Popes Head Tavern : 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


This noted tavern, which gave name to Pope's Head Alley, leading from Cornhill to Lombard street, is mentioned as early as the 4th Edward IV. (1464) in the account of a wager between an Alicant goldsmith and an English goldsmith ; the Alicant stranger contending in the tavern that " Englishmen were not so cunning in workmanship of goldsmithry as Alicant strangers;" when work was produced by both, and the Englishman gained the wager. The tavern was left in 1615, by Sir William Craven to the Merchant Tailors' Company.
Pepys refers to " the fine painted room " here in 1668-9.
In the tavern, April 14, 1718, Quin, the actor, killed in self-defence, his fellow-comedian, Bowen, a clever but hot-headed Irishman, who was jealous of Quints reputation : in a moment of great anger, he sent for Quin to the tavern, and as soon as he had entered the room, Bowen placed his back against the door, drew his sword, and bade Quin draw his. Quin, having mildly remonstrated to no purpose, drew in his own defence, and endeavoured to disarm his antagonist. Bowen received a wound, of which he died in three days, having acknowledged his folly and madness, when the loss of blood had reduced him to reason. Quin was tried and acquitted.
(Cunningham, abridged.) The Pope's Head Tavern was in existence in 1756.

Amongst the numerous alleys and passages that run from Cornhill to Lombard Street is one known as Pope's Head Alley, on the site of which King John, of Magna Charta renown, had a residence.

Shortly after his death it was turned into a tavern or hostelry, with the title of The Pope's Head. Why it received that name is not known for certain, but it is highly probable it was in some way connected with the fact of that justly unpopular monarch having acknowledged himself a vassal of the Pope of Rome, much to the displeasure of many of his subjects. At the time of the Great Fire of 1666, when the old house was utterly destroyed, it was the most ancient tavern in the City of London. It was rebuilt immediately after, and retained its old name of Pope's Head.

There has been a somewhat egotistic fashion in vogue for some years past of discarding the old names of taverns, and calling them after the names of their owners or landlords. This was the case in the present instance, and what was the Pope's Head was, in the earlier part of the century, a highly respectable chop-house and restaurant, under the name of " Reeves'," very few of its frequenters knowing it was ever called after his Holiness of Rome.

Short's, No 3.

Only a few years ago it changed hands, having been purchased by the late Mr. Short, who abolished the supplying of eatables, barring a few biscuits and plum buns ; and opened it as a City edition of his well-known establishment opposite to Somerset House in the Strand, where for many years he supplied wines from the wood, and spirits too, of such excellent quality that the bars of both places are always crowded with customers.

It was at the Old Pope's Head Tavern that Samuel Pepys, when a young man, partook of his first " dish of tea " in 1660.

In 1464, in Edward IV.'s reign, a wager was made at this house between a goldsmith from Alicante, in Spain, and an Englishman of the same trade, as to who was the best workman, the foreigner or the Englishman. The work was produced by both, and the Englishman won his wager.

In 1615 the tavern belonged to Sir William Craven, who bequeathed it to the Merchant Tailors' Company.

Pepys, in his Diary, speaks of one of the rooms as being " finely painted ; '' that was in 1668-9.

On 14th April, 1718, Quin, the actor, fought a duel in the house with a hot-headed Irish comedian, named Bowen, who was jealous of him ; and on Quin entering the room, Bowen stood before the door, and drawing his sword, bade Quin draw his. After remonstrating with him to no purpose, Quin drew in self-defence, and tried his best to disarm his aggressor, but to no purpose, and in the encounter that ensued Bowen was wounded, and died in three days. He stated before dying that he was in the wrong, and Quin was tried, but acquitted.

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 01:16:37 BST
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