In The Illustrated London News the illustrations appeared on the page before the following article. You may use them without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the The Hathi Digital Library Trust and the University of Chicago and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. — George P. Landow

The Grapes, Limehouse, and the Old Bell, Holborn. Click on images to enlarge them.

The City, the Borough, and the banks of the river below the Thames Embankment, still possess some curious relics of the domestic architecture of our ancestors, dating two or three centuries ago. Among the most curious are the back buildings of ancient hostelries, often partially converted to other uses: the skeletons, the ghosts, the quaint names and signs of old- fashioned taverns often preserving the memory of former habits and customs. It must not be supposed that this is the present situation of every one of the time-favoured establishments depicted in our Artist's Sketches. The Old Bell tavern and hotel, on Holborn Hill, for instance, presenting in its street front the aspect of a large, commodious, and well-built house, makes up good beds for commercial gentlemen from the country, and provides snug dinners; and the twenty-four bells hanging in a row, with numbers painted beside them, under the lamp shown at the right hand of this Sketch, correspond to as many chambers which promise neatness and comfort. The inviting bay windows of the Grapes, at Limehouse, which every passenger on the steam-boat to Greenwich must have observed with a sense of the picturesque, may sometimes afford a pleasant look-out, over a pipe of cavendish and a glass of rum-and-water, to the merchant skipper and his friend waiting for their vessel, to get out of dock; watching “the stately, ships,” no doubt, with sentiments unlike those of Lord Tennyson's enamoured couple, whose "spirits rushed together at the touching of the lips"; though spirits, of one kind or another, do naturally rush somewhere as the lips touch, the brim of the glass. There be land, rats and water rats, both which kinds, respectively, in the basement of such old buildings, situated in musty nooks of the City or on the marshy shore of the river, naturally find shelter and the chance of food beneath their floors, where they fare much better than any church mice. Eating and drinking, of articles which may, for aught we know, be prime in quality, continues to go on in the portion yet spared for public entertainment, of many spacious premises, known to our great-grandfathers and to earlier generations as the accustomed lodgings of men with large stock and traffic, who carried bags of guineas, and who could pay for the best in London, dining early in the afternoon off a sirloin of roast beef or a turkey, and imbibing a bottle of excellent port.

Queen's Head Inn, Southwark, and Sir Paul Findlay, Bishopsgate Court

Manners and customs have changed; and the richer gentlemen of the mercantile class now prefer to seek needful refreshment at more fashionable hotels and restaurants, or at their clubs, west of Temple Bar and Holborn; but the homely simplicity of the old taverns was not less respectable, in its way, under King George III. Some of them, boldly adapting their business to modern habits, from the legal designation of “licensed victuallers,” have assumed the specialty of “wine and spirit stores,” enlarging their bars in front, and putting in big plate-glass windows, blazing gaslights, and a marble counter, with brass- handled engines for drawing “bitter,” “stout,” or “Burton,” brandy, “Old Tom,” “Irish” or “Scotch,” as rapidly as hands can work. This style of doing a trade would have astonished the citizens of those days when Hogarth drew his famous pictures of “Beer-street” and “Gin-lane"; but it is not our purpose to moralise upon this occasion. Many of the old inns, with their paved courtyards made available for Pickford's vans and those of the great Railway Companies, have been converted into booking-offices for packages of merchandise, such as that at the Queen's Head, in the Borough ; and the George. Southwark was ever famous for its good houses of accommodation for travellers; the Tabard of Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims, five hundred years ago, then kept by Henry Baily, who was a burgess of some importance and a member of Parliament, and who is almost as familiar to us as Sir John Falstaff, was the most important of these hostelries; but its name was for some time changed into Talbot. The old back building of this celebrated inn was demolished in 1874, with its wooden gallery, upon which was painted, in this century, a picture of the Canterbury Pilgrims; this building, however, was not more ancient than the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The White Hart, also in Southwark, is mentioned by Shakspeare in his “King Henry VI.,” having been the lodging of Jack Cade in 1450; while the Boar's Head was the property of the true Sir John Falstaff, or Falstolf, a worthy Knight of Norfolk, and a distinguished soldier, who bequeathed it to Magdalen College, Oxford; and the White Lion became a prison. The Catherine Wheel, so named from the Knightly Order of St. Catherine of Mount Sinai, whose badge was a wheel with spikes, and who protected pilgrims on their road to the Holy Sepulchre, stood on the site of one of the Brighton Railway Company's goods offices.

The Fox under the Hill, Adelphi, and The George. Southwark

Everybody is acquainted with names of old inns which have been transferred, naturally enough, from the use of country carriers as a resting-place, to the occupation of the great conveyance agencies of modern England; such as the Blossoms inn, in Lawrence-lane, Cheapside; the Swan-with-Two-Necks, in Gresham-street; the Cross Keys, in Wood-street; the Bull-in-Mouth (Boulogne Mouth), St. Martin's-le-Grand; the Belle Sauvage, Ludgate-hill; and the Bolt-in-Tun, Fleet-street. In some of these places, as shown in our Sketches, the rear and side buildings are still exactly as they were in the seventeenth century, with the timber galleries open to the courtyard, the projecting windows of large apartments and pent-houses over the doors; the interior rooms and staircases have the same antique character. The tavern in Bishopsgate-street, of which we spoke on a former occasion, was named after Sir Paul Pindar, a notable member of the Puritan party, who rendered service as a diplomatist to Cromwell's Government. The remnant of a Strand tavern, called the Fox-under-the-Hill, which some can remember close to the riverside before the Thames Embankment was constructed, will also be observed. There was a steam-boat Pier at this point, where, more than forty years ago, the boiler of the Cricket steam-boat exploded, killing a number of passengers.


“Bits of Old London: Old Inns.” Illustrated London News. 90 (26 February 1887): 238-39. Hathi Trust Digital Library version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 24 December 2015.

Last modified 1 January 2016