the most lovely female heads we ever had the happiness to gaze upon. And so well pleased was the Holy Virgin with this likeness, that she deigned to descend from heaven to compliment the blessed artist upon his work. So says the legend, and so the old beadle tells the travellers. But Luke possessed other attributes. Aubrey tells us: “At Stoke Verdon, in the Parish of Broad Chalke, was a chapell (in the chapell close by the farm-house) dedicated to Saint Luke, who is the Patron or Tutelar Saint of the Horne Beasts, and those that have to do with them,” &c.[415] This arose evidently from the Ox being his emblem, as the Lion was of St Mark, the Eagle of St John, and the Angel of St Matthew. For this reason St Luke was doubtless often chosen as the sign of inns frequented by farmers and graziers.

Simon the Tanner of Joppa is an old-established house in Long-lane, Bermondsey, and, as a sign, is supposed to be unique. It seems to have been adopted with reference to the tanners, who frequented the house, or it may have been the former occupation[287] of the landlord, who gave the sign to his house. Simon is named in Acts x. 32, “Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner, by the sea-side.”

But of all the signs coming under this class, Saint George and the Dragon is undoubtedly the greatest favourite in England, and it is equally well represented in other countries; for of this saint may be said what Velleius Paterculus said about Pompey: “Quot partes terrarum sunt, tot fecit monumenta victoriæ suæ.” In London alone there are at present not less than sixty-six public-houses and taverns with this name, not counting the beer-houses, coffee-houses, &c. Yet, after all, it is very doubtful if St George ever existed, and he may be only a popular corruption of St Michael conquering Satan, or Perseus’ romantic delivery of Andromeda. Hence the little rhyme recorded by Aubrey, and various other seventeenth century collectors of ana:

“To save a mayd St George the Dragon slew—
A pretty tale, if all is told be true.
Most say there are no dragons, and ’tis sayd
There was no George; pray God there was a mayd.”

St George is mentioned by Bede, who calls the 23d of April “Natale S. Georgii Martyris.” He was, however, at that time a very recent importation, for Adamnanus (690), who lived just before Bede, says, speaking of Arnulphus after his return from the East: “Etiam nobis de quodam martyre Georgio nomine narrationem contulit.” In the reign of Canute, there was already a house of regular canons sacred to St George at Thetford, in Norfolk. The church of St George, Southwark, is also thought to have existed before the Conqueror. But after the Conquest, chapels were frequently erected to him, and on the seals of this period he is often represented without the Dragon. Edward III. had a particular veneration for him. Many of his statutes begin: “Ad honorem omnipotentis Dei, Sanctæ Mariæ Virginis gloriosæ, et Sancti Georgii Martyris.” It was after the foundation of the Order of the Garter that it became such a favourite sign. The fact that he was the patron of soldiers also assisted his popularity on the signboard.

There still exists an old and much dilapidated stone sign of St George and the Dragon in the front of a house on Snowhill. Frequently this sign is abbreviated to the George. There was[288] an inn of this name, mentioned in 1554 as being situate on the north side of the Tabard. This inn was very much damaged by the great fire of Southwark in 1670, and completely burned down in 1676. But it was rebuilt, and has come down to our time.

Machyn, in his Diary, mentions several Georges; one of them in connexion with an occurrence which gives a good view of these lawless times:—

“The viij day of December 1559 was the day of the Conception of owre Lade was a grett fyre in the Gorge in Bred stret; itt begane at vj of the cloke at nyght and dyd gret harm to dyvers houses. The 9th of December cam serten fellows unto the Gorge in Bred stret where the fyre was and gutt into the howse and brake up a chest of a clothear and toke owt xl. lb. and after cryd fyre, fyre, so that ther cam ijc pepull, and so they took one.”

The George in Lombard Street was a very old house, once the town mansion of the Earl Ferrers, in which one of that family was murdered as early as 1175, (see Stow.) At this house died, in 1524, Richard Earl of Kent, who had wasted his property in gaming and extravagance; it was then an inn, where the nobility used to put up at. George Dowdall, Archbishop of Armagh, (1558,) was buried from this house. Finally, we may mention a George Inn at Derby, in connexion with the following advertisement from the Daily Advertiser, Oct. 1758:—

“A YOUNG LADY STRAYED.—A young Lady, just come out of Derbyshire, strayed from her Guardian. She is remarkably genteel and handsome. She has been brought up by a farmer near Derby, and knows no other but that they are her parents; but it is not so, for she is a lady by birth, though of but little learning. She has no cloathes with her, but a riding habit she used to go to market in. She will have a fine estate, as she is an heiress, but knows not her birth, as her parents died when she was a child, and I had the care of her, so she knows not but that I am her mother. She has a brown silk gown that she borrowed of her maid—that is, dy’d silk, and her riding dress a light drab, lin’d with blue Tammy, and it has blue loops at the button-holes; she has outgrown it; and I am sure that she is in great distress both for money and cloaths; but whoever has relieved her I will be answerable if they will give me a letter, where she may be found; she knows not her own sirname. I understand she has been in Northampton for some time; she has a cut in her forehead. Whosoever will give an account where she is to be found shall receive twenty guineas reward. Direct for M. W. at the George Inn, Derby.”

Besides the Dragon, St George is found in various other combinations, as the George and Blue Boar, High Holborn, an old inn lately come to its end. In the seventeenth century this house was called the Blue Boar, and is said to have been the house in which Cromwell and Ireton, disguised as common troopers, intercepted a letter of King Charles to his queen. Cromwell, the story goes on to say, finding by this letter that his party were not likely to obtain good terms from the king, “from that day forward resolved his ruin.”[416] Unfortunately for lovers of the romantic, there is no foundation for this dramatic incident.


(From an old woodcut, circa 1720.)


(From an old print by Kay. The figures represent Dr Hunter, a famous Scotch clergyman; Erskine the lawyer; a farmer; His Sacred Majesty George III.; and the gentleman whose name should never be mentioned to ears polite.)


The George and Thirteen Cantons, kept by the great Bob Travers, is another odd combination, occurring in Church Street, Soho; it is, however, easily explained when we learn that there is another public-house called the Thirteen Cantons, in King Street, also in Soho. This sign was put up in reference to the thirteen Protestant cantons of Switzerland—a compliment to the numerous Swiss who inhabit the neighbourhood.

But the strangest combination of all is that of the George and Vulture. At present there are three public-houses in London with this sign: one in St George-in-the-East, one in Wapping, and one in Haberdasher Street, Hoxton. As in the “Live Vulture,” (see p. 224,) the only obvious explanation for this strange combination seems to be the possibility of a vulture having been exhibited at this house. Vultures were still considered great curiosities as late as the eighteenth century. In 1726, one of the attractions at Peckham Fair was a menagerie, and amongst the animals exhibited the vulture was described in the following terms:—

“The noble Vulture Cock, brought from Archangall, having the finest talons of any bird that seeks her prey; the forepart of his head is covered with hair; the second part resembles the wool of a black; below that is a white ring, having a ruff that he cloaks his head with at night.”

It is a name of some standing. “Near Ball Alley was the George Inn, since the Fire, rebuilt with very good houses, well Inhabited, and warehouses, being a large open yard, and called George Yard, at the farther end of which is the George and Vulture Tavern, which is a large house and of a great trade, having a passage into St Michael’s Alley,” [Cornhill].[417] There was another tavern of this name on the east side of the high road, nearly opposite Bruce Green, Tottenham, in early times much frequented by the citizens of London taking their recreations. It is mentioned in the “Search after Claret” as early as 1691. Several coins of the reign of Queen Elizabeth and Charles I. were discovered on pulling down the old house. A coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth was fixed over the front door, but at the[290] demolition of the building it was put up at the back of a house in Hale Lane. After the fashion of the time, the house was duly puffed up in newspaper poems. The following is copied from a newspaper-cutting circa 1761-62, and as it enumerates the attractions of a suburban tea-garden of the period, may be quoted here at full length:—

“If lur’d to roam in Summer Hours,
Your Thoughts incline tow’rd Tott’nham Bow’rs.[418]
Here end your airing Tour and rest
Where Cole invites each friendly Guest:
Intent on signs, the prying Eye,
The George and Vulture will descry;
Here the kind Landlord glad attends
To wellcome all his chearfull Friends
Who, leaving City smoke, delight
To range where various scenes invite.
The spacious garden, verdant Field,
Pleasures beyond Expression yield,
The Angler here to sport inclined
In his Canal may Pastime find.
Neat racy Wine and Home-brew’d Ale
The nicest Palates may regale,
Nectarious Punch—and (cleanly grac’d)
A Larder stor’d for ev’ry Taste.
The cautious Fair may sip with Glee
The fresh’st Coffee, finest Tea.
Let none the outward Vulture fear,
No Vulture host inhabits here,
If too well us’d you deem ye—then
Take your Revenge and come again.”

St Paul, the patron saint of London, was formerly a common sign in the metropolis. One of the trades tokens of a house or tavern in Petty France, Westminster, represents the saint before his conversion, lying on the ground, with his horse standing by him; this house was called “the Saul.” Perhaps this was a monkish pleasantry of the period, (as Westminster was under the patronage of St Peter,) representing an unpleasant event in the history of the great patron, and showing, by simple analogy, the vast superiority of the converted St Peter. The usual way, however, of commemorating the saint on the signboard was the St Paul’s Head. This was the sign of a very old inn in Great Carter Lane, (Doctors’ Commons,) opposite which Bagford lived in 1712. As an inn, it is mentioned by Machyn, in his Diary, in 1562. “The 25 may was a yonge man did hang ymseylff at the[291] Polles Head, the inn in Carterlane.” Trades tokens of this house are extant in the Beaufoy Collection. In the eighteenth century, most of the celebrated libraries were sold at this inn:[419] amongst others that of the bibliomaniac, Tom Rawlinson—the Tom Folio of the Tatler, whose books were brought to the hammer between 1721-33—the sale extending to seventeen or eighteen separate auctions. The disposal of his MSS. alone occupied sixteen days. To this tavern formerly the new sheriffs, after having been sworn in, used to resort to receive the keys of the different jails; that ceremony terminated, they were regaled with sack and walnuts by the keeper of Newgate. The St Paul’s Coffee-house is built on the site of this old inn. About 1820 there was another Paul’s Head in Cateaton Street, where a literary club used to be held “for the cultivation of forensic eloquence.” It was under the patronage of several distinguished characters, and had for a motto the modest words, “Sic itur ad astra.” The vicinity of the cathedral evidently had suggested both these signs, as well as that exhibited by Philip Waterhouse, a bookseller “at the St Paul’s Head in Canning Street near Londonstone” in 1630. On another sign, in the same locality, the two saints were united, viz., the Saint Peter and Saint Paul, St Paul’s Churchyard. Of this house, also, trades tokens are extant.

Although St Peter was, doubtless, as common on the signboard before the Reformation as the other great saints of religious history, yet no instances of this have come down to us. His keys, however—the famous Cross Keys—are very common. At Dawdley, and on the road between Warminster and Salisbury, there is a very curious sign called Peter’s Finger, which is believed to occur nowhere else. In all probability this refers to the benediction of the Pope, the finger of his Holiness being raised whilst bestowing a blessing. St Peter being the first of the Papal line, was doubtless often represented with his finger raised in old pictures and carvings. The following passage from Bishop Hall’s “Satires” alludes to the finger:—

“But walk on cheerly ’till thou have espied
St Peter’s finger, at the churchyard side.”—Book v., sat. 2.

St Dunstan, the patron saint of the parish of that name in London, was godfather to the Devil,—that is to say, to the sign of the famous tavern of the Devil and St Dunstan, within[292] Temple Bar. The legend runs, that one day, when working at his trade of a goldsmith, he was sorely tempted by the devil, and at length got so exasperated that he took the red hot tongs out of the fire and caught his infernal majesty by the nose. The identical pinchers with which this feat was performed are still preserved at Mayfield Palace, in Sussex. They are of a very respectable size, and formidable enough to frighten the arch one himself. This episode in the saint’s life was represented on the signboard of that glorious old tavern. By way of abbreviation, this house was called The Devil, though the landlord seems to have preferred the other saint’s name; for on his token we read: “The D—— (sic) and Dunstan,” probably fearing, with a classic dread, the ill omen of that awful name.

Allusions to this tavern are innumerable in the dramatists; one of the earliest is in 1563, in the play of “Jack Jugeler.” William Rowley thus mentions it in his comedy of a “Match by Midnight,” 1633:—

Bloodhound. As you come by Temple Bar make a step to the Devil.

Tim. To the Devil, father?

Sim. My master means the sign of the Devil, and he cannot hurt you, fool; there’s a saint holds him by the nose.

Tim. Sniggers, what does the devil and a saint both on a sign?

Sim. What a question is that? What does my master and his prayer-book o’ Sundays both in a pew?”

So fond was Ben Jonson of this tavern, that he lived “without Temple Bar, at a combmaker’s shop,” according to Aubrey, in order to be near his favourite haunt. It must have been, therefore, in a moment of ill-humour, when he found fault with the wine, and made the statement that his play of the “Devil is an Ass,” (which is certainly not amongst his best,) was written “when I and my boys drank bad wine at the Devil.” But surely he would not have established his favourite Apollo Club at a place where they sold bad wine. He himself composed the famous “Leges Conviviales” for this club, which are still preserved, with the respect due to so sacred a relic, in the banking house of Messrs Child & Co., erected in 1788 on the place where the tavern formerly stood. They are twenty-four in number, some of them rather characteristic:—

“4. And the more to exact our delight whilst we stay,
“4. Let none be debarr’d from his choice female mate.

5. Let no scent offensive the chamber infest.

10. Let our wines without mixture or scum be all fine,
10. Or call up the master and break his dull noddle.


16. With mirth, wit, and dancing, and singing conclude,
16. To regale every sense with delight in excess.

21. For generous lovers let a corner be found,
21. Where they in soft sighs may their passions relieve.”

The last clause was, “Focus perennis esto,” which proves that rare old Ben understood comfort. Latin inscriptions were also in other parts of the house. Over the clock in the kitchen might have been seen, as late as 1731, “Si nocturna tibi noceat potatio vini, hoc in mane bibis iterum, et erit medicina.”[420] An elegant rendering of the well-known phrase, “A hair of the dog that bit you.” Not only Ben Jonson, but almost all the great poets of two centuries, honoured this house with their presence. “I dined to-day,” says Swift, in one of his letters to Stella, “with Dr Garth and Mr Addison, at the Devil Tavern, near Temple Bar, and Garth treated.” Numerous similar quotations might be found, showing the visits to this place of nearly all the great literary stars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Simon Wadloe was one of the most famous landlords of this tavern. Pepys, April 22, 1661,—“Wadlow, the Vintner at the Devil, in Fleet Street, did lead a fine company of soldiers, all young comely men, in white Doublets” (this was on Charles II. going from the Tower to Whitehall.) Ben Jonson called him the king of skinkers.[421] Among the verses on the door of the Apollo room occurred the lines

“Hang up all the poor hop drinkers,
Cries old Sim, the king of skinkers.”

Camden, in his “Remains,” records the following epitaph on this worthy:—

“Apollo et cohors Musarum,
Bacchus vini et uvarum,
Ceres pro pane et cervisia,
Adeste omnes cum tristitia.
Diique, Deæque, lamentate cuncti,
Simonis Vadloe funera defuncti,
Sub signo malo bene vixit, mirabile!
Si ad cœlum recessit gratias Diaboli.”[422]


In opposition to this Old Devil a Young Devil Tavern was opened, also in Fleet Street, in 1707, and here the first meetings of the Society of Antiquaries were held, but the “Young Devil” was not a success, and the house was soon closed.

Though the Devil is not a promising name for a public-house, owing to his near connexion with evil spirits, yet there was a third tavern named after—if not devoted to him—the Little Devil, Goodman’s Fields, Whitechapel. Ned Ward, in 1703, highly commends the punch of this house, which he partook of in “a room neat enough to entertain Venus and the graces.” It was a house entirely after jolly Ned’s fancy. “My landlord was good company, my landlady good humoured, her daughter charmingly pretty, and her maid tolerably handsome, who can laugh, cry, say her prayers, sing a song, all in a breath, and can turn in a minute to all sublunary points of a female compass.”[423]

The Devil (le Diable) was also a celebrated tavern in Paris, near the Palais de Justice. It is thus named in the “Ode à tous les Cabarets:”

“Lieux sacrés où l’on est soumis
Aux saints oracles de Themis,
Encor que vous ayez la gloire,
De voir tout le monde à genoux,
Sans le Diable et la Tête-Noire;[424]
Je n’approcherais pas de vous.”[425]

In the seventeenth century Paris also had its Petit Diable, (Little Devil,) a tavern of some renown.

The Devil’s House was the name of a favourite Sunday resort in the last century, in the Hornsey Road, Islington. It is said to have been the retreat of Claude Duval (unde Duval’s house, Devil’s house,) the elegant highwayman in the reign of Charles II., who infested the lanes about Islington; but from a survey taken in 1611, it appears that the house bore already at that time the name of “Devil’s House.” From its general appearance it seemed to date from Queen Elizabeth’s reign. It was surrounded by a moat filled with water, and passed by a wooden bridge. Its attractions are held forth in the following laudatory[295] epistle, an example of the florid and poetical advertising in vogue when Richardson wrote novels of six volumes all in letters—compositions too painfully pathetic for our matter-of-fact age:—

To the Printer of the Publick Advertiser.

Sir,—Returning yesterday from a rural excursion to Hornsey, I casually stopped for a little refreshment at an house, commonly known by the name of Devil’s House, situated within two fields of Holloway-Turnpike. I own that I was vastly surprised at so charming and delightful a place, so near town, and at the great improvements lately made there. The garden is well laid out, encompassed with a beautiful moat, and a good canal in the orchard. On inquiry, I found the landlord (remarkable for his civil and obliging behaviour) had stocked the same with plenty of tench, carp, and other fish, with free liberty for his customers to angle therein. Tea and hot loaves are ready at a moment’s notice, and new milk from the cows grazing in the pleasant meadows adjoining, with a good larder, and the best wines, &c. In short, I know not a more agreeable place, where persons of both sexes of genteel taste may enjoy a more innocent and delightful amusement. But what surprised me most, was that the landlord, by a peculiar turn of invention, had changed the Devil’s House to the Summer House,—a name I find it is for the future to be distinguished by. I wish, Mr Printer, your readers as much pleasure as myself, and am, sir, your constant reader,

“H. G.

May 25, 1767.”

At Royston, Herts, there is a public-house known as the Devil’s Head. There is no signboard, but a carved representation of his satanic majesty’s head projects from the building, the name being underneath.

St Patrick is exclusively an Irish sign. He is generally represented in the costume of a bishop, driving a flock of snakes, toads, and other vermin before him, which he is said to have banished from Ireland. His life is more replete with miracles than any of the other saints.

“St Patrick was a gentleman,
And came of dacent people,”

for his father was a noble Roman, who lived at Kirkpatrick, in Scotland. The saint’s life was very active; he founded 365 churches, ordained 365 bishops, and 3000 priests, converted 12,000 persons in one district, baptized seven kings at once, established a purgatory, and with his staff expelled every reptile that stung or croaked. This last feat, however, has been performed by a great many saints in different parts of the world. Not so the feat he performed at his death, when, having been beheaded, he coolly took his head under his arm, (or, according to the best authorities, in his mouth,) and swam over the Shannon.[296] In such cases as the Bishop of Narbonne said about St Denis, (who walked from Montmartre to St Denis with his head under his arm,) “il n’y a que le premier pas qui coute.”[426]

In many instances, no doubt, before the Reformation, the shopkeeper would choose his patron saint for his sign, to act as a sort of lares and penates to his house. An example of this occurs on the following imprint:—“Manual of Prayers, 1539. Imprynted in Bottol [St Botolph’s] Lane, at the sygne of the Whyt Beare, by me, Jhon Mayler, for John Waylande, and be to sell in Powles Churchyarde, by Andrew Hester, at the Whyt Horse, and also by Mychel Lobley, at the sygne of the Saint Mychel;” this last bookseller, therefore, had chosen his own patron saint for his sign. For the same reason another bookseller adopted, in the early part of the sixteenth century, Saint John the Evangelist—“The Doctrynall of Good Servauntes. Imprynted at London, in Flete Strete, at the sygne of Saynt Johan Evangelyste, by me, Johan Butler.” This Butler was a judge of the Common Pleas, as well as a bookseller. About the same period the Evangelist was also the sign of another man of the same profession—“Robert Wyce, dwellinge at the sygne of Seynt Johan Euāgelyst, in Seynt Martyns parysshe, in the filde besyde Charynge Crosse, in the bysshop of Norwytche rentys.” He was the printer of the well-known “Pronostycacion for ever of Erra Pater; a Jewe borne in Jewry, a doctor in Astronomye and Physicke,” which was continued for ages after him. Robert Wyce must have been about the first bookseller and printer in this neighbourhood, as in Queen Elizabeth’s reign the parish contained less than one hundred people liable to be rated.[427] We find the same as one of the oldest printer’s signs in France, on an edition of Merlin’s Prophecies, printed at Paris in 1438, by Abraham Verard, dwelling near the church of Notre Dame, at the sign of St John the Evangelist.

Other saints, again, have a local reputation, and are perpetuated on the signboards in certain localities only, as for instance St Thomas of Canterbury; St Edmund’s Head, at Bury St Edmunds; and St Cuthbert, at Monk’s house, near Sunderland. This saint was the first bishop of Northumberland.

“But fain St Hilda’s nuns would learn,
If on a rock by Lindisfarne,
[297] St Cuthbert sits and toils to frame
The seaborn weeds which bear his name,”

says Sir Walter Scott, alluding to the stalks of the Encrinites, which are called St Cuthbert’s Beads, the saint, as the story goes, amusing himself by stringing them together.

Hugh Singleton, a bookseller in the sixteenth century, lived at the sign of the St Augustine; probably he had chosen this saint from the fact of his being a distinguished writer as well as saint. George Carter, a shopkeeper in the seventeenth century, adopted St Alban, the protomartyr, as his sign, evidently for no other reason but because he lived in “St Alban’s Street, near St James’s Market;” and another, William Ellis of Tooley Street, had the sign of St Clement, perhaps on account of his being a native of the parish of St Clement’s. Trades tokens of both these houses are to be seen in the Beaufoy Collection.

St Laurent was the sign of an inn in Lawrence Lane, Cheapside, but from a border of blossoms or flowers round it, it was commonly called Blossoms, or by corruption, Bosom’s Inn—such at least is the explanation of Stow:—

“Antiquities in this lane—[St Laurence Lane, Cheapside]—I find none other than that, among many fair houses, there is one large inn for the receipt of travellers called Blossom’s Inn, but corruptly Bosom’s Inn, and hath to sign St Laurence the deacon in a border of blossoms or flowers.”

Flowers are said to have sprung up at the martyrdom of this saint, who was roasted alive on a gridiron. But in the “History of Thomas of Reading,” ch. ii., another version is given, which seems, however, little else than a joke:—

“Our jolly clothiers kept up their courage and went to Bosom’s Inn, so called from a greasy old fellow who built it, who always went nudging with his head in his bosom winter and summer, so that they called him the picture of old Winter.”

In 1522 the Emperor Charles V. honoured Henry VIII. with a visit; at first his intention was to come with a retinue of 2044 persons and 1127 horses, but subsequently he reduced them to 2000 persons and 1000 horses. To lodge these visitors, various “inns for horses” were “seen and viewed,” amongst which “St Laurance, otherwise called Bosoms Yn,” is noted down to have “xx beddes and a stable for lx horses.”[428] It is curious, in this list of inns, to observe the proportion of beds as[298] compared with stabling room, showing how most of the followers of a nobleman on a journey had to shift for themselves and sleep in the straw or elsewhere. On the occasion of this imperial visit, the city authorities were evidently afraid of being drunk dry by the many Flemings in the train of the Emperor. To avoid this calamity, a return was made of all the wine to be found at the eleven wine merchants, and the twenty-eight principal taverns then in London, the sum total of which was 809 pipes.[429]

In the sixteenth century the house seems already to have been famous as a carrier’s inn, (which it continued for three centuries,) as appears from the following allusion:—“Yet have I naturally cherisht and hugt it in my bosome, even as a carrier at Bosome’s Inne doth a cheese under his arms.”[430] A satirical tract about Banks and his horse “Marocius Extaticus,” (reprinted by the Percy Society,) gives the names of its authors as “John Dando the wiredrawer of Hadley, and Harrie Hunt, head ostler of Besomes Inne.” Another domestic of this establishment is handed down to posterity in Ben Jonson’s “Masque of Christmass,” presented at Court in 1616, where the following lines occur:—

“But now comes Tom of Bosom’s Inn,
And he presenteth Misrule.”[431]

The Catherine Wheel was formerly a very common sign, most likely adopted from its being the badge of the order of the knights of Saint Catherine of Mount Sinai, created anno 1063, for the protection of pilgrims on their way to and from the Holy Sepulchre. Hence it was a suggestive, if not eloquent sign for an inn, as it intimated that the host was of the brotherhood, although in a humble way, and would protect the travellers from robbery in his inn,—in the shape of high charges and exactions,—just as the knights of St Catherine protected them on the high road from robbery by brigands. These knights wore a white habit embroidered with a Catherine wheel, (i.e. a wheel armed with spikes,) and traversed with a sword stained[299] with blood.[432] There were also mysteries in which St Catherine played a favourite part, one of which was acted by young ladies on the entry of Queen Catherine of Arragon (queen to our Henry VIII.) in London in 1501; in honour of this queen the sign may occasionally have been put up. The Catherine wheel was also a charge in the Turners’ arms. Flecknoe tells us, in his “Enigmatical Characters,” (1658,) that the Puritans changed it into the Cat and Wheel, under which name it is still to be seen on a public-house at Castle Green, Bristol. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Catherine Wheel was a famous carrier’s inn in Southwark; and at the present day there is still an old public-house in Bishopsgate Street Without, inscribed, “Ye old Catherine Wheel, 1594.”[433]

Besides these, there were other signs expressing a religious idea, such as the Heart in Bible, which occurs under one of the Luttrell Ballads:—“The Citizens’ joys for the Rebuilding of London, printed by P. Lillicross, for Richard Head, at the Heart in Bible, in Little Britain, where you may have Mr Matthews, his approved and universal pills for all diseases, 1667.” Another bookseller on London Bridge, Eliz. Smith, 1691, had the Hand and Bible. Biblical phrases also were employed, as for instance, the Lion and Lamb, which occurs on several seventeenth century trades tokens of Snowhill, Southwark, &c., and is still much in vogue. It is an emblematical representation of the Millennium, when “the lion shall lie down by the kid.” In the last century there was a Lion and Lamb on a signboard at Sheffield, with the following poetical effusion:—

“If the Lyon show’d kill the Lamb,
We’ll kill the Lyon—if we can;
But if the Lamb show’d kill the Lyon,
We’ll kill the Lamb to make a Pye on.”

The antithesis to this sign, namely, the Wolf and Lamb, occurs occasionally, as in Charles Street, Leicester, and in a few other places. In Grosvenor Street it was probably once represented by a lion and a kid, but the public, not minding the text, called the sign the Lion and Goat, and that name it still bears. The Lion and Adder, Nottingham, Newark, and various other places, or the Lion and Snake, as at Bailgate, Lincoln, come from Psalm[300] xci. 13, where the godly are reminded:—“Thou shalt tread upon the Lion and Adder, the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.” These two signs apparently came in use during the Commonwealth. They have a decided flavour of the time when Scripture language formed the common speech of every day life.

The Lamb and Flag is another sign common all over England, representing originally the holy lamb with the nimbus and banner, but now so little understood by the publicans, that on an alehouse at Swindon, it is pictured with a spear, to which a red-white-and-blue streamer is appended. It may also be of heraldic origin, for it was the coat of arms of the Templars, and the crest of the merchant tailors. The Lamb and Anchor, Milk Street, Bristol, seems to be a mystical representation of hope in Christ; both these last signs date from before the Reformation. From that period also dates the sign of the Bleeding Heart, the emblematical representation of the five sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, viz., the heart of the Holy Virgin pierced with five swords. There is still an ale-house of this name in Charles Street, Hatton Garden, and Bleeding Heart Yard, adjoining the public-house, is immortalised in “Little Dorrit.” The Wounded Heart, one of the signs in Norwich in 1750,[434] had the same meaning. The Heart was a constant emblem of the Holy Virgin in the middle ages; thus, on the clog almanacs, all the feasts of St Mary were indicated by a heart. It was not an uncommon sign in former times. The Heart and Ball appears on a trades token as the sign of a house in Little Britain, the Ball being simply some silk mercer’s addition; and the Golden Heart[435] was a sign in Greenwich in 1737, next door to which Dr Johnson used to live when he was newly come to town, and wrote the Parliamentary articles for the Gentleman’s Magazine. At present there are three public-houses with this sign in Bristol, and in other places it may be met with.

Heaven was a house of entertainment near Westminster Hall; the present committee rooms of the House of Commons are erected on its site. Butler alludes to this house in “Hudibras,” p. 3:—

“False Heaven at the end of the Hall.”

Pepys records his dining at this house in the winter of 1660,[301]