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The London Tavern

The Bowyers didn't always eat their dinners and carry on their Court business in Livery halls. Over the centuries they patronised coffee houses and a variety of inns in various parts of the City. One day, the Muniment Committee will research our meeting places, but one stands out.

The Bowyers met here from at least the early 1850s, possibly earlier, until 1873. Previous to that we met for several years at the George and Vulture, off Cornhill, immortalised by Charles Dickens in Pickwick Papers. More of Dickens anon.

Two dinner bills

Two dinner bills Anyway, back to the London Tavern. It was in what was then called Bishopsgate Within, and it was famous. Cast out any visions you may have of cosy, low ceilings, panelled rooms, flagstone floors and the roaring fires of Merrie England's coaching inns. This place was huge. Its nearest relative to-day would probably be the Connaught rooms. The London Tavern's main dining room could set 355 people for dinner. It was rebuilt in 1765 after a fire and was famous for its elegant Regency refinement and excellent meals. The Bowyers ate for most of the time, dinners with desert for 8/6 a head plus wine. That is 42.5 pence for the young among us. We know from our Court minutes that during Mr Arding's year (early 1850s, and it was for two years) the Court dined off turtle variously at an additional 2/6d, 3/6d and 4/6d plus ice cream at 1/- extra. Many Livery Companies used the London Tavern including some of the biggest and best. Prominent among their patrons was the East India Company.

Charles Dickens presided at a meeting there in 1841 - for the benefit of the Sanatorium for Sick Authors and Artists, and in 1851 at the annual dinner for the General Theatrical Fund. And it is in the London Tavern that in "Nicholas Nickleby" the public meeting was held"to take into consideration the propriety of petitioning Parliament in favour of the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company."

On his way to attend the meeting "Mr Bonney elbowed his way upstairs, receiving in his progress many low bows from the waiters who stood on the landings to show the way, and followed by Mr Nickleby, dived into a suite of apartments behind the great pubic room in the second of which a business-looking table and several business-looking people."

© The Guildhall Library, City of London

How easily one can imagine our Bowyer forebears around the Court table in such a room. Business-looking people indeed!

The Bowyers moved from the London Tavern to the Albion Tavern, Aldersgate Street "as a trial" to dine on 29th September 1873. It was the end of an era. The London Tavern was demolished in 1876 and the site is now Nos 1 - 3 Bishopsgate - and is still a handsome building.

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