Pubs with a Saintly Name

by Esmerelda Weatherwax (October 2013)

Part II of the Ecclesiastical theme I started in May. I have omitted pubs named after St George as I covered them in April 2010.

St James Brighton.

It’s in St James Street. Under the Co-op in St James Street was the site of the St James’ Chapel, built in 1810 and used by several different nonconformist groups until it was bought by the Church of England and demolished in the 1950s. What I can’t find is whether the chapel named the street, or the name of the street inspired the name of the chapel, and was there an earlier dedication to either of the Saints named James prior to 1810.

And perhaps, most important, which St James is honoured, St James the Great or St James the Less. Great or Less meaning older, or taller, and younger, or shorter, not superior or inferior. Both were among the 12 disciples. From the sign I believe the saint honoured to be St James the Less.  The most common symbol held by St James the Great is the scallop shell or a pilgrims staff or hat (as in the pilgrimage to his shrine at Compostella). St James the Less holds either a fullers club with which he was beaten to death or a halberd. And what he is holding in that sign looks to me like it might once have been a halberd.

Whichever saint, the pub is noted for its rum collection. I'll rephrase that. Collection of sugar-cane based spirits.

St Radegund Cambridge

Radegund, born 518AD was a princess of Thuringia who was captured by the Franks, converted to Christianity and was married to King Clotaire, son of Clovis. He didn’t take being a Christian very seriously, wasn’t a good husband and murdering his wife’s brother was the last straw. She left him and became a nun, later founding a convent in Poitiers. A church and nunnery dedicated to her in Cambridge later became the nucleus of Jesus College of the University. The pub sign to the left was from 2000? Apparently a previous landlord copied the Coat of Arms not of the saint but of a village in Austria. The sign was corrected and I believe I photographed the corrected version last year.  I hear that the pub is being refurbished, so that may change.

St Crispin and Crispianus

Feast 25th October. Famous for the speech which begins.

This day is called the feast of Crispian:

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,

Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,

And rouse him at the name of Crispian.


What Crispianus did to be left out (other than two names being unwieldy in the scansion) Shakespeare didn’t say.

They were two Roman brothers, cobblers by trade who preached and evangelised in Gaul, and according to local tradition, in Kent. The brothers are said to have lived for some time in Faversham; the site said to have been their workshop is now the Swan pub. Again poor Crispianus loses out to his brother in the name of the well.

The sign on the left is from the pub in Strood, visited by Dickens and described in his book the Uncommercial Traveller. The pub closed and then the 17th century building caught light and was in a very sad state. But a Mr Singh bought it last year and is working hard to restore it. Locals are optimistic.

The  sign on the right is not from a pub, but hangs outside a shoemenders in Chesterfield.

St Bride’s Tavern City of London

Just off Fleet Street. St Brides is one of my favourite of the City Churches.  It was built on Roman foundations which can be seen in the crypt, near or on one of the first site of Christian worship in London. In the 6th century the first stone-walled church was built by Celtic monks who may have been directed by St Bride, (or Bridget or Brigid) as she is better known herself. She was named for the Celtic goddess Brig; baptised by St Patrick himself and was noted for good works and the foundation of the monastery of Kildare. As with Anu and St Anne, sites dedicated to her may originally have been associated with Brig.

Legend has it that she changed her bathwater into beer when unexpected priests arrived and that she nagged St Patrick into accepting the custom of women proposing to men in leap year. There is also a story that Bishop Ibor consecrated her as a bishop. My copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Saints declares this to be ‘impossible’. Certainly the story confirms that the debate about women priests and women bishops is not a new one.

The spire of St Bride’s is supposed to have inspired the traditional three or more tier iced wedding cake. Sir Christopher Wren designed it to go on the dome of St Pauls. Then decided that it was all a bit too much, but the design would not go to waste.

The church is busy in the City with outreach to city workers, pastoral work among the print trade, regular early morning and lunchtime celebrations of Holy Communion and music.

St Helen’s Inn Chesterfield

Chesterfield has a shoemenders sign for two Kent saints and a pub named for an Essex Saint, St Helen.

The Chapel of St Helen was converted into a schoolroom in the late 16th century and continued in use until the 18th century. I think that must be the reason for the name of the modern ward, street and pub.

According to the same list of symbols of the saint where I identified (not necessarily correctly) the halberd of St James the Less, St Helen is traditionally portrayed wearing a royal crown and holding a cross.

The painter has followed this Catholic image of her very closely. That article disputes the English tradition that she was born in Colchester, and was a daughter of King Coel. There have been several men of that name, who may have been the prototype of Old King Cole, the Merry Old Soul of the nursery rhyme. One of those is Cunobelin, or as he is called in the Shakespeare play, Cymbeline, but he died in the early 1st century some 300 years earlier. However wherever she was born her husband Constantius and her son Constantine spent some years in Britain campaigning, and it was in York in 306AD that Constantine was declared Emperor after his father’s death. He later became a Christian and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Helen travelled to the Holy Land where she found what was believed at the time to be the True Cross. Her statue on the roof of Colchester Town Hall looks towards Jerusalem and the local hospice is named for her. 

The St Helen’s Pride pub in Ipswich is now a mosque.

St Anne’s Castle Great Leighs

The pub claims to be the oldest in Britain. It definitely dates back to the 12th Century and once was a pilgrim stop of the journey between Walsingham in Norfolk and Canterbury in Kent. It also claims to be haunted. An Essex witch Anne Hughes was executed on Scrap Faggot Green in 1621 and buried at the crossroads under a boulder. During WWII American Artillery trucks needed to move the boulder and this disturbance set off (so it is said) a series of hauntings and paranormal activity, including the appearance of a ghostly cat. Essex witches were probably no worse or more numerous than any other witches; what Essex had which other counties didn’t was the notorious Matthew Hopkins, Witch-finder general, who made a very good living out of impeaching elderly ladies.

Any ancient site in the United Kingdom named for St Anne may well have had an even earlier connection with the Celtic goddess Ana, (Anu or Anann). Saint Anne was the mother of the Virgin Mary. She isn’t mentioned in the Bible, her identification is from the apocryphal gospel of James. That was not written by either St James the Great or St James the Less. It purports to be by James of Jerusalem, who was a brother of Jesus, but scholars believe it was not actually written until nearly a century later than his lifetime.

Whether or not the pub is the oldest in the country, or is really haunted by an Essex witch its newest sign was definitely awarded the accolade of Best Pub Sign of 2012, as well as tributes for the quality of its beer and live music.

Earlier signs, prior to 2007, from 2008 and the prize-winner from 2012.

St Edmund’s Tavern Bury St Edmunds

King of East Anglia c855 – 869. Killed by the Viking leader Ingwar after refusing to renounce his Christian faith or become Ingwar’s vassel. He may have been offered to the Norse gods by way of the notorious blood-eagle. Some believe that he (and St Alban) should be England’s patron saint(s) as well as St George. As his cult grew during the Middle Ages his remains were transferred to a shrine in what is now the Cathedral at Bury St Edmunds (the name is obvious). The shrine was dismantled during the Reformation and the fate of his relics unknown. The Cathedral has been extensively rebuilt in the last 25 years and a modern statue of Edmund has been erected in the close.





To be sought, as and when I am ever in those districts: St Peter’s Finger, Lytchett Minster, Dorset; St James Tavern, Winchester; the St Lawrence Tavern Ramsgate; The Crispin Inn, Ashover, Derbyshire.

Photographs E Weatherwax, with three archive photographs of St Radigund and St Anne’s Castle from the Pubs galore website.


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