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Scottish Inn and Tavern Names
Originally Posted to the SCAHrlds Mailing List & the Academy of S. Gabriel Mailing List

by Sharon L. Krossa
Last updated 20 Apr 2005  

Note that the article below was originally written as a posting to a newsgroup or mailing list; it has not benefited from the same level of research and review as my web articles. Please keep its extemporaneous nature in mind while reading!

The first posting below, to the SCAHrlds mailing list, was in response to a query about a proposed Scottish Gaelic name for an SCA inn (that is, an inn run at SCA events).

The second posting below, to the Academy of S. Gabriel mailing list, was answering an internal question about whether inn sign names were used in pre-17th century Lowland Scotland and, if so, whether they were the same construction as or very similar to inn sign names in England.

All additions (and corrections) to these postings are in orange text. (Strong formatting is also not original to the S. Gabriel posting.)

Date: Mon, 21 Mar 2005 16:00:27 -0800
Sender: Discussions of SCA Heraldry <SCAHRLDS@...>
From: "Sharon L. Krossa" <skrossa-ml@...>
Subject: Re: Household Names


If their inn/tavern has any kind of Scottish persona, and they have an interest in historical plausibility, may I recommend you encourage them not to name it? Named inns/taverns were not universal in period. Indeed, some period cultures didn't even have inns/taverns.

And, as it happens, Scotland is a place where, to the best of my knowledge, none of the various cultures had named inns/taverns in period -- not even late period, Scots-speaking Lowland culture, which did at least have inns/taverns. (Scots is a language closely related to English.)

Instead of names, those period Lowland inns/taverns were simply identified, when they needed to be identified, by who they belonged to, e.g.

"To Isobell Harp keeper of Walter Chepmannis taveroun for hir leveray claithis" (1526) [s.v. DSL-DOST Tavern <http://www.dsl.ac.uk/dsl/getent4.php?plen=6558&startset=65639120&query=Tavern&fhit=Walter+Chepmannis+taveroun&dregion=q&dtext=dost#fhit>]

or literally described (not named), e.g.

"James Nasmyth for the taberne wndir the tolboicht male of Mertymes and Vitsonday forsaid xxiiij s." (1540) [s.v. DSL-DOST Tavern <http://www.dsl.ac.uk/dsl/getent4.php?plen=6558&startset=65639120&query=Tavern&fhit=the+taberne+wndir+the+tolboicht&dregion=q&dtext=dost#fhit>]

Further, I would be surprised if there were even inns/taverns as we think of them in Gaelic Scotland, so an inn/tavern name in Gaelic would be even further from period practice.

Note also that having (relatively) unique signs for individual establishments also seems to be something not found in period Scotland, although in the (Lowland) towns some businesses did have generic symbols to identify a class of establishment (e.g., a sign/symbol to indicate who was a brewer, the same one used by all brewers -- specifically, display of an ale-wand).

For all these reasons I expect that the proposed household name in Gaelic wouldn't even be registrable. See, for example, the return of "Tigh Leoghann Ban" in the Oct 2001 LoAR <http://sca.org/heraldry/loar/2001/10/01-10lar.html#102>.

Keep in mind that even in the only Scottish culture to have towns/burghs (non-Gaelic Scotland from the 12th century or so onwards), those burghs were very small by modern and even other contemporary European cultures' standards. Most only had a few hundred people, and even the larger burghs only had a few thousands until very late period. Edinburgh was the largest of all, and it only reached about 15000 by the very end of period, and even then was still about twice as large as the next largest burghs. So these were relatively small populations who pretty much all knew each other, and so even in a town/burgh a stranger would need only a person's name to be directed to their establishment by the locals. So though modernly it often simply doesn't occur to us that businesses could function without (relatively) unique names/signs, they aren't actually universally necessary to do business, and so unsurprisingly aren't found in all times and cultures, even ones with towns that have shops, etc.

[Afraid I can't help with the Italian household name! But if someday you get someone interested in a Gaelic household name, see <http://medievalscotland.org/scotnames/households.shtml>]

Sharon L. Krossa, skrossa-ml@...


Date: Sat, 7 Aug 2004 20:28:16 -0700
To: "Academy of Saint Gabriel (Members)" <...@s-gabriel.org>
From: Africa filia Kennoci <krossa@...>
Subject: Re: IQ: Scots & Sign names


The short answer appears to be "no and no".

So far as I can tell, the Scots did not have specific inn signs or even specifically named inns at all. As far as I can tell, to the extent lodgings for travellers had names, the were known simply as"Somebody Soinsos house/tavern/etc". For example, (DSL-DOST is at <http://www.dls.a.cuk/dsl>):

<Walter Chepmannis taveroun> 1526 (DSL-DOST s.v. Tavern)

<the ouer ludging pertenyng to maister Johne Abercrummy> 1575 (DSL-DOST s.v. Lug(e)in(g "Applied specifically to b. a house which the owner lets out to visitors or temporary residents for rent, and c. one used as a lodging- or boarding-house or inn for travellers.")

There were provisions that various businesses, especially inns and taverns, should have signs (a characteristic device or emblem), but so far from what I can tell these were generic signs to indicate what kind of establishment they were, not to distinguish between establishments of the same type. So, for example, _all_ brewsters were to have an ale-wand (maybe an actual alewand rather than a picture of one?): "Ilk broustare sal put asigne [Acts I 33/2, alewande; L. signum cervisie] vtouth the hows; Burgh Laws c. 73 (B)."(DSL-DOST, s.v. sign).

The earliest Scottish example I can find of things like "at the sign of the X" where it isn't a generic symbol is from 1631: "At the signe of the Beare neere the bridge foote" (DSL-DOST s.v. sign)

There is an interesting early 17th century account by Englishman John Taylor of a journey he made in 1618 from London to Scotland and back called "The Pennyles Pilgrimage" (he with no money -- apparently he depended on the unrequested kindness of friends and strangers for his food and lodging the entire trip). In the first part, when he is in England, he cites by name various inns that he either stayed at, ate/drank at, passed, etc., but he doesn't mention any names or signs in Scotland (nor in the last English inns he mentions in the north of England)

For those with university access, the Pennyless Pilgrmage is available via Early English Books Online. (Alas, it's one of those subscription academic services, so the rest of us mortals just have to do without or use the copy we downloaded when we did have university access ;-)

It's less than 50 pages long, so for the heck of it I just went through and noted all the Inn names mentioned:


London ("extra Aldersgate"): "the Bell Inne"

Islington: "Maydenhead"
"And went that night as farre as Islington.
There did I finde, (I dare affirme it bold)
A Maydenhead of twenty fiue yeeres old,
But surely it was painted, like a whore,
And for a signe, or wonder, hang'd at dore,
Which shewe, a Maidenhead, that's kept so long,
May be hand'd vp, and yet sustaine no wrong.
There did my louing friendly Host begin
To entertaine me freely to his Inne:"

Hollywell: "Blinde-mans house"
Not sure if this is an inn name or not:
"At Hollywell I was inforc'd carrowse,
Ale high, and mightie, at the Blinde-mans house.
But ther's a helpeto? make amends for all,
That though the Ale be great, the Pots be small.
At High-gate hill to a strange house I went,
And saw the people were to eating bent,"

Whetstone: "The Sarazens head"

St. Albanes: "the Sarazens head"

Hockley: "the Swan"

Uncertain town, but "against Grayes-Inn gate" (referring to friend who paid for the Swan at Hockley): "the greene Dragon"
"The man that paide for all, his name is Dam
At the greene Dragon, against Grayes-Inn gate,
He liues in good Repute, and honest state."

Stony Stratford: "the Queenes Armes"

Dauentry: "at the Horse-shoe"

Manchester: "at the Eagle and the Childe"

Preston: "at the Hinde, kinde Mr. Hinde mine Host"

Lancaster: unnamed "Inne"
"Was giu'n from Mayor to Shriefe, from Shriefe to Iaylor,
the Iaylor kept an Inne, good beds, goode cheere,
Where paying nothing, I found nothing deere."
(The Mayor of Preston walked with him a while, met up with the under
Sherrif of Lancashire, who took him to the unnamed inn owned by the


Saint Johnston (aka Perth): stayed at an "Inne", but gives it no name:
"There I lodged one night at an Inne, the Goodman of the house his
name being Patrick Pettcarne, where my entertainement was with good
cheere, good drinke, good lodging, all too good to a bad weary guest."

Return trip:


Coberspath (where he spent the night after leaving Dunbarr): an
unnuamed "Inne":
"where we lodged at an Inne, the like of which I day say, is nt in
any of his Maiesties Dominions. And for to shewe my thankfulnesse to
Master William Arnet and his wife, the owners thereof, I must a
little explaine their bonntifull entertainement of guests, which is
"Suppose tenne, fifteene, or twentie men and horses come to
lodge at their house, the men shall haue flesh, tame and wild-fowle,
fish, with all varietie of good cheere, good lodging, and welcome;
and the hourses shall want neither hay or prouender: and in the
morning at their departure the reckoning is iust nohting. This is
this worthy Gentlemans vse, his chiefe delight beeing onely to giue
strangers entertainement gratis:"


Barwicke (right on the border): unnamed "Inne"

Doncaster: "the Beare"

Stamford: "to the signe of the Virginitie (or the Maydenhead)"

Huntington: "the Post-masters house" or "the signe of the Crowne"
"wee lodged at the Post-masters house, at the signe of the Crowne;
his name is Riggs."

P?ckeridge: "at the Faulkon"

Islington: "to the signe of the Mayden-head"

Other Names of Note

And, since I noticed it in my reading, I'll also note that he mentions the name of a ship, "the Rainebowe of the Queenes", a ship he took shortly after "the taking of Cales", some 22 years earlier.

Sharon L. Krossa, krossa@...

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