London Pub signs: a photo essay

Some years ago, on a short visit to London, I started noticing the signs on all the pubs I was passing as I explored the Covent Garden area. My knowledge of the British pub is mostly based on the Queen Vic of Walford in the BBC soap Eastenders. So many of them, though, have such creative signs that, on that grey day, I took a picture of each pub sign I passed. Here is a selection:

The Prince of Wales pub in London, whose sign includes a crown, three feathers, and the words "Ich dien."

Many are royalty or nobility-related, like The Prince of Wales, above. The sign, according to Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge, represents the Prince of Wale’s heraldic badge, made up of three ostrich feathers in a gold crown with a ribbon reading “Ich dien” which means “I serve” in German.

Sign for Youngs Marquess of Anglesey pub in London

The Marquess of Anglesey, below, is also named after a prominent historical figure.

While the Prince of Wales dates to the Victorian period, the Marquess of Anglesey has been a pub (under different names) since 1663. The Marquess commanded the cavalry and artillery at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, according to the pub’s website.

The sign for the Angel and Crown pub in London

I find the Angel and Crown, below, particularly intriguing; what is the message here? That royalty is divine?

In case you can’t read it, the scroll that the angel is holding reads, “We shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways.” This is from Psalms 91:11 and appears to be about how God will help those who believe and pray. Perhaps this was a message to the King that he should be God-fearing? Or to the people getting drunk every night in the pub?

Pub sign for The Salisbury in London

This guy, presumably named Salisbury, looks like he’s pretty grumpy about posing for the sign:

According to The Salisbury’s website, it was named in honor of the third Marquis of Salisbury, who was also Queen Victoria’s favorite Prime Minister. The site was leased from him in 1892: trying to keep the owner sweet!

The Seven Stars pub in London
The Seven Stars pub in London

As well as a decorative sign, many pubs have cheerful window boxes with colorful flowers:

The Seven Stars is believed to be the oldest pub in London, predating the Great Fire of London in 1666. According to its history site, the name comes from “The League of Seven Stars,” which refers to the Netherlands. Supposedly the Dutch link is that the area was a port on the River Fleet and Dutch sailors lived nearby.

The sign for The George pub in London, surrounded by flowers.

The George’s sign was also surrounded by cheerful flowers:

The sign for the Hand and Racquet pub in London

This one seemed unusual to me because it doesn’t involve either an animal or a person:

According to Wikipedia, there’s a Hand & Racquet near Wimbledon as well. The Latin on the sign translates as “Let the worlds always watch the world.” I’m not sure what that has to do with tennis.

the sign for the Nell of Old Drury pub in London

And this one made me wonder who Nell was:

The pub’s website explains that it was named after Nell Gynne, Charles II’s mistress in the late 17th century. Supposedly a tunnel connects the pub to the Theatre Royal across the street, and Charles used it to visit her.

sign on The Bull pub in London

I think the next was my favorite sign that day, though, because the artist thought outside the box, making it three-dimensional:

I found their website with some difficulty because, unfortunately, they’ve changed the sign: the new one is much less three-dimensional. The pub dates back to the late 17th century.

Next time you’re in London, notice the signs on the pubs—and believe me, there are many of them!

Make sure to take a look at these other London posts:

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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments! Read more...

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“Orbis Orbem Semper Spectent” could also be interpreted to mean “Always Keep Your Eyes on the Ball”

Orbis=Ball/Orbem=Eyes/Semper=Always/Spectent=See or Watch

Latin has lots of phrasing that is dependent on context.

I love the pub names as much as the pub signs. some classics when they get creative… The Hung, Drawn and Quartered (near the Tower of London), Swiss Cottage (near the Tube stop) and Bleeding Heart (a grisly medieval story).

My daughter & I have been toying with the idea of a “late-gap-part-year” holiday (for us both) in Europe next year…We both love architecture & details like these signs. If we do manage the trip, we’ll definitely be photographing our own “pub signs”.

🙂

Taking note of the details and differences while traveling in foreign countries can be so much fun and it looks like you had great time collecting these photos of London Pub signs. Love the backstories behind the signs – so much more interesting than the signs of US chain and big-box stores plus there’s the added pleasure of maybe visiting a family legacy!

What a great idea. I’m trying to think if there’s something similar here in the PNW… I haven’t been back East so I’m not sure but I would guess there’d be lots of pub signs there? “Let the world watch the world” means relax and enjoy the tennis match?

This is a cool concept 🙂 Thanks for sharing! I particularly like the 3D sign 😛

Rachel, I love the pub signs…such art! I pinned yours btw. Hey, will you be at TBEX Stockholm this summer?

Travelling the UK for the next 6months or so and,yes, pubs seem to be an important part of English life. Love the names they come up with and of course the signs.

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