The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Dec 12, 2007

Sarozons Hedd

While doing a bit of web research on the Saracen's Head Inn of Camomile Street, I found out that there was another Saracen's Head not three furlongs away - south of Aldgate. Interesting events seem to have taken place there, as it was a major station for coaches leaving for Norwich and Cambridge. Situated just outside the city walls, inns such as this did a roaring trade, providing a bed for the night when travellers arrived after the gates of the city were locked. Naturally, they attracted their fair share of petty crime too.

The earliest mention of this pub is from 1539: Sarozons Hedd was sold to John Griffith by Thomas, Lord Audeley. Its sign predates the inn, and probably was influenced by the Crusades. In a book titled Curiosities of London, the author John Timbs quotes a Mr Selden as saying:
When our countrymen came home from fighting with the Saracens, and were beaten by them, they pictured them with huge, big, terrible faces (as you still see the sign of Saracen's Head is), when in truth they were like other men. But this they did to save their own credit.
In 1707, an Elizabeth Stephens was indicted and sentenced to whipping for stealing bed-ticks, bed-sheets and curtains from a fellow lodged at the Saracen's Head. The Old Bailey, where she was arraigned, has the following text in its archives:
Elizabeth Stephens , of St. Catherine-Creed-Church, was Indicted for Feloniously stealing 3 Bed-Ticks, 1 Pair of Sheets, and 2 Pair of Window Curtains , the Goods of Robert Beddal ; on August last. The Evidence depos'd, that the Prisoner came to the Prosecutor's House (the Saracen's Head and Bell, near Aldgate) to lodge; that in the Night-time she ript up 3 Feather-Beds, let out the Feathers, and took the Ticks with the other Goods; but being discover'd, the Goods were taken upon her. The Evidence being full, the Jury found her Guilty to the Value of 10 d.
In 1782, as the business of stage coaches and waggoners and carriers exploded, the following advertisement appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle [Transcription and notes copyright © Janelle Penney. These transcriptions have been made from microfilm supplied by the British Library Newspaper Library, which holds the copyright of the images.]:
Norwich Mercury,
Safe and Speedy, well Lighted and Guarded,
From the White-Swan Inn, St Peter's, Norwich.
The Proprietors of this Carriage, deeply impressed with a Sense of Gratitude, beg leave to return their sincere Thanks to a generous Public, for the great Encouragement they have met with ever since the first Establishment of their Coach; and to assure their respectable Protectors, that they will continue to serve them with their usual Punctuality and Dispatch, to whom alone they attribute their Success, which they are bold to say has hitherto surpassed their most sanguine Expectations. -- For the better Accommodation of Ladies and Gentlemen travelling the London Road, and to prevent a Variety of Accidents, no Outside Passengers are permitted on the Top; this being an Advantage peculiar to this Carriage alone, renders it preferable to every other.

The Norwich Mercury sets out from the above Inn every Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday Evenings, at Six o'Clock precisely, goes through Diss, Bury, and Sudbury, to the Plough Inn, Prince's street, Soho, London, and returns from thence every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings [sic], at Nine o'Clock precisely. -- For the Conveniency of Ladies and Gentlemen at the different Parts of the Town, Goods and Parcels are carefully book'd at the under-mentioned Coffee-houses, etc in London, viz. the Saracen's Head Inn, Aldgate; the Queen's Arms Tavern, Newgate-street; and Seago's Coffee-house, Holborn.

Performed by the Public's most obedient humble Servants,
Messrs GREEN, KING, and FOSTER and Comp.
In 1910, P.H.Ditchfield wrote the elegiac Vanishing England, in which he had the following to say:
The glory has passed from most of these London inns. Formerly their yards resounded with the strains of the merry post-horn, and carriers' carts were as plentiful as omnibuses now are. In the fine yard of the "Saracen's Head," Aldgate, you can picture the busy scene, though the building has ceased to be an inn, and if you wished to travel to Norwich there you would have found your coach ready for you.
A sketch of it by T. H. Shepherd from 1856 can be seen here.


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