The origins of this book go back to 2010, when the author noted that there were four pubs within 8 km of each other in the Yorkshire Dales with ‘Black Swan’ [Cygnus atratus] in their name. Why would a bird from the other side of the world warrant so much attention, and what was its relationship to the district? In setting off to solve this puzzle, John Lawton became fascinated more broadly by the reasons for pubs being named after birds or objects associated with birds. Much of the research for the book was done online; in no small part due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which occurred while the book was being written, it was not possible to visit every pub with a relevant name – although this would have been a daunting undertaking even in ‘normal’ times. Whether a visit would have added anything of value is doubtful, though, especially as many of the pubs originated from the nineteenth century and have changed owners – and names – several times.
The book is full of anecdotes from earlier times about things such as cock-fighting, a popular pub sport until it was outlawed in 1835; the Hastings Rarities; and the colonisation of Britain by Collared Doves Streptopelia decaocto in the 1950s. The book also references pubs that are famous in birding folklore, such as The George in Cley, Norfolk.
One minor irritation was the amount of cross-referencing in the book, which I found broke my flow as I sat down and read the whole book in two sessions. However, I suspect this will prove useful as I use the book as a ‘field guide’. I have already found a pub that the author overlooked, which was almost as much fun as finding a rare bird and, hopefully, if enough of us can find more such pubs, or add historical detail to establishments covered in this book, there may be enough material to warrant a second volume.
The whole book was a delight to read and I would suggest that it would make a suitable Christmas present for a birding friend.