Above: The name plate is the only reminder of the abbot’s inn.
All the bishops (and the two archbishops) of England and Wales had London residences so that, when attending the Court at Westminster during the summer months, they had somewhere to stay. As well as the bishops, the abbots from the religious houses throughout the land also had London residences. As an example of this we shall be looking at the residence of one of them – the Abbot of Cirencester Abbey (also known as St Mary’s Abbey), in Cirencester which is in Gloucestershire.
A piece of land – in the triangle between Shoe Lane, Fleet Street and St Bride Street – was once owned by the Abbots of Cirencester who had a London residence on the north side of Fleet Street. The Abbots acquired the land some time between 1133 and 1216. It is believed that they ceased to reside there after 1428. While it was in use by the abbots, the property became known as ‘Le Popyngaye’ deriving its name from the fact that the crest of the religious house included a popinjay or parrot.
A ‘popinjay’ is an old-fashioned term for a parrot. The German word is ‘papagei’ and in Old French the word was ‘papegai’. The word is believed to have originated with a Persian or African language. The word ‘popinjay’ was also used to describe the figure of a parrot, fixed on a pole, to shoot at. The sport of shooting at the figure of a bird – either using rifles or archery equipment – was also known by that name. Finally, a vain and talkative person – who chatters like a parrot – was also once referred to as a ‘popinjay’.
Above: Site of the medieval inn added to a small part of Google maps. The alleyway (in green) led from the north side of Fleet Street to the abbot’s inn and is now called Poppin’s Court.
The court running off Fleet Street consequently came be known as Popinjay Court and eventually corrupted to Poppin’s Court. The apostrophe in the modern name has no meaning whatsoever. The northern end of the court was cut off in 1870 when forming the new street from Holborn Circus to Ludgate Circus.
There used to be a relief representation of a parrot on the wall above the entrance to the court from Fleet Street but that seems to have been removed or lost. The Popinjay Tavern also used to stand near Poppin’s Court. Sadly, both reminders of this ancient inn have disappeared within the last 40 years due to redevelopment of the north side of Fleet Street. We are left therefore with Poppin’s Court which is today the only reminder of the abbot’s original property.