How Enfield’s pubs got their unique names

Author Sam Cullen reveals the fascinating stories behind some of the borough’s historic pubs

The King & Tinker in Whitewebbs Lane got its name after being visited by royalty 400 years ago
The King & Tinker in Whitewebbs Lane got its name after being visited by royalty 400 years ago

The most recent audit carried out by the Greater London Authority, published in late January, found there are 65 pubs across the borough of Enfield.

In among the typical pub names like The King’s Head and The Rose and Crown, there are also several with more original and intriguing names. These pubs feature in the book I wrote with my friend James Potts – What’s in a London Pub Name – revealing the stories behind the names of 656 London pubs, with several Enfield boozers featuring in the mix.

First up, The Alfred Herring in Green Lanes, Palmers Green (run by JD Wetherspoon currently but put up for sale in September). Alfred Herring was a second lieutenant in the First World War. After being surrounded with his men, he counter-attacked and held the advanced position for over eleven hours through the night.

He kept encouraging his men to keep fighting, which gave them the morale boost they needed. Alfred was captured the next day and remained a prisoner of war for the rest of the conflict. In recognition of his bravery, Alfred won a Victoria Cross in March 1918. He was living in Palmers Green when he was first called up in 1916 – hence the naming of the pub.

The Alfred Herring (credit JD Wetherspoon)
The Alfred Herring (credit JD Wetherspoon)

Next, The Gilpin’s Bell in Fore Street, Angel Edmonton. This pub takes its name from the protagonist of a comic ballad written in 1782 by the poet William Cowper: The Diverting History of John Gilpin.

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In Cowper’s tale, Gilpin was a wealthy draper whose attempts to reach The Bell Inn in Fore Street, to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary with his wife, were calamitous. His first attempt saw him unable to control his horse, which kept on going past The Bell to end up in Ware, ten miles away.

Trying to get back to The Bell, the horse failed to stop again, and took Gilpin right back to where he started, in Cheapside in the City.

Various pubs in the area claimed to be The Bell from the poem, but sadly none of them now exist. The pub now called The Gilpin’s Bell is relatively modern, dating from the late 1990s (but now earmarked for redevelopment). As well as being commemorated in the pub name, there is a stone statue of a bell on the opposite side of the street, carved with images from Gilpin’s disastrous ride.

The King & Tinker in Whitewebbs Lane, Enfield, derives its name from an Enfield hunting trip by King James I when he became separated from his entourage. He decided to grab a pint at this very pub and struck up a conversation with a tinker.

Unaware of who he was talking to, the tinker asked who he was. James replied saying it would only be revealed when everyone else was hatless, leaving the tinker puzzled. When the king’s men caught up with him, they immediately removed their hats and the tinker realised who his new drinking buddy was!

The Occasional Half in Green Lanes, Bowes Park, opened in 1995 and formed part of a small collective of pubs all with ‘half’ in the title; others including The Significant Half in Clapham Junction, The Better Half in Ealing and The Half and Half in Streatham. The Occasional Half is the last one standing!

‘What’s in a London Pub Name’ is available to buy at bookshops including Waterstones as well as online:

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