A wry view of life for the world-weary

Sign Of The Times – Part Four


Myths and legends

The origin of pub names is fascinating and reflects many aspects of our history and heritage. A number bear testimony to folk traditions or legends.

For an island where levels of taxation have often been prohibitive it is unsurprising that smuggling, the illicit importation of goods, was a significant occupation in days of old. Once the contraband had been landed it had to be transported inland to where the prospective customers were. The county of Wiltshire lay between the southern coast and the Midlands and north and was often a transit point for the goods. Smugglers had to be ingenious to evade the attention of the authorities.

One day some villagers in Wiltshire hid some barrels of French brandy in a village pond. When they were trying to retrieve the barrels at night, they were caught red-handed by the custom officials. However, showing amazing presence of mind, the men pointed to the reflection of the moon in the pond and said they were trying to rake out the cheese. The custom men shook their heads in disbelief, put the locals down as soft in the head and went on, leaving them to it. Of course, the locals had the last laugh as they fished the barrels out and, presumably, made a handsome profit on its contents. Pubs called the Moonrakers owe their name to this charming tale and people from Wiltshire are sometimes called Moonrakers.


Maritime folk-lore has it that for sailors who have served at least 50 years at sea, no mean feat, there was a place guaranteed in Fiddler’s Green, an afterlife filled with perpetual mirth, a fiddle that never stops and dancers who never tire – seems like hell to me. The pub name owes its origin to this place of legend.


The Green Man is another name which is steeped in English folk-lore and is portrayed as a face peering out of, or in some cases made of, foliage. It is likely that he is a relic of pagan times, perhaps representing fertility or some form of nature spirit, but the image was taken up with relish by Christians, being a frequent motif in carvings in churches and abbeys. The survival of the Green Man probably reflects the decision on the part of the early Christians to adapt local customs rather than extirpate them completely.

There are a number of pubs which are called Silent Woman or Quiet Lady or Headless Woman. The origin of these names is not absolutely clear but it is thought that they may refer to a woman decapitated for her Christian faith or a woman whose tongue was cut out to prevent her from betraying, deliberately or innocently, the whereabouts of smugglers. Or perhaps in less PC times when the pub was the bastion and last refuge of the male the name reflected their ideal woman, the pub sign sometimes being accompanied with the couplet, ”here is a woman who has lost her head/ she’s quiet now – you see she’s dead”.

Our patron saint, St George, was a Greek. He didn’t rise to his lofty position until 1552 when all the other saints’ banners, including that of Edward the Confessor, the erstwhile patron, were abolished. George’s other claim to fame was overcoming a dragon, a feat that is commemorated today by pubs with the name George and Dragon.


One response to “Sign Of The Times – Part Four

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