Who are the most important British monarchs? (As judged using pub names)

The King's Head, in Chingford, north east London. Image: Ewan Munro/Flickr/creative commons.

Who is the best of all the kings and queens? Since science has not yet provided a way to have them all fight, there is only one true way to find out: see who has the most pubs named after them.

The monarchy has had a long association with the names of boozers. Even back when most of their customers were illiterate and pubs would distinguish themselves by the illustrations on their signs, there was a strong royal influence. The White Hart and The Red Lion have long been two of the most common pub names in Britain, both having been the symbols of British royals (Richard II and James I respectively).

But the true mark of respect is actually having a pub named directly after you: clearly, the more pubs that share your name, the better a monarch you must have been. So, let’s crunch those numbers!


To do this, I counted every pub sharing the name of a monarch on a big list of British pubs (e.g. beerintheevening.com). Sometimes there’s some ambiguity: for example, pubs called “The George” can refer to one of 6 different monarchs, or indeed St George from off of Game of Thrones. So I only counted pubs where it could be clearly determined which monarch is being paid homage to – say, if their face is on the pub’s sign. 

For the same reason, I decided to elimate anything that wasn't a name. Lots of King's Head pubs were renamed from Pope's Head under prominent non-fan of Catholicism, Henry VIII, but not all, for example; and it's not clear if a Royal Oak built in the 19th century is a reference to Charles II, or just a generic pub name. So, all these got excluded. (Readers who disagree with this methodology are encouraged to angrily post about it on social media, so long as they include a link.)

And so:

The Top 5 British Monarchs (according to pub names)

5. George V – 8 pubs

George V was in power during the First World War, so likely benefited from boozers cashing in on a general air of patriotism. Notably, the King George V in the Kentish village of Brompton acquired the name after having all its windows smashed when war broke out in 1914 because it was originally called the King of Prussia.

4. George III – 14 pubs

He may have lost America, but he didn’t lose all the pubs! Somewhat surprising given that what most people remember about him is the going mad. And that he once issued a proclamation condemning excessive drinking (also “profane swearing” and “lewdness”). The most evil kind of boozing of them all, ‘tippling on the Sabbath’, could incur you a fine of 3 shilling and 4 pence. Miserable git.

3. George IV – 15 pubs

George IV was widely hated by just about everyone, apart from pub landlords, apparently. Possible explanations for his popularity with the latter include that he was

a) a massive pisshead;

b) according to Blackadder the Third he was actually the popular comedy character Blackadder (spoilers); and

c) happened to reign at the beginning of the British empire’s biggest period of growth.

The George IV pub in Brixton is now a Tesco, suggesting that any remaining respect is on the wain.

2. William IV – 61 pubs

William IV is a surprising runner-up, seeing as he reigned for less than seven years. But one of the first things he did as king was to sign into law the Beerhouse Act 1830, which enabled anyone who could scrape together two guineas to start selling beer.

The idea behind the law was that, if it was easier to buy beer, people would just have some nice relaxing ales instead of getting smashed up on gin the whole time, and all of Britain’s alcohol-related woes would be solved. Yes. Anyway, lots of the new landlords were so grateful for their new booze-selling opportunities that they named their pubs after him.

1. Queen Victoria – 208 pubs

And at number one, it’s the Empress With The Mostess… Queen Victoria!

Confession: I did not check absolutely every pub called Queen Victoria or The Victoria to make sure it was not e.g. named after Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, Queen consort of Spain from 1906 to 1931, or Victoria, a medical training robot that simulates giving birth. But even if we discount half the pubs on the list, she’s still way in the lead.

Why’s she so popular in pub terms? Well, when she took the throne in 1837, Britain had a population of around 20m. By 1901, the population had reached 40m. No other monarch has reigned over such an expansion of population. And being Britain, those 20m extra people were in need of a lot more pubs: who better to name them after than their (usually) quite popular queen?


English rulers just outside the top five include King Edward VII (of potato fame), King Alfred (of being the first one fame), and Oliver Cromwell (of not being a king fame), all tied on seven pubs. Sorry guys, maybe you should have tried having longer reigns at times when they were building more pubs. Losers.

One monarch in particular stands out as having not one single pub named in her honour: Queen Elizabeth II. Poor old Liz, even Sweyn Forkbeard has a pub named after him, and he only ruled England for about five weeks in 1014.

Unfortunately for the Queen, the number of British pubs has been in decline ever since she got into power, so there just haven’t been as many opportunities to get one named after you. Still, she is getting that new tube line, so cheg on that, Forkbeard!

Ed Jefferson can be found on the internet at @edjeff.

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Owning public space is expensive. So why do developers want to do it?

Granary Yard, London. Image: Getty.

A great deal has been written about privately owned public space, or POPS. A Guardian investigation earlier this year revealed the proliferation of “pseudo-public spaces”. Tales of people being watched, removed from or told off in POPS have spread online. Activists have taken to monitoring POPS, and politicians on both sides of the pond are calling for reforms in how they are run.

Local authorities’ motives for selling off public spaces are normally simple: getting companies to buy and maintain public space saves precious public pounds. Less straightforward and often overlooked in this debate is why – given the maintenance costs, public safety concerns and increasingly unflattering media attention – developers would actually want to own public space in the first place.

To answer that question it’s important to note that POPS can’t be viewed as isolated places, like parks or other public spaces might be. For the companies that own them, public spaces are bound up in the business that takes place inside their private buildings; POPS are tools that allow them, in one way or another, to boost profits.

Trade-offs

In some cities, such as Hong Kong and New York, ownership of public space is a trade-off for the right to bend the rules in planning and zoning. In 1961 New York introduced a policy that came to be known as ‘incentive zoning’. Developers who took on the provision of some public space could build wider, taller buildings, ignoring restrictions that had previously required staggered vertical growth to let sunlight and air into streets.

Since then, the city has allowed developers to build 20m square feet of private space in exchange for 80 acres of POPS, or 525 individual spaces, according to watchdog Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space (APOPS).

Several of those spaces lie in Trump Tower. Before the King of the Deal began construction on his new headquarters in 1979, he secured a pretty good deal with the city: Trump Tower would provide two atriums, two gardens, some restrooms and some benches for public use; in exchange 20 floors could be added to the top of the skyscraper. That’s quite a lot of condos.

Shockingly, the current president has not always kept up his end of the bargain and has been fined multiple times for dissuading members of the public from using POPS by doing things like placing flower pots on top of benches – violating a 1975 rule which said that companies had to provide amenities that actually make public spaces useable. The incident might suggest the failure of the ‘honour system’ under which POPS operate day-to-day. Once developers have secured their extra square footage, they might be tempted to undermine, subtly, the ‘public’ nature of their public spaces.

But what about where there aren’t necessarily planning benefits to providing public space? Why would companies go to the trouble of managing spaces that the council would otherwise take care of?


Attracting the ‘right sort’

Granary Square, part of the £5bn redevelopment of London’s Kings Cross, has been open since 2012. It is one of Europe’s largest privately-owned public spaces and has become a focal point for concerns over corporate control of public space. Yet developers of the neighbouring Coal Drop Yards site, due to open in October 2018, are also making their “dynamic new public space” a key point in marketing.

Cushman Wakefield, the real estate company in charge of Coal Drops Yard, says that the vision of the developers, Argent, has been to “retain the historical architecture to create a dramatic environment that will attract visitors to the 100,000 square feet of boutiques”. The key word here is “attract”. By designing and managing POPS, developers can attract the consumers who are essential to the success of their sites and who might be put off by a grubby council-managed square – or by a sterile shopping mall door.

A 2011 London Assembly Report found that the expansion of Canary Wharf in the 1990s was a turning point for developers who now “assume that they themselves will take ownership of an open space, with absolute control, in order to protect the value of the development as a whole”. In many ways this is a win-win situation; who doesn’t appreciate a nice water feature or shrub or whatever else big developer money can buy?

The caveat is, as academic Tridib Banerjee pointed out back in 2001: “The public is welcome as long as they are patrons of shops and restaurants, office workers, or clients of businesses located on the premises. But access to and use of the space is only a privilege and not a right” – hence the stories of security guards removing protesters or homeless people who threaten the aspirational appeal of places like Granary Square.

In the US, developers have taken this kind of space-curation even further, using public spaces as part of their formula for attracting the right kind of worker, as well as consumer, for nearby businesses. In Cincinnati, developer 3CDC transformed the notoriously crime-ridden Over-The-Rhine (OTR) neighbourhood into a young professional paradise. Pouring $47m into an initial make-over in 2010, 3CDC beautified parks and public space as well as private buildings.

To do so, the firm received $50 million  in funding from corporations like Procter and Gamble, whose Cincinnati headquarters sits to the South-West of OTR. This kind of hyper-gentrification has profoundly change the demographics of the neighbourhood – to the anger of many long-term residents – attracting, essentially, the kind of people who work at Procter and Gamble.

Elsewhere, in cities like Alpharetta, Georgia, 3CDC have taken their public space management even further, running events and entertainment designed to attract productive young people to otherwise dull neighbourhoods.

Data pools

The proposed partnership between the city of Toronto and Sidewalk Labs (owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet) has highlighted another motive for companies to own public space: the most modern of all resources, data.

Data collection is at the heart of the ‘smart city’ utopia: the idea that by turning public spaces and the people into them into a vast data pool, tech companies can find ways to improve transport, the environment and urban quality of life. If approved next year, Sidewalk would take over the mostly derelict east waterfront area, developing public and private space filled with sensors.

 Of course, this isn’t altruism. The Globe and Mail describe Sidewalk’s desired role as “the private garbage collectors of data”. It’s an apt phrase that reflects the merging of public service and private opportunity in Toronto’s future public space.

The data that Sidewalk could collect in Toronto would be used by Google in its commercial projects. Indeed, they’ve already done so in New York’s LinkNYC and London’s LinkUK. Kiosks installed around the cities provide the public with wifi and charging points, whilst monitoring traffic and pedestrians and generating data to feed into Google Maps.

The subway station at Hudson Yards, New York City. Image: Getty.

This is all pretty anodyne stuff. Data on how we move around public spaces is probably a small price to pay for more efficient transport information, and of course Sidewalk don’t own the areas around their Link Kiosks. But elsewhere companies’ plans to collect data in their POPS have sparked controversy. In New York’s Hudson Yards development – which Sidewalk also has a stake in – ambiguity over how visitors and residents can opt out of sharing their data when in its public square, have raised concerns over privacy.

In Toronto, Sidewalk have already offered to share their data with the city. However, Martin Kenney, researcher at the University of California at Davis and co-author of 2016’s ‘The Rise of the Platform Economy’, has warned that the potential value of a tech company collecting a community’s data should not be underestimated. “What’s really important is the deals Toronto cuts with Sidewalk may set terms and conditions for the rest of the world," he said after the announcement in October.

The project could crystallise all three motives behind the ownership of POPS. Alongside data collection, Sidewalk will likely have some leeway over planning regulations and will certainly tailor its public spaces to its ideal workers and consumers – Google have already announced that it would move its Canadian headquarters, from their current location in Downton Toronto, into the first pilot phase of the development.

Even if the Sidewalks Lab project never happens, the motives behind companies’ ownership of POPS tell us that cities’ public realms are of increasing interest to private hands.

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