the book bibliography glossary inns proverbs signs selections gallery chronology links



Acorn Heraldic.

Adam and Eve They were 'favourite characters in the old Mystery Plays, but it is very probable that the real sign was once astrological, Gemini, The Twins.' (Maskell, p.156).

Albion 'Name of famous war vessel' (Maskell, glossary).

Alexandra 'Consort of Edward VII.' (Maskell, glossary).

Almond Tree Topographical. (Maskell, glossary).

Anchor Ecclesiastical or heraldic. (Maskell, glossary).

Angel 'The Angel Inn is derived from the Salutation, or Angelus, as it originally represented the Angel appearing to the Blessed Virgin. The oldest known inn of this name is the Angel at Grantham, which was called by that name in the year 1213 and formerly belonged to the Knights Templar.' (Maskell, p.45). - 'There are strong reasons for connecting most mediaeval inns bearing the sign of the Angel or Salutation with friaries.' (Maskell, p.46).

Antelope Associated with the House of Lancaster.

Apple Tree Cider House.

Arabian Horse 'Godolphin - ancestor of many Derby winners.' (Maskell, glossary).

Artichoke 'Dates from the time of Evelyn, when the vegetable was introduced from Italy.' (Maskell, glossary).

Ash Tree Topographical. (Maskell, glossary).

Ass in the Bandbox 'The famous Bandbox Plot of 1711.' (Maskell, glossary).


Bag of Nails Sometimes believed to derive from 'Bacchanals', but doubtful.

Balaclava After a battle in the Crimean War.

Baker and Brewer 'With the legend "Bread is the Staff of life, but Beer's life itself'. (Maskell, glossary).

Barley Mow Brewer's sign.

Bat and Ball Cricketer's sign.

Bear Heraldic.

Bear and Ragged Staff '...crest of Warwick the King-maker, but was afterwards assumed by Dudley, Earl of Leicester, when he married into the Neville family...' (Maskell, p.190).

Bear Garden Reference to bear-baiting.

Beehive St. Ambrose or St. Bernard (Maskell, glossary).

Beetle and Wedge Associated with carpenters, these two objects being woodworkers' tools.

Bell In times before the 'split' between church and alehouse, hostelries were often built near the place of worship for purposes of refreshment.

'Bells' E.g. 'six bells' or 'ten bells', refer to a time when hand-bells were kept for entertainment (Bells, Little Munden, Herts retains a set - Maskell, p.133).

Bird in Hand Sometimes a reference to 'hawking', and sometimes perhaps to the proverb, 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush'.

Black Bear Heraldic.

Black Boy Tobacconist's sign.

Black Bull House of Clarence.

Black Friar Dominican Priory.

Black Horse ' derived probably from the famous "Black Saladin" of the Earl of Warwick. His sire was Malek, and, according to tradition, when the race of Malek failed, the race of Warwick would also come to an end. "Black Horse," too, is a common name for the 7th Dragoons...' (Maskell, p.56).

Black Swan 'Suggests a rarity.' (Maskell, glossary).

'Blaise' Variations include 'Bishop Blaise' (New Inn Yard, City of London) and 'Holy Blaise' (Kidderminster), with reference to St. Blaise, patron saint of weavers. His emblem was a boar's head, so this too is associated with weavers. (Maskell, p.120).

Bleeding Heart 'Probably the Sorrowful Mysteries.' (Maskell, glossary).

Blue Boar 'Earl of Oxford. White Boars were painted blue after the Battle of Bosworth.' (Maskell, glossary).

Blue Lion '...said to have been adopted in honour of the Prince of Denmark, the consort of Good Queen Anne.' (Maskell, p.71).

Boar's Head Originally associated with weavers, 'it being an emblem of their patron saint St. Blaise.' (Maskell, p.120).

Book in Hand Oxford University Arms.

Boot 'Cobblers were frequently purveyors of ale in the 17th century. Also heraldic.' (Maskell, glossary).

Brunswick Whig sign.

Buckle Heraldic.

Buck's Head Heraldic.

Bull Although most signs of 'The Bull' now show the beast, the origins of the sign are probably religious. Since monasteries or colleges did not have crests or arms to distinguish their establishments (they were not military, in theory at least), their seal - 'bull' from Latin 'Bulla' - would be carved or painted above the door.

Bull and Mouth Possibly a corruption of 'Boulogne Mouth' after a victory there (and Bull and Gate).

Bull's Head Associated with the Guild of Butchers, and also a common crest of the nobility.

Burdett, Sir Francis Parliamentary reformer.


Cat Heraldic (lion or tiger).

Cat and Fiddle A reference to the nursery rhyme is the most likely explanation, although 'Caton Fidele' has been suggested, 'the defender of Calais in the reign of Queen Mary' (Maskell, p.155).

Cat and Wheel Catherine Wheel.

Checquers A sign that probably originates with the Romans, perhaps indicating that this (and other) games were played inside. In the medieval period it was a sign adopted by money lenders, probably because of the checquered table on which they counted (hence the Exchequer). Perhaps adopted by tavern keepers in seaport towns who would act as money-changers. (Maskell, p.96).

Cherry Tree Topographic.

Chough Heraldic.

Cock 'Sometimes Ecclesiastical. More often indicates that ale or wine is on draught.' (Maskell, glossary).


Cock and Bell Reference is to the old sport of throwing at Shrovetide cocks? One at High Easter (Maskell, p.130).

Cock and Bottle 'Indicates that bottled and draught ale are on sale.' (Maskell, glossary).

Cock and Bull Whimsical. (Maskell, glossary).

Cock and Pie 'Perhaps Peacock and Magpie'. (Maskell, glossary).

Corner Pin Reference to Skittles or Quoits. (Maskell, glossary).

Cow and Snuffers 'From Colman's play, The Review'. (Maskell, glossary).

Cradle and Coffin 'Philosophical, no doubt'. (Maskell, glossary).

Crispin Associated with shoemakers. / Reference to the Battle of Agincourt. 

Cross in Hand 'Corruption of "Cross hands," a hearty grip of welcome.' (Maskell, glossary).

Cross Keys 'Emblem of St. Peter.' (Maskell, glossary).

Crown Originally a sign of a Royal Manor House or an indication that at the time of its establishment it was crown property.

Crown and Cushion Coronation ceremonies. (Maskell, glossary).

Cumberland, Duke of Whig sing. (Maskell, glossary).


Dagger 'London sign, suggested by City Arms'. (Maskell, glossary).

Dairy Maid 'Originally Cheesemonger's sign.' (Maskell, glossary).

Dirty Dick 'A famous Bishopsgate tradesman.' (Maskell, glossary).

Dog and Bear Reference to the days of bear-baiting.

Dog and Doublet 'A wayside tale.' (Maskell, glossary).

Dolphin 'Perhaps, as in the case of the Dolphin, Bishopsgate, it recalls a visit of the French Dauphin; sometimes Heraldic, or an appeal to sailors, the term describing a makeshift method of anchorage.' (Maskell, glossary).

Don John After Don Juan.

Dotterel Inn A now rare bird. 

Dove and Rainbow Dyer's sign. (Maskell, glossary).

Dragon Heraldic.

Drake The Admiral.

Drover's Call 'Suggests the old green lanes by which herds of cattle and sheep were driven to London.' (Maskell, glossary).

Dun Cow Ballad sign. (Maskell, glossary).

Dunstan, Sir Jeffrey 'A notorious Mayor of Garrett.' (Maskell, glossary).

Durham Ox 'A famous strain of cattle.' (Maskell, glossary).


Eagle Heraldic.

Eagle and Child The Stanley family. (Maskell, glossary).

Elephant and Castle The Cutler's Company.

Essex Serpent 'The St. Osyth Dragon, a satirical broadside of 1704.' (Maskell, glossary).


Falcon Yorkist sign.

Falstaff After the Shakespearean character.

Feathers 'Device of the Prince of Wales.' (Maskell, glossary).

Fighting Cocks Reference to the sport.

Fig Tree Grocer's sign.

First and Last Whimsical.

Fleece Wool merchant's sign.

Fleur de Lys Heraldic.

Flying Bull Whimsical.

Flying Horse 'Usually from the Knights Templar.' (Maskell, glossary).


Fountain Common on the old Roman roads, probably indicating springs and watering points for animals.

Four Crosses Arms of Lichfield Diocese.

Fox Sporting sign.

Fox and Hounds Sporting sign.


Freemasons Organisation.


Gate Often related to old roads or boundaries.

George (and Dragon) St. George is the patron saint of England. Although the real St. George appeared some time around the fourth century B. C., medieval chivalry conflated him with a mythical hero who slew a dragon. 'The tale of St. George and the Dragon comes to us from the Golden Legend of Jacques de Voraigne, and was localised in England as St. George, son of Lord Albert of Coventry.' (Maskell, p.36). Mainly catering for pilgrims in earlier times.

Gipsy Queen 'Margaret Finch, buried at Beckenham in 1760.' (Maskell, glossary).

Gladstone Prime Minister.

Globe 'Sign of Portugal Wine Merchants.' (Maskell, glossary).

Goat Animal; also associated with the Bedford family.

Goat and Compass Uncertain. Sometimes the derivation is linked to a corruption of 'God encompasses us'.

Goat in Boots Comic sign painted by George Morland for an old posting house on the Fulham Road. (Maskell, p. 155).

Golden Ball Associated with silk merchants.

Golden Farmer 'A famous highwayman who posed as a farmer.' (Maskell, glossary).

Golden Fleece Associated with woollen drapers.

Good Samaritan 'Appeals to commercial travellers.' (Maskell, glossary).

Good Woman 'A headless woman. Formerly an oilshop sign.' (Maskell, glossary).

Granby, Marquis of 'The Marquis of Granby ... runs Nelson very close in popularity: the hero himself is almost forgotten. He behaved with great personal courage and spirit in the battles of the Seven Years' War and gave occasion to the expression, "Charging bald-headed." As he was going to charge the enemy, some aide-de-camp cried: "You have lost your wig, my lord!" Whereupon the Marquis retorted, "Damn the wig! I can charge bald-headed!"' (Maskell, p.192).

Grapes (And 'Bunch of Grapes') Might have signified a wine shop or tavern at one time.

Grasshopper 'The Grasshopper must, of course, be associated with Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange.' (Maskell, p.190).

Green Dragon Earls of Pembroke.

Green Man 'Forester's or Archer's sign.' (Maskell, glossary).

Greyhound Heraldic. Tudor sign.

Griffin Heraldic.

Gun Tudor associations, reign of Edward VI.

Guy of Warwick 'Legendary hero.' (Maskell, glossary).


Half Moon Heraldic.

Halfpenny House Reference to the toll paid by passers-by.

Hand and Shears Tailor's sign.

Hand in Hand 'Originally the sign of a "Marriage Monger." (Maskell, glossary).

Hare and Hounds Sporting sign.

Harp Musician's sign.

Harrow Agricultural.

Harvest Home 'Recalls the harvest supper.' (Maskell, glossary).

Hawk Heraldic.

Hawk and Buckle Heraldic. Pelham family. (Maskell, glossary).

Haycock 'From incident at Wansford, told by Taylor, the Water Poet.' (Maskell, glossary).

Heart and Hand 'Common alehouse sign.' (Maskell, glossary).

Hearts of Oak Ballad sign. (Maskell, glossary).

Heaven and Hell 'Tow famouse dining-rooms at Westminster, so named from frescoes on the walls.' (Maskell, glossary).

Heilk Moon Crescent moon.

Help Me Through Whimsical.

Hercules Pillars 'Usually indicates a narrow passage at the end of a wide street.' (Maskell, glossary).

Hind Sir Christopher Hatton's crest. (Maskell, glossary).

Hit or Miss Whimsical.

Hob in the Well 'From a very old play.' (Maskell, glossary).

Hobson's Inn 'Recalls the benevolent old carrier of Bishopsgate.' (Maskell, glossary).

Hog in Armour Whimsical. (Maskell, glossary).

Hole in the Wall 'Suggests a snug retreat, like the Coal Hole in the Strand.' (Maskell, glossary). The Hole in the Wall in Bowness derives from a space knocked through for workers to get their drink more quickly.

Holly Tree Topographical.

Honest Lawyer 'Represented without a head.' (Maskell, glossary).

Honest Miller 'Generally in a secluded position. Portrayed on signboard without thumbs.' (Maskell, glossary).

Hoop 'Primitive iron or wood frame for sign.' (Maskell, glossary).

Hoop and Toy 'Probably from a "Toying ground," where "Aunt Sally" and other cockshies were provided.' (Maskell, glossary).

Hop Pole Implement.

Hope and Anchor 'Perhaps should be "Rope and Anchor."' (Maskell, glossary).

Horns 'Very ancient. Perhaps from the superstition of nailing a horned skull on a gable to avert lightning. Or from the custom of swearing on the Horns.' (Maskell, glossary).

Horseshoe 'Probably heraldic. Three horseshoes are a common Blacksmith's sign.' (Maskell, glossary).

Horse and Groom Sporting sign.

Horse and Jockey Sporting sign.

Hourglass Whimsical. (Maskell, glossary).


Intrepid Fox Whig sign.

Ivy Bush Wine-house sign.


Jack of Both Sides 'An alehouse with entrance from two streets.' (Maskell, glossary).

Jack of Newbury 'John Winchcomb, the famous clothier.' (Maskell, glossary).

John Bull 'From the famous play by George Colman.' (Maskell, glossary).

Jolly Farmer Agricultural.


Key 'Perhaps a locksmith' sign.' (Maskell, glossary).

King and Miller Ballad sign. (Maskell, glossary).

King's Arms Royal coat of arms.

King's Head As Maskell explains: 'In 1534, the Abbot of Waverley had occasion to come to London on business matters and arranged to interview various parties at the Pope's Head, in Southwark. Strangely enough, in this very year, 1534, Henry VIII proclaimed the independence of England from Papal authority. Landlords who did not wish to run any risks of having their own heads elevated upon a post, hastily substituted the King for the Pope, and a Record Office map of 1542 shows the house as the Kynge's Hed. This is the history of most inns bearing this sign. Either they were Pope's Heads or Abbot's Heads; and on the expulsion of popes and abbots, the King assumed honours which the unfortunate eccesiastics had forfeited.' (p.136).


Labour in Vain 'The sign shows a black-boy being washed to make him white.' (Maskell, glossary).

Lamb and Flag Templars sign.

Lattice or Lettuce 'Alternative for "Checquers."' (Maskell, glossary).

Leather Bottle Wine-house sign.

Leg of Mutton Whimsical. (Maskell, glossary).

Lion 'The Lion appears for the first time as a supporter to the Royal Arms in the reign of Edward III. I have not been able to trace the origin of an inn under the sign of the Lion to his reign; though, perhaps, the Black Lion at Walsingham may take its name from the badge of Queen Philippa and may therefore be the Black Lion of Hainault.' (Maskell, p.65).

Lion and Castle Sherry-dealer's sign.

Live and Let Live Whimsical.

London Apprentice Ballad sign.


Magpie and Stump Associated with carpenters. The two objects are woodworkers' tools.

Maid and Magpie 'After the well-known opera.' (Maskell, glossary).

Maid's Head 'Heraldic, but sometimes Queen Elizabeth.' (Maskell, glossary).

Man in the Moon Ballad sign.

Man Loaded with Mischief The most famous of inn signs depicts a man carrying a woman who holds some gin in her hand. Painted by Hogarth, the original was on an alehouse in Oxford Street. (Maskell, p.197).

Man of Ross John Kyrle. (Maskell, glossary).

Marquis of Granby 'The Marquis of Granby ... runs Nelson very close in popularity: the hero himself is almost forgotten. He behaved with great personal courage and spirit in the battles of the Seven Years' War and gave occasion to the expression, "Charging bald-headed." As he was going to charge the enemy, some aide-de-camp cried: "You have lost your wig, my lord!" Whereupon the Marquis retorted, "Damn the wig! I can charge bald-headed!"' (Maskell, p.192).

Marrowbones and Cleaver Butcher boy's sign. (Maskell, glossary).

Mason's Arms Guild/occupation.

Maypole 'Old English sign.' (Maskell, glossary).

Mazeppa 'Circus sign, or in honour of Lord Byron.' (Maskell, glossary).

Mermaid Merchant's sign.

Mitre Ecclesiastical.

Mitre and Dove Associated with carpenters, these two objects being woodworkers' tools.

Monster 'Possible corrupion of Monastery.' (Maskell, glossary).

Mother Huff 'Famous alewife of Hampstead.' (Maskell, glossary).

Mother Redcap 'Possibly Skelton's Eliner Rummyng.' (Maskell, glossary).

Mother Shipton Legend.


Nag's Head Heraldic.

Nell Gwynne After the mistress.

Nelson Or Lord Nelson. A popular sign after his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Neptune Mariner's sign.

Noah's Ark 'Sometimes ecclesiastical, but frequently satirical.' (Maskell, glossary).

North Pole Nautical.


Oldcastle, Sir John Falstaff's original name.

Ostrich 'Vulgarism for Hospice.' (Maskell, glossary).


Packhorse Reference to packhorse routes.

Paul Pry 'Peeping Tom. Legendary.' (Maskell, glossary).

Peacock 'Heraldic - Earls of Rutland.' (Maskell, glossary).

Pelican 'The Pelican was the crest of Thomas Cromwell, who stole it from the Church.' (Maskell, p.190).

Philpott, Toby Ballad sign. (Maskell, glossary).

Phoenix Heraldic.

Pickerel Angler's sign.

Pied Bull A bull ring or cattle market.

Pindar of Wakefield Ballad sign.

Pine Apple 'Confectioner's Sign. According to Larbert dates from about 1770.' Maskell, glossary).

Plough Agricultural or star sign.

Portcullis Tudor associations.

Postboy 'House of Call.' (Maskell, glossary).

Prince of Wales 'Edward VII is usually intended.' (Maskell, glossary).

Punchbowl Adopted by the Whigs as their sign.


Queen's Arms 'Usually Queen Victoria.' (Maskell, glossary).

Queen's Head Elizabeth I.

Quiet Woman 'Variation of the Silent Woman.' See Good Woman. (Maskell, glossary).


Rainbow Associated with dyers.

Ram Clothworker's sign.

Ramping Cat 'Probably heraldic. A Cotswold sign.' (Maskell, glossary).

Raven Heraldic.

Red Dragon Associated with Wales and with early Tudor reigns.

Red Lion 'Next to the White Hart, the Red Lion is the sign most frequently to be met with in England. The two signs practically succeeded each other, when the White Hart of Richard II was devoured, as it were, by the Red Lion of the House of Lancaster.' (Maskell, p.64). Although associated with the House of Lancaster, it is unlikely that it was adopted as an inn sign until Henry V's reign, possibly as a result of the victory at Agincourt in 1415. The sign was also Cardinal Wolsey's 'favourite badge' and he may have issued licences. 'Certainly to him must be ascribed the Red Lion at Hampton-on-Thames which was first opened in building Hampton Court.' The Red Lion is also part of the Royal Arms of Scotland, although not a favourite of the Stuarts. (Maskell, pp.66-8).

Reindeer 'A seventeenth-century sign.' (Maskell, glossary).

Rising Sun Royal badge. (Maskell, glossary).

Robin Hood Legend. / 'With the Couplet: "When Robin Hood is not at home, step in and drink with little John.' (Maskell, glossary).

Roebuck Heraldic.

Rose 'Vintner's sign, but sometimes Rose of York or Lancaster.' (Maskell, glossary).

Rose and Crown Tudor associations.

Royal Oak Associated with the flight of Prince Charles after Worcester and celebration of his accession as Charles II. (Maskell, p.190).

Rum Puncheon Whig sign. (Maskell, glossary).

Running Horse Hanoverian sign. (Maskell, glossary).


St. Blaise Patron of Weavers.

St. Christopher Patron of Weavers.

St. Crispin Patron of Shoemakers.

St. George Pilgrim sign.

St. Hugh's Bones Associated with shoemakers.

St. John 'Usually in connection with the Knights Hospitallers.' (Maskell, glossary).

St. Julian Patron of Travellers.

St. Thomas 'Usually St. Thomas of Canterbury.' (Maskell, glossary).

Salutation Or Angelus; the Angel appearing to the Blessed Virgin.

Saracen's Head Sometimes related to the crest of Lord Audley and Lord Cobham.

Seven Sisters 'Seven Windows or Seven Trees.' (Maskell, glossary) [eh?].

Seven Stars 'Often Masonic, but sometimes the Constellation of the Plough or Great Bear.' (Maskell, glossary).

Shakespeare's Head Or 'The Shakespeare' - still the most popular literary sign.

Shepherd Rustic.

Ship and Shovel 'Often a Stevedore's sign.' (Maskell, glossary).

Ships 'Mariner's sign, but occasionally rustic rendering of "Sheep."' (Maskell, glossary).

Sieve Whimsical. (Maskell, glossary).

Silent Woman See Good Woman.

Silver Lion '... is typical of the breweries of Picardy whose products of late years have surpassed in quality their Belgian rivals.' (Maskell, p.71).

Simon the Tanner 'In Bermondsey. Leather worker's sign.' (Maskell, glossary).

Spotted Dog Heraldic. Leopard or Talbot.

Spread Eagle Heraldic.

Stag 'Religious. Also brewer's sign in Normandy and elsewhere.' (Maskell, glossary).

Star 'Badge of Earls of Surrey and Sussex. Also of Innholder's Company.' (Maskell, glossary).

Star and Garter Royal badge.

String of Horses Packhorse route.

Sugar Loaf Grocer.

Sun 'Heraldic. Also Distillers' Company.' (Maskell, glossary).

Swan with Two Necks Vintner's company.


Tabard Herald's coat.

Talbot Dog. Heraldic.

Three Compasses Associated with the masons and carpenters.

Three Crosses Three Cross Roads. (Maskell, glossary).

Three Cups Heraldic.

Three Frogs 'Travesty of Royal Arms of France.' (Maskell, glossary).

Three Horseshoes Blacksmith's sign.

Three Kings Sign of the mercers, 'because linen and thread was originally manufactured in Cologne and that bearing the trade mark of the "Three Crowns" had the highest reputation.' (Maskell, p.112).

Three Pigeons 'Vulgarism for three martlets. Heraldic.' (Maskell, glossary).

Three Tuns Vintner's Arms.

Tiger's Head Associated with Sir Francis Walsingham.

Tom of Bedlam Character in King Lear. (Maskell, glossary).

Toy 'Possibly a "Cockshy" or "Aunt Sally."' (Maskell, glossary).

Trafalgar A popular sign after Nelson's victory.

Turk's Head 'Coffee house sign, but sometimes variation of Saracen's Head.' (Maskell, glossary).

Two Brewers 'A barrel slung between two draymen.' (Maskell, glossary).

Two Chairmen 'House of call for bearers of Sedan Chairs.' (Maskell, glossary).

Two Spies Biblical. (Maskell, glossary).


Unicorn Introduced by James I; also associated with 'chemists and druggists from the belief that the supposed horn (probably that of the narwhal) was an antidote to all poisons.' (Maskell, pp.63 and 112).


Wheatsheaf Agricultural sign; also associated with Lord Burleigh.

White Bear Heraldic. Earls of Kent.

White Boar Richard III.

White Hart Adopted by Richard II.

White Horse A mythical creature in many cultures, it 'was the banner of the saxon invaders of England. There was the White Horse of their God, Odin...' The white horses carved into the chalk downs (Chiltern Hills) celebrate Saxon victories. / 'Antiquaries tell us that the warriors who waylaid William the Conqueror at Swanscombe and succeeded in extorting from him a recognition of their ancient privileges, really came from the Vale of Holmesdale, which includes part of Surrey and northern Sussex. Noble families possessing manors in the district frequently assumed the White Horse as their crest. Hence the sign is well represented throughout the valley from Otford via Dorking to Guildford and stretching southward as far as Horsham.' (Maskell, p.50, 51).

White Lion Edward IV.

White Swan Henry IV's badge.

Woolpack At one time wool was the most valuable merchandise in England. 'London Bridge is said to be built on woolpacks. The Lord Chancellor's seat to this day is referred to as "the woolsack"; and a woolsack was the recognised sign of the alehouses in many towns, particularly Guildford.' (Maskell, p.110).

Woodman 'Usually a forester or verderer.' (Maskell, glossary).

World Turned Upside-down 'The famous highwayman's horse.' (Maskell, glossary).













Royal Signs

Edward IV White Lion

Edward VI Gun

Henry IV White Swan

James I Unicorn

Lancaster (House of) Red Lion; Antelope

Richard II White Hart

Richard III White Boar

Tudor Rose and Crown; Portcullis; Red Dragon; Gun (Edward VI)