21 February 2015

Cheshire: Pubs and their signs, 4

Time to pull a pint or two of real ale, find a cosy nook in a centuries-old public house, and let the walls – and the pub signs – tell us their wonderful stories. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …

The Antrobus Arms, Antrobus 
Antrobus is an unusual name for a pub, a village, a person, and the jury is out on whether its origin is to be found in the time of the Vikings (a tongue-twisting combination of the Old Norse personal name ‘Andrithi’ or ‘Eindrithi’ and ‘buski’, their word for bush or thicket, resulting in ‘Andrithi's thicket’) or whether this ‘area between two forests’ was named by the French-speaking Normans ‘Entre bois’, meaning ‘between the woods’. Either way, it was first listed as Entrebus at the time of the Domesday Book survey in 1086 AD and the first person recorded using the surname was apparently one Thomas Antrobus (on the Register of the University of Oxford in 1600). 

The pub itself is not that old – according to their website, it was first licensed in the 1700s. And The Antrobus Arms is not its original name – I found a record of its being called The Wheatsheaf in the 1930s – and I have no idea who the coat of arms belonged to (contrary to popular belief, coats of arms are personal, not attached to a surname).

One particularly interesting fact I did find though relates to the tradition of soulcaking or souling. Around All Souls Eve (1 November) each year, a group of mummers performs a traditional hero-vs-the bad-guy play at The Antrobus Arms and other pubs in the area (check out the video here), and the local children dress up and knock on doors, reciting a special rhyme in return for spiced cakes. The origins of trick-or-treating, perhaps?


The Bear’s Paw, High Legh
I was homeward bound after a walk when I found The Bear’s Paw and popped in, thinking to enjoy a late Sunday lunch. No such luck! It was fully booked, overflowing with the Sunday-best-dressed and quite obviously no place for an outdoorsy type who still had her jeans tucked into her socks. I should have guessed from the ‘Country Inn and Restaurant’ label, which undoubtedly adds at least £5 to the price of every meal.

According to the pub’s website, the building was originally a 17th-century farm house and, from the little I saw, it certainly oozed authentic character, with a roaring open fire and low-slung beamed ceilings. It was worth the stop to get a photo of the 3D sign. The bear’s paw is a common enough name for a public house – there’s another just 15 miles away in Frodsham  – but, as this place doesn’t have a long history as a pub, I assume it has no particular meaning here.

The Angel, Knutsford
According to the Inn Society’s website, Angel is the 11th most popular inn name in the UK and is a

reminder of the religious connection between pint and pulpit. The name is thought to have represented the Archangel or St Michael …, who was the patron saint of the Knights Templar. They would adorn a tavern with such a painting, not to name it, but to show that it was under God’s protection.

The hotel’s own website proudly announces that The Angel Hotel, previously the Angel Inn, ‘was a noted posting house and inn’ in the time of Knutsford’s favourite daughter, the author Elizabeth Gaskell, and, if you’ve read her book Cranford (published in 1851), you might recall the character Lord Maulevere stayed at the Angel while visiting Captain Brown.


The Cross Keys, Knutsford
The Cross Keys is another popular pub name – I even remember drinking in one of that name in Cusco, Peru – and is another with a Christian connection. The crossed keys of heaven are a symbol of Saint Peter: ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be lost in heaven’, Matthew 16:19.

Though obviously not of biblical age, the Cross Keys is certainly one of Knutsford’s oldest pubs, dating from around 1642 when, it seems, there were 42 (!) taverns in the town. The pub’s website reports that, ‘A map dating back to 1786 shows the Cross Keys as being part of the Lord Egerton estate. For many years the Barrow family ran the inn – the 1841 census shows 30-year-old Hanna Barrow as Innkeeper, assisted by her sisters Jane, 23 and Anne aged 20.’ It was a common enough profession for a woman if the novels of authors like Charles Dickens are to be credited with more than an ounce of historical truth.


The Salt Barge, Marston 
This is one of my locals, a welcome refreshment stop during my walks along the nearby Trent and Mersey Canal. For tourists and visitors to the area, the Salt Barge is also not far from local attractions, the Anderton Boat Lift, Marbury Country Park and the Northwich Woodlands, and the soon-to-open Lion Salt Works Museum is just across the road.

Built in 1861 to replace the earlier Red Lion Inn and previously named The New Inn, The Salt Barge is steeped in canal history, as portrayed by the memorabilia and historical photographs of local salt mining that are sprinkled throughout the bar.

The Kilton, Mere
If you read my previous pub signs blog, you’ll recall that owning and training racehorses used to be a popular vocation in this neck of the woods and several of the local pubs are named after them. The Kilton is another. The horse it is named after was owned by Mr Thomas Langford-Brooke of Mere Hall. Kilton apparently excelled at the Knutsford Races and, in 1796, won the prestigious Knutsford Gold Cup, beating the horse Delamere, owned by another well known Cheshire habitant, Mr Tatton.

An article in the Warrington Guardian of 14 May 2012 states that The Kilton Inn was built in the 16th century and ‘is rumoured to once have served as some kind of prison’. I also found a report, in T. A. Coward’s 1903 book Picturesque Cheshire [Sherratt and Hughes, London and Manchester, 1903, pp.68-9] that the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin had an association with The Kilton. It is such a good story that it is worth including in full here:

There is a good bowling green at the "Kilton" at Hoo Green, well known to picnic parties from Manchester and elsewhere. It was on this self-same green that a game was in progress, when that smart gentleman of the road, Dick Turpin, pulled up his sweating black charger, and smiting the ostler across the shoulders, asked him emphatically what time it was. Then the redoubtable Richard joined in the game, swaggering about the green so as to be noticed by all the sporting gentry. When, later, it transpired that a dastardly assault and robbery had taken place within a few minutes of the time stated by the ostler, it was considered impossible that this gay but suspicious Turpin could have ridden from Newbridge Hollow to the inn in so short a time, and his alibi was accepted. This story is familiar; Dick Turpin's ride from London to York, and other tales of the same notorious character are so similar that we must accept this legend cum grano salts. Dick Turpin may have been here; but the true history of the man shows him to have been no dashing, chivalrous highwayman, but a cruel, mean swindler and burglar, a man who liked to rob lonely houses where there were defenceless women, especially when he had a gang of similar lawless desperadoes at his back.


The truth of this rollicking tale may never be known but it is certainly a good story to recount over a pint or two.