Biggest Pub Crawl in History

One man's quest for truth behind legend

14 October 2007

BUSINESSMAN Jon Bratton is under starters orders in one of the most bizarre horse races in history.

The 59-year-old from Gateshead has made it his lifetime ambition to visit every last Black Horse pub in Britain.

And while there may be a few hurdles along the way, he reckons he’ll do it . . . neigh bother.

Jon has already had a pint in 62 out of the 328 Black Horses he’s aware of nationwide and, in case anyone should think it’s just an excuse for a mammoth pub crawl, his quest does have a serious purpose behind it!

He’s researching a theory that Black Horse pubs are connected to the legend of King Arthur.

Jon explains: “There’s a book by SG Wildman called The Black Horsemen that argues Black Horse pubs may have been put in places of Celt/ Romano Brit victories against the invading Saxons. The Black Horse name comes from the fact that the Brit (Arthurian) defenders were cavalry — as opposed to Saxon infantry — and there is evidence that the horses used were black Fell Ponies from the Lake District.”

Jon first saddled up for his drinking odyssey because his own local in Kells Lane, Gateshead, is a Black Horse.

On the website he’s set up to chronicle his quest, www. Arthur, he writes: “What is significant to me, is not just where Black Horse pubs are found, but where they are not.”

There are hardly any Black Horse pubs north of Hadrian’s Wall for example, nor in Cumbria and Wales yet County Durham has always had a large number compared with other counties.

Jon says: “Where there are clusters of Black Horse pub names, there was a strong cavalry defence of Celtic/British land against the Saxons or black horse cavalry patrol or resting areas.

“The Celtic strongholds, devoid of Black Horses, were in areas ‘behind the lines’ of the fighting They were the areas defended, not those that saw fighting. They are the areas that have a strong Arthurian tradition.”

Last week Jon, who runs a chain of craft shops in the North, was at the Black Horse in West Boldon, South Tyneside, run by Pete Zulu Robson, formerly of the punk band, The Toy Dolls.

Meanwhile, Jon’s long-suffering girlfriend, Margaret, accompanies him on fact-finding trips. This summer they were rounding up Black Horses in Somerset and next year they will tackle Buckinghamshire.

“It’s a big task and it will take the rest of my life,” says Jon. “A man has to have a hobby. Some collect stamps, I collect pubs.”