This photo of a drawing of the Tabard in 1873 before it was razed is in the public domain.
“Bifil that in that seson on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Ready to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght was come into the hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrims were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.”1
Geoffrey Chaucer’s ambitious Canterbury Tales begins with the narrator, Geoffrey Chaucer, meeting twenty-nine pilgrims also traveling to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Thomas Beckett “That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke [who had helped them when they were sick].” This encounter takes place at The Tabard Inn in Southwark, which becomes the setting for the entire General Prologue. While the pilgrims spend only one night together at the Tabard, the narrator Chaucer takes this opportunity to meet and describe them all. It is also here that the owner of the inn, Harry Bailey, proposes the storytelling competition that provides the structure for the rest of the work.
The Tabard was a real inn that stood among many others on the road leading south out of London toward Canterbury. The pilgrims were heading to Canterbury Cathedral about 60 miles away where Thomas Becket was murdered by followers of King Henry II and later enshrined. The Tabard opened in 1307, was rebuilt after a fire in 1669, and was demolished in 1873 when it ceased to be used. The structure stood in Talbot Yard, which is shown in the map above.
1Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Canterbury Tales.” The Riverside Chaucer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987. 23. Print.
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