A book that says it will tell you the history of over 650 pub names across London turns out to be rather fun to read. Written by two chaps, it’s a mix of home research and arduous visits to pubs to uncover the local lore while sampling their wares.
A book of this sort could be laid out almost any way you want, thematically, geographically, historically, or, as is the case here, quite simply alphabetically. Initially thinking this might be a bit of an effort to wade through from A to Z, it turned out to be very readable.
That’s mainly thanks to the decision to give just one or two paragraphs to each pub that caught their attention. You can swiftly flit from pub to pub without ever getting a bit too bogged down in one.
The result is a buffet selection of a book, offering a delectable selection of bite-sized mouthfuls of pub lore. It’s almost charming at times, and yes, it’s quite a page-turner, and a bit like a buffet, you often end up consuming far more than you planned to at a sitting.
They’ve not worried about obvious pub names, such as those named after monarchs, but had tapped royal connections where appropriate, such as the Royal Oak, all named in honour of the restoration of the monarchy and a reference to Charles II hiding in an oak tree after the Battle of Worcester. You should always visit a Royal Oak pub on Oak Apple Day.
The duo of authors are also reassuringly honest when they have an interesting pub name, but no idea of its origins. Included for completeness, to ensure they don’t get complaints that it was missed out, or to trigger letters explaining the origins, I leave to you to decide. They may veer at times a bit too close to stating as fact that which is not entirely proven, such as the story of the Blue Posts, but any book of history is going to at times state things that are maybe disputed elsewhere.
But they’ve found some gems out there, such as the Owl and Hitchhiker, which is a renamed The Edward Lear, and its new name combined Edward Lear’s famous poem and Douglas Adams famous book. Also, the Flying Chariot after a 17th-century local who claimed to have invented a machine for flying to the moon.
The Italian Job is not named after that famous film, whereas almost every pub with Lord something in its name are named after the Lord in question. Just two Ladies to eleven Lords in pub names.
It’s a pub book that’s unlike any pub book out there. Most review the pubs, this one barely mentions the interior or the drinks on tap, as it focuses on the name above the door, and yet, it’s curiously compelling, and yes, you will want to visit some of the pubs they describe, just to say you drank in The Wrong Un.