18 September 2014

Cheshire: Pubs and their signs 1

The pub is an institution in England, a much-loved and oft-frequented centre of its local community, where the publican is counsellor and confidant as much as businessperson. Many of the public houses are centuries old, located in heritage buildings and steeped in history, with intriguing names and fascinating signs that reflect their origins.

Don’t be misled – I did not visit the interiors of all these pubs but I have certainly accumulated an album full of their signs. Here are the first of them, some of the signs that captivated me in Cheshire.

The Bells of Peover, Peover  
Given the name, you might perhaps expect there to be bells in the vicinity of this public house but there are none. The name refers to the Bell family who ran the pub in the 1870s, rather than to the bells in a church or a clock tower. And The Bells of Peover (pronounced Peever), which seems to date from around 1839, was originally called ‘The Warren de Tabley Arms’ – the family crest of the de Tabley family can still be seen on the front wall of the pub.

One particularly interesting fact about this pub came to light while I was researching its history. In the early months of 1944, when American soldiers were billeted at nearby Peover Hall, their commanders, General Eisenhower and General Patton, made plans for the D-Day invasion of Normandy over lunch here. For this reason, the flags of the United States and Great Britain still hang together outside the pub.

The Golden Pheasant, Plumley  
I couldn’t find much information about The Golden Pheasant, except that it’s approximately 200 years old, though the village itself is much older. The earliest known mention of Plumley is in 1119, in the Chartulary of the Abbey of St Werburgh, in Chester

We did see pheasants quite often as we drove around the narrow country lanes in Cheshire and, from personal experience, I can tell you that the pub is very nicely decorated inside, with lots of small nooks and cosy snugs where you can relax in a comfortable armchair with a friend and a drink. I totally agree with their philosophy on how to keep calm and would be more than happy to enjoy more ‘golden’ moments in this lovely place!

The Red Lion, Pickmere  
Unfortunately, I found no historical information about the Red Lion either, though it does appear on the 1840 Ordnance Survey map and I suspect it’s actually much older than that. It was refurbished in 2012 so the d├ęcor is very pleasant, tastefully furnished with nice spaces for eating and drinking.

Sarah and I visited this lovely pub twice during my three-week stay in Wincham. The first time we just enjoyed cold beers outside in the garden. It's a great place to eat on a summer's day, the grounds are nicely landscaped, there's a playground for the kids and it's dog friendly. The second visit was for lunch and both our meals were superb and delicious.

The Angel, Knutsford  
Knutsford is a large town close to where Sarah lives and it borders Tatton Park, the wonderful stately home and parklands which are very popular with both local visitors and tourists (see my previous blog). One of Knutsford’s other claims to fame is that it was home to well-known author Elizabeth Gaskell and, naturally enough, the town features in her novels. In Gaskell's time, the Angel Inn was a notable posting house and tavern, and it gets mentioned in her 1851 novel Cranford.

The White Bear, Knutsford  
Another old public house to be found in Knutsford is The White Bear. It was first registered in the 16th century, making it the oldest pub in town, and it’s also the last building in town to have a thatched roof. And what a roof it is! I love the little pheasant and bear the thatcher has added to the roof ridge.

The pub was once a coaching inn – in the 1820s you could catch the coach from here north to Liverpool or south via Newcastle, Stafford and Birmingham to London. There are several theories as to the origin of the pub’s name. The White Bear was the name of the ship Sir Francis Drake used for his daring raid on Cadiz Harbour in 1587; Richard III’s Queen Anne had a white bear as her crest; and, sadly, bear baiting used to be a popular sport in the days before football and rugby.  

The Lord Eldon, Knutsford  
Staying in Knutsford, the Lord Eldon public house (formerly known as the Duke of Wellington Inn) is another oldie at 300 years old and, interestingly, this beauty is supposed to be haunted. The ghost of Annie Pollitt, the daughter of Lord Eldon’s landlord James Pollitt, has been seen wandering the corridors in clothing dating from the 1800s and, apparently, also causes lights to flicker, objects to move and a cold breeze to send the chills up the spines of unsuspecting visitors.

According to an article in the Warrington Guardian on 13 June 2001, ‘Landlady Laura Scullion was sceptical about the myth when she took over the pub two years ago -- until she too glimpsed a white figure. "We had just closed for the night and I was standing at the bar with a barman when the white shadow of a woman moved across the bar and into the tap room," she said.’

I’ll leave you with that spooky tale but, be warned, there will definitely be more blogs about English pubs and their intriguing signs and history.

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