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.

bull and mouth coaching inn

Rebuilt in 1676, it survived The Blitz and (arguably more deadly for coaching inns) the railway boom) so can still be found off Borough High Street.

However, other famous coaching inns are far harder to find.

Look Closer at the Museum of London

bull and mouth coaching inn

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;

bull and mouth coaching inn

It’s the last surviving piece of the Bull and Mouth Coaching Inn, one of around 20 inns in the City alongside 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 not entirely sure, but perhaps it’s just a convenient classical reference to a bull/ox.

But more obvious is the clever graphic design of the name; Bull and Mouth. A full bull, standing within a gaping mouth!

bull and mouth coaching inn

This name; Bull in Mouth, is actually nothing to do with a mouth or an animal. 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?

The Bull and Mouth Inn predated the Great Fire of London and once stood on Bull and Mouth Street, today the site of Postman’s Park. The street can be clearly seen on the 1676 J Ogilby and W Morgan map;

There’s a surviving image of its inner, galleried yard painted by George Shepherd in 1817.

The Inn was demolished and replaced by the Queen Hotel around 1830 but there’s an engraving showing the new building which is dated 1829 and it looks like this ornamental sculpture was affixed to the new site.

 

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.

bull and mouth coaching inn

You can read more about how the Post Office quarter developed in the 19th century (and why there’s a last fragment 7 miles away!) in my blog post here.

More clues

To make matters more complicated, there’s also a curious painted ghost sign under Smithfield’s rotunda car park.

bull and mouth coaching inn
bull and mouth coaching inn

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 out at the end of 2022 (read about their progress in Smithfield here) it remains to be seen what will happen to it, perhaps it will be moved inside their new galleries?

This blog was originally published 9 January 2018

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bull and mouth coaching inn

6 Comments

  • Luc van den Abeelen

    Reply

    Utterly confused here: is the Bull & Mouth at Regent Circus (Piccadilly Circus) a branch or a different setup with the same name? See: http://www.gac.culture.gov.uk/work.aspx?obj=13891

    February 27, 2018 at 10:09 am
  • Very interesting post, Katie, well done.
    I hope you won’t mind me observing what might be a small infelicity:
    “It commemorates the Bull and Mouth Coaching Inn, one of 20 inns in the City, that used to [serve?] 51 coaches and a whopping 700 underground horse stables.

    Be well and keep the posts coming!
    Johnson

    November 14, 2020 at 1:16 pm
  • Pat White

    Reply

    October 1830. My great great grandfather, Thomas Arkell, arrived by coach at the Bull and Mouth after an overnight trip on a dark and rainy night . He was from Abington Mills and had come to London to catch a ship to New York. He and a few others, led by his cousin John (later of Arkell Brewery) were emigrating to Upper Canada. Thomas wrote in his journal that he had a wash and a breakfast at the Bull and Mouth before heading off to get luggage to the ship. His group wintered in New York and then walked north, arriving in May 1831 at an area they named the Farnham Plains, near today’s Guelph, Ontario. Thanks for the photo of the Coach House’s stone plaque at the Museum!

    July 4, 2021 at 6:26 am
  • Ronald Lloyd

    Reply

    Thanks again for the lovely story about hidden London. I loved walking around the area and visiting The London Museum. Such an interesting place. I am not too sure about the museum moving to Smithfield! All the best from Ron.

    May 4, 2022 at 2:14 pm

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