London's Strangest Pub Names

By M@ Last edited 16 months ago
London's Strangest Pub Names

Among the Red Lions and White Harts, the city has its fair share of weird pub names. The strangest of all, the Frog and Radiator in Greenwich, closed some time ago, sadly. But London still has its nominative treasures. Here are 13 favourites.

1. Pratts & Payne, Streatham

113 Streatham High Road London SW16 1HJ

Pratts and Payne, Streatham

Although not outwardly weird, with the tring of a solicitors firm or estate agents, Pratts & Payne gets its name from some unlikely source material. The 'Pratts' bit recalls a defunct department store, while the sequel remembers Ms Cynthia Payne, the celebrated hostess of many a sex party. It's part of the Antic chain, which we'll encounter again thanks to its creative ways with a pub name.

2. The Ship & Shovell, Charing Cross

1-3 Craven Passage WC2N 5PH

Another name and, indeed, pub of two halves: its twin bars are separated by an alleyway. Many pubs reference a ship, but the Shovell is unique. The inspiration is Sir Cloudesley Shovell. He presided over one of the worst disasters in British maritime history when his fleet struck rocks off Scilly in 1707. Something like 1,500 people lost their lives. A bit odd, don't you think, to associate your pub with a Titanic-scale disaster?

3. The Camel & Artichoke, Waterloo

121 Lower Marsh SE1 7AE

Yet another pub with two components. Artichokes are not unheard of in pub names, with perhaps a dozen across the UK, including the Queen's Head and Artichoke in Camden. The reasons are obscure, various and disputed, though probably whimsical in most cases. This one's been trading since the late 18th century, originally as 'the Artichoke', and may recall the route of the exotic vegetable to market. At some point, the place changed its name to the Elusive Camel (we honestly don't know why). New management in 2006 merged the two former names.

4. The Job Centre, Deptford

120 Deptford High Street E8 4NP

We promised a return to the Antic chain, and we're about to enjoy a run of them. The Job Centre is actually a pub, but based inside an old Job Centre. This novel change-of-use prompted something of a backlash when the pub opened in 2014. Accusations of insulting the misfortunate and 'doing gentrification ironically' flew around social media. The dust has now settled, and we have a fine pub made memorable by its 1970s furniture.

5. Pepper St Ontiod, Millwall

21 Pepper Street E14 9RP

You won't find the word Ontiod in any reputable dictionary. It's a modern coinage by Antic, an abridgement of 'On the Isle of Dogs'. The other bit is merely the location (Pepper St), though the pub enunciates this as 'Saint'. All a bit odd.

6. The Sylvan Post, Forest Hill

24-28 Dartmouth Road SE23 3XZ

Yet another Antic pub, this one was built inside a former post office, hence the latter bit. Sylvan means 'of the woods', a reference to the location in Forest Hill. Look out for the many postal gimcracks throughout the pub.

7. John the Unicorn, Peckham

157-159 Rye Lane SE15 4TL

Our final Antic pub is named after a childhood toy of the owner's daughter. It's as good a way as any to christen a pub, but we hope it doesn't start a trend. Imagine the Skeletor Arms, the Headless Barbie, and the Fisher-Price Garage With The Broken Lift Mechanism.

8. The Pyrotechnists Arms, Nunhead

39 Nunhead Green SE15 3QF

Unquestionably a unique pub name, the Pyrotechnists Arms was built on the site of a former fireworks factory. Almost as if to invite disaster, it features an image of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators on its pub sign.

9. The Defector's Weld, Shepherd's Bush

170 Uxbridge Road London W5 3LH

Defectors Weld, Shepherd's Bush

This mighty Young's pub supposedly commemorates the Cold War-era Cambridge Spy Ring, one of whom lived nearby. The 'weld' implies a joining together, so perhaps this is one of the places in which the spies would meet. Who knows? Certainly not the bar staff, who we've interrogated on more than one occasion.

10. The Case is Altered, Eastcote

Southill Lane HA5 2EU

Oddly, this name is not unique. The UK contains at least four, including another nearby, south of Bushey. The name probably reflects a legal dispute over licensing which, when resolved, altered the pub's status or 'case'. The wording was used by noted playwright Ben Johnson in the 16th century and seems to have been a common phrase. Another theory suggests a corruption of the Spanish phrase Casa Alta, meaning house on a hill.

11. The Aeronaut, Acton

264 High Street W3 9BH

This lively pub-cum-entertainment venue is named after Acton-born George Lee Temple, the first Englishman to fly a plane upside-down.

12. The Mad Bishop & Bear, Paddington

1st Floor, Paddington Station London W2 1HB

This station pub commemorates two very different local characters. The bear is, of course, Paddington, the marmalade-loving ursine who met the Brown family on the platforms down below. The ecclesial half of the name remembers the Bishop of London who sold land here to the railway company. He did this at such low cost that he was deemed 'mad'.

13. The Blacksmith & The Toffeemaker, Clerkenwell

292-294 St John St EC1V 4PA

This entirely vegan pub sounds like a story by the Brothers Grimm, but takes its inspiration from a more recent source, a 1969 song by Jake Thackray. He in turn got it from an episode in Cider with Rosie, a book by Laurie Lee from a decade before.

Looking for a decent London pub with a weird name, or just a normal one? Check out our pub database.

Last Updated 08 June 2022

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