Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fox and Hounds, Sydenham, Kent

At a meeting of the LCS General Committee on 13 August 1795 it was reported that a letter had been received from Thomas Holmes of Division 27 stating "We wish to form a division on 16 July at 2pm at the Fox and Hounds, Sydenham, Kent." The new division was to be  number 52, and several of the leaders of the LCS -- Hodgson, Haselden, Place, Higgins, B. Binns, Saml Smith, Morris, and Dyer were to attend.

Photograph by  Ewan Munro per Creative Commons License.

There remains a pub, called Fox's, on the site of the Fox and Hounds, on the corner of present day Wells Park Road and Kirkdale. The current building was erected in the 1880s to designs by Thomas Haliburton Smith, and was notable for its saloon bar -- one of the first of its kind -- which has since been demolished.
Image of the newly rebuilt Fox and Hounds, with ground floor plan,  February 1890
There was a Fox and Hounds on the site, much earlier than this, as shown on Stanford's Library Map of London and it's Suburbs from 1862.

No image of the first building remains, however, and there is much confusion over when it was built. One local historian claims that "The Fox and Hounds was first licensed in 1826, and was thus one one the earliest buildings in the High Street." The mention of it in the LCS records, however, suggests that it predated this "first licensing" by at least thirty years. The LCS records are not the only evidence of the earlier existence of the Fox and Hounds, however, on 17 September 1798, a Robert Phillips took out a classified advertisement in the Morning Post and Gazetteer, complaining of a horse that had been left at the Fox and Hounds nearly a year previously, which he had been forced to look after at his own expense.

There is also mention of a "Fox and Hounds" on Sydenham Common, Lewisham in a document dating from 10 July 1769, when it was described as a house belonging to William Cooper (Kent History and Library Center, Lewisham  Q/RH/1/5W 1769). Other descriptions of Sydenham Common dating from the same period suggest that there were very few buildings in this area at the time, suggesting that the town of Sydenham was developed around the original Fox and Hounds building. It's population grew considerably in the nineteenth century, after the opening of the canal 1801. In 1854 the Crystal Palace, originally erected to house the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, was moved to Sydenham.

Fourteen Staries, Rosemary Lane

In his report on a meeting of the General Committee that took place on 17 September 1795, Spy Powell reported that Division 10 was to move from "14 Stairs Rosemary Lane to the Queens Arms Crutched Friars"

The Fourteen Stairs was insured to John Withers, victualler, on 26 June 1794, (Records of the Sun Fire Office, London Metropolitan Archive, MS 11936/397/628684). It was still operating in 1800 when it was insured to "Earl." The records from the Sun Fire office lists the address as "10, 11, 12 Rosemary Lane" suggesting that is occupied the site of three separate buildings to the west of Rosemary Lane, next to the Tobacco Warehouse.

Rosemary Lane, now Royal Mint Street, ran from Cable Street to the Tower of London. The poet Edmund Spenser was born here in 1552, and endowed a group of cottages on the north side of Rosemary Lane as almshouses. Though a relatively short street, Rosemary Lane was well known as the site of Rag Fair, which is mentioned frequently in literary works of the eighteenth century. Daniel Defoe's Colonel Jack (1722), for example, went with his companions to Rag Fair and "bought two pairs of shoes and stockings for 5d., and went on to a boiling Cook's in Rosemary Lane where they found cheap fare."  Rag Fair also appears in Pope's Dunciad as one of the areas in which journalists liked to gather. Pope provided the note: "Rag-fair is a place near the Tower of London, where old cloaths and frippery are sold."

Rag Fair had a particular reputation for selling goods that had been stolen, and the cheapness of the goods was frequently remarked upon. According to Thomas Pennant in his book Of London (1790), "The articles of commerce by no means belie the name. There is no expressing the poverty of the goods, nor yet their cheapness... It was here, we believe, that purchasers were allowed to dip in a sack for old wigs -- a penny a dip."

In his Every-Day Book (1826) William Hone describes the activities of Sir Jeffrey Dunstan (c1759-96), "a dwarf with knock knees and a disproportionately large head" who "earned his living by supplying dealers with second-hand wigs":

When Sir Jeffery raised the cry of 'old wigs', the collecting of which formed his chief occupation, he had a peculiarly droll way of clapping his hand to his mouth, and he called 'old wigs, wigs, wigs!' in every doorway. Some he disposed of privately, the rest he sold to the dealers in 'Rag-fair'. In those days, 'full bottoms' were worn by almost every person, and it was no uncommon thing to hear sea-faring persons, or others exposed to the cold, exclaim, "Well, winter's at hand, and I must e'en go to Rosemary-lane, and have a dip for a wig." This 'dipping for wigs' was nothing more than putting your hand into a large barrel and pulling one up; if you liked it you paid your shilling, if not, you dipped again, and paid sixpence more, and so on. Then, also, the curriers used them for cleaning the waste, &c. off the leather, and I have no doubt would use them now if they could get them.

Thomas Rowlandson's drawing of Rag Fair shows a busy street scene bustling with traders and buyers with clothes littering the ground, hanging from windows and suspended from poles protruding from upper-floor windows.

(For more on Rag Fair see Rictor Norton The Georgian Underworld.)

It seems the LCS connection with the Fourteen Steps was a brief one. It only appears once in the LCS records, in the spy report by Powell, and there it appears as a site which the LCS was moving away from. Precisely why the LCS had to remove from this area can only be a matter of speculation. Perhaps by September 1795 the LCS was sufficiently disreputable that they couldn't be accommodated even in Rosemary Lane.  Or perhaps the LCS no longer wanted to be associated with an area so closely associated with criminal activity. Regardless, the Fourteen Steps, is characteristic of the kind of "low" alehouse that the LCS divisions often met in, that has left only the slightest trace on the historical record.