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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While the history of the General Post Office dates back to the reign of King Charles I, London’s first purpose-built facility for mail was constructed on the east side of St Martins-le-Grand in the 1820s.

GPOThe post office headquarters had hitherto been located in the area of Lombard Street but in 1814 it was decided that the site here couldn’t be developed any further. The site in St Martins-le-Grand was subsequently acquired and plans for the building commenced.

Designed by Sir Robert Smirke (famous for his design of the British Museum), the grand structure was built on the site of what were slums between 1825 and 1829 and featured a 400 foot long “Grecian-style” street frontage. The exterior of the building was lit with 1,000 gas burners at night.

As well as serving as the post office’s administrative headquarters, the building also contained the sorting office and the main London public post office. Along with a grand public hall and offices, it contained rooms – including an armoury – for the guards who protected mail coaches and accommodation for clerks charged with receiving foreign mail (obviously at all hours!).

A new building was added to house the telegraph department on the west side of the street in the 1870s and further buildings followed, leading Smirke’s initial building to become known as ‘GPO East’.

In 1910, the facility was bursting at the seams and so the headquarters was moved to the King Edward VII Building. Smirke’s grand building was somewhat controversially demolished in 1912. A fragment – one of the capitals which topped one of the external columns – is apparently located in Vestry Road in Walthamstow.

For more on London’s postal heritage, visit the British Postal Museum & Archive.

PICTURE: Thomas Shepherd/Wikipedia

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.

There hardly seems to be a pub in London which doesn’t claim some connection with the Victorian author but we thought we’d confine ourselves to five pubs with more well-established credentials…

• Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. This pub is a Fleet Street institution with parts of the current building dating back to 1667 when it was rebuilt following the Great Fire. Dickens was among numerous literary figures who frequented the premises – the pub is perhaps most famously associated with the lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson (although there is apparently no recorded evidence he ever attended here); other literary figures who came here include Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – and, according to a plaque in Wine Court, worked out of the pub for a period while producing his journal All The Year Round.

• The One Tun, Saffron Hill. Said to have been established as an ale house on its present site in 1759, the pub was rebuilt in the mid-Victorian era  and was apparently patronised by Dickens between 1833 and 1838. It’s also apparently the inspiration for the pub called The Three Cripples in Oliver Twist (The Three Cripples was actually a lodging house next door to the One Tun and didn’t sell ale). For more, see www.onetun.com

• The George Inn, Southwark. Dating from the 17th century, the George Inn in Borough High Street is the last galleried coaching inn left standing in London and is now cared for by the National Trust (and leased for use by a private company). Dickens is known to have come here when it was running as a coffee house and he mentions it in the book, Little Dorrit. For more, see     www.nationaltrust.org.uk/george-inn/.

• George & Vulture, Castle Court (near Lombard Street). Established in the 18th century on the site of an older inn, this well-hidden pub was not only frequented by Dickens but is mentioned in The Pickwick Papers more than 20 times.

• The Grapes, Limehouse. Formerly known as The Bunch of Grapes, there has been a pub on the site for almost more than 430 years. Dickens was known to be a patron here (his godfather lived in Limehouse) and mentioned the pub – renamed The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters – appears in his novel Our Mutual Friend. For more, see www.thegrapes.co.uk.

• Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Place. This pub dates from the mid 1500s by Bishop Goodrich of Ely to house his retainers and later rented out to Sir Christopher Hatton (it still houses the remains of a cherry tree which Sir Christopher is said to have danced around during a May Day celebration with none other than the future Queen Elizabeth I). Dickens (and the ubiquitous Dr Johnson) are both said to have drunk here.

• And lastly, The Dickens Inn in St Katharine Docks. It’s worth noting up front that Charles Dickens had nothing to do with this pub – dating back to at least 1800, it was once a warehouse and is thought to have been used to either house tea or play a role in a local brewing operation – but it was his great grandson, Cedric Charles Dickens, who formally opened the pub in 1976, apparently declaring, “My great grandfather would have loved this inn”. For more, see www.dickensinn.co.uk.

This list is by no means comprehensive – we’d love to hear from you if you know of any other pubs Dickens frequented…