William Lilly was a 17th Century English astrologer. His autobiography, published towards the end of his life in 1681, was described in the late 18th Century as “one of the most entertaining narratives in our language”. In it, Lilly describes the friendly support of Oliver Cromwell during a period in which Lilly faced prosecution for issuing political astrological predictions.
In it, Lilly wrote about the 1666 Great Fire of London, and how he was brought before the committee investigating the cause of the fire. He was suspected of involvement because of his publication of images, fifteen years earlier, depicting a city in flames, surrounded by coffins.
Lilly mentions in his autobiography: “In the year 1640, I met Dr Percival Willoughby of Derby; we were of old acquaintance, and he but by great chance come lately to town; we went to the Mitre Tavern in Fleet Street, where I sent for old Will Poole the astrologer, living then in Ram Alley.”
The Mitre, at 39 Fleet Street, suffered some damage in the Great Fire: it was “very much demolished and decaied in severall parts, and the Balcony was on fire, and was pulled downe”.
About 1788 the premises changed use, and Thomas Macklin, the printseller and picture dealer, opened his Poets’ Gallery there. Later it became Saunders’s Auction Rooms, and later still was purchased by Messrs Hoare, who demolished the old building to make way for their Bank. The Mitre transferred to the premises of the former Joe’s Coffee House at 125, Chancery Lane.
Dr Matthew Green wrote in The Telegraph of 6th March, 2017:
“By 1663 there were 82 coffeehouses within the old Roman walls of the City. They arose from the ashes of the Great Fire and went on to survive Charles II’s attempt to crush them in 1675…
…The Hoxton Square Coffeehouse was renowned for its inquisitions of insanity, where a suspected madman would be tied up and wheeled into the coffee room. A jury of coffee drinkers would view, prod and talk to the alleged lunatic and then vote on whether to incarcerate the accused in one of the local madhouses.”.
The (new) Mitre was badly damaged by fire in 1829. Architect George Legg replaced it in 1855 with an Italianate, stucco rendered design which incorporated a mitre motif. With its large shop front windows, it varied markedly from the standard pub design, and members of the legal profession were happy to meet clients here.
The licensee in November 1888, Mr W Drew, composed six verses to appear as an advertisement in The Sporting Times. One gem of an extract:
“In the cellars below, there is St Marceaux/
De Lossy….” (two fashionable brands of champagne).
The building houses a chain restaurant now, though you can still order a champagne cocktail. Alternatively, you can take a ten minute walk to Ye Olde Mitre – a real ale pub in Hatton Garden.