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THREE CRANES IN THE VINTRY.
Three Cranes, Thames street
This was one of Ben Jonson's taverns, and has already been incidentally mentioned. Strype describes it as situate in "New Queen-street, commonly called the Three Cranes in the Vintry, a good open street, especially that part next Cheapside, which is best built and inhabited. At the lowest end of the street, next the Thames, is a pair of stairs, the usual place for the Lord Mayor and Aldermen to take water at, to go to Westminster Hall, for the new Lord Mayor to be sworn before the Barons of the Exchequer. This place, with the Three Cranes, is now of some account for the coster-mongers, where they have their warehouse for their fruit' In Scott's Kenilworth we hear much of this Tavern.
The "Three Cranes" was formerly a favourite London sign. Instead of the three cranes which in the Vintry used to lift the barrels of wine, three birds were represented. The "Three Cranes" in Thames Street was a famous tavern as early as the reign of James I. It was one of the taverns frequented by the wits in Ben Jonson's time. In one of his plays he says:—
"A pox o' these pretenders to wit! your 'Three Cranes,' 'Mitre,' and 'Mermaid' men! Not a corn of true salt, not a grain of right mustard amongst them all."—Bartholomew Fair, act i., sc. I.
And in another of his plays we have:—
"Iniquity. Nay, boy, I will bring thee to the sluts and the roysters,
At Billingsgate, feasting with claret-wine and oysters;
From thence shoot the bridge, child, to the 'Cranes,' in the Vintry,
And see there the gimblets how they make their entry.'
Ben Jonson, "The Devil is an Ass," act i., sc. I.
On the 23rd of January, 1661–2, Pepys suffered a bitter mortification of the flesh in having to dine at this tavern with some poor relations. The sufferings of the snobbish secretary must have been intense:—"By invitacion to my uncle Fenner's, where I found his new wife, a pitiful, old, ugly, illbred woman in a hatt, a midwife. Here were many of his, and as many of her relations, sorry, mean people; and after choosing our gloves we all went over to the 'Three Crane' Taverne, and (though the best room of the house), in such a narrow dogghole we were crammed (and I believe we were near forty), that it made me loath my company and victuals, and a sorry poor dinner it was too."
The Mercurius Politicus of May 14th, 1660, says: "Information was given to the Council of State that several of His Majesty's goods were kept at a fruiterer's warehouse near the 'Three Cranes,' in Thames Street, for the use of Mistress Elizabeth Cromwell, wife to Oliver Cromwell, sometime called Protector; and the Council ordered that persons be appointed to view them, and seventeen cart-loads of rich house stuff was taken from thence and brought to Whitehall, from whence they were stolen."
"New Queen Street," says Strype, "commonly called the 'Three Cranes,' in the Vintry, a good open street, especially that part next Cheapside, which is best built and inhabited. ... At the low end of the street, next the Thames, is a pair of stairs, the usual place for the Lord Mayor and aldermen to take water at, to go to Westminster Hall, for the new Lord Mayor to be sworn before the Barons of the Exchequer. This place, with the 'Three Cranes,' is now of some account for the costermongers, where they have their warehouses for their fruit."
Within easy distance of Eastcheap, in Upper Thames Street, which skirts the river bank, there stood, in Shakespeare's day and much later, a tavern bearing the curious name of the Three Cranes in the Vintry. John Stow, that zealous topographer to whom the historians of London owe so large a debt, helps to explain the mystery. The vintry, he tells us, was that part of the Thames bank where "the merchants of Bordeaux craned their wines out of lighters and other vessels, and there landed and made sale of them." He also adds that the Three Cranes' lane was "so called not only of a sign of three cranes at a tavern door, but rather 'of three strong cranes of timber placed on the Vintry wharf by the Thames side, to crane up wines there." Earlier than the seventeenth century, however, it would seem that one crane had to suffice for the needs of "the merchants of Bordeaux," and then the tavern was known simply as the Crane. Two references, dated respectively 1552 and 1554, speak of the sign in the singular. Twenty years later, however, the one had become three.
Ben Jonson, whose knowledge of London inns and taverns was second, only to that of Pepys, evidently numbered the Three Cranes in the Vintry among his houses of call. Of two of his allusions to the house one is derogatory of the wit of its patrons, the other laudatory of the readiness of its service. "A pox o' these pretenders to wit!" runs the first passage. "Your Three Cranes, Mitre, and Mermaid men! Not a corn of true salt, not a grain of right mustard amongst them all." And here is the other side of the shield, credited to Iniquity in "The Devil is an Ass":--
"Nay, boy, I will bring thee to the bawds and roysters
At Billingsgate, feasting with claret-wine and oysters;
From thence shoot the Bridge, child, to the Cranes in the Vintry,
And see there the gimblets how they make their entry."
Of course Pepys was acquainted with the house. He had, indeed, a savage memory of one meal under its roof. It was all owing to the marrying proclivities of his uncle Fenner. Bereft of his wife on the last day of August, that easy-going worthy, less than two months later, was discovered by his nephew in an ale-house, "very jolly and youthsome, and as one that I believe will in a little time get him a wife." Pepys' anticipation was speedily realized. Uncle Fenner had indulged himself with a new partner by the middle of January, and must needs give a feast to celebrate the event. And this is Pepys' frank record of the occasion: "By invitation to my uncle Fenner's, where I found his new wife, a pitiful, old, ugly, ill-bred woman, in a hatt, a midwife. Here were many of his, and as many of her relatives, sorry, mean people; and after choosing our gloves, we all went over to the Three Cranes taverne, and (although the best room of the house) in such a narrow dogg-hole we were crammed, (and I believe we were near forty) that it made me loath my company and victuals; and a sorry, poor dinner it was."
In justice to the Three Cranes, Pepys must not be allowed to have the last word. That particular dinner, no doubt, owed a good deal of its defects to the atmosphere and the company amid which it was served. At any rate, the host of the Black Bear at Cumnor--he of Sir Walter Scott's "Kenilworth"--was never weary of praising the Three Cranes, "the most topping tavern in London" as he emphatically declared.
Lots of references are made to two sources on the
Edward Callows, Old London Taverns &
John Timbs, Club life of London Volume 2
Old and new London : a narrative of its history, its people, and its places Vol 2 - Walter Thornbury 1878
Inns and Taverns by Henry Shelley - Gutenberg ebooks