Saturday, 3 September 2016

Inn Signs - The Mortal Man

Like the photo of the Drunken Duck sign
 this was taken in the 1960s - from a moving car - 
and scanned in from a transparency.

Originally called The White House, this inn has been at Troutbeck, on the Kirkstone Pass,  in Cumbria since 1689.

The wording below the picture of two men reads -

   "O, mortal man, that lives by bread,
      What is it makes thy nose so red?"
   "Thou silly fool, that look'st so pale,
      'Tis drinking Sally Birkett's ale."

It earned its name from the locals at the turn of the nineteenth century, who became fond of the 'Sally Birkett' rhyme depicted on the inn sign. In time, the nick-name became so universal that 'The White House' was dropped in favour of  'Mortal Man'.  The original inn sign was painted by a famous landscape water-colourist, print-maker and writer called Julius Caesar Ibbetson (1759-1817).  He completed the work by way of payment to the proprietor for the "wonderful hospitality" he had enjoyed during a fishing trip.  The supposed exchange between 'Nat and Ned' allegedly took place within the The White House.   The Mortal Man sign was not the only indication of Ibbetson's sense of humour, in 1800 he showed four humorous paintings of sailors at the Royal Academy.

Ibbetson's unusual Christian names were given to him because of his Caesarean birth. Born in Leeds, in 1777 he moved to London, where he worked as a scene-painter and picture restorer. From 1785 he exhibited landscapes, genre scenes and portraits at the Royal Academy. In 1787–8 Ibbetson was personal draughtsman to Col. Charles Cathcart on the first British Mission to Beijing, a voyage that included visits to Madeira, the Cape of Good Hope and Java. Thereafter he lived by painting landscape oils and watercolours, the subjects culled from his frequent tours. He also painted occasional portraits and was an accomplished figure draughtsman and social observer.  In straitened circumstances, Ibbetson moved in 1798 to Liverpool. From that year until his death he lived in the north, at Edinburgh, Rosslyn and the Lake District, finally settling at Masham, N. Yorks, in 1805.

 There is now another version of the sign hanging outside the inn but, like the one I photographed,  it is based upon Ibbetson's original work.


  1. Every person and every place has a story, if you take the time to look for it.

  2. What fun that your history is so easily accessible.

  3. Whenever I hear of the Kirkstone Pass I think of the rhyme:
    He surely is an arrant ass
    Who pays to ride up Kirkstone Pass
    For, despite of all their talking,
    He'll pay to ride and end up walking.

  4. I'm loving the quirky names on the inn signs...totally unheard of in my book but I like them a lot.


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