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Pub Sign History

Here at Fat Blokes HQ (Called ShedQuaters) we design hundreds of signs for bars and pub signage every month but where did it all start.

In this blog were going to talk about the history of the bar sign and pubs.

We have to go back nearly 2000 years to the very start of the taverna to see where bar signs came from and how they evolved.

The earliest bar signs come from Roman times when the Romans on occupying Britain built roads and “tabernae” – Taverns that sold mainly wine where travellers could get food, lodging and wine. To signify it was a tavern the romans decreed that all such establishments should display an evergreen branch on the outside of the building, tavern keepers took to planning an evergreen bush outside of their taverns which gave rise to the earliest pub name “The Bush”

Over time as places for the common people to stay became more mainstream the name Inn became sonorous with somewhere to spend the night, get food and refreshments. The Inn was effectively the equivalent to the Truck stop but for a horse and carts taking fresh produce to the markets and towns. Inn’s typically had stables and a courtyard with accommodation above the stables and a single room serving booze to weary travellers.

This is where the coach and horses came to be.

Illiteracy was the norm back in King Richard II’s time so Inn’s adapted the practice of hand painted pictorial pub signage so that even if you couldn’t read you could see what the inn was called. In fact King Richard decreed that all houses that brewed and served ale must have a pub hanging sign to recognise that they served ale to the public hence the Public house.

The pictorial pub sign became the standard with many skilled painters employed designing and painting pub signs. Increasingly the signs became more detailed with references to the pub name and local employment or location. Think about the Drovers Arms- Next to the cattle market, The Bell – next to the church or The Ship Inn at the dock side. Two Fat Blokes call these Traditional pub signs.

Then there’s the plethora of monarchy related bar signs, Back when the King Henry parted ways with the Catholic church The Popes Head was commonplace but so as not to fall foul of the King many pubs changed their names to show patronage to the monarchy hence The Kings Head, The Rose & Crown, The George, The White Hart and The Crown.

Pub signs evolved further when the Railways took over from the horse and cart, Public Houses sprung up next to railway stations with names like The Railway Hotel, The Station Inn & The Engine & Tender.

The variety of pub signs and names is endless, today pubs continue to evolve, some evolve backwards by trying to become more traditional especially after the trend of the 1970’s was to modernise them with garish designs and awful concrete exteriors.

The modern day pub comes in all shapes and sizes from the tiny craft beer establishments to large road houses serving food, kid’s play areas and hotel accommodation. From modern trendy bars to traditional countryside pubs with a log fire.

Fast-forward to the pandemic, we could not go to the pub although there was already a well-developed garden bar scene, the pandemic accelerated the trend with over 2.1 million Pub Sheds, Garden Bars & sports bars now in the UK. It’s almost as though we have gone back a thousand years with drinkers opening their own garden pubs.

Two Fat Blokes only see this trend continuing with the cost of a pint in your local now rising to over £8 in some parts of the country, I was out this weekend in my local and was horrified to pay £17 for a glass of wine and a pint of ale. So the new normal is a garden pub with your own personalised home bar signage.

So what’s your Pub Shed called and what’s its story?

Next month we will talk about bar sign designs from the traditional style to the modern style.

Here’s some great examples of traditional signs discussed above.

Many thanks to The Inn Sign Society for help researching the piece.

As usual if you want your very own custom bar sign then head over to and have a look at the range.

 Kings Head Pub Sign The Bell - Pub sign

The Coach & Horses - Pub signage
The Crown - Home bar sign
The Bush - Signs for home bars
The Railway Inn - Bar Signs UK
The Drovers arms - Traditional pub sign
The Ship  Inn - Pub signage