The name of “King’s Head” is of importance to Harwich history past and present, as it has offered itself to a street and a pub. Surprisingly, both of these have their own Mayflower connection, and their own stories to tell.
Christopher Jones, master of the Mayflower, famously lived on King’s Head Street, and his house still stands to this day. The street, which was called East Street in his day, housed many of the great Harwich maritime and merchant families of the era, including the Twitts; Jones lived opposite the residence of his first wife Sara Twitt, which these days is the site of the Alma Inn.
So how did East Street end up being renamed King’s Head Street? The answer is almost certainly because of the King’s Head pub, which at one time would have been among the largest in the area. It is difficult to ascertain where it was situated, and when exactly it disappeared – as the Historic Harwich Pub Trail website tells us, by the 19th century the pub had moved around the corner to Market Street – but via the monumental efforts of the late, great Leonard Weaver, and documentation hosted by The National Archives and the Essex Record Office, we can make a reasonable assumption.
In August 1561, Queen Elizabeth I stayed “for several days at a House about the middle of the High-Street”. Weaver, in his publications “The Harwich Story” and “Harwich Papers”, infers that the High Street was East Street, and that this House was one owned by wealthy merchant Thomas Mo(o)re, who is said to have paid a large rent on a “great house” in East Street. He was probably the Thomas More who was buried at St Nicholas church in 1596, at which point possession of this great house will have passed down to his eldest son, also named Thomas.
Thomas More junior died in 1609, and in his will he left his wife Margaret, among other things, “all that my messuage or tenement now commonly called or known by the name or sign of the King’s Head set lying and being in Harwich”, which appears to be the same building. The widowed Margaret married a man named Robert Knox (or Enox), thus ownership of the King’s Head passed to him, as can be seen in this 1612 reference. Robert died in 1616, and the once-more widowed Margaret married William Russell, son of John, and a member of the burgeoning Russell family in Harwich.
But where does the Mayflower connection to the pub come from? Well, the will of Thomas More also gives us this information. More says of “Josian the daughter of my brother John More”; from this, the parish registers of Harwich St Nicholas, and the 1638 will of John Moore, mariner of Rotherhithe, it can be all but confirmed that Thomas’ brother “John More” was the same person as the “John Moore” named as one of the final owners of the Mayflower in her 1624 appraisement.
Further Reading: Check out this blog post from the Essex Society for Archaeology and History, detailing an excavation in Harwich in 1972. The second site, the “site near the Ebenezer Chapel”, offers information from which Weaver concluded that Thomas More’s “great house”, the probable King’s Head, was situated on the now-empty site on the corner of King’s Head Street and St Austin’s Lane.