Stories of the Streets of London

Baker, H. Barton
1899

CHAPTER XXIII. AND LAST: Brook Street--Hill Street, Etc.

CHAPTER XXIII. AND LAST: Brook Street--Hill Street, Etc.

 

EVERY passer-by along Brook Street will be arrested by the plate against No. 25, which states that in that house George Frederick Handel resided for thirty years. Ye gods, what echoes of heavenly harmony may yet linger about that roof-tree! I think it must have been there that he composed " The Messiah," when, as he said:

I did think I did see all heaven before me, and the great God Himself.

It was a curious coincidence that he always expressed a wish to die on Good Friday,

in the hope of meeting my good God, my sweet Lord and Saviour on the day of His crucifixion.

And it was on Good Friday, 1759, that he breathed his last. The double life that so frequently exists in men of genius was remarkably exemplified in Handel. The spiritual soul was the tenant of a very gross body. He was a man of enormous appetite; when he dined at a tavern he always ordered dinner for three, and his habits were no more refined than those of his friend Dr. Johnson, whom in ponderosity of build and movement he greatly resembled. No man was ever more violently abused by rivals and know-nothings than the great Hanoverian.

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The goody people called him swindler, drunkard, blasphemer, to whom Scripture was not sacred, in allusion to his sublime oratorios ! May we not slightly alter the words of Madame Roland and exclaim,

religion, how many crimes are committed in thy name!

Two curious facts connected with Grosvenor Square are worth noting: it was the last thoroughfare in London to be lit by gas; it did not give up its oil lamps until 1842. Mount Street owes its name to the Civil Wars: during the great rebellion the parliamentarians threw up a line of earthworks for defence, and upon that line Mount Street was afterwards built.

When the celebrated Mrs. Montagu, of whom Cowper wrote-

The birds put off their every hue

To dess a room for Montagu,

first initiated the "Blue-Stocking Society" in Hill Street, about 1750, that thoroughfare was an unpaved, unlighted suburb, dangerous after dusk, as the neighbourhood was infested by footpads and highwaymen.[1]  The Bas-Blue was started as a protest against that universal card playing, which entirely banished all conversation at fashionable assemblies. Lord Lyttleton, Walpole, Johnson, Burke, Fanny

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Burney, Mason, Garrick, were among its earliest supporters. Many explanations have been offered of the term "Blue Stocking". Perhaps the most feasible is that given by Hayward in his Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Thrale. When these assemblies were in their infancy Mde. De Polignac was invited to one of them, and came in a pair of blue stockings, then all the rage in Paris. The fashion was so greatly admired by the ladies present that they forthwith adopted it, and it became a badge of the society.

Bond Street is one of the world's thoroughfares, and its name is familiar wherever civilisation exists. Old Bond Street was built in 1686; New Bond Street about a quarter of a century later. I never pass through the former without thinking of the lonely deathbed of that fine genius, Lawrence Sterne. Peter Cunningham was of opinion that the house in which he died is now No. 41. Only a hired nurse and a footman, who had been sent by his master to inquire after the sick man's health, were by his side. The latter has left a record of those last sad moments. "I went into the room, he was just a-dying. I waited ten minutes, but in five he said: 'Now it is come'. He put up his hand as if to stop a blow and died in a minute." It is said that those who performed the last offices for the dead stole some of his jewellery. Strange to say he had written in Tristram Shandy that he would prefer to die at an inn, untroubled by the spectacle of the concern of friends and the last service of wiping his brow and smoothing his pillow. His

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desire was almost literally fulfilled. The funeral of this man, whose fame had filled two kingdoms, was as lonely as had been his death; only his publisher and that same footman, James Macdonald, followed him to the burying ground near Tyburn, now a squalid and long decayed graveyard, in which his lichen-stained tombstone is still to be seen.

For several generations after the middle of the eighteenth century Bond Street shared with Pall Mall the distinction of being the fashionable lounge of the "bucks" and "Corinthians". A great resort of the latter was the boxing rooms of John Jackson, known as " Gentleman Jackson," pugilist and professor of" the noble art of self-defence ". Readers of Moore's Life of Byron will be familiar with the name. The great poet entertained a sincere respect and regard for Jackson, and, after he had been away from England several years, spoke of him as " my old friend and corporeal pastor and master, John Jackson, Esq., professor of pugilism, who, I trust, still retains the strength and symmetry of his model form, together with his good humour and athletic as well as mental accomplishments ".

Pugilism was as much a part of a gentleman's education in those days as Latin or dancing, and Jackson was instructor to half the nobility. It was quite the thing for the dandies when tired of promenading Bond Street to turn into No. 13, where Jackson, in white silk stockings and buckled shoes, was ready to receive them; some put on the gloves, while others watched

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them set to. The professor was one of the Prince Regent's bodyguard, and at the coronation of his royal master was present in the livery of a royal page. Jackson was a man of herculean yet perfect form. You see his figure in the well-known picture of Kemble as Rolla, for which he posed, the head alone being that of the great actor.

But the pugilist a hundred years ago, and less, was not the disreputable personage he is at present. I have noted in a previous chapter the Right Hon. William Windham's passion for pugilism, a penchant for which Mrs. Windham expressed the greatest disgust. One day Mr. Windham brought home with him to dinner a gentleman whom he introduced to her as General Jackson. The lady was delighted with her guest, whose ease of manner, perfect ton and evident personal familiarity with the great world, assured her that he was a man of breeding. When he had gone she was loud in his praise. " A charming man; you must ask him again, my dear," she said. " Certainly," replied her husband with a wicked look, " but the next time he comes you must receive him not as General Jackson but as Mr. John Jackson, the pugilist! "

The maze of fashionable streets that lie between Bond Street and Regent Street abound in reminiscences of celebrated people. The brilliant George Canning lived at No. 37 Conduit Street.

And on that turtle I saw a rider:

A goodly man with an eye so merry-

I know 'twas our foreign secretary-

Who there at his ease did sit and smile

Like Waterton on his crocodile;

Cracking such jokes at every motion

As made the turtle squeak with glee,

wrote Tom Moore in A Dream of a Turtle.

Canning was indeed an inveterate joker. Fancy some member of the awfully serious and unjokable division in the House of Commons of to-day hearing that Lord Salisbury had been guilty of the following: the embassy at the Hague was in high dispute with the King of Holland, and in the midst of it a despatch arrived for the ambassador, Sir Charles Bagot, from the Foreign Secretary, written in cypher. The attaches at once set to work to de-cypher it. Could they believe their senses, it was a quatrain in rhyme:- Dear Bagot, in commerce the fault of the Dutch Is giving too little and asking too much; So, since on this policy Mynheer's so bent, We'll clap on his vessel full 20 per cent.

The O's and Ap's and Mac's and Joneses would now call for the impeachment of a minister capable of such frivolity. We are sadder: are we wiser? There was an abundance of fools in the old House, but they kept their secret by being silent; in the new they are always blabbing it.

Canning was famous for his mots. Lord Londonderry was describing a Dutch picture of the animals coming out of Noah's ark, "and last of all," said my lord, "was the elephant". "Certainly," remarked Canning quickly, "he had been packing up his trunk."

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His aptness of quotation was marvellous. Lord Lyndhurst had delivered a speech, the substance of which was almost entirely taken from a pamphlet of Dr. Phillpotts, afterwards the well-known Bishop of Exeter. When Canning rose to reply, he began-

Dear Tom, this brown jug that now foams with mild ale,

Out of which I now drink to sweet Nan of the dale,

Was once-Toby Phillpotts.

There was no need to say any more; my lord was put out of court with roars of laughter.

In the celebrated Anti-Jacobin Canning, with the assistance of Frere, was almost as successful in extinguishing the would-be imitators of Danton and Robespierre as he had been with Lord Lyndhurst, and the political squibs, which wrecked the noted ministry of " All the Talents" by sheer ridicule, were chiefly from his pen.

Conduit Field, upon which Conduit Street is built, was anciently a place of much importance. Stow tells us that, on the 18th of September, 1562, "the Lord Mayor, Harper, the aldermen, and divers other worshipful persons, rid to Conduit Head before dinner. They hunted the hare and killed her, and thence to Conduit Head to dinner. A man who was living in 1780 shot woodcocks in this field when he was a boy."

But the most notable of all the memories connected with Conduit Street are those of Limmers'. It was in the old days-it is now rebuilt-one of the dingiest, not to say dirtiest hostelries in London, yet one

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of the most exclusively aristocratic. Limmers' was really a sporting club, a sort of residentiary Tattersalls. It was in that house, then known as the Prince Regent's Tavern, that Sheridan and Beau Brummell cracked their first bottle of wine together. All the Corinthians, all the young Jerry Hawthorns and the old Jerry Hawthorns, and even the sedate country squires-don't you remember that Squire Hazeldean (My Novel) put up there?-were fond of Limmers', perhaps because the old-fashioned English dinner and the port were super-excellent. But the floor of the coffee-rooms was sanded after the night on which the Marquis of Waterford shovelled the red-hot coals out of the grate on to the carpet. If an unknown man intruded within the sacred precincts he would be charged half a crown for a brandy and soda, or anything else he might call for, and would be treated with supercilious disdain by John Collins, the waiter-whom Frank Sheridan celebrated in verse[2] -because he was not " one of hus ". John was the inventor of the famous drink known by his name.

Limmers' was in the height of its glory between 1830 and 1860, and on the night before the Derby you would find most of the sporting aristocracy in the coffee-rooms. Conspicuous figures on that occasion would be the Hon. Charles Greville of Diary

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fame, in bright blue coat and brass buttons, with the knob of his gold-headed walking-stick pressed against his lips, his invariable habit. Perhaps beside him is that other buck and wit Lord Alvanley who gives the best little dinners in London, but is always hopelessly involved. Greville has been trying to arrange his affairs, but after having a full statement of his liabilities made out, Alvanley suddenly remembers that a "trifling debt of £55,000 has been omitted !" There is Lord George Bentinck, in stiff white cravat and faultlessly cut green Newmarket coat, from top to toe a patrician; guardsmen, bookmakers, pugilists. This tavern is also the favourite resort of the Marquis of Waterford, whose extraordinary pranks furnish the newspapers with endless "copy ". It was he who one night emptied "the Rookery" of its denizens and took them all round the town in a procession of hackney coaches that stopped at every public-house until the whole crew, men and women, engaged in a general melee on Pentonville Hill. It is more than suspected that the marquis, assisted by some of his companions, is the notorious " Spring-heeled Jack," who for months has kept the town in almost as much terror as did the Mohocks in the previous century. [3] 

My lord's great friend, the Hon. William Duff -one of the Fifes-better known as "Billy Duff," in outrageous devilry and vile practical jokes is quite abreast of "the mad Marquis". These were the men who carried off and made collections of door knockers, barbers' poles, signs; Douglass Jerrold has described some of their doings in John Applejohn (Men of Character) under the names of Lord Slap and the Hon. Tom Rumpus. They once painted a policeman pea green and dropped him, bound hand and foot, down an area. Sala, in Things I Have Seen, relates how the Hon. Billy once went into a fashionable milliner's show-room in Regent Street when all the attendants were at tea, and sat down upon twentytwo bonnets. Limmers' was the scene of many of his extraordinary freaks and fancies. John Collins used to tell a story how one night he brought a Highland piper, whom he had picked up in the street, into the

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coffee-room, and started the Highland fling with the usual Gaelic yells, and in his enthusiasm divested himself of his clothes article by article until his shirt alone remained.

At No. 14 Savile Row, Cork Street, the last scene of Sheridan's strange eventful history was enacted.

" Nothing could be more wretched than the home in which he lay dying," wrote an eye-witness; "there were strange-looking people in the hall; the parlour seemed dismantled; on the table lay a piece of paper thrown carelessly and neglected-it was a prescription." In his dying moments a sheriff's officer arrested him, and would have carried away the wasted body in blankets to a sponging house, had not the physician threatened to make the fellow responsible should his prisoner die upon the road.

But as soon as death had claimed him all this was changed; there was a pompous funeral, the Duke of Bedford, the Earl of Lauderdale, Earl Mulgrave, Lord Holland, the Bishop of London and Lord Spencer were the pall-bearers; the Dukes of York and Sussex, and other dukes, marquises, earls and lords followed him to the abbey. One of the very few duties of life which have no desagrements attached to it is doing honour to the dead; it costs nothing, and one has the satisfaction of knowing that the dear defunct will make no further call upon us.

The case of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, however, has called forth more sympathy and indignation than it merits, chiefly excited by Moore's famous " Monody ";

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but we should remember that a poet claims poetic licence, also that the "Monody" was a political fulmination. No more heartless man than this brilliant wit and orator ever existed; he was utterly indifferent as to the number of tradesmen or others whom he ruined, so that he might live in luxury. He was equally callous to the people who served him for their daily bread. Fanny Kemble in her Reminiscences relates how on a Saturday morning the workpeople at Drury Lane would assail him with " For God's sake, Mr. Sheridan, pay us our salaries-let us have something this week ". He would faithfully promise that their wants should be attended to, and then, after emptying the treasury of the week's receipts, would slip out of the theatre by another door and leave them penniless.

Nor was his desertion by the great quite so flagrant as is generally supposed. George IV. assured Wilson Croker that Sheridan had more than £25,000 from him alone, and that the only cause of their separation was that Sheridan had appropriated to another purpose a sum of £3000 which had been advanced to him in , to enable him to get a seat in Parliament. After this he kept out of the Prince's way, not the Prince out of his. The fact is, Sheridan was one of those men of whom most of us have had some experience, men in whose hands money dissolves like ice; give them a thousand to-day and to-morrow they are penniless; such men are hopeless, and in time wear out the generosity of the most liberal.

And with these moral reflections we reach the end of our pilgrimage, Regent Street. This proud successor of that mean thoroughfare, Swallow Street, though so world-famous, is curiously destitute of associations, and the few it has are evil. The Quadrant was as notorious for gambling "hells" as Leicester Square, and the description of such places given in the chapter on that locality will equally apply to these, although in showiness they more nearly resembled, if with but a faint reflection, the aristocratic Crockford's. Air Street, Princes Street, Cranbourne Alley, Golden Square, little more than half a century ago swarmed with "Greeks," as the professional gamesters, who lured half-intoxicated "swells" and inexperienced youth to the hazard table, were called. Among the notable cases of ruin brought about by these scoundrels was that of Thistlewood, the son of a country gentleman. He was sent up to London when quite young with a large sum of money, some thousands, to place in a certain investment for a relative. Lured into one of these "hells," he was at one sitting stripped of every farthing. Utterly disgraced he drifted from bad to worse, ultimately became a desperado, attended seditious meetings and organised the notorious Cato Street conspiracy, the aims of which were to murder the king's ministers while they were dining with Lord Harrowby in Grosvenor Square, raise an emeute, and seize upon the Bank of England. The plot was discovered, the conspirators were captured-they were the last imprisoned in the Tower-and Thistlewood

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and three of his accomplices were hanged at Newgate, and afterwards beheaded.

The authorities had a hard tussle to break up these dens of iniquity; doors were lined with sheet iron, and all kinds of ingenious contrivances were invented to dish the police when they made a raid upon the saloons. Some were fitted with a pipe connected with the sewers, down which cards, dice, rakes and all the appurtenances of gambling were thrown at the first alarm; others had a device by which a roulette wheel could be instantly raised to the ceiling and made to fit into the chandelier that hung over the table. But their day had come, and, thanks chiefly to an inspector of police named Beresford, by the end of the forties they were pretty well rooted out.

It is only upon returning to London after a few months' absence that one fully perceives the vast strides that our metropolis is making in architectural effect. While Paris has been standing almost still since the days of Hausman and Napoleon III., London has been advancing with an everincreasing speed. Everywhere the dingy and the mean are giving place to the handsome and the imposing; in all quarters broad thoroughfares are superseding narrow streets; slums are being swept away, and beautiful buildings are rising up in their place. As a city of pleasure, London is outstripping the Lutetia of the Third Republic, and in the course of another decade it will contest with her the palm of dignity. The

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dreary London of our youth, of Dickens and Thackeray, is vanishing, how rapidly can scarcely be realised, least of all by the Londoner, who day by day witnesses, without remarking, the vast changes in progress.

The is unequalled in picturesque effect, and the coming improvements in , the fine thoroughfare that is to join with the , the superb plans that will convert the eastern half of the , now so miserably mean as to be a disgrace to our great city, into a site that will surpass in grandeur of design any of the Places of the Continental capitals, and other transformations which must quickly follow, will render the London of the two thousandth century the grandest, as it is already the vastest, and most imposing metropolis of the modern and perhaps of the ancient world.

THE END.

ABERDEEN UNIVERSITY PRESS.

 
 
Footnotes:

[1] And it had not improved thirty years later, for one night Lord Lyndedoch's carriage, when on the way to Mrs. Montagu's, was stopped on Hay Hill by masked men, and soon afterwards the Prince of Wales and his brother of York when riding there in a hackney coach were robbed of money, jewellery, and everything portable.

[2] Which began- My name is John Collins, head waiter at Limmers', In Conduit Street, Hanover Square; My chief occupation is filling up brimmers For the gentlemen frequenting there.

[3] Spring-heeled Jack was ubiquitous, and assumed as many forms as Proteus; now he appeared in the shape of a white bull or bear; then in brass armour with great claws, at another time as a baboon with saucer eyes, then with huge horns, and gleaming with phosphorescence. He could spring over a man's head; his leaps and somersaults were prodigious, effected, no doubt, by some machinery attached to the feet, and these added not a little to the terror this apparition inspired. Women feared to walk out at night, as several had been frightened into an illness by the goblin, and men were attacked and severely beaten by it ! All London was roused: in January, 1838, a committee was formed at the Mansion House, and a subscription was raised to assist the police in capturing the monster. But without any result. After the April of that year Jack was seen no more; his identity has never been established. As I have said in the text, Lord Waterford was strongly suspected, but no proof has ever been discovered to confirm the suspicion. There were various rumours, one of which was that a number of young men had made a bet of £3000 that they would in a given time frighten thirty people to death. But this smacks too much of the incredible.