English is a funny language in the sense that it has words that have originated from other languages but are regarded as “English words” – like booze, bungalow, shampoo or magazine! The English also like to use the names of people or events for naming places – like The Fawcett Inn, after Lieutenant Alexander Fawcett of the 95th Regiment who was killed in India in 1853 or “The Eagle and Child” based on a local legend in Oxfordshire.
Many pubs are named after some seemingly insignificant people. Insignificant to us today, but notable enough back in the day when their celebrity was such that a place was named in their honour. Such places abound in names of soldiers like Fawcett (above) and Alfred Herring, who won a VC for his role at the battle at Montagne Bridge in 1918. There’s also a fair number named after authors, sportsmen and captains of industry from bygone eras. One wonders what factors were taken into account in the naming process. It was probably a combination of favouritism, respect, popularity, notoriety and patriotism.
You’d expect people like Jon Rutter and his team to have crossed the thresholds of some of the most interestingly named establishments in their quest to look after the stocktaking interests of their customers. And their stocktaking role would play a significant part in keeping many of these places operating efficiently in this competitive industry.
You’d also expect, as you enter some of these places, that the landlords would be able to tell you about the origin of the name and the history of the place he proudly calls his patch. Or at least, there would be some kind of plaque, or sign or display for interested patrons to read that would help them enjoy the atmosphere or significance of the place.
But if red tape and bureaucracy have their way, patrons entering the Minerva Inn might think that they were only entering a pub named after the Roman goddess of wisdom and not Sir Francis Drake’s favourite pub! It contains woodwork and artifacts from some of the spoils of the Armada! It is the place that press gangs operated from! It is Plymouth’s oldest serving public house, circa 1540!
No. If “health-and-safety” had their way then the historic, Grade II listed building that has survived unscathed since the 16th Century, that has also survived the bombing of the blitz, and countless re-development around it and having been redecorated in 1999 would have to have all the beams and woodwork painted over with fire-retardant paint, leaving nothing to be seen of its rich history.
This would mean that original woodwork (possibly some that even Sir Francis himself leaned against) and all the signatures of soldiers going off to war (some never to return) would all be obliterated. The fire service have indicated to the owners that it is their job to “safeguard heritage from the ravages of fire.”
Owners Mr and Mrs Jones put it very well when they said, “… it’s a 16th century timber framed building. If it catches fire, I’m not sure a coat of paint is going to do it much good.” They are trying to find a solution in a type of varnish that won’t be opaque.
Sir Francis wouldn’t be amused! He’d probably be thinking, why is all this happening now and not in 1999 when the place was redone? A fire service officer wouldn’t have lasted long on the deck of the Revenge.