Old and New London: Volume 6. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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SOUTHWARK (continued).—FAMOUS INNS OF OLDEN TIMES.
"Chaucer, the Druid-priest of poetry,
First taught our muse to speak the mystic lore,
And woke the soul to heavenly minstrelsy,
Which Echo on the wind delightful bore."
Old Inns mentioned by Stow—The "Tabard"—The Abbot of Hide—The "Tabard" as the Rendezvous for Pilgrims—Henry Bailly, the Hosteller of the "Tabard," and M.P. for Southwark—Description of the old "Tabard'—Change of Name from the "Tabard" to the "Talbot"—Demolition of the old Inn—Chaucer and the Canterbury Pilgrims—Characters mentioned by Chaucer in the "Canterbury Tales"—Stow's Definition of "Tabard"—The "George"—The "White Hart"—Jack Cade's sojourn here—The "Boar's Head'—The "White Lion"—"Henry VIII." a Favourite Sign—The "Three Brushes"—The "Catherine Wheel"—The "Three Widows"—The "Old Pick my Toe"—Tokens of Inn-keepers.
It was probably on account of its proximity to one of our earliest theatres (the Globe), as well as on account of its being on the great southern thoroughfare, that the High Street of Southwark came to abound to such an extent with inns and hostelries. In bygone days it is probable that these inns were still more numerous, as all traffic from the south and south-west of England must have entered London by that route at a time when old London Bridge was the only entrance into the City for traffic and travellers from the south of the Thames.
We have historic proof that the borough of Southwark—and more especially the High Street—has been for ages celebrated for its inns. Stow, in his "Survey," published at the close of the sixteenth century, says:—"From thence [the Marshalsea] towards London Bridge, on the same side, be many fair inns for receipt of travellers, by these signs: the Spurre, Christopher, Bull, Queen's Head, Tabard, George, Hart, King's Head," &c. Of these inns mentioned by the old chronicler, some few remain to this day; whilst most of the buildings surrounding the old-fashioned yards have been converted into warehouses or booking-offices for the goods department of different railway companies, &c.
First and foremost of these ancient hostelries, and one which retained most of its ancient features down to a comparatively recent date, was the "Tabard Inn," renowned by Chaucer as the rendezvous of the Canterbury Pilgrims, five hundred years ago. Its name, however, had become changed for that of the "Talbot." It stood on the east side of the street, about midway between St. George's Church and London Bridge, and nearly opposite the site of the old Town Hall. The first foundation of this inn would appear to be due to the Abbots of Hyde, or Hide, near Winchester, who, at a time when the Bishops of Winchester had a palace near St. Saviour's Church, fixed their residence in this immediate neighbourhood. The land on which the old "Tabarde" stood was purchased by the Abbot of Hyde in the year 1307, and he built on it not only a hostel for himself and his brethren, but also an inn for the accommodation of the numerous pilgrims resorting to the shrine of "St. Thomas of Canterbury" from the south and west of England, just at the point where the roads from Sussex, Surrey, and Hampshire met that which was known as the "Pilgrims' Way." There can be no doubt that by the end of the fourteenth century the "Tabard" was already one of the inns most frequented by "Canterbury Pilgrims," or else Chaucer would scarcely have introduced it to us in that character.
The Abbey of Hide was founded by Alfred
the Great, and the monks were Saxon to the backbone. When the Conqueror landed at Pevensey,
the abbot and twelve stout monks buckled on
their armour, and with twenty armed men hurried
to join Harold. Not one returned from the fatal
field of Hastings. Abbot, monks, and men-at-arms
all lay dead upon the field; and Norman William
never forgave their patriotic valour, but avenged it
by taking from the abbey twelve knights' fees and
a captain's portion—that is, twelve times the amount
of land necessary to support a man-at-arms and a
baron's fief. Chaucer must have known this history,
and his honest English heart must have glowed
with the remembrance as he sat in the old hall of
the town residence of the successors of the brave
Abbot of Hide. Here it was that the genial poet
and the nine-and-twenty pilgrims met, and agreed
to enliven their pilgrimage to the shrine of St.
Thomas à Becket, at Canterbury, by reciting tales
to shorten the way. Macaulay says, "It was a
national as well as religious feeling that drew multitudes to the shrine of à Becket, the first Englishman who, since the Conquest, had been terrible to
the foreign tyrants." The date of the Canterbury
Pilgrimage is generally supposed to have been the
year 1383; and Chaucer, after describing the
season of spring, writes:—
"Befelle that in that season, on a day,
In Southwerk, at the Tabard as I lay,
Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Canterbury, with devoute courage,
At night was come into that hostelrie
Well nine-and-twenty in a compagnie
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felawship; and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Canterbury wolden ride,
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we weren esed atte beste,
And shortly, when the sonne was gone to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everich on
That I was of hir felawship anon,
And I made forword erly for to rise,
And take oure way ther as I you devise."
The "Tabard" is again mentioned in the following lines:—
"In Southwerk at this gentil hostelrie,
That highte the Tabard, faste by the Belle."
John Timbs, in an account of this inn, in the City Press, says:—"Henry Bailly, the host of the 'Tabard,' was not improbably a descendant of Henry Tite or Martin, of the borough of Southwark, to whom King Henry III., in the fifteenth year of his reign, at the instance of William de la Zouch, granted the customs of the town of Southwark during the king's pleasure, he paying to the Exchequer the annual fee and farm rent of £10 for the same. By that grant Henry Tite or Martin was constituted bailiff of Southwark, and he would, therefore, acquire the name of Henry the bailiff, or Le Bailly. But be this as it may, it is a fact on record, that Henry Bailly, the hosteller of the 'Tabard,' was one of the burgesses who represented the borough of Southwark in the Parliament held at Westminster, in the fiftieth Edward III., A.D. 1376; and he was again returned to the Parliament held at Gloucester in the second of Richard II., A.D. 1378." We have already mentioned him in the previous chapter. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the "Tabard" and the abbot's house were sold by Henry VIII. to John Master and Thomas Master; and the particulars of the grant in the Augmentation Office afford description of the hostelry called "the Tabard of the Monastery of Hyde, and the Abbots' place, with the stables, and garden thereunto belonging."
The original "Tabard" was in existence as late
as the year 1602; it was an ancient timber house,
accounted to be as old as Chaucer's time. No
part of it, however, as it appeared at the time of
its demolition in 1874, was of the age of Chaucer;
but a good deal dated from the time of Queen
Elizabeth, when Master J. Preston newly repaired
it. "The most interesting portion was a stonecoloured wooden gallery, in front of which was
a picture of the Canterbury Pilgrimage, said to
have been painted by Blake. The figures of the
pilgrims were copied from the celebrated print by
Stothard. Immediately behind was the chamber
known as the pilgrims' room, but only a portion of
the ancient hall. The gallery formerly extended
throughout the inn-buildings. The inn facing the
street was burnt in the great fire of 1676." Dryden
says, "I see all the pilgrims in the Canterbury
tales, their humour, with their features and their
very dress, as distinctly as if I had supper with
them at the 'Tabard,' in Southwark." A company
of gentlemen assembled at the inn, in 1833, to
commemorate the natal day of Chaucer, and it was
proposed annually to meet in honour of the venerable poet, whose works Spenser characterises as
"The well of English undefield,
On Fame's eternal beadroll worthy to be filed."
But the idea, if ever seriously entertained, was soon abandoned.
The house was repaired in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and from that period probably dated the fireplace, carved oak panels, and other portions spared by the fire of 1676, which were still to be seen in the beginning of the present century. In this fire, of which we have already had occasion to speak, some six hundred houses had to be destroyed in order to arrest the progress of the flames; and as the "Tabard" stood nearly in the centre of this area, and was mostly built of wood, there can be little doubt that the old inn perished. It was, however, soon rebuilt, and as nearly as possible on the same spot; and although, through the ignorance of the landlord or tenant, or both, it was for a time called, not the "Tabard," but the "Talbot," there can be no doubt that the inn, as it remained down till recently, with its quaint old timber galleries, and not less quaint old chambers, was the immediate successor of the inn and hostelry commemorated by our great poet.
In Urry's edition of Chaucer, published in 1721, there is a view of the "Tabard" as it then stood, the yard apparently opening upon the street. Down to about the close of the year 1873 the entrance to the inn-yard was under an old and picturesque gateway; this, however, has been removed altogether, and in its place, on our left hand, a new public-house, approaching the ginpalace in its flaunting appearance, has been erected, and, as if in mockery, it has assumed the name of the "Old Tabard." The buildings in the inn-yard, as they remained down to the period above mentioned, consisted of a large and spacious wooden structure, with a high tiled roof, the ground floor of which had been for many years occupied as a luggage office, and a place of call for carmen and railway vans. This was all that remained of the structure erected in the reign of Charles II., out of the old materials after the fire. The upper part of it once was one large apartment, but it had been so much cut up and subdivided from time to time to adapt it to the purpose of modern bed-rooms that it presented in the end but few features of interest.
There was an exterior gallery, also of wood, on
the left, which, with the rooms behind it, have
been levelled with the ground, in order to make
room for a new pile of warehouses. The rooms,
dull, heavy, dingy apartments as they were, are
said by tradition to have occupied the actual site,
or rather to have been carved out of the ancient
hall, the room of public entertainment of the
hostelry, or, as it was popularly called, "The
Pilgrims' Room;" and here it is conjectured
Chaucer's pilgrims—if that particular Canterbury
pilgrimage was a reality, and not a creation of the
poet's brain—spent the evening before wending
their way along the Old Kent Road towards the
shrine of St. Thomas à Becket—
"The holy blissful martyr for to seeke."
From this old court-yard, then, actually rode forth the company that lives and moves for ever in Chaucer's poetry, or, at any rate, many a company of which the "Canterbury Tales" present a life-like copy. In that room lay the seemly prioress and her nuns; here the knight, with the "yong Squier" sharing his chamber, and waiting dutifully upon his needs; that staircase the burly monk made re-echo and quake with his heavy tread; and here, leaning upon the balustrade-work, the friar and the sompour (summoner or attorney) had many a sharp passage of arms.
Mr. Corner, who has left the best account (fn. 1) of the old Southwark inn, was of opinion, from personal examination, that there was nothing at all in the remains of the "Tabard," as they existed at the time of its demolition, earlier than the Southwark fire of 1676, after which was built the "Pilgrims' Hall," the fireplaces of which were of this date. The Rev. John Ward, in his "Diary," remarks that "the fire began at one Mr. Welsh's, an oilman, near St. Margaret's Hill, betwixt the 'George' and 'Talbot' inns, as Bedloe (the Jesuit) in his narrative relates."
The sign was ignorantly changed from the "Tabard" to the "Talbot"—an old name for a dog—about the year 1676, and Betterton describes it under its new name in his modernised version of Geoffrey Chaucer's prologue. On the beam of the gateway facing the street was formerly inscribed, "This is the inn where Sir Jeffry Chaucer and the nine-and-twenty pilgrims lay in their journey to Canterbury, anno 1383." This was painted out in 1831; it was originally inscribed upon a beam across the road, whence swung the sign; but the beam was removed in 1763, as interfering with the traffic.
In Urry's view the several wooden buildings are shown. The writing of the inscription over the sign seemed ancient; yet Tyrwhitt is of opinion that it was not older than the seventeenth century, since Speght, who describes the "Tabard" in his edition of Chaucer, published in 1602, does not mention it. Probably it was put up after the fire of 1676, when the "Tabard" had changed its name into the "Talbot."
The sign in reality was changed in 1673, when the signs of London were taken down, "and when," says Aubrey, "the ignorant landlord or tenant, instead of the ancient sign of the Tabard, put up the Talbot, or dog." Aubrey tells us further that before the fire it was an old timber house, "probably coeval with Chaucer's time." It was "probably this old part, facing the street, that was burnt.
"Chaucer has often been named as 'the well of English underfiled;' but from a general review of all his works," writes Dr. Johnson, in his "Lives of the Poets," "it will appear that he entertained a very mean opinion of his native language, and of the poets who employed it, and that, during a great part of his life, he was incessantly occupied in translating the works of the French, Italian, and Latin poets. His 'Romaunt of the Rose' is a professed translation from William de Lorris and Jean de Meun; the long and beautiful romance of 'Troilus and Cressida' is principally translated from Boccaccio's Filostrato; the 'Legend of Good Women' is a free translation from Ovid's Epistles, combined with the histories of his heroines, derived from various chronicles. The 'House of Fame' is a similar compilation; and 'Palamon and Arcite' is known to be an imitation of the 'Theseide' of Boccaccio. On the whole, it may be doubted whether he thought himself sufficiently qualified to undertake an original work till he was past sixty years of age, at which time . … he formed and began to execute the plan of his 'Canterbury Tales.'"
This elaborate work—the scene of which is laid in the guest-chamber and in the court-yard of the "Tabard"—was intended to contain a sketch of all the characters of society in his time. These were to be sketched out in an introductory prologue, to be contrasted by characteristic dialogues, and probably to be engaged in incidents which should further develop their characters and dispositions; and as stories were absolutely necessary in every popular work, an appropriate tale was to be put into the mouth of each of the pilgrims. It is not extraordinary that the remainder of Chaucer's life should not have been sufficient for the completion of so ambitious a plan. What he has actually executed can be regarded only as a fragment of a larger whole; but, imperfect as it is, it contains more information respecting the manners and customs of the fourteenth century than could be gleaned from the whole mass of contemporary writers, English and foreign. "Chaucer's vein of humour," remarks Warton, "although conspicuous in the 'Canterbury Tales,' is chiefly displayed in the characters, described in the Prologue, with which they are introduced. In these his knowledge of the world availed him in a peculiar degree, and enabled him to give such an accurate picture of ancient manners as no contemporary nation has transmitted to posterity. It is here that we view the pursuits and employments, the customs and diversions, of our ancestors, copied from the life, and represented with equal truth and spirit by a judge of mankind whose penetration qualified him to discern their foibles and discriminating peculiarities, and by an artist who understood that proper selection of circumstances and those predominant characteristics which form a finished portrait. We are surprised to find, in an age so gross and ignorant, such talent for satire and for observation on life—qualities which usually exert themselves in more civilised periods, when the improved state of society, by . … establishing uniform modes of behaviour, disposes mankind to study themselves, and renders deviations of conduct and singularities of character more immediately and more necessarily the objects of censure and ridicule. These curious and valuable remains are specimens of Chaucer's native genius, unassisted and unalloyed. The figures are all British, and bear no suspicious signatures of classical, Italian, or French imitation." In fact, in his "Canterbury Tales" Chaucer is at his best, and those Canterbury tales belong especially to the street and house of which we are now treating.
It may not be out of place here to give a brief outline of the plan of the immortal work which, as long as the English language lasts, will stand connected with the hostelry of the "Tabard." The framework of the "Canterbury Tales," it need hardly be said, embraces a rich collection of legends and narratives of various characters. The plot may have been suggested by the "Decameron" of Boccaccio, but that is all; for, instead of adopting the tame and frigid device of assembling a bevy of Florentine youths and maidens, who tell and listen to amorous tales, with no coherence or connection, Chaucer has sketched in bold and sharp outlines life-like pictures of the manners and social condition of his age, and has made his figures stand picturesquely forth, as types of the several classes which they represent.
"Who has not heard," asks Dr. Pauli, in his "Pictures of Old England," "of the far-famed sanctuary of Canterbury, where rested the bones of the archbishop, Thomas Becket, who bravely met his death to uphold the cause of the Roman Church, and who, venerated as the national saint of England, became renowned as a martyr and worker of miracles? To that sanctuary, year by year, and especially in the spring months, crowds of devout pilgrims flocked from every part of the Christian world; and although such pilgrimages were no doubt often undertaken from the most laudable motives, it is certain that even in the fourteenth century they had become, among the great masses of the people, too often a pretext for diversion . … It was such a pilgrimage as this that Chaucer took for the framework of his great poem; and, as a Kentish man, he was probably able to describe from experience and personal observation all that occurred on an occasion of this kind. The prologue, which is of extraordinary length, begins with a short description of spring, when nature begins to rejoice, and men from every part of the land seek the 'blissful martyr's' tomb at Canterbury. At such a season—and some writers have calculated that Chaucer refers to the 27th of April, 1383—the poet was staying, with this purpose in view, at the 'Tabard,' where pilgrims were wont to assemble, and where they found good accommodation for themselves and their horses before they set forth on their way, travelling together, no doubt, at once for companionship and for mutual protection. Towards evening, when the host's room was filled, Chaucer had already made acquaintance with most of the guests, who were of all conditions and ranks. The twenty-nine persons who composed the party are each introduced to us with the most individual and life-like colouring. A knight most appropriately heads the list. For years his life has been spent either in the field or in the Crusades; for he was present when Alexandria was taken, and helped the Teutonic knights in Prussia against the Russians, fought with the Moors in Granada, with the Arabs in Africa, and with the Turks in Asia. One may see by his dress that he seldom doffs his armour; but, however little attention he pays to externals, his careful mode of speech, and his meek and Christian-like deportment, betray the true and gentle knight. He is accompanied by his son, a slim, light-haired, curlyheaded youth of twenty, the perfect young squire of his day, who is elegantly and even foppishly dressed. He has already made a campaign against the French, and on that occasion, as well as in the tourney, he has borne him well, in the hopes of gaining his lady's grace. Love deprives him of his sleep; and, like the nightingale, he is overflowing with songs to his beloved; yet he does not fail, with lowly service, to carve before his father at table. In attendance on him is a yeoman, probably one of his father's many tenants, who, clad in green, with sword and buckler, his bow in his hand, and his arrows and dagger in his belt, represents, with his sunburnt face, that has grown brown among woods and fields, the stalwart race who won for the Plantagenets the victories of Crecy, of Poitiers, and Agincourt.
"In contrast with this group appears a daughter of the Church, Madame Eglantine, (fn. 2) a prioress of noble birth, as her delicate physiognomy, and the nicety with which she eats and drinks, testify plainly. With a sweet but somewhat nasal tone, she chants the Liturgy, or parts of it; she speaks French, too, by preference, but it is the French, not of Paris, but of 'Stratford atte Bow.' She would weep if they showed her a mouse in a trap, or if they smote her little dog with a rod. A gold brooch, ornamented with the letter A, encircled with a crown, bearing the inscription Amor vincit omnia, hangs from her string of coral beads. Next to her comes a portly monk of the Benedictine order, whose crown and cheeks are as smooth as glass, and whose eyes shine like burning coals. He, too, is elegantly dressed, for the sleeves of his robe are trimmed with the finest fur, while a golden love-knot pin holds his hood together. Clear is the sound of the bells on his bridle, for he knows well how to sit his horse; whilst hare-hunting and a feast on a fat swan are more to him than the rule of St. Benedict and the holy books in his cell. A worthy pendant to this stately figure is the Mendicant Friar, whose ready familiarity and good humour make him the friend of the country-folks, and the favourite Father Confessor. No one understands better than he how to collect alms for his cloister; for he knows how to please the women with timely gifts of needles and knives, whilst he treats the men in the taverns, in which he always knows where to find the best cheer. He lisps his English with affected sweetness; and when he sings to his harp his eyes twinkle like the stars on a frosty night.
"The next in order is a merchant, with his forked beard, his Flemish beaver, and his wellclasped boots. He knows the money-exchange on both sides of the Channel, and best of all does he understand how to secure his own interest. Then follow a couple of learned men. First comes the Clerk of Oxenford (Oxford), hollowed-cheeked, and lean as the horse on which he rides, and with threadbare coat, for he has not yet secured a benefice; but his books are his whole joy, and chief among them is his Aristotle. He knows no greater joy than learning and teaching; yet he shrinks back modestly and timidly, and nowhere pushes himself forward. The other is a widelyknown Serjeant of the Law, who has at his fingers' ends the whole confused mass of all the laws and statutes from the days of William the Conqueror to his own times, and knows admirably also how to apply his learning practically. Although his heavy fees and rich perquisites make him a rich man, he goes forth on his pilgrimage dressed in a plain and homely fashion. Next follows a Franklyn, who is described as the owner of a freehold estate, and as a man of note in his country, as having already served as knight of the shire, and also as sheriff. There is no stint of good eating and drinking in his house; for the dishes on his board come as thick and close as flakes of snow, each in its turn, according to the season of the year.
"The working classes are represented by a haberdasher, a carpenter, a weaver, a dyer, and a tap'ster, honest industrious folk, each clad in the dress that appertains to his order, and wearing the badge of his guild. They have all interest and money enough to make aldermen at some future time; and their wives would gladly hear themselves greeted as 'madame,' and would fain go to church in long and flowing mantles. With these are associated a cook, who is master of all the delicacies of his art, but who is not the less able on that account to relish a cup of London ale. The 'shipman,' of course, could not be absent from such a gathering; and here we see him as he comes from the west country, sunburnt, and clad in the dress of his class, equally prepared to quaff a draught of the fine Burgundy that he is bringing home while the master of the ship slumbers in his cabin, or to join in a sea-fight against the foes of his native land. He has visited every shore, from Gothland to Cape Finisterre, and he knows every harbour and bay in his course. The doctor of physic, too, is well versed in all the branches of his art; for, in addition to the skilful practice of his profession, he has systematically studied both astronomy and the science of the horoscope, and is familiar with all the learned writers of Greece and Arabia. He dresses carefully, and smartly; but he knows how to keep the treasures which he amassed during the prevalence of the 'black death.'
"Next follows a Wife of Bath, rich and comely, who especially attracts the poet's attention, and who is more communicative in regard to her own affairs than any one else in the company. She wears clothing of the finest stuffs, a broad hat with a new-fashioned head-attire, red and tight-fitting stockings, and a pair of sharp spurs on her heels. She is already well advanced in years, has been three times to Jerusalem, and has seen Rome and Bologna, Compostella, and Cologne. Her round, fair, reddish face looks a little bold, and shows that after her many experiences of life it would not be easy to put her out of countenance. She relates to her fellow-travellers, with the most edifying frankness, that she has been married five times, and that, therefore, independently of other considerations, she is entitled to say a word or two about love. She tells them how in her young and giddy days she beguiled and deluded her first three husbands, who were old but rich; and she does not even withhold from them the narration of some sharp 'curtain-lectures.' Her fourth marriage terminated, she tells them, in both parties taking their own way; but her last husband, although he is only twenty years old, has studied at Oxford, and is not to be drawn away from the perusal of a ponderous tome, in which are collected the injunctions of the Fathers of the Church to men to lead a life of celibacy, enriched by examples culled from ancient and modern times, of the manner in which wives are wont to circumvent their husbands. Once, when in her spite she tore some leaves out of this book, she says that he beat her so hard that ever since she has been deaf in one ear, but that since they have got on admirably together. In opposition to this dame, who forms one of the most important links of connection between the different members of the miscellaneous circle, we have another admirably-drawn character, a poor Parson, the son of humble but honest parents, who, notwithstanding his scanty benefice, is ever contented, even when his tithes fall short, and who never fails, even in the worst of weather, to sally forth, staff in hand, in order to visit the sick members of his flock. He is always ready to comfort and aid the needy; and undismayed by the pride of the rich and great, faithfully and honestly proclaims the word of the Lord in his teaching. The Parson is accompanied by his brother, a hard-working, honest, and pious ploughman; and thus the two are brought forward as belonging to that class which was bound to the soil which it tilled.
"Before the poet leaves this rank of the social scale, he brings before us also several other prominent characters belonging to the people of his day. There is the miller, a stout churl, bony and strong, with a hard head, a fox-red beard, and a wide mouth. He was not over-scrupulous in appropriating to himself some of the corn which his customers brought to his mill. Over his white coat and blue hood he carried a bag-pipe, and we fear it must be added, that his talk was of a wanton kind. Next comes the Manciple of a religious house, who is connected with at least thirty lawyers, and knows how to make his own profits whilst he is buying for his masters. The Reeve of a Norfolk lord, a man as lean as a rake, shaven and choleric, appears dressed in a blue coat, riding a grey horse. In his youth he had been a carpenter; but no one knows better than he how to judge of the yielding of the seed, or of the promise of the cattle. Nobody could well call him to account, for his books are always in the best order, and he and his master are in good accord. The Summoner of an archdeacon, with a fiery-red face, which no apothecary's art can cool down, is appropriately described as one of the lowest and least reputable of the company. Lustful and gluttonous, he cares most of all for his wine; and when he is 'half seas over,' he speaks nothing but bad Latin, having picked up some scraps of that tongue in attendance in the Courts. His rival in viciousness is a Pardoner, who has come straight from the Court of Rome. His hair is as yellow as flax, and he carries in his wallet a handful of relics, by the sale of which he gets more money in a day than the Parson can make in two months."
Such are the troop of worthy, and some perhaps rather unworthy, guests who assembled in the ancient hostelry a little less than five hundred years ago, and whom the host, Harry Baily, right gladly welcomes in his guesten-room, with the best cheer that the "Tabard" can supply. Whilst the wine is passing round among the company, he proposes, with a boldness often to be seen in men of his craft, to join them on the morrow in their pilgrimage; but takes the liberty of suggesting first that it would be a good means of shortening the way between London and Canterbury, if each pilgrim were to tell one tale going and returning also, and that the one who should tell the best tale should have a supper at the inn at the expense of the rest upon their safe return. Next, without more ado, he offers himself to act as judge of the performances; and his proposition meets with general approval. The company then retire to rest, and the next morning, when the sun is up and the day is fine, they mount their horses at the door of the "Tabard," and, turning their backs on London, take the road into Kent. The plan of our work will not allow us to follow them beyond St. George's Church, where they branch to the left along the Old Kent Road, towards Blackheath and Rochester, and so on to Becket's shrine. It only remains to add that the poet did not live to complete even half of his projected poem, which breaks off somewhat abruptly before the pilgrims actually enter Canterbury, and hence, to our lasting regret, we lose the expected pleasure of a graphic description of their sayings and doings in that city, and of their promised feast upon returning to Southwark. With the tale, or rather discourse, of the Parson, Chaucer brings his pilgrims to Canterbury; "but," observes Mr. T. Wright, "his original plan evidently included the journey back to London. Some writer, within a few years after Chaucer's death, undertook to continue the work, and produced a ludicrous account of the proceedings of the pilgrims at Canterbury, and the story of Beryn, which was to be the first of the stories told on their return. These are printed by Urry, from a manuscript, to which, however, he is anything but faithful."
As regards the name of the inn now under notice, Stow says of the "Tabard" that "it was so called of a jacket, or sleeveless coat, whole before, open on both sides, with a square collar, winged at the shoulders. A stately garment of old time, commonly worn of noblemen and others, both at home and abroad in the wars; but then (to wit, in the wars) with their arms embroidered depicted upon them, that every man by his coat of arms might be known from others. But now these tabards are only worn by the heralds, and be called their coats of arms in service." The name of the dress is, or was till very lately, kept in remembrance by the Tabarders, as certain scholars or exhibitioners are termed at Queen's College, Oxford. It may be added that the name of the author of the "Canterbury Tales" will still be kept in remembrance in Southwark by the "Chaucer" lodge of Freemasons which has been instituted at the "Bridge House Tavern."
In the middle of the last century, the "Tabard" (or Talbot) appears to have become a great inn for carriers and for posting, and a well-known place of accommodation for visitors to London from distant parts of the country. Mr. Thomas Wright, F.S.A., remarks, "When my grandfather visited London towards the close of the reign of George II., or early in that of George III., he tells me in his 'Autobiography' that he and his companions took up their quarters as guests at the 'Talbot,' in Southwark."
Not far from the "Tabard" was another old inn called the "Bell," for Chaucer mentions "the gentil hostelrie that heighte the 'Tabard'" as being "faste by the 'Bell.'"
Among the historic inns of Southwark to which
we are introduced by Mr. John Timbs in his
"London and Westminster," is one called the
"George," which also stood near the "Tabard."
"This inn," says Mr. Timbs, "is mentioned by
Stow, and even earlier, in 1554, the thirty-fifth
year of King Henry VIII. Its name was then
the 'St. George.' There is no further trace of it
till the seventeenth century, when there are two
tokens issued from this inn. Mr. Burn quotes the
following lines from the Musarum Deliciæ, upon a
surfeit by drinking bad sack at the 'George Tavern,'
'Oh, would I might turn poet for an hour,
To satirise with a vindictive power
Against the drawer; or could I desire
Old Johnson's head had scalded in the five;
How would he rage, and bring Apollo down
To scold with Bacchus, and depose the clown
For his ill government, and so confute
Our poets, apes, that do so much impute
Unto the grape inspirement.'"
In the year 1670 the "George" was in great part burnt down and demolished by a fire which broke out in this neighbourhood, and it was totally consumed by the great fire of Southwark some six years later; the owner was at that time one John Sayer, and the tenant Mark Weyland. "The present 'George Inn,'" continues Mr. Timbs, "although built only in the seventeenth century, seems to have been rebuilt on the old plan, having open wooden galleries leading to the chambers on each side of the inn-yard. After the fire, the host, Mark Weyland, was succeeded by his widow, Mary Weyland; and she by William Golding, who was followed by Thomas Green, whose niece, Mrs. Frances Scholefield, and her then husband, became landlord and landlady in 1809. Mrs. Scholefield died at a great age in 1859. The property has since been purchased by the governors of Guy's Hospital.
"The 'George' is mentioned in the records relating to the 'Tabard,' to which it adjoins, in the reign of King Henry VIII., as the 'St. George Inn.' Two tokens of the seventeenth century, in the Beaufoy Collection at Guildhall Library, admirably catalogued and annotated by Mr. Burn, give the names of two landlords of the 'George' at that period—viz., 'Anthony Blake, tapster,' and 'James Gunter.'"
The "White Hart," on the same side of the
High Street, was, according to Hatton, the inn
which had the largest sign in London, save and
except the "Castle" in Fleet Street. This also is
one of the inns mentioned by Stow in his "Survey;"
but, as John Timbs tells us, it possesses a still
earlier celebrity, having been the head-quarters of
Jack Cade and his rebel rout during their brief
possession of London in 1450. Shakespeare, in
the Second Part of King Henry VI., makes a messenger enter in haste, and announce to the king—
"The rebels are in Southwark. Fly, my lord!
Jack Cade proclaims himself Lord Mortimer,
Descended from the Duke of Clarence' house,
And calls your grace usurper openly,
And vows to crown himself in Westminster."
And again, another messenger enters, and says—
"Jack Cade hath gotten London Bridge;
The citizens fly and forsake their houses."
Afterwards, Cade thus addresses his followers:—"Will you needs be hanged with your pardons about your necks? Hath my sword therefore broke through London gates, that you should leave me at the 'White Hart,' in Southwark?"
Fabyan, in his "Chronicles," has this entry:—"On July 1, 1450, Jack Cade arrived in Southwark, where he lodged at the 'Hart;' for he might not be suffered to enter the City." The following deed of violence committed by Cade's followers at this place is recorded in the "Chronicle of the Grey Friars:"—"At the Whyt Harte, in Southwarke, one Hawaydyne, of Sent Martyns, was beheddyd."
It is quite possible, however, that Shakespeare, and the historians who have been content to follow in his wake, have done injustice to the character of Cade, exaggerating his faults, and suppressing all notice of his virtues. As Mr. J. T. Smith remarks, in his work on "The Streets of London:"—"In an unhappy time, when the fields of England were strewed with dead, in the quarrels of contending factions, when the people had scarcely the shadow of a right, and were never thought of by the rulers of the land, except when they wanted folks to fight their battles, or when they needed money that could by any possibility be wrung or squeezed out of the population, this man, the despised Jack Cade, stood forward to plead the cause of the million. He made himself the voice of the people: he understood their grievances, and made a bold effort to redress them; and if that effort was a violent one, it was the fault of the age, rather than of the man. A list of the grievances complained of by Cade, preserved in Stow's 'Annals', gives a high opinion of his shrewdness and moderation, and makes him appear anything but the ignorant man it has been the fashion to represent him. The City of London was long in his favour, and its merchants supplied him, without murmur, with sufficient rations for his large army encamped on Blackheath." This fact would seem by itself sufficient to prove that he was not a vile republican and communist of the Parisian type.
Neither the house now bearing the sign of the "White Hart," nor its immediate predecessor, which was pulled down a few years ago, can lay claim to being the same building that afforded shelter to Jack Cade; for in 1669 the back part of the old inn was accidentally burnt down, and the tavern was wholly destroyed by the great fire of Southwark, in 1676. "It appears, however," says Mr. John Timbs, "to have been rebuilt upon the model of the older edifice, and realised the descriptions which we read of the ancient inns, consisting of one or more open courts or yards, surrounded with open galleries, and which were frequently used as temporary theatres for acting plays and dramatic performances in the olden time."
"There are in London," writes Charles Dickens, in his inimitable "Pickwick Papers," "several old inns, once the head-quarters of celebrated coaches in the days when coaches performed their journeys in a graver and more solemn manner than they do in these times; but which have now degenerated into little more than the abiding and booking places of country wagons. The reader would look in vain for any of these ancient hostelries among the 'Golden Crosses' and 'Bull and Mouths,' which rear their stately fronts in the improved streets of London. If he would light upon any of these old places, he must direct his steps to the obscurer quarters of the town; and there in some secluded nooks he will find several, still standing with a kind of gloomy sturdiness amidst the modern innovations which surround them. In the Borough especially there still remain some half-dozen old inns, which have preserved their external features unchanged, and which have escaped alike the rage for public improvement and the encroachments of private speculation. Great, rambling, queer old places they are, with galleries, and passages, and staircases wide enough and antiquated enough to furnish materials for a hundred ghost stories, supposing we should ever be reduced to the lamentable necessity of inventing any, and that the world should exist long enough to exhaust the innumerable veracious legends connected with old London Bridge and its adjacent neighbourhood on the Surrey side." It is in the yard of one of these inns—of one no less celebrated than the "White Hart"—that our author first introduces to the reader's notice Sam Weller, in the character of "boots." "The yard," proceeds the novelist, "presented none of that bustle and activity which are the usual characteristics of a large coach inn. Three or four lumbering wagons, each with a pile of goods beneath its ample canopy, about the height of the second-floor window of an ordinary house, were stowed away beneath a lofty roof which extended over one end of the yard; and another, which was probably to commence its journey that morning, was drawn out into the open space. A double tier of bedroom galleries, with old clumsy balustrades, ran round two sides of the straggling area, and a double row of bells to correspond, sheltered from the weather by a little sloping roof, hung over the door leading to the bar and coffeeroom. Two or three gigs and chaise-carts were wheeled up under different little sheds and penthouses; and the occasional heavy tread of a carthorse, or rattling of a chain at the further end of the yard, announced to anybody who cared about the matter that the stable lay in that direction. When we add that a few boys in smock-frocks were lying asleep on heavy packages, woolpacks, and other articles that were scattered about on heaps of straw, we have described as fully as need be the general appearance of the yard of the 'White Hart Inn,' High Street, Borough, on the particular morning in question."
Another celebrated inn in the High Street was the "Boar's Head," which formed a part of Sir John Falstolf's benefactions to Magdalen College at Oxford. Sir John Falstolf (fn. 3) was one of the bravest of English generals in the French wars, under Henry IV. and his successors. The premises are said to have comprised a narrow court of ten or twelve houses, but they were removed in 1830 to make the approach to New London Bridge. We learn from Mr. C. J. Palmer's "Perlustration of Great Yarmouth," that the Falstolf family had their town residence in Southwark, nearly opposite to the Tower of London, and that the "Boar's Head Inn" was the property of Sir John Falstolf. Henry Windesone, in a letter to John Paston, dated August, 1459, says, "An it please you to remember my master (Sir John Falstolf) at your best leisure, whether his old promise shall stand as touching my preferring to the 'Boar's Head,' in Southwark. Sir, I would have been at another place, and of my master's own motion he said that I should set up in the 'Boar's Head.'" In the churchwardens' account for St. Olave's, Southwark, in 1614 and 1615, the house is thus mentioned:—"Received of John Barlowe, that dwelleth at ye 'Boar's Head' in Southwark, for suffering the encroachment at the corner of the wall in ye Flemish Church-yard for one yeare, iiijs."
There is in existence a rare small brass token of the "Boar's Head;" on one side is a boar's head, with a lemon in its mouth, surrounded by the words, "At The 'Boar's Head;'" and on the other side, "in Southwark, 1649."
Mr. John Timbs, in his "Autobiography," says: "Of a modern-built house, nearly opposite the east end of St. Saviour's Church, my father and brother had a long tenancy, though the place has better claim to mention as being one of the ancient inns, the 'Boar's Head,' Southwark, and the property of Sir John Fastolf, of Caistor, Norfolk, and of Southwark, and who had a large house in Stoney Lane, St. Olave's. Sir John was a man of military renown, having been in the French wars of Henry VI., and was Governor of Normandy; he was also a man of letters and learning, and at the instance of his friend, William Waynfleet, Bishop of Winchester, the founder of Magdalen College, Oxford, Sir John Fastolf gave the 'Boar's Head' and other possessions towards the foundation. In the 'Reliquiæ Hearnianæ,' edited by Dr. Bliss, is the following entry relative to this bequest: '1721, June 2.—The reason why they cannot give so good an account of the benefaction of Sir John Fastolf to Magd. Coll. is, because he gave it to the founder, and left it to his management, so that 'tis suppos'd 'twas swallow'd up in his own estate that he settled upon the college. However, the college knows this, that the "Boar's Head," in Southwark, which was then an inn, and still retains the name, tho' divided into several tenements (which brings the college £150 per annum), was part of Sir John's gift.' The property above mentioned was for many years leased to the father of the writer, and was by him principally sub-let to weekly tenants. The premises were named 'Boar's Head Court,' and consisted of two rows of tenements, vis-à-vis and two houses at the east end, with a gallery outside the first floor of the latter. The tenements were fronted with strong weatherboard, and the balusters of the staircases were of great age. The court entrance was between the houses Nos. 25 and 26 east side of High Street, and that number of houses from old London Bridge; and beneath the whole extent of the court was a finely-vaulted cellar, doubtless the wine-cellar of the 'Boar's Head.' The property was cleared away in making the approaches to new London Bridge; and on this site was subsequently built part of the new front of St. Thomas's Hospital."
The "White Lion," which formerly stood at the south end of St. Margaret's Hill, nearly opposite the "Tabard Inn," was in its latter days, as we have already seen, a prison "for felons and other notorious malefactors." Stow, writing in 1598, says, "The 'White Lion' is a gaol, so called for that the same was a common hostelrie for the receipt of travellers by that sign. This house was first used as a gaol within these forty years last past." In 1640, as Laud tells us in his "History of his Troubles," the rabble apprentices released the whole of the prisoners in the "White Lion." The place is mentioned in records of the reign of Henry VIII. as having belonged to the Priory of St. Mary Overy.
Henry VIII., as we all know, in spite of his cruelty, lust, and tyranny, was a favourite sign among hostelries both in London and up and down the country. "Only fifty or sixty years ago," writes Mr. J. Larwood, in 1866, "there still remained a well-painted half-length portrait of Bluff Harry as the sign of the 'King's Head' before a public-house in Southwark. His personal appearance doubtless, more than his character as a king, was at the bottom of this popular favour. He looked the personification of jollity and good cheer; and when the evil passions expressed by his face were lost under the clumsy brush of the sign-painter, there remained nothing but a merry 'beery-looking' Bacchus, well adapted for a public-house sign."
Another ancient inn bore the sign of the "Three Tuns;" all that is known of it, however, is that it formed one of the favourite resorts of the Philanthropic Harmonists.
Apropos of these old inns in the Borough, we may add that Mr. Larwood tells us that in 1866 the "Sun and Hare," a carved stone sign, stil existed, walled up in the facade of a house here.
Many of these inns had a religious, or quasi-religious character. Such was the hostelry which bore the sign of the "Three Brushes," or "Holywater Sprinklers," in allusion to the brushes used at the "Asperges," in the commencement of high mass in the Catholic Church. This house stood near the White Lion Prison. It had in it a room with a richly-panelled wainscot, and a ceiling ornamented with the arms of Queen Elizabeth. Probably it had been a court-room for the "justices" at the time when the "White Lion" was used as a prison. Its existence is proved by tokens of one "Robert Thornton, haberdasher, next the 'Three Brushes,' in Southwark, 1667."
Between Union Street and Mint Street, opposite St. George's Church, and on the site where now stands the booking-office of the Midland Railway Goods Depôt, stood, till about the year 1870, an old and well-known inn, called "The Catherine Wheel." It was a famous inn for carriers during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. "The 'Catherine Wheel,'" writes Mr. Larwood, "was formerly a very common sign, most likely adopted from its being the badge of the order of the knights of St. Catherine of Mount Sinai, formed in the year 1063, for the protection of pilgrims on their way to and from the Holy Sepulchre. Hence it was a suggestive, if not an eloquent, sign for an inn, as it intimated that the host was of the brotherhood, although in a humble way, and would protect the traveller from robbery in his inn—in the shape of high charges and exactions—just as the knights of St. Catherine protected them on the high road from robbery by brigands. These knights wore a white habit embroidered with a Catherine-wheel (i.e., a wheel armed with spikes), and traversed with a sword, stained with blood. There were also mysteries in which St. Catherine played a favourite part, one of which was acted by young ladies on the entry of Queen Catherine of Aragon (queen to our Henry VIII.) in London in 1501. In honour of this queen the sign may occasionally have been put up. The Catherine-wheel was also a charge in the Turners' arms. Flecknoe tells us in his 'Enigmatical Characters' (1658), that the Puritans changed it into the Cat and Wheel, under which it is still to be seen on a public-house at Castle Green, Bristol."
Another inn, called the "Three Widows," was probably a perversion of the "Three Nuns"—the ignorant people after the Reformation confounding the white head-dresses of the religious sisterhood with those of disconsolate relicts. Here, "at the 'Three Widows,' in Southwark," a foreigner, Peter Treviris, in the early part of the sixteenth century, set up a printing-press, which he kept constantly at work for several years, as we learn from the titlepages of his books.
Among the quaint old signs which prevailed along this road, Mr. Larwood mentions one not generally known, "The Old Pick my Toe," which he suggests was "a vulgar representation of the Roman slave who, being sent on a message of importance, would not stop to pick even a thorn out of his foot by the way." This curious sign, Mr. Larwood further tells us, is represented on a trade-token issued by one Samuel Bovery in George Lane.
From the fact of Southwark being the chief seat of our early theatres, its houses of entertainment were very numerous, in addition to the old historic inns which abounded in the High Street. "In the Beaufoy collection," writes Mr. John Timbs, "are several tokens of Southwark taverns: among them those of the 'Bore's (Boar's) Head,' 1649; the 'Dogg and Ducke,' St. George's Fields, 1651; the 'Green Man,' still remaining in Blackman Street; the 'Bull Head' Tavern, 1667 (mentioned by Edmund Alleyne, the founder of Dulwich College, as one of his resorts); the 'Duke of Suffolk's Head,' 1669; and the 'Swan with Two Necks'—properly 'Nicks.'"