King Rat and his carrot take the Crown

Click to follow
The Independent Online
UNLIKE some outer-suburban communities, Loughton in Essex does not have an exaggerated opinion of itself. The High Road bookshop offers visitors little more than a 24-page photographic record of the village as it used to be: schools, churches, th e police station, the post office, the war memorial, cottages, haymaking, the old Crown pub on the corner of Station Road. Few, therefore, expected a furore when the Crown's name was changed to The Rat and Carrot.

Deluged with outraged calls from members, the local residents' association had a full-scale debate, then wrote to the pub owners - a 280-strong chain called the Magic Pub Company.

"It's been the Crown since last century," said Pam Meadows, the association's chairman, last week. "The Rat and Carrot sounds absolutely dreadful". Recently, the new pub sign was vandalised, turning "Rat" into "Pat". "In my letter to the owners, I pointed out that Loughton is normally free of vandalism; so this really does show the feelings of the people," Mrs Meadows said.

All over the country, pub chains have been smitten by a name-change virus which has its roots in the Yuppie Eighties, many of the new names reflecting the fatuity and vulgarity of that period. In Donnington, Berkshire, the Castle Inn became The Pig in Hiding ("Come in and pig out"). Also in Berkshire, the Shepherd's House was changed to The Pheasant Plucker for a year, until protests forced a reversion. In Hertfordshire, the Cross Keys became Cheeky Tossers. Recently, the Chef and Brewer Group advertised for a manager to run the "Ferret and Trouserleg" in Surbiton.

But pre-recession taste has not been the only fuel for change. In the North-east of England and elsewhere, a fad for Irish-style pub names has led to the old Victoria and Comet, opposite the railway station in Newcastle upon Tyne, being transformed to Dirty Nellie's (after a pub in Co. Clare), after earlier manifestations as "Yate's" and "Trader Jack's". In Sunderland, the Dun Cow has become Rosie O'Grady; the Park Inn, Kitty O'Shea.

Where drinkers once assembled beneath patriotic signboards, irreverence for the past and its heroes has crept in. In Hambledon, where cricket was first played, the Bat and Ball has yielded to the Natterjack. The Twelve Bells in Trowbridge, next door to achurch, has been renamed the Pickled Newt, while in parts of Yorkshire, Lord Nelson has been reduced to the One-eyed Rat, in naval uniform and eye-patch. "That's a terrible insult," said Roy Bailey, of the Campaign for Real Ale.

Loughton is far from loutish. One immediately sees why Rat and Carrot, redolent of lager-swilling football spectators, is unwelcome. Rat and Carrot, Sick as a Parrot? "No, that would put them off our food," said the manager, Mike Cekalla, claiming that his customers are young and old and "female-friendly". A customer, Andrew Keane, 67, said: "It's such a silly name. Nobody knows what it means."

The Magic Pub Company is not apologetic. Kevin Milligan, who is in charge of 16 of the company's pubs in Essex and north London, said: "You have to convey a message to people, that, hey, something different's happening here." What message did the Rat andCarrot convey? "It's a concept the higher-ups put together. I wasn't party to it, but a lot of the traditionally named pubs with a male-dominated clientele have fallen by the wayside because they haven't kept up with market forces," he said.

Britain has 90,000 pubs. Neither Camra nor the Inn Sign Society - a preservation group - knows how many have turned their backs on history. In the past, there was at least some logic in name changes. The Angel on Highgate Hill, London, was once called the Salutation and had a signboard of the Virgin Mary and an angel. With the Reformation, the Virgin Mary got the chop.

But most of the new names lack logic. "These stupid names soon wear thin," said Stephen Cox of Camra. "Inn signs go back to the Romans," said Alan Wright of the Inn Sign Society.

Some customers refuse to let the controversy bother their elbows. Ordering his girlfriend a glass of port in Loughton, Andrew Keane said: "What's the point in protesting? I'm here to drink. Life's too short."