Pub signs: a virtual crawl through Oxfordshire

Photo by Norman Walsh

Web-surfing recently brought me to a trove of scholarly reviews of Oxfordshire pubs. Its index page alone is great for the lovely names it catalogues: the Penny Black, the Coach and Horses, the Five Bells, the Rose and Crown, the Lamb and Flag, the Jolly Postboys, the Catherine Wheel. (I’m quite the fan of pub names, as the name of my jewelry business shows.)

The site’s guardian apologizes that some of the reviews are as old as six years, but of course to somebody like me all the way over here, they’re all valuable for their wit, their color and the way they show how much this crowd cares about their pubs.

At the Gardeners Arms in North Parade, a reviewer notes, “The dog is very small and yappy.” (Contrast this with the plaintive “No dog. Why?” at the

Photo by Norman Walsh

Wheatsheaf in Abingdon.) The “labyrinthine” Royal Oak on Woodstock Road is “A pub for all tastes, but perhaps a tricky place to meet friends, unless they are tall friends with flamboyant hats,” writes reviewer Pontus Lurcock.

In some reviews, there is a notation of what the sign outside looks like, but much more attention is paid to which beers are served for how much money and in what condition they are served. Also important are the newspapers available and the general ambience.

Though here’s a nice description, from the Chequers, in Cholsey: “The pub sign is mock heraldic with the head, wings and feet of an eagle sticking out of the sides of a chessboard. Intriguingly, the bottom-right-hand square is white, not black. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.” And the Crumpled Horn, in Heathfield Village: “The pub sign is a bull (with one horn crumpled) in a morning suit, leaning on a cane.”

Photo by Norman Walsh

Language/communication geek that I am, I love observing what doesn’t need to be spoken between these members of a fairly specific sub-group. There is an apparent feeling of antipathy towards Morrells, a pub and brewing group that used to own a lot of these places and might have either homogenized them or just served its own beer there, it’s hard to tell exactly.

Photographs are used by kind permission of Norman Walsh, who blogs about UK pub signs. Thank you!

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