The Three Cups Inn, Bread Street, London

The Three Cups Inn provided food, drink, and shelter for employees, guests and their horses. It was a hub for public transportation and shipping into and out of the capital. The Three Cups was a home to the inn holder, servants, and their families. It provided employment and a community meeting place. It acted as a landmark in the city for at least five hundred years.

Location, Name, and Early History:

Location:

The Three Cups Inn is located in the Bread Street ward. Though it is not located on the AGAS map, other Early Modern maps include it: including one in 1682 (Morgan) and one in 1773 (Noorthouck). It is located at the southwest intersection of Bread Street and Watling Street. It is east of Friday Street and north of Pissing Alley, situated between St. Paul the Evangelist church and All Hollows church.

Name:

The etymology of the name is unclear, however, the name Three Cups was described as “a favorite London sign”—serving as the name of no fewer than five inns around London:

“Three Cups (The), a favorite London sign. Hatton enumerates three: on the east side of St. John Street, near Hicks Hall; on the westside of Bread Street, near the middle; on the east side of Goswell Street, near Adlersgate Street. A forth is mentioned by Beaumont and Fletcher

You know our meetings,

At the Three Cups in St. Giles’.

And a fifth (in Holborn), by Winstanley, in his ‘Lives of the Poets.” (Cunningham, 378).

 

In the 15th century, William Estfield, a Mercer and one time Sheriff and Alderman, and twice Mayor of the City of London left the Three Cups to the Mistery of Merercy,

 

“By another codicil of the same date he leaves to the Warden of the Mistery of Merercy of the City of London a tenement called ‘le Three Coupes upon le hoop’ in the parish of All Hallows in Bredestrete.[…]” (Francis, 511).

 

Into the late 17th century, alternate spellings of “cup” were used. In the registers of All Hallow’s church a baptism of 1694 read,

“1694 Apr 6 William Horn, his father being at sea, his mother coming from Bristo, was brought to bed at ye three Coup’s” (Bannerman 44).

On Early Modern maps various spellings of the name are used, in 1682 it was listed as “Three Cupps Inne” (Morgan) and in 1773 is it named as “3 Cupps Inn” (Noorthouck).

Early History:

Thomas le Neve’s will from 10th August 1363 may be the earliest reference to the inn,

“To John Michel, vintner, a tavern with two solars, a garyt, &c., at the corner of Bredstret, parish of All Hallows, for a term of twenty years next after his decease; remainder to Stephen his son in tail; remainder in trust for sale for pious and charitable uses. Dated London, Wednesday the morrow of S. Laurence” (Sharp, 185).

 

Importance in Early Modern London:

Home and Work

The Three Cups was a home to generations of people. Births, marriages and deaths were common occurrences within its walls. The registers of All Hallows church give the names of some of the people who lived and worked at the Three Cups.

 

The Rutt’s

During the late 16th century and early 17th century, the Rutt family were inn holders of the Three Cups. Rowland Rutt was the inn holder of the Three Cups. He is named as such in the listing of the church register for the christenings of his children, including that of Richard, who was christened on 25th July and buried on the 26th July,

“26 Jul 1602 in this Churche, Richard s. Mr Rowland Rutt. This was a younge childe who the daye before was baptized” (Bannerman 170).

The register includes the burial record of  Rowland’s  illegitimate child by his servant, this one unnamed, dying in infancy:

“March 7 1599 at Pouls, a crysonne childe that borne in the howse of Mr Rowland Rutt at the three cups by one Elyn Jhonsone, his servant” (Bannerman 169).

 

When Rowland died 10th August 1610 (Bannerman 173) he left his wife with six children (1) under seven years of age to care for, in addition to the running of the Three Cups. She is listed the head of the household for burials of those, “whoe died in the house of  Mrs Rutt at the Three Cups” (Bannerman 174, 175) in All Hallows church register.

The relationship between Mrs. Rowland Rutt and Lawrence Rutt is unclear; however it is clear that he took over as inn holder around 1630. He was married to Mary Lowland on 27 December 1627 in Bishop’s Gate (London Met. Archives) and had at least two children before moving into the Three Cups, Mary and Margerett, both of who died young and were buried in the vault at All Hallows at some expense,

“1633 June 3Mary d. Lawrens Rutt, Inkeep [in the vault. 11s 4d]”

“1635 April 7, “in the vault, Margerett d. Lowrens Rutt, Inkeep [10s 8d]” (Bannerman 186).

 

In midst of these tragedies, Mr. Lawrence Rutt had three more children (2), one of which also died in infancy. Sadly, like Mr. Rowland Rutt before him, Lawrence did not live to see his children grow-up as his last will is dated 16th February 1643 (London Met. Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts).

Children:

Over a century later, the Three Cups continued as a family home for the inn holder.  William J. James, the inn holder of Three Cups in the 1760’s, sent his sons to school at St. Paul’s School located only a few blocks away. In the admission record lists William James, age 8 and Samuel James, age 9, “son[s] of William J., inn holder of the Three Cups Inn, Bread Street, admitted May 16, 1764” (Gardiner 130). Children working, playing and growing would have been a common sight at the Three Cups throughout its history.

Unaccompanied children were also guests at the Three Cups, including ten-year-old William Horn, who may have become gravely ill and was baptized at the inn,

“1694 Apr 6 William Horn, his father being at sea, his mother coming from Bristol, was brought to bed at ye  three coup’s” (Bannerman 44).

Servants:

We know the names of some of the servants of the Three Cups because they died while in service (3). For example, Thomas Redwaye died 27th July 1593 of the plague while in service. On a more positive note, we also have the marriage records for two of the servants,

“1577 Aug 10th Henrye Scippard & Isabell Helliatt, s’vant at ye three cups”

“1598 June 13th  Richard Wilborne of St. Sepulchers & Joane Rance of this p’ish, s’vant to Mr. Rutt at ye three cups” (Bannerman 99, 100).

Public Transit

The Three Cups is mentioned in the the 15th century by Taylor the Water Poet. Among the “divers fair inns” he named Three Cups,

“Bread street is now wholly inhabited by rich merchants; and divers fair inns be there, for good receipt of carriers and other travelers to the city.” (Cunningham, 114).

From very early in its history, the Three Cups and other London inns hosted carriers, the postal service of their time. The Three Cups would have allowed for pickup and delivery of items to transport as well as a place for carriers and their horses to rest.  In 1637 the Carriers’ Cosmography, Taylor describes,

The carriers of Bath do lodge at the Three Cups in Bread Street. They come of Friday, and go on Saturdays” (Taylor).

He listed carriers from Bristol, Cheltenaham, Camden, Tweksbury and Winchcombe all lodging at the Three Cups (Taylor). Over a century later, in 1749, the Three Cups advertised a coach leaving for Bath twice a week during winter and three times a week during the summer, with a carrier leaving three days a week and a pack horse on Saturdays. An advertisement in 1752 details the pricing for The Bath Flying Coach,

“Each passenger to pay 20s. to Bath, and 23s. to Bristol, and to allow 20lb weight to each passenger, goods, and all above to pay Three Half pences per Pound.” (Daily Advertiser).

By 1786 the Royal Mail had established a mail route to Windsor from the Three Cups,

“The following (excluſive of thoſe on the Crosſ Poſt-Roads,) are Mail Coaches already eſtabliſhed[…] To Windsor, from the Three Cups, Bread-Street.” (Whitehall Evening Post).

A Meeting Place and Landmark:

In the 16th century, a prison house for debtors was located in the same block as the Three Cups,

“Now on the westside of Bread Street amongst divers fair and large houses for merchants, and fair inns for passengers, had ye one prison house pertaining to the sheriffs of London called the Compter [[no code]] in Bread Street” (Stow 131).

Stow went on to describe that The Compter was moved to Wood Street in 1555, though another source claims the Compter wasn’t moved until 1622,

“In 1518, there was a prison in Bread Street, Cheapside, belonging to the Sheriffs court, for small debts, which, in 1622, was removed to Wood Street, called the New Compter.” (Feltham 200).

The Compter’s close location and the examination of witnesses may suggest a tradition of interviewing witnesses at the Three Cups,  or it may suggest that the inn was a place frequented by those involved in criminal justice.

In 1625, the Three Cups was the site of at least one royal legal commission, described in a letter to a “Right honorable” recorded in the University of Iowa’s MMs.Ch6. The commission examined witnesses at the Three Cups,

 “Right honerable

Whereas I have received the Kings Majesties most honerable

[lves] of Comision and your [loep] directed unto mee and

unto one R:C: gent- for the examinacon of witnesses

in a cause dependinge before your honor betweene

M:W: [plaintiff] and E:P: def Soe it is right honerable that

accordinge to the tenor of the said Comission irepared

to the signe of the 3 Cupps in Bread streete in the

Citty of London uppon the 2 day of M: by nyne of the

clock in the morninge for the execucion of the said

comissioners and then and there in the absente

of the said Rich:C the other comissioner preceeded

to the examination of one witnesse then and there

produced before mee whose depositions then and there

by me taken I have put in writeinge and the same

together with the Interest and Comission hearein

closed I have sent to your [loep] for further therein

to be donne as to your honor shall seeme meete and

Convinient and soe with my duety I rest

At your honors futher

Command Rib” (UIowa 40v).

On 10th November, 1681 an advertisement in the London Gazette read,

“One Iohn Thomas, Servant to Mr. Bullock of Bristol, has been robbed and killed by Highwaymen. Whoever give Notice of the Persons aforesaid to Mr. Bullock of Bristol or at the Three Cups in Bread Street, London, shall have their charges and 40s reward” (Head 102).

This may suggest that the Three Cups was a meeting place for thief takers or other people who were acquainted with highwaymen, possibly the carriers themselves. As professional carriers frequenting the roads of rural England, they would have been very familiar with the dangers of highwaymen.

The Three Cups also served as a landmark well into the 18th century. A broker advertising ship sales regularly in the Daily Advertiser gave his contact information as, “William James Gambier, broker, over-against the Three Cups in Bread-Street” (General Advertiser).  In 1787 when John Westwood, the famous engraver and metallurgist, raced to London from Birmingham at the break-neck pace of 13 ½ miles per hour, his finish line was the Three Cups, “219 miles from Birmingham to the Three Cups in Bread-street, in a few minutes more than 16 hours” (World).

The Great and Other Fires:

In 1663, Richard Pauley was the inn-holder of the Three Cups, and he remained so after the Great Fire until 1698 when Mr. Ward took possession (Head, 102). In 1720, John Strype described the inn after it was rebuilt,

“Three Cups Inn, Very large, well built, and of a great Trade for Country Waggons and Carriers” (Strype).

In 1733, Mottley added,

“Breadstreet is now inhabited by many Merchants and wealthy Traders, and hath in it on a very good Inn [the sign of the Three Cups] for carriers and other Travellers to the city” (Stow and Mottley 715).

Then on Monday, April 11, 1791, the World newspaper reported,

“A fire broke out at the Three Cups Inn, Bread-Street at one o’clock on Saturday morning, which entirely demolished the same, and damaged several adjoining houses. A young man, clerk to the inn, it is fear, perished in the flames” (World).

The inn was once again rebuilt and remained on the site until at least 1849 when Peter Cunningham noted, “Three Cups Inn still remains” (Cunningham 114).

Recent History:

During the latter half of the 19th century, the area in and around the site of Three Cups was subject to the Metropolitan Improvement Act of 1861. The act funded the creation of Queen Victoria Street and expanded Cannon Street, which cut right across the site of the Three Cups. Many of the inns for carriers became obsolete in the 19th century as the railway took over transportation of people and goods. The inns fell out of use by travelers and shippers, becoming derelict tenement housing. The large inn-yards, the paved areas for wagons and coaches, were seen as a waste of space in a highly populated city. Charles Dickens, Jr. described the area after the improvements,

Cannon-street is a street of wholesale warehouses, and a few sample goods in each window alone tell the passer-by the nature of the immense stock contained in them” (Dickens 48).

Today, the surrounding area is again as it was for centuries, with homes and businesses for wealthy merchants: today on the former site of the Three Cups sits a branch of Fidelity Worldwide Investment.

 

Notes:

  1. The children of Mr. Rowland Rut from 1600-1608 as listed in the Parish Registers of All Hallows Church (Bannerman):
  •         William, c. 27 April 1600
  •         Maragarett, c. 31 May 1601
  •         Richard, c. 25 July 1602
  •         Barthellmewe c. 28 August 1604
  •         Sara c. 23 November 1607
  •         Hestar c. 2 April 1607
  •         Alice c. 13 April 1608

 

  1. In addition to Henry (c. 28th August 1635) and Jane (c. 9 November 1636), Mary and Lawrence Rutt had another child while inn holders, a son named Laurance. He was christened on 25th February 1638 and buried 24th November 1638 in the vault at All Hallows. (Bannerman 26, 189).

 

  1. Thomas Lewys  (d.1569), Margarett Ludlane (d.1580), Edwarde Evance (d.1589) (Bannerman 162, 164, 166, 167).

Works Cited

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“The Bath Flying Coach, in Two Days.” Daily Advertiser [London] 20 Mar. 1752. Issue 6615. 17-18th C Burney Collection Newspapers. Web. Closed.

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