Above: Stone sign of the Boar’s Head Tavern that used to be mounted on the wall of the tavern before it was demolished.
This article describes a tavern that was once one of the most well-known in the City from medieval times, through Tudor times and right up to the early 19th century. Sadly, although it was well-known to anyone who knew the City, there are no prints of the hostelry. It was taken down before the days of photography and the only relic we have today is a stone sign of a Boar’s Head that used to be set into the front wall of the tavern.
The tavern’s first recorded mention was in 1349 [Lillywhite; n3781 p67, n3772 p66]. It is mentioned in a will of 1380 as ‘Boreshedde in Eastchepe’. It was also described as the ‘Bores head near London Stone’.
In the late 16th century, the tavern was well known to William Shakespeare, Ben
Jonson and Richard Burbage. The Boar’s Head Tavern is featured in historical plays by Shakespeare – particularly Henry IV, Part 1 – as a favourite resort of the fictional character Falstaff and his friends in the early 15th century. The landlady is called Mistress Quickly.
The premises were totally destroyed in the Great Fire of London, on Monday 3 September 1666. It was rebuilt shortly afterwards and became one of the chief taverns in the City. During the 18th century, an annual Shakespeare banquet was held in the tavern – the last one being held in 1784. The tavern, which stood on the south side of Eastcheap, was demolished about 1830 to make way for King William Street to be laid out as the new approach road for the new London Bridge.
Above: The modern Eastcheap and Cannon Street overlaid approximately with the medieval street plan from about 1550. Churches that still remain in existence have been added, along with the site of The Monument to the Great Fire of London (Click on map to enlarge to 1280×800).
The Position of the Boar’s Head Tavern
We now come to the ‘tricky bit’. The obvious question is ‘Before it was demolished, where did the tavern stand?’ It might be thought that, at the very least, there would be a City Plaque marking the site but, unfortunately, that is not really possible. When the tavern was built, it stood on the south side of a long uninterrupted thoroughfare that was made up of three streets running east from the junction with the street called Walbrook. Between Walbrook and the original junction with Clement’s Lane was Candlewick Street – now known as Cannon Street. Continuing east was Great Eastcheap, most of which lies under the complex junction with the diverted Gracechurch Street and King William Street. The latter feeds traffic onto the present London Bridge. Further east again was Little Eastcheap which, in the main, is now known simply as Eastcheap. The map of modern-day streets has the original medieval street plan superimposed onto it showing the approximate layout known to exist in the 1550s.
A look at the map will show why there is no City Plaque. Such a plaque would make little sense because the site is part of the complex street junction and the site of the tavern lies buried under the large expanse of tarmac. The only remnant of the tavern is a large stone sign in the form of a boar’s head. It was carefully removed from the building and during the 1960s it was on show in what was then called Guildhall Museum. It is believed that it was on show when the Museum of London opened in December 1976. At a later date, the sign was acquired by the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre where it is on show in one of the buildings.
To help explain the way in which the street plan has changed since the 16th century, an approximate medieval street plan is shown above, superimposed on a section of the Google street map. The map explains which part of the street was then called Candlewick Street (now Cannon Street). It also shows how today’s Eastcheap was then divided into Great Eastcheap and Little Eastcheap. A large part of Great Eastcheap has been lost to the busy street intersection where King William Street connects with the partly realigned Gracechurch Street.