Located on Cheapside (with entrances on Friday and Bread Streets), the Mermaid Tavern is best known for being the home of Elizabethan-era drinking club known as the Mermaid Club (and also as the Friday Street Club or even the ‘Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen’).
Founded in the early 17th century (and meeting on the first Friday of each month), its members included such literary luminaries as Ben Jonson, John Donne and Francis Beaumont.
There are also suggestions it was founded by Sir Walter Raleigh and that William Shakespeare was also a member but modern scholars have cast doubt upon both claims.
The earliest reference to the tavern, meanwhile, dates from the early 15th century.
The tavern, the location of which today corresponds to the corner of Bread and Cannon Streets, burned down in the Great Fire of London but lives on in John Keats’ poem Lines on the Mermaid Tavern.
In 1613, the playwright William Shakespeare – now widely regarded as the greatest writer of the English language – purchased a property in Blackfriars.
The only real estate he was to buy in London, the purchase of the gatehouse – which may have stood on the junction of St Andrew’s Hill and Ireland Yard – was apparently made as an investment (Shakespeare never lived there).
The deed which recorded the sale (dated 10th March, 1613) – only one of six documents in the entire world which bears Shakespeare’s authenticated signature – is in the care of the London Metropolitan Archives.
According to the deed, he bought the property from Henry Walker, a minstrel, paying £140 for the property (he mortgaged £60 of it the next day – the document for this is located in the British Library).
Other parties mentioned on the document are William Johnson, a London-based vintner and possibly landlord of the Mermaid tavern in Cheapside, and two ‘gentlemen’ John Jackson and John Heminges, an actor, manager and editor of Shakespeare’s first folio.
They were appointed as trustees in Shakespeare’s interest and handled the sale of the property after Shakespeare’s death in 1616. The copy of the deed held by the LMA was that of Henry Walker (Shakespeare’s copy is in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington).
The deed is currently on display as part of an exhibition surrounding the 400th anniversary of its signing. ‘Shakespeare and London’, a free exhibition, also features other documents from the period as well as maps, prints and models and runs at the LMA (40 Northampton Road) until 26th September. Due to the age and importance of the deed, the deed itself will only be displayed at specific times – check the LMA website for details.