Sam Cullen, co-author of What’s in a London Pub Name? tells us how he set out to find the meaning behind the names of 650 pubs across the capital.
The project began on a lockdown walk. Myself and James Potts [the book’s co-author] were thinking about all the weird and wonderful pub names in London. Some, we knew the stories behind, such as the Town of Ramsgate in Wapping (named after fisherman from the Kent coastal resort stopping here on their way into London). But there were plenty we didn’t.
It got us thinking: has anyone told the definitive tale behind London pub names? When we found that they hadn’t, we decided to do it ourselves!
We began researching in April 2021, as pubs began to reopen post-lockdown. From the start we set out to cover all 32 London Boroughs as well as the City of London. After all, some of the most interesting pub names are located well beyond zone 1, such as the King & Tinker up in Enfield.
We cast our net widely, only excluding pubs where the meaning behind their name was blindingly obvious. No need to tell you why a pub by Liverpool Street station is called The Railway — but the nearby Hamilton Hall and Dirty Dicks are certainly worth explaining!
Our research took various forms. Some pubs made it easy, proudly telling their story on their websites. Others required site visits accompanied by a pint or two to find out more (it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it). Some names proved more elusive still, and we took to local archives.
With 656 names included in the book, it’s hard to pick a favourite. There’s such a huge variety across the pubs featured. For example, there’s the Fountain and Ink by Waterloo, based in a building which once housed the company which made indelible ink so trusted, it was used to sign the Treaty of Versailles.
Then you have the Rusty Bucket in Eltham, a bit of imagined cockney rhyming slang by the owners (no prizes for guessing what that means).
At the other end of the scale, you have the heart-warming tale of John the Unicorn in Peckham, named after a child’s prized cuddly toy.
Through the unique lens of pub names, we hope this book provides a fresh insight into London’s social, political and cultural history. At the same time, it will open your eyes to countless pubs you may not have even known existed.
What’s in a London Pub Name? by James Potts and Sam Cullen, available now, RRP £8.95