Talbot Yard used to host one of the most famous inns in English literature.
was immortalised by Chaucer when he selected it as the starting place of the pilgrims in his celebrated Pilgrims Progress. He sets the scene at the Inn on the night before the pilgrimage:
‘Byfel that in that sesoun on a day,
In Southwark at the Tabard as I lay
Ready to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Canterbury, with ful devout courage,
At night was come into that hostelrie,
Wel nyne and twenty in a compainye.’
as it stood in 1875 was not the inn that Chaucer knew of 1388; the original was destroyed by fire in 1628.
The inn first appeared on the scene in 1304 when the Abbot and Convent of Hythe became the owner of two houses purchased from William Latergareshall. On the site of these houses the Abbot built a dwelling house and a hostelry and erected the sign of the Tabard, a sleeveless leather coat. It was probably the first of the High Street inns and the forerunner of a multiplicity of inns, which became the trademark of Southwark.
We know from records kept by Chaucer that the proprietor at the time of the pilgrimage was Henry Bailly who was the representative for Southwark at the Westminster Parliament of 1376. Fire was always the greatest hazard to the wooden framed buildings of that time and in 1628 Chaucer’s inn was completely destroyed.
Its replacement was a more sturdy structure built of brick and it appears in the records under the name of the Talbot, undoubtedly a mistranscription of Tabard. Unlike the double tier gallery of the George Inn, the Talbot had a single overhanging gallery supported on pillars and with dormer windows. It continued to function as an inn until it was demolished in 1875.
Talbot Yard is now full of offices rather than inns.