The other day I had a wander round Nantwich, Cheshire, to capture images of pub signs, with the intention of finding out a little about them. They are in no particular order, and my list may not be comprehensive.
The Black Lion
According the pub’s own website this is the oldest pub in town. The building, on Welsh Row, dates from the seventeenth century. This is significant. The Nantwich Museum tells that in 1583 a great fire swept through the town, burning for twenty days and destroying 150 buildings, leaving half the populace homeless. Nantwich was important for salt and as a military staging post. As such it was considered important enough for an appeal for funds for rebuilding, to which Queen Elizabeth contributed £1,000. Over the next three years the town was rebuilt on the medieval street pattern, much of which persists today.
The black lion rampant has been used in may emblems to represent nobility and royalty, but I have not yet found a local connection.
The Boot & Shoe
In 1887 and 1890 various papers reported on strikes by boot and shoe makers employed in Nantwich. Evidently, this was an important trade: in 1891 there were at least 150 employed in boot and shoe making. Several papers, the length and breadth of the land reported that on Friday 26 July 1900 lightning had caused damage and injury and in the early hours of Saturday the Boot and Shoe Inn was struck by lightning.
During the early hours of Saturday morning the Boot and Shoe Inn, Nantwich, was struck by lightning. A chimney was wrecked, the debris crashing through the roof into the attic and causing other mischief. Fortunately, the landlord and his wife escaped injury, although greatly startled.
Sheffield Daily Telegraph 30 July 1900
But there were fatalities elsewhere on what must have been a momentous night. In the Sheffield Daily Telegraph alone there were reports of violent electrical storms in Carmarthenshire, Wales, in Devizes, Wiltshire, in Ashwell, Hertfordshire, in Halesowen, Worcestershire, in Maidstone, Kent, and Cricklewood, London, where the roof to the nave was totally destroyed by fire after a lightning strike, Sleaford, Lincolnshire, where a prize horse was killed by lightning, and also in parts of France. At least some of Andrew’s Kindred must have witnessed this wave of storms that ripped through buildings, destroyed crops and killed or injured horses and farm hands.
The Bowling Green
Testament to another lost green. The Northwich Guardian, 15 Jan 1881, advertised:
SKATING ! SKATING !!
NO FEAR OF DROWNING.
THE BOWLING GREEN, NANTWICH
has been flooded, and forms excellent skating. Ad-
There was another bowling green to the south of the town, at the corner of Park Street and Audlem Road.
The Cheshire Cat
The Crown stands on High Street, right in the centre of town, and is the most obvious old building, with its sloping, creaking floors and walls – there is hardly a right angle anywhere. The present hotel was built on the same site as the previous hotel, which burned down in the great fire, making it about 430 years old. I guess the name reflects Queen Elizabeth’s assistance. In 1644, during the English Civil Wars, the town was besieged by Royalists, so the town itself was held by Parliamentarians.
CAMRA’s What Pub site says:
Rambling pub, where several premises on different levels have been knocked together. Loud music most of the time, and bands at weekends. Door staff restrict entry at weekends.
And there is no real ale. Not my kind of place then.
According to A history of the town and parish of Nantwich or Wich-Malbank : in the county palatine of Chester, via Ancestry.com, Malbank was an important family in ancient times, which must be the inspiration for the name. It appears the first Baron of Wich-Malbank benefited from the Norman Conquest and was a beneficiary to various religious houses. He is understood to have “built” the parish church of St Mary & St Nicholas, Nantwich, and founded the Hospital of St Nicholas in about 1083-84.
Evidently a lively music venue, though I don’t get anything from the website – facebook here. The signs hardly need explanation.
Again, no need to dwell on the inspiration. Another lively venue with a range of regular events. However, as a follower of horse racing, this article caught my eye:-
Staffordshire Advertiser 03 April 1858
YOUNG TOUCHSTONE, the property of Mr. Harper, of Hatherton, this season: thorough-bred mares, seven guineas; half-bread mares, three guineas; and five shillings the groom. Groom’s fee to be paid at the time, remainder at Midsummer.
YOUNG TOUCHSTONE, sire of Our Betsy (winner of the Tarporley Hunt Cup), the North Star, Joan of Arc, &c., &c., is a dark brown horse, 16 1/2 hnds high, short black legs, fine action, large bone and substance, excellent temper, perfectly sound and free from blemish, and a sure foal getter. He is by the Marquis of Westminster’s celebrated Touchstone … Touchstone won the St. Leger in 1834, and was the best horse of his day; and is the sire of Surplice, winner of both Derby and St. Leger in 1848 …
YOUNG TOUCHSTONE will be at … on Saturdays at the Shakespeare Inn, Nantwich …
Today, of course, the breeding of race horses is a rather more scientific enterprise, but in 1858 transport was not what it is today and poor old Young Touchstone was to be paraded round various towns in the county, expected stand en route.
According to Wikipedia, Touchstone sired three Derby winners and was leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland four times. By way of comparison, perhaps the leading sire of this age is Galileo: the fee for a live foal in 2014 was 350,000 euros.
It appears that for a time this was named Frog and Ferret, but has reverted to its traditional name (newspaper archives show this was the name throughout the nineteenth century), which reflects the arms of the Talbot family, Earls of Shrewsbury. I am not sure what connects the family with Nantwich, or even Cheshire.
It nearly went belly up in 1893:
Cheshire Observer 21 January 1893
“THE TRADE”: AN OVERCROWDED NEIGHBOURHOOD. — At the Police Court, on Monday, application was made on behalf of Edwin Williams, late of the Tunnel Hotel, Birkenhead, for the transfer of the license of the Talbot Inn, Nantwich. The police objected on the ground that in the street in which the Talbot stood there were four public-houses, notwithstanding that the street was only 59 yards long. In an adjoining street, which was only 55 yards long, there were two public-houses. It was also urged that the house was not doing any business, it being pointed out that the three previous tenants had all come to grief during their occupancy, which only extended over a period of two years. It was represented on behalf of the applicant that the refusal of the licence would mean depreciation in value of the property, which was worth £1,800. — The Magistrates eventually granted the licence, the Chairman observing that the majority of the Bench were in favour of the application.
The White Horse
The White Horse is the sign of the House of Hanover, adopted by many eighteenth-century inns to demonstrate loyalty to the new Royal dynasty. This looks a good all-rounder and live music venue.
The Wickstead Arms
This looks like my kind of place, a busy back street pub with several real ales and no “national blands”. I must try it when next in town.
According to The Internet Surname Database, “A Coat of Arms granted to the family is a silver shield, on a bend azure between two Cornish choughs black, three gold garbs. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John Wickstid, which was dated April 23rd 1540, recorded at Nantwich, Cheshire …“
However the Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames quotes Nicholas de Wickstede 1279 and links to the place name Wickstead, Cheshire.
Reaney, P H, (ed. Wilson, R M), 1997, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd ed., OUP, Oxford
Hmmm – the Cornish choughs are not quite as expected!
The Red Cow
Well, this pub doesn’t have a traditional sign of a red cow, but, of the ones I’ve been in so far, it is my favourite. Robinson’s Unicorn is a bostin’ pint and the food and service have been excellent. It’s not such a bad place to wait for the bus, either!