Islington Taverns : London coffee houses and taverns

A historical site about early London coffee houses and taverns and will also link to my current pub history site and also the London street directory


If you look at a Map of London, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the openness of the northern suburbs is very remarkable. Cornhill was then a clear space, and the ground thence to Bishopsgate-street was occupied as gardens. The Spitalfields were entirely open, and Shoreditch church was nearly the last building of London in that direction. Moorfields were used for drying linen; while cattle grazed, and archers shot, in Finsbury Fields, at the verge of which were three windmills. On the western side of Smithfield was a row of trees. Goswell street was a lonely road, and Islington church stood in the distance, with a few houses and gardens near it. St. Giles's was also a small village, with open country north and west.

The ancient Islington continued to be a sort of dairy farm for the metropolis. Like her father, Henry VIII., Elizabeth paid frequent visits to this neighbourhood, where some wealthy commoners dwelt ; and her partiality to the place left many evidences in old houses, and spots traditionally said to have been visited by the Queen, whose delight it was to go among her people.

Islington retained a few of its Elizabethan houses to our times ; and its rich dairies were of like antiquity :
in the entertainment given to Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth Castle, in 1575, the Squier Minstrel of Middlesex glorifies Islington with the motto, " Lac caseus infans ;"and it is still noted for its cow-keepers. It was once as famous for its cheese-cakes as Chelsea for its buns ; and among its other notabilities were custards and stewed u pruans," its mineral spa and its ducking-ponds ; Ball's Pond dates from the time of Charles I. At the lower end of Islington, in 1611, were eight inns, principally supported by summer visitors :

" Hogsdone, Islington, and Tothnam Court,
For cakes and creame had then no small resort."

Wither's Britain's Remembrancer, 1628.

Among the old inns and public-houses were the Crown apparently of the reign of Henry VII., and the Old Queen's Head of about the same date :

" The Queen's Head and Crown in Islington town,
Bore, for its brewing, the brightest renown."

Near the Green, the Duke's Head, was kept by Topham, " the strong man of Islington ;" in Frog lane, the Barley mow, where George Morland painted; at the Old Parr's Head, in Upper-street, Henderson the tragedian first acted; the Three Hats, near the turnpike, was taken down in 1839; and of the Angel, originally a galleried inn, a drawing may be seen at the present inn. Timber gables and rudely-carved brackets are occasionally to be seen in house-fronts ; also here and there an old " house of entertainment," which, with the little remaining of " the Green," remind one of Islington village.

The Old Queen's Head was the finest specimen in the neighbourhood of the domestic architecture of the reign of Henry VII. It consisted of three storeys, projecting over each other in front, with bay-windows supported by brackets, and figures carved in wood. The entrance was by a central porch, supported by caryatides of oak, bearing Ionic scrolls. To the left was the Oak Parlour, with carved mantelpiece, of chest-like form ; and caryatid jambs, supporting a slab sculptured with the story of Diana and Actseon. The ceiling was a shield, bearing J. M. in a glory, with cherubim, two heads of Roman emperors, w r ith fish, flowers, and other figures, within wreathed borders, with bosses of acorns.

White Conduit House was first built in the fields, in the reign of Charles I., and was named from a stone conduit, 1641, which supplied the Charterhouse with water by a leaden pipe. The tavern was originally a small ale and cake house : Sir William Davenant describes a City wife going to the fields to " sop her cake in milke ;" and Goldsmith speaks of tea-drinking parties here with hot-rolls and butter. White Conduit rolls were nearlv as famous as Chelsea buns. The Wheel Pond close by was a noted place for duck-hunting.

In May, 1760, a poetical description of White Conduit House appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine. A description of the old place, in 1774, presents a general picture of the tea-garden of that period : " It is formed into walks, prettily disposed. At the end of the principal one is a painting which seems to render it (the walk) in appearance longer than it really is. In the centre of the garden is a fish-pond. There are boxes for company, curiously cut into hedges, adorned with Flemish and other paintings. There are two handsome tea-rooms, and several inferior ones." To these were added a new dancing and tea- saloon, called the Apollo Room. In 1826, the gardens were opened as a minor Vauxhall ; and here the charming vocalist, Mrs. Bland, last sang in public. In 1832, the original tavern was taken down, and rebuilt upon a much larger plan : in its principal room 2000 persons could dine. In 1849, these premises were also taken down, the tavern rebuilt upon a smaller scale, and the garden-ground let on building leases.

Cricket was played here by the White Conduit Club, as early as 1799; and one of its attendants, Thomas Lord, subsequently established the Marylebone Club.

White Conduit House was for some years kept by Mr. Christopher Bartholomew, at one time worth 50,000l. He had some fortunate hits in the State Lottery, and celebrated his good fortune by a public breakfast in his gardens. He was known to spend upwards of 2000 guineas a day for insurance : fortune forsook him, and he passed the latter years of his life in great poverty, partly subsisting on charity. But his gambling propensity led him, in 1807, to purchase with a friend a sixteenth of a lottery-ticket, which was drawn a prize of 20,000l, with his moiety of which he purchased a small annuity, which he soon sold, and died in distress, in 1809.

Bagnigge Wells, on the banks of the Fleet brook, between Clerkenwell and old St. Pancras church, was another tavern of this class. We remember its concert room and organ, its grottoes, fountain and fishpond, its trim trees, its grotesque costumed figures, and its bust of Nell Gwynne to support the tradition that she had a house here.

A comedy of the seventeenth century has its scene laid at the Saracen's Head, an old hostelrie, which in Queen Mary's reign had been hallowed by secret Protestant devotion, and stood between River Lane and the City Road.

Highbury Barn, upon the site of the barn of the monks of Canonbury, was another noted tavern. Nearly opposite Canonbury Tower are the remains of a last century tea-garden ; and in Barnsbury is a similar relic. And on the entrance of a coppice of trees is Hornsey Wood House, a tavern with a delightful prospect.

Islington abounds in chalybeate springs, resembling the Tunbridge Wells water ; one of which was rediscovered in 1683, in the garden of Sadler's music-house, subsequently Sadler's Wells Theatre; and at the Sir Hugh Myddelton's Head tavern was formerly a conversation-picture with twenty-eight portraits of the Sadler's Wells Club. In Spa Fields, was held " Gooseberry Fair," where the stalls of gooseberry- fool vied with the " threepenny tea-booths," and the beer at u my Lord Cobham's Head," which denotes the site of the mansion of Sir John Oldcastle, the Wickliffite, burnt in 1417.

* Canonbury Tavern was in the middle of the last century a small ale-house. It was taken by a Mr. Lane, who had been a private soldier : he improved the house, but its celebrity was gained by the widow Sutton, who kept the place from 1785 to 1808, and built new rooms, and laid out the bowling-green and tea-gardens. An Assembly was first established here in the year 1810. Nearly the entire premises, which then occupied about four acres, were situated within the old park wall of the Priory of St. Bartholomew ; it formed, indeed, a part of the eastern side of the house ; the ancient fish-pond was also connected with the grounds. The Tavern has been rebuilt.

References :  Lots of references are made to two sources on the internet archive :
Edward Callows, Old London Taverns &
John Timbs, Club life of London Volume 2

And Last updated on: Tuesday, 26-Apr-2022 01:16:30 BST