| John Lawton | Whittles Publishing | 2023 | Paperback | 288 Pages | ISBN: 9781849955065 | £18.99p |
The Publisher’s View:
Most birders keep lists of the species birds they have seen, but do any keep a list of pub birds, that is birds on pub signs and in pub names? This book is about these pub birds, their natural histories, folk-histories and those of the pubs that bear their names, some of the people involved in the story, and the memories that pub birds have evoked over a birding lifetime.
This may appear to be a niche aspect of birding but before the advent of modern technology, pubs in ‘good birding spots’ were often the best place to find out from other birders “What’s about?”, preferably over a pint. On the eastern edge of the Yorkshire Dales at the entrance to Wensleydale, are four pubs all named after Black Swans within a five-mile radius. Intriguing, but why there? They sparked John Lawton’s interest in pub birds and the list that began then spans eleven years, based on a sample of 711 pubs named after birds or things that are ‘bird-related’. There are 117 identifiable species of birds, 17 non-specific birds (for example duck), and four mythical species, plus 35 pubs named after bird-related things.
Technical stuff aside, pub birds are fun. Whilst being as accurate and informative as possible, this book is not meant to be too serious. Whilst ‘plain vanilla’ swans get boring, the Swan and Cemetery (in Bury), the Swan and Railway (in Wigan) and three pubs called The Swan with Two Necks (in Bristol, Clitheroe and Wakefield) cry out for an explanation. As do two Welsh pubs both called The Goose and Cuckoo in Llanover (Monmouthshire) and Llangadog (Carmarthenshire).
The resulting aviary of 117 species doesn’t quite range from A to Z, but the list does run from The Blackbird on Earls Court Road in London to a Yellow Wagtail in Yeovil. The book covers the commonest pub birds, why they are so named, their geography and history, and also pub birds in art, literature and music. There is even a short chapter on nests, babies, feathers and bird paraphernalia. Throughout, the author has woven some of his fondest memories of pub birds into the story and from time-to-time he may even have gone into the pub for a pint.
The Author: John Lawton worked for Channel 4 for many years, and, among many others, produced Harold Pinter’s ‘O Superman’, the least-watched most-argued-over programme of the 90s. He has written seven novels in his Troy series, two Joe Wilderness novels, the standalone Sweet Sunday, a couple of short stories and the occasional essay. He writes very slowly and almost entirely on the hoof in the USA or Italy, but professes to be a resident of a tiny village in the Derbyshire Peak District. He admires the work of Barbara Gowdy, TC Boyle, Oliver Bleeck, Franz Schubert and Clara Schumann – and is passionate about the playing of Maria Joao Pires. He has no known hobbies, belongs to no organisations and hates being photographed.
Fatbirder View: My sort of book this… and the sort of thing us birders can’t help liking. Inveterate ‘listers’ will probably want to rack up a list of how many of these they can visit. I know I immediately looked for The Swan a village pub of my youth.
What fascinates me most are the pubs that allude to birds when you might assume otherwise, or turn out to have nothing to do with the bird that seems to be in the name… most often as the pub is named after a ship that may or may not have been named after a bird.
Yes, I admit its ‘trivia’, but very well researched and so detailed and well thought through that it would not shame a PhD dissertation!
It includes many illustrations of pub signs, some where the sign writer made assumptions that are incorrect. Sadly, pubs are rapidly disappearing and, while new ones come into being, they are far fewer than those closing their doors for good. Whilst writing this I had texts about no less than two pubs in my home town bought to be turned into flats.
A great fun read. I loved it!