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Patrick Roberts

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British pub signs featuring cats

Information and notes

This page includes a little info and background about British pub signs.

From links at the foot of the article either browse through our gallery of 'cat signs'
or use an index which lists all the signs photographed so far —
clicking a name from there will take you straight to its gallery entry.

British pub signs: a short introduction and history

Inn signs probably originated with the Romans, when vine leaves would be displayed outside taverns to show that they sold wine. The equivalent in Britain was small evergreen bushes hung outside, and early pubs also used long poles or 'ale stakes' to show that they sold beer — together with the bushes if they also sold wine. In later times, by about the twelfth century, it had become common for taverns to have names. However, the great majority of the population were unable to read or write at the time, and so pictorial signs were used to indicate the names.

In 1393 King Richard II ordered that all pubs and inns had to display a sign, so they could be recognised by the official Ale Taster. Richard's own emblem was the White Hart. Ever since then a huge variety of inn signs has reflected British history, people, events and tastes. Up until the Reformation there were many religious names, such as the Crossed Keys, referring to St Peter, but when Henry VIII split with the Roman Catholic Church a lot of them were changed to secular ones or those with a royal connection, such as the King's Head or the Rose and Crown. There remain very many pub names and signs today with royal connections; for example, most White Lions date from Edward IV's time, and the White Bear was Richard III's emblem.

Probably the commonest pub name of all is the Red Lion: a 2009 television documentary reported that there were over 600 in Britain with this name. It dates from the time of James I of England and VI of Scotland, who came to the throne in 1603. He decreed that Scotland's heraldic red lion must be displayed on all important buildings — which included pubs.

In more recent times social and industrial changes have been marked by the appearance of sporting or transport-related names and signs: The Cricketer's Arms, The Railway Inn, The Navigation and so on, while of course famous people such as Lord Nelson continued to be represented. Queen Victoria has many pubs named in her honour — but then she did have a very long reign! Names such as The Highwayman's Arms, The Smugglers and The Poacher's Pocket recall rather more infamous characters.

Our gallery of signs featuring cats

As this is a website about cats we restrict our selection to those with names or signs that include those animals. There is a bigger variety of these than one might think. We don't quite have them all yet, but are continuing to work on it and believe that only a handful now remain to be photographed. Unfortunately not all have pictorial signs (why not?, we ask!), and in particular we understand that such signs are not universal in Scotland. In those cases perhaps we'll be able to include at least a picture of the pub itself. Later we shall be concentrating on wild cats on pub signs, too. Meanwhile we hope you enjoy what we have assembled so far — and please do let us know if you notice any omissions.

We would like to acknowledge valuable help from Brian Curtis and David Roe of the Inn Sign Society, who have kindly sent us unusual signs featuring cats from the Society's archives and allowed us to use them. Visit their interesting website for more pub signs and information.

Browse through the sign galleries

Gallery 1      Gallery 2      Gallery 3      Gallery 4      Gallery 5

Cats that Got Away

Gallery Index

Notes & Anecdotes

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If you know of any more pub signs showing cats, have details of sign or name changes,
or can contribute any anecdotal information, please !
Additions, amendments or suggestions for this section always gratefully received.

Drop in at our Facebook page

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Famous Felines
Featuring Felines
Fans of Felines
Fabled Felines
Feline Folios
Feline Philately
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or visit the Purr 'n' Fur home page

Our featured feline at the head of the page, having quite a lot of fun, is Ragamuffin, or Rags for short: sadly he's no longer with us. A cat of great character who seemed to live by the maxim 'Life is for living', it was devastating for me when that life was cut short by a road accident. A rescue cat, he lived with me in North Wales for less than four years only. You can see a little tribute to him here with a more flattering photo.

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Page created September 2004, with later revisions