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Title deeds: Clerkenwell pub names explained

Betsy Trotwood, Alice Owen, Slaughtered Lamb… Sam Cullen, co-author of a new book on London’s pub names, picks a few of Clerkenwell’s most intriguing handles

The frontage of the Slaughtered Lamb Pub
Photo: Adam Bruderer used under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

As we begin the new year, many of us will be looking forward to celebrating by popping into one of our favourite pubs – and it’s widely recognised that Clerkenwell is well served in this regard. But when visiting your favourite, have you stopped and thought about where its name comes from?

In What’s in a London Pub Name by James Potts and I, we reveal the stories behind the names of 656 London Pubs, including some fine examples across Clerkenwell. Here are a few.

The Betsey Trotwood 56 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3BL

It feels fitting at this time of year to include a pub named after a Charles Dickens character, albeit not one from his seasonal epic, A Christmas Carol. Betsey Trotwood featured in ‘David Copperfield’ as the title character’s great aunt who has a singularly low opinion of men after having a bad experience of marriage, although she comes good for Copperfield. Why was the name chosen for this pub? Well, Clerkenwell is deep in Dickens territory and the pub is only a few picked pockets away from Pear Tree Court, which is thought to be the inspiration for where Oliver Twist saw the Artful Dodger hard at work.

Dame Alice Owen 292 St John Street, EC1V 4PA

Alice Owen was born in 1547 and lived until 1613. She married three times in her life, surviving all her menfolk. Upon the death of her third husband, she went into philanthropy and built a number of almshouses for fellow widows. She also opened a school which still bears her name to this day – although it moved from Islington to Potter’s Bar in the 1970s. Her father was an Islington innkeeper and her first husband a master brewer, which makes it rather fitting for Alice to be commemorated in this way – indeed, the Dame Alice Owen’s Foundation, whose trustees are the Worshipful Company of Brewers, support the school to this day. In the pub’s previous incarnation, it had the distinctive moniker of The Blacksmith and Toffeemaker, which took its name from the then landlord’s fondness for the song by Jake Thackray, a reminder that while pub names often mark local historical figures, they also can reflect the personal interests of their proprietors.

The Harlequin 27 Arlington Way, EC1R 1UY

A topical reference at this time of year, given its link to pantomime. Located close to Sadler’s Wells Theatre, this pub is named in honour of the clown figures which were featured during the early 19th century heyday of English pantomime. Harlequins originated in Italian comedic theatre, with all the masks, and were the comic servant role. The leading star of the genre at that time, Joseph Grimaldi, was a regular performer at Sadler’s Wells and his farewell speech is framed inside the pub.

The Slaughtered Lamb 34–35 Great Sutton Street, EC1V 0DX

While you might be forgiven for thinking this name is linked to nearby Smithfield Market, it is actually inspired by the Yorkshire pub featured at the start of cult US 1981 horror comedy film, An American Werewolf in London. American walkers fail to heed Brian Glover’s warning to stay away from the moors, with an inevitably bloody outcome. While Glover doesn’t have much of a London link, the fictitious Slaughtered Lamb also featured a cameo by a young Rik Mayall, a man with many more capital links including his own memorial bench by Hammersmith roundabout.

To buy the book What’s In a Pub Name visit: capitaltransport.com/whats-in-a-london-pub-name-856-p.asp

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