Tag Archives: Great Fire of London

Thomas Blagrave at the Crown tavern in Threadneedle Street

A half penny token issued in the name of Thomas Blagrave of Threadneedle Street, London

A half penny token issued in the name of Thomas Blagrave of Threadneedle Street, London

The above brass half penny token measures 20.7 mm and weighs 2.34 grams. It was issued by Thomas Blagrave (or Blagrove), the one time keeper of “The Crown” tavern off Threadneedle Street in the Broad Street Ward of the City of London.

The design of the token may be formally described as follows;

Obverse: (six pointed mullet) THO. BLAGRAVE. AT. YE. TAVERN, around a twisted wire circle, within the depiction of a crown.

Reverse: (six pointed mullet) IN. THREEDNEEDLE. STREET, around a twisted wire circle, within a legend in three lines; HIS / HALFE / PENY

The token is undated but is likely to have been issued during the mid to late 1660s.  

The location of the Crown tavern in Threadneedle Street (London)  opposite the Royal Exchange (c.1720)

The location of the Crown tavern in Threadneedle Street (London) opposite the Royal Exchange (c.1720)

 The Crown tavern stood in a little alley leading off the north side of Threadneedle Street, facing the north end of Castle Alley. The latter alley ran along the west side of the Royal Exchange building. During this period there were reputedly at least 20 different taverns close by the Royal Exchange and several more coffee houses. These were very well frequented by the local business community and were a popular haunt of the Fellows of the Royal Society. These included Robert Hooke, Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Boyle who regularly called at the Crown after attending lectures at nearby Gresham College. According to Robert Hooke the Society also held their annual Anniversary dinners at the Crown tavern between 1673 and 1679. The 1668 Hearth Tax returns suggest  that the Crown had 19 hearths which indicates it was a tavern of considerable size (3).

Contemporaies of Samuel Pepys who were regulars in the Crown Tavern - From left to right are Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke

Contemporaies of Samuel Pepys who were regulars in the Crown Tavern – From left to right are Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke

The Crown tavern was burnt down during the Great Fire of 1666 but was soon rebuilt. The new tavern was on the eastern side of the first Bank of England close to the re-built parish church of St. Christopher le Stocks.

Thomas Blagrave was born in Lambourn, Berkshire in c.1627 the son of William and Dorothy Blagrave (1). It is not known when Thomas moved to London but by March of 1641/2 he is recorded as an apprentice to William Trestene in the registers of the London Vintners’ Company (2). Between c.1653 to c.1659 Thomas, and his wife Jane (maiden name Taylor), ran the King’s Head tavern in New Fish Street, London. During their tenancy at this tavern they issued a set of farthing trade tokens bearing a triad of their combined initials on their reverse sides. Thereafter the couple moved to the Antwerp tavern in Bartholomew Lane, opposite the Royal Exchange, off Threadneedle Street. This was a tavern of some considerable size as confirmed from the Hearth Tax returns of 1662 which records it having 18 hearths. Thomas Blagrave kept this establishment until c.1663 (2) when his family moved literally round the corner to take over the running of the Crown tavern on Threadneedle Street.

The Royal Exchange Building off Threadneedle Street London (c.1569)

The Royal Exchange Building off Threadneedle Street London (c.1569)

During their marriage Thomas and Jane had at least four children (4). Two of them, Benjamin (b.1659) and Charles (b.1661), were born while they kept the Antwerp Tavern. A further two, Hannah (b.1667) and Thomas (b.1670/71), were born while they were resident at the Crown tavern.

 In the accounts of St. Christopher le Stocks parish church “Captain” Thomas Blagrave is variously listed from 1664 as being one of the leading parishioners (3). From 1681 Thomas’ rating assessment within the parish was second only to that of John Houblon who is frequently mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his diaries. Houblon was the first Governor of the Bank of England. 

John Houblon - a contemporary of Thomas Blagrave ad also a fellow leading parishener in the parish of St. Christopher le Stocks

John Houblon – a contemporary of Thomas Blagrave ad also a fellow leading parishener in the parish of St. Christopher le Stocks

While Pepys diaries make no reference to Thomas Blagrave by name it does contain eight separate mentions of the diarist visiting the Crown tavern during the period 1665 to 1666. These diary entries are listed below.  References to the “club” and “’Change” in these refer to the Royal Society and Royal Exchange respectively.

Tuesday 31st January 1664/65

So to the ‘Change, back by coach with Sir W. Batten, and thence to the Crowne, a taverne hard by, with Sir W. Rider and Cutler, where we alone, a very good dinner. Thence home to the office, and there all the afternoon late.

Wednesday 15th February 1664/65

Thence with Creed to Gresham College, where I had been by Mr. Povy the last week proposed to be admitted a member;1 and was this day admitted, by signing a book and being taken by the hand by the President, my Lord Brunkard, and some words of admittance said to me. But it is a most acceptable thing to hear their discourse, and see their experiments; which were this day upon the nature of fire, and how it goes out in a place where the ayre is not free, and sooner out where the ayre is exhausted, which they showed by an engine on purpose. After this being done, they to the Crowne Taverne, behind the ‘Change, and there my Lord and most of the company to a club supper; Sir P. Neale, Sir R. Murrey, Dr. Clerke, Dr. Whistler, Dr. Goddard, and others of most eminent worth. Above all, Mr. Boyle to-day was at the meeting, and above him Mr. Hooke, who is the most, and promises the least, of any man in the world that ever I saw. Here excellent discourse till ten at night, and then home…

Monday 22nd January 1665/66

Thence by water in the darke down to Deptford, and there find my Lord Bruncker come and gone, having staid long for me. I back presently to the Crowne taverne behind the Exchange by appointment, and there met the first meeting of Gresham College since the plague. Dr. Goddard did fill us with talke, in defence of his and his fellow physicians going out of towne in the plague-time; saying that their particular patients were most gone out of towne, and they left at liberty; and a great deal more, &c. But what, among other fine discourse pleased me most, was Sir G. Ent about Respiration; that it is not to this day known, or concluded on among physicians, nor to be done either, how the action is managed by nature, or for what use it is. Here late till poor Dr. Merriot was drunk, and so all home, and I to bed.

Wednesday 14th February 1665/66

So home, they set me down at the ‘Change, and I to the Crowne, where my Lord Bruncker was come and several of the Virtuosi, and after a small supper and but little good discourse I with Sir W. Batten (who was brought thither with my Lord Bruncker) home.

Saturday 3rd March 1665/66

After a small dinner and a little discourse I away to the Crowne behind the Exchange to Sir W. Pen, Captain Cocke and Fen, about getting a bill of Cocke’s paid to Pen, in part for the East India goods he sold us. Here Sir W. Pen did give me the reason in my eare of his importunity for money, for that he is now to marry his daughter.

Friday 16th March 1665/66

Up and all the morning about the Victualler’s business, passing his account. At noon to the ‘Change, and did several businesses, and thence to the Crowne behind the ‘Change and dined with my Lord Bruncker and Captain Cocke and Fenn, and Madam Williams, who without question must be my Lord’s wife, and else she could not follow him wherever he goes and kisse and use him publiquely as she do.

Monday 2nd April 1666

Thence to the Crowne tavern behind the Exchange to meet with Cocke and Fenn and did so, and dined with them, and after dinner had the intent of our meeting, which was some private discourse with Fenn, telling him what I hear and think of his business, which he takes very kindly and says he will look about him.

Monday 4th June 1666

Thence back with Mr. Hooke to my house and there lent some of my tables of naval matters, the names of rigging and the timbers about a ship, in order to Dr. Wilkins’ book coming out about the Universal Language. Thence, he being gone, to the Crown, behind the ‘Change, and there supped at the club with my Lord Bruncker, Sir G. Ent, and others of Gresham College.

 Thomas Blagrave’s wife Jane died in May of 1683 and was buried at the neighbouring church of St. Christopher le Stocks where two of the couple’s children, Benjamin and Thomas, had previously been interred in May and June of 1676 respectively. In 1687 it appears that Thomas got re-married to a 36 year old widower by the name of Hannah Taylor. While he was still running the Crown tavern his place of residence was given on the marriage license as Isleworth in Middlesex. Thomas died on 17th September 1693 aged 66.

 

An aerial view of the west end of Threadneedle Street showing the new Royal Echange building plus the south facing view of the Bank of England. The Crown tavern was located to the right hand side of the Bank of England's main entrance which is marked in red

An aerial view of the west end of Threadneedle Street showing the new Royal Echange building plus the south facing view of the Bank of England. The Crown tavern was located to the right hand side of the Bank of England’s main entrance which is marked in red

By the start of the 18th century the Crown tavern had become a coffee-house and by the 1760s it was no-longer trading and had become absorbed within the buildings of its neighbour the Bank of England. Its location on maps of the period is marked by the site of Crown Court. Today the tavern is long gone. Its location would have been slightly to the east of the main entrance of the present Bank of England at the western end of Threadneedle Street.

Foot Notes:

1)      Boyd, P. – Inhabitants of London – A data base comprising 238 volumes and 27 volumes of Index which lists some 60,000 inhabitants of London from 15th to the 19th centuries.

2)      Webb, C. – London Livery Company Apprenticeship Registers. Volume 43. Vintners’ Company 1609-1800. (2006). – According to the summarised entry of Thomas’ apprenticeship indentures his place origin is listed as Wing in Buckinghamshire. This was his mother’s home village and he may have moved from Lambourn in Berkshire (his birth place) to live with family on his mother’s side prior to moving to London.

3)      Berry, G. – Tavern Tokens of Pepy’s London. (London, 1978).

4)      According to Boyd’s “Inhabitants of London” Thomas and Jane Blagrave had a further child, Jane who was married a Thomas Lechmere in 1677 in Westminster Abbey. The present writer has not been able to find conclusive evidence to support this or that Jane was not the daughter of a different Thomas Blagrave, i.e. Thomas Blagrave the Royal Court musician (d. 1688) who lived in Westminster and who was possibly very distantly related to the same Berkshire family as Thomas Blagrave the token issuer).

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James Stephens in Giltspur Street

A farthing token issued by James Stephens operating from the sign of the Three Nuns in Giltspur Street, London.

A farthing token issued by James Stephens operating from the sign of the Three Nuns in Giltspur Street, London.

The above copper farthing token measures 15.2 mm and weighs 1.19 grams. It was issued by James Stephens, possibly a tavern keeper or tradesman, operating from premises at or by the sign of “The Three Nuns” in Giltspur Street in the Farringdon Ward Without district of London.

The design of the token may be formally described as follows;

Obverse: (star) IAMES. STEPHENS. AT. YE, around a solid line circle, within the depiction of three nuns standing in a line facing.

Reverse: (star) IN.GVLTSPVR. .STREET, around solid line circle, within a legend in four lines; WITH / OVT / NEW / GAT.

The token is undated but is likely to have been issued prior to the early to mid-1660s by which time the issue of farthings was in decline in favour of half penny tokens. This tradesman’s token is one of six different issues known from this very small street. All were produced during the period 1648/9 to 1672 (1).

The location of Giltspur Street  opposite the Newgate entrance to the City of London (c.1720)

The location of Giltspur Street opposite the Newgate entrance to the City of London (c.1720)

In mid-17th century Giltspur Street was located immediately to the north-west of the Newgate entrance to London. Newgate was one of the city’s ancient fortified gates. It was located on the north-west perimeter of the old city walls in the Farringdon Ward of the city.

The Newgate entrance to the City of London from an engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar (c.1650)

The Newgate entrance to the City of London from an engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar (c.1650)

The current alignment of Giltspur Street is slightly to the west of the course it took in the mid-17th century. It now runs directly alongside the eastern perimeter of the churchyard of the parish church of St. Sepulchre, Holborn. Tradition has it that it was at the end of Giltspur Street, at the junction with Cock Lane in West Smithfield, that the Great Fire of London of 1666 reached its farthest limit in this part of the city before being finally extinguished on the last day of the Great Fire. Today the spot is still marked by the statue of the Golden Boy of Pye Corner (2).

The statue of the Golden Boy of Pye Corner at the corner of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street - Detail inset top right

The statue of the Golden Boy of Pye Corner at the corner of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street – Detail inset top right

Little to nothing is known of this token’s issuer, James Stephens. An initial search of the London Hearth Tax returns from the 1660s has failed to return any mention of him. A search of London parish registers and other genealogical sources has only yielded one probable reference to him. The parish registers for St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate, located only a stone’s throw to the west of Giltspur Street, records the burial of a James Stephens on 29th March 1664.

The sign of the Three Nuns is first recorded in London in 1367 as a brew house. It was a fairly common sign in the capital and is often thought to have denoted a site with former religious associations. While the sign was used by several inns or taverns it was not exclusive to that trade. In the 18th century the sign was chiefly associated with linen drapers, mercers and milliners. It may well have had similar but less frequent associations in the mid-17th century.

Foot Notes:

1)      There are six separate tradesmen in Giltspur Street who are known to have issued tokens in the mid-17th century. Five of the token types are of farthing denomination while the sixth is a half-penny. Of these tokens two of the farthings were issued by separate tradesmen using the sign of “The Three Nuns”. Other than James Stephens the other issuers were Samuel and Hannah Botley. Samuel Botley (born 1639) married Hannah White on 2nd May 1662 in Acton, Middlesex. Samuel is recorded as a cordwainer (i.e. shoe maker) of the parish of St. Sepulchre. It is impossible to say if Samuel Botley and James Stephens were neighbours or if Samuel Botley took over the premises of James Stephens after the latter’s probable death in March 1664. Either way married life for Mr. and Mrs. Botley in Giltspur Street would have been fairly short lived. Presuming that the couple made it through the Great Plague of 1665 Giltspur Street and the adjacent parish church of St. Sepulchre were both consumed during the latter stages of the Great Fire of London in September 1666 (see location map below).

A map of mid-17th century London showing the extent of the Great Fire of 1666 plus the relevant location of Guiltspur Street

A map of mid-17th century London showing the extent of the Great Fire of 1666 plus the relevant location of Guiltspur Street

2)      Below the statue of the Golden Boy of Pye Corner is a tablet bearing the following inscription;

 This Boy is in Memory Put up for the late FIRE of LONDON Occasion’d by the Sin of Gluttony.

The statue, made of wood and covered in gold is a listed monument and according to its listing entry was formerly winged. Originally the statue may also have been painted naturalistically.  A larger more modern sign below the monument explains more of its history;

The boy at Pye-Corner was erected to commemorate the staying of the Great Fire, which beginning at Pudding Lane was ascribed to the sin of gluttony when not attributed to the Papist as on the Monument and the boy was made prodigiously fat to enforce the moral.

The statue was originally built into the front of a Public-House called “The Fortune of War“, which used to occupy this site before it was demolished in 1910.

The Fortune of War Public House at the corner of Cock Lane and Guiltspur Street prior to it demolition in 1910 - Note the position of the Golden Boy of Pye Corner statue in its upper wall

The Fortune of War Public House at the corner of Cock Lane and Guiltspur Street prior to it demolition in 1910 – Note the position of the Golden Boy of Pye Corner statue in its upper wall

In 1761, the tenant of this public house, Thomas Andrews, was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to death. However, he was pardoned by King George III in one of the first cases of public debate about homosexuality in England. A further claim to fame of this establishment was that until the 19th century, it was the chief house north of the River Thames for “resurrectionists”. It was officially appointed by the Royal Humane Society as a place “for the reception of drowned persons”. Prior to it demolition the landlord used to show the room in the pub where benches were placed around the walls and where bodies laid out to await their inspection and collection by the surgeons from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.

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The Black Bell in Thames Street

A farthing token issued by a tradesman operating from the sign of the Black Bell in Thames Street, London.

A farthing token issued by a tradesman operating from the sign of the Black Bell in Thames Street, London.

The above copper farthing token measures 15.6 mm and weighs 1.03 grams. It was issued in 1652 by a tradesman, possibly a tavern keeper, operating from premises at or by the sign of the Black Bell in Thames Street, London.

The design of the token may be formally described as follows;

Obverse: (mullet) AT. THE. BLACK. BELL , around a depiction of a bell.

Reverse: (mullet) IN.THEMS.STREETE, around twisted wire inner circle, within a legend in three lines; P.N / NVCE / 1652.

It is not clear if the initials above the issuers surname “Nuce” stand for the first and last names of the issuer or alternatively represent the Christian names of the primary token issuer plus his wife (i.e. Mr. P. Nuce and Mrs. N. Nuce). It is typical to find the latter sets of initials on the reverse side of 17th century tokens in the form of a triad.

Thames Street was an important and very long thoroughfare which ran parallel to the warehouses, homes and other buildings on the north bank of the Thames between the Tower of London and Puddle Dock (south of the West End of St. Paul’s Cathedral).

The Church of All Hallows the Great on Thames Street (c.1720)

The Church of All Hallows the Great on Thames Street (c.1720)

A review of London parish registers plus other genealogical sources has so far failed to identify a Mr. P. Nuce. However, a review of London Hearth Tax returns for the years 1662 and 1666 indicates one possible candidate with matching initials plus the surname “Nuce”. This match, from the 1662, is for a man by the name of Philipp Nuce who paid tax on a property with 6 hearths in the second precinct of the parish of All Hallows the Great in the Dowgate Ward of the city. It so happens that Thames Street passes directly through this Ward, more over All Hallows Parish Church lies on the south side of Thames Street. As such Philipp Nuce must be considered as a very definite contender as the issuer of this farthing token. The fact that Philipp Nuce is not recorded in the London Hearth Tax returns for 1666 (pre the Great Fire of September 1666) may suggest that by that date he had either left the city or had died. Either of these options is possible.

We can’t be certain of the trade of this particular token issuer but the sign of the Bell or Black Bell was commonly used by taverns in the city during the 17th century. As such our token issuer may well have been a tavern keeper.

Thames Street and the surrounding areas were all consumed during the Great Fire of London in September 1666. It is unlikely that the re-use or memory of the sign of the Black Bell in Thames Street will have survived after the conflagration other than in the paranumismatic record.

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The Rose & Crown in Covent Garden, Westminster

A farthing token issued by a tradesman operating from the sign of the Rose and Crown  in Covent Garden, Westminster

A farthing token issued by a tradesman operating from the sign of the Rose and Crown in Covent Garden, Westminster

The above copper farthing token measures 15.4 mm and weighs 1.18 grams. It was issued by a tradesman (almost certainly a tavern keeper) operating from premises at or by the sign of the Rose and Crown in Covent Garden, Westminster.

The design of the token may be formally described as follows;

Obverse: (.) AT THE.ROSE.AND.CROWN, around a rose crowned.

Reverse: (star) IN.COVENT.GARDEN, around twisted wire inner circle, within a triad of initials comprising V | (star)M(star) | (star)M , plus a central dot below upper “M”.

The lower and off-set positioning of the mullet at the start of this token’s obverse legend suggests that the die sinker ran out of room around the edge of the die when inscribing the legend.  The anomalous line on the obverse of the token which starts below the “R” in CROWN and which runs parallel to the image of the rose and crown appears to be the result of damage to the original die from which the token was struck.

There is nothing on the token to indicate the date of its issue. However, on stylistic grounds plus the weight of evidence drawn from other dated farthing tokens during the mid-17th century it is likely that the above token was issued during the approximate period 1650 to 1660.

The emblem of the rose and crown was a badge of the Tudors. The marriage of the Lancastrian King Henry VII with Elizabeth of York extinguished the feudal rivalry between the royal houses of York and Lancaster. Thereafter the Tudor rose, half red and half white, surmounted by a crown became the royal badge.

A modern pub sign in the name of the Rose and Crown

A modern public house sign in the name of the Rose and Crown

As a trade sign in London it probably dates from the 16th century although the earliest recorded in Bryant Lillywhite’s survey dates from 1606. Its origin as a sign may have derived from the arms of the Company of Mercers. In London (and elsewhere in England) the sign also became popular amongst tavern keepers.

While several different taverns are recorded as operating in the Covent Garden area from the mid-17th century onwards I have so far failed to find any documentary mention of one bearing the common name of the “Rose and Crown”. As such its existence, like many other London taverns of this period, is only known from the paranumismatic record left by 17th century tradesmen’s tokens.

Covent Garden (c.1720)

Covent Garden (c.1720)

The initials of the couple that traded from the Rose and Crown at the time the token was issued, a Mr. “V. (or U (1)).M” and his wife Mrs.”M.M.” have not previously been identified. However, this now may be remedied based on the research outlined below.

There were several individuals living in Covent Garden at the time of the 1666 Hearth Tax with surnames beginning with “W” and Christian names beginning with either “V” or “M”. These included the following;

  • Widow Mayden – paid tax on a premises with 10 hearths
  • Mary Mason – paid tax on a premises with 12 hearths
  • Mary Mount – paid tax on a premises with 14 hearths
  • Valentine Morecot – paid tax on a premises with 9 hearths

The relatively high number of hearths represented in each of the above returns would be typical of that expected for a tavern of the period. Thus any one of these individuals could be synonymous with or related to the token’s original issuers. It is possible that by the time of the 1666 Hearth Tax the original token issuers may have moved out of Covent Garden or one or both of them may have died. While outside of the city walls Covent Garden was affected considerably by the infamous and devastating outbreak of plague in London of 1665/6.

Only one man identified from the 1666 Hearth Tax return has initials which directly fit with those of the primary issuer identified in the token’s reverse triad of initials. This is Valentine Morecot whose surname was variously spelt as Morecot, Morcot, Morecott and even Morket. Furthermore it may be shown that the Christian name of Valentine’s wife during the period 1652 to 1663 (i.e. most likely period of the token’s striking based on stylistic evidence) also began with an “M”. Thus completing the required set of token issuers’ initials as dictated by the triad on the token’s reverse.

Based on a wide assemblage of church records, parish registers and a transcript of Valentine Morecott’s Will of 1666/7 (the original of which is held by the London Metropolitan Archives) it is possible to piece together a history of the above token’s issuers. While not all of the links in this history can be fully proven (as it is possible that there may have been more than one individual in 17th century Westminster by the name of Valentine Morecott who was born c.1618) they do fit into a very probable sequence of events.

Valentine Morecott’s Story

It is probable that our particular Valentine Morecott was baptised on 21st February 1617/8 in Birchington (Kent) the son of Richard Morket of the same parish. Valentine was one of at least two brothers. One of these, Richard (born November 1615 and died May 1616) is recorded in the Birchington parish registers. Valentine’s uncle was William Morecott. William died in Northamptonshire sometime prior to 1666 as noted in Valentine’s Will of 1666/7.

On the eve of the English Civil War we find Valentine living in the Westminster parish of St. Martin in the Fields. It is likely that he lived in or close to the relatively new developments (1630s) in the west of that parish which were built by Francis Russell (4th Earl of Bedford) who employed Inigo Jones as his architect. These new developments included the now famous piazza of Covent Garden plus St. Paul’s Church on its western side.

Covent Garden in 1737. St. Paul's Parish Church can be seen at the rear of the piazza

Covent Garden in 1737. St. Paul’s Parish Church can be seen at the rear of the piazza

At the stated age of 24 Valentine married the 22 year old Mary Gibson of the parish of St. Giles, Cripplegate (London). The couple married on 15th March 1641/2 (2) in St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. At the time this now famous church was less than 10 years old and was still a chapel of ease to the nearby parish church of St. Martin’s in the Fields.

It is unclear how many children Valentine and Mary had but from details found in Valentine’s Will of 1666/7 it can be assumed that they had at least one son, Thomas, who survived into adulthood. In 1666/7 Thomas is recorded as a Licensed Victualler. This is almost certainly a case of the son following in his father’s trade although other than in the paranumismatic record there appears to be no other further evidence of Valentine having been associated with this trade.

At some time prior to late 1652 Valentine became a single man again, presumably a widower. On the 1st November of that year he is recorded as marrying Martha Baldwin in the church of St. Dunstan in the West, Fleet Street. Presumably this was the bride’s parish church.

The south-east prospect of St. Dunstan's in the West on Fleet Street

The south-east prospect of St. Dunstan’s in the West on Fleet Street

We can assume that the couple set up home, along with Valentine’s one known existing son Thomas, in the Covent Garden area. From 1655 onwards we find fairly frequent mention of Valentine and his growing family in the parish registers of St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. From 1645 this church became the parish church for Covent Garden. Below are listed the parish register entries relating to Valentine and Martha’s various children;

14th July 1655 – Baldwine Morecott sonne of Valentine and Martha borne

8th April 1657 – Thomas Morecott sonn of Valentine and Martha borne the 8th, baptized 15th.

6th November 1657 – Thomas sonn of Valentine Morcott in (buried) Ch : yd

2nd September 1658 – Martha daughter of Valentine Morecott (buried) in Ch : yd

At some point after becoming married in 1652 it can be assumed that Valentine and Martha ran the Rose and Crown tavern in Covent Garden. The exact location of this tavern is unknown. During their custodianship of this establishment they were almost certainly responsible for the issue of the above farthing trade tokens (3).

St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden

St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

Between 1662 and 1663 Valentine took on additional responsibilities within his local community. It is during this period that we find him listed as one of the church wardens of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden. Shortly after taking on this new position in the community Valentine was to experience two personal tragedies in short succession. Having already lost two of his children in 1657 and 1658 respectively he next lost his wife. This is evident from a further entry in St. Paul’s parish registers;

6th May 1663 – Martha Wife of Valentine Morecott (buried) Ch : yard

Presumably it was the loss of Martha that caused Valentine to relinquish his church warden’s position in favour of focusing his time and efforts on raising his remaining young children in addition to running the family’s business (i.e. the Rose and Crown) so as to keep “bread on the table”. Within less than a year of Martha’s death the burial register for St. Paul’s indicates that Valentine was to befall a further tragedy. This time in the death of another of his children;

22nd January 1663/4 – John Son of Valintine Morcott Bu Ch yard

With no wife to help run his business or look after his surviving children Valentine would probably have found life difficult. The combined effects of these personal calamities and added hardship appears to have proved too great for him to bear alone and within a month of his son John’s death he married his third wife, Mary Lloyd, on 22nd February 1663/4. For Valentine, who was now in his mid-forties, this was very probably a marriage of convenience and security for his remaining children and business. The same may also have been true for Mary Lloyd.

In the next couple of years Valentine and his family were to bear witness to two of the most dramatic and tumultuous events in London’s history. At the end of April 1665 Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist and naval administrator, noted in his diary;

“Great fears of the sickenesse here in the City, it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve as all!”

The “sickness” referred to was the infamous Bubonic Plague. This was no stranger to Londoners in the 17th century as there had been previous outbreaks within the city in 1603, 1625 and 1636. The outbreak of Plague in 1665 may not necessarily have been identified at first but by April several deaths in areas outside the city walls had been noted and fears of it spreading and escalating in intensity were rife.

On the 7th June Pepys came across his first direct encounter of the plague as he passed through Drury Lane on the eastern fringe of Covent Garden;

“This day, much against my will, I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and “Lord have mercy upon us” writ there; which was a sad sight to me, being the first of the kind that, to my remembrance, I ever saw. It put me into an ill conception of myself and my smell, so that I was forced to buy some roll-tobacco to smell to and chaw, which took away the apprehension.”

Only a few days later (10th June) Pepys’ worst fears were realised. The plague had entered into the city of London and was claiming victims on his very door step;

“…to my great trouble, hear that the plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City); but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour’s, Dr. Burnett, in Fanchurch Street: which in both points troubles me mightily. To the office to finish my letters and then home to bed, being troubled at the sicknesse, and my head filled also with other business enough, and particularly how to put my things and estate in order, in case it should please God to call me away, which God dispose of to his glory!”

A contemporary wood cut illustrating the plight of London during the out break of the Bubonic Plague in 1665

A contemporary wood cut illustrating the plight of London during the out break of the Bubonic Plague in 1665

In Covent Garden the first plague victim is officially recorded in the parish burial register on 12th April. Thereafter it appears to have rapidly taken hold in the area peaking in September with up to 97 deaths in a month. After September things started to slowly improve as illustrated in the figures below.

Between the first recorded death from the plague in the parish of Covent Garden in April 1665 and the last in August 1666 a total of 226 were recorded. This is approximately 60% of all the recorded deaths in the parish over that same period. The burial bells at St. Paul’s Church must have been continually tolling during the height of the plague (August to October 1665) and its comparatively small churchyard must have been full to overflowing. As in many other London parishes during this period it is probable that with so many dead the corpses to accommodate use of communal plague pits at locations outside the city had to be resorted to.

A contemporary wood cut illustrating the mass burial of London plague victims in 1665

A contemporary wood cut illustrating the mass burial of London plague victims in 1665

It appears from St. Paul’s parish burial register that the Morecott family was very lucky and came out of this epidemic unscathed. It is possible that once the outbreak started to spiral out of control they could have shut up their home and left the city for a safer place of refuge with relatives living outside of the city. This was a common form of escape for those who had this option available to them and could afford to do so. Unfortunately many people weren’t able to exercise such an option and had to stay in the city and take their chances. Some residents of the city were forced to flee their homes whether they had planned to or not. A rapid and unlawful escape from a house stricken by the plague was often a risk worth taking given the alternative of being boarded up in the premises as a form of guarantee until it could be proven the house hold was plague free. Being subject to such an enforced guarantee was often a death sentence for those in a household where only one family member was initially affected. A late example of residents in Russell Street, Covent Garden, illegally fleeing from an infected household before it could be officially put under guarantee (as signified by the official painting of a cross on its door together with the words “Lord Have Mercy On Our Souls”) is sited in the London Gazette of 10th May 1666. This account is reproduced in full below.

LG 10-05-1666 Issue 52

By the time the plague had almost run its course in early 1666 it had claimed the lives of 75,000 to 100,000 Londoners. This was up to a fifth of the city’s population.

No sooner was London emerging from the great calamity of the plague it was suddenly to be faced with another in the form of the Great Fire of 1666.

A contemporary oil painting of the Great Fire of London from the River Thomes looking across to Old St. Paul's Cathedral

A contemporary oil painting of the Great Fire of London from the River Thomes looking across to Old St. Paul’s Cathedral

The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of London from the early hours of Sunday 2nd September to Wednesday 5th September 1666. It started in a small Bakery in Pudding Lane, near London Bridge and from there rapidly spread, the towering flames being fanned by the late summer winds. The fire gutted the predominantly thatch roofed and timber framed old medieval properties which made up the bulk of London’s buildings inside of the old city walls. The fire threatened but did not reach the Tower of London, Westminster, Charles II’s Palace of Whitehall or most of the northern and eastern suburbs outside the city walls. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, the old St. Paul’s Cathedral and most of the buildings of the city authorities. It is estimated to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 inhabitants. The official death toll from the fire was small, only six verified deaths being recorded. However, this figure is now challenged on the grounds that the deaths of some of the poorest victims may have gone unrecorded. In addition the intense heat of the fire may well have cremated many victims leaving no recognisable remains.

Fortunately for the Morecott family they lived in Covent Garden which was one of those districts to the west of the old city which had a lucky escape from the fire. We know they were still living in the parish at this time as only a few months later we find a further reference to the family in the parish registers of St. Paul’s;

22nd March 1666/7 – Valintaine Morcott (buried) Church yard

It is likely that Valentine’s health was failing at least a month before his death as his Last Will and Testimony is dated 20th February 1666/7(2). The opening section of the Will confirms that just prior to his death Valentine was still residing in the parish of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden. In his Will he leaves the following;

To his son Thomas Morecott (Licensed Victualler) the sum of £5

To his cousin Mary Morecott (daughter of the late William Morecott of Northamptonshire) the sum of £5 to be paid on her 21st birthday.

To Valentine Morecott (son of the late William Morecott of Northamptonshire) the sum of £10 to be put aside to secure him an apprenticeship once he reaches the age of 15.

To Mary Bradford the sum of 10 shillings in order for a mourning ring (4) to be made for her in memory of Valentine.

To Thomas Malin (Cabinet maker of St. Andrew’s Parish Church, Holborn and the appointed Overseer of Valentine’s Will) Valentine’s own deaths head ring or the sum of 20 shillings in order for a  mourning ring to be made for him in memory of Valentine.

The rest of Valentine’s estate was bequeathed to his wife Mary Morecott.

The Will bears no mention to any of Valentine’s other surviving children. If his son Balwine were still alive at the time of Valentine’s death he would be 12. It is unconceivable that Valentine would have left no provision for his youngest known son in Will unless he had made a previous agreement with his wife Mary to take good care of Baldwine and continue to bring him up well after his death.

It is not known what happened to Valentine’s remaining family after his death. It is possible that his son Thomas (recorded as a Licensed Victualler in 1666) may have already taken over the family’s old business, i.e. the Rose and Crown tavern in Covent Garden. However, this by no means certain. While nothing specific about Valentine’s business premises (assuming he still had any) are mentioned in his Will it is clear that after the specific itemised bequests of money and mourning rings had been made out of his estate all his remaining money, goods and premises were to pass to his wife Mary. If the Rose and Crown tavern was still run by the family in 1666 it could therefore have passed to Mary.

Based on the negative evidence for any entries relating to the Morecott family in the parish registers of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden,  after Valentine’s death in late March 1666/7 it can only be assumed that the family sold up and moved out of the parish to make new lives elsewhere in the capital or outside the capital.

Notes:

1) Latin characters were used for the legends on 17th century tokens. In this alphabet there was no letter “J” or “U” the letter “I” and “V” were used in their place resectively.

2) It this period in Britain the Julian calendar was still used in which each successive year ran from 25th March to following 24th March. The change to the Gregorian calendar, which ran from 1st January to the following 31st December, did not occur until 1st January 1752.

3) It is apparent that Valentine Morecott married three times during his life and that each of his successive wives had a Christian name beginning with “M”, i.e. Mary from 1641/2, Martha between 1652 and 1663 and Mary from 1663/4. Assuming that Valentine was still married to his first wife after 1649 (i.e. after which the first trademen’s tokens started to appeared in England) there is an argument that the lower “M” on the triad on the token’s reverse, i.e. that which represents the issuer’s wife’s Christian name initial, could equally apply to any one of Valentine’s three wives. However, on stylistic grounds this particular token does not appear to be one of the earliest issues made prior to the mid-1650s. Furthermore a review of the most prevalent issuing period for farthing denominations during the period of mid-17th century token production (1649 to 1672) clearly indicates that by 1664 the issue of farthings had greatly declined in favour of half pennies. Taking these combined observations into consideration it may be concluded that Valentines Morecott’s farthing tokens almost certainly date from the period in which he was married to his second wife Martha (i.e. 1652 to 1663).

4) The presentation of mourning or funerary memorial rings was fairly common practice in the 17th and 18th centuries particularly amongst the middle and upper classes. Many wealthy people included instructions in their will on how much money was to be set aside for the purchase and inscribing of funerary rings together with instructions as to their design plus a list of those people who were to receive them.

A mid 17th Century Deaths Head Type Funerary Ring from London

A mid 17th Century Deaths Head Type Funerary Ring from London

In Samuel Pepys’s Will he bequeathed the grand total of 129 mourning rings be given away at his funeral. The grander and number of rings bequeathed by an individual was often an indication of their wealth. The internal shanks of such rings were often inscribed with the name of the deceased as a memorial. The designs of such rings were often “ghoulish” by modern standards and typically included skulls and cross bones or simply a skull (i.e. the so called deaths head design) as per the funerary ring bequeathed by Valentine Morecott to Thomas Malin of Holborn.

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The Half Moon Brew House in Bishopsgate Without

A farthing token issued in the name of the Half Moon Brew House in Bishopsgate Without, London

A farthing token issued in the name of the Half Moon Brew House in Bishopsgate Without, London

The above copper farthing token measures 15.5 mm and weighs 1.02 grams. It was issued by a brewer operating from premises at or by the sign of the Half Moon in Half Moon Alley which lay off the south-west side of Bishopsgate Street in the Bishopsgate Without Ward of the City of London.

The design of the token may be formally described as follows;

Obverse: (mullet) THE.HALFE.MOONE.BREW, around twisted wire inner circle, within is a depiction of a crescent half-moon on its side.

Reverse: (mullet) HOVS.WITHOVT.B.GATE, around a twisted wire inner circle, within a triad of initials comprising G | O | .I

There is nothing on the token to indicate the date of its issue. However, it is likely that it dates from the approximate period 1650 to 1660.

The location of the Half Moon Alley and Court (in yellow and blue respectively) plus Sir Paul Pindar's house (in red) at the entrance to the alley of Bishopsgate Street, London (c.1720)

The location of the Half Moon Alley and Court (in yellow and blue respectively) plus Sir Paul Pindar’s house (in red) at the entrance to the alley of Bishopsgate Street, London (c.1720)

In his survey of London and Westminster (1720) John Strype describes Half Moon Alley and its environs as follows;

 Half Moon Alley, very ordinary, and ill inhabited; almost at the entrance it divdes itself, one part falling into Half Moon Court which is a good large place; and the other part in a straight Line runs Westwards into Moorfields: On the South side of this place is Stone Cutters Yard, a pretty open, but ordinary place; and on the North side is a small Alley that leads unto Dunning’s Alley.

 The first mention of the sign of the Half Moon in this location occurs in 1543 in a land release in which we learn that Robert Wood dwelt at “le Signe de le hulfe Mone”(1). From Strype’s Survey we learn a little more of Robert Wood and his family as the Strype records a monument to Robert’s widow, Joan, inside the Church of St. Botolph Without, Bishopsgate.

 Here under lyeth the Body of Joane Wood, Wife of Robert Wood, Citizen and Brewer of London, who had Issue, two Sons and three Daughters; viz. John, Richard, Joane, Anne and Frances. She deceased the 25 day of November, An. Dom. 1600.

Based on the above it is implied that Robert Wood was operating a Brew House at the sign of the Half Moon off Bishopsgate Street Without as early as 1543.

Detail from a map of Elizabethan London (1572), taken from "Civitates orbis terrarum" showing Bishopsgate Street Without and the mansions and gardens along it. The area indicated in blue is that of the Half Moone Brew House and Alley.

Detail from a map of Elizabethan London (1572), taken from “Civitates orbis terrarum” showing Bishopsgate Street Without and the mansions and gardens along it. The area indicated in blue is that of the Half Moon Brew House and Alley.

It further appears from Joan Wood’s Will, 1600, that she sold the Half Moon brew house with it yards, gardens, etc., to Ralph Pindar in 1597 on condition that he should pay a yearly sum of £20 to the parson and church-wardens of St. Botolph, and that in default of such payment the premises were to go to them. Joan also bequeathed various benevolent charities of the church of St. Botolph, its parishioners and poor.

 In the latter few years of the 16th century Sir Paul Pindar (c.1565-1650), a wealthy merchant and later diplomat, acquired much land on the north-east side of the city walls. This included the earlier holdings of Joan Wood which lay on the west side of Bishopsgate Street and included Half Moon Alley. In 1623 Pindar returned to live in his London home after serving as King James I’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople. Pindar’s business activities enabled him to invest in speculative trading expeditions, loan large sums to Charles I and contribute the enormous sum of £10,000 towards the rebuilding of the original (i.e. Old) St Paul’s Cathedral. However, the political upheavals of the 1640s and Charles’s inability to repay loans left Pindar with huge debts when he died.

Engraved portrait of Sir Paul Pindar, by Thomas Trotter after an anonymous painting of 1614, England, 1794.

Engraved portrait of Sir Paul Pindar, by Thomas Trotter after an anonymous painting of 1614, England, 1794.

In 1599 Pindar built himself a new three and a half storey timber-framed mansion on the west side of Bishopsgate Street Without at the head of Half Moon Alley. Bishopsgate Street was one of the main roads from the city to East Anglia and had recently been paved. It was also convenient for Pindar’s business activities. Less than a mile away was St Paul’s Cathedral, a rendezvous for city merchants, and Cheapside, where traders also acted as bankers. Closer still was the recently founded Royal Exchange at Cornhill, where Pindar would have met other wholesale merchants and swapped news. By 1610 the house was being used to accommodate a succession of overseas ambassadors to the Court of King James. Pindar’s magnificent town house survived the Great Fire of London (1666) and by 1660 had already been split into separate apartments. The upper storeys of the house were taken over by the London workhouse and contained wards for “poor children and vagabonds, beggars, pilferers, lewd, idle, and disorderly persons”. The ground floor rooms which led onto the street front were used as a tavern which traded under the name a sign of Sir Paul Pindar’s Head.

The "Paul Pindar's Head Tavern" in Bishopsgate Street, London, c.1890. Note the signed entrance to Half Moon Street (i.e. originally Half Moon Alley) on the right hand side of the house front.

The “Paul Pindar’s Head Tavern” in Bishopsgate Street, London, c.1890. Note the signed entrance to Half Moon Street (i.e. originally Half Moon Alley) on the right hand side of the house front.

Pindar’s house, together with adjacent parts of Half Moon Alley, were ultimately consumed by the expansion of Liverpool Street Railway Station in 1890. However, as an early example of its type the original timber framed façade of his house was preserved and is now on public display in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The wooden house façade, built 1599-1600, for Sir Paul Pindar, for his house at the corner of Half Moon Alley and  Bishopsgate Street Without, London (Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

The wooden house façade, built 1599-1600, for Sir Paul Pindar, for his house at the corner of Half Moon Alley and Bishopsgate Street Without, London (Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

It is possible that prior to 1650 the brewer who issued the above farthing token paid rent on his brew house to Sir Paul Pindar’s estate. After Pindar’s death it is not clear who owned the brew house or the other properties in Half Moon Alley.

The initials of the couple that operated the Half Moon brew house at the time of the token, a Mr. “G.O” and his wife Mrs.” I. (or J. given that capital Js are represented by capital Is in Latin script) O.”, have not as yet been positively identified. However, there were three individuals living in Half Moon Alley at the time of the 1662 Hearth Tax with surnames beginning with “O”. Any one of these could have been related to the token’s original issuers. By 1662 the token issuers may have moved out of the alley or may even have died. One particular individual identified from the Hearth Tax returns has initials which directly fit with those of one of the primary issuer identified in the token’s reverse triad. This person is;

Griffith Owen – Paid tax on a premises with 5 hearths in the first precinct on the west of the alley.

A search of the parish registers for St. Botolphs Without, Bishopsgate has identified the marriage of one Griffith Owen to a Jane Spencer on the 16th May 1641. The initials of this couple exactly match those of the triad on the reverse of the token. When reviewed together with the 1662 hearth tax return this combined information would suggest that we may have found the identities of the token issuers.

While the identity of the token issuers may still pose a possible question mark their stock trade is very clearly identified on the token. They were commercial brewers operating from their own Brew House, which can be thought of as more of a local microbrewery by today’s standards.

In the mid-17th century ale/beer was still the traditional staple drink of the masses in Britain. Before the Victorian improvements in public sanitation, cholera and other water-transmitted diseases were a significant cause of death in Britain. Because alcohol is toxic to most water-borne bacteria, and because the process of brewing any beer from malt involves boiling the water, which also kills them, drinking beer instead of water was a far safer option.

It was not uncommon for workers who engaged in heavy physical labour to drink more than 10 pints of dilute or “small” beer during a day to maintain their hydration level. Small beer is that liquor extracted from the “second runnings” taken from a very strong beer mash. It typically is of low alcohol content. Small beer also formed the stable liquid consumption of the rest of Britain’s household, both young and old alike. With such high consumption levels it was not always practical or feasible for every household to brew their own supply, particularly in the often cramped and overcrowded towns and cities. This is where the local brew houses filled the gap in the market. Taverns, Inns and Ordinaries also help fill the gap but then, like today, they served more as a place for social drinking and dining.

Footnote: Trends in 17th Century Drinking Habits

Beer had been the traditional drink in England for centuries, but by the second half of the 17th century it was starting to face competition for the first time. Gin, for one, was new on the London scene, but it was just one of a host of new beverages cutting into the national consumption of beer. These included tea, coffee, hot chocolate and brandy.

The problem for English ales began in the 1640s when both Parliament and the Royalists created excise duties on beer to pay for the Civil War. Parliament created the first of these in 1643. After the Restoration beer duties became more important than ever, because they became a replacement for the old baronial duties that had previously funded the army. At the same time, the government was encouraging the distilling of gin as a cheap alternative to beer. To facilitate this both Charles II and James II licensed brewers to distil spirits on their premises. In these circumstances the decline of beer consumption was inevitable, although the situation only hit public awareness around 1690. In the 18th century gin drinking became a huge public problem in London, particularly within the poorer and lower classes. Gin Palaces became common place in parts of the city and were often seedy dens on iniquity where the clientele could famously get “drunk for a penny. Dead drunk for twopence”. This issue was famously highlighted by William Hogarth in his contrasting prints of 1751 entitled “Beer Street” and “Gin Lane”.

"Beer Street" and "Gin Lane" - William Hogarths satirical and contrasting prints (1751) promoting the merits of drinking tradditional and vertuous ale versus those of partaking in the more demonic alternative of distilled spirits

“Beer Street” and “Gin Lane” – William Hogarth’s satirical and contrasting prints (1751) promoting the merits of drinking traditional and virtuous ale versus those of partaking in the more demonic alternative of distilled spirits

These prints were commissioned in support of what would become the Gin Act of 1751 which was enacted in order to reduce the consumption of spirits, a popular pass time that was regarded as one of the primary causes of crime in London. By prohibiting gin distillers from selling to unlicensed merchants and increasing fees charged to merchants, it eliminated small gin shops, thereby restricting the distribution of gin to larger distillers and retailers. Hogarth’s two prints were designed to be viewed alongside each other. They depict the evils of the consumption of gin as a contrast to the merits of drinking beer.

References:

1) Harben, H.A, – A Dictionary of London. (London, 1918).

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Thomas Armitage in St. Martins Lane, Westminster

A farthing token issued in the name of the Lion in St. Martins Lane, Westminster

A farthing token issued in the name of the Lion in St. Martins Lane, Westminster

The above brass farthing token measures 16.6 mm and weighs 0.72 grams. It was issued by Thomas Armitage who operated his business from premises at or by the sign of the lion in St. Martins Lane, Westminster.

The design of the token may be formally described as follows;

Obverse: (star) THO: ARMITAGE.IN., around the depiction of a lion rampant facing left.

Reverse: (star) ST: MARTINS.LANE, around twisted wire inner circle within a triad of initials comprising T | .A. | .I

It is not obvious from the token if the trade sign used by Thomas Armitage was either a non-coloured or coloured lion (i.e. the red, black, white or gold lion etc.). Any of these options would be possible and, as today, would be typical of a tavern sign.

There are at least three separate districts within London and Westminster which have a “St. Martins Lane”. It is almost certain that the one refered to by this token is that in the Parish of St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster.

The location of St. Martins Lane, Westminster (c.1720)

The location of St. Martins Lane, Westminster (c.1720)

The 1666 Hearth Tax returns for St. Martins Lane, Westminster record a Thomas Armitage on the east side of the lane paying tax on 8 hearths. Such a relatively large number could easily be representative of a tavern. This may be a clue as to Thomas’ occupation at the time he issued his tokens.

From the triad of initials on the reverse of this token it is clear that at the time of its issue Thomas Armitage was married and that his wife had a Christian name beginning with the initial I or J (as both are inter changeable in the Latin script used on 17th century tokens). Based on an on-line survey of transcribed London and Westminster Parish Marriage Registers I have found one possible candidate for Thomas and his wife. On the 14th July 1663 a Thomas Armitage married an Isabell Best in the church of St. Gregory by St. Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London. If this identification is correct (which is by no means a certainty) it makes this farthing a relatively late issue in the overall series of 17th century tradesmen’s tokens.

The Parish Church of St. Gregory's by St. Paul's which was located located at the south-west end of old St. Paul's Cathedral in the City of London before both were destroyed in the Great Fire of September 1666

The Parish Church of St. Gregory’s by St. Paul’s which was located at the south-west end of old St. Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London before both were destroyed in the Great Fire of September 1666

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Ralph Lucas at the White Bear in Abchurch Lane

A half penny token issued in the name of the White Bear Tavern in Abchurch  Lane

A half penny token issued in the name of the White Bear Tavern in Abchurch Lane

The above brass half penny token measures 19.3 mm and weighs 2.08 grams. It was issued in 1665 in the name of Ralph Lucas of The White Bear Tavern in Abchurch Lance in the Candlewick Ward of the City of London. The design of the token may be formally described as follows;

Obverse: (rosette) RALPH. LVCAS.AT.THE.WHIT, around twisted wire inner circle, within is a depiction of a bear on all fours paws walking left wearing a collar and waist harness.

Reverse: (rosette) IN. ABCHVRCH.LANE.1665, around twisted wire inner circle, legend within three lines reads HIS / HALF / PENY.

location of the White Bear Tavern and Later Pontack's in Abchurch Lane. Taken from John Ogilby & William Morgan’s 1676 Map of the City of London

The approximate location of the White Bear Tavern and Later Pontack’s in Abchurch Lane. Taken from John Ogilby & William Morgan’s 1676 Map of the City of London

A Ralph Lucas is recorded in the “Lane Syde” part of Abchurch Lane in the 1666 Hearth Tax returns. He is recorded as occupying a property with 5 hearths. This was almost certainly a reference to the White Bear Tavern. By September of that same year the tavern, like all the other properties in Abchurch Lane was consumed by the Great Fire of London. The lane was re-built over the following three years but it appears that Ralph Lucas did not return to resurrect the White Bear. Instead the approximate site of the old tavern was used for a new establishment which traded under the sign of “Pontack’s Head”.

The new proprietor, of what was to become one of the city’s most fashionable eating houses, was François-Auguste Pontac, the son of Lord Arnaud de Pontac who was the parliamentary president of Bordeaux.

Arnaud de Pontac (1599-1681)

Arnaud de Pontac (1599-1681)

François-Auguste use his newly established French Ordinary(1) as an outlet for the celebrated wines from his family’s vineyards, particularly those from the estate of Château Haut-Brion in Bordeaux. It was a sign board depicting his father’s image which he chose to hang outside his new premises. The diarist John Evelyn was a regular at Pontack’s and in his diary entry for 13th July 1683 he wrote this of his host;

“I had this day much discourse with Monsieur Pontaq, son of the famous and wise prime President of Bordeaux. This gentleman was owner of excellent vignoble of Pontaq and Obrien, from whence comes the choicest of our Bordeaux wines; and I think I may truly say of him, what was not so truly said of St. Paul, that much learning had made him mad. He spoke in all languages , was very rich, had a handsome person, and was well bred; about forty five years of age.”

Pontack’s Head was famous for its French cuisine and excellent wines. The fashion for such new French cookery was not to the tastes of all Londoners and many retained an insular contempt for such new fashions. However, amongst those who could afford it and who were more adventurous in their eating habits it was a great hit and could possibly be described as the capital’s first trendy and exclusive French Wine Bar.

Thomas Rowlandson's satirical depiction of "A French Ordinary" where dead cats and "slops" are all on the menu.

Thomas Rowlandson’s satirical depiction of “A French Ordinary” where dead cats and “slops” are all on the menu.

A French refugee in London writing in 1693 took pride in the fact that where it was difficult to obtain a good meal elsewhere “those who would dine at one or two guineas per head are handsomely accommodated at our famous Pontack’s”

Amongst those who frequented Pontack’s were such personalities such as John Evelyn, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, John Locke and Sir Christopher Wren. It was also to become the location where Fellows of the Royal Society held their annual dinner until 1746. As a fellow of the Royal Society from 1665 and as its president from 1684 to 1686 it is almost certain that the famous diarist Samuel Pepys would have visited at Pontack’s. A further well-known diner at Pontack’s is believed to have been the artist William Hogarth. Hogarth even paid Pontac a dubious compliment in his third scene from “The Rakes Progress” series.

The room of this boisterous scene is adorned with pictures of Roman Emperors, one of which has been removed to make way for a portrait of Pontac. One contemporary of Hogarth commented on Pontac as follows ” an eminent French cook, whose great talents being turned to heightening sensual, rather than mental enjoyments, has a much better chance of a votive offering from this company, than would either Vespasian or Trajan.” Such advertisements, were no doubt all to the good for Pontack’s and its proprietor’s reputation.

William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress: The Rake at the Rose Tavern (1734)

William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress: The Rake at the Rose Tavern (1734)

It is not clear when François-Auguste Pontac died. However in January 1735, there is a reference to a Mrs. Susannah Austin;”who lately kept Pontack’s, and had acquired a considerable fortune” prior to marrying the banker William Pepys of Lombard Street.

Notes:

1) An Ordinary was a term used to describe a tavern or eating house which served regular meals.

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