If you ever travel along Britain’s most beautiful motorway, the M62, keep an eye out as you go over the Pennines. Pass the farm in the middle of the carriageways, go under the bridge which carries the Pennine Way, nod at the Red Rose which signals the Lancashire border and then begin the descent towards Oldham and Rochdale.
As you reach the bottom of the hill, rain permitting, glance to your right and you may spot the Winter Hill TV mast in the distance. On the hill further east you may make out a tower, which is known to the locals as Holcombe Tower, but is properly called Peel Tower, named after Sir Robert Peel, the former Prime Minister born nearby. Not only does he have a tower named after him, but also Peel Brow, (the road down into town) and a school. I was in Peel House in primary school, but most interesting is that there are also a number of pubs bearing his name. There are three in Bury, but also pubs in Kentish Town, Leicester, Tamworth, Stoke and Bloxwich among others. My search turned up a total of 12. This, as far as I know makes him unusual among politicians. Which Prime Ministers would you expect to lend their names to a pub? Winston Churchill – there were a couple that have now been renamed, but I can only trace one still existing, in Oldham (one of his former constituencies). None for David Lloyd George, Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay McDonald, Margaret Thatcher or any other PM since 1900 that I searched for. Go back further and you will find lots of Dukes of Wellington, but I suggest more for his military exploits than his political achievements. So why is this?
Robert Peel was the son of a mill owner and the first Prime Minister to be from the industrial class rather than the landowning class. I would guess that among the working class, who would number most of the pub-goers, his idea of creating a police force was less welcome than his government’s repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, which made food cheaper for the masses.
In contrast we have the Bentinck Arms in King’s Lynn, named after the Bentinck Dock, which opened in 1883, the same year as the pub (although it was originally called the New Inn), which was in turn named after Lord George Bentinck, MP for King’s Lynn between 1828 and 1848, though you wouldn’t know it if you read Gentlemen and Blackguards by Nicholas Foulkes, which details some of his more unsavoury exploits. George is probably most famous for being Disraeli’s key supporter when he unseated Robert Peel in protest at the Government’s repeal of the Corn Laws. So, Peel or Bentinck. Which one would you raise a glass to?
I suspect anyone from the landed gentry who opposed the measure would be unlikely to frequent a working man’s pub anyway, so the choice of name would not be responsible for a customer boycott. It was also a time of rapid urbanisation, and as the cities expanded, new pubs were built and what more popular name could there be than that of the man who had made bread cheaper? Since those days, I am struggling to think of a measure taken by a politician which has truly universal support. Does George Osborne deserve a pub named after him for cutting the duty on beer?