Tavern Names in Medieval London

What were the names of taverns in the Middle Ages? A list from late medieval London reveals over 50 names, which were inspired by animals, everyday objects and saints.

From 1423 to 1426 the names of over fifty taverns were recorded by William Porland, who was the clerk for London’s fraternity of Brewers. In an article in the Journal of the English Place-Name Society, Barrie Cox described these names and the reasons for how they got them. Here are some of our favourites:


1. The Swan

This was the most popular name, with six taverns in London using it. Other taverns were named for birds as well, including The Crane and The Cock. There were even taverns called The White Cock and The Red Cock.

2. The Dolphin (Dolphyn)

The name of a tavern near St. Magnus’ Church. Other animal names for taverns include The Horse, The Lamb and The Old Bull.


3. The Seven Stars (vij Sterres)

According to medieval knowledge, the seven stars represented the sun, the moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury. Another tavern had the name The Three Moons.

4. The King’s Head (kyngeshed)

A few other taverns had a similar name, including The Horse’s Head, The Ram’s Head and The Saracen’s Head.

5. The Christopher

Two taverns were named after saints: The Christopher, after the patron saint of travellers, and The St. Julian, who was the patron saint of hospitality.

6. The Pewter Pot (peauterpotte)

This tavern ould be found in Ironmonger Lane in Cheapside. It probably got its name from a type of drinking vessel.


7. The Pannier (panyer)

Located on Paternoster Row, it would have been based on the French word panier, which means bread basket. Barrie Cox notes “this seems appropriate as a name for a lowly eating- and drinking-house.”

8. The Cony (Cony yn Conyhooplane)

Derived from the Middle English word for a rabbit, Cox believes “the name suggests a small tavern where a rabbit stew could be enjoyed.”

Other names of medieval taverns in London include The Ball, The Basket, The Bell, The Cross, The Cup, The Garland, The Green Gate, The Hammer, The Lattice, The Rose and two that were called The Ship.


Barrie Cox’ article ‘Some London Inn and Tavern Names 1423-1426’ appears the Journal of the English Place-Name Society, Vol.30 (1997-8). He also wrote the book English Inn and Tavern Names, which was published in 1994.

Top Image: Pieter Brueghel the Younger created this painting of peasants outside a tavern, which was also named The Swan. Wikimedia Commons