Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Suffolk brewery accused of cultural vandalism after scrapping more than 200 traditional pub signs

Greene King old pub sign for the Spread Eagle Photo:

One of Britain's biggest brewing companies, which is based in Suffolk, has today been accused of cultural vandalism after scrapping more than 200 traditional pub signs.

For centuries pubs have proudly displayed a painted sign that represented their name - The Red Lion, The Kings Head, The Crown or The Bell.

But now that heritage is under threat - as Greene King from Bury St Edmunds continues to swap familiar inn signs for printed boards and giant advertising signs critics claim belong on a garage forecourt or outside a supermarket.

The move by Greene King to re-brand 200 of their pubs has angered beer lovers, historians and the group set up to protect the nation's vanishing signs.

The brewers say they are committed to rolling out a programme giving pubs a "facelift" and offering a new menu together with new signs.

Gone are artists' interpretations of the Crab & Winkle, The Ewe and Lamb, the Man on the Moon and the Cricketers, much to the sadness of the Inn Sign Society.

"It is really tragic that we losing pub signs that have been part of life for hundreds of years.

"It is very sad that a tradition such as this is being swept away as brewers feel they have to change things. Big business is transforming the familiar landscape that we have come to recognise and unfortunately there seems that nothing can be done."

– Anthony Collis, Vice chairman

In Greene King's home town of Bury St Edmunds, protesters are already lobbying to halt the changes.

Former Mayor of Bury Mike Ames, whose own local has lost its distinctive Dog and Partridge sign, is furious at the re-branding

The pub is next door to the brewery and Mr Ames said:

"I am very concerned that Greene King is not honouring the historical integrity and character of the town.

"Traditional signs are being replaced by bland modern ones that are more appropriate in a shopping mall."

Chairman of the Bury Society Alan Jary said: "This is a real disappointment - English pub signs are a great part of our heritage like thatched roofs.

"It is becoming very characterless - anyone could have designed the new signs and they show no imagination or artistic skill."

At the town's Spread Eagle the traditional sign of a bird of prey with outstretched wings has been replaced by a seven-foot tall floodlit "tombstone" with the words "Spread Eagle" written on in gold-coloured capital letters.

Greene King old pub sign for the Spread Eagle
Greene King new pub sign for the Spread Eagle

Geoff White, from Saxmundham, said:"We are in danger of losing an important part of our heritage and it is retrograde step.

"Yet it would seem there is little anyone can do to stop a pub company changing the name of an inn from "The Rose and Crown" to "The Rat and Handbag".

"We owe a debt to our cultural history and pub signs are a vital part of that history.

"To replace pictorial signs with unimaginative signs is a retrograde step - especially for a brewery that dates back to 1799."

The Crabmill's old pub sign (1981)
Greene King's new pub sign for The Crabmill

Councillors decided that the proposed alteration would "damage the historic character of the Grade Two listed building."

Local campaigner, music teacher Carolyn King said:"The majority of older pubs traditionally have a pictorial representation of their name displayed outside.

"Having a picture makes a pub easier to identify, maintains its identity and encourages people to go back."

Oxford CAMRA spokesman Steve Green who lives in Abingdon said:"We think it is ill-advised to take away these traditional pub signs - it's a branding exercise."

A spokeswoman for Greene King that operates 2,300 pubs, restaurants and hotels across England, Wales and Scotland, said:

"Many of our pubs still have historic pictorial pub signs. However some of our more family-focussed concepts such as Flame Grill have a more contemporary signage in keeping with their style."

The tradition of pub signs in Britain is believed to date back to Roman times when most people were illiterate and a wreath of vines on a pole was recognised as a symbol of a hostelry - many early establishments were called The Bush or The Bunch of Grapes.

More on this story