Pub Signs - the Original Street Art

Lacy Scott & Knight are pleased to offer a collection of works by artist and pub sign designer George Taylor (1914-1996). The collection will include original oils, gouache, sketches and pub sign designs for Greene King brewery, Wem brewery, and several Yorkshire breweries.
Taylor trained and initially worked as a signwriter in Birmingham, where his commissions also included designing film posters for the Rank Organisation in the 1930s. During World War II, he was in Cairo working as a camouflage artist. On his return to Britain after the war, he ran his own silk-screen printing company in Surrey until 1976.

After his (official) retirement he started painting pub signs, which he continued after moving to Bury St Edmunds in 1984. Most of his work in the town was on behalf of local brewers Greene King (more than 250 signs) for whom he painted signs for the Dog and Partridge, The Falcon and The Grapes (all places far too well-known with our staff). Greene King's controversial rebranding exercise in 2014, saw a massive backlash when they stated their intention to replace approx. 200 traditional pub signs, including many by George.

George Taylor died in January 1996, but many of his works including these examples were displayed in the Greene King brewery at Bury St Edmunds until recently. The collection has been consigned by George's widow, Sylvia, and is to be sold in 10th December Fine Art & Antiques auction.

Britain has a unique heritage of pub signs; it is a record of our people, pastimes, politics, and history.
The idea of the pub sign possibly came to Britain with the Romans. 'Tabernae' in ancient Rome hung vine leaves outside to signal their purpose, but when the Romans came here they found precious few vines and settled for small bushes instead. Later, pubs displayed representations of tankards and hops to inform passers-by that they sold ale. British pubs began to be given specific names during the 12th century, which in turn led to specific signs. Since most of the population were illiterate, pictorial pub signs were necessary. In some cases local nicknames, events and farming terms were used. Natural or religious symbols such as 'The Star' and 'The Cross' were also popular, sometimes adapted to incorporate heraldry of the local landowner. Many names for pubs that appear nonsensical may have come from corruptions of old slogans or phrases, such as "The Bag o'Nails" (Bacchanals), and "The Goat and Compasses" (God Encompasseth Us). Pub sign 1

In 1393, Richard II passed an act making it compulsory for pubs and inns to display his emblem, a White Hart, to identify them to the official ale taster; Shakespeare's father John was one such inspector (nice work if you can get it). The legislation stated "Whosoever shall brew ale in the town with intention of selling it must hang out a sign, otherwise he shall forfeit his ale" (the pub's sign was also removed as a form of sanction).

During the dissolution, when Henry VIII split from the church in Rome, pub names stopped favouring religious symbols and began featuring images of royal figures and iconography. Some of the names denoting religious connections survived, such as the Mitre and the Ship (symbolising the Ark), but most innkeepers deemed it prudent to rename their establishment the Crown or the Kings Head.

When Scottish King James I (and VI) came to the throne in 1603, he ordered that the heraldic red lion (one of Scotland's emblems) be added to important buildings, including pubs. Thanks to this "The Red Lion" is still the most common pub name in Britain.

In later years, social and industrial history were represented in the likes of the Railway, the Smugglers Rest, and the Miners Arms. Unfortunately, with the rate of pub closures over recent years we may never see whether we'll have a new generation of pubs named the Tweeters Arms or The Brexit!

This auction is a real opportunity to own a unique piece of art, with a fascinating history that is rapidly vanishing from our streets. The works will comprise lots 1431-1439 in our 10th December Fine Art & Antiques auction.


Sign up to hear about forthcoming auctions, news and featured lots


Please be assured that we will never pass your details on to third parties and you can unsubscribe at any point.