The Bull and Mouth: A Lost London Coaching Inn
Until the mid 1800s coaching inn were littered across London. A combination of pub, restaurant and hotel, they served weary travellers making their journeys in stages across the country (hence, stagecoach).
There’s only one traditional galleried coaching inn left in London and that’s the magnificent George Inn.
Rebuilt in 1676 an survivor of The Blitz (and, more deadly for coaching inn, the railway boom) it still stands on Borough High Street.
But some famous coaching inns are far harder to find.
Look Closer at the Museum of London
I’ve visited the fabulous Museum of London many times, but it wasn’t until recently that I spotted this bit of masonry in their sunken garden.
But look closer and you’ll spot this magnificent reminder;
It commemorates the Bull and Mouth Coaching Inn, one of 20 inns in the City, that used to 51 coaches and a whopping 700 underground horse stables.
There’s a cryptic inscription along the base;
Milo the Cretonian an ox slew with his fist and ate it up at one meal. Ye gods what a glorious twist.
Which – as London Remembers points out – probably refers to Milo of Croton, a 6th Century Greek wrestler. Why? I’m afraid that one beats me.
But more obvious is the clever graphic design of the name; Bull and Mouth. Can you see the gaping face?
As for the choice of name, it comes from the fine English tradition to completely Bastardised a word. Sure enough, Bull and Mouth started out as the more elegant Boulogne Mouth, a nod to the French town and harbour besieged by Henry VIII in 1544, suggesting it was founded in the 16th century.
Where was it?
Because nothing is ever simple in London history, this statuette wasn’t always here. It used to be higher up on St Martin-Le-Grand on the side of the Queen Hotel, rebuilt 1830.
That, in turn was bulldozed (sorry) in 1888 to make way for General Post Office buildings, but you can still see a City of London Corporation blue plaque.
The coaching inn itself seems to have been on Aldersgate Street, from which St Martin-Le-Grand flows into, a bit further up.
To make matters more complicated, there’s also a curious painted ghost sign under Smithfield’s rotunda car park.
As tempting as it would be to imagine this was somehow part of the inn’s underground stables, sadly, I think that’s a bit far-fetched. It’s about half a mile from where the inn used to stand and (though it is covered) the paintwork looks pretty new to have been there since the 19th century.
Given how popular Smithfield is as a film location, it seems more likely that it’s simply a leftover film set that’s remained behind to puzzle us curious Londoners. I haven’t been able to determine which film it might have related to, so if you have an idea let me know!
As for the remaining sculpture, given that the Museum of London is moving over the next couple of years it remains to be seen what will happen to it, perhaps it will be moved inside their new galleries? Ideas on a postcard please!
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Coaching Inns were once littered across London, but only one has truly survived. However, a little clue at the Museum of London started a journey to find the lost inn of The Bull and Mouth......