Signs of the times
PUBLISHED: 11:30 14 May 2009 | UPDATED: 14:07 06 May 2010
SIR, — The publication of John Coat s tube map to the pubs of St Albans (Herts Advertiser April 23)perhaps marks a further whistle stop on the journey of the demise of the traditional pub sign. For centuries ale houses and inns were known and identifi
SIR, - The publication of John Coat's 'tube' map to the pubs of St Albans (Herts Advertiser April 23)perhaps marks a further 'whistle stop' on the journey of the demise of the traditional pub sign.
For centuries ale houses and inns were known and identified by their signs. Visual symbols that helped our illiterate ancestors navigate their way through life.
While arguably such symbolic displays are no longer needed, it is sad to witness the disappearance, adulteration, and neglect of this attractive aspect of English cultural history.
Particularly when it happens in a city such as St Albans with its age-old tradition of victualling for travellers and the townspeople.
The changes to pub signs in the city over the years have been many.
The Pineapple has become simply Bar 62, and The Harrow now bears the name Mokoko.
And medieval ale-houses and inns do not escape the attentions of the iconoclasts.
The Boot announces its Market Place presence with a sign laid out in 'novelty' lettering. Meanwhile directly opposite the 15th century Fleur-de-Lys tries somewhat self-consciously to resolve its medieval heritage with the internet age and fails. Down Holywell Hill
The White Hart lost its animal image some years ago and now carries signs in a plain Roman face.
There are of course other examples.
But perhaps, saddest of all is when a pub sign is neglected and its image obscured as is the case of the one displayed outside 'the oldest pub in England': The Fighting Cocks.
However, the loss of English cultural history that pub signs represent is not inevitable. Look no further than pubs in Fishpool Street and St Michael's Village to see what can be achieved.
These establishments continue the pub sign tradition and by doing so acknowledge their debt as custodians of the cultural history of England.