More Inn Signs – Notable Ships and Those Who Sailed In Them


by Esmerelda Weatherwax (November 2009)

More pub signs.

The Ark Royal – Wells next the Sea Norfolk.

The first Ark Royal was build for Sir Walter Raleigh and became the flagship of Lord High Admiral, Howard of Effingham and saw action against the Spanish Armada and at Cadiz.

350 years later the second Ark Royal was commissioned in 1914 as a seaplane carrier, which was quite innovative and saw action in the Dardanelles. The third Ark Royal was commissioned in 1938 as an aircraft carrier, was involved in the sinking of the Bismark in May 1941 and was torpedoed and sunk off Gibraltar 6 months later.

The fourth Ark Royal was commissioned in 1955 and was an aircraft carrier the size and stature if which has not been since. She could take 90 small or 40 larger faster aircraft.

The fifth and current ship of the name was launched in 1981 and is about a third of the size of her predecessor.

She now carries Chinook, Lynx, Apache and Sea King helicopters.

I am pretty certain that this sign left shows the current Ark Royal V. As you can see it is not a painted board but a metal work silhouette.

The Enterprise – Red Lion Street Holborn London
There have been nearly 40 vessels of this name. The first was the French frigate the Entreprise captured in 1705 and renamed HMS Enterprise. The tenth Royal Navy ship of the name is an oceanographic survey vessel. The US Navy has also given this name to many ships since before the War of Independence. Most famous these days are the several fictional Starships Enterprise of the Star Trek series. There was also a Civil War balloon and the first Space Shuttle Orbiter. There is a commercial spaceship currently being developed by the Virgin company which is already named the VSS Enterprise. Whether the project will get off the ground (pun intended – I couldn’t let that one go) we will find out next year.

The ship depicted here is the fifth Enterprise of the British Navy, purchased by the navy in 1848 and fitted up for the arctic to boldly go in search of Sir John Frankin’s missing expedition to find the North West Passage, in the company of HMS Investigator. The two boats lost each other and spent the next few years searching separately.

I am confident in my identification because of the polar bear on the ice floe. He doesn’t look a bit like either Richard Branson or Captain Slog.

The Enterprise was away for five years and spent 4 winters in the ice. They came close to the remains of Franklin’s expedition but failed to actually find them.

Captain Collinson may not have been completely sane; at one point he had all his officers bar the surgeon under arrest on the ice bound ship. He wanted them court martialed – they wanted him court martialed. In the end, by some miracle, most of the crew of officers and men survived to return home. Their ordeal is described in the book Arctic Hell-Ship by William Barr of Canada.
Captain Cook and The Endeavour. Barking and Chelmsford.
Most people know the broad story of Captain James Cook and his voyages of exploration, most famously in and around the Pacific. He was born in North Yorkshire and began his career apprenticed to a coal shipper in Whitby. The shop and house still stand and are now a Cook Museum. When given the task of observing the transit of Venus across the face of the sun (and quietly finding the ‘unknown southern continent’ while sailing the Pacific) he decided that a Whitby collier was the ideal craft for the job. The navy bought the Earl of Pembroke, renamed it His Majesty’s bark Endeavour and she went to Tahiti, New Zealand, up the east coast of Australia landing at Botany Bay, then the north coast, a close encounter with the Great Barrier Reef. Cook took other ships on his subsequent voyages. The Endeavor was sold, bought again, used as a troop carrier during the American War of Independence, or American Revolutionary war if you prefer, and was scuttled in the blockage of Narragansett Bay.

The sign of the Captain Cook pub is in Barking Essex. Barking was a port of some importance on the approach to London; James Cook and his wife Elizabeth Batt of Wapping were married in Barking Abbey in 1762.

Update April 2010 – the Captain Cook pub in Axe Street Barking closed late 2009 and the site is now a hole in the ground. RIP.

The sign of the Endeavour is in Springfield Road Chelmsford.

Looking north is Cook’s Ship.

Looking south is a more modern Endeavour – the Space Shuttle.
The Prospect of Whitby – Wapping Wall
One of the oldest pubs in London dating, it claims, from 1520. It was used by Samuel Pepys when on naval (and other) business in Wapping. Judge Jeffries watched the executions he had ordered nearby and was arrested there after the Glorious Revolution once his patron King James II had fled to France. Later Captain Kidd the pirate (who has his own pub named after him) was also executed there. The original pub (known at this time as The Devil’s Tavern because of its clientele, also known as Beanies,) was badly damaged by fire and when rebuilt was named after the ship which regularly moored outside.

Like the Endeavour and the Resolution the prospect of Whitby, built in 1777, was a three-masted Whitby collier. Whitby built the boats which carried the coal south from the coal mines of Yorkshire, County Durham and the North East. Hence the phrase ‘carrying coals to Newcastle’.


The Mayflower – Leigh on Sea

While the voyage to the New World is generally considered to have begun in earnest from Plymouth in September 1620 the Mayflower was fitted out in Rotherhithe in London and berthed in Leigh on Sea on the north bank of the Thames Estuary to collect Essex pilgrims who had gathered in Billericay. There are many pubs named the Mayflower.
Admiral Lord Nelson – Norfolk
Hero of the Nile and Copenhagen, died at Trafalgar, lover of Lady Hamilton, one arm, one eye and an eye patch. Wrong! His blind eye wasn’t so badly disfigured to need a patch and his statue in Trafalgar Square and his portraits do not show him wearing one.

He was born in Burnham Thorpe just inland from the North Norfolk coast and Norfolk people remain very proud of him. Hence there are numerous pubs named for him. This is the Norfolk Hero in Swaffham. The Brave Nelson is in Brentwood Essex. 

There are pubs named for his ship the Victory, which is still berthed in Portsmouth, I just have not photographed one yet. Give me time. The Battle of Trafalgar in Whitcombe Street near Trafalgar Square had no sign and is now a trendy bar called Gravity.

Admiral Edward Vernon  –  Dagenham
This is the Admiral Vernon in Dagenham near where I used to live.
What I didn’t know when I lived there, during which period I visited George Washington’s family home at Mount Vernon in Virginia, was that the pub and the estate were named after the same man.

His nickname was ‘old grog’ which was acquired from his habit of wearing a grogram coat. He introduced the mixing of the naval rum ration with water in an attempt to reduce drunkenness. As the water onboard ship tasted terrible he then ordered that lime juice be added and the resulting drink became known as ‘grog’ (hence groggy – even watered down it was still strong stuff). It became noticeable that his men suffered less from scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency, than others. The use of lime resulted in the American nickname for us, limeys.

At one time he served under Sir Cloudsley Shovell, about whom more below.

After his success against the Spanish at Porto Bello during the War of Jenkin’s Ear he became very popular with the American colonists. One of these who served under him was Lawrence Washington, elder brother of George Washington and he gave the family estate the name of his commander.

On return to England he became the Member of Parliament for Ipswich and died on the family estate at nearby Nacton on the Orwell Estuary in 1757.

Sir Cloudsley Shovell – Charing Cross
He spelt his name several different ways in various documents. Sometimes, as in Barking (no longer with a sign, just a bare pole) it is spelt Ship and Shovel, leading people to believe it is something to do with stoking on the old steamships.

He was another Norfolk man, born in Cockthorpe in 1650. As a second Lieutenant  he was part of the mission to Algiers to redeem English slaves. The fleet then went on to blockade the Barbary pirate port of Tripoli where the pirates had reneged on an earlier treaty.

He had a busy career through the reigns of King Charles II, James II, Monmouth rebellion, William and Mary, and with the accession of Queen Anne he was promoted to Admiral of the White. In the 18th century there were always three admirals, red, white and blue. The distinction between them all features in several of Jane Austen’s novels. 

His death in 1707 and the circumstances in which his flagship and two others were wrecked on the Scilly Isles continues to exercise the minds of naval historians. He thought that he was further eastward that he actually was. This disaster motivated the Admiralty to set the competition for a way of calculating longitude which was eventually solved by John Harrison. Harrison’s sea clock was tested by Captain Cook in his second voyage in 1772.
The Rodney’s Head, or Lord Rodney’s Head – Whitechapel.
The pub closed in 2004 and is now a shoe shop. There are very few pubs left along Whitechapel Road; the staff of the Royal London Hospital don’t have the time and for others the East London mosque dominates.

As a child I asked my Dad “Dad, who was Rodney then?”
I now know that he was Admiral George Rodney 1st Baron Rodney, 1719 – 1792. He spent most of his career in the West Indies and his most famous achievement was defeating the French Admiral de Grasse at the Battle of Les Saintes on 12 April 1782 and saving Jamaica from invasion.


Eva Hart MBE JP – Chadwell Heath

Not a sailor but a passenger. Eva Hart was a child of 7 travelling on the Titanic with her parents for a new life in Canada. Her mother had a premonition that the ship would meet trouble so she remained awake and fully dressed every night. That and her father’s quick thinking in getting his wife and child on deck and into a lifeboat (he didn’t take a place in the boat himself and died) was the reason they survived.

Mrs Hart and Eva returned to England. At her death in 1996, aged 91, Miss Hart was the oldest survivor with memories of the ship. In between she had a career as a singer in Australia, worked with Guide Dogs for the Blind and served as a Magistrate in England for which services she was awarded the MBE. In retirement she lived in Chadwell Heath East London /Essex and when Wetherspoons converted the old Police Station in to a pub they named it after her.

This is a BBC interview
with her in 1987

“The sounds of people drowning are something that I can not describe to you, and neither can anyone else. It’s the most dreadful sound and there is a terrible silence that follows it.”
The Matapan – Dagenham
Another pub I know in Dagenham used to be named the Matapan after the Battle of Cape Matapan in 1941. I don’t recall a sign but inside one wall was filled with a map of the coast of Greece and details of the conduct of the battle. The pub is still there but has been renamed.

The new name is a historic one locally, that of the Beacon and Tree. The original Beacon and Tree was further up Green Lanes towards Ilford and was one of several to have that name, which was related to the message beacon and marker tree on the spot which gave the names Becontree and Beacontree Heath to two local neighbourhoods.

The Beacon Tree was demolished and a block of flats built on the site which is a common story. The Matapan experienced a change of management which I am told improved the pub which had declined in tone over the previous year; it was around this time that the name changed. While I am pleased that an old name is still current I am also sorry that a new and unique name of modern history has been lost so quickly. The Matapan followed in the tradition of pub names like the Heroes of Lucknow (Aldershot), the Waterloo and the Alma.

The picture below is taken from the Beer in the Evening website – it changed names in 2007 before I started this project.

There is also a picture I took of the Ark Royal in the Thames two years ago to compare the silhouette of the sign in Wells.

If you would like to see the pictures in a larger form please click on them to be taken to Flickr photoshare site.





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