Stop traveller this wonderous sign explore,
And say when thou hast view’d it o’er and o’er.
Now Grantham now two rarities are thine,
A lofty steeple and a living sign
The Beehive public house on Castlegate in Grantham lays claim to being the only pub in the country with a ‘living sign’. Indeed, in its early life, it was known as ‘the Living Sign’ as well as ‘the Beehive’.
Both names are apt: the living sign in question is a beehive located outside the pub in which a swarm of bees often resides and it has been there, in one form or another, since at least 1791 when it was mentioned as a curiosity in several newspapers the length and breadth of the country.
In 1791 the beehive was located on a pillar in front of the house, now a newer hive is located in a tree to the side of the doorway.
In May 1814 the landlord of the Beehive was one Edward Wood, and presumably, he was there when Colour-Serjeant George Calldine of the 19th Foot visited.
Grantham has a very fine spire, the highest in England except Salisbury. Here also is a living sign, it being a bee-hive up in a tree, which I remember seeing when I passed through in 1814.
By March 1822 Mrs Elizabeth Wood was the landlady of the Beehive (presumably Edward Wood had died and Elizabeth was his widow) and it was Elizabeth who was painted in the doorway of the pub, with the ‘living sign’ on proud display.
Interestingly, George Calladine refers to the beehive being in a tree in 1814, but in 1791 it is recorded as being on a pillar. In this painting, it is still, quite clearly, on a pillar, so either painted earlier than 1814 or George has misremembered his anecdote. The sign with the rhyme on it can also be seen on the corner above Elizabeth’s head.
The church spire alluded to in the rhyme is atop St Wulfram’s in Grantham, the sixth highest spire in the country.
The Beehive public house from Geograph: © Copyright Jo Turner and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Caledonia Mercury, 21st November 1791
Stamford Mercury, 6th May 1814
Stamford Mercury, 8th March 1822
The Diary of Colour-Serjeant George Calladine, 19th Foot, 1793-1837