Above: Looking north from Smithfield Market at Cowcross Street (far left) and St John Street (towards the right).
If you walk away from the City of London through the great arch of Smithfield Market you will find an odd junction ahead of you – where St John Street and Cowcross Street meet with Charterhouse Street. In between Cowcross Street and St John Street is a very large five-storey building that was once a pub. According to the stone sign it was rebuilt 1897. Records are not easy to find for the early days of this pub but the stone sign, high up on the front, comes to our aid – it was obviously called the Boar’s Head.
A tavern on this site was first mentioned in 1690-98 and it is likely that the building today was the rebuild of that hostelry. The building is certainly elegant but what singles it out for mention is the rather fine stone sign, with lettering in an Art Deco style, accompanied by a beautifully sculpted bas-relief of a wild boar.
Above: Close-up of the Boar on the stone sign.
All over London are still to be found pubs with names that one would normally associate with the countryside. Of course, much of London was once fields as late as the turn of the 20th century when the “’ouses in between” were built across much of the farm land. Names of pubs like the Red Cow, the Spotted Cow, the Bull, the Plough and the Hare and Harrow are still to be found in Inner London but they are gradually being renamed with titles that appeal to ‘townies’. That is a shame because the heritage of these local areas is gradually being lost. In Sydenham there is still the Dolphin – how that came about is anyone’s guess. At Lee is the Old Tiger’s Head and the New Tiger’s Head. Lee has never been known to have real tigers and so another mystery presents itself.
As you travel around the countryside outside London you occasionally come across the Boar’s Head as a pub name. For example, Great Dunmow in Essex still has a pub by that name. Sadly there are no ‘Boar’s Head’ pubs in Inner London today. The most famous hostelry by that name in the City was the Boar’s Head Tavern, in Eastcheap. The impressive stone sign from the building, inscribed 1668, is carefully preserved at the Museum of London.
From what has been said, it will be seen that the stone sign, high up on the wall of the now defunct tavern in Clerkenwell is the last witness to the fact that there were ‘Boar’s Head’ pubs in the Inner London at one time. While on the subject, there were also ‘Blue Boar’ and ‘White Boar’ pubs in London. The White Boar is associated with the ‘boar argent’ or ‘silver boar’ that was associated with the Plantagenets – particularly Richard, Duke of York.