Welcome to the webpage that explains the theory that The Black Horse inn sign & name are connected to Arthurian legend.
My name is Jon Bratton
read S G Wildman's book I decided to do what Wildman couldn't...to use
the vast resources of the internet to see whether a stronger case can be
made out or whether the additional information weakens the case. I am
also doing what Wildman could have done but didn't...I am visiting every
Black Horse pub in the Country. This is going to be a long ongoing body
Featured in a Sunday newspaper in Oct 2007 (In case the pesky newspaper drops this link try this back up Biggest Pub Crawl inHistory)
S G Wildman in his 1971 book "The Black Horsemen" contends that the Black Horse name could be symbolic of battle wins for the Celt/Romano Brits against the Anglo Saxons in the 500's. Why Black Horse? Because the Brit (Arthurian) defenders were cavalry (as opposed to Saxon infantry) and there is evidence, from several sources, that the horses that were used were black fell ponies from the Lake District
Where Black Horse Pubs are not found
What is significant to me, is not just where "Black Horse" pubs are found, but where they are not. For instance, Wildman notes there are no Black Horse pubs in Cumbria, despite it being the home of the famous black Fell Pony. (That is true now, and, substantially, was always true, but not wishing to nitpick, according to Bulmer's Directory of 1883, a James Swan had a Black Horse pub in Whitehaven Actually there is, to this day, one on the border at Stainmore near Kirkby Stephen, the likely scene of a battle against the Saxons.) There are none north of Hadrian's Wall (except for one in Montrose and one in Newton Stewart) nor Wales (except, for the most part, those following the line of Offa's Dyke) nor Cornwall. (It's true there's none in Cornwall but there was one for many years in Kenwyn Str, Truro. In 1873 Richard Collins had it, then Tom Letcher, then Charles Charstone and by 1906 Geo Trewhala.) The more research I do the more I can erode the detail, if not the substance, of the book
Clusters of Black Horse Pubs
Wildman concluded that, where there are clusters of Black Horse pub names, there had been 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", ...the green bits of this map... 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
The map above shows the position long after Arthur
Here's the beginning of the Saxon period
Note that County Durham was then a green bit between two white bits and as it happens had very much more Black Horse pubs than most Counties and most clustered to the west of the County with only the Pennines and Cumbria to the west of them
There is no doubt that the Black Horse pub distribution is uneven and clustered beyond mere chance and there has to be a reason
Some, the ones in Lincolnshire, cannot be the scene of British cavalry victories because Lincolnshire fell to the Saxons at the very beginning as you can see from this map
"Black Horse" pubs in Lincolnshire could be because the precursor to the modern Shire horse was called the Black Horse of Lincolnshire
Black Horse -A Striking Image
In all things there are exceptions and I would expect that many "Black Horses" are so called because iconographically it is a powerful image...indeed I can think of nothing more striking/memorable than a silhoetted galloping/rearing horse
Contrarily, Mr Wildman, at the very start of his book says that there has to be a specific reason for choosing the name because a pub, a place of good cheer, would not choose an image that is only associated with funerals.
Well, try telling that to Sampson Lloyd co-founder of Lloyds Bank..
..or Enzo Ferrari (or the Baracca family whose crest, used on some WWI Italian Aircraft, Enzo adopted as his logo). CLICK HERE if you want to know more
Because there is good reason for choosing the name for its striking imagery, and manifestly some were, I think it would have been better if Mr Wildman had not cluttered up his distribution map with those eg all the BH pubs in Lincolnshire so as to concentrate on those that are clustered in places likely to be so named because of Brit cavalry victories or cavalry patrols or cavalry resting areas. And there are plenty of examples.
...this is the Black Horse at Cherhill, nr Calne, Wiltshire
CLICK HERE to read about nearby Wansdyke an earthworks fortification..and the webmaster makes the point that " cavalry securely housed in a refurbished hill fort, communication to their rear and a route for back up"..
Wildman's Inadequate Reference Source
major problem I have with the book is that Mr Wildman only took the GPO
Telephone Books of the time (late 60's) as his source for "Black Horse"
pubs and assumed that, more or less, that was a good guide to all the
pubs with that name, from the time that most pubs existed
Having looked at the pub history in my immediate local area, I found that, out of 10, only one has not changed it's name in the last 100 years or so...ironically the one with the unchanged name since 1774 is my local..yes you've guessed...The Black Horse...but pubs do regularly change their names ....
...this one at Great Linford, near Milton Keynes, for example, was, for most of it's long existance proudly called The Black Horse but between 2000 and 2006 it was renamed the Proud Perch...I ask you!... fortunately it's reverted back to it's historic name
...and/or cease being pubs through demolition or change of building use. His data base of Black Horse pubs is very crude/limited/unsophisticated, and to some extent Wildman acknowledges this.
You can see from John Crossling's website that Warwick has about a quarter of the pubs it once had and I found a similar proportion for my home town ["there were..205 people per pub in the 1860's and now ...there are 1000 people per pub"]
There follows a song about the pubs in St Albans in 1882 and as best as I can tell by adding them up there's about 90 whereas there's now about 60. One of the casualties is the Black Horse which is no more and it seems that it is not just a name change but is physically gone as, according to recent lists there is no pub at all now on Spicer Street, which is where the Black Horse stood. Mind you the number of name changes is huge.
CLICK HERE to see the pubs now in St Albans
I’ll mention the name of each Pub in the Town, North-Western, The Marlborough, The Anchor, The Crown, The Malster, The Post Boy, The Trumpet and then White Hart, Two Brewers, and the famous Peahen.Cross Keys, Potter’s Arms, and the Queen’s Hotel The Duke, Bat and Ball, The Lamb, and The Bell; The White Horse, The Wheat Sheaf, and Queen Adelaide, The Cock, and The Peacock, and the naughty Mermaid.The two Red Lions and the Fleur de Lis, The Boot and New Inn, and the old Crab Tree; The Wellington Inn, King’s Head, and King Will., The Old Rising Sun, and the Little Windmill.The Plough, The Harrow, The Stag, and the Hope, The Bull, and Victoria, and the old Antelope; The Vine, and Black Horse, Sugar Loaf, and Green Man, The George, and George Tap, King’s Arms, and The Swan.The Farrier’s Arms, the Verulam also, The Rule and Compass, and the little black Crow, The Lower Red Lion, Royal Oak, and the Queen, The Cock and Flower Pot near the Woodman is seen.Down to the Blue Anchor I have often gone, And to The Black Lion, and Old Unicorn; To The Rose and Crown, and little Six Bells, Then back to The Painter to see Mrs. Wells.The Blacksmith’s Arms are close to his shop, Then we go to The Sailor Boy, there must we stop; We pass by the Cricketers on our way back, And find The Beehive behind The Wool Pack.There’s old Garibaldi with a flaming red coat, The savage White Lion and the tame little Goat; The Hare and the Hound are in Sopwell Lane still, And the two Fighting Cocks are down by the Silk Mill.There’s The Prince of Wales and Crystal Palace, The young Farmer’s Boy - the old Steeple Chase; The Acorn, The Alma, The Eagle and Child, And bold Robin Hood of the Forest so wild.The Midland Inn and the Midland Hotel, Three beershops kept by Blanks, Luck, and Bell; The White Hart Tap is not in my list, The old Golden Harp I nearly had missed; Two in Pound Field whose signs I’ve forgot, And the Pineapple is the last of the lot.
book lists 229 Black Horse pubs throughout the Country which includes 5
extinct ones but I suspect 100 years or so earlier that figure would
have been four times higher.
Trade Directories-A Better Source
It would have been a bigger research project but Wildman, acknowledging the shortcomings of his data base, could have studied Trade Directories of the 1800's for various areas...
This is Kelly's for N & E Ridings 1893. Others are Pigot's, Slater's, Glover's, Lewis's, Bentley's etc. available in Public Libraries. (In this list there is a Black Horse shown in Long Street in Thirsk but there used to be two, at 90 Long Str and 110 Long Str.) For pubs in Hull CLICK HERE . I'll investigate whether his case is strengthened or weakened by the additional data that could have been available to him.
In fairness, the Black Horse pubs that are significant to his case are mostly rural and the biggest name changes have occurred in urban areas. Nevertheless many rural pubs, unless they have turned to food, have simply ceased to be
Here's a Kelly's Directory example, . Wildman's book lists, for Cambridgeshire (2), Norfolk (2) and Suffolk (3) a total of 7 Black Horse pubs
whereas Kelly's Directory for that area of 1883 shows 23 CLICK HERE for the Directory
Here's another example. Wildman contends that "Arthur drove northward up the Roman Road into Durham but there are only the two 'Black Horses' at Ainderby Quernhow and Kirkby Fleetham to mark this journey"
(They're the two yellow circles to the east of the A1) In fact, even when he was doing his research, there were three, see the yellow circle to the west at Kirklington... presumably it was not in the telephone book...but note the three green circles representing three former Black Horses in 1893 at Healey, Crakehall and Barnington
Black Horse at Crakehall Station...now gone (http://www.crakehall.org.uk/way-in.html ) . If he'd gone beyond merely the phone book ie trade directories his case would have been stronger. Indeed, this is undoubtedly a cluster of Black Horse pubs and added to that there is a Black Horse Lane in nearby Northallerton
Could Something in the 500's Affect Pub Names in the 1700's?
it is true that where there was a successful defence of land by the
Arthurian cavalry the area became known as black horse country is it
feasible for the name to last 1200 years or so until the bulk of the
pubs came along in the 1700's/1800's?
I do believe it is feasible for the black horse name to survive, even if the reason for the name has been lost because there was a strong oral tradition among the Celts and the Saxons
A Roman Inn
There were of course some pubs back then.
It was when the Romans invaded the British Isles (55 BC-410 AD) that the English Tavern came into existence. The constructing of straight roads across the countryside, lead to the appearance of a network of inns, offering lodgings and refreshments Once the Romans departed, their roads quickly fell into a state of disrepair.
Nevertheless the Saxons were fond of a tipple. Per the historian Thomas Hughes, "The Anglo-Saxons had their eala-hus (ale house), win-hus (wine house) and cumen-hus (inn)". A variety of weak beer was the staple drink of the entire population, being considered much safer than water. As their kingdom grew, so too did the need for decent roads and travellers’ rests.
Since starting this research I have visited many 'Black Horses' in Durham, Yorkshire and Lancashire and I have been struck by the topography surrounding many of them ie rolling hills just perfect for a successful cavalry charge.
Indeed I was driving around the centre of Chorley, in Lancashire, not knowing the address of the Black Horse and was about to give up when I noticed that on one edge of the town there were rolling hills. If there is any truth to this theory, I thought, that's where the 'Black Horse' will be...and it was!
This is one example of many, particularly in Lancashire..see my notes on individual pubs If you know of any more please email me at
More on Arthur using Fell Ponies
Wildman wondered why the Arthurian cavalry were remembered by the name "Black Horses".
Could they have used Fells? Without any knowledge of horses, but researching this line of thought, he found that his theory was borne out by the work of Antony Dent and Daphne Machin-Goodall in "Foals of Epona"
who had come to the same conclusion from an entirely different starting point.
This is the currently in print work of Dent & Goodall
Although there is some disagreement to the origin of the Fell pony, the most commonly accepted theory stems from the remarkable similarity between the Fell pony and the Friesian horse. It is believed by some but not all that the breed developed during the Roman occupation of Britain early in the first Century, at which time mercenaries from Friesland were involved in the construction of Hadrian’s Wall. The Friesian auxiliaries brought their own horses with them, ancestors of the modern Friesian horse. Bred from Friesian stallions and native pony mares, the resultant offspring inherited the strength and docile nature of the Friesian along with the hardiness and pony- character of the north country ponies.
Evidence that some Friesian mercenaries made their home in this region comes from place names like Frizington in Cumbria, which roughly translated means "Village of the sons of Friesians”.
“Foals of Epona” suggests that in prehistory there was a dark-coated pony in the Channel area (between England and France -- before the sea separated us from the continent) which may have been foundation stock for several breeds - the Friesian, the Fell and Dales, and other breeds in France, Norway, Portugal.
Why are the Dales and Fell breeds predominantly dark (black, brown, bay) while other native breeds are grey, palomino, chestnut, dun? Dunno Both the Fells and the Dales originated from similar foundation stock found throughout the area of the Pennine range and have been known as “galloways” in northern England, signifying a strong, hardy, versatile pony similar to the now extinct Scottish Galloway (note the Geordie word for horse is gallowa) which likely contributed to the development of both breeds.
For more information about Fell Pony history, or just to see some magnificent animals, why not visit a lovely website, run by Fell Pony Experts, from whence this photo of a Fell Pony came, and see also details of the Fell Pony Album
And howsabout this little fella, actually called Lancelot
which is proof positive of the connection...nearly
My Further & Ongoing Research
I looked at places where there are lots of Black Horse pubs to see if there was evidence of battles between British/Celts and Saxons. The county most closely rivalling Durham in BH pub presence is Wiltshire so I started there.
This website says "Wiltshire was the scene of important battles between the Celts and Saxons".
Next comes Sussex (Regia)...most BH pubs are clustered in West Sussex near Chichester. Click here to see this quote "...the history of Sussex begins in 477, when the Saxons landed in the west of the county under Aelle and his three sons, and founded the kingdom of the South Saxons (see Kingdom of Sussex) The Saxons took the Roman city of Regnum, which became Chichester, and drove the British westward, into the forest of Andred".
Work in progress...stay tuned
Nennius wrote of Arthur's 13 battles
1. At the mouth of the river called Glein. There are two river Glens, one in Lincolnshire and the other in Northumbria.
2 to 5 At the river Dublas (Douglas) in the region of Linnius (Lancashire), but with linnius meaning 'region of the water' it could be in Cumbria.
6. 'On the river called Bassas' which could be Bassenthwaite Lake in Cumbria or Bassen Beck close by. There are also a lot of Bass prefix names in Yorkshire.
7. Nennius says this 'was in Celyddon Forest, that is, the battle of Celyddon Coed'. This was thought to be near Celleron, where the Roman Road (High Street) descends from Arthurs Pike toward Broughton, near Penrith - sites controlled by Meirchawn and his son March.
8. Nennius wrote 'The eighth battle was in Guinion fort, and in it Arthur carried the image of the Holy Mary, the everlasting virgin, on his (shield) and the heathens were put to flight on that day, and there was great slaughter upon them, through the power of our lord Jesus Christ and the power of the holy virgin his mother'. Guinion would equate with the Roman Vinnovium at Bishop Aukland, County Durham but there was a second place of the same name in the North West.
9. 'was fought in the city of the Legion (urbe Legionis). This must have been either Chester, York or Caerleon, the only forts where Roman Legions were permanently based. The favourite is Chester, which in the 616 war was referred to as Caer Legion.
10. 'on the banks of the river called Tryfrwyd'. Tryfrwyd meant 'three streams (or torrents)' and could be at the junction of the Calder, Hodder and Ribble at Mitton where once the Roman road ran from York to Ribchester. So says the Harleian document, written in Welsh between 875 and 925. The Vatican document however reads 'the river strand called Traht Treuriot' which would have placed the battle near the River Trent.
11. Again the Harleian and Vatican versions disagree, the former saying the battle was 'on the hill called Agned' and the latter 'on the hill called Breguoin ... we call that the battle of Breguoin'. Agned is referred to by Geoffrey of Monmouth when saying that Ebrauc founded the city of York and went on to say he also 'founded the city of Alcud towards Albany (Scotland) and the fortress of Mount Agned'. On the other hand Breguoin could be a corruption of Brigantii, a tribe living in the York area of Yorkshire.
12. Arthur's final victory took place in 516 'on Baden Hill and in it 960 men fell in one day, from a single charge of Arthurs, and no one laid them low save he alone; and he was victorious in all his campaigns'. As Gildas also referred to this battle it is safe to assume that it was fought exclusively against the Anglo Saxons. The wording 'no one laid them low save he alone' obviously meant that Arthur either had no backing from other kings of Britain or by now was a king in his own right. Whatever the reason there was comparative peace for many years after. Gildas even went so far as to say that peace was created between Britons and Anglo Saxons lasting 44 years, lending strength to the theory that a lot of Arthurs battles were not against the Anglo Saxons. At the end of the 6th century Cyndyllan tried to emulate Arthur by attacking the Anglo Saxons on the edge of his kingdom at Lichfield, to stop them encroaching further. He failed however and lost all his land right back to Shrewsbury as a result.
13. The battle of Camlann in 537 led to the death of Arthur and Medrawt. This being Arthurs 13th battle may well have led to the number 13 being classed as unlucky. It is not known where or what caused the battle but by now Arthur was old for a soldier and many wanted to replace him. By now the Anglo Saxons had taken over the north and the east, and the Welsh kingdom of Powys extended as far as Lichfield, so Arthur could no longer be in Cole country and Camlann may have been a last battle to keep his kingdom in the east midlands.