by Dave Roberts
Here's an old Middlewich favourite. 'Patriotic Verses on Inn Signs at Middlewich' is another of those bits of Middlewich history which used to be found, painstakingly written out in copperplate, framed and hung on pub walls.
There was a copy in The Talbot, which is the pub we've used for our header as it's mentioned in the poem, and another copy was given to me after being found in the cellar of the Kings Arms, which also gets a mention.
On that particular version the pub names were picked out in red ink, an idea I've followed here.
The poem was published in that standard book of Middlewich reference The History of Middlewich (1895) by C.F. Lawrence, when it was already ninety or so years old and most probably originated as a 'broadside' - a printed sheet sold in the street for a halfpenny or so and eagerly passed around among those who could read.
No doubt this particular set of verses would be read aloud in pubs like the Kings Arms for the benefit of those who couldn't read, and greeted with great enthusiasm.
It dates back to around 1804 when the country was being threatened with invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte who had massed troops at Boulogne for the purpose.
The British Navy had other ideas and attacked the port, and the would-be invading French forces, as part of a sequence of events which would eventually lead to the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Quite why the invading forces, should they have made it across the channel, would want to head for Middlewich isn't clear.
PATRIOTIC VERSES ON INN SIGNS AT MIDDLEWICH
WHEN folks meet together dissension to sow,
And by breeding divisions encourage the foe;
When false motives like colours they hold to their view
It's a sign they might find something better to do.
If ever the French should attempt to come here
To eat up our beef and to drink our strong beer,
Of both they'd fall short, but if fighting they wished,
At each sign of Middlewich they would be dished.
First the Lion called Golden would make them to quake
And The Talbot I doubt not would give them a shake;
At the sign of The Wolf would they venture to rap,
They'd find, though too late, they'd run into a trap.
By our Bears White and Black they'd be put to the rout,
And a thrashing they'd get at The Wheatsheaf, no doubt,
From Lord Hood a broadside they'd meet to their cost
And at The Bulls Head they'd be savagely tossed.
At The White and Red Lion they'd find, to their shame
Whether Black, White or Blue, British Lions are game;
At The Bridge Foot they'd stop, and perhaps call for a 'whet';
And they'd get it - that is a good ducking they'd get.
If they call at The White Horse they'll treat them so kind,
With a horse shoe, that more kicks than half pence they'll find;
Should they venture to peep at The George & Dragon
They'd see to their cost they had nothing to brag on.
Next at The Seven Stars they'd soon show them the door;
At The Oak a good drubbing they'd get and no more;
Should these sans-cullottes dare with our Crown interpose,
They'd prick their French fingers well under The Rose.
At The Nag's Head with bites and cuffs they would be treated,
At The Ring o' Bells next with an empty house greeted;
The sign of The Eagle would raise fresh alarms,
And they'd run like soup maigre to escape The Kings Arms.
May the sign of the King ever meet with respect,
And our good constitution each Briton protect;
May he who first caused all the troubles of France,
Be high hung on a sign, on nothing to dance.
This is by no means an exhaustive lists of pubs in Middlewich at the time - The Navigation Inn on Middlewich Town Bridge, The Red Cow at the top end of Wheelock Street and The Junction Inn at the end of Brooks Lane, to name but three, have been missed out.
But the versifier was, no doubt, only including pub names he could use his own peculiar brand of tortured English on.
So why did he miss out The Carbineer, a pub on Hightown which must have been there at the time and which you might have thought would be ideal for his purposes?
Perhaps something along these lines...
If the Frenchman should once at The Carbineer tread,
An Englishman's rifle would blow off his head....
Definitely a lost opportunity.
Only a few of the pub names mentioned in this deathless verse survived into recent times: The Talbot, as we've seen before in our Middlewich Diary, disappeared in the 1970s to make way for a widened Kinderton Street (the line in the poem about the Talbot 'giving them a shake', by the way, refers to the fact that 'talbot' is an old name for a mastiff); The Crown, after a brief spell as The Danes, became the pub currently known as The Narrowboat; The Red Lion was subjected to all kinds of outrages (The Cat's Whiskers, The Tut & Shive, The Cats Bar etc) until it finally regained something of its dignity as an apartment block called Lion House.
The Golden Lion (or 'Lion Called Golden' if you will) The White Bear and The Kings Arms are all still with us but The Wolf, The Black Bear, The Wheatsheaf, The Lord Hood, The Bulls Head, The White Lion, The Bridge Foot, The George & Dragon, The Seven Stars, The Oak, The Rose, The Nag's Head, The Ring o' Bells, and The Eagle all disappeared many years ago.
Update (11th April 2018): When this diary entry was written the The White Horse in Lewin Street was proudly included among the pubs which were 'still with us'. Sadly the situation has now changed and the much-loved pub finally closed its doors on March 10th this year.
THE END OF AN ERA
Since our original diary entry was published, Ken Kingston has included this verse in his excellent Middlewich Hospitality (Middlewich U3A Local History Group 2014). If you're interested in the town's pubs and ale-houses, past and present, Ken's book is a must
A Middlewich pub-crawl in Napoleonic times must have been quite something.
First published 10th April 2012
Up-dated and re-published 11th April 2018