The city of Cambridge: Inns

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.

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'The city of Cambridge: Inns', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, (London, 1959), pp. 115-116. British History Online [accessed 17 June 2024].

. "The city of Cambridge: Inns", in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, (London, 1959) 115-116. British History Online, accessed June 17, 2024,

. "The city of Cambridge: Inns", A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, (London, 1959). 115-116. British History Online. Web. 17 June 2024,


From the 15th century Cambridge inns begin to figure by name in town rentals, college accounts and deeds of purchase. The 'Angel', the 'Antelope', the 'Black Bull', the 'Black Swan', the 'Boar's Head', the 'Brazen George', the 'Cardinal's Cap', the 'Dolphin', the 'Griffyn', the 'Lilypot', the 'Ram', the 'Star', the 'Sun', the 'Swan', the 'White Hart', and the 'White Horse', are all mentioned before 1500, and the 'Cock', the 'Crane', the 'Falcon', and the 'Lion' occur soon after. (fn. 96) The accounts of a Cambridge vintner for 1510 note deliveries of wine to several of the foregoing and also to the 'Vine' and the 'Unicorn'. (fn. 97) Some of these were on the sites or in the buildings of former University hostels; (fn. 98) many of them were to be swallowed up by University and college buildings. (fn. 99) St. Catharine's, for instance, has absorbed the sites of the 'Three Horseshoes', the 'White Swan', and the 'George' (Hobson's property); Corpus has annexed one of the 'Dolphins'; King's cut a new thoroughfare across the site of the 'Boar's Head' and of the 'White Horse' which once earned the nickname of 'Germany' from the meetings of the reformers who came from King's, Queens', St. John's, and the Austin Friars to discuss the new doctrines; (fn. 1) the University Press occupies the site of the 'White Lion' and the 'Cardinal's Cap'; the Senate House and its yard have replaced the 'Green Dragon', the New Angel and the Devil Inns, the last the house from which in 1653 the first stage coach ran to London. (fn. 2) Across the river, Magdalene has ousted the 'Chequers', the 'Black Boy', the 'Green Peele', and the 'Star'.

As the earlier inns drop out, new names come into prominence. (fn. 3) The 'Dolphin' whose premises stretched from All Saints churchyard to Bridge Street was the home of the girl for whom Cranmer resigned his Jesus fellowship, and also the lodging for the justices of assize before Trinity gave them hospitality; (fn. 4) the 'Falcon' in Petty Cury was Lord North's lodging when he stayed in Cambridge in the later years of Elizabeth I's reign, and its yard still exists. (fn. 5) The Bear Inn, which supplied committee rooms for the Grand Committee of the Eastern Counties Association in 1643, for the Earl of Manchester's Commissioners in 1644 and, when the tables were turned, for the committee which purged the Corporation of Cambridge in 1662, (fn. 6) was probably the Black Bear Inn, (fn. 7) opposite Trinity Church, whose yard survives today as Market Passage. (fn. 8) In Alderman Newton's days the 'Three Tuns', by St. Edward's passage, a considerable portion of which survives as the Central Hotel, behind the Midland Bank, was the favoured place for aldermanic dinners, (fn. 9) but in the 18th century the Rose Tavern, whose yard survives as Rose Crescent, was the centre of corporation gossip and intrigue. It was the meeting-place of the Aldermen's Club from the reign of Anne; (fn. 10) it was also the headquarters of the County Club, where town, gown, and county dined together, and William Cole collected the latest political gossip. (fn. 11) From its balcony the candidates made speeches during parliamentary elections and here the committee set up after the meeting of 25 March 1780 laid its plans. (fn. 12) The 'Rose' was frequently visited by Pepys. It harboured foreign royalties in 1796 and 1812 but ceased to be used as an inn about 1814. (fn. 13) The 'Hoop' in Jesus Lane, the 'famous inn' at which young Wordsworth alighted in 1787, was also used for political celebrations. (fn. 14) As has been seen, the headquarters of the Mortlock and Rutland caucus from 1782 to 1832 was the 'Eagle and Child' in Bene't Street. Its yard is marked as the Post Office in many contemporary maps, since the Royal Mail set out thence daily. (fn. 15) Most of the inns in the town were centres of political treating during the county elections. Thus the Cambridge Chronicle for 20 May 1780 lists seventeen inns (of which the 'Little Rose' and the 'Blue Boar' alone survive) where Lord Robert Manners's friends might find accommodation on nomination day. The ten inns open for Sir Sampson Gideon's friends included, besides the 'Rose', the 'Eagle and Child', the 'Red Lion', and the 'Castle' in St. Andrew's Street.

Music-lovers also forgathered at the Cambridge inns in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The 'Black Bear' was notable for the excellent concerts given there from 1773 to 1809 under the auspices of its Music Club, which had a predilection for Handel, though Mozart, Haydn, and Purcell also figured on its handbills. The Cambridge Town and County Choral Society held its fortnightly meetings at the 'Hoop' from 1830 to 1847, and the Apollo Musical Society also gave concerts there in 1838. The Cambridge Philharmonic Society, which flourished from 1832 to 1844, used the 'Red Lion' for the performances it organized. (fn. 16)

The last-named inn is still in use, as is the 'Eagle'. Of the 150 or 160 hotels and public houses of Cambridge today, however, a scanty half-dozen are older than the 19th century. The 'Bishop Blaize' in St. Andrew's Street was largely pulled down for Dr. Watson of Trinity and Llandaff to build his house; (fn. 17) the 'Sun' opposite Trinity, where the Duke of Sussex lodged in 1819, (fn. 18) had been destroyed to make room for the Master's Court before 1866 when Cooper wrote his Memorials. (fn. 19) The 'Bird Bolt', the 'Half Moon' near the Great Bridge, (fn. 20) and the beautiful 'Wrestlers' (fn. 21) in Petty Cury, have since been destroyed, whilst the 'Cross Keys' opposite Magdalene is still intact but is no longer an inn. The 'Black Bull' opposite Corpus, mentioned in Edward IV's reign, bequeathed to St. Catharine's in 1626 and rebuilt in 1828, preserved its character until 1941; it then became a centre for United States soldiers in Cambridge and so remained until September 1945; as 'Bull College' it was in 1945–6 a centre for Russian courses for the British Army; but it has now merged its identity in St. Catharine's College. The former 'White Horse' on Castle Hill is used as the Cambridge and County Folk Museum. Only the 'Lion' in Petty Cury and the 'Eagle' in Bene't Street retain their old yards and their ancient functions.


  • 96. See indexes to Palmer, Camb. Boro. Docs., and Willis and Clark, Archit. Hist.
  • 97. C.A.S. Comm. xxxiv. 50–58.
  • 98. A. Gray, Town of Cambridge, 111–13.
  • 99. For what follows see Willis and Clark, Archit. Hist. iii, index; iv, plans.
  • 1. Willis and Clark, Archit. Hist. i. 340.
  • 2. Cooper, Annals, iii. 454.
  • 3. For a specimen list of inns licensed by the ViceChancellor (1612–66), see Cooper, Annals, iii. 238.
  • 4. Cooper, Memorials, iii. 205.
  • 5. Ibid. 218; see below, plate facing p. 122.
  • 6. Varley, Cambridge during the Civil War, 67, 91–92; C.A.S. Comm. xvii. 81, 83.
  • 7. Cooper seems alone in placing the meetings of 1643–4 in the White Bear Inn between Trinity Street and Sidney Street: Cooper, Memorials, iii. 205; cf. Gunning, Reminiscences, i. 59.
  • 8. Clark and Gray, Old Plans of Cambridge, pt. i. 109.
  • 9. Diary of Samuel Newton (C.A.S. Publ. 1890). The old 'Three Tuns' closed down in 1790: Cooper, Memorials, iii. 285.
  • 10. 'Mr. Shepard keeps the Rose Tavern . . . where a club is kept of the majority of the Aldermen and Common Council men who have the sole Power of the Corporation': Cooper, Annals, iv. 91.
  • 11. B.M. Add. MS. 5855, p. 146. On pp. 338–46 Cole gives an account of the County Club in the 1780's, and also of the older one founded in 1693, which used to meet at the 'Angel'.
  • 12. Cooper, Annals, iv. 373, 396; Atkinson, Cambridge Described, 72; see pp. 72–73.
  • 13. Cooper, Annals, iv. 458, 502; Memorials, iii. 317.
  • 14. Cooper, Annals, iv. 526.
  • 15. In 1763 the inns from which stage coaches started were the 'Red Lion', the 'Wrestlers', the 'Blue Boar' and the 'Rose': Cantabrigia Depicta, 112–14. In 1803 they also set out from the 'Sun', the 'Hoop', the 'King's Head', and the 'Eagle and Child': Guide through the University (1803), 175. In 1838 the coaching inns were the 'Blue Boar', the 'Eagle', the 'George', the 'Hoop' and the 'Red Lion': Cambridge Guide (1838), 266–71.
  • 16. O. E. Deutsch, 'Cambridge Music Societies 1700– 1840', Camb. Rev. 13 June 1942, 373–4.
  • 17. Cooper, Memorials, iii. 218.
  • 18. Cooper, Annals, iv. 525; Memorials, iii. 205.
  • 19. Cooper, Memorials, iii. 218.
  • 20. For a full account of the old inns of Bridge Street, see J. H. Bullock in Camb. Public Libr. Record, 1939, 11 sqq., 47 sqq., 110 sqq.
  • 21. See below, plate facing p. 123.