London’s weirdest pub names and what they mean


Ever wondered about the origns of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese or The Pyrotechnists Arms?

London has more than 7,000 pubs, almost all with their own individual identities.

There are the ones with common names that we all know, and there are the ones with names so ridiculous they can’t possibly be real.

But they are, and we’ve collected them together and found out exactly where they came from.

The Mad Bishop & Bear


Like any really interesting pub name, this one has its roots in history. The land this Paddington-based pub sits on used to be owned by the Abbey of Westminster, and was sold to make way for a railway for a nominal fee, despite the value of the land. The Mad Bishop was the guy who authorised the sale, so the story goes. The Bear part also refers to the location – the pub tells us “you know who he is – he comes from Peru and likes marmalade sandwiches”.

The Moon Under Water

SW12, NW9, SW16, WC2

The Moon Under Water is what George Orwell named his fantasy perfect pub. In 1946, he gave a description in the Evening Standard. Here are some highlights:

  • “The architecture and fittings must be uncompromisingly Victorian.”
  • “The pub is quiet enough to talk, with the house possessing neither a radio nor a piano.”
  • “The barmaids know the customers by name and take an interest in everyone.”
  • “It sells tobacco and cigarettes, aspirins and stamps, and lets you use the phone.”
  • “[…] there is a snack counter where you can get liver-sausage sandwiches, mussels (a speciality of the house), cheese, pickles and […] large biscuits with caraway seeds […].”
  • “They are particular about their drinking vessels at ‘The Moon Under Water’ and never, for example, make the mistake of serving a pint of beer in a handleless glass.”

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese


London's weird pub names

The name of this pub has always been surrounded by mystery. Some say it started as The Cheshire, and was named because the land it sat on belonged to a religious order, the Abbey of Royal Vale, Cheshire. Another story says it was named after Thomas Cheshire, who was a Fleet Street tavern keeper in 1543. One theory that pub staff told us is that it was famous for making cheese. Nobody really knows.

Hole in the Wall


You might think this pub is named after the dodgy celebrity gameshow, a cash machine or a place someone may want to insert an appendage. But thankfully, it’s none of those.

It’s likely to have started as a nickname for a very small pub. The one in Waterloo isn’t actually small, but it’s built into a railway viaduct.

The Prospect of Whitby


London's weird pub names

It sounds like a strange name but the famous Grade II-listed east London pub is actually named after a ship that used to berth next to the pub in the 19th Century. The pub is much older than that, but was renamed around that time after it burnt down. It was formerly known as the Devil’s Tavern, because of its dubious reputation. We don’t understand why they changed it.

I am the Only Running Footman


London's weird pub names

You could be tricked into thinking this one is modern and hideously trendy, but it’s actually a real old pub name. It’s named after a servant rich people employed to run ahead of the carriages and pay tolls. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the longest pub name in London.

The Zeppelin Shelter


Another cool-sounding, east London-y name, but again, another real old one. The pub’s been around since 1894, but it was so named because it sits opposite solid railway warehouses that were used during WWI as east End civilian air raid shelters.

The Pyrotechnists Arms


The pub is built very close to Britain’s oldest fireworks factory. It’s also alleged to be an old haunt of Guy Fawkes – but we’re not sure we believe that one. The pub is adorned with pictures of the legendary figure – his distinctive pointy beard makes identifying him on the sign pretty easy.

The five Tube stations named after pubs: 

London's weird pub names

Five stations on the London Underground system are named after pubs: Royal Oak, Elephant & Castle, Angel, Manor House and Swiss Cottage.

And one famous London area:

The area of Maida Vale, which has a Bakerloo line station of the same name, is named after a pub called the Heroes of Maida, after the Battle of Maida in 1806.

Do you know any other good ones? Tweet me @robynvinter

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