Sunday 3 April 2011

The Literary Boot

I said a few weeks ago that I'd be putting up poems that were hung on the walls of pubs, and I found a bit of verse in the Boot in Bloomsbury. The Boot has already achieved literary immortality as Dickens put it into Barnaby Rudge:

This Boot was a lone house of public entertainment, situated in the fields at the back of the Foundling Hospital; a very solitary spot at that period, and quite deserted after dark. The tavern stood at some distance from any high road, and was approachable only by a dark and narrow lane; so that Hugh was much surprised to find several people drinking there, and great merriment going on. He was still more surprised to find among them almost every face that had caught his attention in the crowd; but his companion having whispered him outside the door, that it was not considered good manners at The Boot to appear at all curious about the company, he kept his own counsel, and made no show of recognition.

Nothing whatsoever has changed, although there are now many more buildings around and about, and what the pub lacks in salubriousness it makes up for in proximity to the British Library*. Anyway, up on the wall they had a framed poem by a chap called Herbert Wilkes, of whom I can find no trace on the Internet. As it's a little hard to read from my photograph, I've copied out the poem. Essentially, he's just trying to work lots of pub names into rhyme. It's not a good poem, exactly, but it is fun. Incidentally, pub names are always things that you can paint pictures of, because in preliterate England people would meet at the sign of the red lion/unicorn/mitre et cetera, and recognise it by the picture hanging outside.

A Run Across the Signs

There's my Black horse he'll face the Lion
And make the Bay horse fly
He'll turn the Wheat Sheaf upside down
And drink the Fountain dry

He'll leave a mark upon the Fleece
Take shine out of the Star
And make King William sue for peace
Before the Castle bar

He'll crush the Midland on his tour
And make the Shepherd scream
Despatch Commercials any hour
To Devonshire for cream

He'll twist the Cross Keys out of shape
And fill the Nag with dread
The Albion shall not escape
The Hart must lose it's head

He'll make the New Ship spring a leak
Give Craven Arms a jerk
And make the Kings afraid to speak
When Joiners are at work

He'll straighten up the Rose and Crown
The Royal Oak must fall
He'll knock the Cock and Bottle down
And close the Hole in t'Wall

He'll slip the Thanet's down a nick
And make the Heifer grin
Then cater off and throw the Brick
Beyond the Railway Inn

He'll make the Craven look forlorn
And strain Old George's hip
Destroy the boasting Unicorn
And the upset the Ship

He'll make the White Horse scrape and bow
The Jolly Sailors fight
The Mason's Arms will strike a blow
Before the Sun is bright

He'll trample on the Woodman's scone
T'Black Bull will turn away
And flight alone will save the Swan
Before he meets his day

*Down Judd Street and off to the left.


  1. Have just returned from Skipton Yorkshire Where the above poem is on the wall of the Red Lion Pub on the High Street. Above it it states that Herbert Wilkes was a Skipton Postie, along with a few other details I can't remember. I believe the poem to be about the Skipton Pubs as it does state when the first one was closed.
    Josephine Turner. Norwich

  2. Herbert Wilkes Possibly born Bidford or Alcester, Warwickshire in 1855. Married Mary Jane Fowler, Skipton 1878 A son born 1881 Thomas Herbert Wilkes. Died 2nd quarter 1929 at Skipton.Occupation postman.

    PB Sheeran.