Inns and Taverns further afield - Henry C Shelley
INNS AND TAVERNS FURTHER AFIELD.
Outside the more or less clearly defined limits of the city, the neighbourhood of St. Paul's, Fleet Street, the Strand and Covent Garden, the explorer of the inns and taverns of old London may encircle the metropolis from any given point and find something of interest everywhere. Such a point of departure may be made, for example, in the parish of Lambeth, where, directly opposite the Somerset House of to-day, once stood the Feathers Tavern connected with Cuper's Gardens. The career of that resort was materially interfered with by the passing of an act in 1752 for the regulation of places of entertainment "and punishing persons keeping disorderly houses." The act stipulated that every place kept for public dancing, music, or other entertainment, within twenty miles of the city, should be under a license.
[Illustration: FEATHERS TAVERN. ]
Evidently it was found impossible to secure a license for Cuper's Gardens, for in a public print of May 22nd, 1754, the Widow Evans advertises that "having been deny'd her former Liberty of opening her Gardens as usual, through the malicious representations of ill-meaning persons, she therefore begs to acquaint the Public that she hath open'd them as a Tavern till further notice. Coffee and Tea at any hour of the day." There is no record of the Widow Evans ever recovering her former "Liberty," and hence the necessity of continuing the place as a tavern merely, with its seductive offer of "coffee and tea at any hour." Even without a license, however, a concert was announced for the night of August 30th, 1759, the law being evaded by the statement that the vocal and instrumental programme was to be given by "a select number of gentlemen for their own private diversion." As there is no record of any other entertainment having been given at the E'eathers, it is probable that this attempt to dodge the law met with condign punishment, and resulted in the closing of the place for good. After it had stood unoccupied for some time Dr. Johnson passed it in the company of Beauclerk, Langton, and Lady Sydney Beauclerk, and made a sportive suggestion that he and Beauclerk and Langton should take it. "We amused ourselves," he said, "with scheming how we should all do our parts. Lady Sydney grew angry and said, 'An old man should not put such things in young people's heads.' She had no notion of a joke, sir; had come late into life, and had a mighty unpliable understanding." Though Johnson did not carry his joke into effect, the Feathers has not lacked for perpetuation, as is shown by the modern public-house of that name in the vicinity of Waterloo Bridge.
From Lambeth to Westminster is an easy journey, but unhappily there are no survivals of the numerous inns which figure in records of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One of those hostelries makes its appearance in the expense sheet of a Roger Keate who went to London in 1575 on the business of his town of Weymouth. He notes that on Friday the tenth day of February, "in the companie of certain courtiars, and of Mr. Robert Gregorie, at Westminster, at the Sarrazin's Head" he spent the sum of five shillings. This must have been a particularly festive occasion, for a subsequent dinner cost Mr. Keate but twenty pence, and "sundrie drinkinges" another day left him the poorer by but two shillings and twopence.
Another document, this time of date 1641, perpetuates the memory of a second Westminster inn in a lively manner. This is a petition of a constable of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields to the House of Commons, and concerned the misdoings of certain apprentices at the time of the riot caused by Colonel Lunsford's assault on the citizens of Westminster. The petitioner, Peter Scott by name, stated that he tried to appease the 'prentices by promising to release their fellows detained as prisoners in the Mermaid tavern. When he and another constable approached the door of the house, his colleague was thrust in the leg with a sword from within, which so enraged the 'prentices--though why is not explained--that they broke into the tavern, and the keeper had since prosecuted the harmless Peter Scott for causing a riot.
Numerous as were the taverns of Westminster, it is probable that the greater proportion of them were to be found in one thoroughfare, to wit, King Street. It was the residence and place of business of one particularly aggressive brewer in the closing quarter of the seventeenth century. This vendor of ale, John England by name, had the distinction of being the King's brewer, and he appears to have thought that that position gave him more rights than were possessed by ordinary mortals. So when an order was made prohibiting the passing of drays through King Street during certain hours of the day, he told the constables that he, the King's brewer, cared nothing for the order of the House of Lords. The example proved infectious. Other brewers' draymen became obstreperous too, one calling the beadle that stopped him "a rogue" and another vowing that if he knew the beadle "he would have a touch with him at quarterstaff." But all these fiery spirits of King Street were brought to their senses, and are found expressing sorrow for their offence and praying for their discharge.
According to the legend started by Ben Jonson, this same King Street was the scene of poet Spenser's death of starvation. "He died," so Jonson said, "for want of bread in King Street; he refused twenty pieces sent him by my Lord Essex, and said he was sure he had no time to spend them." This myth is continually cropping up, but no evidence has been adduced in its support. The fact that he died in a tavern in King Street tells against the story. That thoroughfare, then the only highway between the Royal Palace of Whitehall and the Parliament House, was a street of considerable importance, and Spenser's presence there is explained by Stow's remark that "for the accommodation of such as come to town in the terms, here are some good inns for their reception, and not a few taverns for entertainment, as is not unusual in places of great confluence." There are ample proofs, too, that King Street was the usual resort of those who were messengers to the Court, such as Spenser was at the time of his death.
It is strange, however, that not many of the names of these taverns have survived. Yet there are two, the Leg and the Bell, to which there are allusions in seventeenth century records. There is one reference in that "Parliamentary Diary" supposed to have been written by Thomas Burton, the book which Carlyle characterized as being filled "with mere dim inanity and moaning wind." This chronicler, under date December 18th, 1656, tells how he dined with the clothworkers at the Leg, and how "after dinner I was awhile at the Leg with Major-General Howard and Mr. Briscoe." Being so near Whitehall in one direction and the Parliament House in the other, it is not surprising to learn that the nimble Pepys was a frequent visitor at the tavern. After a morning at Whitehall "with my lord" in June, 1660, he dined there with a couple of friends. Nearly a year later business took him to the House of Lords, but as he failed to achieve the purpose he had in view he sought consolation at the Leg, where he "dined very merry." A more auspicious occasion took place three years after. "To the Exchequer, and there got my tallys for ~17,500, the first payment I ever had out of the Exchequer, and at the Legg spent 14s. upon my old acquaintance, some of them the clerks, and away home with my tallys in a coach, fearful every moment of having one of them fall out, or snatched from me." He was equally glowing with satisfaction when he visited the tavern again in 1667. All sorts of compliments had been paid him that day, and he had been congratulated even by the King and the Duke of York. "I spent the morning thus walking in the Hall, being complimented by everybody with admiration: and at noon stepped into the Legg with Sir William Warren."
'Then there was that other house in King Street, the Bell, upon which the diarist bestowed some of his patronage. On his first visit he was caught in a neat little trap. "Met with Purser Washington, with whom and a lady, a friend of his, I dined at the Bell Tavern in King Street, but the rogue had no more manners than to invite me, and to let me pay my club." Which was too bad of the Purser, when Pepys' head and heart were full of "infinite business." The next call, however, was more satisfactory and less expensive. He merely dropped in to see "the seven Flanders mares that my Lord has bought lately." But the Bell had a history both before and after Pepys' time. It is referred to so far back as the middle of the fifteenth century, and it was in high favour as the headquarters of the October Club in the reign of Queen Anne.
During the eighteenth century many fashionable resorts were located in Pall Mall and neighbouring streets. In Pall Mall itself was the famous Star and Garter, and close by was St. Alban's Tavern, celebrated for its political gatherings and public dinners. Horace Walpole has several allusions to the house and tells an anecdote which illustrates the wastefulness of young men about town. A number of these budding aristocrats were dining at St. Alban's Tavern and found the noise of the coaches outside jar upon their sensitive nerves. So they promptly ordered the street to be littered with straw, and probably cared little that the freak cost them fifty shillings each.
No doubt the charges at the St. Allan's were in keeping with the exclusive character of the house, and it might be inferred that the same would have held good at the Star and Garter. But that was not the case. Many testimonies to the moderate charges of that house have been cited. Perhaps the most conclusive evidence on this point is furnished by Swift, who was always a bit of a haggler as to the prices he paid at taverns. It was 'at his suggestion that the little club to which he belonged discarded the tavern they had been used to meeting in and went to the Star and Garter for their dinner. "The other dog," Swift wrote in one of his little letters to Stella, "was so extravagant in his bills that for four dishes, and four, first and second course, without wine or dessert, he charged twenty-one pounds, six shillings and eightpence." That the bill at the Star and Garter was more reasonable is a safe inference from the absence of any complaint on the part of Swift.
Several clubs were wont to meet under this roof. Among these was the Nottinghamshire Club, an association of gentlemen who had estates in that county and were in the habit of dining together when in town. One such gathering, however, had a tragic termination. It took place on January 26th, 1765, and among those present were William Chaworth, John Hewett, Lord Byron, a great-uncle of the poet, and seven others. Perfect harmony prevailed until about seven o'clock, when the wine was brought in and conversation became general. At this juncture one member of the company started a conversation about the best method of preserving game, and the subject was at once taken up by Mr. Chaworth and Lord Byron, who seem to have held entirely opposite views. The former was in favour of severity against all poachers, the latter declaring that the best way to have most game was to take no care of it all. Nettled by this opposition, Mr. Chaworth ejaculated that he had more game on five acres than Lord Byron had on all his manors. Retorts were bandied to and fro, until finally Mr. Chaworth clenched matters by words which were tantamount to a challenge to a duel.
Nothing more was said, however, and the company was separating when Mr. Chaworth and Lord Byron happened to meet on a landing. What transpired at first then is not known, but evidently the quarrel was resumed in some form or other, for the two joined in calling a waiter and asking to be shown into an empty room. The waiter obeyed, opening the door and placing a small tallow candle on the table before he retired. The next news from that room was the ringing of a bell, and when it was answered it was found that Mr. Chaworth was mortally wounded. What had happened was explained by Mr. Chaworth, who said that he could not live many hours; that he forgave Lord Byron, and hoped the world would; that the affair had passed in the dark, only a small tallow candle burning in the room; that Lord Byron asked him if he meant the conversation on the game to Sir Charles Sedley or to him? To which he replied, if you have anything to say, we had better shut the door; that while he was doing this, Lord Byron bid him draw, and, in turning, he saw his lordship's sword half drawn, on which he whipped out his own, and made the first pass; the sword being through his lordship's waistcoat, he thought he had killed him, and asking whether he was not mortally wounded, Lord Byron, while he was speaking, shortened his sword, and stabbed him in the abdomen. Mr. Chaworth survived but a few hours. There was a trial, of course, but it ended in Lord Byron's acquittal on the ground that he had been guilty of but manslaughter. And the poet, the famous grand-nephew, rounds off this story of the Star and Garter by declaring that his relative, so far from feeling any remorse for the death of Mr. Chaworth, always kept the sword he had used with such fatal effect and had it hanging in his bedroom when he died.
Although the neighbouring Suffolk Street is a most decorous thoroughfare at the present time, and entirely innocent of taverns, it was furnished with two, the Cock and The Golden Eagle, in the latter portion of the seventeenth century. At the former Evelyn dined on one occasion with the councillors of the Board of Trade; at the latter, on January 30th, 1735, occurred the riot connected with the mythical Calf's Head Club. How the riot arose is something of a mystery. It seems, however, that a mob was gathered outside the tavern by the spreading of the report that some young nobles were dining within on a calf's head in ridicule of the execution of Charles I, and a lurid account was afterwards circulated as to how a bleeding calf's head, wrapped in a napkin, was thrown out of the window, while the merrymakers within drank all kinds of confusion to the Stuart race. According to the narrative of one who was in the tavern, the calf's head business was wholly imaginary. Nor was the date of the dinner a matter of prearrangement. It seems that the start of the commotion was occasioned by some of the company inside observing that some boys outside had made a bonfire, which, in their hilarity, they were anxious to emulate. So a waiter was commissioned to make a rival conflagration, and then the row began. It grew to such proportions that the services of a justice and a strong body of guards were required ere peace 'could be restored to Suffolk Street.
Rare indeed is it to find a tavern in this district which can claim a clean record in the matter of brawls, and duels, and sudden deaths. Each of the two most famous houses of the Haymarket, that is, Long's and the Blue Posts Tavern, had its fatality. It was at the former ordinary, which must not be confused with another of the same name in Covent Garden, that Philip Herbert, the seventh Earl of Pembroke, committed one of those murderous assaults for which he was distinguished. He killed a man in a duel in 1677, and in the first month of the following year was committed to the Tower "for blasphemous words." That imprisonment, however, was of brief duration, for in February a man petitioned the House of Lords for protection from the earl's violence. And the day before, in a drunken scuffle at Long's he had killed a man named Nathaniel Cony. This did not end his barbarous conduct, for two years later he murdered an officer of the watch, when returning from a drinking bout at Turnham Green. Mercifully for the peace of the community this blood-thirsty peer died at the age of thirty. At the Blue Posts Tavern the disputants were a Mr. Moon and a Mr. Hunt, who began their quarrel in the house, "and as they came out at the door they drew their swords, and the latter was run through and immediately died." There was another Blue Posts in Spring Gardens close by, which became notorious from being the resort of the Jacobites. This, in fact, was the house in which Robert Charnock and his fellow conspirators were at breakfast when news reached them which proved that their plot had been discovered.
A more refined atmosphere hangs around the memory of the Thatched House, that St. James's Street tavern which started on its prosperous career in 1711 and continued it until 1865, at which date the building was taken down to make room for the Conservative Clubhouse. Its title would have led a stranger to expect a modest establishment, but that seems to have been bestowed on the principle which still prevails when a mansion is designated a cottage. It reminds one of Coleridge and his
"the Devil did grin, for his darling sin
Is the pride that apes humility."
Swift was conscious of the incongruity of the name, as witness the lines,
"The Deanery House may well be match'd,
Under correction, with the Thatch'd."
As a matter of fact the tavern was of the highest class and greatly in repute with the leaders of society and fashion. And its frequenters were not a little proud of being known among its patrons. Hence the delightful retort of the Lord Chancellor Thurlow recorded by Lord Campbell. "In the debates on the Regency, a prim peer, remarkable for his finical delicacy and formal adherence to etiquette, having cited pompously certain resolutions which he said had been passed by a party of noblemen and gentlemen of great distinction at the Thatched House Tavern, the Lord Chancellor Thurlow, in adverting to these said, 'As to what the noble lord in the red ribbon told us he had heard at the ale-house.'"
Town residences of a duke and several earls are now the most conspicuous buildings in the Mayfair Stanhope Street, but in the closing years of the eighteenth century there was a tavern here of the name of Pitt's Head. On a June night in 1792 this house was the scene of a gathering which had notable results. The host conceived the idea of inviting a number of the servants of the neighbourhood to a festivity in honour of the King's birthday, one feature of which was to be a dance. The company duly assembled to the number of forty, but some busybody carried news of the gathering to a magistrate who, with fifty constables, quickly arrived on the scene to put an end to the merrymaking. Every servant in the tavern was taken into custody and marched off to a watch-house in Mount Street. News of what had happened spread during the night, and early in the morning the watch-house was surrounded by a furious mob. A riot followed, which was not easily suppressed. But another consequence followed. During the riot the Earl of Lonsdale was stopped in his carriage while passing to his own house, and annoyed by that experience he addressed some curt words to a Captain Cuthbert who was on duty with the soldiers. Of course a duel was the next step. After failing to injure each other at two attempts, the seconds intervened, and insisted that, as their quarrel had arisen through a mutual misconception, and as neither of them would make the first concession, they should advance towards each other, step for step, and both declare, in the same breath, that they were sorry for what had happened.
In pre-railway days Piccadilly could boast of the White Horse Cellar, which Dickens made famous as the starting-point of Mr. Pickwick for Bath after being mulct in seven hundred and fifty pounds damages by the fair widow Bardell. The fact that it was an important coaching depot appears to have been its chief attraction in those and earlier days, for the novelist's description of the interior would hardly prove seductive to travellers were the house existing in its old-time condition. "The travellers' room at the White Horse Cellar," wrote Dickens, "is of course uncomfortable; it would be no travellers' room if it were not. It is the right-hand parlour, into which an aspiring kitchen fireplace appears to have walked, accompanied by a rebellious poker, tongs, and shovel. It is divided into boxes, for the solitary confinement of travellers, and is furnished with a clock, a looking-glass, and a live waiter: which latter article is kept in a small kennel for washing glasses, in a corner of the apartment." Pierce Egan, in the closing pages of his lively account of Jerry Hawthorn's visit to London, gives an outside view of the tavern only. And that more by suggestion than direct description. It is the bustle of the place rather than its architectural features Egan was concerned with, and in that he was seconded by his artist, George Cruikshank, whose picture of the White Horse Cellar is mostly coach and horses and human beings.
Few if any London taverns save the Adam and Eve can claim to stand upon ground once occupied by a King's palace. This tavern, which has a modern representative of identical name, was situated at the northern end of Tottenham Court Road, at the junction of the road leading to Hampstead. It was built originally on the site of a structure known as King John's Palace, which subsequently became a manor house, and then gave way to the Adam and Eve tavern and gardens. This establishment had a varied career. At one time it was highly respectable; then its character degenerated to the lowest depths; afterwards taking an upward move once more.
Something in the shape of a place for refreshments was standing on this spot in the mid seventeenth century, for the parish books of St. Giles in the Fields record that three serving maids were in 1645 fined a shilling each for "drinking at Totenhall Court on the Sabbath daie." In the eighteenth century the resort was at the height of its popularity. It had a large room with an organ, skittle-alleys, and cosy arbours for those who liked to consume their refreshments out of doors. At one time also its attractions actually embraced "a monkey, a heron, some wild fowl, some parrots, and a small pond for gold-fish." It was at this stage in its history, when its surroundings were more rural than it is possible to imagine to-day, that the tavern was depicted by Hogarth in his "March to Finchley" plate. Early in the last century, however, it "became a place of more promiscuous resort, and persons of the worst character and description were in the constant habit of frequenting it; highwaymen, footpads, pickpockets, and common women formed its leading visitants, and it became so great a nuisance to the neighbourhood, that the magistrates interfered, the organ was banished, the skittle-grounds destroyed, and the gardens dug up." A creepy story is told of a subterraneous passage having existed in connection with the manor house which formerly stood on this spot, a passage which many set out to explore but which has kept its secret hidden to this day.
[Illustration: ADAM AND EVE TAVERN.]
Record has already been made of the fact that there was one "Sarrazin's" Head tavern at Westminster; it must be added that there was another at Snow Hill, which disappeared when the Holborn Viaduct was built. Dickens, who rendered so many valuable services in describing the buildings of old London, has left a characteristic pen-picture of this tavern. "Near to the jail, and by consequence near to Smithfield, and on that particular part of Snow Hill where omnibuses going eastward seriously think of falling down on purpose, and where horses in hackney cabriolets going westward not unfrequently fall by accident, is the coachyard of the Saracen's Head Inn; its portals guarded by two Saracens' heads and shoulders frowning upon you from each side of the gateway. The Inn itself garnished with another Saracen's head, frowns upon you from the top of the yard. When you walk up this yard you will see the booking-office on your left, and the tower of St. Sepulchre's Church darting abruptly up into the sky on your right, and a gallery of bedrooms upon both sides. Just before you, you will observe a long window with the words 'Coffee Room' legibly painted above it." That allusion to St. Sepulchre's Church recalls the fact that in that building may be seen the brass to the memory of the redoubtable Captain John Smith, who was to win the glory of laying the first abiding foundations of English life in America. The brass makes due record of the fact that he was "Admiral of New England," and it also bears in the coat of arms three Turks' heads, in memory of Smith's alleged single-handed victory over that number of Saracens. As Selden pointed out, when Englishmen came home from fighting the Saracens, and were beaten by them, they, to save their own credit, pictured their enemy with big, terrible faces, such as frowned at Dickens from so many coigns of vantage in the old Saracen's Head,
During the closing decade of the famous Bartholomew Fair--an annual medley of commerce and amusement which had its origin in the days when it was the great cloth exchange of all England and attracted clothiers from all quarters--the scene of what was known as the Pie-Powder Court was located in a 'tavern known as the Hand and Shears. Concerning this court Blackstone offered this interesting explanation: "The lowest, and, at the same time, the most expeditious court of justice known to the law of England, is the Court of Pie-Powder, _curia pedis pulverizati_, so called from the dusty feet of the suitors." Another explanation of the name is that the court was so called "because justice is there done as speedily as dust can fall from the foot." Whatever be the correct solution, the curious fact remains that this court was a serious affair, and had the power to enforce law and deal out punishment within the area of the Fair. There is an excellent old print of the Hand and Shears in which the court was held, and another not less interesting picture showing the court engaged on the trial of a case. It is evident from the garb of the two principal figures that plaintiff and defendant belonged to the strolling-player fraternity, who always contributed largely to the amusements of the Fair. This curious example of swift justice, recalling the Old Testament picture of the judge sitting at the gate of the city, became entirely a thing of the past when Bartholomew Fair was abolished in 1854.
There are two other inns, one to the north, the other to the south, the names of which can hardly escape the notice of the twentieth century visitor to London. These are the Angel at Islington, and the Elephant and Castle at Walworth. The former is probably the older of the two, though both were in their day famous as the starting-places of coaches, just as they are conspicuous to-day as traffic centres of omnibuses and tram-cars. The Angel dates back to before 1665, for in that year of plague in London a citizen broke out of his house in the city and sought refuge here. He was refused admission, but was taken in at another inn and found dead in the morning. In the seventeenth century and later, as old pictures testify, the inn presented the usual features of a large old country hostelry. As such the courtyard is depicted by Hogarth in his print of the "Stage Coach." Its career has been uneventful in the main, though in 1767 one of its guests ended his life by poison, leaving behind this message: "I have for fifteen years past suffered more indigence than ever gentleman before submitted to, I am neglected by my acquaintance, traduced by my enemies, and insulted by the vulgar."
[Illustration: FALCON TAVERN, BANKSIDE.]
If he would complete the circle of his tour on the outskirts of London proper, the pilgrim, on leaving the Elephant and Castle, should wend his way to Bankside, though not in the expectation of finding any vestige left of that Falcon tavern which was the daily resort of Shakespeare and his theatrical companions; Not far from Blackfriars Bridge used to be Falcon Stairs and the Falcon Glass Works, and other industrial buildings bearing that name, but no Falcon tavern within recent memory. It has been denied that Shakespeare frequented the Falcon tavern which once did actually exist. But so convivial a soul must have had some "house of call," and there is no reason to rob the memory of the old Falcon of what would be its greatest honour. Especially does it seem unnecessary in view of the fact that the Falcon and many another inn and tavern of old London, has vanished and left "not a rack behind."