Your guide to the history of some of London’s weirdest pub names, and whether it’s worth having a pint at any of them.
London’s got a mind-boggling amount of pubs. And many of them have been around for a mind-boggling amount of time. Over the years, stories get told, tales twisted, and these old pubs pick up some bizarre names.
Some of them are downright comical, others reflect a bit of the neighbourhood history. None of them are a dull story. Here are a few of our favourite weird London pub names.
Weird Pub Names in London
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
The Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese may have claim to being London’s oldest pub – that alone is reason to nip in for a pint.
In fact, a boozer has stood at this site since 1538, though it was rebuilt after the Great Fire. Age isn’t its only virtue…
The pub has been the haunt of many notable writers and newspapermen from Mark Twain to Orwell. The fact that it’s also one of the few remaining 17th-century chop houses is just the icing on the cake.
But where did it get this weird name? Well, it seems that knowledge has been lost from the history books. Perhaps those mediaeval peasants liked cheese as much as we do.
The World’s End
Another pub to boast a literary history and a peculiar name is The World’s End. This Camden boozer has been knocking about in various forms for several hundred years, and is known to have been frequented by Dickens.
Its recent history is what we’re concerned with today though. The pub’s modern offerings include a massive underground music venue that in the 80s was home to some pretty poppin’ parties. It’s said that the loud music disturbed ghosts of the pub’s past and there were several accounts of actual hauntings.
The World’s End? A fitting place for the restless dead…
Tapping the Admiral
Why do all these pub names have macabre undertones? Wait till you hear this: Tapping the Admiral gets its name from an act of drinking brandy that’s been soaking a dead body…
The body in this case is that of Admiral Horatio Nelson (yes, that Nelson). So the story goes, after Ad. Nelson was killed at Trafalgar, sailors put his body in a barrel of brandy to preserve it until it got back to England for a proper funeral.
During the voyage home these sick sailors would tap the barrel – as in make a small hole – and drink the brandy. They even had the humour to refer to this as ‘toasting the admiral’.
That puts a whole new tone on what is actually a really nice pub.
George and Vulture
Many of London’s pubs have a strange claim to fame. The George and Vulture is something pretty special: they have had the tallest pub in London since 1870.
In spite of its towering history, The George and Vulture is a pretty modern pub. They put on regular music nights, host pub quizzes and Eurovision parties and do a decent selection of sourdough pizza – this is Hoxton after all.
It’s not totally clear how the pub got its name. We know that it was originally called the George, but where the vulture comes in is up for debate. One theory has it that a landlady here once owned a vicious parrot that was given the name ‘the Vulture’ as it would attack the George’s patrons.
Another story puts it that the next-door building was leased to a wine merchant who used a live vulture outside his store as some sort of proto-capitalist marketing scheme.
This bird would also attack patrons of the George and so the landlord agreed to absorb the Vulture into the pub’s name if the wine merchant released the bird into the wild.
Mad Bishop and Bear
Ok we’re not going to lie. This has to be the worst pub in this guide. It is – shock horror – part of a train station. And we admit it doesn’t serve too different a function than the Prets and Yo Sushis that it shares the station with.
The Mad Bishop and Bear makes it into the guide because of its ridiculous name and the story behind it. The land around Paddington Station used to belong to the Abbey of Westminster. Until one day a genuinely mad bishop sold it to the railway companies on the cheap.
But what about the bear? Well, the station they built on the Abbey’s land went on to name one of the most famous bears in fiction.
The Salmon and Ball
No one knows for sure where the Salmon and Ball got its name. That’s just what happens when a pub hits near the ripe old age of 300.
One theory is that the salmon is a reference to the Billingsgate fish market and that the ball is to do with Bethnal Green’s 18th-century silk trade – as in a ball of string.
Another puts it that it was never the Salmon and Ball at all, more like the Salmon and Sphere – a nod to the coat of arms of a local dignitary.
One more theory: the ball is the universal symbol of silk traders, and the salmon is there because they could be caught in the Thames. Really? From what we know of the Victorian Thames it seems unlikely that anything could have survived in it.
Whatever the history of the name, this place is a true east London boozer. Filled with cockneys, gamblers and daytime drinkers – and we include ourselves in two of the three categories.
Possibly the strangest name we’ve found in our quest for weirdly named pubs is the Defector’s Weld. What even is a weld? This pub’s history comes more recently than most and probably owes its ambiguous name to its clandestine history.
This pub used to be the meeting place of the Cambridge Five – a spy ring that used to pass information to the Soviets during the Cold War. So weld as in join or come together? Either way, we imagine the pub was called something else when the five used to meet here, otherwise they couldn’t have picked a more obvious place to meet.
Today the Defector’s pops off at the weekends. DJs play to a young crowd of drinkers and party types with the pub staying open until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays.
The Famous Cock
Don’t even try and pretend this one didn’t bring a wry smile to your face. The Famous Cock (what’s so funny?) used to be known as the Old Cock until the blitz wiped most of the buildings on its block off the map and The Old Cock was the only one that stood erect (again, what?)
After the bombing, the pub had a pretty sizable reputation and its name got changed in the 50s to reflect that.
Today, the crowd tends to be a mix of hipsters and locals, drinking cocktails or pints of craft beer, chowing down on the menu of loaded burgers and other pub classics. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but one thing is for sure: a night at The Cock is never a dull one.
Practical Tips for Exploring London’s Weirdest Pubs
- If you come across a weird pub name don’t hesitate to ask the landlord the story behind it. They’re often more than happy to lay out what’s sure to be a good story.