Daniel Defoe’s Diary of the plague year was published in 1722, over 50 years after the 1665 plague that struck the City of London. They don’t do plagues like they used to.
All the same, it has been a bizarre few months for those of us who stayed in the City and the manager of the Cockpit pub tells me he has not left the City boundaries since early March.
All the better then that the pub is open now and looking no different than the day it closed on March 19th. (I lie – the carpets are cleaner, the brown is browner).
First proper sign of the new normal in EC4. The Cockpit opened its doors Sept 2nd. The Timmy Taylor’s tasted good with Philip Perrson. pic.twitter.com/FtbWxhH3Nq
— Henry Tapper (@henryhtapper) September 3, 2020
The pubs of Blackfriars
Legend has it that when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries (Blackfriars priory among them) , the land remained with the Church, even it the church was removed from the land. While the City of London swung to a puritanical lockdown, church land was outside the control of the City fathers.
The site of the Cockpit (now and then in Ireland Yard) was church land and the string of pubs that led up from the river were known as the four castles, each echoing Baynard’s Castle, a Norman stronghold and residence of Edward III that still gives its name to the ward to the East of Blackfriars. Edward decided to move his glad-rags up to the Kings Wardrobe which gave our neck of the woods some glamour in the middle ages.
The Cockpit was nicknamed the fourth castle being the furthest from the river. Those who work in 60 Queen Victoria Street will be pleased to know that the BNY Mellon’s building is built on the sites of two other castles.
Pubs were able to flourish on church land as were brothels and playhouses. Twelfth Night and the Winters Tale both had their first performances in the Winter Playhouse, situated in what is now the Apothecaries Hall adjacent to Playhouse Yard.
For Defoe, this was a depraved but most enjoyable part of London, It was of course cursed by the plague and destroyed by the fire that engulfed the City in 1666. When Shakespeare bought property in Blackfriars (probably the other side of Ireland Yard from the Cockpit), it would have been inside Blackfriars . Shakespeare’s theaters in Bankside, Moorgate and Blackfriars, were even then handily sited for pubs and whore houses.
They don’t do plagues like they used to.
COVID-19 might well have been a plague had it arrived in 1665.
Week after week I bashed pans in the intersection of Ireland Yard and St Andrews Hill (formerly Puddle Dock Hill) at the entrance to Wardrobe Terrace (marked in green)
The street plan for my building in “Fryer Street” is that of the sixteenth century (above) It survives though the church was gutted in 1666 and 1940.
There is a priest hole in the church and in the pub, many eminent punters would not be seen entering Blackfriars by the gate but preferred the subterranean passage between the ale house and the prayer house (for obvious reasons).
As I stood banging my pan at this little cross-roads , I thought how little our danger compared with our forefathers for whom life was rather less than half as long.
“Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. Hobbes described the natural state of mankind in Leviathan and we would do well to remember that we never had a plague so good.