Tag Archives: maypole

At the sign of the Lobster by the Maypole in the Strand

A farthing tradesman's token issued at the sign of the Lobster in the Strand, Westminster.

A farthing tradesman’s token issued at the sign of the Lobster by the maypole in the Strand, Westminster.

The above copper farthing token measures 15.6 mm in diameter and weighs 0.85 grams. It was issued by a tradesman who operated from premises on the Strand in Westminster in the mid-17th century.

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

Obverse: (mullet) THE. LOBSTER. AT. THE around the depiction of a lobster palewise.

Reverse: (mullet) MAIPOLE. IN. THE. STRAND around E (rosette) G

The initials on the reverse of this token are those of its issuer. Unfortunately reviews of hearth tax returns from the 1660s for the Strand area have failed to identify these initials with any specific individual. What is not in doubt is the location of the token issuer’s trade premises. This is made clear from the token’s obverse and reverse legends as being at the sign of the Lobster, adjacent to the maypole in the Strand.

The reference to the “maypole” on this token allows the trade premises of its issuers to be tied down to a very specific area of the Strand and arguably a specific period in time. Namely 1661 to 1672. This period coincides with a time when both the use of tradesmen’s tokens were current in London (i.e. 1648/9 to 1672) and during which the Strand’s celebrated maypole stood (i.e. pre 1644 and then again post April 1661).

The site of the maypole was on a patch of ground in the middle of the Strand east of Somerset House and at the southern end of Little Drury Lane and on which the construction of the church of St. Mary-le-Strand was later commenced in 1714.

The Strand, Westminster (c.1720) showing the location of the Church of St. Mary-le-Strand (in yellow)and the approximate location of the Strand maypole (in red).

The Strand, Westminster (c.1720) showing the location of the Church of St. Mary-le-Strand (in yellow) plus the approximate location of the Strand maypole (in red).

As a trade sign the lobster is recorded by at least four separate examples in London during the 1650s and 1660s (1). According to one authority(2) this sign is believed to have reference not to shell-fish but to a locally raised regiment of soldiers who during the Civil War were commonly known as the “Lobsters” or “London Lobsters” because of the bright steel shell armour in which their upper bodies were covered (Note 1).

The example of the lobster trade sign located at the maypole in the Strand is documented from two separate sources both of which are mid-17th century token issues. The first reference is that on the farthing described above. On the grounds of style and denomination this token likely dates from the 1650s to early 1660s. The second token referencing the sign of the lobster in the Strand is a halfpenny which, on stylistic grounds, likely dates to the mid to later 1660s. The details of this second, scarcer token, are outlined below.

Obverse: The legend ST. HARRISE IRONMONGER around the depiction of a lobster.

Reverse: The legend AGAINST YE and HIS ½ around the depiction of a maypole and a small building covered by a domed roof.

This token was issue by Stephen Harris, an ironmonger, who we can assume either;

  • Took over the business premises formerly occupied by the previous token issuer, i.e. the as yet un-identified individual whose initials were E. G.
  • Occupied adjacent business premises, possibly in the same building, to the as yet un-identified token issuer whose initials were E. G.

Assuming the first of the above options to be the most likely it is possible that the premises selected by Stephen Harris in which to set up his business had previously been an ironmongery. Such continuity of use would have allowed him to tap into the previous owner’s reputation (presuming it to have been a good one) and established customer base. If this was the case then it follows that the issuer of the earlier farthing token at the sign of the lobster was also an ironmonger. A review of the names of masters belonging to the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers during 1650s (3) indicates only one whose initials match those on the farthing token (i.e. E.G.). This was Edward Gardener. Much further research is required to positively link this individual as being the issuer of the above illustrated token. If the issuer can be proven to be an ironmonger it will help substantiate the earlier noted theory that this trade sign has associations with iron clad men at arms.

 A Brief History of the Maypole in the Strand

The maypole in the Strand was a well-known land mark in 17th century London and was arguably the most famous of all the capital’s maypoles which, according to one contemporary writer “were set up at every crossway” after the restoration of King Charles II (4).

The first maypole in the Strand was erected in the late 16th or early 17th century and was estimated to have stood 100 feet tall. Its precise location was close to where the remains of a medieval stone cross (the Strand Cross) stood and where, in the reign of King James I, was cited a windmill powered water pump and a watch-house (5). This site lay approximately on the western part of the plot now occupied by the church of St. Mary le Strand.

In 1634 the site of the maypole played host to the first dedicated Hackney Carriage stand in England. A former sea captain by the name of John Bailey invested in a fleet of four Hackney carriages which he based at the maypole. His drivers were each instructed to charged fixed price fares to various destinations within the city and its environs. Other private hire carriage men soon followed Bailey’s lead by working to a set of fixed fares and by using the maypole as a base and central pick-up point (6).

During the early years of the Commonwealth period the Puritan government viewed traditional maypoles as vile throwbacks to heathenism and on 6th April 1644 a Parliamentary ordinance outlawed them. This included the famous one in the Strand which was pulled down.

Shortly after the restoration of King Charles II a new and taller maypole was setup amid much ceremony and rejoicing. From a contemporary pamphlet entitled “The Citie’s Loyaltie Displayed” we learn that the second maypole was of cedar and stood 134 feet tall. While its erection had royal backing it was paid for by subscriptions from local parishioners at the head of who is understood to have been a farrier by the name of John Clarges (Note 2) (7). Clarges is believed to have operated a forge located on the west side corner of the junction between Little Drury Lane and the Strand (8).

According to the contemporary pamphlet mentioned above the maypole was brought in two parts from where it was made, below London Bridge, to Scotland Yard. From it was conveyed on 14th April 1661 to the Strand accompanied by a streamer flourishing before it and the playing of music and the beating of drums all along the route. To provide the specialist skills require for erecting the maypole Prince James, Duke of York and Lord High Admiral of England, commanded twelve seamen, who were familiar in erection of masts and rigging, to officiate the business. In order to facilitate their work they brought cables, pullies, and other tackle including six great anchors. On arrival at its destination in the Strand the two halves of the maypole were joined together and bound with supportive iron bands. It was topped with a purple streamer and around its middle was suspended a decorative hoop, like a balcony, on which was supported four crowns and the royal coat of arms. Then with the King and Prince James looking on, and amid sounds of trumpets and drums and loud cheers from the surrounding crowds, the maypole was slowly raised. It took the sailors 4 hours to fully elevate it upright and fix it into a socket on the ground where, or close to where, the previous maypole was remembered to have stood. Then amongst much celebration a party of Morris dancers, wearing purple scarfs and half-shirts, came forward commenced to dance around the maypole to the sound of a tabor and pipe (9).

The only contemporary images of the maypole, standing at its full height, are known from five separate issues of contemporary tradesmen’s tokens. Two of these are illustrated below.

Two tradesman's tokens of the mid-1660s depicting the maypole in the Strand, Erstminster. The token on the right shows a sugar loaf and three pepper corns possibly indicating its issyer was a grocer.

Two tradesman’s tokens of the mid-1660s depicting the maypole in the Strand, Westminster. The domed roof building shown in the token on the left is possibly the Strand Conduit House. The sugar loaf and three pepper corns shown either side of the maypole depicted in the right hand side token possibly indicating its issyer was a grocer as such were synonymous with this trade.

The author is of the opinion that the small building shown adjacent to the maypole on the first of these tokens is a conduit house. Accounts of such a stone building, erected over a spring, are recorded adjacent to the site of the maypole. For some time the fresh water from this spring was used to supply the local neighbourhood. By the time of Strype’s Survey of London and Westminster was published in 1720 the conduit house and spring were no longer in use (10). Contemporary with the maypole in this part of the Strand was also a pillory along with a Watchhouse which Strype confirm stood adjacent to the Conduit House (11).

This maypole erected in 1661 continued to be the site of May Day celebrations in the Strand for some 52 years until the second half of 1713 when due to general decay and a large amount of storm damage, incurred in 1672 (12) , it was taken down (13) . According to Strype only a mere 20 foot tall stump of the pole then remained (14). Following the maypole’s removal the site was cleared in preparation for the laying of the foundations of the church of St. Mary le Strand.

However, that wasn’t the final chapter in history of the maypole in the Strand. On 4th July 1713 amongst great joy and festivity a third maypole was erected on a site close by, slightly to the west of the previous location and adjacent to Somerset House. In much later times this site is said to have been marked by a water fountain (15) .

A contemporary print depicting a procession of the Houses of Parliament and Queen Anne along the Strand between Exeter Exchange and the maypole on 7th July 1713.

A contemporary print depicting a procession of the Houses of Parliament and Queen Anne along the Strand between Exeter Exchange and the maypole on 7th July 1713.

While it is uncertain it is probably the third of the Strand maypoles that is depicted in the above print by George Vertue. This depicts a procession of the Houses of Parliament and Queen Anne along the Strand between Exeter Exchange and the maypole on the way to a peace celebration in St. Paul’s Cathedral on 7th July 1713. The back drop to this view is the north side of the Strand, punctuated by the southern terminus of Catherine Street plus an array nearly 4,000 Charity School children seated on specially arranged temporary board seating (16).

Detail of the maypole in the Strand from a print by George Vertue showing a procession in the Strand on 4th July 1713.

Detail of the maypole in the Strand from a print by George Vertue showing a procession in the Strand on 4th July 1713.

This third maypole in the Strand had only a short existence. By 1717 it had been taken down so ending an era (Note 3).


1) The London lobsters, Haselrig’s Lobsters or just Lobsters was the name given to the cavalry unit raised and led by Sir Arthur Haselrig, a leading Parliamentarian who fought in the English Civil War (17). The unit received its name because, unusually for the time, they were cuirassiers, wearing extensive armour that covered most of their upper body making them resemble lobsters. Only two cuirassier regiments were raised during the English Civil War, the other being the Lifeguard of the Earl of Essex. Full armour had largely been abandoned at this time, with cuirasses and helmets only worn by some cavalry commanders and pike units. The armour of a cuirassier was very expensive. In England, in 1629, a cuirassier’s equipment cost £4 10s, whilst that worn by a lighter cavalryman was a mere £1 6s (18). The Lobsters were probably the last unit to fight on English soil in near full armour, and one of the last in Europe.

2) John Clarges (born c.1590s) started his working life as a blacksmith and farrier at the Savoy, Westminster. In the second half of the 1610s he married Anne Leaver. The couple went on to have two children, Thomas and Anne (or Nan). Thomas became an apothecary while Anne became a milliner and seamstress. Some sources record both John and his wife dying in 1648. However, this isn’t confirmed and does not fit with additional references to John being one of the pre-eminent parishioners responsible for commissioning the second maypole in the Strand in 1661. So how did a lowly blacksmith come into such good fortunes and become largely responsible for commissioning such a famous restoration period London landmark? The answer starts several years earlier with John’s daughter Anne having the good fortune to becoming the wife (1652) of none other than General George Monk, 1st Duke of Albemarle, one of the leading architects of the restoration of King Charles II in 1660.

A contemporary print of the Ducke and Dutchess of Albermarle - George Monk & Anne Monk (nee Clarges).

A contemporary print of the Ducke and Dutchess of Albermarle – George Monk & Anne Monk (nee Clarges).

In 1644 Colonel George Monk, then head of the royalist forces in Ireland, was captured by Parliament and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Here he languished until November 1646 when, after the defeat of the Royalists in England, he took an oath of loyalty to Parliament and was released for service in Ireland. In 1647, he was appointed commander of Parliament’s forces in Ulster. Under the Commonwealth he went on to serve as a General-at-Sea in the 1st Anglo-Dutch War. He also served further in the army eventually becoming head of the Parliamentary forces in Scotland. By December 1659 he was arguably one of the most powerful men in the Kingdom being head of the army in both Scotland and England.

During his time in imprisonment Monk was regularly visited by Anne Clarges who it appears had secured a contract to supply clean linen to several of the wealthier prisoners in the Tower in addition to providing her services as a seamstress. By this time Anne had married Thomas Ratford and ran a shop at the sign of the Three Gypsies in the New Exchange off the Strand. According to John Aubrey (19) Anne was kind to the Monk during his imprisonment in a double capacity, eventually becoming his mistress. Despite her low social status, plain looks and at times coarse behaviour, Monk became increasing fond and reliant on Anne, even once released from the Tower. He continued to stand by her when she eventually became pregnant by him. After the separation and alleged death of Anne’s first husband she and the now General George Monk were married in Southwark in January 1652/3. This officially opened the doors of high society to Anne along with many new opportunities for her and her family. Despite Anne’s new elevated status she seemingly never lost her ill manners and was inclined to violent outbursts of rage and coarse language even when in the company of refined society. Despite having an apparent happy marriage it is thought that George was unquestionably afraid of Anne and that she considerably influenced and manipulated him in order to best promote their fortunes and public standing. It was no doubt through Anne’s influence that her brother Thomas Clarges became closely associated with Monk, initially as a physician to the army and later as Monk’s agent in London. This allowed him to move in elevated social circles and by 1656 he himself had become a member of parliament. Thomas’s future association with power and the nobility was secured in May 1660 when he was commissioned by Monk and Parliament to convey to the exiled Charles II the formal invitation to return to England and take up the throne. On presenting Charles with this communication the king knighted him on the spot. Thereafter Thomas’ future success in life, and those of his family, appears to have been secured.

On his return to England, in recognition of his services as a leading architect of his restoration, Charles II raised Monk to the rank of Lieutenant-General of the armed forces and elevated him to the peerage bestowing several honours and titles on him including that of 1st Duke of Albemarle. This meant that Anne was now a Duchess and a member of the court.

The naval administrator Samuel Pepys mentions Anne and Thomas Clarges several times in his famous diary. He generally speaks of Anne in a fairly derogatory fashion and on one occasion describes her as a “plain homely dowdy”.

The memorial to George and Anne Monk plus their third son Nicholas (Westminster Abbey).

The memorial to George and Anne Monk plus their third son Nicholas (Westminster Abbey).

George Monk died 3rd January 1669/70 but the funeral did not take place until 30th April as the King Charles II offered, but failed, to pay the expenses. Anne Monck died soon after her husband on 29th January 1670. The couples were interred in a vault in the north aisle of Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey.

3) After the final maypole in the Strand had been taken down it was purchased from the parish by Isaac Newton in 1717. In April 1718 it was subsequently sent by Newton to his friend the astronomer Rev. James Pound of Wanstead in Essex (20). Pound used the pole as a means of mounting a large lens (with a focal length of 123 feet) lent to him by the Royal Society. This lens, and its associated mountings and remotely held eye piece etc., formed part of an aerial telescope of the type crafted and designed by the Huygens brothers (Christiaan and Constantine) of Holland. The apparatus was gifted to the Royal Society by Constantine Huygens in 1691 (21) but had not been experimented with up until then owing to the difficulties associated with mounting its lens off a high fixed structure. Previous to James Pound experiments with the aerial telescope the Society had requested both Robert Hooke and Edmond Halley to investigate using the high scaffolding associated with the construction of the new St. Paul Cathedral as a possible means for supporting its lens. Such plans appear not to have come to fruition (22).

Huygens' aerial or tubeless compound rtpe telescope from a print of 1684.

Huygens’ aerial or tubeless compound type telescope from a print of 1684.

Despite the telescopes various operating challenges Pound appears to have put it to good use. By 1719 he had made measurements using the telescope that also allowed him to develop an equation for the transmission of light. Further of his observations using the telescope allowed Halley to correct his predictions of the movements of Saturn’s moons. Other of Pound’s measurements relating to Jupiter, Saturn and their satellites were employed by Newton in the third edition of the Principia. Some decades later Pierre-Simon Laplace also used Pound’s observations of the movements of Jupiter’s satellites to calculation the planet’s mass (23).


1) Lillywhite, B. – London Signs: A Reference Book of London Signs from Earliest Times to the Mid Nineteenth Century. (London, 1972).

2) Ibid.

3) Webb, C. – London Livery Company Apprenticeship Registers, Ironmongers’ Company 1655-1800. Volume 24. (Society of Genealogists. 1999).

4) Aubrey, J. Edited by Barber, R. – Brief Lives: A Modern English Version. (Woodbridge, 1982).

5) Thornbury, W. & Walford, E. – Old and New London: Volume 3 (London, 1878).

6) Richardson, J. – The Annals of London: A Year-by-year Record of a Thousand Years of History. (University of California Press, 2000).

7) Ibid 5.

8) Ibid 4. Foot note. Page 206.

9) Wheatley, H. B. – London Past and Present: Its History, Associations and Traditions. Volume II. (Cambridge University Press, 1891).

10) Strype, J. – A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster. (London, 1720).

11) Ibid 10.

12) Ibid 4.

13) Ibid 9.

14) Ibid 10.

15) Ibid 9.

16) Diprose, J. – Some Account of the Parish of St. Clement Danes (Westminster): Past and Present. (London, 1868).

17) Bennett, M. – Historical Dictionary of the British and Irish Civil Wars, 1637-1660. (Abingdon, 2000).

18) Haythornthwaite, P. – The English Civil War: An Illustrated History. (Blandford Press, 1983).

19) Ibid 4.

20) Ibid 9.

21) Jungnickel, C. & McCormmach, R. – Cavendish. (Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, 1996).

22) King, H. – The History of the Telescope. (2003).

23) Hockey, T.; Trimble, V. & Williams, T. Editors – Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. Entry for James Pound. (2007).


Filed under Tokens from West of the City Walls