Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Duke's Head, St Martin's Lane

A report from Spy Powell on a LCS General Committee meeting on 24 September 1795 states: "A Society meeting at the Duke's Head St Martins Lane (to which a deputation was sent to hold a conference last week) sent a letter that they were willing to become a division of the London Corresponding Society. The Committee gave them the No 68 & appointed a deputation to open it."

Click to enlarge

The area around St Martin's Lane appears to have operated as a radical stronghold in the late 1790s, and indeed for the early decades of the nineteenth century. Iain McCalman identifies the Angel in Cecil Court as one of the alehouses which became a focal point for resistance to the attempts by City magistrates to close down or frighten alehouses that hosted LCS divisions, and which "recurred as radical venues in later years" (Radical Underworld, 1988, p.115). The Duke's Head was located at number 37 St Martin's Lane, on the site which is currently occupied by Bertorelli, and Italian restaurant (unusually the house numbering appears unchanged since the 1790s). According to an anecdote in the Gentleman's Magazine for June 1795, this was next door to the "immortal mansion of the great Sir Issac Newton" which was later occupied by Dr Burney. The Duke's Head, the correspondent claimed, "was rebuilt some time ago, and between the wainscot and the old walls was found the remains of a cat in the act of devouring a huge rat."

View London Corresponding Society Meeting Places in a larger map has found listings for the Duke's Head in various directories and census data, starting in 1839, and continuing until 1899. Sun Fire Office Records held at the Guildhall Library confirm that the Duke's Head existed from at least 1791 (when it was insured to Thomas Underwood). In 1816 it was the site of a violent robbery, for which there was a trial at the Old Bailey.