Larger and more popular than its near neighbours, the Three Kings, the Chicken, and the Plough, the Boar’s Head Tavern, was Eastcheap’s crowning glory. Shakespeare set scenes there and several of his plays, including the Merry Wives of Windsor were performed there.
Running between what is now Great Tower Street in the east and King William Street to the west, Eastcheap was the site of London’s main Medieval meat market and a major centre of London commerce. ‘Cheap’ was the Saxon word for market. Little is known about the founding of the original Boar’s Head Tavern, except that it was erected in the 16th century in wood. Like its neighbours, it perished in the Great Fire of 1666, which started just a few metres away in Pudding Lane.
Rebuilt in brick in 1668, its entrance boasted a stone boar’s head above the door (with the date) and wooden carvings around the door of vines and representations of Falstaff’s head.
Goldsmith wrote his famous A Reverie in the Boars’ Head Tavern at Eastcheap whilst dining there and in 1819 the American writer Washington Irving made a pilgrimage to the Boar’s Head Tavern.
Although he found people living nearby with memories of the place, by then the building had been converted into shops, one of which was run by ‘Mr. M’Kash, an Irish hair-dresser’.
Irving found artefacts from the old Tavern at the nearby Mason’s Arms (at 12 Miles Lane), including a ‘japanned iron tobacco-box, of gigantic size… on the inside of the cover was an inscription, nearly obliterated, recording that this box was the gift of Sir Richard Gore, for the use of the vestry meetings at the Boar’s Head Tavern, and that it was “repaired and beautified by his successor, Mr. John Packard, 1767”.’ He was also shown ‘a drinking cup or goblet… descended from the old Boar’s Head. It bore the inscription of having been the gift of Francis Wythers, knight, and was held, she told me, in exceeding great value, being considered very “antyke”.’
The Boar’s Head – as well as Miles Lane – was demolished in 1831 to make way for the approaches to London Bridge.