Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 The Bear at the Bridge Foot


This celebrated tavern, situated in Southwark, on the west side of the foot of London Bridge, opposite the end of St. Olave's or Tooley-street, was a house of considerable antiquity. We read in the accounts of the Steward of Sir John Howard, March 6th, 1463-4 (Edward IV.), "Item, payd for red wyn at the Bere in Southwerke, iijd." Garrard, in a letter to Lord Strafford, dated 1633 intimates that "all back-doors to taverns on the Thames are commanded to be shut up, only the Bear at Bridge Foot is exempted, by reason of the passage to Greenwich," which Mr. Burn suspects to have been "the avenue or way called Bear Alley."

The Cavaliers' Ballad on the funeral pageant of Admiral Deane, killed June 2nd, 1653, while passing by water to Henry the Seventh's Chapel, Westminster, has the following allusion:—

"From Greenwich towards the Bear at Bridge foot,

He was wafted with wind that had water to't,

But I think they brought the devil to boot,

Which nobody can deny."

Pepys was told by a waterman, going through the bridge, 24th Feb. 1666-7, that the mistress of the Beare Tavern, at the Bridge foot, "did lately fling herself into the Thames, and drown herself."

The Bear must have been a characterless house, for among its gallantries was the following, told by Wycherley to Major Pack, "just for the oddness of the thing." It was this: "There was a house at the Bridge Foot where persons of better condition used to resort for pleasure and privacy. The liquor the ladies and their lovers used to drink at these meetings was canary; and among other compliments the gentlemen paid their mistresses, this it seems was always one, to take hold of the bottom of their smocks, and pouring the wine through that filter, feast their imaginations with the thought of what gave the zesto, and so drink a health to the toast."

The Bear Tavern was taken down in December, 1761, when the labourers found gold and silver coins, of the time of Elizabeth, to a considerable value. The wall that enclosed the tavern was not cleared away until 1764, when the ground was cleared and levelled quite up to Pepper Alley stairs. There is a Token of the Bear Tavern, in the Beaufoy cabinet, which, with other rare Southwark tokens, was found under the floors in taking down St. Olave's Grammar School in 1839.

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