The Duke of Wellington – The Battle of Waterloo


All over Britain there are pubs dedicated to this man. When an establishment is called the Wellington or the Duke of Wellington, it is clear to see who it’s named after and the regard in which one of our greatest military heroes is still held. Calling a pub the Iron Duke, on the other hand, shows a rather more ambivalent reaction to his legacy.

Arthur Wellesley (1769–1852) is most famous for having finally crushed Napoleon at Waterloo, Belgium, on June 18, 1815, thus concluding the little Frenchman’s domination of Europe and changing the course of history in the process. The outcome could have been very different, however, and Wellington himself later admitted the battle was ‘the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life’. Wellesley was renowned for his courage in the line of fire, and had served the army with distinction in the Netherlands and India before returning to England and becoming MP for Newport on the Isle of Wight in 1807.

His political rise was swift and within two years had been appointed a privy counsellor (one of a body of select and powerful advisers to the British sovereign), although his comfortable life in Westminster came to an abrupt halt when he was recalled to the army and charged with the task of confronting the Napoleonic threat to Britain and the rest of Europe. It was in the Peninsula War, fought in Portugal and Spain, that he achieved his greatest military success, winning a number of important victories and being granted a dukedom following Napoleon’s exile to Elba in 1814.

Returning to England the following year, after victory at the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington re-entered politics. His reputation as a military leader guaranteed his rise to power over the next few years and he became prime minister in 1828. Unfortunately, the very qualities that had made him such a successful general ensured his swift decline in popularity as a politician. At a time when reform was sorely needed, he was aggressively conservative, the spectre of the French Revolution making him suspicious of giving too much ground to the common people (this was before the working classes had the vote).

Unrest had already shown itself following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, with famine and widespread unemployment, not helped by the imposition of the Corn Laws (in which cheaper foreign wheat was banned in order to force people to buy the more expensive British variety). Things had come to a head on 16 August 1819 when a crowd of nearly 80,000 protestors gathered for a meeting at St Peter’s Field in Manchester. The military was called in and the ensuing sabre-drawn charge by the cavalry left fifteen citizens dead and nearly seven hundred badly injured. The massacre became known as ‘Peterloo’ in a mocking echo of the Battle of Waterloo, which may have brought peace but hadn’t delivered prosperity or a more equal society.

As economic conditions deteriorated and unemployment increased over the following decade, the mood in the rural areas was often volatile, leading in 1830 to the Swing Riots, a widespread uprising among agricultural labourers who feared their livelihoods were under threat from the newly introduced threshing machines. During an emergency debate in the House of Lords it was suggested by Earl Grey, the leader of the Whig party, that parliamentary reform was the best way to end the violence.

Prime Minister Wellington responded that the (obviously flawed) constitution was ‘near perfect’ and could not be improved upon and there was no need of parliamentary reform. When news of this reached the streets, rioters turned their attack on his London home, Apsley House (or, as it is better known these days, Number One, London), and Wellington was forced to install heavy iron shutters to prevent his windows being shattered and his house looted. It was this and not his legendary steeliness or battlefield resolve that earned the, by then, deeply unpopular war hero the nickname the Iron Duke.

My Favourite Pub – Thirty Great Pub Name Histories

Albert Jack books available for download here

Prince Blucher and The Battle of Waterloo

There are many Prince Blucher pubs around England, the most famous being in Twickenham near London, while others can be found in the north and as far south as Cornwall.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, later Fürst (Prince) of Wahlstatt (1742–1819), was born in Rostock, a port on the Baltic Sea and the largest city in the German state of Mecklenburg, where his family had been prominent landowners since the thirteenth century. At just fourteen years of age, Blücher joined the Swedish army as a hussar (cavalry soldier). At the time, Sweden was at war with Prussia, a major European power and leading state of the German Empire ruled over by Frederick the Great, in a conflict that became known as the Seven Years’ War (see also The Marquis of Granby).

During the Pomeranian campaign in 1760, the eighteen-year-old was captured by the Prussian army who were so impressed with his fighting spirit that the colonel in charge invited Blücher to join their ranks as a cavalry officer, and he thus served with distinction for the remaining three years of the war on the opposite side from which he had started. In peacetime, however, his boorish behaviour and ill-discipline – included drinking, petty violence and the abuse of prisoners, such as the staging, in one instance, of a mock execution – meant he was passed over for promotion. Blücher responded to this by sending an insolent letter of resignation in 1773 to Frederick the Great himself, his commander-in-chief. Unmoved, Frederick, later regarded by Napoleon as the greatest tactical soldier of all time, casually replied: ‘Blücher can go to hell.’

Blucher took his commander at his word and, although he didn’t literally go to hell, he became a farmer in northern Germany instead, which some might say is close enough. For fifteen long years he farmed the land and adapted to his new peaceful way of life, finding the time to marry and then sire seven children. Then, on Frederick’s death in 1786, the former soldier was invited back and reinstated as major of his old regiment, the Red Hussars. For the next fourteen years Blücher once again fought with distinction and in 1801 was promoted to lieutenant general in recognition of his services.

ThePrinceBlucherBut it was during the Napoleonic Wars – beginning in 1803 when the eponymous Frenchman started annoying all his European neighbours by invading their lands – that Blücher found worldwide fame and even heroic status. The doughty lieutenant general led the Prussian army on many campaigns against the French, but a crushing defeat for his army and personal humiliation at Ratekau in northern Germany in November 1806 led to a personal crusade for revenge that Napoleon Bonaparte would later live to regret.

After being released in a high-level prisoner exchange, Blücher was promoted to general in charge of the Prussian cavalry and soon had nearly 100,000 men under his command. On 16 October 1813, Blücher (now promoted again to field marshal) and his army defeated the French at Möckern, pursuing them all the way back to the French capital throughout the winter of 1813–14. Blücher’s actions here directly encouraged other European commanders to carry the war into France itself, while his own troops won several significant victories, including the vital battle at Laon on 10 March that effectively broke Napoleon’s army apart. Still unsatisfied, Blücher pressed on, intending to take revenge on the people of Paris and threatening to sack the city, which he probably would have done had the British not persuaded him otherwise.

On 13 June 1814, Blucher was made a prince in recognition of his achievements and received a welcome fit for a hero everywhere he travelled, especially in Britain, where pubs, hotels and other establishments were subsequently renamed in his honour. When Napoleon went into exile on the island of Elba, Blücher returned to his farm, but he was recalled to active service within a matter of months. Napoleon, using his time in exile well, had cunningly planned his revenge. His newly gathered French army shattered Blücher’s regiment at Ligny on 16 June 1815, in the course of which the old field marshal was seriously wounded.

Lying trapped under his dead horse for several hours, he was repeatedly ridden over by his cavalry. As Napoleon’s confident new army turned towards Waterloo and an engagement with the British under the command of the Duke of Wellington (see The Iron Duke), Blücher refused to consider the idea of withdrawing his depleted troops. Instead he bathed his wounds with brandy, drank the rest of it and, driven by his personal hatred of the French, led his men again in pursuit of Napoleon, finally arriving at Waterloo as the battle had already started and the outcome hung delicately in the balance. But Blücher’s intervention was decisive and between them the Prussian prince and the British duke devastated Bonaparte’s army, inflicting a final defeat.

After the battle, Blücher is believed to have turned to Wellington and commented, in what was probably the understatement of the century, ‘My dear comrade, what an affair.’  Wellington returned to England a national hero, while Blücher retired to Poland, where he died peacefully four years later, in 1819. To this day, Germans use the expression ran wie Blücher (‘on it like Blücher’) to describe approaching a task with aggressive determination. Statues in his honour have been erected in many German towns and, nearly two hundred years after his death, pubs in Britain still bear the name of the German war hero, whose courage and tenacity turned the Battle of Waterloo in Britain’s favour, putting an end, once and for all, to the Napoleonic threat.

My Favourite Pub – Thirty Great Pub Name Histories

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Marquis of Granby

The Marquis of Granby is the traditional title of the eldest son of the Duke of Rutland, so there have been many Marquises of Granby, but the ubiquitous pub of that name is called after just one, another fondly remembered, flawed British hero.

Dismissed by George II as a drunkard and bully, John Manners, Marquis of Granby, only came into his own during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), in which he was appointed Colonel of the Royal Horse Guards, later promoted to lieutenant-general. All the major European powers of the time were involved in the fighting, 1.5 million soldiers dying in a conflict later described by Winston Churchill as the ‘real first world war’. The marquis may have liked a drink (or three) but he wasn’t lacking in courage (or even Courage, although the brewery wasn’t established until later in the century). On 31 July 1760 he led the cavalry on a daring charge against the French at the Battle of Warburg, capturing nearly two thousand enemy soldiers and many much needed guns. Granby had been bald since his early twenties but in a time where most people wore wigs, he saw no need to. During the charge he lost his hat but he kept charging at the enemy, giving rise, it is believed, to the expression ‘going at it bald headed’.

Yet despite being such an inspiring soldier that one of his opponents even commissioned a portrait of him after the war, the marquis lacked administrative skills and was often criticized by his fellow officers for the leniency he showed his men. This was seen as weakness at the time, conducive to a lack of discipline among the rank and file, which some thought made him unfit for command. The public loved him, however, and his popularity is reflected in a contemporary painting by Edward Penny, The Marquis of Granby Relieving a Sick Soldier, showing the general’s compassion for his fellow man rather than portraying him, more conventionally, as the conquering hero. Prints of the picture were displayed proudly in many Georgian homes.

After the war was over, Granby turned his attention to politics, at which he proved somewhat less successful. His hot temper and hard drinking were less suited to diplomacy and led to a series of disastrous mistakes. But he always remained available to any man who had served under his command during the war. It has been reported that on many occasions he helped members of his old regiment establish themselves as innkeepers, most of whom would honour their former general by displaying his name above their doors.

More pub culture in My Favourite Pub – Thirty Great Pub Name Histories

Albert Jack books available for download here


The Bucket of Blood (Phillack, Cornwall)

When drawing a pint could mean something more sinister …

Two hundred and fifty years ago, the number of smugglers in Britain was thought to be around 150,000. As many as 300 ships were fully employed bringing contraband goods into the coves and on to the beaches of southern England. Cornwall was the most popular choice due to its vast number of small inlets and hidden coves. It was also estimated that as much as 25 per cent of the entire import and export trade of the England, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, consisted of smuggled goods and duties to the king were rarely being collected. At one point the authorities in London believed the entire adult population of Cornwall was involved in smuggling, either as a consumer or an illegal importer.

The smugglers and their families were a violent and desperate bunch (seventeenth-century Cornwall must have been like living in Mafia-run Sicily), renowned for their bloodthirsty antics. Many would stop at nothing to make the maximum amount of profit, wrecking any ship that wasn’t part of their network. There’s an old Cornish expression, ‘jibber the kibber’, which refers to the tactic of fixing a lantern round the neck of a horse led along the shore at night to make it appear like a ship’s light. The ships bearing towards it ran aground, their cargoes were plundered and any surviving crew murdered by the locals.

The government was extremely keen to claw back control of England’s very profitable trade and its revenue officers were under strong pressure to produce results. Officers drawn from local families would turn a blind eye to smuggling activities, but those who came from London were less tolerant of the covert behaviour of locals, and this led to conflict and violence on a regular basis.

Revenue officers were generally regarded as insensitive to the poverty of the Cornish, interested only in collecting income for themselves and their paymasters in London. In consequence, it was common for officers to be shunned at best or, at worst, go missing. No one therefore was too surprised when the landlord of the New Inn in the village of Phillack, located on a small cove close to St Ives on the northern coast of Cornwall, went to draw his morning water from the well only to find the head of an unpopular revenue man floating in a bucketful of blood. Whether this is true or not – although given what we know about smuggling, pirates and the Cornish, it very likely is – it is certainly why, in 1980, the New Inn was renamed the Bucket of Blood, possibly my favourite pub name of all.

Extract from My Favourite Pub – Thirty Great Pub Name Histories

Albert Jack books available for download here

The John Snow (Soho, London)

When it really wasn’t safe to drink the water

There is only one public house by this name, on Broadwick Street in the heart of Soho, and it commemorates a local doctor, one John Snow (1813–58), who managed to save thousands of lives through his quick thinking.

In the mid nineteenth century, London had a vast and growing population and yet no proper sanitation. Many basements had brimming cesspits underneath their floorboards. The rich paid for water to be brought to their houses, the poorer gathered their own water from local pumps. This water was generally piped in from the extremely polluted River Thames, which at that time was little better than a vast open sewer. Waterborne disease, unsurprisingly enough, was rife – especially cholera and typhoid – but nobody knew how it was spread.

In August 1854, after several outbreaks of cholera had already sprung up throughout the capital, a major outbreak struck Soho. In its severest form, cholera is one of the most rapidly progressing diseases known to man: without prompt medical intervention, an infected person can die within three hours. During that outbreak in 1854, 127 people had died within three days. Over the course of the week, three-quarters of the inhabitants had fled, while those that remained were dropping like flies. Dr John Snow, tending the sick, was sceptical about the popular theories of the time, essentially that ‘bad air’, known as ‘miasma’, was responsible for spreading the disease. But he remained unable to explain exactly how the infection was passed so quickly between people who appeared to have no direct contact with each other.

Marking on a map the homes of as many of the victims as he could find, Snow made a startling discovery. Studying the map, he noticed that 87 of the 89 victims he had identified had all drunk water from a pump in Broad Street. By contrast, there had been no reports of the death from cholera of anyone who drank water from a different well, even if they lived close to Broad Street. Snow immediately took his findings to the local authorities, urging them to remove the pump handle. The authorities, believing like everyone else that ‘bad air’ was responsible for the disease, were initially reluctant as closing the pump would inconvenience local residents. But Snow managed to persuade them to remove the handle long enough at least for him to investigate further, as a result of which there were no new cases of cholera in the area. Snow then discovered that the well had been dug only three feet from an old cesspit that had begun to leak sewage directly into the water supply; this, he concluded, must be the source of the disease.

After the epidemic had halted, government officials still refused to acknowledge Snow’s conclusions, terrified that if the public learned they had all been drinking infected water there would be rioting. In 1848 John Snow had published an essay, On the Mode of Communication of Cholera, in which he suggested the disease was spread by germs and not ‘bad air’. A second edition of the essay, with evidence from the infected water supply in Soho, was published in 1855. Taken far more seriously than the first edition, it led to a detailed investigation of the public water supply in London and the eventual acceptance that cholera was transmitted through bad water and not bad air. John Snow rose to greater prominence, too, although he was already well known for his work on anaesthesia, personally administering chloroform to Queen Victoria during the births of her last two children in 1853 and 1857.

Now Londoners had an excuse for not drinking water, and began drinking more beer and wine instead, knowing that the fermentation process would remove all traces of bacteria and so prevent the spread of water-transmitted disease. This is the reason the expression ‘good health’ is widely used by people having a drink together, because in London in the mid nineteenth century drinking alcohol really was a way of ensuring you didn’t fall ill (or not from cholera, at any rate). Fittingly, Snow, despite being teetotal all his life, is commemorated by a public house bearing his name, built near the old water pump in Broad (now Broadwick) Street. The beer is fine; and, these days, so is the water.

Extract from My Favourite Pub – Thirty Great Pub Name Histories

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Red Lion

A war waged through pub names

One of the most popular pub names in Britain, the Red Lion has an interesting history behind it. One theory claims the reason there are so many Red Lions was due to James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England and Ireland, on 24 March 1603. The red lion was the Scottish king’s personal crest and a prominent part of his coat of arms and it is recorded that he ordered the emblem to be displayed at all public places to remind his English subjects that the Scots now held power in the south. Many innkeepers throughout England felt it wise to follow the new rules in case the king and his army happened to ride by one day. While it is certainly due to James I that a red lion became part of the coat of arms of the British monarchy, the idea that this is the source of all those pub and hotel names is, however, doubtful.

The Red Lion was in fact a popular choice of name long before 1603. England’s first permanent theater, built in Mile End in 1567, was called the Red Lion and that was a full thirty-six years before James turned up in England claiming the throne. As many other Red Lions pre-date his reign, we need to look elsewhere for the origin of the name – to an earlier royal family, in fact, and another coat of arms.

In the fourteenth century John of Gaunt (1340–99) was the most powerful man in England. The third son of King Edward III, he was twenty-seven when his ten-year-old nephew, son of his brother the Black Prince, inherited the English crown as Richard II. Gaunt exercised great influence in the early days of Richard’s reign, and not always positive. It was his unwise decisions about various taxes that brought on the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, as the rebels recognized when they ransacked Gaunt’s Savoy Palace in London (built on the site of today’s Savoy Hotel).

In 1386 John of Gaunt left England to claim the throne of Castile (he had married Infanta Constance of Castile fifteen years before), whose coat of arms, consisting of a Spanish castle and a red lion, he had incorporated into his own crest. During his absence things soon fell apart, however, and England teetered on the brink of civil war as a result of misrule by the young king. It is thought that many places, including taverns and inns, then began displaying John of Gaunt’s coat of arms in order to show their preference for Edward III’s surviving son. Highly sensitive to this public vote of no confidence, Richard II responded by ruling that every publican and landlord close to London must display his own crest, the White Hart, instead. Not so different from today, when you think about it, with signs for political candidates popping up everywhere, just before an election, instead of royal coats of arms.

Rather than take advantage of the situation and seize the crown for himself, Gaunt returned to England to support his nephew and help restore stability. Recognized as the real power behind the throne, he enjoyed the wealth and riches of rule and was astute enough to avoid making serious enemies along the way. Even so, he was unable to prevent his ambitious son Henry Bolingbroke being sent into exile by the king in 1398. A year later, Gaunt passed away, dying peacefully in his bed at Leicester Castle. Rather unusually for the time, it was from natural causes. With that his family crest, red lion included, passed over to Henry, while Richard claimed all his lands for the crown.

Henry invaded England in June 1399 with a small force that quickly grew in numbers. Claiming initially that his goal was only to reclaim his patrimony, it soon became clear that he had his eyes on the throne itself. Meeting little resistance, partly thanks to the reputation of his father and partly due to the king’s unpopularity, Bolingbroke was able to demonstrate he had enough strength and support to force Richard to hand over the crown, and he became King Henry IV. Richard died in captivity early the next year; it is thought he was probably murdered. The White Hart had finally, and very definitely, given way to the Red Lion.

Extract from My Favourite Pub – Thirty Great Pub Name Histories

Albert Jack books available for download here