Saturday, July 6, 2013

Friend at Hand, Little North Street

On 8 November 1792, with the LCS around six months old, three new divisions were set up, including division 19, which had splintered from division 6. The new division first met on 26 November 1792, at the Friend at Hand on Little North Street in Knightsbridge with John Richter elected as the delegate to the General Committee (Thale 26n; BL Add MSS 27812, for 24-4v). On 30 October 1794, at the trial of Thomas Hardy, evidence was given that 6 members were present at the first meeting of the division (ST vol. 24 col. 574).

The Friend at Hand has proven stubborn to identify, in part because in the late eighteenth century Knightsbridge remained a relatively small village outside of London between Chelsea and Kensington. Finding a reliable contemporary map has proven a challenge, it was not, for example, sufficiently large to merit inclusion on Horwood's Map of 1792-9, which only made it as far west as Kensington. Nor have I been able to find any records of a "Little North Street" in Knightsbridge, though there was a North Street (now Basil Street), which presumably was connected with Little North Street. Things are further confused by the fact that the house was at the junction of North Street, Queen Street, and Elizabeth Street, all of which have changed their names at least once, and the address is variously given as being on one of these streets, with very little consistency of address. The confusion is compounded by the fact that "Knightsbridge" did not designate a district so much as a street name until the twentieth century, earlier it was more properly considered a part of Brompton.

Greenwood Map of 1830

A classified ad for the lease for the Friend at Hand appeared in the Morning Post and Daily Advertiser on 15 September 1791. The listing describes a "well established public house" with a "house adjoining," and describes its location as "desirably situate the corner of North and Queen-Street, near Sloane Square." The estate was sold by auction by Mr. Christie, who had established his auction rooms thirty years earlier in the 1760s, and which is today the world's largest auction house.

Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 15 September 1791.
Like many other public houses of the eighteenth century the Friend at Hand occasionally served as an auction house itself. In June 1791 a large collection of fire arms consisting of "double and single barreled fowling pieces, rifle bullet guns, pistols and blunderbusses" was sold there by auction.

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 28  June 1791.

On 6 April 1797 the address of the Friend at Hand was given in a classified ad in the Morning Post and Fashionable World as "Elizabeth-Street, Hans-Place," rather than Queen Street. And while it's tempting to think that perhaps the house had moved to an alternative nearby location, later addresses continue to list it at Queen Street, suggesting that it had not moved, but that addresses were given with rather more latitude around the turn of the nineteenth century.

According to the Sun Fire Office Records a "Friend at Hand" was insured to "Edward Bates, at the Friend at Hand, Queen Street Brompton" in August 1810 (London Metropolitan Archives MS 11936/453/846997).

By August 1820 the Friend at Hand on Queens Street, Brompton was insured to a William Vinall (LMA MS 11936/483/970363). The same address and the same owner is provided in the Sun Fire records office until 12 March 1823 (LMA MS 11936/498/1001908). From the 1826s on the Friend at hand appears in various directories with the address 1 Elizabeth Street (see In January 1830, for example, Michael Collins of the Friend at Hand, Elizabeth Street, Brompton, was declared bankrupt (Law Advertiser 8.1 (1830): p1). The address is given consistently as Elizabeth Street until 1886, when Queen Street and Elizabeth Street were renamed Hans Road, which is the name by which it still goes.

The Survey of London (vol. 41) reports that "at the comer of North (Basil) Street next to the entrance to the Queen's Gardens School, the Friend at Hand public house was rebuilt in a cheerful stripey style by Dear and Winder, architects, in 1894." Again, there is no guarantee that this was the same "Friend at Hand" that the LCS met in one hundred years previously, but if not they must have been very close to the same location.

The Survey of London says that all of the buildings on the former Queens Road that were developed at the end of the nineteenth century, including the new stripey Friend at Hand, disappeared in 1908–12, as the Harrods department store (initially based on Brompton Road) bought up the leases and expanded on to the sites. One of the last mentions of the Friend At Hand occurs in the Post Office Directory of 1910, where the landlord is listed as Edwin Cash, and the address is given as 37 & 39 Hans Road.

Harrods viewed from corner of Hans Road and Basil Street

Unsurprisingly, given the fame of Harrods there is a substantial archive of photography which document the history of the area. A search for "Hans Road" on Collage brings up numerous images of Hans Road from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, documenting the growth and development of the department store.

Harrods, Brompton Road: by Hans Road looking east.
Photograph from 1892; London County Council Photograph Collection at the LMA.

Frustratingly, however, most of the images are from the Brompton Road end of Hans Road, looking east and none show the junction of Hans Road with Basil Street (where the Friend at Hand still existed into the early twentieth century). The Friend at Hand, like many of the alehouses in which the LCS met remains just out of shot, proximate to, but never quite present in the recognizable images of the metropolis.


  1. I was thrilled to read this history of the Friend at Hand, because John Reynolds (who owned/ran the pub approx 1869-1882) was the father-in-law of my 2nd great-uncle, John Freeman Thomson, who married Mr Reynold's daughter Louisa. It is such a shame that no pictorial record of the pub exists, but thank you for this information, very much appreciated!

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