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Jerusalem Taverns, Clerkenwell : 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


These houses took their name from the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, around whose Priory, grew up the village of Clerkenwell. The Priory Gate remains. At the Suppression, the Priory was undermined, and blown up with gunpowder ; the Gate also would probably have been destroyed, but for its serving to define the property. In 1604, it was granted to Sir Roger Wilbraham for his life. At this time Clerkenwell was inhabited by people of condition. Forty years later, fashion had travelled westward ; and the Gate became the printing-office of Edward Cave, who, in 1731, published here the first number of the Gentleman 's Magazine, which to this day bears the Gate for its vignette.
Dr. Johnson was first engaged upon the magazine here by Cave in 1737. At the Gate Johnson first met Richard Savage ; and here in Cave's room, when visitors called, he ate his plate of victuals behind the screen, his dress being "so shabby that he durst not make his appearance." Garrick, when first he came to London, frequently called upon Johnson at the Gate. Goldsmith was also a visitor here. When Cave grew rich, he had St. John's Gate painted, instead of his arms, on his carriage, and engraven on his plate. After Cave's death in 1753, the premises became the " Jerusalem " public house, and the " Jerusalem Tavern."

There was likewise another Jerusalem Tavern, at the corner of Red Lion-street on Clerkenwell-green, which was the original ; St, John's Gate public-house, having assumed the name of " Jerusalem Tavern " in consequence of the old house on the Green giving up the tavern business, and becoming the "merchants' house." In its dank and cobwebbed vaults John Britton served an apprenticeship to a wine-merchant; and in reading at intervals by candle-light, first evinced that love of literature which characterized his long life of industry and integrity. He remembered Clerkenwell in 1787, with St. John's Priory-church and cloisters ; when Spafields were pasturage for cows; the old garden-mansions of the aristocracy remained in Clerkenwell- close ; and Sadler's Wells, Islington Spa, Merlin's Cave, and Bagnigge Wells, were nightly crowded with gay company.

In a friendly note, Sept. 11, 1852, Mr. Britton tells us: "Our house sold wines in full quarts, i.e. twelve held three gallons, wine measure ; and each bottle was marked with four lines cut by a diamond on the neck. Our wines were famed, and the character of the house was high, whence the Gate imitated the bottles and name."

In 1845, by the aid of "the Freemasons of the Church," and Mr. W. P. Griffith, architect, the north and south fronts were restored. The gateway is a good specimen of groining of the 15th century, with moulded ribs, and bosses ornamented with shields of the arms of the Priory, Prior Docwra, etc. The east basement is the tavern-bar, with a beautifully moulded ceiling. The stairs are Elizabethan. The principal room over the arch has been despoiled of its window-mullions and groined roof. The foundation wall of the Gate face is 10 feet 7 inches thick, and the upper walls are nearly 4 feet, hard red brick, stone-cased : the view from the top of the staircase-turret is extensive. In excavating there have been discovered the original pavement, three feet below the Gate ; and the Priory walls, north, south, and west. In 1851, there was published, by B. Foster, proprietor of the Tavern, Ye History of ye Priory and Gate of St. John. In the principal room of the Gate, over the great arch, meet the Urban Club, a society, chiefly of authors and artists, with whom originated the proposition to celebrate the tercentenary of the birth of Shakespeare, in 1864.

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 01:16:31 BST
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