The piece of Lost London that most frequently haunts me is the Three Tuns pub on Snow Hill, buried close to today’s Holborn Viaduct. Archaeologists from the Museum of London were let loose on the site a decade ago, prior to a new office block being built at 60 High Holborn. What they discovered was a revelation – substantial remains of a medieval inn that had been expanded during the Tudor and later periods. It was a very modern inn, with its own wine bar and micro brewery.
Some of its walls were 2.5 metres high, and in an ideal world its extensive remains would have been preserved intact within the new development for public access, or even rebuilt as a pub within the new building (now occupied by Amazon). It is almost certainly the oldest inn in Central London. Snow Hill was the main road from St Paul’s to the west of London, taking in the gallows at Tyburn. It followed a steep incline past the pub to a bridge over the River Fleet, then up again. It was the construction of Holborn Viaduct that raised the level of the road and left the pub below ground for future generations to discover.
And so they did. The archaeologists, led by Dave Saxby, uncovered a cornucopia of artefacts, including clay pipes, blue panels, charred bricks from the 1666 Fire of London, writing, water tanks and furnaces and carved bones from nearby Smithfield market. Also unearthed was was the inn’s logo with three barrels and the words “at the 3 Tuns, Holborne Bridge”.
PS: At the end of the 17th century, Richard Ames wrote an epic poem about the difficulty of getting a decent glass of claret in London. He visited dozens of pubs in search of one, including another on Snow Hill called The Castle, where criminals on their way from Newgate to execution at Tyburn were allowed to stop for their final bevy. Ames was about to enter when he realised Tyburn-bound prisoners were already there, and he decided to beat a retreat. He wrote in 1691:
“On Snow Hill at the Castle, two fellows in Halters,
Just going to Tyburn and reading their Psalters,
Made the cart stop, and drink of a pint of Canary,
To attend their sad face with a countenance merry,
To find no claret there, though we had a suspicion,
Yet declined we to enter, by odd superstition,
That if we drank there, it would follow of course,
That in a few sessions their turn would be ours.”
Vic Keegan’s Lost London series can be enjoyed in full here.