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Jan 6 2017

Manchester’s Pubs and the Origin of Pub Names


Did you know that the most common pub name in Britain is the ‘Red Lion’?
It’s not hard to believe, when so many pubs include the word ‘Lion’ in their name. Although it’s easy to disregard as you probably only stop and think about a pub name if it is particularly memorable. There are however believed to be around 600 ‘Red Lion’ pubs up and down the country – I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen any lions that are red?!

So what are the Red Lion’s origins?
James I inherited the English throne in 1603. He insisted that all public buildings, including taverns, displayed the red lion as a way of reinforcing his authority. As the lion is generally seen as a symbol of royalty, the number of pubs with ‘Lion’ in the name is quite prevalent such as the, ‘Golden Lion’, ‘Old Black Lion’ and ‘White Lion’. The ‘White Lion’ being a little more common than the ‘Old Black Lion’ which is found opposite the railway station in Northampton. The white lion is specifically used in reference to Edward VI who used the symbol as his personal emblem. Other popular names, dating from the crusades, where taverns were run by religious groups to cater for pilgrims and knights include the ‘Saracen’s Head’, ‘Turk’s Head’ and ‘Lamb and Flag’.

Are there themes in pub names?
Occupations – ‘Blacksmith’s Arms’, ‘Mason’s Arms’ etc
Liveries – ‘Three Horseshoes’, ‘Three Hammers’, ‘Three Arrows’ etc
Traditional Sporting Activities – ‘Hare and Hounds’, ‘White Hart’ etc
Henry VIII was known for his love of hunting. Manchester’s ‘Hare and Hounds’, just around the corner from Manchester’s hyped up Cat Cafe, and the several ‘Greyhound’ pubs get their names from Henry’s enthusiasm for hunting. Many pub names have their history rooted in heraldry so in many respects, it seems like if you want to name a pub, you have to be born into royalty! There are however exceptions…

So, what about Manchester inspired names?
Now this is the one that I find the most interesting. You may know The ‘Rain Bar’ which is a popular place to hangout especially in the summer months since it’s right next to the canal. Quite the opposite of Northern Quarter’s ‘Dry Bar’, this pub prides itself on Manchester’s infamous miserable weather. It even describes itself on their website as ‘unashamedly Mancunian’! Maps that date back to the late 19th century include evidence that the Rain Bar was once an umbrella factory…

What’s the largest pub in Manchester?
‘The Moon under Water’ in Deansgate is not only the largest pub in Manchester but the largest pub in Britain! The pub is named after the title of a 1946 essay by George Orwell in which the author describes his ideal pub.

Any pubs named after song lyrics?
Located just down the road from the University of Manchester Student’s Union, ‘Big Hands’ is a popular place for pre or post gig drinks. The name comes from song lyrics – ‘Blister in the Sun’ by an American band called Violent Femmes.

What about more recent, slightly seedier history?
We all know that Manchester grew exponentially from the Industrial Revolution. With such history, it seems only fair that some of the city’s pubs are named after this point in history rather than harking back to the 16th Century and earlier.
One pub which may have intrigued you as you’ve passed it is ‘The Temple’ on Oxford Road. It might not seem like much from street level but perhaps you’re unaware of what’s down below. You may wonder where the very small underground pub got its name; it’s certainly not grand like a temple! In fact, its original name was ‘The Temple of Convenience’, which is rather fitting when you find out that the bar is actually a renovated public toilet, originally built in the Victorian-era.

So when you’re out about, have a little look at the different names for the bars, taverns and drinking holes around Manchester and see if you can spot any interesting or unusual pub nomenclature.

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