Monday, February 6, 2012

Falcon, Gough Sq.

In a spy report from 23 June, 1794, spy Metcalfe gave a rare glimpse into what an LCS meeting might have involved:

Went in Company with Burks and Davis to the Falcon in Gough Square, where Division 9 which had been nearly dispersed had been assembled, there was 30 present and it appeared to be an Evening of pleasure rather than business, many very Treasonable Songs were sung and they did not break up until past 12 oClock (Thale 1897; TS 11/956/3501).

This was the second of two meetings that Metcalfe had attended that evening (the other was a meeting of the Div. 6 at the Parrot in Green Harbour Court by the Old Bailey). And while Metcalfe's reports tended to a zealous conservatism, determined to show the malefactors of the LCS in the worst possible light, his report on the earlier meeting had conceded that there was nothing of interest to report. The evident glee with which Metcalfe reported on the "evening of pleasure" at the Falcon and the "Treasonable songs" they sung may well have been heavily colored by his loyalist sentiments, but this is not to say they were untrue.

Despite Goddard's claim in Hardy's Treason Trial of 1794 that he had never heard songs sung at LCS meetings, there is plenty of evidence that songs were indeed sung. Metcalfe enclosed a copy of one song that he says he heard at the meeting called "Parody on the Song of Poor Jack," printed by Thomas Spence. According to Thale this song "contemptuously dismissed Richmond and Burke, it concludes that the time is near when Britons "shall assert their demand," and that tyrants shall never rule this island" (Thale, 187 n. 91).

View London Corresponding Society Meeting Places in a larger map

The Falcon was (somewhat confusingly) located very near the Falcon on Fetter Lane, in one of the mazey allies to the north of Fleet Street near where Samuel Johnson lived (Johnson lived at 17 Gough Square). It had been there at least since 1768, when it was listed as one of the addresses at which E. Graves of Shadwell could be contacted by those gentlemen who wanted to decorate their ceilings with "ornaments of paper-machee."

In August 1835 it was insured to a John Crump with the Sun Fire Office, which lists the address as Goldsmith Street, a small alley with around 10 residences just off Gough Square (Guildhall Library, MS 11936/546/1202777).

In 1846 it was registered as the address of the "Falcon Coal Club," (see Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, 1877)

In a letter to Scottish Notes and Queries in October 1902, J.F. George observed that when he used to lunch occasionally at the Falcon it was a house that was "much resorted to by overseers and machine operators from the neighboring printing offices."

It remained on the site until around 1944, when it was run by Mr and Mrs Cliff Taylor, who removed to the Golden Lion in Kings Street, most likely because of damaged sustained to Gough Square in the second world war.

(Thanks to Mike Weaver, via

I have been unable to locate precisely where the Falcon was on Gough Square. Goldsmith Street on which it was located, no longer exists, buried somewhere underneath Pemberton House. This image of Gough Square from 1902, however, gives an idea of the Square itself before the post-war redevelopment.

Robert Randall, 1902, London Metropolitan Archives, Pr.267/GOU

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Falcon, Fetter Lane

At a meeting of the LCS Northern District Committee on the 29th of January 1796 it was reported" "Div. 13 to Branch to the Falcon Fetter Lane to be No 90 Dep Evans. Rhynd MackNaughton to open it" (Thale 340; PC 1/23/A38).

The Falcon was located at 10 Fetter Lane, on the East side near Fleet Street.

View London Corresponding Society Meeting Places in a larger map

At the trial of James Jones for theft in 1822, the victim, Alice Robinson described how she had gone into the Falcon with her husband, a mariner, at around 2pm in the afternoon, having been taken into the pub to get some "directions about a ship." They were taken into the back room of the Falcon, where initially there was only one other man, though they were later joined by two more men, including Jones. The man who had bought them to the alehouse and Jones proceeded to play what amounted to an elaborate game of heads or tails, at which Jones lost. Jones then accused the others of being poor people who intended to rob him. At the encouragement of her husband Alice Robinson showed the man two five pound notes which she had with her in order to demonstrate that they were not poor and didn't need his money. The man who had originally accompanied them into the Falcon then snatched the money out of her hands and passed it along to James Jones, who ran out of the room. Alice chased Jones out of the room into the passageway, while her husband seized the man who had offered them direction for the ship. A fight ensued which spilled out onto the street, and concluded with the capture of Jones in a grocers shop. In the trial Jones claimed that he had won the money of Robinson in a bet, he was found guilty and sentenced to be transported for life.

The trial reveals several interesting things about the Falcon. In terms of the architecture it is clear that there was a back room, which could be accessed directly from the street by a passageway. There was also, presumably, a front room that had a separate enterance. Alice, who had a certain amount of money, was able to enter into the back room of the Falcon (accompanied by her husband) at 2pm without her respectability being called into question. Gambling seems to have been common practice in the pub's back room, and the landlord, who enters the room at several points to bring beer, and pen and ink, raises no objection to the gambling, which seems to have involved at least four out of the five people in the room, even though the Robinson had never met Jones and his accomplice before.

This seems to have been a medium-sized public house, somewhere between an alehouse and a tavern, which could be understood as either.

The earliest record of its existence is April 1739, when a meeting of fan painters was held here (London Evening Post, April 24-26, 1739), though there are references to a "Golden Falcon" on Fetter Lane as early as 1710.

In April 1795 a meeting of Uncertified Bankrupts, which had previously met in the highly respectable Crown and Anchor, took a step downmarket to meet here.

In 1791 the Falcon was offered for lease. It was described in the advertisements as a highly valuable property consisting of two separate, but related businesses. One side "was fitted up with much judgement for carrying on the Spirit and Wine trade, the other side for the Tavern and Public Line, having such commodious rooms for company and such conveniences as scarcely can be equalled. The whole in excellent repair, there having been upwards for 300l. laid out within six months thereon for that purpose; the rent moderate and the return near 200l a month." (Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, May 30, 1791).

In the 1850s the Falcon was frequently used by the Freemasons, suggesting that by then (if not before) it was a relatively respectable house. lists Post Office records for the Falcon and 10 and 11 Fetter Lane from 1856 continuing until 1923.

Fetter Lane was badly damaged during the second world war, though the Falcon seems to have survived. Records at the Corporation of London Records Office list alterations, including plans, made to the building in 1923, 1933, 1951 and 1954 (COL/SVD/PL/02/0497 1923 - 1954).

This photograph in the London Metropolitan Archives, shows the Falcon still functioning in 1970. The site is now occupied by a branch of Books etc.