John Sturgis

Britain’s curious pub naming conventions

Tavern with some queer names

  • From Spectator Life
(iStock)

The big London restaurant opening of the autumn has been The Devonshire in Denman Street, Soho, close to Piccadilly Circus. There was a run on bookings as soon as the reviews appeared. Giles Coren in the Times wrote: ‘What a place. What. A. Place.’ Jimi Famurewa’s review in the Evening Standard appeared under the headline: ‘Nothing beats a good pub – and this is as good as it gets’. Because – as well as being an exciting new restaurant – The Devonshire is also very much a pub.

What must foreign visitors make of all this confusing disconnection between pub name and location?

There’s been a pub on the site since 1793. It was called The Devonshire Arms for the best part of two centuries until it finally closed in 2008 and became a Jamie’s Italian before that chain went bust and it was left vacant. It was painstakingly restored into a pub once more this year and reopened as the now plain, Arms-less, Devonshire earlier this month.

I went a couple of weeks ago and found that it was a very pleasing room and that the Guinness was, as Coren observed, well-poured. But what I found curious about The Devonshire didn’t strike me until a few days later, after I’d also been for drinks in The Sussex Arms (in Kent) and the Dorset Arms (in Sussex). And that was how it’s the most high-profile example yet of the geographically confusing pub name.

Other examples that spring to mind are The Cornish Arms which, unlike The Devonshire, is actually in, er, Devon: in Tavistock, to be precise. We had a rather good lunch there last spring. And there are other Devonshires in London too: an Arms in Kensington, Chiswick and Camden, the latter a goth venue once frequented by Shane MacGowan, and a Duke Of in Balham. There are three Devonshire Armses in Derbyshire too, in Baslow, Beeley and Pilsley, clustered around Chatsworth.

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