Saturday, January 23, 2010

Red Lion, Kings Street

Ten months after the LCS first met in the Bell on Exeter Street, the society was big enough and disturbing enough to have attracted the attention of the government. By November 1792 spies such as George Munro, George Lynam, and Christopher Kennedy had infiltrated the society and were regularly feeding information to government officials. It was in this context that division 21 met in the Red Lion on Kings Street, near Golden Square on 26 November 1792. This may have been the only meeting of the LCS in this alehouse, and we know little about what happened there except that John Prothero was elected delegate to the LCS General Committee (see TS 11/958/3503; Thale 88). It is nevertheless a significant meeting because the Red Lion still stands at the same location and is still serving beer.

The building from which the Red Lion operates was originally built in the 1720s as part of the development of the Lowndes Estate. Kings Street developed out of the foot-path from Piccadilly to St. Marylebone, which ran through Six Acre Close and which marked the boundary between William Lowndes's land to the east and that of Lewis Maidwell, Dr. Tenison and Thomas Beak to the west. The houses on the east side of King Street, on the Lowndes estate, were built by Richard Tyler between 1688 and 1693 and rebuilt in the 1720's (see Survey of London 31, Ch XI, p. 176-195).

John Strype described Kings Street in the 1720s, as follows:

King street cometh out of Beak-street and Silver-street, and runneth Northwards to the Road: It is a pretty good Street, having divers very good Houses fit for Gentry. On the West Side is the Chapel of Ease, by some called, The Tabernacle; near unto which is Hide's Court, of small Account. On the East Side is Cross-street, ordinarily built and inhabited; which falls into Carnaby street. And farther Northwards is another Passage into the upper End of Carnaby-street, and another into Swallow street, by Mr. Medwell's, a fine, large, and well built House, with a curious Garden before it. Then farther Northwards is a good Bowling Alley, well resorted unto.

The buildings on the west side of the street were all destroyed during the development of John Nash’s Regent’s Street which cut through the seventeenth and eighteenth-century street plan with the express intention of drawing a “Line of Separation between the inhabitants of the first classes of society and those of the inferior classes” (see John Barrell The Spirit of Despotism p. 25-6). The name of the street was changed from Kings Street to Kingly Street in 1906. Today the buildings on the west side of Kingly Street are the recently renovated backs of the tall blocks fronting on to Regent Street. The east side of the street narrowly escaped the Regency redevelopment, and thus marks the boundary of what Nash regarded as “the narrow Streets and meaner houses occupied by mechanics and the trading part of the community.” Most of the buildings on the east side of the street, including the Red Lion, are the buildings that were built in the 1720s, although the original exteriors have undergone a great deal of remodeling from the nineteenth century onwards, largely to accommodate the preferred model of ground storey shops with houses above them.

While it is true that the Red Lion still exists on the same site, it is almost certainly unrecognizable from its original form. The old wooden paneling that adorns the front of the pub most likely dates from the nineteenth century when the house, which would have originally been built as a domestic residence (as most alehouses were) was converted into a shop-like establishment to reflect the trend that developed in the early nineteenth-century to present alehouses as retail spaces. The large bay windows that dominate the front of the upper stories would again have been a later external embellishment from the original flat front, most likely added in the 1820s when bay windows became increasingly popular, and provided additional seating for customers.

Inside the pub the interior is dominated by a large horseshoe-shaped bar, with a wooden pot shelf on which glasses are stored when not in use. This would also have been a much later addition. In the eighteenth-century "bars" were generally storage rooms in which drinks and drinking vessels were stored. Customers would have been served in their seats, with the serving staff bringing drinks in jugs from the storage room. The development of the modern counter bar occurred in the 1820s and 1830s, and was a practice borrowed from dram shops and gin palaces. The idea of the counter bar as a place of surveillance, from which the landlord could observe his customers in the various rooms of the pub, a function that the horseshoe-shaped bar in the Red Lion enables, is a later development again, and evolved alongside the Victorian penchant for dividing the space of the pub up into several small spaces to ensure the privacy of customers.

The Red Lion, which is currently operated by the Samuel Smiths brewery, demonstrates the extent to which what we think of now as a pub is essentially a Victorian invention. The characteristics that we associate with old public houses, are not necessarily as old as we might think. Nevertheless the fact that the Red Lion has been operating on the same site for nearly three hundred years, through the various changes in taste goes to demonstrate the adaptability of the pub, and indeed the pressures exerted on landlords to keep abreast of recent developments. While there is still a long way to go on the pub hunt, and there may be more LCS pubs to discover, the scarcity of these eighteenth-century alehouses demonstrates the difficulty, and indeed the expense, of adapting to these changes in opinion. This makes the Red Lion a rare and valuable survivor. Despite the fact that it is difficult to detect the eighteenth-century origins of the pub beneath the layers of history, it remains a valuable testament to the complex cultural and social history of London.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cock and Crown, Villiers Street

The Cock and Crown was the first public house that George Munro visited when he began to spy on the activities of the LCS. His first spy report begins thus:

The first Club I visited was the Cock and Crown kept by one Burton at the corner of Cock Court Villiers Street, this Society meets for what they are pleased to term the reformation of Government and particularly a more equal representation in Parliament, it is the fiteenth Division and sends one Deligate to the Society of Deligates, which notwithstanding every art I used, I could not learn when it was held. the person I spoke most to was the only man in the Club hat had common information, he was young and told me he was the Deligate of the Society he had a large bundle of papers before him which he would not open till I was gone and would not admit me a member without being proposed, and recommended by two of the Members; he however as will as the rest of the members was extremely civil, the whole of them except the Deligate appeared to me to be the very lowest tradesmen, they were all smoaking pipes and drinking porter.
TS 11/959/3505; Thale p27

Munro is a particularly interesting spy. He was a captain in the army and worked as a spy for the British government, spending much time in Paris reporting back to Lord Grenville the activities of the British Colony in Paris in the ealy 1790s. He provided testimony for the trial of John Frost (see John Barrell The Spirit of Despotism, (2006) p78) and reported on a famous celebratory dinner in White's Hotel in Paris in 1792 which was attended by Paine, Robert Merry, John Oswald, John Hurford Stone, and possibly Helen Maria Williams (see David Erdman, Commerce des Lumieres: John Oswald and the British Colony in Paris 1790-1793, (1986) p242-3). His particular emphasis on the low condition of the members of the LCS reveals the marked contrast he must have found between the Anglo-American radical community in Paris and the tradesmen and Shoemakers he found in the alehouses of London.

There is no Cock Court marked on Horwood's map anywhere near Villiers Street, nor have I been able to find any record of it, or a Cock and Crown public house in the vicinity. There are a number of other Cock Courts marked on Horwood's map, one near Smithfield Market, off Snow Hill; one off New Street, near Golden Square; another off Ludgate Hill, by St Paul's Cathedral; one off wood street, near London Wall; and finally one off Jewry Street near Aldgate. Which, if any of these, was the sight of Munro's visit it is difficult to know. Villiers Street itself was part of the Buckingham Estate, and contained a number of impressive residences, the majority dating to 1674-5 (see the Survey of London, vol 18): "The whole of the west side of Villiers Street was pulled down circa 1862–5 in connection with the formation of Charing Cross Railway Station... In 1712 Sir Richard Steele became the tenant of a house a few doors from the lower end of Villiers Street on the west side, and fitted up part of it as a concert room to seat 200 people... The greater part of the Spectator was produced during the period of Steele's residence in Villiers Street (1712–24). He seems frequently to have used the concert room for social and literary gatherings as well as for music."

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cock, Blandford Street

The minutes of a meeting of the LCS General Committee on 6 August 1795 record that:

27 Branches to the Cock Blandford St Manchester Sqre Tuesday To be No 45 - Dixey, Brewer McGuire.

The Cock has left little trace in the history books but in the 1790s Blandford Street was a short street that began at Baker Street and went as far as Manchester Street. Today the street has many eighteenth-century houses on both sides of the street, most of which are used as retail outlets, which suggests that the building the Cock occupied may well still be standing, though I have not been able to track down which of the buildings it was in. Elsewhere on Blandford Street, Michael Faraday worked as an errand boy in a bookbinders from 1804.

View London Corresponding Society Meeting Places in a larger map

Coach and Horses, Turhnam Green

In a meeting of the LCS General Committee on 3 September 1795, it was reported:

Hodgson informed Comee that Several Citizens wished to establish a Divn at the Coach & horses Turnham Green Sunday 2 O'Clock.

Add MSS 27813, fos. 121v-5v; Thale p99

View London Corresponding Society Meeting Places in a larger map

According to the Coach and Horses occupied the large building on the corner of Chiswick High Road and Netheravon Road, which is now empty. "It was licensed by 1761 and described as a `humble roadside inn’ frequented by market carts on their way to London. The `humble’ inn was demolished in 1900 and replaced by a `palatial building’ which, in 1972 when it had become a Schooner Inn, had a stream running around the main bar. The pub’s `inn sign’ was a full scale model of a coach on the first floor balcony."

In the eighteenth-century Chiswick was a haven for wealthy landowners who built a number of large manor houses in the area. Alexander Pope lived here with his parents between 1716 and 1719, William Hogarth bought a country residence here in 1746, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau stayed here in 1766. As such it is an unusual place for the LCS, but demonstrates the breadth of its appeal in the years after the treason trials.

Coach And Horses, Hatton Garden

On 14 May 1794, two days after Thomas Hardy's arrest, Spy Gosling went for the second time to a meeting at the Coach and Horses on Cross Street, Hatton Garden. This was a particularly tense time for the LCS, and the society was undergoing internal debate about whether they should be arming, or whether they should continue on their present non-violent path. Spy Gosling took particular delight in exposing the violent tendencies of the the society to the government, which make his accounts especially colorful though of suspect accuracy:

In the evening I went to the Society at Cross Street Hatton Garden where I had been once before.* The delegate apologized. for not having bought the Resolutions of the Committee with him - he said he believed they were taken with Thelwall and were to the following purport -

Resolved. That the conduct of Citizen Hardy as far as concerns the Corresponding Society merits our approbation and Applause.
Resolved That we will defend Citizen Hardy with our Lives
Resolved. That we will live free or Die.

These three Resolutions were put and carried with a degree of Enthusiasm I had never before witness in their Meetings and many of them declared that the Day any of the Members should be bought to Punishement for what they had done in their Cause they would die or save them. - After the meeting was thinned the Landlord asked us to remove to the Tap Room as it was late, which we did - he gave us a Reason that he had received a Caution from Mr. Bleamire the Magistrate but said he did not fear him for the Officers were his Friends and he had always something for them to eat and drink... The Conversation of the Delegate and his Father was particularly Violent the Father wised to see Temple Bar covered with Heads - and the Son to see a head on every Lamp Iron about London Bridge... Much other conversation passed about Arming and the Society, in which it was stated that many in the Army and Militia belonged to the Society but that their names were never entered... Previous to our coming down Stairs a Member handed a New Cutlass or Hanger across the Table to another who put it under his Coat saying "these are the Things but the Scabbard is hardly dry.

* About 40 or 50 were at this meeting in the Coach and Horse ph. Late in the evening songs were sung. Gosling who stayed until midnight, described the delegate as 'quite a Lad.'

TS/11/954/3498; Thale p164

This gives further evidence of the kinds of pressure that landlords were being put under at the time, and the ways that landlords, whose sympathies were with the LCS, were able to dodge those pressures. Furthermore it gives some sense of the layout of the Coach and Horses, which, according to this account, had a public bar downstairs, and a more secluded Taproom upstairs to which the landlord and chosen guests could repair for more private conversation.

In March 1797 a dinner was also held at the Coach and Horses as a fundraiser to releive the debts of the LCS (see Thale p392 fn 11).

Cross Street (now known as St Cross Street) is now a small one-way street located just north of High Holborn, near the Saffron Hill area that Dickens used as the setting for Fagin's lair in Oliver Twist. The site of the Coach and Horses is now the headquarters of the chemicals company Johnson Matthey.