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Monday, 17th December 2007

ometimes a 'fact' bubbles to the surface and for a moment it is almost unavoidable. A lot of things are like that, pop groups (rock bands are more substantial) are another example. For a brief moment they threaten world domination with ever more simple tunes but just as the tedium threatens to engulf the planet they take a step too far and seem to believe their own press-releases and want to get into 'serious' stuff. It is at this point the fan base evaporates, five year olds not ordinarily known for interest in serious stuff move to the next bit of tinkling music.

So Take That thought away and Spice up a conversation.

I've never seen a pub called the 'Cock and Bottle'

Anyway a popular fact at the moment is, 'we are subjected to more advertising/information in a single day than a man in the 17th/18th century was subjected to in a lifetime.'

I think I read this first on about page 620 odd in a magazine where this was all but the first piece of journalism I had come across. The previous pages being dominated by advertising. You could not help but agree. I read this fact again in a newspaper and now you get to read it on a website dedicated to cigarette cards.

I think that probably illustrates the point.

Anyway I suspect this fact has had its day in the sun and has shrivelled up in the heat. A sun-dried fact if you will.

In all this clamour, being good helps you stand out from the crowd, as does being different. Often these two things go hand in hand, take a few seconds to think of a few adverts you have seen.

See?

Well the more things change the more they remain the same.

Churchmans, Curious Signs [1925] series of 25

Details from Card
#1: The 'Ape and Apple'
formerly in Philip Lane, London
In the 17th and 18th centuries the streets of London must have presented a highly picturesque appearance, with their numerous signs which (in the words of a French traveller) 'almost obscured the sun, filling the streets with Blue Boars, Black Swans and Red Lions, not to mention Flying Pigs, and Hogs in Armour, with many creatures more extraordinary than any in the deserts of Africa.' The Ape and Apple sign illustrated, which is in the Guildhall Museum, bears the date 1670. It was the sign of an ancient galleried inn which stood in Philip Lane, near London Wall.

Many of the curious signs within this set are culled from old inns, they are some of the oldest business premises in Britain and whilst drinking in a 15th century establishment is worth talking about; if it is only two or three hundred years old it is positively modern. In 'olden times' there were many more public houses than today. Many small to middle sized towns could once boast a pub for every day of the year, in fact they were just about on every street corner. Drink played a rather bigger part in people's lives than it does today when we are rather too busy accumulating new information to be drunk, morning, noon and night. Also true that the brewing methods ensured they were not drinking the sort of rocket fuel (or heavy water as a friend of mine always insisted on calling it) we get nowadays. Many of these signs were residing the Guildhall Museum at the time of the sets production.

History is all around us but every so often it seems to break through into the present with greater clarity than at other times. Old Inns is a place you feel very close to the inhabitants of previous centuries, the building so unchanged, its purpose so unaltered, the activity the same. Perhaps it is this constant usage which has worn the barrier between then and now just a bit thinner than in other places.

Card three, The Boar's Head, formerly in Eastcheap, London was the tavern where Shakespeare's Falstaff appears in. The premises were known as the Boars head since at least the reign of Richard II. Destroyed in the Great Fire of London it was rebuilt. It stood until 1831 when it was demolished to make room for the new London Bridge. The sign was made of stone.

I heard a story the other day about a local pub whose name is protected for some reason or another. It is the only inn in the country which is allowed to have that name. The story was more than a little confused and I cannot actually verify the matter, needless to say I was in the pub at the time hence the vagueness of detail now.

There has been something of a revival in 'odd' names for public houses, 'The Red Lion' is not good enough to attract new business nowadays, could have been good enough for a few hundred years but not anymore. Still there is nothing new but I have yet to see a pub called, 'The Bull and Mouth' shown on card 4 & 5. A perfect name for a public house I'd say.

I've never seen a pub called the 'Cock and Bottle' either but that could just be the product of a sheltered upbringing. Card 6 claims, The Cock is one of the oldest signs, there being a Roman inn named the Cock in France. The card goes on to explain, cock was an old word for spigot or tap. So now you know (if you didn't already) and the combining of the two words probably related to the fact beer could be bought in bottle or draught from.

There is a very definite history and culture derived from the signs on old inns, they are important to village life and reflect the period. For example any pub called 'The Black Boy' is now very aware of the name, most have changed their signs. One linn local to me is still called the Black Boy but now has a picture of James I on the sign for some reason, another in Wales has opted to be called the Black Buoy.

Card 16 is even more to the point, being The 'Leather Bottle' and the sign is just that.

Card 8 has the 'Dolphin' which was a relatively common name apparently dating back several centuries when Dolphins could be caught in the Thames. The sign came from a inn near Royal Exchange London. It was at the Dolphin Tavern that Pepys went (Mar 27 1661) This sign is made of copper.

Child & Co are now part of Royal Bank of Scotland, but can trace its origins back to 1582 when the founder William Wheeler became formally apprenticed as a goldsmith. They are still at Fleet Street.

Card 9, The Eagle and Child is common in Cheshire and Lancashire because it represents the crest of the local Stanley family.

There are certain things that are taken for granted nowadays. The ability for adults to be able to read and write is often taken as a given. Go back a few years and you could not take this for granted, head to the 17th century and reading and writing was something few people did. This is a point made on card 10 when noting the street scenes from such a period were very different. Having names above shops etc was not all that useful, far better to have a sign of something appropriate.

Mind you planning regulations were not much in evidence either. Signs got to be pretty big in an effort to attract attention and sometimes they managed this for all the wrong reasons. Card 10 notes one fell down in 1718 opposite Brick Lane. It brought a number of bricks down with it, killing four people. That was some number of bricks.

Forty years later an act of Parliament was passed which compelled people to fix signs flush with the wall. The things you learn on the back of a cigarette card.

The 'Now Thus'

Not all the signs in this set represent ale houses and card 17 is a case in point, 'The Marygold.' This advertised the oldest banking house in London, Messrs Child & Co situated at No 1 Fleet Street. Opening its doors during the reign of Charles II (although the building bore the Marygold emblem as early as James I reign).

Being of such an age it has had many famous account holders, Charles II was one of them as was Oliver Cromwell (okay there must be an explanation how a bank opens its doors during the reign of Charles II and has Oliver Cromwell as an account holder). Also James II, Pepys, Marlborough and Dryden kept their pennies here.

Remaining with the bank theme card 24 of the 25 card series has the sign, the 'Three Squirrels'. At the Gosling's Branch of Barclays (Fleet street London) the original sign bearing the date 1723 is displayed. Made of pure silver it was probably taken into the bank for safety every night. 'Probably' might not be the word the compiler was looking for there. The bank came into existence during the Commonwealth, started by Henry Pinckney. Maybe there is a case for adding banks to my list of venerable buildings, along with churches and inns. I don't think I will be in a hurry to do that, even if it does make that number three.