London Taverns. The history of signboards, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. By Jacob Larwood and john Camden Hotten. (1866)
In the cities of the East all trades are confined to certain streets, or to
certain rows in the various bazars and wekalehs. Jewellers, silk-embroiderers,
pipe-dealers, traders in drugs,—each of these classes has its own quarter,
where, in little open shops, the merchants sit enthroned upon a kind of low
counter, enjoying their pipes and their coffee with the otium cum dignitate
characteristic of the Mussulman. The purchaser knows the row to go to; sees at a
glance what each shop contains; and, if he be an habitué, will know the face of
each particular shopkeeper, so that, under these circumstances, signboards would
be of no use.
With the ancient Egyptians it was much the same. As a rule, no picture or description affixed to the shop announced the trade of the owner; the goods exposed for sale were thought sufficient to attract attention. Occasionally, however, there were inscriptions denoting the trade, with the emblem which indicated it;" whence we may assume that this ancient nation was the first to appreciate the benefit that might be derived from signboards.
What we know of the Greek signs is very meagre and indefinite. Aristophanes, Lucian, and other writers, make frequent allusions, which seem to prove that signboards were in use with the Greeks.
Thus Aristotle says : “As with the things drawn above the shops, which, though they are small, appear to have breadth and depth.” And
Athenseus : “He hung the well-known sign in the front of his house.” But what their signs were, and whether carved, painted, or the natural object, is entirely unknown.
With the Romans only we begin to have distinct data. In the Eternal City, some streets, as in our mediaeval towns, derived their names from signs. Such, for instance, was the vicus Ursi Pileati, (the street of “The Bear with the Hat on,”) in the Esquiliae. The nature of their signs, also, is well known. The BUSH, their tavern-sign, gave rise to the proverb, “Wino vendibili suspensa hedera non opus est;” and hence we derive our sign of the Bush,
and our proverb, “Good Wine needs no Bush.” An ansa, or handle of a pitcher, was the sign of their post-houses, (stathmoi or allaga) and hence these establishments were afterwards denominated ansae.” That they also had painted signs, or exterior decorations which served their purpose, is clearly evident from various authors:—
“When the mice were conquered by the army of the weasels, (a story which we see painted on the taverns.)” PHAEDRUS, lib. iv. fab. vi.
These Roman street pictures were occasionally no mean works of art, as we may learn from a passage in Horace —
Lib. ii., sat. vii.: “I admire the position of the men that are fighting, painted in red or in black, as if they were really alive; striking and avoiding each other's weapons, as if they were actually moving.”
Cicero also is supposed by some scholars to allude to a sign when he says:—
De Oratore, lib. ii. ch. 71 : “Now I shall shew you how you are, to which he answered, ‘Do, please. Then I pointed with my finger towards the Cock painted on the signboard of Marius the Cimberian, on the New Forum, distorted, with his tongue out and hanging cheeks. Everybody began to laugh.”
Pliny, after saying that Lucius Mummius was the first in Rome who affixed a picture to the outside of a house, continues:—
Hist. Nat., xxxv. ch. 8: “After this I find that they were also commonly placed on the Forum. Hence that joke of Crassus, the orator. On the Forum was also that of an old shepherd with a staff, concerning which a German legate, being asked at how much he valued it, answered that he would not care to have such a man given to him as a present, even if he were real and alive.”
Fabius also, according to some, relates the story of the cock, and his explanation is cited:— “There were, namely, taverns round about the Forum, and that picture [the Cock] had been put up as a sign.”
But we can judge even better from an inspection of the Roman signs themselves, as they have come down to us amongst the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii. A few were painted; but, as a rule, they appear to have been made of stone, or terra-cotta relievo, and let into the pilasters at the side of the open shopfronts. Thus there have been found a goat, the sign of a dairy; a mule driving a mill, the sign of a baker, (plate 1.) At the door of a schoolmaster was the not very tempting sign of a boy receiving a good birching. Very similar to our Two Jolly Brewers, carrying a tun slung on a long pole, a Pompeian public-house keeper had two slaves represented above his door, carrying an amphora; and another wine-merchant had a painting of Bacchus pressing a bunch of grapes. At a perfumer's shop, in the street of Mercury, were represented various items of that profession—viz., four men carrying a box with vases of perfume, men occupied in laying out and perfuming a corpse, &c. There was also a sign similar to the one mentioned by Horace, the Two Gladiators, under which, in the usual Pompeian cacography, was the following imprecation :-ABIAT VENEREM POMPEIIANAMA IRADAM QUI Hoc LESERIT, i.e., Habeat Venerem Pompeianam iratam, &c. Besides these there were the signs of the Anchor, the Ship, (perhaps a ship-chandler's,) a sort of a Cross, the Chequers, the Phallus on a baker's shop, with the words, HIC HABITAT FELICITAs ; whilst in Herculaneum there was a very cleverly painted Amorino, or Cupid, carrying a pair of ladies' shoes, one on his head and the other in his hand. It is also probable that, at a later period at all events, the various artificers of Rome had their tools as the sign of their house, to indicate their profession. We find that they sculptured them on their tombs in the catacombs, and may safely conclude that they would do the same on their houses in the land of the living. Thus on the tomb of Diogenes, the grave-digger, there is a pickaxe and a lamp ; Bauto and Maxima have the tools of carpenters, a saw, an adze, and a chisel; Weneria, a tire-woman, has a mirror and a comb :—then there are others who have wool-combers’ implements; a physician, who has a cupping-glass; a poulterer, a case of poultry; a surveyor, a measuring rule; a baker, a bushel, a millstone, and ears of corn; in fact, almost every trade had its symbolic implements. Even that cockney custom of punning on the name, so common on signboards, finds its precedent in those mansions of the dead. Owing to this fancy, the grave of Dracontius bore a dragon; Onager, a wild ass; Umbricius, a shady tree; Leo, a lion; Doleus, father and son, two casks; Herbacia, two baskets of herbs; and Porcula, a pig. Now it seems most probable that, since these emblems were used to indicate where a baker, a carpenter, or a tire-woman was buried, they would adopt similar symbols above ground, to acquaint the public where a baker, a carpenter, or a tire-woman lived. We may thus conclude that our forefathers adopted the signboard from the Romans; and though at first there were certainly not so many shops as to require a picture for distinction,—as the open shop-front did not necessitate any emblem to indicate the trade carried on within, -yet the inns by the road-side, and in the towns, would undoubtedly have them. There was the Roman bush of evergreens to indicate the sale of wine;” and certain devices would doubtless be adopted to attract the attention of the different classes of wayfarers, as the Cross for the Christian customer,t and the Sun or the Moon for the pagan. Then we find various emblems, or standards, to court respectively the custom of the Saxon, the Dane, or the Briton. He that desired the patronage of soldiers might put up some weapon; or, if he sought his customers among the more quiet artificers, there were the various implements of trade with which he could appeal to the different mechanics that frequented his neighbourhood. Along with these very simple signs, at a later period, coats of arms, crests, and badges, would gradually make their appearance at the doors of shops and inns. The reasons which dictated the choice of such subjects were various. One of the principal was this. In the Middle Ages, the houses of the nobility, both in town and country, when the family was absent, were used as hostelries for travellers. The family arms always hung in front of the house, and the most conspicuous object in those arms gave a name to the establishment amongst travellers, who, unacquainted with the mysteries of heraldry, called a lion gules or azure by the vernacular name of the Red or Blue Lion. Such coats of arms gradually became a very popular intimation that there was - “Good entertainment for all that passes,—
Horses, mares, men, and asses;”
and innkeepers began to adopt them, hanging out red lions and green dragons as the best way to acquaint the public that they offered food and shelter.
* The Bush certainly must be counted amongst the most ancient and popular of signs. Traces of its use are not only found among Roman and other old-world remains, but during the Middle Ages we have evidence of its display. Indications of it are to be seen in the Bayeux tapestry, in that part where a house is set on fire, with the inscription, Hic domus incenditur, next to which appears a large building, from which projects something very like a pole and a bush, both at the front and the back of the building.
Still, as long as civilisation was only at a low ebb, the so-called open-houses few, and competition trifling, signs were of but little use. A few objects, typical of the trade carried on, would suffice; a knife for the cutler, a stocking for the hosier, a hand for the glover, a pair of scissors for the tailor, a bunch of grapes for the vintner, fully answered public requirements. But as luxury increased, and the number of houses or shops dealing in the same article multiplied, something more was wanted. Particular trades continued to be confined to particular streets; the desideratum then was, to give to each shop a name or token by which it might be mentioned in conversation, so that it could be recommended and customers sent to it. Reading was still a scarce acquirement; consequently, to write up the owner's name would have been of little use. Those that could, advertised their name by a rebus; thus, a hare and a bottle stood for Harebottle, and two cocks for Cox. Others, whose names no rebus could represent, adopted pictorial objects; and, as the quantity of these augmented, new subjects were continually required. The animal kingdom was ransacked, from the mighty elephant to the humble bee, from the eagle to the sparrow; the vegetable kingdom, from the palm-tree and cedar to the marigold and daisy; everything on the earth, and in the firmament above it, was put under contribution. Portraits of the great men of all ages, and views of towns, both painted with a great deal more of fancy than of truth; articles of dress, implements of trades, domestic utensils, things visible and invisible, ea quae sunt tamquam ea quae non sunt, everything was attempted in order to attract attention and to obtain publicity. Finally, as all signs in a town were painted by the same small number of individuals, whose talents and imagination were limited,
Duke of Suffolk, and also of the Dukes of Buckingham, was called the Rose, from that badge being hung up in front of the house —
“The Duke being at the Rose, within the parish
Of St Laurence Poultney.”—Henry VIII., a. i. s. 2.
“A house in the town of Lewes was formerly known as THE THREE PELICANs, the fact of those birds constituting the arms of Pelham having been lost sight of. Another is still called THE CATs,” which is nothing more than “the arms of the Dorset family, whose supporters are two leopards argent, spotted sable.”—Lower, Curiosities of Heraldry.
it followed that the same subjects were naturally often repeated, introducing only a change in the colour for a difference. Since all the pictorial representations were, then, of much the same quality, rival tradesmen tried to outvie each other in the size of their signs, each one striving to obtrude his picture into public notice by putting it out further in the street than his neighbour's. The “Liber Albus,” compiled in 1419, names this subject amongst the Inquisitions at the Wardmotes: “Item, if the ale-stake of any tavern is longer or extends further than ordinary.” And in book iii. part iii. p. 389, is said:— . “Also, it was ordained that, whereas the ale-stakes projecting in front of taverns in Chepe, and elsewhere in the said city, extend too far over the King's highways, to the impeding of riders and others, and, by reason of their excessive weight, to the great deterioration of the houses in which they are fixed;—to the end that opportune remedy might be made thereof, it was by the Mayor and Aldermen granted and ordained, and, upon summons of all the taverners of the said city, it was enjoined upon them, under pain of paying forty pence” (Rather a heavy fine, as the best ale at that time was not to be sold for more than three-halfpence a gallon.) unto the Chamber of the Guildhall, on every occasion upon which they should transgress such ordinance, that no one of them in future should have a stake, bearing either his sign, or leaves, extending or lying over the King's highway, of greater length than seven feet at most, and that this ordinance should begin to take effect at the Feast of £ Michael, then next ensuing, always thereafter to be valid and of full eitect. The booksellers generally had a woodcut of their signs for the colophon of their books, so that their shops might get known by the inspection of these cuts. For this reason, Benedict Hector, one of the early Bolognese printers, gives this advice to the buyers in his “Justinus et Florus:”— “Purchaser, be aware when you wish to buy books issued from my printing-office. Look at my sign, which is represented on the title-page, and you can never be mistaken. For some evil-disposed printers have affixed my name to their uncorrected and faulty works, in order to secure a better sale for them.”
Jodocus Badius of Paris, gives a similar caution:— “We beg the reader to notice the sign, for there are men who have adopted the same title, and the name of Badius, and so filch our labour.”
Aldus, the great Venetian printer, exposes a similar fraud, and points out how the pirate had copied the sign also in his colophon; but, by inadvertency, making a slight alteration:—
“Lastly, I must draw the attention of the student to the fact that some Florentine printers, seeing that they could not equal cur diligence in correcting and printing, have resorted to their usual artifices. To Aldus's Institutiones Grammaticae, printed in their offices, they have affixed our well-known sign of the Dolphin wound round the Anchor. But they have so managed, that any person who is in the least acquainted with the books of our production, cannot fail to observe that this is an impudent fraud. For the head of the Dolphin is turned to the left, whereas that of ours is well known to be turned to the right.”—Preface to Aldus's Livy, 1518.”
No wonder, then, that a sign was considered an heirloom, and descended from
father to son, like the coat of arms of the nobility, which was the case with
the Brazen Serpent, the sign of Reynold Wolfe. “His trade was continued a good
while after his demise by his wife Joan, who made her will the 1st of July 1574,
whereby she desires to be buried near her husband, in St Faith's Church, and
bequeathed to her son, Robert Wolfe, the chapelhouse, [their printing-office,
the Brazen Serpent, and all the prints, letters, furniture,” &c.—DIBDIN's Typ.
Ant., vol. iv. p. 6. As we observed above, directly signboards were generally
adopted, quaintness became one of the desiderata, and costliness another. This
last could be obtained by the quality of the picture, but, for two reasons, was
not much aimed at—firstly, because good artists were scarce in those days; and
even had they obtained a good picture, the ignorant crowd that daily passed
underneath the sign would, in all probability, have thought the harsh and
glaring daub a finer production of art than a Holy Virgin by Rafaelle himself.
The other reason was the instability of such a work, exposed to sun, wind, rain,
frost, and the nightly attacks of revellers and roisters. Greater care,
therefore, was bestowed upon the ornamentation of the ironwork by which it was
suspended; and this was perfectly in keeping with the taste 5f the times, when
even the simplest lock or hinges could not be 1aunched into the world without
its scrolls and strapwork. The signs then were suspended from an iron bar, fixed
either in the wall of the house, or in a post or obelisk standing in front of
it; in both cases the ironwork was shaped and ornamented with that taste so
conspicuous in the metal-work of the Renaissance period, of which many churches,
and other buildings of that period, still bear witness. In provincial towns and
villages, where there was sufficient room in the streets, the sign was generally
suspended from a kind of small triumphal arch, standing out in the road, partly
wood, partly iron, and ornamented with all that carving, gilding, and colouring
could bestow upon it, (see description of White-Hart Inn at Scole.) Some of the
designs of this class of ironwork have come down to us in the works of the old
masters, and are indeed exquisite. Painted signs then, suspended in the way we
have just pointed out, were more common than those of any other kind; yet not a
few shops simply suspended at their doors some prominent article in their trade,
which custom has outlived the more elegant signboards, and may be daily
witnessed in our streets, where the ironmonger's frying-pan, or dust-pan, the
hardware-dealer's teapot, the grocer's tea-canister, the shoemaker's last or
clog, with the Golden Boot, and many similar objects, bear witness to this old
custom. Lastly, there was in London another class of houses that had a peculiar
way of placing their signs—viz., the Stews upon the Bankside, which were, by a
proclamation of 37 Hen. VIII., “whited and painted with signs on the front, for
a token of the said houses.” Stow enumerates some of these symbols, such as the
Cross-Keys, the Gun, the Castle, the Crane, the Cardinal's Hat, the Bell, the
Swan, &c. Still greater variety in the construction of the signs existed in
France; for besides the painted signs in the iron frames, the shopkeepers in
Paris, according to H. Sauval, (“Antiquités de la Wille de Paris,”) had
anciently banners hanging above their doors, or from their windows, with the
sign of the shop painted on them; whilst in the sixteenth century carved wooden
signs were very common. These, however, were not suspended, but formed part of
the wooden construction of the house; some of them were really chefs-d'oeuvres,
and as careful in design as a carved cathedral stall. Several of them are still
remaining in Rouen and other old towns; many also have been removed and placed
in various local museums of antiquities. The most general rule, however, on the
Continent, as in England, was to have the painted signboard suspended across the
streets. An observer of James I.'s time has jotted down the names of all the
inns, taverns, and side streets in the line of road between Charing Cross and
the old Tower of London, which document lies now embalmed amongst the Harl. MS.,
6850, fol. 31. In imagination we can walk with him through the metropolis :
“On the way from Whitehall to Charing Cross we pass: the White Hart, the Red Lion, the Mairmade, iij. Tuns, Salutation, the Graihound, the Bell, the Golden Lyon. In sight of Charing Crosse: the Garter, the Crown, the Bear and Ragged Staffe, the Angel, the King Harry Head. Then from Charing Cross towards ye cittie : another White Hart, the Eagle and Child, the Helmet, the Swan, the Bell, King Harry Head, the Flower-deluce, Angel, the Holy Lambe, the Bear and Harroe, the Plough, the Shippe, the Black Bell, another King Harry Head, the Bull Head, the Golden Bull, ‘a sixpenny ordinarye, another Flower-de-luce, the Red Lyon, the Horns, the White Hors, the Prince's Arms, Bell Savadge's In, the S. John the Baptist, the Talbot, the Shipp of War, the S. Dunstan, the Hercules or the Owld Man Tavern, the Mitar, another iij. Tunnes Inn, and a iij Tunnes Tavern, and a Graihound, another Mitar, another King Harry Head, iij. Tunnes, and the iij. Cranes.”
Having walked from Whitechapel “straight forward to the Tower,” the good citizen got tired, and so we hear no more of him.
In the next reign we find the following enumerated by Taylor the water-poet, in one of his facetious pamphlets:–5 Angels, 4 Anchors, 6 Bells, 5 Bullsheads, 4 Black Bulls, 4 Bears, 5 Bears and Dolphins, 10 Castles, 4 Crosses, (red or white,) 7 Three Crowns, 7 Green Dragons, 6 Dogs, 5 Fountains, 3 Fleeces, 8 Globes, 5 Greyhounds, 9 White Harts, 4 White Horses, 5 Harrows, 20 King's Heads, 7 King's Arms, 1 Queen's Head, 8 Golden Lyons, 6 Red Lyons, 7 Halfmoons, 10 Mitres, 33 Maidenheads, 10 Mermaids, 2 Mouths, 8 Nagsheads, 8 Prince's Arms, 4 Pope's Heads, 13 Suns, 8 Stars, &c. Besides these he mentions an Adam and Eve, an Antwerp Tavern, a Cat, a Christopher, a Cooper's Hoop, a Goat, a Garter, a Hart's Horn, a Mitre, &c. These were all taverns in London; and it will be observed that their signs were very similar to those seen at the present day— a remark applicable to the taverns not only of England, but of Europe generally, at this period. In another work Taylor gives us the signs of the taverns” and alehouses in ten shires and counties about London, all similar to those we have just enumerated ; but amongst the number, it may be noted, there is not one combination of two objects, except the Eagle and Child, and the Bear and Ragged Staff. In a black-letter tract entitled “Newes from Bartholomew Fayre,” the following are named:—
“There has been great sale and utterance of Wine,
Besides Beer, Ale, and Hippocrass fine,
In every Country, Region, and Nation,
Chiefly at Billingsgate, at the Salutation;
* The number of taverns in these ten shires was "686, or thereabouts.”
And Boreshead near London Stone, The Swan at Dowgate, a tavern well knowne; The Mitre in Cheap, and the Bullhead, And many like places that make noses red; The Boreshead in Old Fish Street, Three Cranes in the Wintree, And now, of late, Saint Martin's in the Sentree; The Windmill in Lothbury, the Ship at the Exchange, King's Head in New Fish Street, where Roysters do range; The Mermaid in Cornhill, Red Lion in the Strand, Three Tuns in Newgate Market, in Old Fish Street the Swan.” Drunken Barnaby, (1634) in his travels, called at several of the London taverns, which he has recorded in his vinous flights:— “Country left I in a fury, To the Axe in Aldermanbury First arrived, that place slighted, I at the Rose in Holborn lighted. From the Rose in Flaggons sail I To the Griffin i' th' Old Bailey, Where no sooner do I waken, Than to Three Cranes I am taken, Where I lodge and am no starter.
Yea, my merry mates and I, too,
Oft the Cardinal's Hat do fly to.
There at Hart's Horns we carouse,” &c.
Already, in very early times, publicans were compelled by law
to have a sign; for we find that in the 16 Richard II., (1393) Florence North, a brewer of Chelsea, was “presented” “for not putting up the usual sign.” In Cambridge the regulations were equally severe; by an Act of Parliament, 9 Henry VI, it was enacted: “Whosoever shall brew ale in the town of Cambridge, with intention of selling it, must hang out a sign, otherwise he shall forfeit his ale.”—Rolls of Parliament, vol. v. fol. 426 at But with the other trades it was always optional. Hence Charles I., on his accession to the throne, gave the inhabitants of London a charter by which, amongst other favours, he granted them the right to hang out signboards:-
“And further, we do give and grant to the said Mayor, and Commonalty, and Citizens of the said city, and their successors, that it may and shall be lawful to the Citizens of the same city and any of them, for the time being, to expose and hang in and over the streets, and ways, and alleys of the said city and suburbs of the same, signs, and posts of signs, affixed to their houses and shops, for the better finding out such citizens' dwellings, shops, arts, or occupations, without impediment, molestation, or interruption of his heirs or successors.” In France, the innkeepers were under the same regulations as in England; for there also, by the edict of Moulins, in 1567, all innkeepers were ordered to acquaint the magistrates with their name and address, and their “affectes et enseignes;” and Henri III., by an edict of March 1577, ordered that all innkeepers whould place a sign on the most conspicuous part of their houses, “aux lieux les plus apparents;” so that everybody, even those that could not read, should be aware of their profession. Louis XIV., by an ordnance of 1693, again ordered signs to be put up, and also the price of the articles they were entitled to sell — “Art., XXIII.—Tavernkeepers must put up signboards and a bush. . . . Nobody shall be allowed to open a tavern in the said city and its suburbs without having a sign and a bush.” Hence, the taking away of a publican's licence was accompanied by the taking away of his sign — “For this gross fault I here do damn thy licence, Forbidding thee ever to tap or draw; For instantly I will in mine own person, Command the constables to pull down thy sign.” MASSINGER, A New Way to Pay Old Debts, iv. 2. At the time of the great Civil War, house-signs played no inconsiderable part in the changes and convulsions of the state, and took a prominent place in the politics of the day. : We may cite an earlier example, where a sign was made a matter of high treason—namely, in the case of that unfortunate fellow in Cheapside, who, in the reign of Edward IV., kept the sign of the Crown, and lost his head for saying he would “make his son heir to the Crown.” But more general examples are to be met with in the history of the Commonwealth troubles. At the death of Charles I, John Taylor the water-poet, a Royalist to the backbone, boldly shewed his opinion of that act, by taking as a sign for his alehouse in Phoenix Alley, Long Acre, the Mourning Crown; but he was soon compelled to take it down. Richard Flecknoe, in his “AEnigmatical Characters,” (1665) tells us how many of the severe Puritans were shocked at anything smelling of Popery:—“As for the signs, they have pretty well begun their reformation already, changing the sign of the Salutation of Our Lady into the Souldier and Citizen, and the Catherine Wheel into the Cat and Wheel; such ridiculous work they make of this reformation, and so jealous they are against all mirth and jollity, as they would pluck down the Cat and Fiddle too, if it durst but play so loud as they might hear it.” No doubt they invented very godly signs, but these have not come down to us. At that time, also, a fashion prevailed which continued, indeed, as long as the signboard was an important institution—of using house-signs to typify political ideas. Imaginary signs, as a part of secret imprints, conveying most unmistakably the sentiments of the book, were often used in the old days of political plots and violent lampoons. Instance the following:— “Vox BOREALIS, or a Northerne Discoverie, by Way of Dialogue, between Jamie and Willie. Amidst the Babylonians—printed by Margery Marprelate, in Thwack Coat Lane, at the sign of the Crab-Tree Cudgell, without any privilege of the Catercaps. 1641.” “ARTICLEs oF HIGH TREASON made and enacted by the late Halfquarter usurping Convention, and now presented to the publick view for a general satisfaction of all true Englishmen. Imprinted for Erasmus Thorogood, and to be sold at the signe of the Roasted Rump. 1659.” “A CATALOGUE OF Books of the Newest Fashion, to be sold by auction at the Whigs’ Coffeehouse, at the sign of the Jackanapes in Prating Alley, near the Deanery of Saint Paul's.” “THE CENSURE OF THE ROTA upon Mr Milton's book, entitled ‘The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth,’ &c. Printed at London by Paul Giddy, Printer to the Rota, at the sign of the Windmill, in Turn-again Lane. 1660.” “AN ADDRESS from the Ladies of the Provinces of Munster and Leinster to their Graces the Duke and Duchess of D t, Lord G—, and Caiaphas the High Priest, with sixty original toasts, drank by the Ladies at their last Assembly, with Love-letters added. London: Printed for John Pro Patria, at the sign of Vivat Rex. 1754.” “CHIVALRY no Trifle, or the Knight and his Lady: a Tale. To which is added the Hue and Cry after Touzer and Spitfire, the Lady's two lapdogs. Dublin: Printed at the sign of Sir Tady's Press, etc. 1754.” “AN ADDRESs from the Influential Electors of the County and City of Galway, with a Collection of 60 Original Patriot Toasts and 48 Munster Toasts, with Intelligence from the Kingdom of Eutopia. Printed at the sign of the Pirate's Sword in the Captain's Scabbard, London, 1754.” “THE C–T's APOLOGY to the Freeholders of this Kingdom for their conduct, containing some Pieces of Humour, to which is added a Bill of C t Morality. London: Printed at the sign of Betty Ireland, d-d of a Tyrant in Purple, a Monster in Black, etc.” In the newspapers of the eighteenth century, we find that signs were constantly used as emblems of, or as sharp hits at, the politics of the day; thus, in the Weekly Journal for August 17, 1718, allusions are made to the sign of the Salutation, in Newgate Street, by the opposition party, to which the Original Weekly Journal, the week after, retaliates by a description and explanation of an indelicate sign said to be in King Street, Westminster. In 1763, the following pasquinade went the round of the newspapers, said to have been sent over from Holland :* HôTELS POUR LES MINISTREs DES COURS ETRANGÈREs AU FUTUR CONGRESS. - De l'Empereur, A la Bonne Volonté; rue d'Impuissance. De Russie, Au Chimère ; rue des Caprices. De France, Au Coq déplumé; rue de Canada. - D'Autriche, . A la Mauvaise Alliance, rue des Invalides. D'Angleterre, A la Fortune, Place des Victoires, rue des Subsides. De Prusse, Aux Quatre vents, rue des Renards, près la Place des Guinées. De Suede, Au Passage des Courtisans, rue des Visionaires. De Pologne, Au Sacrifice d'Abraham, rue des Innocents, près la Place des Devôts. Des Princes de l'Empire, Au Roitelêt, près de l'Hôpital des Incurables, rue des Charlatans. De Wirtemberg, Au Don Quichotte, rue des Fantômes près de la Montagne en Couche. - D'Hollande, A la Baleine, sur le Marché aux Fromages, près du Grand Observatoire "
On the morning of September 28, 1736, all the tavern-signs in London were in deep mourning; and no wonder, their dearly beloved patron and friend Gin was defunct,-killed by the new Act against spirituous liquors ! But they soon dropped their mourning, for Gin had only been in a lethargic fit, and woke up much refreshed by his sleep. Fifteen years after, when Hogarth painted his * Gin Lane,o royalgin was to be had cheap enough, if we may believe the signboard in that picture, which informs us that *gentlemen and others" could get * drunk for a penny " and * dead drunk for twopence," in which last emergency, * clean straw for nothing'o was provided.
Of the signs which were to be seen in London at the period of the Restoration,-to return to the subject we were originally considering,-we find a goodly collection of them in one of the * Roxburghe Ballads " (vol. i. 212) entitled :
* LONDON'S ORDINARIE, OR EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR.
Tou* the Royal Exchange as I walked,
Where Gallants in sattin doe shine,
At midst of the day, they parted away,
To seaverall places to dine.
The Gentrie went to the King's Head,
The Nobles unto the Crowne:
The Knights went to the Golden Fleece,
And the Ploughmen to the Clowne.
The Cleargie will dine at the Miter,
The Wintners at the Three Tunnes,
The Usurers to the Devill will goe,
And the Fryers to the Nunnes.
The Ladyes will dine at the Feathers,
The Globe no Captaine will scorne,
The Huntsmen will goe to the Grayhound below,
And some Townes-men to the Horne.
The Plummers will dine at the Fountaine,
The Cookes at the Holly Lambe,
The Drunkerds by noone, to the Man in the Moone,
And the Cuckholdes to the Ramme.
The Roarers will dine at the Lyon,
The Watermen at the Old Swan ;
And Bawdes will to the Negro goe,
And Whores to the Naked Man.
The Keepers will to the White Hart,
The Marchants unto the Shippe,
The Beggars they must take their way
To the Egge-shell and the Whippe.
The Farryers will to the Horse,
The Blackesmith unto the Locke,
The Butchers unto the Bull will goe,
And the Carmen to Bridewell Clocke.
The Fishmongers unto the Dolphin,
The Barbers to the Cheat Loafe,”
The Turners unto the Ladle will goe,
Where they may merrylie quaffe.
The Taylors will dine at the Sheeres,
The Shooemakers will to the Boote,
The Welshmen they will take their way,
And dine at the signe of the Gote.
The Hosiers will dine at the Legge,
The Drapers at the signe of the Brush,
The Fletchers to Robin Hood will goe,
And the Spendthrift to Begger's Bush.
The Pewterers to the Quarte Pot,
The Coopers will dine at the Hoope,
The Coblers to the Last will goe,
And the Bargemen to the Sloope.
“A Cheat loaf was a household loaf, wheaten seconds bread.”—NARES's Glossary, so that a shopkeeper at a loss for an inscription had only to open the book and make his selection; for there were rhymes in it both serious and jocular, suitable to everybody's taste. The majority of the Dutch signboard inscriptions of that day seem to have been eminently characteristic of the spirit of the nation. No such inscriptions could be brought before “a discerning public,” without the patronage of some holy man mentioned in the Scriptures, whose name was to stand there for no other purpose than to give the Dutch poet an opportunity of making a jingling rhyme; thus, for instance,— “Jacob was David's neef maar ’t waren geen Zwagers. Hier slypt men allerhande Barbiers gereedschappen, ook voor vischwyven en slagers.” Or another example — “Men vischte Moses uit de Biezen, Hier trekt men tanden en Kiezen.”f. In the beginning of the eighteenth century, we find the following signs named, which puzzled a person of an inquisitive turn of mind, who wrote to the British Apollo, (the meagre Motes and Queries of those days) in the hope of eliciting an explanation of their quaint combination:“I’m amazed at the Signs As I pass through the Town, To see the odd mixture : A Magpie and Crown, The Whale and the Crow, The Razor and Hen, The Leg and Seven Stars, The Axe and the Bottle, The Tun and the Lute, The Eagle and Child, The Shovel and Boot.” All these signs are also named by Tom Brown: $—“The first amusements we encountered were the variety and contradictory language of the signs, enough to persuade a man there were no rules of concord among the citizens. Here we saw Joseph's Dream, the Bull and Mouth, the Whale and Crow, the Shovel and Boot, the Leg and Star, the Bible and Swan, the Frying-pan and Drum, the Lute and Tun, the Hog in Armour, and a thousand others that the wise men that put them there can give no reason for.” From this enumeration, we see that a century had worked great changes in the signs. Those of the beginning of the seventeenth century were all simple, and had no combinations. But now we meet very heterogeneous objects joined together. Various reasons can be found to account for this. First, it must be borne in mind that most of the London signs had no inscription to tell the public “this is a lion,” or, “this is a bear;” hence the vulgar could easily make mistakes, and call an object by a wrong name, which might give rise to an absurd combination, as in the case of the Leg and Star; which, perhaps, was nothing else but the two insignia of the order of the Garter; the garter being represented in its natural place, on the leg, and the star of the order beside it. Secondly, the name might be corrupted through faulty pronunciation; and when the sign was to be repainted, or imitated in another street, those objects would be represented by which it was best known. Thus the Shovel and Boot might have been a corruption of the Shovel and Boat, since the Shovel and Ship is still a very common sign in places where grain is carried by canal boats; whilst the Bull and Mouth is said to be a corruption of the Boulogne Mouth—the Mouth of Boulogne Harbour. Finally, whimsical shopkeepers would frequently aim at the most odd combination they could imagine, for no other reason but to attract attention. Taking these remises into consideration, some of the signs which so puzzled £ Brown might be easily accounted for; the Axe and Bottle, in this way, might have been a corruption of the Battle-axe. The Bible and Swan, a sign in honour of Luther, who is generally represented by the symbol of a swan, a figure of which many Lutheran Churches have on their steeple instead of a weathercock; whilst the Lute and Tun was clearly a pun on the name of Luton, similar to the Bolt and Tun of Prior Bolton, who adopted this device as his rebus. Other causes of combinations, and many very amusing and instructive remarks about signs, are given in the following from the Spectator, No. 28, April 2, 1710:— “There is nothing like sound literature and good sense to be met with in those objects, that are everywhere thrusting themselves out to the eye and endeavouring to become visible. Our streets are filled with blue boars, black swans, and red lions, not to mention flying-pigs and hogs in armour, with many creatures more extraordinary than any in the deserts of Africa. Strange that one, who has all the birds and beasts in nature to choose out of, should live at the sign of an ens rationis. “My first task, therefore, should be like that of Hercules, to clear the city from monsters. In the second place, I should forbid that creatures of jarring and incongruous natures should be joined together in the same sign; such as the Bell and the Neat's Tongue, the Dog and the Gridiron. The Fox and the Goose may be supposed to have met, but what has the Fox and the Seven Stars to do together? And when did the Lamb and Dolphin ever meet except upon a signpost " As for the Cat and Fiddle, there is a conceit in it, and therefore I do not intend that anything I have here said should affect it. I must, however, observe to you upon this subject, that it is usual for a young tradesman, at his first setting up, to add to his own sign that of the master whom he served, as the husband, after marriage, gives a place to his mistress's arms in his own coat. This I take to have given rise to many of those absurdities which are committed over our heads; and, as I am informed, first occasioned the Three Nuns and a Hare, which we see so frequently joined together. I would therefore establish certain rules for the determining how far one tradesman may give the sign of another, and in what case he may be allowed to quarter it with his own. “In the third place, I would enjoin every shop to make use of a sign which bears some affinity to the wares in which it deals. What can be more inconsistent than to see a bawd at the sign of the Angel, or a tailor at the Lion ? A cook should not live at the Boot, nor a shoemaker at the Roasted Pig, and yet, for want of this regulation, I have seen a Goat set up before the door of a perfumer, and the French King's Head at a swordcutler's. “An ingenious foreigner observes that several of those gentlemen who value themselves upon their families, and overlook such as are bred to trades, bear the tools of their forefathers in their coats of arms. I will not examine how true this is in fact ; but though it may not be necessary for posterity thus to set up the sign of their forefathers, I think it highly proper that those who actually profess the trade should shew some such mark of it before their doors. “When the name gives an occasion for an ingenious signpost,
* “Jacob was David's nephew, but not his brother-in-law. All sorts of barbers tools ground here, also fishwives and butchers' knives.” “Moses was pick’d up among the rushes. Teeth and grinders drawn here.” : The British Apollo, 1710, vol. iii. p. 34. # Amusements for the Meridian of London, 1708, p. 72.
I would likewise advise the owner to take that opportunity of letting the world know who he is. It would have been ridiculous for the ingenious Mrs Salmon to have lived at the sign of the trout, for which reason she has erected before her house the figure of the fish that is her namesake. Mr Bell has likewise distinguished
himself by a device of the same nature. And here, sir, I must beg leave to observe to you, that this particular figure of a Bell has given occasion to several pieces of wit in this head. A man of your reading must know that Abel Drugger gained great applause by it in the time of Ben Jonson. Our Apocryphal heathen god is also represented by this figure, which, in conjunction with the Dragon,” makes a very handsome picture in several of our streets. As for the Bell Savage, which is the sign of a savage man standing by a bell, I was formerly very much puzzled upon the conceit of it, till I accidentally fell into the reading of an old romance translated out of the French, which gives an account of a very beautiful woman, who was found in a wilderness, and is called la Belle Sauvage, and is everywhere translated by our countrymen the Bell Savage.t. This piece of philology will, I hope, convince you that I have made signposts my study, and consequently qualified myself for the employment which I solicit at your hands. But before I conclude my letter, I must communicate to you another remark which I have made upon the subject with which I am now entertaining you—
namely, that I can give a shrewd guess at the humour of the inhabitant by the sign that hangs before his door. A surly, choleric fellow generally makes choice of a Bear, as men of milder dispositions frequently live at the Lamb. Seeing a Punch-bowl painted upon a sign near Charing Cross, and very curiously garnished, with a couple of angels hovering over it and squeezing a lemon into it, I had the curiosity to ask after the master of the house, and found upon inquiry, as I had guessed by the little agrémens upon his sign, that he was a Frenchman.” Another reason for “quartering” signs was on removing from one shop to another, when it was customary to add the sign of the old shop to that of the new one.
WHEREAS Anthony Wilton, who lived at the GREEN CROSS publick- house against the new Turnpike on New Cross Hill, has been removed for two years past to the new boarded house now the sign of the GREEN CROSS AND KROSS KEYES on the same hill,” &c.—Weekly Journal, November 22, 1718.
THOMAS BLACKALL and Francis Ives, Mercers, are removed from the SEVEN STARs on Ludgate Hill to the BLACK LION AND SEVEN STARs over the way.”—Daily Courant, November 17, 1718.
PETER DUNCOMBE and Saunders Dancer, who lived at the NAKED BOY in Great Russell Street, Covent Garden, removed to the NAKED BOY & MITRE, near Sommerset House, Strand,” &c.—Postboy, January 4 1711
TICHARD MEARES, Musical Instrument maker, is removed from - y GOLDEN VIOL in Leaden Hall Street to y North side of St Paul's Churchyard, at y' GoLDEN VIOL AND HAUTBOY, where he sells all sorts of musical instruments,” &c.—[Bagford bills.]
To increase this complexity still more, came the corruption of names arising from pronunciation; thus Mr Burn, in his introduction to the “Beaufoy Tokens,” mentions the sign of Pique and Carreau, on a gambling-house at Newport, Isle of Wight, which was Englished into the Pig and Carrot; again, the same sign at Godmanchester was still more obliterated into the Pig and Checkers. The sign of the Island Queen I have frequently heard, either in jest or in ignorance, called the Iceland Queen. The editor of the recently-published “Slang Dictionary” remarks that he has seen the name of the once popular premier, George Canning, metamorphosed on an alehouse-sign into the George and Cannon; so the GOLDEN FARMER became the Jolly Farmer; whilst the Four Alls, in Whitechapel, were altered into the Four Awls. Along with this practice, there is a tendency to translate a sign into a sort of jocular slang phrase; thus, in the seventeenth century, the BLACKMOORSHEAD AND WOOLPACK, in Pimlico, was called the DEVIL AND BAG of NAILs by those that frequented that tavern, and by the last part of that name the house is still called at the present day. Thus the Elephant and Castle is vulgarly rendered as the Pig and Tinderbox ; the Bear and Ragged Staff, the Angel and Flute; the Eagle and Child, the Bird and Bantling ; the Hog in Armour, the Pig in Misery, the Pig in the Pound, the Gentleman in Trouble, &c.
Some further information, in illustration of the different signboards, is to be obtained from the Adventurer, No. 9, (1752)— “It cannot be doubted but that signs were intended originally to express the several occupations of their owners, and to bear some affinity in their external designations with the wares to be disposed of, or the business carried on within. Hence the Hand and Shears is justly appropriated to tailors, and the Hand and Pen to writing-masters; though the very reverend and right worthy order of my neighbours, the Fleet-parsons, have assumed it to themselves as a mark of ‘marriages performed without imposition. The Woolpack plainly points out to us a woollen draper; the Naked Boy elegantly reminds us of the necessity of clothing; and the Golden Fleece figuratively denotes the riches of our staple commodity; but are not the Hen and Chickens and the Three Pigeons the unquestionable right of the poulterer, and not to be usurped by the vender of silk or linen?
“It would be useless to enumerate the gross blunders committed in this point by almost every branch of trade. I shall therefore confine myself chiefly to the numerous fraternity of publicans, whose extravagance in this affair calls aloud for reprehension and restraint. Their modest ancestors were contented with a plain Bough stuck up before their doors, whence arose the wise proverb, ‘Good Wine needs no Bush; but how have they since deviated from their ancient simplicity | They have ransacked earth, air, and seas, called down sun, moon, and stars to their assistance, and exhibited all the monsters that ever teemed from fantastic imagination. Their Hogs in Armour, their Blue Boars, Black Bears, Green Dragons, and Golden Lions, have already been suf. ficiently exposed by your brother essay-writers:—
‘Sus horridus, atraque Tigris, Squamosusque Draco, et fulva cervice Leaena.” | VIRGIL.
“With foamy tusks to seem a bristly boar, Or imitate the lion's angry roar; Or kiss a dragon, or a tiger stare.”—DRYDEN.
It is no wonder that these gentlemen who indulged themselves in such unwarrantable liberties, should have so little regard to the choice of signs adapted to their mystery. There can be no objection made to the Bunch of Grapes, the Rummer, or the Tuns; but would not any one inquire for a hosier at the Leg, or for a locksmith at the Cross Keys? and who would expect anything but water to be sold at the Fountain? The Turkshead may fairly intimate that a seraglio is kept within; the Rose may be strained to some propriety of meaning, as the business transacted there may be said to be done “under the rose; but why must the Angel, the Lamb, and the Mitre be the designations of the seats of drunkenness or prostitution? “Some regard should likewise be paid by tradesmen to their situation; or, in other words, to the propriety of the place; and in this, too, the publicans are notoriously faulty. The King's Arms, and the Star and Garter, are aptly enough placed at the court end of the town, and in the neighbourhood of the royal palace; Shakespeare's Head takes his station by one playhouse, and Ben Jonson's by the other; Hell is a public-house adjoining to Westminster Hall, as the Devil Tavern is to the lawyers' quarter in the Temple: but what has the Crown to do by the 'Change, or the Gun, the Ship, or the Anchor anywhere but at Tower Hill, at Wapping, or Deptford?
“It was certainly from a noble spirit of doing honour to a superior desert, that our forefathers used to hang out the heads of those who were particularly eminent in their professions. Hence we see Galen and Paracelsus exalted before the shops of chemists; and the great names of Tully, Dryden, and Pope, &c., immortalised on the rubric posts” of booksellers, while their heads denominate the learned repositors of their works. But I know not whence it happens that publicans have claimed a right to the physiognomies of kings and heroes, as I cannot find out, by the most painful researches, that there is any alliance between them. Lebec, as he was an excellent cook, is the fit representative of luxury; and Broughton, that renowned athletic champion, has an indisputable right to put up his own head if he pleases; but what reason can there be why the glorious Duke William should draw porter, or the brave Admiral Vernon retail flip ? Why must Queen Anne keep a ginshop, and King Charles inform us of a skittle-ground? Propriety of character, I think, require that these illustrious personages should be deposed from their lofty stations, and I would recommend hereafter that the alderman’s effigy should accompany his Intire Butt Beer, and that the comely face of that public-spirited patriot who first reduced the price of punch and raised its reputation Pro Bono Publico, should be set up wherever three penn'orth of warm rum is to be sold.
“I have been used to consider several signs, for the frequency of which it is difficult to give any other reason, as so many hieroglyphics with a hidden meaning, satirising the follies of the people, or conveying instruction to the passer-by. I am afraid that the stale jest on our citizens gave rise to so many Horns in public streets; and the number of Castles floating with the wind was probably designed as a ridicule on those erected by soaring projectors. Tumbledown Dick, in the borough of Southwark, is a fine moral on the instability of greatness, and the consequences of ambition; but there is a most ill-natured sarcasm against the fair sex exhibited on a sign in Broad Street, St Giles's, of a headless female figure called the Good Woman.
‘Quale portentum neque militaris
Daunia in latis alit esculetis,
Nec Jubae tellus generat, leonum
“No beast of such portentous size
In warlike Daunia's forest lies,
Nor such the tawny lion reigns
Fierce on his native Afric's plains.”—FRANCIS.
“A discerning eye may also discover in many of our signs evident marks of the religion prevalent amongst us before the Reformation. St George, as the tutelary saint of this nation, may escape the censure of superstition; but St Dunstan, with his tongs ready to take hold of Satan's nose, and the legions of Angels, Nuns, Crosses, and Holy Lambs, certainly had their origin in the days of Popery.
“Among the many signs which are appropriated to some particular business, and yet have not the least connexion with it, I cannot as yet find any relation between blue balls and pawnbrokers. Nor could I conceive the intent of that long pole putting out at the entrance of a barber's shop, till a friend of mine, a learned etymologist and glossariographer, assured me that the use of this pole took its rise from the corruption of an old English word.
“It is probable, says he, ‘that our primitive tonsors used to stick up a wooden block or head, or poll, as it was called, before their shop windows, to denote their occupation; and afterwards, through a confounding of different things with a like pronunciation, they put up the parti-coloured staff of enormous length, which is now called a pole, and appropriated to barbers.’”
The remarks of the Adventurer have brought us down to the middle of the eighteenth century, when the necessity for signs was not so great as formerly. Education was spreading fast, and reading had become a very general acquirement; yet it would appear that the exhibitors of signboards wished to make up in extravagance what they had lost in use. “Be it known, however, to posterity,” says a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine, “that long after signs became unnecessary, it was not unusual for an opulent shopkeeper to lay out as much upon a sign, and the curious ironwork with which it was fixed in the house, so as to project nearly in the middle of the street, as would furnish a less considerable dealer with a stock in trade. I have been credibly informed that there were many signs and sign irons upon Ludgate Hill which cost several hundred pounds, and that as much was laid out by a mercer on the sign of the Queen's Head, as would have gone a good way towards decorating the original for a birthday.” Misson, a French traveller who visited England in 1719, thus speaks about the signs:
“By a decree of the police, the signs of Paris must be small, and not too far advanced from the houses. At London, they are commonly very large, and jut out so far, that in some narrow streets they touch one another; nay, and run across almost quite to the other side. They are generally adorned with carving and gilding; and there are several that, with the branches of iron which support them, cost above a hundred guineas. They seldom write upon the signs the name of the thing represented in it, so that there is no need of Molière's inspector. But this does not at all please the German and other travelling strangers; because, for want of the things being so named, they have not an opportunity of learning their names in England, as they stroll along the streets. Out of London, and particularly in villages, the signs of inns are suspended in the middle of a great wooden portal, which may be looked upon as a kind of triumphal arch to the honour of Bacchus.”
M. Grosley, another Frenchman, who made a voyage through England in 1765, makes very similar remarks. As soon as he landed at Dover, he observes,—
“I saw nothing remarkable, but the enormous size of the public-house signs, the ridiculous magnificence of the ornaments with which they are overcharged, the height of a sort of triumphal arches that support them, and most of which cross the streets,” &c. Elsewhere he says, “In fact nothing can be more inconsistent than the choice and the placing of the ornaments, with which the signposts and the outside of the shops of the citizens are loaded.”
But gaudy and richly ornamented as they were, it would seem that, after all, the pictures were bad, and that the absence of inscriptions was not to be lamented, for those that existed only “made fritters of English.” The Tatler, No. 18, amused his readers at the expense of their spelling —“There is an offence I have a thousand times lamented, but fear I shall never see remedied, which is that, in a nation where learning is so frequent as in Great Britain, there should be so many gross errors as there are, in the very direction of things wherein accuracy is necessary for the conduct of life. This is notoriously observed by all men of letters when they first come to town, (at which time they are usually curious that way,) in the inscriptions on signposts. I have cause to know this matter as well as anybody, for I have, when I went to Merchant Taylor's School, suffered stripes for . spelling after the signs I observed in my way; though at the same time, I must confess, staring at those inscriptions first gave me an idea and curiosity for medals, in which I have since arrived at some knowledge. Many a man has lost his way and his dinner, by this general want of skill in orthography; for, considering that the paintings are usually so very bad that you cannot know the animal under whose sign you are to live that day, how must the stranger be misled, if it is wrong spelled as well as ill painted? I have a cousin now in town, who has answered under bachelor at Queen's College, whose name is Humphrey Mopstaff, (he is akin to us by his mother;) this young man, going to see a relation in Barbican, wandered a whole day by the mistake of one letter; for it was written, ‘This is the Beer, instead of ‘This is the Bear. He was set right at last by inquiring for the house of a fellow who could not read, and knew the place mechanically, only by having been often drunk there. . . . I propose that every tradesman in the city of London and Westminster shall give me a sixpence a quarter for keeping their signs in repair as to the grammatical part; and I will take into my house a Swiss count” of my acquaintance, who can remember all their names without book, for despatch' sake, setting up the head of the said foreigner for my sign, the features being strong and fit to hang high.”
Had the signs murdered only the king's English, it might have been forgiven; but even the lives of his majesty's subjects were not secure from them; for, leaving alone the complaints raised about their preventing the circulation of fresh air, a more serious charge was brought against them in 1718, when a sign in Bride's Lane, Fleet Street, by its weight dragged down the front of the house, and in its fall killed two young ladies, the king's jeweller, and a cobbler. A commission of inquiry into the nuisance was appointed; but, like most commissions and committees, they talked a great deal and had some dinners; in the meantime the public interest and excitement abated, and matters remained as they were.
In the year 1762 considerable attention was directed to signboards by Bonnell Thornton, a clever wag, who, to burlesque the exhibitions of the Society of Artists, got up an Exhibition of Signboards. In a preliminary advertisement, and in his published catalogue, he described it as the “EXHIBITION OF THE SOCIETY or SIGN-PAINTERs of all the curious signs to be met with in town or country, together with such original designs as might be transmitted to them, as specimens of the native genius of the nation.” Hogarth, who understood a joke as well as any man in England, entered into the spirit of the humour, was on the hanging committee, and added a few touches to heighten the absurdity. The whole affair proved a great success.”
This comical exhibition was the greatest glory
to which signboards were permitted to attain, as not more than four years after
they had a fall from which they never recovered. Education had now so generally
spread, that the majority of the people could read sufficiently well to decipher
a name and a number. The continual exhibition of pictures in the streets and
thoroughfares consequently became useless; the information they conveyed could
be imparted in a more convenient and simple manner, whilst their evils could be
avoided. The strong feeling of corporations, too, had set in steadily against
signboards, and henceforth they were doomed. Paris, this time, set the example:
by an act of September 17, 1761, M. de Sartines, Lieutenant de Police, ordered
that, in a month's time from the publication of the act, all signboards in Paris
and its suburbs were to be fixed against the walls of the houses, and not to
project more than four inches, including the border, frame, or other
ornaments;—also, all the signposts and sign irons were to be removed from the
streets and thoroughfares, and the passage cleared. London soon followed : in
the Daily News, November 1762, we find —“The signs in Duke's Court, St Martin's
Lane, were all taken down and affixed to the front of the houses.” Thus
Westminster had the honour to begin the innovation, by procuring an act with
ample powers to improve the pavement, &c., of the streets; and this act also
sealed the doom of the sign
boards, which, as in Paris, were ordered to be affixed to the houses. This was enforced by a statute of 2 Geo. III. c. 21, enlarged at various times. Other parishes were longer in making up their mind; but the great disparity in the appearance of the streets westward from Temple Bar, and those eastward, at last made the Corporation of London follow the example, and adopt similar improvements. Suitable powers to carry out the scheme were soon obtained. In the 6 Geo. III, the Court of Common Council appointed commissions, and in a few months all the parishes began to clear away: St Botolph in 1767; St Leonard, Shoreditch, in 1768; St Martin's-le-Grand in 1769; and Marylebone in 1770.” By these acts—
“The commissioners are empowered to take down and remove all signs or other emblems used to denote the trade, occupation, or calling of any person or persons, signposts, signirons, balconies, penthouses, showboards, spouts, and gutters, projecting into any of the said streets, &c., and all other encroachments, projections, and annoyances whatsoever, within the said cities and liberties, and cause the same, or such parts thereof as they think fit, to be affixed or placed on the fronts of the houses, shops, warehouses, or buildings to which they belong, and return to the owner so much as shall not be put up again or otherwise made use of in such alterations; and any person having, placing, erecting, or building any sign, signpost, or other post, signirons, balcony, penthouse, obstruction, or annoyance, is subject to a penalty of £5, and twenty shillings a day for continuing the same.” +
With the signboards, of course, went the signposts. The removing of the posts, and paving of the streets with Scotch granite, gave rise to the following epigram:
“The Scottish new pavement well deserves our praise;
To the Scotch we’re obliged, too, for mending our ways;
But this we can never forgive, for they say
As that they have taken our posts all away.”
After the signs and posts had been removed, we can imagine how bleak and empty the streets at first appeared; how silent in the night-time; what a difficulty there must have been in finding out the houses and shops; and how everybody, particularly the old people, grumbled about the innovations.
Now numbers appeared everywhere. As early as 1512 an attempt had been made in Paris at numbering sixty-eight new houses, built in that year on the Pont Nôtre-Dame, which were all distinguished by 1, 2, 3, 4, &c.; yet more than two centuries elapsed before the numerical arrangement was generally adopted. In 1787 the custom in France had become almost universal, but was not enforced by police regulations until 1805. In London it appears to have been attempted in the beginning of the eighteenth century; for in Hatton's “New View of London,” 1708, we see that “in Prescott Street, Goodman's Fields, instead of signs the houses are distinguished by numbers, as the staircases in the Inns of Court and Chancery.” In all probability reading was not sufficiently widespread at that time to bring this novelty into general practice. Yet how much more simple is the method of numbering, for giving a clear and unmistakable direction, may be seen from the means resorted to indicate a house under the signboard system; as for instance —
“TO BE LETT, Newbury House, in St James's Park, next door but one to Lady Oxford's, having two balls at the gate, and iron rails before the door,” &c., &c.-Advertisement in the original edition of the Spectator, No. 207.
AT HER HOUSE, the RED BALL AND ACORN, over against the GLOBE Tavern, in Queen Street, Cheapside, near the THREE CROWNS, liveth a Gentlewoman,” &c.
At night the difficulty of finding a house was greatly increased, for the light of the lamps was so faint that the signs, generally hung rather high, could scarcely be discerned. Other means, therefore, were resorted to, as we see from the advertisement of “Doctor James Tilbrogh, a German Doctor,” who resides “over against the New Exchange in Bedford Street, at the sign of the Peacock, where you shall see at night two candles burning within one of the chambers before the balcony, and a lanthorn with a candle in it upon the balcony.” And in that strain all directions were given: over against, or next door to, were among the consecrated formulae. Hence many dispensed with a picture of their own, and clung, like parasites, to the sign opposite or next door, particularly if it was a shop of some note. Others resorted to painting their houses, doors, balconies, or doorposts, in some striking colour; hence those Red, Blue, or White Houses still so common; hence also the Blue Posts and the Green Posts. So we find a Dark House in Chequer Alley, Moorfields, a Green Door in Craven Building, and a Blue Balcony in Little Queen Street, all of which figure on the seventeenth century trades tokens.” Those who did much trade by night, as coffee-houses, quacks, &c., adopted lamps with coloured glasses, by which they distinguished their houses. This custom has come down to us, and is still adhered to by "doctors, chemists, public-houses, and occasionally by sweeps.
Yet, though the numbers were now an established fact, the shopkeepers still clung to the old traditions, and for years continued to display their signs, grand, gorgeous, and gigantic as ever, though affixed to the houses. As late as 1803, a traveller thus writes about London —“As it is one of the principal secrets of the trade to attract the attention of that tide of people which is constantly ebbing and flowing in the streets, it may easily be conceived that great pains are taken to give a striking form to the signs and devices hanging out before their shops. The whole front of a house is frequently employed for this purpose. Thus, in the vicinity of Ludgate Hill, the house of S__ who has amassed a fortune of £40,000 by selling razors, is daubed with large capitals three feet high, acquainting the public that ‘the most excellent and superb patent razors are sold here.' As soon, therefore, as a shop has acquired some degree of reputation, the younger brethren of the trade copy its device. A grocer in the city, who had a large Beehive for his sign hanging out before his shop, had allured a great many customers. No sooner were the people seen swarming about this hive than the old signs suddenly disappeared, and Beehives, elegantly gilt, were substituted in their places. Hence the grocer was obliged to insert an advertisement in the newspapers, importing ‘that he was the sole proprietor of the original and celebrated Beehive.’ A similar accident befell the shop of one E— in Cheapside, who has a considerable demand for his goods on account of their cheapness and excellence. The sign of this gentleman consists in a prodigious Grasshopper, and as this insect had quickly propagated its species through every part of the city, Mr E — has in his advertisements repeatedly requested the public to observe that ‘the genuine Grasshopper is only to be found before his warehouse. He has, however, been so successful as to persuade several young beginners to enter into engagements with him, on conditions very advantageous to himself, by which they have obtained a licence for hanging out the sign of a Grasshopper before their shops, expressly adding this clause in large capitals, that “they are genuine descendants of the renowned and matchless Grasshopper of Mr E in Cheapside.’”
Such practices as these, however, necessarily gave the deathblow to signboards; for, by reason of this imitation on the part of rival shopkeepers, the main object—distinction and notoriety—was lost. How was a stranger to know which of those innumerable Beehives in the Strand was the Beehive ; or which of all those “genuine Grasshoppers” was THE genuine one So, gradually, the signs began to dwindle away, first in the principal streets, then in the smaller thoroughfares and the suburbs; finally, in the provincial towns also. The publicans only retained them, and even they in the end were satisfied with the name without the sign, vox et praeterea nihil.
In the seventeenth century signs had been sung in sprightly ballads, and often given the groundwork for a biting satire. They continued to inspire the popular Muse until the end, but her latter productions were more like a wail than a ballad, There is certainly a rollicking air of gladness about the following song, but it was the last flicker of the lamp —
“THE MAIL-COACH GUARD.
At each inn on the road I a welcome could find —
At the Fleece I'd my skin full of ale;
The Two Jolly Brewers were just to my mind;
At the Dolphin I drank like a whale.
Tom Tun at the Hogshead sold pretty good stuff;
They'd capital flip at the Boar;
And when at the Angel I'd tippled enough,
I went to the Devil for more.
Then I’d always a sweetheart so smug at the Car;
At the Rose I’d a lily so white;
Few planets could equal sweet Nan at the Star,
No eyes ever twinkled so bright.
I’ve had many a hug at the sign of the Bear ;
In the Sun courted morning and noon;
And when night put an end to my happiness there,
I’d a sweet little girl in the Moon.
To sweethearts and ale I at length bid adieu,
Of wedlock to set up the sign: Hand-in-hand the Good Woman I look for in you,
And the Horns I hope ne'er will be mine.
Once guard to the mail, I'm now guard to the fair;
But though my commission's laid down,
Yet while the King's Arms I’m permitted to bear,
Like a Lion I'll fight for the Crown.”
This was written in the beginning of the century, when eighteen hundred was
still in her teens. A considerable falling off may be observed in the following,
contributed by a correspondent of William Hone :
“SIGNS OF LOVE AT OXFORD.
By an Inn-consolable Lover.
She's as light as The Greyhound, as fair as The Angel,
Her looks than The Mitre more sanctified are;
But she flies like The Roebuck, and leaves me to range ill,
Still looking to her as my true polar Star.
New Inn-ventions I try, with new art to adore,
But my fate is, alas, to be voted a Boar;
My Goats I forsook to contemplate her charms,
And must own she is fit for our noble King's Arms;
Now Cross'd, and now Jockey'd, now sad, now elate,
The Checquers appear but a map of my fate;
I blush'd like a Blue Cur, to send her a Pheasant,
But she call'd me a Turk, and rejected my present;
So I moped to The Barley Mow, grieved in my mind,
That The Ark from the Flood ever rescued mankind |
In my dreams Lions roar, and The Green Dragon grins,
And fiends rise in shape of The Seven Deadly Sins,
When I ogle The Bells, should I see her approach,
I skip like a Nag and jump into The Coach.
She is crimson and white like a Shoulder of Mutton,
Not the red of The Ox was so bright when first put on;
Like The Holly-bush prickles she scratches my liver,
While I moan and die like a Swan by the river.”
But tame as this last performance is, it is “merry as a brass band” when compared with a ballad sung in the streets some twenty years later, entitled, “Laughable and Interesting Picture of Drunkenness.” Speaking of the publicans, who call themselves “Lords,” it says:“If these be the Lords, there are many kinds, For over their doors you will see many signs;
There is The King, and likewise The Crown,
And beggars are made in every town.
There is The Queen, and likewise her Head,
And many I fear to the gallows are led;
There is The Angel, and also The Deer,
Destroying health in every sphere.
There is The Lamb, likewise The Fleece,
And the fruit's bad throughout the whole piece;
There is The White Hart, also The Cross Keys,
And many they’ve sent far over the seas.
There is The Bull, and likewise his Head,
His Horns are so strong, they will gore you quite dead;
There's The Hare and Hounds that never did run,
And many’s been hung for the deeds they've done.
There are Two Fighting Cocks that never did crow,
Where men often meet to break God's holy vow;
There is The New Inn, and the Rodney they say,
Which send men to jail their debts for to pay.
The Hope and The Anchor, The Turk and his Head,
Hundreds they’ve caused for to wander for bread;
There is The White Horse, also The Woolpack,
Take the shoes off your feet, and the clothes off your back.
The Axe and the Cleaver, The Jockey and Horse,
Some they’ve made idle, some they've made worse;
The George and the Dragon, and Nelson the brave,
Many lives they’ve shorten’d and brought to the grave.
The Fox and the Goose, and The Guns put across,
But all the craft is to get hold of the brass;
The Bird in the Cage, and the sign of The Thrush,
But one in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
There is an unpleasant musty air about this ballad, a taint of Seven Dials, an odour of the ragged dresscoat, and the broken, illused hat. The gay days of signboard poetry, when sparks in feathers and ruffles sang their praises, are no more. Our forefathers were content to buy “at the Golden Frying-pan,” but we must needs go to somebody's emporium, mart, repository, or make our purchases at such grand places as the Pantocapelleion, Pantometallurgicon, or Panklibanon. The corruptions and misapplications of the old pictorial signboards find a parallel in the modern rendering of our ancient proverbs and sayings. When the primary use and purpose of an article have fallen out of fashion, or become obsolete, there is no knowing how absurdly it may not be treated by succeeding generations. We were once taken many miles over fields and through lanes to see the great stone coffins of some ancient Romans, but the farmer, a sulky man, thought we were impertinent in wishing to see his pigtroughs. In Haarlem, we were once shewn the huge cannon-ball which killed Heemskerk, the discoverer of Nova Zembla. When not required for exhibition, however, the good man in charge found it of great use in grinding his mustard-seed. Amongst the middle classes of to-day, no institution of ancient times has been more corrupted and misapplied than heraldry. The modern “Forrester,” or member of the “Ancient Order of Druids,” is scarcely a greater burlesque upon the original than the beerretailers “Arms” of the present hour
Good wine and beer were formerly to be had, at the Boar's Head, or the Three Tuns; but those emblems will not do now, it must be the “Arms” of somebody or something; whence we find such anomalies as the Angel Arms, (Clapham Road;) Dunstan's Arms, (City Road;) Digger's Arms, (Petworth, Surrey;) Farmer's Arms and Gardener's Arms, (Lancashire;) Grand Junction Arms, (Praed Street, London;) Griffin's Arms, (Warrington ) Mount Pleasant Arms, Paragon Arms, (Kingston, Surrey;) St Paul's Arms, (Newcastle;) Portcullis Arms, (Ludlow;) Puddler's Arms, (Wellington, Shropshire;) Railway Arms, (Ludlow;) Sol's Arms, (Hampstead Row;) the Vulcan Arms, (Sheffield;) General's Arms, (Little Baddon, Essex;) the Waterloo Arms, (High Street, Marylebone) &c. Besides these, a quantity of newfangled, highsounding, but unmeaning names seem to be the order of the day with gin-palaces and refreshment-houses, as, Perseverance, Enterprise, Paragon, Criterion.
Notwithstanding these innovations, the majority of the old objects still survive, in name at least, on the signboards of alehouses and taverns. Their use may still be regarded as a rule with publicans and innkeepers, although they have become the exception in other trades. Occasionally, also, we may still come upon a painted signboard, but these are daily becoming scarcer. Not so in France; there the good old tradition of the painted signboard is yet kept up. We get a good glimpse of this subject in the following:*—
“But it is the signs that
so amuse and absolutely arrest a stranger. This is a practice that has grown
into a mania at Paris, and is even a subject for the ridicule of the stage,
since many a shopkeeper considers his sign as a primary matter, and spends a
little capital in this one outfit. Many of them exhibit figures as large as
life, painted in no humble or shabby style; while history, sacred and classical,
religion, the stage, &c., furnish subjects. You may see the Horatii and
Curiatii—a scene from the ‘Fourberies de Scapin’ of Molière—a group of French
soldiers, with the inscription, A la Valeur des Soldats Français, or a group of
children inscribed a la réunion des Bons Enfants, t—or d la Baigneuse, depicting
a beautiful nymph just issuing from the bath; or à la Somnambule, a pretty girl
walking in her sleep and nightdress, and followed by her gallant.:
“In ludicrous things, a barber will write under his sign:— “Nature provides man with hair and beard, But I cut them both.”
“I devote my razors to all faces, And defy the criticism of faithful mirrors.”
frequent inscription with a barber is, “Icion rajeunit.” A breeches-maker writes
up, M. , Culottier de Mme. la Duchesse de Devonshire. A perruquier exhibits a
sign, very well painted, of an old fop trying on a new wig, entitled, Au
ci-devant jeune homme. A butcher displays a bouquet of faded flowers, with this
inscription, Aw tendre Souvenir. An eating-house exhibits a punning sign, with
an ox dressed up with bonnet, lace veil, shawl, &c., which naturally implies,
Boeuf à-la-mode. A pastrycook has a very pretty little girl climbing up to reach
some cakes in a cupboard, and this sign he calls, A la petite Gourmande. A
stocking-maker has painted for him a lovely creature, trying on a new stocking,
at the same time exhibiting more charms than the occasion requires to the young
fellow who is on his knees at her feet, with the very significant motto, A la
belle occasion.” + Though it is forty years since these remarks were written,
they still, mutatis mutandis, apply to the present day. Even the greatest and
most fashionable shops on the Boulevards have their names or painted signs; the
subjects are mostly taken from the principal topic of conversation at the time
the establishment opened, whether politics, literature, the drama, or fine arts:
thus we have à la Présidence, au Prophète; au Palais d'Industrie; aux Enfants
d'Edouard, (the Princes in the Tower;) aw Colosse de Rhodes, a la Tour de
Malakoff, a la Tour de Nesles, (tragedy;) au Sonneur de St Paul, (tragedy;) à la
Pame Blanche; a la Bataille de Solferino; au Trois Mousquetaires; aw Lingot
d'Or, (a great lottery swindle in 1852;) d la Reine Blanche, &c.; Some of these
signs are remarkably well painted, in a vigorous, bold style, with great bravura
of brush; for instance, les Noces de Vulcain, on the Quai aux Fleurs, is painted
in a style which would do no discredit to the artist of les Romains de la
Décadence. Roger Bontemps is still frequent on the French signboard, where he is
represented as a jolly, rubicund toper, crowned with vine-leaves and seated
astride a tun, with a brimming tumbler in his hand; this is a favourite sign
with publicans. At the tobacconist's door we may see a sign representing an
elderly Paul Pry-looking gentleman enjoying a pinch of snuff. The Bureaux des
Remplacements Militaires particularly excel in a gaudy display of military
subjects, where the various passages of a soldier's life are represented with
all the romance of the warriors of the comic opera. Here can be seen the gallant
troopers now courting Jeanette or Fanchon; now charging Russians, Cabyles, or
Austrians, according to the date of the picture. Elsewhere a lancer on a
fantastic wild horse; a guide, walking with a pretty vivandière, or an old
grenadier with the Legion of Honour upon his breast —“all the glorious pomp and
circumstance of war” portrayed to entice the French clodhopper to sell himself
“to death or to glory.” More pacific pictures may be observed at the door of the
midwife; there we see a sedate-looking matron in ecstasy over the interesting
young stranger she has just ushered forth into the world, whilst paterfamilias
stands with a triumphant look in the background. 'Then there is the Herculean
coalheaver at the door of the auvergnat, who sells coals and firewood; and
landscapes with cattle at the dairyshops. But amongst the best painted are those
at the doors of the marchands de vins et de comestibles, where we see frequently
bunches of fruit, game, flowers, glasses, hams, fowls, fish, all cleverly
grouped together, and painted in a dashing style. There is one, for instance, in
the Rue Bellechasse, and another in the Rue St Lazare, that are well worth
inspection. These paintings are generally on the door-posts and window-frames;
they are painted on thin white canvas, fixed with varnish at the back of a thick
piece of plateglass, and so let into the woodwork. And now a few words
concerning the painters of signs. Their head-quarters were in Harp Alley, Shoe
Lane, where, until lately, gilt grapes, sugar-loaves, lasts, teapots, &c., &c.,
were displayed ready for the market. Here Messrs Barlow, Craddock, and others,
whose names are now as completely lost as their works, had their studios, and
produced some very creditable signs, both carved and painted. A few, however,
were the productions of no mean artists. The Spectator, January 8, 1743, No.
“The other day, going down Ludgate Street, several people were gaping at a very splendid sign of Queen Elizabeth, which by far exceeded all the other signs in the street, the painter having shewn a masterly judgment, and the carver and gilder much pomp and splendour. It looked rather like a capital picture in a gallery than a sign in the street.” Unfortunately the name of the artist who painted this has not come down to us.
Those who produced the best signs, however, were not exactly the Harp Alley sign-painters, but the coach-painters, who often united these two branches of art. In the last century, both the coaches and sedans of the wealthy classes were walking picture galleries, the panels being painted with all sorts of subjects.” And when the men that painted these turned their hands to signpainting, they were sure to produce something good. Such was Clarkson, to whom J. T. Smith ascribed the beautiful sign of Shakespeare that formerly hung in Little Russell Street, Drury Lane, for which he was paid £500,—John Baker, (ob. 1771) who studied under the same master as Catton, and was made a member of the Royal Academy at its foundation.—Charles Catton (ob. 1798) painted several very good signs, particularly a Lion for his friend Wright, a famous coachmaker, at that time living in Long Acre. This picture, though it had weathered many a storm, was still to be seen in J. T. Smith's time, at a coachmaker's on the west side of Well Street, Oxford Street. A Turk's head, painted by him, was long admired as the sign of a mercer in York Street, Covent Garden.—John Baptist Cipriani, (ob. 1785,) a Florentine carriage-painter, living in London, also a Royal Academician.—Samuel Wale, R.A. (ob. 1786) painted a celebrated Falstaff and various other signs; the principal one was a whole length of Shakespeare, about five feet high, which was executed for and displayed at the door of a public-house at the north-west corner of Little Russell Street, Drury Lane. It was enclosed in a most sumptuous carved gilt frame, and was suspended by rich ironwork. But this splendid object of attraction did not hang long before it was taken down, in consequence of the Act of Parliament for removing the signs and other obstructions in the streets of London. Such was the change in the public appreciation consequent on the new regulations in signs, that this representation of our great dramatic poet was sold for a trifle to Mason the broker in Lower Grosvenor Street, where it stood at his door for several years, until it was totally destroyed by the weather and other accidents.
The universal use of signboards furnished no little employment for the inferior rank of painters, and sometimes even to the superior professors. Among the most celebrated practitioners in this branch was a person of the name of Lamb, who possessed considerable ability. His pencil was bold and masterly, and well adapted to the subjects on which it was generally employed. There was also Gwynne, another coach-painter, who acquired some reputation as a marine painter, and produced a few good signs. Robert Dalton, keeper of the pictures of King George III, had been apprenticed to a sign and coach-painter; so were Ralph Kirby, drawing-master to George IV. when Prince of Wales, Thomas Wright of Liverpool, the marine painter, Smirke, R.A., and many artists who acquired considerable after-reputation. Peter Monamy (ob. 1749) was apprenticed to a sign and housepainter on London Bridge. It was this artist who decorated the carriage of Admiral Byng with ships and naval trophies, and painted a portrait of Admiral Vernon's ship for a famous publichouse of the day, well known by the sign of the Portobello, a few doors north of the church in St Martin's Lane.” Besides these, we have the “great professors,” as Edwards calls them, who occasionally painted a sign for a freak. At the head of these stands Hogarth, whose Man loaded with Mischief is still to be seen at 414 Oxford Street, where it is a fixture in the alehouse of that name. Richard Wilson, R.A., (ob. 1782) painted the Three Loggerheads for an alehouse in North Wales, which gave its name to the village of Loggerheads, near the town of Mould. The painting was still exhibited as a signboard in 1824, though little of Wilson's work remained, as it had been repeatedly touched up. George Morland painted several; the Goat in Boots on the Fulham Road is attributed to him, but has since been painted often over; he also painted a White Lion for an inn at Paddington, where he used to carouse with his boon companions, Ibbetson and Rathbone; and in a small public-house near Chelsea Bridge, Surrey, there was, as late as 1824, a sign of the Cricketers painted by him. This painting by Morland, at the date mentioned, had been removed inside the house, and a copy of it hung up for the sign; unfortunately, however, the landlord used to travel about with the original, and put it up before his booth at Staines and Egham races, cricket matches, and similar occasions. * J. T. Smith's Nollekens and his Times, vol. i. p. 25
Ibbetson painted a sign for the village alehouse at Troutbeck, near Ambleside, to settle a bill run up in a sketching, fishing, and dolce-far-niente expedition; the sign represented two faces, the one thin and pale, the other jolly and rubicund; under it was the following rhyme:— “Thou mortal man that liv'st by bread, What made thy face to look so red?
Thou silly fop, that looks so pale,
'Tis red with Tommy Burkett's ale.” "
David Cox painted a Royal Oak for the alehouse at Bettws-yCoed, Denbighshire; fortunately this has been taken down, and is now preserved behind glass inside the inn.
The elder Crome produced a sign of the Sawyers at St Martins, Norwich; it was afterwards taken down by the owner, framed, and hung up as a picture.
At New Inn Lane, Epsom, Harlow painted a front and a back view of Queen Charlotte, to settle a bill he had run up ; he imitated Sir Thomas Lawrence's style, and signed it “T. L.,” Greek Street, Soho. When Lawrence heard this, he got in a terrible rage and said, if Harlow were not a scoundrel, he would kick him from one street's end to the other; upon which Harlow very coolly remarked, that when Sir Thomas should make up his mind to it, he hoped he would choose a short street.
In his younger days Sir Charles Ross painted a sign of the Magpie at Sudbury, and the landlady of the house, with no small pride, gave the informant to understand that, more than thirty years after, the aristocratic portrait-painter came in a carriage to her house, and asked to be shewn the old sign once more.
Herring is said to have painted some signs. Amongst them are the Flying Dutchman, at Cottage Green, Camberwell, and a White Lion at Doncaster; underneath the last are the words,— “Painted by Herring.” Millais painted a Saint George and Dragon, with grapes round it, for the Vidler's Inn, Hayes, Kent; and we learn that a sign at Singleton, Lancashire, was painted by an R.A. and an R.S., each painting one side of it; on the front was represented a wearied pilgrim, at the back the same refreshed, but the sign was never hung up. Great men of former ages, also, are known to have painted signs; in the museum at Basle, in Switzerland, there are two pictures of a school, painted by Holbein when fourteen years old, for a sign of the schoolmaster of the town. The Mule and Muleteer in the Sutherland collection, is said to have been painted by Correggio as a sign for an inn; a similar legend is told about the Young Bull of Paul Potter, in the museum of the Hague, in Holland, which is reported to have been painted for a butcher's signboard. The Chaste Susannah (la chaste Susanne) was formerly a fine stone bas-relief in the Rue aux Fèves, Paris; it was attributed to Goujon, and bought as such by an amateur. A plaster cast of it now occupies its place. Watteau executed a sign for a milliner on the Pont Nôtre-Dame, which was thought sufficiently good to be engraved. Horace Wernet has the name of having produced some signs in his younger days; and there is still at the present time a sign of the White Horse, in one of the villages in the neighbourhood of Paris, which is pointed out as a work of Guéricault.
Besides these, there are, and have been at various times, excellent signboards in Paris, the artists of which are not known. Thus there was, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, a sign at the foot of the Pont Neuf, called le Petit Dunkerque, which was greatly admired; and in the reign of Louis XV. an armourer on the Pont Saint Michel had a sign, which was so fine a work of art that it was bought as a cabinet picture by a wealthy citizen. In the beginning of this century there was a much admired sign on the shutters of a glass and china shop in the Rue Royale St Honoré, which unfortunately was destroyed during some repairs that took place upon the building passing into other hands. In 1808, the sign of la Fille mal gardée, (a vaudeville.) at a mercer's, attracted great attention. About this period the Rue Vivienne was very rich in good signboards; there were la Toison de Cachemire , les Trois Sultanes ; le Couronnement de la Rosière, and la Joconde, all very good works of art. There was a gay Comte Ory on the Boulevard des Italiens, and la Blanche Marguerite, most comely to look upon, in the Rue Montmartre. All these are now gone, but many good specimens of French signboard painting may yet be met with.
Before closing this general survey of signboard history, we must direct attention to the number of streets named after signs, both in England and abroad. A walk down Fleet Street will give, in a small compass, as many illustrations as are to be met with in any other thoroughfare in town, for there nearly all the courts are named after signs that were either hung within them, or at their entrance. Not only streets, but families also have to thank signs for their names.
“Many names that seem unfitting for men, as of brutish beasts, etc., come from the very signes of the houses where they inhabited; for I have heard of them which sayd they spake of knowledge, that some in late time dwelling at the signe of the Dolphin, Bull, White Horse, Racket, Peacocke, etc., were commonly called Thomas at the Dolphin, Will at the Bull, George at the White Horse, Robin at the Racket, which names, as many other of like sort, with omitting at the, became afterwards hereditary to their children.”—CAMDEN's Remaines, p. 102.
As examples of such names we have, “Arrow, Axe, Barrell, Bullhead, Bell, Block, Board, Banner, Bowles, Baskett, Cann, Coulter, Chisell, Clogg, Crosskeys, Crosier, Funnell, Forge, Firebrand, Grapes, Griffin, Horns, Hammer, Hamper, Hodd, Harrow, Image, (the sign originally in honour of some saint perhaps,) Jugg, Kettle, Knife, Lance, Mallet, Maul, Mattock, Needle, Pail, Pott, Potts, Plowe, Plane, Pipes, Pottle, Patten, Posnet, (a purse or money-bag.) Pitcher, Rule, Rainbow, Sack, Saw, Shovel, Shears, Scales, Silverspoon, Swords, Tankard, Tabor, (a drum) Trowel, Tubb and Wedge, and a good many others.””
And now, having taken a passing glance at signboard history, from the earliest times down to the present day, we may not improperly conclude this chapter with an enumeration of the inn, tavern, and public-house signs which occur most frequently in London, in this present year of grace, 1864 —
12 Adam and Eves, 13 Albions, 5 Alfred's Heads, 13 Anchor and
Hopes, 18 Angels, 8 Angels and Crowns, 3 Antigallicans, 5 Artichokes, 13 Barley
Mows, 9 Beehives, 31 Bells, 7 Ben Jonsons, 5 Birds in Hand, 5 Black Boys, 16
Black Bulls, 5 Black Dogs, 29 Black Horses, 10 Black Lions, 6 Black Swans, 19
Blue Anchors, 5 Blue Coat Boys, 6 Blue Lasts, 14 Blue Peters, 27 Bricklayers'
Arms, 5 Bridge Houses, 22 Britannias, 15 Brown Bears, 8 Builders' Arms, 17
Bulls, (some combined with Bells, Butchers, &c.,) 22 Bull's Heads, 4 Camden
Heads, 6 Capes of Good Hope, 14 Carpenters' Arms, 19 Castles, 6 Catherine
Wheels, 7 Champions, 5 Chequers, 5 Cherry-trees, 8 Cheshire Cheeses, 11 City
Arms, 18 Cities of London, and other cities, (as Canton, Paris, Quebec, &c.,) 52
Coach and Horses, 12 Cocks, 16 Cocks in combination with Bottles, Hoops, Lions,
Magpies, &c., 6 Constitutions, 17
Coopers' Arms, 7 Crooked Billets, 5 Cross Keys, 61 Crowns, 18 Crown and Anchors,
5 Crown and Cushions, 11 Crown and Sceptres, 17 Crowns, combined with other
objects, as Anvils, Barley Mows, Thistles, Dolphins, &c., (in all, 112 Crowns;
certainly we are a loyal nation ) 12 Devonshire Arms, 2 Devonshire Castles, 10
Dolphins, 6 Dover Castles, 34 Dukes of Wellington, 32 Dukes of York, 6 Dukes of
Sussex, 16 Dukes of Clarence, 7 Dukes of Cambridge, 26 other Dukes, (including
Albemarle, Argyle, Bedford, Bridgewater, Gloucester, &c.,) 7 various Duchesses,
(as Kent, York, Oldenburgh, &c.,) 14 Duke's Heads, 18 Earls, (Aberdeen,
Cathcart, Chatham, Durham, Essex, &c.) 6 Edinburgh Castles, 5 Elephants and
Castles, 9 Falcons, 21 Feathers, 4 Fishmongers' Arms, 4 Five Bells, 5 Fleeces, 6
Flying Horses, 5 Fortunes of War, 24 Fountains, 8 Foxes, 12 Foxes, combined with
Grapes, Hounds, Geese, &c., 8 Freemasons' Arms, 8 various Generals, (Elliott,
Hill, Abercrombie, Picton, Wolfe, &c.,) 52 Georges, 14 George and Dragons, 19
George the Fourths, 31 Globes, 6 Gloster Arms, 7 Goats, 5 Golden Anchors, 5
Golden Fleeces, 15 Golden Lions, 6 Goldsmith's Arms, 56 Grapes, 15 Green
Dragons, 4 Green Gates, 24 Green Men, 9 Greyhounds, 7 Griffins, 5 Grosvenor
Arms, 8 Guns, 4 Guy of Warwicks, 6 Half-moons, 4 Hercules, 2 Hercules Pillars, 5
Holes in the Wall, 5 Hoop and Grapes, 4 Hop-poles, 12 Hopes, 11 Horns, 21 Horses
and Grooms, 7 Horseshoes, 5 Horseshoe and Magpies, 6 Jacob's Wells, 5 John
Bulls, 16 various “Jolly” people, as Jolly Anglers, Caulkers, Gardeners, &c., 12
Kings of Prussia, 10 Kings and Queens, 89 King's Arms, 63 King's Heads, (loyalty
again!) 8 Lambs, 3 Lambs and Flags, 4 Lion and Lambs, 55 different Lords,
amongst which, 23 Lord Nelsons, 4 Magpie and Stumps, 3 Mail-coaches, 3 Men in
the Moon, 2 Marlborough Arms, 6 Marlborough Heads, 18 Marquis of Granbys, 6
Marguis of Cornwallises, 14 various Marquises, 9 Masons' Arms, 17 Mitres, 4
Mulberry-trees, 15 Nag's Heads, 3 Nell Gwynns, 7 Noah's Arks, 7 Norfolk Arms, 4
North Poles, 9 Northumberland Arms, 3 Old Parr's Heads, 6 Olive Branches, 6
Oxford Arms, 10 Peacocks, (1 Peahen,) 5 Perseverances, 5 Pewter Platters, 10
Phoenixes, 3 Pied Bulls, 5 Pine Apples, 9 Pitt's Heads, 15 Ploughs, 6 Portland
Arms, 5 Portman Arms, 19 Prince Alberts, 5 Prince Alfreds, 3 Prince Arthurs, 15
other Princes, (mostly of the Royal Family) 43 Princes of Wales, 12 Prince
Regents, 6 Princess Royals, 3 Princess Victorias, and a few of the younger
Princesses, 2 Punchbowls, 3 Queens, 3 Queen and Prince Alberts, 17 Queen
Victorias, 23 Queen's Arms, 49 Queen's Heads, 8 Railway Taverns, 8 Red Cows, 4
Red Crosses, 73 Red Lions, 26 Rising Suns, 9 Robin Hoods, 5 Rodney Heads, 10
Roebucks, 14 Roses, 48 Rose and Crowns, 4 Royal Alberts, 28 various Royal
personages and objects, as Champions, Cricketers, Crowns, Dukes, Forts, &c., 8
Royal Georges, 26 Royal Oaks, 13 Royal Standards, 7 Running Horses, 23 Saints,
(3 Saint Andrews, 4 St Georges, 3 St Jameses, 3 St Johns, 2 St Luke's Heads, 2
St Martins, 2 St Pauls, &c.,) 5 Salisbury Arms, 2 Salmons, 4 Salutations, 6
Scotch Stores, 4 Seven Stars, 8 Shakespeare Heads, 2 Shepherds and Flocks, 2
Shepherds and Shepherdesses, 53 Ships, (23 in combination, on launch, aground,
&c.,) 3 Ship and Stars, 2 Ships and Whales, 19 Sirs, (including 4 Falstaffs, Sir
John Barleycorn, Middleton, Newton, Wren, Abercrombie, Pindar, Peel, Raleigh,
Walworth, &c.,) 5 Skinners' Arms, 4 Southampton Arms, 4 Sportsmen, 3 Spotted
Dogs, 14 Spread Eagles, 3 Stags, 3 Staghounds, 11 Stars, 17 Star and Garters, 8
Sugar-loaves, 19 Suns, 19 Swans, 9 Talbots, 4 Telegraphs, 3 Thatched Houses, 5
Thistles and Crowns, 21 Three Compasses, 8 Three Crowns, 3 Three Cranes, 3 Three
Cups, 3 Three Kings, 19 Three Tuns, 8 Tigers, (1 Tiger Cat) 10 Turk's Heads, 28
Two Brewers, 5 Two Chairmen, 4 Unicorns, 10 Unions, 2 Union Flags, 11 Victories,
5 Wines, 3 Waggon and Horses, 10 Watermen's Arms, 9 Weavers' Arms, 3 Westminster
Arms, 20 Wheat Sheaves, 15 White Bears, 63 White Harts, 44 White Horses, 25
White Lions, 35 White Swans, 3 Whittington and Cats, (1 Whittington and Stone)
16 William the Fourths, 11 Windmills, 12 Windsor Castles, 4 Woodmen, 8
Woolpacks, 10 York Arms and York Minster, 12 Yorkshire Greys.