Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Aldersgate Taverns


Two early houses of entertainment in Aldersgate were the Taborer's Inn and the Crown. Of the former, stated to have been of the time of Edward II., we know nothing but the name. The Crown, more recent, stood at the End of Duck-lane, and is described in Ward's London Spy, as containing a noble room, painted by Fuller, with the Muses, the Judgment of Paris, the Contention of Ajax and Ulysses, etc. "We were conducted by the jolly master," says Ward, "a true kinsman of the bacchanalian family, into a large stately room, where at the first entrance, I discerned the master-strokes of the famed Fuller's pencil; the whole room painted by that commanding hand, that his dead figures appeared with such lively majesty that they begat reverence in the spectators towards the awful shadows. We accordingly bade the complaisant waiter oblige us with a quart of his richest claret, such as was fit only to be drank in the presence of such heroes, into whose company he had done us the honour to introduce us. He thereupon gave directions to his drawer, who returned with a quart of such inspiring juice, that we thought ourselves translated into one of the houses of the heavens, and were there drinking immortal nectar with the gods and goddesses:

"Who could such blessings when thus found resign?

An honest vintner faithful to the vine;

A spacious room, good paintings, and good wine."

Far more celebrated was the Mourning Bush Tavern, in the cellars of which have been traced the massive foundations of Aldersgate, and the portion of the City Wall which adjoins them. This tavern, one of the largest and most ancient in London, has a curious history.

The Bush Tavern, its original name, took for its sign the Ivy-bush hung up at the door. It is believed to have been the house referred to by Stowe, as follows:—"This gate (Aldersgate) hath been at sundry times increased with building; namely, on the south or inner side, a great frame of timber, (or house of wood lathed and plastered,) hath been added and set up containing divers large rooms and lodgings," which were an enlargement of the Bush. Fosbroke mentions the Bush as the chief sign of taverns in the Middle Ages, (it being ready to hand,) and so it continued until superseded by "a thing to resemble one containing three or four tiers of hoops fastened one above another with vine leaves and grapes, richly carved and gilt." He adds: "the owner of the Mourning Bush, Aldersgate, was so affected at the decollation of Charles I., that he painted his bush black." From this period the house is scarcely mentioned until the year 1719, when we find its name changed to the Fountain, whether from political feeling against the then exiled House of Stuart, or the whim of the proprietor, we cannot learn; though it is thought to have reference to a spring on the east side of the gate. Tom Brown mentions the Fountain satirically, with four or five topping taverns of the day, whose landlords are charged with doctoring their wines, but whose trade was so great that they stood fair for the alderman's gown. And, in a letter from an old vintner in the City to one newly set up in Covent Garden, we find the following in the way of advice: "as all the world are wholly supported by hard and unintelligible names, you must take care to christen your wines by some hard name, the further fetched so much the better, and this policy will serve to recommend the most execrable scum in your cellar. I could name several of our brethren to you, who now stand fair to sit in the seat of justice, and sleep in their golden chain at churches, that had been forced to knock off long ago, if it had not been for this artifice. It saved the Sun from being eclipsed; the Crown from being abdicated; the Rose from decaying; and the Fountain from being dry; as well as both the Devils from being confined to utter darkness."

Twenty years later, in a large plan of Aldersgate Ward, 1739-40, we find the Fountain changed to the original Bush. The Fire of London had evidently, at this time, curtailed the ancient extent of the tavern. The exterior is shown in a print of the south side of Aldersgate; it has the character of the larger houses, built after the Great Fire, and immediately adjoins the gate. The last notice of the Bush, as a place of entertainment, occurs in Maitland's History of London, ed. 1722, where it is described as "the Fountain, commonly called the Mourning Bush, which has a back door into St. Anne's-lane, and is situated near unto Aldersgate." The house was refitted in 1830. In the basement are the original wine-vaults of the old Bush; many of the walls are six feet thick, and bonded throughout with Roman brick. A very agreeable account of the tavern and the antiquities of neighbourhood was published in 1830.

John Timbs
Club Life of London Vol. II
London, 1866