Pontack’s was a City of London eating house specialising in French cuisine that took its name from owner Pontack.

Pontack (his Christian name is apparently unknown) was said by some to have been the son of the president of the Parliament of Bordeaux, Arnaud de Pontac although this claim has been disputed by Brian Cowen, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Regardless, Pontack used a portrait of Arnaud as his sign and as a result, the establishment – which he opened on the former site of the White Bear Tavern at 16-17 Lombard Street after the Great Fire of 1666 – was popularly known as “Pontack’s Head”.

Arnaud de Pontac owned French vineyards which produced renowned wine and Pontack also capitalised on this connection in selling fine French wines to his clientele.

Cowen records that Pontack’s was relocated to the east side of Abchurch Lane in 1688-90 (his old premises were occupied by Edward Lloyd, founder of the famous Lloyd’s Coffee House).

The eating house was favourite of the elite, patronised by everyone from Jonathan Swift to Sir Christopher Wren and John Evelyn and was the location of the Royal Society’s annual dinners following its relocation until 1746 (when the society moved the dinners to the Devil Tavern).

It’s apparently not known when Pontack died – a date of about 1711 is suggested – but after his death, the establishment was taken over by one Susannah Austin who was married to a Lombard Street banker. It is not known when the establishment ceased trading.

PICTURE: Looking northward along Abchurch Lane today (Google Maps).

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The founder of Lloyd’s Coffee House, Edward Lloyd – who died 300 years ago this year – is perhaps not so much famous in his own right as for the fact his name lives on in the Lloyd’s insurance business today.

Lloyd's_Coffee_House_plaqueLloyd is believed to have been born around 1648 but little is known of his early day (it’s thought he may have come from Canterbury). By 1688, he was the proprietor of a licensed coffee house in the now long gone Tower Street and was living nearby with his wife Abigail (the first reference to the coffee house dates from 1688).

In 1691, the coffee house moved to a premises at 16 Lombard Street – not far from the Royal Exchange – and it’s here that the coffee house gained a reputation as the centre of the ship-broking and marine insurance business (a blue plaque marks the site today).

Lloyd, meanwhile, was building up a network of correspondents at major ports around the world, and according to Sarah Palmer, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, was also involved in the publication of a weekly news sheet featuring shipping-related news – initially published on a Saturday, it became a Friday publication in 1699 and continued until at least 1704 – and the rather shorter-lived single sheet newspaper Lloyd’s News, founded in 1696. (Lloyd’s List wasn’t founded until well after Lloyd’s death in 1734).

Lloyd and his first wife had at least nine children, with four daughters surviving into adulthood – it was the youngest, Handy, who with her first husband William Newton (he was head waiter at the coffee house and married her just prior to her father’s death) and, following his death, her second husband Samuel Sheppard, continued the family business after her father’s death in 1713.

Following Abigail’s death in 1698, he married Elizabeth Mashbourne and after her death in 1712, married again – this time to Martha Denham.

Lloyd died the following year on – 15th February 1713 – and was buried at St Mary Woolnoth – a church at which he’d held positions when alive.

The business which grew to become the Lloyd’s of London insurance business we know today, meanwhile, took its next step forward in 1769 when a group of professional underwriters established New Lloyd’s Coffee House in nearby Pope’s Head Alley. The group, formalised into a committee, later moved to the Royal Exchange and dropped the word new. Lloyd’s was incorporated in 1871 by an Act of Parliament and has gone on to become one of the world’s most famous insurers. It now operates in more than 300 countries and territories worldwide.

What was to become Lloyd’s Register, meanwhile, was founded in 1760 as the Society for the Registry of Shipping.