Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 The King's Head Tavern in the Poultry


This Tavern, which stood at the western extremity of the Stocks' Market, was not first known by the sign of the King's Head, but the Rose: Machin, in his Diary, Jan. 5, 1560, thus mentions it: "A gentleman arrested for debt; Master Cobham, with divers gentlemen and serving-men, took him from the officers, and carried him to the Rose Tavern, where so great a fray, both the sheriffs were feign to come, and from the Rose Tavern took all the gentlemen and their servants, and carried them to the Compter."

The house was distinguished by the device of a large, well-painted Rose, erected over a doorway, which was the only indication in the main street of such an establishment. In the superior houses of the metropolis in the sixteenth century, room was gained in the rear of the street-line, the space in front being economized, so that the line of shops might not be interrupted. Upon this plan, the larger taverns in the City were constructed, wherever the ground was sufficiently spacious behind: hence it was that the Poultry tavern of which we are speaking, was approached through a long, narrow, covered passage, opening into a well-lighted quadrangle, around which were the tavern-rooms. The sign of the Rose appears to have been a costly work, since there was the fragment of a leaf of an old account-book preserved, when the ruins of the house were cleared after the Great Fire, on which were written these entries:—"Pd. to Hoggestreete, the Duche Paynter, for ye Picture of a Rose, wth a Standing-bowle and Glasses, for a Signe, xxli. besides Diners and Drinkings. Also for a large Table of Walnut-tree, for a Frame; and for Iron-worke and Hanging the Picture, vli." The artist who is referred to in this memorandum, could be no other than Samuel Van Hoogstraten, a painter of the middle of the seventeenth century, whose works in England are very rare. He was one of the many excellent artists of the period, who, as Walpole contemptuously says, "painted still-life, oranges and lemons, plate, damask curtains, cloth-of-gold, and that medley of familiar objects that strike the ignorant vulgar."

But, beside the claims of the painter, the sign of the Rose cost the worthy tavern-keeper, a still further outlay, in the form of divers treatings and advances made to a certain rather loose man of letters of his acquaintance, possessed of more wit than money, and of more convivial loyalty than either discretion or principle. Master Roger Blythe frequently patronized the Rose Tavern as his favourite ordinary. Like Falstaff, he was "an infinite thing" upon his host's score; and, like his prototype also, there was no probability of his ever discharging the account. When the Tavern-sign was about to be erected, this Master Blythe contributed the poetry to it, after the fashion of the time, which he swore was the envy of all the Rose Taverns in London, and of all the poets who frequented them. "There's your Rose at Temple Bar, and your Rose in Covent-garden, and the Rose in Southwark: all of them indifferent good for wits, and for drawing neat wines too; but, smite me, Master King," he would say, "if I know one of them all fit to be set in the same hemisphere with yours! No! for a bountiful host, a most sweet mistress, unsophisticated wines, honest measures, a choicely-painted sign, and a witty verse to set it forth withal,—commend me to the Rose Tavern in the Poultry!"

Even the tavern-door exhibited a joyous frontispiece; since the entrance was flanked by two columns twisted with vines carved in wood, which supported a small square gallery over the portico surrounded by handsome iron-work. On the front of this gallery was erected the sign, in a frame of similar ornaments. It consisted of a central compartment containing the Rose, behind which appeared a tall silver cup, called in the language of the time "a standing-bowl," with drinking-glasses. Beneath the painting was this inscription:—

in the Poultrey:
Citizen and Vintner.

"This Taverne's like its Signe—a lustie Rose,

A sight of joy that sweetness doth enclose:

The daintie Flow're well-pictur'd here is seene,

But for its rarest sweetes—Come, Searche Within!"

The authorities of St. Peter-upon-Cornhill soon determined, on the 10th of May, 1660, in Vestry, "that the King's Arms, in painted-glass, should be refreshed, and forthwith be set up by the Churchwarden at the parish-charges; with whatsoever he giveth to the glazier as a gratuity, for his care in keeping of them all this while."

The host of the Rose resolved at once to add a Crown to his sign, with the portrait of Charles, wearing it in the centre of the flower, and openly to name his tavern "The Royal Rose and King's Head." He effected his design, partly by the aid of one of the many excellent pencils which the time supplied, and partly by the inventive muse of Master Blythe, which soon furnished him with a new poesy. There is not any further information extant concerning the painting, but the following remains of an entry on another torn fragment of the old account-book already mentioned, seem to refer to the poetical inscription beneath the picture:— ... "on ye Night when he made ye Verses for my new Signe, a Soper, and v. Peeces." The verses themselves were as follow:—

"Gallants, Rejoice!—This Flow're is now full-blowne;

'Tis a Rose—Noble better'd by a Crowne;

All you who love the Embleme and the Signe,

Enter, and prove our Loyaltie and Wine."

Beside this inscription, Master King also recorded the auspicious event referred to, by causing his painter to introduce into the picture a broad-sheet, as if lying on the table with the cup and glasses—on which appeared the title "A Kalendar for this Happy Yeare of Restauration 1660, now newly Imprinted."

As the time advanced when Charles was to make his entry into the metropolis, the streets were resounding with the voices of ballad-singers pouring forth loyal songs, and declaring, with the whole strength of their lungs, that

"The King shall enjoy his own again."

Then, there were also to be heard, the ceaseless horns and proclamations of hawkers and flying-stationers, publishing the latest passages or rumours touching the royal progress; which, whether genuine or not, were bought and read, and circulated, by all parties. At length all the previous pamphlets and broad-sheets were swallowed up by a well-known tract, still extant, which the newsmen of the time thus proclaimed:—"Here is A True Accompt and Narrative—of his Majestie's safe Arrival in England—as 'twas reported to the House of Commons, on Friday, the 25th day of this present May—with the Resolutions of both Houses thereupon:—Also a Letter very lately writ from Dover—relating divers remarkable Passages of His Majestie's Reception there."

On every side the signs and iron-work were either refreshed, or newly gilt and painted: tapestries and rich hangings, which had engendered moth and decay from long disuse, were flung abroad again, that they might be ready to grace the coming pageant. The paving of the streets was levelled and repaired for the expected cavalcade; and scaffolds for spectators were in the course of erection throughout all the line of march. Floods of all sorts of wines were consumed, as well in the streets as in the taverns; and endless healths were devotedly and energetically swallowed, at morning, noon, and night.

At this time Mistress Rebecca King was about to add another member to Master King's household: she received from hour to hour accounts of the proceedings as they occurred, which so stimulated her curiosity, that she declared, first to her gossips, and then to her husband, that she "must see the King pass the tavern, or matters might go cross with her."

A kind of arbour was made for Mistress Rebecca in the small iron gallery surmounting the entrance to the tavern. This arbour was of green boughs and flowers, hung round with tapestry and garnished with silver plate; and here, when the guns at the Tower announced that Charles had entered London, Mistress King took her seat, with her children and gossips around her. All the houses in the main streets from London-bridge to Whitehall, were decorated like the tavern with rich silks and tapestries, hung from every scaffold, balcony, and window; which, as Herrick says, turned the town into a park, "made green and trimmed with boughs." The road through London, so far as Temple-Bar, was lined on the north side by the City Companies, dressed in their liveries, and ranged in their respective stands, with their banners; and on the south by the soldiers of the trained-bands.

One of the wine conduits stood on the south side of the Stocks' Market, over which Sir Robert Viner subsequently erected a triumphal statue of Charles II. About this spot, therefore, the crowd collected in the Market-place, aided by the fierce loyalty supplied from the conduit, appears for a time to have brought the procession to a full stop, at the moment when Charles, who rode between his brothers the Dukes of York and Gloucester, was nearly opposite to the newly-named King's Head Tavern. In this most favourable interval, Master Blythe, who stood upon a scaffold in the doorway, took the opportunity of elevating a silver cup of wine and shouting out a health to his Majesty. His energetical action, as he pointed upwards to the gallery, was not lost; and the Duke of Buckingham, who rode immediately before the King with General Monk, directed Charles's attention to Mistress Rebecca, saying, "Your Majesty's return is here welcomed even by a subject as yet unborn." As the procession passed by the door of the King's Head Tavern, the King turned towards it, raised himself in his stirrups, and gracefully kissed his hand to Mistress Rebecca. Immediately such a shout was raised from all who beheld it or heard of it, as startled the crowd up to Cheapside conduit; and threw the poor woman herself into such an ecstasy, that she was not conscious of anything more, until she was safe in her chamber and all danger happily over.[31]

The Tavern was rebuilt after the Great Fire, and flourished many years. It was long a depôt in the metropolis for turtle; and in the quadrangle of the Tavern might be seen scores of turtle, large and lively, in huge tanks of water; or laid upward on the stone floor, ready for their destination. The Tavern was also noted for large dinners of the City Companies and other public bodies. The house was refitted in 1852, but has since been closed.

Another noted Poultry Tavern was the Three Cranes, destroyed in the Great Fire, but rebuilt, and noticed in 1698, in one of the many paper controversies of that day. A fulminating pamphlet, entitled "Ecclesia et Factio: a Dialogue between Bow Church Steeple and the Exchange Grasshopper," elicited "An Answer to the Dragon and Grasshopper: in a Dialogue between an Old Monkey and a Young Weasel, at the Three Cranes Tavern, in the Poultry."

[31] Abridged from an Account of the Tavern, by an Antiquary.

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