The origins of Warrington pub names
PUBLISHED: 23:16 24 September 2012 | UPDATED: 14:24 17 April 2016
Fiddles, spirits and authors...Warrington's pubs have some unusual tales to tell<br/>WORDS BY MIKE SMITH
What’s in a name? In the case of four pubs in the Warrington area, much more than meets the eye.
The large free-standing inn sign outside the Fiddle i’th Bag at Burtonwood carries a picture of a fiddle protruding from its bag. Given the name of the pub, this is hardly surprising, but the image is completely misleading.
The real fiddle i’th bag is to be found hanging above the bar, in the shape of an implement once commonly used for sowing corn. Stafford Clark, who helps his wife Fiona to run the pub, showed me how this clever contraption can be made to rotate and scatter seed by shifting a long handle backwards and forwards, much as a fiddler moves his bow.
However, the corn-scattering machine is just one of scores of antique objects piled up in every nook and cranny of the pub. Drinkers propping up the bar even find themselves in the company of a couple of mannequins dressed in period costume. As one regular says: ‘The Fiddle i’th Bag is a cross between a pub, a junk shop and a museum.’
Stafford is perfectly happy with this description. He says: ‘We collect anything that helps to bring back memories. The other day, we acquired a trimphone from the 1970s and plugged it in so that customers could hear its distinctive ring tone.’
Another pub with a corny name is the Barley Mow, a hugely popular inn located in the open area at the entrance to Warrington’s impressive Golden Square shopping precinct. As the sign outside the 16th century half-timbered building illustrates, ‘barley mow’ is a name that was once used to describe a stack of newly-harvested barley.
According to an inscription on a sign by the door, the ancient inn was leased from 1844 to 1919 by members of the Hepherd family, who are said to haunt the pub to this day. Noting the plural in this claim, I hoped that landlord Neil Heyes would be able to report a ghostly sighting of at least one member of the family, but he said: ‘The only spirits we see in this pub are the likes of Bells and Smirnoff.’
However, Neil was able to show me a relic from the past that does have presence in the pub: an elaborately-carved wooden chimney piece that was salvaged from the captain’s cabin of a sailing ship. Another magnificent carving is to be found immediately beyond the huge Victorian market hall that stands in front of the pub. This one was fashioned in stone by Edwin Russell and depicts Alice joining the March Hare, Dormouse and the Mad Hatter for a tea party. Alice looks distinctly bemused, rather than amused!
This fine sculpture was created to celebrate the link between the creator of Alice in Wonderland and the Warrington area. To investigate the connection, it is necessary to travel out of the town to two of the most picturesque villages in this part of Cheshire.
With its cobbled street, ancient stocks, stately church and two pubs – the Ram’s Head and the Parr Arms – Grappenhall is a classic picture-postcard village. The Parr Arms is named after the Parr family, a Warrington banking dynasty which owned the Grappenhall Heys estate. Their mansion was demolished in 1975, but their beautiful walled garden has been lovingly restored by a group of local volunteers.
Diners who eat at tables on the cobbled forecourt of the Parr Arms can often be seen peering up at the tower of the Church of St Wilfrid, which stands right next to the pub. Just above the west window, there is a carving of a grinning cat, added to the tower either by a stonemason as some sort of joke or as a personal signature. Charles Lutwidge Dodgon, better known as Lewis Carroll, knew Grappenhall well and may have used this unusual carving as his inspiration for the Cheshire Cat.
Carroll was born in the nearby village of Daresbury and lived there until he was eleven years old. His father was the Vicar of Daresbury from 1827 until he moved to Yorkshire in 1843. The Ring O Bells, a busy Chef and Brewer inn, stands opposite the church and is, of course, named after the bells that ring out from the tower.
Pub manager Peter Minshull showed me the numerous photographic references to Lewis Carroll that decorate the walls of the bars and dining areas. One picture is a copy of the author’s famous photograph of Alice Liddell (the inspiration for the young girl in the classic children’s book) in the guise of a young beggar girl. Another set of pictures illustrates the colourful Carroll Memorial windows in the church.
When recalling his childhood in Daresbury, Lewis Carroll remembered ‘the broad seas of corn, swayed by the wandering breath of morn, the happy spot where I was born’. It is more than likely that the local farmers used a fiddle i’th bag to sow the corn that the author remembered so well!
The print version of this article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Cheshire Life
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