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Elegy For The White Hart

December 30, 2014
by the gentle author

The White Hart c. 1800 by John Thomas Smith

Charles Goss, one of the first archivists at the Bishopsgate Institute, was in thrall to the romance of old Bishopsgate and in 1930 he wrote a lyrical history of The White Hart, which he believed to be its most ancient tavern – originating as early as 1246.

At the end of the year which saw last orders called at The White Hart forever, I have been reading Goss’ account to compose this elegy for one of London’s oldest inns.

“Its history as an inn can be of little less antiquity than that of the Tabard, the lodging house of the feast-loving Chaucer and the Canterbury pilgrims, or the Boar’s Head in Eastcheap, the rendezvous of Prince Henry and his lewd companions.” - CWF Goss

In Goss’ time, Bishopsgate still contained medieval shambles that were spared by the Fire of London and he recalled the era before the coming of the railway, when the street was lined with old coaching inns, serving as points of departure and arrival for travellers to and from the metropolis. “During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, The White Hart tavern was at the height of its prosperity.” he wrote fondly, “It was a general meeting place of literary men of the neighbourhood and the rendezvous of politicians and traders, and even noblemen visited it.”

The White Hart’s history is interwoven with the founding of the Hospital of St Mary Bethlehem in 1246 by Simon Fitz Mary, whose house once stood upon the site of the tavern. He endowed his land in Bishopsgate, extending beneath the current Liverpool St Station, to the monastery and Goss believed the brothers stayed in Fitz Mary’s mansion once they first arrived from Palestine, until the hospital was constructed in 1257 with the gatehouse situated where Liverpool St meets Bishopsgate today. This dwelling may have subsequently became a boarding house for pilgrims outside the City gate and when the first licences to sell sweet wines were issued to three taverns in Bishopsgate in August 1365, this is likely to have been the origin of the White Hart’s status as a tavern.

Yet, ten years later in 1375, Edward III took possession of the monastery as an “alien priory’ and turned it over to become a hospital for the insane. The gateway was replaced in the reign of Richard II and the date ’1480′ that adorned the front of the inn until the nineteenth century suggests it was rebuilt with a galleried yard at the same time and renamed The White Hart, acquiring Richard’s badge as its own symbol. The galleried yard offered the opportunity for theatrical performances, while increased traffic in Bishopsgate and the reputation of Shoreditch as a place of entertainments drew the audience.

“Vast numbers of stage coaches, wagons, chaises and carriages passed through Bishopsgate St at this time,” wrote Goss excitedly, “Travellers and carriers arriving near the City after the gates had been closed or those who for other reasons desired to remain outside the City wall until the morning, would naturally put up at one of the galleried inns, or taverns near the City gate and The White Hart was esteemed to be one of the most important taverns at that time. Here they would find small private rooms, where the visitors not only took their meals but transacted all manner of business and, if the food dispensed was good enough, the wine strong, the feather beds deep and heavily curtained, the bedrooms were certainly cold and draughty, for the doors opened onto unprotected galleries – but apparently they were comfortable enough for travellers in former days.”

The occasion of Charles Goss’ history of The White Hart was the centenary of its rebuilding upon its original foundations in 1829, yet although the medieval structure above ground was replaced, Goss was keen to emphasise that, “When the tavern was taken down it was found to be built upon cellars constructed in earlier centuries. Those were not destroyed, but were again used in the construction of the present house.” This rebuilding coincided with Bedlam Gate being removed and the road widened and renamed Liverpool St, after the Hospital of St Mary Bethlehem had transferred to Lambeth in 1815. At this time, the date ’1246 ‘- referring to the founding of the monastery – was placed upon the pediment on The White Hart where it may be seen to this day.

“This tavern which claims to be endowed with the oldest licence in London, is still popular, for its various compartments appear always to be well patronised during the legal hours they are open for refreshment and there can be none of London’s present-day inns which can trace its history as far back as The White Hart, Bishopsgate,” concluded Goss in satisfaction in 1930.

In 2011, permission was granted by the City of London to demolish all but the facade of The White Hart and this year the pub shut for the last time to permit the construction of a nine storey cylindrical office block of questionable design, developed by Sir Alan Sugar’s company Amsprop. Thus passes The White Hart after more than seven centuries in Bishopsgate, and I am glad Charles Goss is not here to see it.

The White Hart from a drawing by George Shepherd, 1810

White Hart Court, where the coaches once drove through to the galleried yard of the White Hart

Design by Inigo Jones for buildings constructed in White Hart Court in 1610

Seventeenth century tavern token, “At The White Hart”

Reverse of the Tavern Token ” At Bedlam Gate 1637″

The White Hart as it appeared in 1787

The White Hart, prior to the rebuilding of 1829

The White Hart in recent years

The White Hart as it stands today

Amsprop’s impression of the future of The White Hart as a facade to a cylindrical office building.

Archive images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to read about

Bishopsgate Tavern Tokens

Piggott Brothers of Bishopsgate

At Dirty Dick’s

J.W.Stutter, Cutlers Ltd

At James Ince & Sons, Umbrella Makers

Vivian Betts of Bishopsgate

Charles Goss’ Bishopsgate Photographs

The Romance of Old Bishopsgate

Tallis’ Street Views of Bishopsgate 1838

21 Responses leave one →
  1. December 30, 2014

    It is so hard to believe that the powers that be are destroying an ancient monument for an office building. Once again it seems to be a case of ‘The higher the building, the lower the morals’, or perhaps it should be ‘The higher the profits, the lower the morals’. Shame on these vandals! Valerie

  2. Glenn permalink
    December 30, 2014

    To keep merely the facade of a building is almost worse than demolishing it completely. What are passersby to do? Look at an imagine what once was? An old facade on a modern building looks ridiculous and I’m sure this will be no exception.
    Shame shame shame Alan Sugar and the City of London!
    Too many historic buildings in the East End are being lost.

  3. Annie permalink
    December 30, 2014

    This is sad; farewell, old tavern pal. I have passed this countless times, always promising I would pop in and have a look, especially at the old entrance to the coaching yard but now it is too late. The White Hart always looked so jolly and full of life, a remnant of Bishopsgate that remained in the last years of crazy building, when the scale went beyond human. Tempus fugit.

  4. Donald Parsnios permalink
    December 30, 2014

    What a shame that Lord Sugar cannot also rip the insides our of neighbouring St Botolph’s whose anachronistic presence would much better be suited to being turned into a virgin active gym, sushi bar or just a place for City of London workers to chill out on beanbags.
    In addition nearby John Soane’s now out of place , severe, monolithic Bank of England building is well overdue for updating , perhaps it too could have its innards scooped out and its facade conceal some kind of useful hairdressing centre or another , bigger , sushi bar .

  5. Victoria permalink
    December 30, 2014

    Incredible shame. The proposed new building looks hideous and I’m surprised the plans were passed. Saving the facade is not enough.

  6. Barbara permalink
    December 30, 2014

    I am truly shocked ! had no idea this was happening . I have just finished reading ” Harry’s Last Stand ” and he is absolutely right ….it’s about time we all got together and stopped this carnage by the greedy and self motivated. Whether it’s the NHS or our heritage , there are those who forget that these belong to us all . Shame on Alan Sugar ..East End boy !!!!!

  7. December 30, 2014

    A STRANGE NEW WORLD …

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  8. Jason Hollis permalink
    December 30, 2014

    Heartbreaking! The facade is itself little more than a Georgian facade on what was a much older building. The little bit of history that has been grudgingly allowed to remain is nothing compared to the history that has been irretrievably lost.

  9. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    December 30, 2014

    What a shame.One would have thought that given Lord Sugar’s background,he would want to preserve the old parts of his native city, not build yet another block of offices! Shame on him for his greed!

  10. Stella Herbert permalink
    December 30, 2014

    I despair. What are the planners & London dignitaries up to? Shame on them all. So many of my relatives have walked past on their way to St. Botolph’s. Will that be allowed to remain – for now? Would Paris, Lisbon or Rome allow such destruction at the heart of their historic cities?

  11. Nicholas Whitsun-Jones permalink
    December 30, 2014

    Unbelievable. How has this been allowed to happen? The City of London Corporation should be ashamed of itself. Can nothing be done to stop it? Has planning permission and listed building consent been obtained for the demolition and new build?

  12. Nicholas Whitsun-Jones permalink
    December 30, 2014

    “There were many coaching inns on Bishopsgate and The White Hart Inn, was claimed to be the oldest, it has a date of 1480 displayed across its medieval façade in historic images. Although rebuilt in 1829 following the creation of Liverpool Street, White Hart Court partially survives and is a reminder of the Inn’s galleried courtyard and the dense network of alleys which previously existed on the west side of Bishopsgate”. This is from the City of London’s own September 2014 “Character Summary and Management Strategy SPD” document on the Bishopsgate Conservation Area, so how can it be demolished? See: http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/services/environment-and-planning/planning/heritage-and-design/conservation-areas/Documents/bishopsgate-conservation-area-spd-sept-14.pdf

  13. Linda M permalink
    December 30, 2014

    It makes me weep to see bit by bit the soul of the historic City being ripped out and replaced with these flashy and out-of-scale buildings by those in thrall to greed and self-aggrandisement. What can we do to stop it before any more of our precious heritage is lost forever?

  14. Peter Holford permalink
    December 31, 2014

    Progress? I’m not sure how people in the City measure it any more apart from counting it in pounds. For some Shanghai appears to be their model and they wouldn’t care if London ends up looking like a clone of it.

  15. Charlie06 permalink
    January 2, 2015

    This is a disgrace.

    I have enjoyed a pint in this pub in the past, and to see it demolished like this is very, very sad.

    There seems to be little consideration given to the preservation of the soul of our historic City.

  16. Richard Skelton permalink
    January 4, 2015

    Another part of London’s history gone for no good reason.

  17. Christina Welch permalink
    January 5, 2015

    Why destroy more of London’s history? Our past is important, it grounds us. It would be foolish to let it go given how much has already been lost

  18. August 31, 2015

    As an artist who specialises in painting old buildings, I am passionate about them for their aesthetic and historical qualities – as are many like-minded people here. How appalling – the very idea of demolishing such an attractive building of architectural and historical significance. As a child in my home town of Liverpool, I saw the destruction of whole areas of beautiful old buildings – only to be replaced with ugly, sub-standard structures (which in most cases, have not withstood the test of time). It was said that ‘the heart had been ripped out of the city.’ Once such destruction is undertaken, it can never be reversed – the character of a place has changed forever. Only an ignorant, money-grubbing philistine could contemplate demolishing the White Heart. We should cherish and protect all of the historical buildings that we still have left.

  19. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    December 15, 2015

    There really should be a special hell for these “developers”& businessmen who create these dreadful buildings by pulling down interesting old ones.Soon the’ll be nothing left but soulless empty skyscrapers that no one wants,or indeed wnated in the first place.Boris has a lot to answer for!

  20. Peter Heritage permalink
    August 21, 2016

    As usual another glass clad building is erected at the expense of a lovely old building. I wonder in Sugar has ever drunk in the pub. As years go on London will soon resemble Chicago and the likes. I don’t see this happening in Paris or other major European cities. I ask myself what is the Corporation of London or the mayor of London doing to preserve these buildings. What next, St. Paul’s turned into a gastro pub…

  21. Carol Brill permalink
    May 23, 2017

    I’m a descendant of Letitia Monro, who was transported to Australia in 1788 on the First Fleet. Her older brother Hugh died in White Hart Court, and it’s wonderful to see images of the court more than two hundred years later – thankyou for your wonderful site.

    Here’s a transcript of the inquest into young Hugh’s death, from the wonderful London Lives website:

    “City & Liberty of Westmr . in the County of Middlesex }
    Informations taken this Fifteenth day of April 1768 at the Parish of St. Margaret within the City and Liberty of Westmr . in the County of Middlesex on an Inquisition touching the Death of Hugh Monro lying dead in the said Parish City Liberty and County.

    Alexander Monro a Lodger at Mr. Satliff at the First floor in White Hart Court in the Parish of St.
    Margaret Westmr . Labourer , Father to Hugh Monro the Deced [..] about the Age of five Years, on his Oath saith that Yesterday Morning about a Quarter after Eight o’clock this Dept. went down Stairs out of his Lodger Room to fetch a pail of clean water, and his Wife immediately followed with a pail of Dirty water leaving the Deced in the Room rocking two small Children in the Cradle Says that which he was in the Court he heard some of the Neighbours cry out that this Dept. was falling
    out of the Window, upon which he immediately saw the Deced fall upon the Stone Pavement in the said Court, where he lay Speechless and unable to move, Says that he observed a Bruise upon the Right side of Deced’s Head, which Bled, Says that the Deced Continued Speechless and died in about
    half an hour, Says that he saw the Surgeon dress the Deced’s Head, and that he then observed a large Fracture in the Scull, which he believes was the cause of Deced’s Death, And this Dept. further says that no Person was in the Room with Deced when he fell out at the Window, Excepting the two little Children in the Cradle.

    The Mark of
    [mark]
    Alexander Monro

    Sworn the Day Year & Place abovementioned before me
    Tho. Prickard Coroner }”

    It’s astonishing to think Letitia was one of those children being rocked in the cradle!

    Best wishes,

    Carol Brill,
    Old Beach,
    Tasmania.

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