UK Pub and London History - including Southwark and Other historical taverns
Slaughters coffee house : London coffee houses and taverns
A historical site about early London coffee houses and taverns
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SLAUGHTER'S COFFEE-HOUSE, St Martins lane.
This Coffee-house, famous as the resort of painters and sculptors, in the last
century, was situated at the upper end of the west side of St. Martin's-lane,
three doors from Newport-street. Its first landlord was Thomas Slaughter, 1692.
Mr. Cunningham tells us that a second Slaughter's (New Slaughter's), was
established in the same street about 1760, when the original establishment
adopted the name of " Old Slaughter's/' by which designation it was known till
within a few years of the final demolition of the house to make way for the new
avenue between Long-acre and Leicester-square, formed 1843-44. For many years
previous to the streets of London being completely paved, " Slaughter's " was
called " The Coffee-house on the Pavement." In like manner, " The Pavement,"
Moor fields, received its distinctive name. Besides being the resort of artists,
Old Slaughter's was the house of call for Frenchmen.
St. Martin's-lane was long one of the head-quarters of the artists of the last
century. "In the time of Benjamin West," says J. T. Smith, "and before the
formation of the Royal Academy, Greek-street, St. Martin's-lane, and
Gerard-street, was their colony.
Old Slaughter's Coffee-house, in St. Martin's-lane, was their grand resort in
the evenings, and Hogarth was a constant visitor." He lived at the Golden Head,
on the eastern side of Leicester Fields, in the northern half of the Sabloniere
Hotel. The head he cut out himself from pieces of cork, glued and bound
together; it was placed over the street-door. At this time, young Benjamin West
was living in chambers, in Bedford-street, Covent Garden, and had there set up
his easel ; he was married, in 1765, at St, Martin's Church. Roubiliac was often
to be found at Slaughter's in early life ; probably before he gained the
patronage of Sir Edward Walpole, through finding and returning to the baronet
the pocket-book of bank-notes, which the young maker of monuments had picked up
in Vauxhall Gardens. Sir Edward, to remunerate his integrity, and his skill, of
which he showed specimens, promised to patronize Roubiliac through life, and he
faithfully performed this promise. Young Gainsborough, who spent three years
amid the works of the painters in St. Martin' s-lane, Hayman, and Cipriani, who
were all eminently convivial, were, in all probability, frequenters of
Slaughter's. Smith tells us that Quin and Hayman were inseparable friends, and
so convivial, that they seldom parted till daylight.
Mr. Cunningham relates that here, "in early life, Wilkie would enjoy a small
dinner at a small cost. I have been told by an old frequenter of the house, that
Wilkie was always the last dropper-in for a dinner, and that he was never seen
to dine in the house by daylight. The truth is, he slaved at his art at home
till the last glimpse of daylight had disappeared."
Haydon was accustomed in the early days of his fitful career, to dine here with
Wilkie. In his Autobiography, in the year 1808, Haydon writes: "This period of
our lives was one of great happiness : painting all day, then dining at the Old
Slaughter Chop-house, then going to the Academy until eight, to fill up the
evening, then going home to tea — that blessing of a studious man — talking over
our respective exploits, what he [Wilkie] had been doing, and what I had done,
and then, frequently to relieve our minds fatigued by their eight and twelve
hours' work, giving vent to the most extraordinary absurdities. Often have we
made rhymes on odd names, and shouted with laughter at each new line that was
added. Sometimes lazily inclined after a good dinner, we have lounged about,
near Drury-lane or Covent Garden, hesitating whether to go in, and often have I
(knowing first that there was nothing I wished to see) assumed a virtue I did
not possess, and pretending moral superiority, preached to Wilkie on the
weakness of not resisting such temptations for the sake of our art and our duty,
and marched him off to his studies, when he was longing to see Mother Goose.
J. T. Smith has narrated some fifteen pages of characteristic anecdotes of the
artistic visitors of Old Slaughter's, which he refers to as "formerly the
rendezvous of Pope, Dryden, and other wits, and much frequented by several
eminently clever men of his day."
Thither came Ware, the architect, who, when a little sickly boy, was apprenticed
to a chimney-sweeper, and was seen chalking the street-front of Whitehall, by a
gentleman, who purchased the remainder of the boy's time; gave him an excellent
education; then sent him to Italy, and, upon his return, employed him, and
introduced him to his friends as an architect. Ware was heard to tell this
story, while he was sitting to Roubiliac for his bust. Ware built Chesterfield
House and several other noble mansions, and compiled a Palladio, in folio : he
retained the soot in his skin to the day of his death. He was very intimate with
Roubiliac, who was an opposite eastern neighbour of Old Slaughter's. Another
architect, Gwynn, who competed with Mylne for designing and building Blackfriars
Bridge, was also a frequent visitor at Old Slaughter's, as was Gravelot, who
kept a drawing-school in the Strand, nearly opposite to Southampton- street.
Hudson, who painted the Dilettanti portraits ; M f Ardell, the mezzotinto-
scraper ; and Luke Sullivan, the engraver of Hogarth's March to Finchley, also
frequented Old Slaughter's ; likewise Theodore Gardell, the portrait painter,
who was executed for the murder of his landlady ; and Old Moser, keeper of the
Drawing Academy in Peter's-court. Richard Wilson, the landscape painter, was not
a regular customer here : his favourite house was the Constitution, Bedford-
street, Covent Garden, where he could indulge in a pot of porter more freely,
and enjoy the fun of Mortimer, the painter.
Parry, the Welsh harper, though totally blind, was one of the first
draught-players in England, and occasionally played with the frequenters of Old
Slaughter's ; and here, in consequence of a bet, Roubiliac introduced Nathaniel
Smith (father of John Thomas), to play at draughts with Parry; the game lasted
about half an hour : Parry was much agitated, and Smith proposed to give in ;
but as there were bets depending, it was played out, and Smith won. This victory
brought Smith numerous challenges ; and the dons of the Barn, a public-house, in
St. Martin's-lane, nearly opposite the church, invited him to become a member ;
but Smith declined. The Barn, for many years, was frequented by all the noted
players of chess and draughts ; and it was there that they often decided games
of the first importance, played between persons of the highest rank, living in
different parts of the world.
T. Rawle,*" the inseparable companion of Captain Grose, the antiquary, came
often to Slaughter's.
It was long asserted of Slaughter's Coffee-house that there never had been a
person of that name as master of the house, but that it was named from its
having been opened for the use of the men who slaughtered the cattle for the
butchers of Newport Market, in an open space then adjoining. " This/' says J. T.
Smith, " may be the fact, if we believe that coffee was taken as refreshment by
slaughtermen, instead of purl or porter ;
or that it was so called by the neighbouring butchers in derision of the
numerous and fashionable Coffee houses of the day; as, for instance, 'The Old
Man's Coffee-house,' and 'The Young Man's Coffee-house.'
Be that as it may, in my father's time, and also within memory of the most aged
people, this Coffee-house was called ' Old Slaughter's,' and not The Slaughter,
or The Slaughterer's Coffee-house."
In 1827, there was sold by Stewart, Wheatley, and Adlard, in Piccadilly, a
picture attributed to Hogarth, for 150 guineas; it was described A Conversation
over a Bowl of Punch, at Old Slaughter's Coffee-house, in St. Martin's-lane, and
the figures were said to be portraits of the painter, Doctor Monsey, and the
landlord, Old Slaughter. But this picture, as J. T. Smith shows, was painted by
Highmore, for his father's godfather, Nathaniel Oldham, and one of the artist's
patrons ; " it is neither a scene at Old Slaughter's, nor are the portraits
rightly described in the sale catalogue, but a scene at Oldham's house, at
Ealing, with an old schoolmaster, a farmer, the artist Highmore, and Oldham
* Rawle was one of his Majesty's accoutrement makers ; and after his death, his
effects were sold by Hutchins, in King-street, Covent Garden. Among the lots
were a helmet, a sword, and several letters, of Oliver Cromwell ; also the
doublet in which Cromwell dissolved the Long Parliament. Another singular lot
was a large black wig, with long flowing curls, stated to have been worn by King
Charles II. : it was bought by Suett, the actor, who was a great collector of
wigs. He continued to act in this wig for many years, in Tom Thumb, and other
pieces, till it was burnt when the theatre at Birmingham was destroyed by fire.
Next morning, Suett, meeting Mrs. Booth, the mother of the lively actress S.
Booth, exclaimed, " Mrs. Booth, my wig's gone:
There were two Slaughter Coffee Houses, the Old and New as follows:
The 1829 Robsons directory places
William Thinks, at New Slaughters Coffee house, 82 St Martins lane, whilst
Reid & Co, were at Old Slaughters Coffee house, 75 St Martins lane, Which
appears to be this one.
Lots of references are made to two sources on the
Edward Callows, Old London Taverns &
John Timbs, Club life of London Volume 2
My Pub history sites.
Street names index A - Z - this includes
the 1832 and 1842 street directory
And Last updated on: Sunday, 05-Jan-2020 15:30:46 GMT