Trendy Pub Names of 1951: The Flying Saucer

In 1947 the world was in the grip of flying saucer fever in the wake of American pilot Kenneth Arnold’s supposed sighting of several UFOs in Washington State in June that year.

As far as we can tell, Britain’s first flying saucer sightings of this period were in Kent as reported in various local newspapers, such as the Dundee Evening Telegraph on 10 July:

Claims to have seen a ‘flying saucer’ have been made by two people living in villages near Rochester, Kent.. Miss Tomkins, of The Nook, Snodland, said, ‘At 10.30 on Wednesday night I was astonished to see a peculiar round object in the sky travelling at great speed. I should say it was 1500 feet up.’ … A resident of Cucton, about a mile from Snodland, said he saw the ‘flying saucer’ at the same time and described it as being silver in colour.

Months later there was another similar event as reported in the Gloucester Citizen for 25 March 1948:

Mr and Mrs G. Knight of William Road, Ashford, Kent, claim to have seen a ‘flying saucer’… They say it appeared to be a large ball of dull-red colour several times the size of the largest star, and leaving a streak behind it. It was seen travelling across the sky in a south-easterly direction towards the Channel between Folkestone and Ashford.

This local angle perhaps explains why the name The Flying Saucer was chosen for a new pub in Hempstead, Kent, announced in 1951. The sign by T.C.R. Adams (about whom we’d like to know more) was displayed before the pub was up-and-running, at an exhibition in London to accompany the publication of a book, English Inn Signs.

Here’s one side:

Pub sign with cartoon spaceship/UFO.
SOURCE: Illustrated London News, 3 March 1951.

The other featured a cartoon of a woman hurling crockery at her startled husband — flying saucers, geddit? Ho ho.

This Dover/Kent history website has more on the story:  it says the licence for the pub came from a slum establishment demolished during clearance and was applied (we think) to a building that had until this time been operating as a working men’s club.

Perhaps surprisingly, The Flying Saucer is still there and trading under the same name, having had many different signs over the years, and what was a hip joke in 1951 has become a charming quirk almost 70 years on.

Signs and Hints and Signals: No Bloody Swearing!

Publicans find lots of ways to signal who they want to drink in their establishments and, of course, who they don’t.

We’ve been pondering this post on and off for months — maybe even years — but the news today that Samuel Smith of Tadcaster has banned swearing across its entire pub estate brought it into sharp focus. This is surely an attempt to nudge the estate in the direction of upmarket, isn’t it? An indirect way of saying ‘no riff raff’.

These kinds of signs and signals are one of the most powerful tools a publican has when it comes to shaping their clientele. For example, we’ve been collecting these lately:

A set of written rules is in itself a signal: this is a pub run by human beings; it has quirks and character; and bad behaviour, however it is defined, will not be tolerated. But in their detail the rules are a kind of manifesto for each pub — a challenge: ‘This is who we are. If you don’t like it, please go somewhere else.’

About a decade ago, before London had a ton of overt craft beer bars, there were a handful of (literal) signs that publicans used to attract the attention of desirable (that is, relatively wealthy) customers: Illy Coffee Served Here, free Wi-Fi, This is a No Smoking Pub, Board Games Available. There’s nothing there that’s necessarily tied to any particular social class but still it made a statement about the atmosphere you could expect to find inside.

On the flipside, we sometimes interpret a prominently displayed DRUGS WILL NOT BE TOLERATED ON THESE PREMISES poster as a form of advertising: ‘Gotcha. Say no more.’ [wink] More benignly, some aspects of decor that might be off-putting to the snooty — a bucket of sand full of fag ends, SKY SPORTS SHOWN HERE — may well read as reassuringly down-to-earth to others.

The Salutation, Mangotsfield, Bristol.

Then there’s the extravagant display of national symbols. This is a complicated issue which people have no doubt written entire theses and books about. Frankly, we’re nervous even mentioning it but, in brief, displaying any flag is always a choice — what is it intended to say, and to whom? And, more to the point, what do people think it is saying?

Sometimes, even if the message being sent isn’t one that makes you feel welcome, it can still be honest, and oddly helpful. After all, no-one wants to crash a party where they’re not welcome.

What kind of pub is this?

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There are certain signs which can indicate the kind of pub you’re about to walk into — or not!

Here are some of our favourites.

1. Sky Sports.

2. Illy Coffee sold here.

3. Free Wi-Fi.

4. A large George Flag.

5. A large rainbow flag.

6. Shots for £1! Two meals for £5!

7. Live Jazz here on Sunday afternoons.

8. This is PUB, not a CHILDREN’S PLAYGROUND — please keep your children under control.

9. Travellers by Appointment Only.

10. Drug dealing will not be tolerated on these premises.

Photo is of the British Lion in Haggerston, East London, nicked from EwanM (thanks, Ewan!). We think it’s a pub aimed at a very particular market.