Ceramic brewery plaques on pubs

In the mid 20th century some breweries began to add colourful ceramic plaques to their pubs to promote their wares. The design was the same on all pubs (with a few variations) and the plaques were cemented into the wall making them pretty much permanent. Was this an early exercise in the corporate branding that was to become widespread by the 1960s, where a brewery’s tied houses all had matching signage? And did the permanence of the plaques show that the brewery intended to be around for a long time and had big ambitions? Or was it just a way to add a bit of colour to the new plain “improved pub” exteriors that were in fashion in the 1920s and 30s?

As it turned out, the plaques were indeed permanent and a large number are still on display today. Unfortunately the permanence didn’t extend to the brewery companies and only one of those listed below is still operating independently. The brewery takeover boom of the late 1950s and 1960s was to see dozens of medium sized family breweries taken over by larger companies, leading to the dominance of the “Big Six” through the 1970s and 1980s. This post looks at both the plaques and the fortunes of the brewing companies behind them.


Lacons Brewery of Great Yarmouth and their architect A.W. Ecclestone were among the first to introduce tiling and ceramic plaques to their inter war pubs. Lacons had been gradually expanding since their formation in the eighteenth century and had taken over breweries in Cambridge and Suffolk. They even acquired a number of pubs in London which suggests that they had aims to compete with the largest breweries. 

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The Lacons plaque shows the brewery’s falcon logo with blue back and wings, orange breast and a slightly fearsome looking black beak. They were added to the new “improved pubs” designed by Ecclestone in the 1920s and 1930s, but clearly found favour with management because before long they had been added to all their pubs. They were designed and made by Carters & Co of Poole who had been responsible for several tiling projects in Victorian pubs, and were to become the pre-eminent supplier of ceramic plaques for pubs. Many of the Lacons plaques have an oblong or oval brick-tiled surround, which was probably an added flourish by Ecclestone.

After damage to both the brewery and its pubs in the Second World war, Lacons set about a repair and rebuilding programme, and continued to build new pubs. They even bought a large number of pubs in the Wisbech area of Cambridgeshire in 1949, extending their trading area even further. They became a public company in 1952 and appeared to be ambitious. However, the rapid increase in brewery takeovers in the late 1950s was beginning to alarm them, and in 1957 they decided to become part of the “Whitbread Umbrella”. This was a scheme by the London brewer to buy shares in smaller brewery companies, supposedly to protect them from takeover. The Lacons name and the brewery continued for a few years, but as many other breweries were to find out, the Umbrella didn’t offer much protection and in 1966 Whitbread took over the company completely. The brewery closed in 1968 and the pubs were rebranded as Whitbread, except of course for those annoyingly permanent plaques.

Greene King

Another East Anglian brewery who embraced the idea of ceramic plaques was Greene King of Bury St Edmunds. Like Lacons they had been gradually expanding, mostly by taking over local breweries, but moved a little bit out of their normal taking area in 1925 by acquiring Bailey & Tebbutt of Cambridge and their 48 pubs. The Greene King plaque was designed in 1933 by artist and designer George Kruger Gray and was added to most pubs in the years following. It shows the last Abbot of Bury in a green Tudor costume before he was deposed by Henry VIII. Abbot of course is also the brewery’s most famous beer. (Andrew Davison tells me that the figure on the plaques is actually a king because he wears a crown, and is holding the symbols of kingship, the orb and sceptre). The plaques were made by Doultons in Lambeth until the factory closed in 1956 and production moved to Carters & Co.

A curiosity of the plaques is the four different versions of the wording at the bottom. The earliest plaques are in two versions. One says Fine Suffolk Ales and was attached to the pubs that were supplied by the brewery in Bury St Edmunds. The other says Fine Cambridge Ales and was attached to all the pubs supplied by the Bailey and Tebbutt brewery which carried on brewing until 1957. The Ales plaque came later and was added to the pubs previously owned by Wells & Winch of Bedfordshire, taken over by Greene King in 1961. The Fine Ales plaque is the most recent and appears to have been added to pubs acquired since the 1960s or 70s.

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A more colourful version of the Fine Ales plaque was still being added to pubs in London and the south east in the early 2000s but at some point in the past twenty years the company seems to have put an end to the practice. Greene King had been part of the Whitbread umbrella but had managed to avoid being taken over. They had a large tied estate and quietly got on with business without any major expansion. This was to change in the 1990s, and they began to expanded massively, taking over sizeable regional breweries and acquiring a large number of pubs sold off by the pub companies. Their pubs can now be found all over the UK. Presumably a combination of the the sheer quantity of pubs and new marketing policies (the logo is now simply a crown with two arrows) meant the fitting of plaques was no longer practical or desirable. 


One of the firms taken over by Greene King was Morlands of Abingdon and many of their plaques remain today. The Morland brewing family may have been related to the painter George Morland and he was the inspiration for the plaque, which shows an 18th century artist. George may (or may not) have been an appropriate logo for a brewery because a 19th century biography says that he had a life “which, in its combination of hard work and hard drinking, is almost without a parallel”. The Morland plaques were made by Carter’s of Poole and were added to all their pubs after the Second World War.

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Morland were an early member of the Whitbread Umbrella but in 1992 they were to find themselves battling against another member, with a takeover bid from Greene King. Morland found that Whitbread had been willing to sell their shares to Greene King, but but ultimately the bid failed. Emboldened by their success, Morland took over Ruddles Brewery in 1997. This was to be their undoing and after financial problems, Greene King finally succeeded in taking them over in 1999. The brewery was closed, but the beers, including their premium brand Old Speckled Hen, and surprisingly, the standard Bitter are still brewed at Bury St Edmunds. Greene King were happy to leave the Morland plaques in place and many can still be found, mainly in Oxfordshire and Berkshire, but also the odd few in Hampshire and Surrey.


Charrington of East London, with almost 1800 pubs, was probably the largest brewery to invest heavily in plaques in the post war years. It already had a history with ceramics, having built or remodelled several pubs with striking tiled exteriors at the turn of the century, and many of these still exist. By the 1930s they had taken over both Hoare’s Brewery of London and their Toby Jug trade mark. The Toby was to feature on Charrington marketing for the next half century and was the main feature on the ceramic plaques they began to add to a selected few of their pubs.

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The most common early version was an oblong plaque with a white background featuring the Toby Jug and The House of Toby lettering. There were variations on this in colouring and style and they can still be seen on quite a few pubs and closed pubs in the London area. In later years the plaque had become a simpler and cheaper oval shape, still ceramic, but screwed to the wall.

Charrington were to become a key player in the 1960s takeover boom, merging with United Breweries to form Charrington United in 1961 and then merging with Bass, Mitchell & Butlers in 1967 to become Bass Charrington, one of the “Big Six”.


Youngs of Wandsworth was another London brewery to add tiled plaques to their pubs. Like Charrington, not all their pubs got them, but there are still quite a few in place today. The plaques are placed next to entrance doors and feature the brewery’s Ram logo in colour, followed by Young & Co’s Ales and Stout with the name of the bar you are entering. In most cases the pubs have been opened out and the bars named no longer exist. In some pubs this has prompted the removal of the pub room lettering which does seem a bit unnecessary.

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Youngs brewery in Wandsworth closed in 2005 and brewing moved to the Charles Wells Brewery in Bedford. That became part of Carlsberg Marstons in 2017 but Youngs beers are still brewed there. Confusingly some Youngs pubs, including the Ram Inn shown above, are part of the Ram Pub Company, now owned by Punch Taverns, and no longer sell Youngs beer.

West Country Breweries

The Cheltenham Original Brewery had been buying up local breweries since the late 1800s but when they acquired a brewery and all its tied houses in Hereford in 1945 they became quite a big player in the West of England. The new Cheltenham & Hereford Breweries began to assert themselves by installing plaques in the 1950s (photo left, below). At the end of the decade they acquired breweries in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire to form West Country Breweries with 1300 tied houses. They wasted no time in changing the name on the plaque and fitting it to nearly all their pubs.

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The plaques feature the company’s castle logo and were made by Doultons of London. But the company’s ambitions were to come to an end only a few years later when in 1963 they were taken over by the voracious Whitbread group. The plaques continued to be added after the takeover for a few years, and although they had a short life, West Country Breweries left an impressive legacy with the hundreds of ceramic plaques that can still be found on pubs and ex-pubs across Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

Greenall Whitley

Greenall Whitley were one of the larger regional brewing companies having taken over several medium-sized breweries between 1945 and the end of the 1980s. Their main brewery was in Wilderspool in Warrington and their tiled plaque shows the trade mark goddess with the words Wilderspool Ales. The plaques were fitted to many, but not all, of the pubs supplied by Wilderspool, and quite a few still remain, mainly on their former pubs in Cheshire. The Wilderspool Ales plaque on the Exchange in Shrewsbury (below centre) is on a pub formerly owned by the Shrewsbury & Wem Brewery, taken over by Greenall Whitley in the 1950s. This is odd because the Wem Brewery continued to brew right up until 1988 and was run as a separate business with its own ceramic plaque (below right).

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By the late 1980s Greenall Whitley was one of the largest brewery companies outside the “Big Six” but was finding it increasingly difficult to compete with them. With the imposition of the “Beer Orders” by the Monopolies & Mergers Commission in 1990 the company took the decision to close its two remaining breweries (Wilderspool and Shipstones of Nottingham) and become a pub company. They had early success in this field, acquiring the estates of both Devenish and Boddingtons, raising their number of pubs to 2,300. But the high price paid for Bodddingtons caused financial difficulties and after selling off several batches of pubs they sold the remainder to Scottish & Newcastle in 1997.


Halls brewery plaques are the odd one out in this review. All the breweries discussed so far have been medium to large concerns who added most of their ceramic plaques in the early post war years. Halls of Oxford had been taken over by Allsopps in 1926, who by the 1960s were to become part of the giant Allied Breweries group. By the 1980s the Ind Coope division of Allied in the south of England was creating regional concerns to manage their pubs. They revived the names of breweries that had been taken over by one of the members of the Allied Breweries group. They included Taylor Walker in London, Friary Meux in the south east and Halls, which covered Oxfordshire and nearby counties.

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Halls was the only one of Allied brands to get its own ceramic plaque, presumably because the structure allowed local management freedom in the marketing. The plaque is square, and features a hare logo with the words Halls Oxford and West Brewery Company. The “West” bit is important because the branding extended to pubs as far away as Bristol and Somerset, a long way from the trading area of the original Halls Brewery. Interestingly a couple of plain and stylish 1930s HoB (Halls Oxford Brewery) plaques still exist on Oxford pubs. The later plaques are much more common and can be found on pubs in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Gloucestershire, with one or two in Bristol and Somerset.


Bower, Dr. Julie. What was the Whitbread Umbrella protecting? From brewing to coffee via pub retailing, University of Birmingham paper. Available online.
Brewery History website breweryhistory.com/
Flood, Bob. E. Lacon & Co Ltd Falcon Brewery, Brewery History Society Journal 48, July 1986
Pearson, Lynn. Decorative ceramics in the buildings of the brewing industry, Tile and Architectural Society Journal 8, 2000. Available online.
Wikipedia. George Morland article

All photos by Dermot Kennedy except where stated.

3 responses... add one

There’s a Greenhall Whitley plaque for the White Hart Hotel now on the wall at Kirkstall Brewery Tap in Leeds

The Greene King plaque actually shows a king in green robes, rather than an abbot. The figure wears a crown, and is holding the symbols of kingship, the orb and sceptre.

Similar ownership plaques appeared on the pubs owned by Hunt Edmunds of Banbury. They were circular, and made of slate rather than pottery, engraved with the brewery trade mark. As with the pottery plaques, they survived the company’s closure, and can still be spotted on a lot of buildings in the Cotswolds which are no longer pubs.

Thanks for the correction about the Greene King King plaques. I’ve always assumed it was an abbot, I guess because of the beer! Thanks also for the news about the Hunt Edmunds plaques. I’ll look out for them next time I’m in the Cotswolds.

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