Elias Ashmole’s mention of the Half Moon Tavern, Cheapside, London: Its precise location
The Half Moon Tavern on Cheapside was mentioned in Elias Ashmole’s diary, where he ‘dyned’ with a number of Freemasons after a lodge meeting at Masons Hall in London, held at 5pm on the 11th of March 1682. Ashmole mentioned that he ‘was the senior Fellow among them (it being 35 years since I was admitted)’. This of course refers to his being made a Freemason in Warrington in October, 1646. Indeed, the entry of this meeting in 1682 is only the second time he referred to attending a Masonic meeting in his diary.
Few hints of the nature of this meeting are given; we know that a large number of the brethren mentioned by Ashmole were employed by Christopher Wren, and Ashmole mentions how a ‘Noble Dinner’ was ‘prepared at the charge of the New-accepted Masons’. Cheapside is not too far away from St. Paul’s Cathedral, which, at the time of Ashmole’s meeting, was still under construction. Ashmole by this stage in his life, was a renowned gentleman of knowledge; he was a Fellow of the Royal Society, and as a ‘senior Fellow’ of the Freemasons, to have him at the lodge meeting would have been an honour. Thus the Half Moon Tavern would have been a reputable tavern to dine in, and certainly met the requirements to give a ‘Noble Dinner’.
After the Great Fire of London, and in spite of the quality of the rebuilding that was undertaken afterwards, later seventeenth century London was riddled with alleyways, filled with dwellings and taverns such as the Half Moon. Sometimes these alleyways followed old boundaries and became well known for the taverns that were situated in them. The Half Moon Tavern was in Half Moon Alley, heading from Cheapside, and between Foster and Gutter Lanes. It could also be entered from Priest’s Court, Foster Lane (now No. 5), and there was an entrance through the tavern to Gutter Lane. Its exact site is given and marked in Maitland’s History of London. The tavern was never engraved, and the best authorities declare that it was never depicted. The area was bombed heavily during World War II, and all that remains of Half Moon Alley one can see from the head of the kitchen stairs in Sadler’s Hall (see the maps below). The Half Moon Tavern in Aldersgate Street is an entirely different building.
We also have a mention of the tavern and its environs in John Strype’s Survey of London in 1720, which refers to how that area was affected by the Great Fire of London:
‘This Church of St. Fosters, since its burning down in the great Fire of London, is now rebuilt very decently; and beautified within, by the Parishioners of this Parish, and of St. Michaels Quern, which is united unto it. Near unto this Lane, but in Cheapside, is Sadlers Hall, a pretty good Building, seated at the upper end of a handsome Alley; near to which is Half Moon Alley, which is but small. At the upper end of which is a Tavern, which gives a passage into Foster lane, and another into Gutter lane. Gutter lane, but narrow, and none of the best; here dwell several Joiners, that make Chimney Pieces, for which it is of some Note. Here the Company of Embroiderers have their Hall.’
Many thanks to George Brooks who has researched and collected some informative map images that give the location of Half Moon Alley:
Leigh Hunt, The Town, (London: Oxford University Press, 1907).
William Maitland, The History of London from its Foundation by the Romans to the present time. . . . With the several accounts of Westminster, Middlesex, Southwark, and other parts within the Bill of Mortality. The whole illustrated with a variety of fine cuts, (London, 1739). Various editions of Maitland’s ‘History of London’ can be found online.
John Strype, Survey of London (1720), [online] (hriOnline, Sheffield). Available from:
http://localhost:8080/strype/TransformServlet?book3_196 [Accessed 15/5/2020] © hriOnline, 2007.
The Stuart London Project, Humanities Research Institute, The University of Sheffield,
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