Thursday, 6 November 2008

Pub names and the Marquis of Granby

Reading local history documents, it's striking how much a part of life public houses were. Not only were they places to buy the beer that was often safer than water, and socialise with friends; they were also meeting places for all sorts of associations and all classes. Thus in the 1830s the Deptford Coal Institution, a charity to supply coal to the needy, first met in the Dover Castle Inn on Deptford Broadway, while the committee of the Deptford Benevolent Institution for Educating Youth preferred the Swan Inn on the High Street. (Unsurprisingly, an exception to the rule was the British & Foreign Temperance Society, which preferred the non-alcoholic surroundings of the Friends' Meeting House).

Our pubs also hold history in another way: their names. Since I often get off the bus at the Marquis of Granby stop on New Cross Road, that was an obvious one to look into a little further. It's a popular name, shared by pubs in Fitzrovia, Covent Garden, Esher, Nottingham and Newcastle Upon Tyne among others. There's a good reason why certain men's names are remembered in this way: when soldiers (usually non-commissioned officers) left the army, they were sometimes given public houses by commanding officers to provide them with an occupation and income. As a mark of gratitude, they might name the establishment after their benefactors. So who was the Marquis of Granby and what were his military connections?

John Manners, Marquess of Granby, was an eighteenth-century army general. Given his own fondness for drinking and gambling, he would probably have been happy to know his name would survive in this way! Son of the Duke of Rutland, he was educated at Eton and Cambridge and also had a political career. In 1745 he became a colonel; his military career took off during the Seven Years War. In 1758, the King made him Colonel of the Royal Horse Guards and in 1766, he became Commander-in-Chief (a basically political appointment). However, his poor administrative skills and allegedly overly-lenient discipline brought criticism. The public, though, admired his concern about his men's welfare - as evidenced by the number of pubs which owed their purchase to him and bore his name. Sadly, when he resigned from politics in January 1770 he found himself in financial difficulties until his death later that year.

Given the survival of these public house names through the centuries, and the historical clues they contain, it's a pity to see so many pubs falling victim to the 'All Bar Rat and Firkin' syndrome. (A happy exception is J D Wetherspoon, who do make the effort to reference local history in their pub names). It's time for more creativity, our descendants may thank us for it!

Image: Allan Ramsay's official portrait of the Marquess of Granby, from Wikipedia.

1 comment:

Elaine Saunders - Complete Text said...

Pub signs are a pictorial record of our history - from Roman times, through the Crusades and the Dissolution of the monasteries to the present day. Their disappearance is almost like someone emptying the National Gallery.

They've been inspired by religion, royalty, lust, pride, murder, heroes and scandals and, together, they’re an often disregarded historical resource.

Let’s hope that these traditional pub signs can be preserved and remember to take notice of the sign above the door in your rush for the bar. It might not be there for much longer!

Elaine Saunders
Author : A Book About Pub Names
Complete Text