Why The Peasant?
The Peasant is named for the Peasant’s Revolt. It started in Essex on 30 May 1381, when a tax collector tried, for the third time in four years, to levy a Poll Tax. The war against France was going badly, the government's reputation was damaged, and the tax was 'the last straw'.
The peasants were not just protesting against the government. Since the Black Death, poor people had become increasingly angry that they were still serfs. They were demanding that all men should be free and equal, for less harsh laws, and a fairer distribution of wealth. Soon both Essex and Kent were in revolt. The rebels coordinated their tactics by letter.
They marched on London, where they destroyed the houses of government ministers. They also had a clear set of political demands.On 15 June, the 14-year-old king, Richard II, met the rebels' leader Wat Tyler in Smithfield, very close to the site of The Peasant. William Walworth, the Lord Mayor of London, attacked and killed Tyler.
Before the rebel army could retaliate, Richard stepped forward and promised to abolish serfdom. The peasants went home, but later government troops toured the villages hanging men who had taken part in the Revolt. Although the Revolt was defeated, its demands – less harsh laws, money for the poor, freedom and equality – all became part of our democracy in the long term.
A history of St John Street
St John Street's long-standing role as a coach road has left a legacy of many public houses, though most of these have long passed out of use as licensed premises.
From Smithfield to the Angel, St John Street is enlivened by a succession of large pubs. An ancient route, St John Street was described in 1170 as the street 'which goeth from the bar of Smithfield towards Yseldon [Islington]'. This is the earliest known documentary reference to the street, which later became known simply as 'Clerkenwell Streete'.
Its present name, taken from the adjacent priory of St John, established by the Knights Hospitallers in the twelfth century, has been in use certainly since the 1400's.
For centuries, St John Street was at the edge of London. Smithfield Bars at the lower end marking the entrance to the City, and the open fields beside its northern reaches the passage from town to country.
It was the route for drovers and traders coming from the north through Islington to the markets in and around Smithfield, the livestock market itself, held from the tenth century; Bartholomew Fair, held on the same ground, which began as a cloth fair in 1123 and continued until the closure of the livestock market in 1855; and the cattle market at Cow Cross, which flourished in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
By the early seventeenth century St John Street had become an important staging post for carriers and coaches. Hicks' Hall, the Middlesex sessions house, which stood on an island in the street at the bottom of St John's Lane, became one of the capital's datum points.
Even after its demolition in the 1780s, distances to northern destinations continued to be measured from the site. Carriers and salespeople lodged at inns along St John Street, conducted their business there, stored goods in the yards and outbuildings, stabled horses and parked wagons.
In Moll Flanders, the heroine carries out a confidence trick on a maidservant trying to obtain seats for the Barnet coach at the gate of the Three Cups inn, on the east side of the street. The earliest known inns and alehouses in St John Street belonged to the nearby religious houses, providing income as well as extra accommodation for visitors.
After the Dissolution they continued in private ownership, reaching the height of their trade in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries
A few of the old inns have successors in pubs of Victorian and later date, and alleys such as Hat and Mitre Court remain to mark the site of former coaching-inn yards.