Monday, 15 June 2015

Pigs (Three Different Ones)

Flying Pig, Hills Road, Cambridge

Having been known as the Crown for most of its life (apart from one brief period when it was renamed the Engineer, presumably to attract custom from the workers at the nearby railway station), this 1830s-ish pub was renamed the Flying Pig in the late 1980s by the then proprietor – and amateur pilot – Mick the Pig.

Naturally a new name means new signage, which included this distinctive signboard.

By 2010, however, it was becoming rather weather-beaten and was in danger of becoming the ‘Fallen on Some Poor Soul’s Head Pig’, so it was removed and eventually, in April 2011, replaced by this eye-catching double-sided job, the work of Mr Penfold:

Here beer here? Hear, hear!

(Update: Well, wouldn't you just know it: as soon as I finally get round to blogging about this sign, it gets taken down because it's too heavy for the bracket. Replacement sign in due course: watch this space (or another one).)

Wednesday, 6 May 2015


This smallest estate pub on a rather sprawling mid-20th-century estate was probably just about my local when I was growing up. I can say without shame, though, that I’ve never been in, and as it remains real-ale-free, I can’t see myself doing so any time soon either.

The sign, though, I like: it has a certain Tenniel-like quality and charm, though so far as I’ve been able to discover it’s not by the man himself, but an anonymous piece of clipart.

As for the origin of the name, well, everything so far proposed strikes me as fanciful, claw-clutching nonsense so I won’t be acknowledging any of them even in passing.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Ringing the changes

A quick note about a couple of new bell-related signs.

First, Burwell. As is the case with most pubs with the word ‘bell’ in their name, the Five Bells stands close to the parish church, the stunning St Mary’s, which Pevsner describes as ‘[t]he most perfect example in the country of the Perp[endicular] ideal of the glasshouse’. And it did indeed have a peal of five bells from c.1709 to 1955, when three further trebles were added, so the pub is rightly named. It got a new sign over the summer.

On the left is the sign that graced the Five Bells until about August 2014. A fairly tradition motif, nicely arranged and executed. The new sign on the right, apparently designed by the current licensee, is anything but traditional, an inventive idea of nesting the bells Russian-doll style. I gather opinion in the village is mixed. I think it’s quite a clever idea, and it’s certainly eye-catching, but I can see why others might not like it much.
Back in Cambridge the Six Bells has also finally been visited by GK’s branding facelift pixies. The new sign, as of January 2015, is on the right, another traditional treatment like the old sign at Burwell, t bells arranged symmetrically and linked by a charming ribbon. Inoffensive, and it could have been a whole lot worse. But I have a soft spot for the more unusual sign it replaced, with shiny new bells sitting in he foundry. I hope it’s been kept safe.

As for the name, well, there isn’t a church, with bells or otherwise, anywhere near the place, nor was there when the pub first appeared in the 1830s, and at no time since, so this one’s a complete mystery. If anyone knows, do get in touch!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Inside only, no standing on top

Tram Depot, Dover Street, Cambridge 

Back in the late 1980s, Suffolk brewery Earl Soham took over the derelict stable block of the long-defunct Cambridge Street Tramways depot, renovated it, and turned it into a pub. What an excellent way of giving new life to neglected part of Cambridge’s heritage! (In these less enlightened times a quarter of a century later the site would probably be cleared and a monstrously insensitive and incongruous seven-storey office block would spring up in its place.) Although sadly no longer an Earl Soham house (it was taken over a few years later by Everards), the pub still has an attractive sign, appropriately featuring a horse-drawn tram, whose design has survived at least one replacement.
Tram Depot: previous sign

Tram Depot: current (2014) sign
Attractive, distinctive, eye-catching and appropriate to the building – an approach that a certain other brewer could learn from.

But. (Yes, there’s always a ‘but’.)

Is it a Cambridge tram?

Well, unfortunately, no, it isn’t. There are several clues, not least the leafy rural setting, which bears no resemblance to any part of the actual tramway. This I can put down to artistic licence and not think too much more about it, but some other inaccuracies are less easy to brush aside:
  • Cambridge Street Tramways livery was red and cream, not this sort of coffee-and-cream affair.
  • The tram car depicted here is being drawn by two horses. This was true of the competing omnibuses of the time, but aside from a brief experiment in the late 1880s, in response to widespread concerns about the welfare of the horses, all CST trams were drawn by a single horse.
  • CST tram no. 5 was a single decker.

So, a commendable effort in the true spirit of what a painted pub sign should be like, but as is so often the case, the execution is let down by an absence of research.

Paul Carter, Cambridge 1. The Prestige Series. Glossop: Venture Publications, 2004.
Leslie Oppitz, Tramways Remembered: East Anglia, East Midlands and Lincolnshire. Newbury: Countryside Books, 1992.
S. L. Swingle, The Cambridge Street Tramways. Locomotion Papers No. 61. Lingfield: Oakwood Press, 1972.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Positive or negative?

Dalham Hall, which overlooks the picturesque little Suffolk village of Dalham, was for many years the home of the Afflecks, raised to the baronetcy (and therefore entitled to arms) in 1782. The family appears to have originated in Scotland, and the line, as well as the baronetcy, seems to have died out in the 1930s, in ignominy and in Australia.

According to the village’s website, the Elizabethan pub, which was one of the first buildings in the vilage to be erected (they had their priorities right in those days!), was named in honour of Lieutenant General Sir James Affleck (1759–1833), 3rd baronet, who was Colonel of the 16th Dragoons. (It’s an excellent pub, well worth an excursion.)

So, unlike some pubs I have mentioned previously, and others besides, here we have a pub named after the correct armigerous family. Full marks so far. The sign is a nice heraldic one, too.

But, is it correct? Well, the style – the double scroll especially – makes me think of one of those dreadfully misleading ‘your family crest’ sites, but I can’t find anything online that it could have been taken from. So hopes are high.

From various sources[1], we can write the complete blazon for the Dalham Afflecks as follows: 

Arms: Argent three bars sable
Crest: An ear of wheat proper
Motto: Pretiosum Quod Utile

This means that the shield should be white with three black stripes. This is what we see in the funeral monument of John Affleck (d. 1718), the first of the Dalham Afflecks, impaled with (presumably) the arms of his wife, Neeltje (née Schape, of Amsterdam).
Have another look at the sign:

Count the lines. Oops! That’s black with three white stripes (sable, three bars argent) – the negative, those of a photographic bent might think, of what it should be. Perhaps the artist was given as a brief, not the clear and specific heraldic description, but the ambiguous instruction ‘seven horizontal black and white stripes’. Explicable, but still very disappointing and easily avoidable.

The same generosity cannot be extended to the crest, however.

Looks nothing like a heraldic ear of corn. (And while I’m at it, the mantling and torse ought to be the same colours as the shield, i.e. black and white, not red and white.)

The motto is at least correct – although English heraldry prefers it to be placed below, not above, and of course giving the name as well is superfluous.

So, it’s a perfectly attractive and detailed sign, no careless daub, but let down by a couple of easily avoided errors. My hopes were high, but I ended up more disappointed than delighted.


Ar. three bars sa.

Crest: an ear of rye ppr.

Encyclopaedia Heraldica gives only the crest, “an ear (or fleck) of rye ppr”.

The Heraldry Institute’s site give the arms (in French), and provides the motto as:

“D'argent à trois fasces de sable Cimier un épi de froment au naturel Devise PRETIOSUM QUOD UTILE”

Monday, 14 April 2014

Allez les Rosbifs!

When I heard recently that the Baron of Beef was in line for Greene King’s latest round of fresh livery I feared the worst, especially in the light of recent dismal efforts. At the time the pub proudly displayed this sign:

Bright, eye-catching, jolly, charmingly naïve in its execution (the image, if not the glossy branding). And it depicted an actual baron of beef (sirloin still joined at the bone) being spit-roast. Pretty much a perfect example of a pub sign, in my view.

How could it be improved upon?

It has now been replaced by this.

OK, it’s not as bright, eye-catching from afar, or as charmingly naïve, but it’s actually a pretty good choice: a detail from Hogarth’s O the Roast Beef of Old England (The Calais Gate), which was painted in direct response to an unpleasant experience that the artist had at the hands of French officialdom while waiting in Calais for a boat back to England. And I’m sure we’ve all had one of those. . .

It is, then, quite pointedly anti-French, as the scrawny French cook buckles under the immense weight of a (single) sirloin of English beef, a fat friar drooling appreciatively over it while emaciated and shabby French soldiers look on enviously over their bowls of thin gruel. And dominating the background, the old mediaeval gate of Calais, built when it was still an English possession, and covered in English royal heraldry.

Hogarth and inn signs go together like chips and gravy anyway, and this is a pretty good choice of image so – and I don’t say this often, but credit where credit is due – well done, Greene King!

(Fear not, dear readers: normal service will doubtless be resumed soon.)

Related points of interest:

The picture takes its title from a popular patriotic ballad of the time.

One mid-19th-century proprietor, James Sebley, later opened an eating-house further along Bridge Street, at what is now Café Rouge, which was famous for its hams. It was said that Mr Sebley could carve so thinly that he could have covered Parker’s Piece with just a pound of the meat.

Friday, 28 March 2014


Well, the rebranding to the new ‘old’ name lasted slightly longer than England’s Ashes hopes last winter, but now the Cricketers is back to being, er, the Cricketers. With, of course, a spanking new sign – and one which proves that Greene King haven’t quite forgotten the value of a pictorial signboard:

Credit where credit is due: I think it has some charm, actually.

Now back in the good old days when craftsmen still had a place in the world, a sign painter (George Taylor, for example) would be engaged to produce something unique and distinctive for the pub. But who needs to go to all that bother now that something can just be lifted from the internet, eh? (I’m sure they got permission, right?)