10 of Norfolk’s strangest pub names explained
- Credit: Archant
From The Mischief to The Murderers, the William and Florence to the Never Turn Back - what’s the story behind these local pub signs?
How did The Railway Tavern in Framingham Earl get its name despite never having been near a railway? Just who was the murderer at The Murderers?
Some of Norfolk’s pubs have incredible names: but do you know how they came to have them? Here are 10 of our favourites.
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10 Norfolk pubs with unusual names
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1) The Mischief on Fye Bridge Street in Norwich
Once called The Wine Vaults and housed in a 16th century merchant’s house, after the 1890s the pub traded as Carter Steward and Co Wine Vaults and didn’t change its name to The Mischief until 1963. At that time, it boasted a sign that was a John Chrome version of William Hogarth’s 1843 painting of ‘The Man with the Load of Mischief’. The sign showed a sorry-lookng man wearing a chain labeled ‘wedlock’ and carrying on his back a woman drinking a glass of gin while also holding a monkey and a magpie, symbols of mischief and strife. The sexist sign later changed to a picture of a mischievous little boy and then to mice, as a group of mice is known as ‘a mischief’.
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2) The Murderers (The Gardener’s Arms) on Timberhill in Norwich
There are two murders in the Murderers’ history – the name was previously believed to have related to a murder committed by a sex worker but owner Philip Cutter has revealed that the real murder was by an ex-cavalryman who killed his estranged wife, Mildred. In 1895, the daughter of landlady Maria Wilby was murdered by her estranged husband, Frank Miles, after an argument after Millie was seen walking into the pub with another man. Frank was committed to hang, but his sentence was reduced on the basis of provocation and he died in prison in 1905. The pub retains the trading name of The Gardeners Arms, but is better known as The Murderers.
3) The Twenty Churchwardens, Cockley Cley
The Cockley Cley estate pub is next door to All Saints Church, once a round-towered church but now tower-less after a collapse on August 29 1991. Cockley Cley was part of one of the Hilborough group of 10 parishes with two churchwardens per parish, so, 20 churchwardens. The name is also associated with clay pipes called Churchwarden pipes which were long-stemmed and used to smoke tobacco. Churchwarden pipes were named after churchwardens or night watchmen in the times when churches never locked their doors. The wardens couldn’t be expected to go all night without a smoke, so had pipes made with exceptionally long stems so the smoke and pile wouldn’t be in their line of sight as they kept watch.
4) The Railway Tavern, Framingham Earl
A fairly common name for a pub, but possibly not for one that isn’t next to a railway and never has been. The pub opened as a freehouse in 1839, possibly trading as Framingham House. In 1845, during railway mania, Parliament considered a new line which would link Halesworth and Norwich via Bungay and Poringland but it failed due to a lack of funds and backers. The pub, however, had already changed its name in anticipation of the boom times to come – and in 1898, it looked like it had been a good idea. New plans were put forward for a light railway to be called The South Norfolk Light Railway which would link Norwich with Beccles via Trowse-Poringland-Seething-Loddon-Hales-Heckingham and Gillingham. But this plan failed too – however, the Railway Tavern kept its quirky name.
5) Never Turn Back, Manor Road, Caister-on-Sea
Designed by AW Ecclestone and built in 1956, the Never Turn Back is a memorial to the nine lifeboatsmen who died in the Caister lifeboat disaster of November 13 1901. When a stricken boat fired distress signals during a terrible gale, the lifeboat Beauchamp attempted to launch to go to its aid – it took three hours simply to get the boat to sea. Heavy seas capsized the boat, trapping the crew underneath – nine men died. Asked at the inquest why the crews had persisted in the rescue, retired coxswain James Haylett said: “They would never give up the ship. If they had to keep at it ’til now, they would have sailed about until daylight to help her. Going back is against the rules when we see distress signals like that.” The response was translated by journalists to: “Caister men never turn back” – ‘Never Turn Back’ later became a motto of the RNLI.
6) The Louis Marchesi, Tombland
Louis Marchesi was a local business owner and a member of the Norwich Rotary Club who set up a club aimed at younger businessmen in Norwich and enforced a ‘retiring age’ of 40 from the Round Table, his new organisation. He was the first secretary of the club, which was set up in 1927 and which met at the Waggon and Horses, now renamed for Mr Marchesi. The pub’s 15th century undercroft bar is said to be part of the underground system which once connected to the cathedral.
7) The Barking Smack, Marine Parade, Great Yarmouth
Prior to 1845, this seafront pub was called The Jacob Wells before being rebuilt to become the Barking Smack Hotel (look for the date stone). Owned by Lacon and Co, which originally founded in Great Yarmouth in 1640 and was bought by the Lacon family 1760. The pub took its name from one of the 220 specialist fishing vessels registered to the port of Barking in Essex, one of the greatest fishing ports in England in the second quarter of the 19th century. Smacks were regular visitors to Great Yarmouth but by 1860, the Barking fishing industry was already in deep decline thanks to the popularity of the railways to east coast ports which enabled fresh fish to be delivered to the London markets without delays caused by bad weather on the Thames.
8) The Ratcatchers, Cawston
The Ratcatchers came by its name because men of that profession used to meet in front of the pub in the 19th century to sell rat tails for a penny apiece to council officials to prove they had been doing their job properly. There was also a Rat Catcher Farm.
9) The William and Florence, Unthank Road, Norwich
First noted in 1864, this Unthank Road pub was once the Rose Valley Tavern. In 1894, licensee James Deacon secured an overdraft with Gurneys Bank putting up security which was a 1/9th share of one third part of the estate of Lydia Jane Orris, late of Hatton Villa on Earlham Road. James was landlord until 1902. The pub changed its name to The Mulberry around 2010 but in 2017 was reborn under the ownership of owners Nick and Briony De’ath. The couple, who also run The Unthank Arms, The Trafford Arms, Chambers Cocktail Company, the wedding business at Hales Hall and the Great Barn in Loddon and plan to reopen The Red Lion in Bishopsgate changed the name of their Unthank Road pub for very personal reasons. William is Nick’s Dad’s name, his middle name and son Joe’s middle name and Florence is daughter Lydia’s middle name.
10) Lollard’s Pit, Riverside Road, Norwich
Formerly the Kings Arms (1760 to 1975) and then the Bridge House until 2012, this pub is built on the site of a place for execution of heretics and other offenders in the 16th century and the area has always been known as Lollard’s Pit. The Lollards were people who called for the reformation of the Church and paid a heavy price for it – if caught and charged, they were sentenced to death by burning in an old disused chalk pit in Norwich. The pit had been dug out for foundations for the Cathedral and the pub cellar was, back in the time of the executions, the holding cell for prisoners before they were burnt to death at the stake (now the pub’s beer garden).
Facts about pub names
The most popular pub names in the UK are, in order, The Red Lion, The Royal Oak, The Crown, The White Hart and The Plough
The most popular pub name in Norfolk is The King’s Head
Pub signs and names date back to Roman times when owners would hang ivy bushes outside their establishments to advertise that they had alcohol for sale
In 1393, Richard II ordered brewers to announce their beery business with a prominent sign
Painted signs began to appear in the 12th century, a time when most people were illiterate and the habit was to paint a picture and display it outside a public meeting place – this led to country pubs reflecting the industry of the area
Written names were added as literacy improved
Royal and military conquests are popular as are traditional trades and livery companies, hunting, sporting, agricultural and locomotive names are also common
In 1969, Northfield’s Man in the Moon became the Man on the Moon and the Bird in the Hand in Witney became the Baby in the Hand after an emergency delivery in its car park