Seven Stars



Hugh Kolb

University of Chicago Press

Distributed for Unicorn Publishing Group

240 pages | 100 color plates, 50 halftones | 8 x 9 3/4 | © 2019

The Seven Stars is surely one of the most venerable and ubiquitous pub names in the United Kingdom—innumerable taverns across England bear this celestial appellation. Seven Stars digs deep into just why that is, with a resulting story that spans millennia. Kolb traces the origin and meaning of the Seven Stars back to legal codes of the Anglo-Saxon era and the Dionysian myths linked to the seven-star Pleiades constellation. Seven Stars stops to whet its whistle at a few of the significant public houses bearing that name as it tells a compelling story of the history of British public drinking and its associated imagery and cultural traditions.

Seven Stars

Ancient Astronomy and the English Public House

Seven Stars traces the meaning and origins of the Seven Stars pub sign back 1500 years to the legal codes of the Anglo-Saxons and beyond that to the mythological astronomy of the ancient Mediterranean region. It is believed that the sign of the Seven Stars originated in the star cluster of the seven Pleiades which was considered to be a bunch of grapes in the sky in a Dionysian and Bacchic world view and therefore used as a suitable tavern sign. The first half of the book briefly tells the history of public drinking and its associated signs, and then describes the oldest and most interesting Seven Stars pubs in England going back to the 14th century. The second part is a discussion of the various meanings that have been proposed for the Seven Stars sign, many of them based on ideas from ancient astronomy.

The distribution of the older pubs with the Name is closely related to the areas of the Saxon and Mercian law codes that were in operation after the Danish invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. The conclusion is that the symbolism involved retained surviving ideas from the mythological astronomy of the ancient Mediterranean world that survived in Anglo-Saxon culture but which were lost in the areas dominated by Scandinavian values where the social and political role of drinking establishments was distinctly different. This is a full and authoritative look at an ancient symbol that forms a small part in the building blocks of British cultural traditions.