Lethal White: Most Common Pub Names

Pub scenes have always been a big part of Strike’s adventures. Meetings with Robin and Wardle happen as often as not in the pubs close to Denmark Street and New Scotland Yard. But in Lethal White this is taken up a notch with important conversations at The White Horse (twice), The Red Lion, The Two Chairmen, The Tottenham, and The Crafty Filly, which is to neglect The Swan, a pub at which Robin doesn’t drink but whose sign is an important marker on her journey. They even talk about pub names in Strike4.

After finding the cross in the Chiswell property Dell, Robin and Cormoran retreat to the village of Uffington for lunch at the local pub, which, not too surprisingly, is called ‘The White Horse.’ Strike notes that the London pub where he first spoke with Jimmy Knight was also called ‘The White Horse’ and Robin recalls reading that it “is one of the ten most popular pub names in Britain. I read it in some article.” They reminisce about their respective “locals” as they look at the menu; Strike’s is ‘The Victory’ in Cornwall, Robin’s ‘The Bay Horse’ in Massham. (ch 44, pp 374-375).

Since pubs play an outsized role in Lethal White I decided to check out Robin’s recall about the most popular pub names. It turns out her memory is very good. PubsGalore.co.ukThe Daily Mail, Wikipedia, and Hotfoot all have lists of the most popular pub names and all match up with Robin’s version in her conversation with Strike in Uffington. Sort of. 

Robin cannot remember, for instance, what the most popular pub name is, whether it is ‘The Red Lion’ or ‘The Crown.’ Her problem may be that the author in ‘his’ researches found that different lists have different leaders. Most have these two names in the top, but the variance can be startling. One survey has ‘The Crown’ over ‘Red Lion,’ 704 to 668, and another has ‘The Crown’ at #8 with only 267 to Red Lion’s 759 (both surveys were made in 2007). ‘The White Horse’ usually makes the top ten of these lists but The Morning Advertiser in 2017 listed it at #13. Close enough. The Daily Mail reports that ‘White Horse’ is #1 in Suffolk.

Please note there is no ‘Squish Factor’ in this data. The names have to be exact matches to be credited. You’ll see, for example, that ‘The Old Red Lion’ has its own category apart from ‘The Red Lion,’ and ‘Queen Victoria’ is apart from ‘Victoria’ and ‘Victory.’ ‘The Swan’ often makes the top five of the lists and might score higher if ‘White Swan’ and ‘Black Swan’ were included in their tally. The variety of horses, though, if all combined — remember ‘The Crafty Filly’ at the racetrack? How many of those there might be! — might make it #1. And that wouldn’t be right.

I enjoyed this bit of history from the Hotffot article. It seems that military heroes sometimes underwrote the founding of pubs and enjoy the legacy of having their names chosen for that pub:

“Dating back to the time when many folk were illiterate, the habit was to paint a picture and display it outside any public meeting place, the pub. This way friends could say to each other, ‘meet you at the Plough later,’ or Haystack, King’s Head, Horseshoe or whatever the sign depicted. This inevitably led to country pubs reflecting the industry of the area. Just as the Lamplighters, Railway Arms or The Weaver’s Loom might have done in the towns.

“Later on it became fashionable to honour England’s great heroes by placing their name above the door along any city street which accounts for the Lord Howard (Spanish Armada) Admiral Collingwood (Battle of Trafalgar) along with the obvious Lord Nelson and Duke of Wellington. And so this all means British and especially English history is reflected in one way or another through the names of many of our favourite pubs.

“Some of the tales are obvious and some less so. For example, who would know that it was the Marquis of Granby, a hero of the Seven Years Wars with France, who helped to establish many from his old regiment as innkeepers once they had retired from battle. This is why there are so many pubs in England bearing his name. And that is what fascinates us. The way the rich history of England is remembered in such an English way — down the pub.”

More than you wanted to know about pub names. The take away? Rowling/Galbraith did the research and got it right. No surprise there.




  1. Beatrice Groves says

    Never too much pub sign knowledge for me, John! I was delighted by this aspect of Lethal White – having a (somewhat surprising) sideline interest in the subject (I’ve written an article on the relevance of ‘The George’ pub sign on Spenser’s Faerie Queene [Spenser Studies 25 (2010)]). I learnt when researching that the pleasing facts that tavern signs evolved from the “bush” of the Roman taberna (a wreath of vine leaves signalling that new wine had been delivered) and that is was Richard II who started pub signs in England. He decreed that all inns had to display a sign (in order that their beer could be checked by officials) and each establishment, keen to be identified by those who could not read as well as those who could, advertised themselves with a clear, recognisable picture.

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