History Hunters

Blossoms Inn

30 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7PG

Sam Boggia

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Temple under excavations at 56 Gresham Street.

There have been many interesting archaeological discoveries that provide examples of the history of immigration and changes in society in London, and the site of Blossoms Inn has provided some good examples of these. The earliest evidence for human activity on this site was found during an archaeological excavation ten years ago, when Neolithic (early Stone Age) pottery and flint flakes were found. The pottery was nearly 5000 years old and is a very rare find for the City of London. Many centuries later, during the Roman period, the area was used as a quarry for building materials and as a place for burials. In one corner of the site, the archaeologists found a life-size bronze arm cut from a statue. About 1900 years ago, buildings were established here, and in another area of the site, what might be a Roman temple has been identified.

The most famous archaeological find from this site is a Roman water-lifting mechanism, which was found in a well that went out of use at about the same time as the possible temple was built. Wooden boxes were linked by chains and lifted by a wheel, bringing water out of the well. Another later version of this water-lifter was also found on the site, made from wrought iron and oak buckets, which could have lifted far more water. The building that would have covered this well burnt down in the second century AD. Gradually the site went out of use, until London was abandoned in the early fifth century AD.

The street plan you can see today began between AD 900 – 1000 when people began to move back into the old City of London. We can see this in the archaeological evidence, as buildings and pits from this period were excavated at the Blossoms’ Inn site. More alleyways and buildings were built, and medieval pottery jugs, floor tiles, bowls and spoons have been found. The most important and rare medieval find is a 13th century mikveh, a Jewish ritual bath which would have been used by women after childbirth and by men before religious ceremonies. It was an important part of Jewish community life and can now be seen at the Jewish Museum in Camden. The mikveh was abandoned in 1290 when Edward I expelled the Jewish community from England. At this time it was in a house occupied by Moses Crespin, who had inherited it from his father Joseph. Properties belonging to Jews were confiscated and this one was passed to Martin Ferruant (Museum of London 2010).

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The mikveh being excavated. (Museum of London)

There is documentary evidence of a Jewish quarter in the City of London from 1128 (Ackroyd 2000, 705), although the residents of this area were not full citizens or freemen of London. The quarter is marked in names such as Old Jewry, where the great synagogue was, and St Lawrence Jewry Church on Gresham Street. Jewish residents in the City were only permitted to lend money; no other trade was allowed them and they were dependent on royal protection (Porter 2000, 36). The community was also subject to vicious attacks, for example in 1189 when their houses were burned and the residents were caught inside or attacked on the streets. Other attacks followed and in 1272 hundreds of Jewish people were hanged on suspicion of adulterating coinage. Kings needed to borrow money from the Jews, as “ursury”, or lending money with interest, was forbidden to Christians. When wealthier French and Italian financiers arrived in England, Jews were not so useful to King Edward I, who outlawed ursury in 1275. This led to the 1290 expulsion of all Jewish people, and (Ackroyd 2000, 705-6)the Jewish community was not officially allowed to live in the City again until 1656 when they were invited back by Oliver Cromwell.

After the expulsion of the Jews, the houses on this site became Blossoms Inn which stood at this site from at least 1374 until 1855. The name Blossom’s Inn probably comes from Nicholas Blosme who held the site in 1345. In John Stow’s survey of London it was noted that “there is one large inn for receipt of travellers, called ‘Blossoms Inn,’ but corruptly ‘Bosoms Inn,’ and hath for a sign ‘St. Lawrence, the Deacon,’ in a border of blossoms or flowers.” This was one of the great City inns set apart for Charles V.‘s suite, when he came over to visit Henry VIII in 1522. At the sign of “St. Lawrence Bosoms” twenty beds and stabling for sixty horses were ordered.” This inn was a lively, bustling place from Medieval to the Victorian times. It was a destination for many coaches from towns such as Brighton, Windsor and Stoke on Trent. Warehousing was also available here and in the late 15th century was used for selling lead, nails and woolen worsted cloth, contrary to City of London regulations, and the trade was ordered to be moved to Leadenhall Market (British History Online, 2010).

There is now no evidence of the busy inn or of the Jewish or Roman occupants on the site itself but finds can be seen in the Museum of London and the Jewish Museum.

References:
Ackroyd, P. 2000. London the Biography. London: Chatto and Windus

British History Online 2010 From: ‘Cheapside: Northern tributaries (continued)’, Old and New London: Volume 1 (1878), pp. 374-383. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45051&strquery=Blossoms Inn [Date accessed: 19 September 2010].

Museum of London 2010 URL: http://molas.org.uk/pages/siteDetails.asp?siteid=ght00&sectionofLondon2010=3 [Date accessed: 19 September 2010].

Porter, R. 2000. London: A Social History. London: Penguin

History Hunters’ photos from Blossoms Inn: