Stories of the Streets of London

Baker, H. Barton


CHAPTER IX: Chancery Lane--Lincoln's Inn, Etc.

CHAPTER IX: Chancery Lane--Lincoln's Inn, Etc.


INSTEAD of making our way through Temple Bar and along the Strand we will turn up Chancery Lane, which has been completely transmogrified during the last ten or dozen years. Of the Chancery Lane of Dickens, haunted by the shadow of poor Miss Flite, with its flat, soot-begrimed Georgian houses, little remains except the grand old gateway of Lincoln's Inn, which none of us wish to part with; the imposing pile of the new Record Offices, and smart-looking chambers have imparted to the old street a much more cheerful and pleasant aspect-which, however, the London atmosphere will soon tone down to its previous sootiness.

Chancery Lane is a very ancient thoroughfare, and Stow tells us that in the reign of Henry III. it was known as New Street. Old Sergeant's Inn, founded in the reign of Henry IV., and the ancient office, Custos Rotulorum, the Rolls Court and its Chapel have disappeared to make room for the buildings of the Record Office. In demolishing the chapel, built by Inigo Jones, remnants, including a beautifully



moulded chancel arch of the original structure, , were discovered, that must have formed part of that Dormus Conversorum, or hospital for converted Jews, which originally occupied the site. Chichester Rents marks the site of the ancient town house of the Bishops of Chichester, which in the thirteenth century stood in spacious and beautiful gardens. Cursitor Street was originally the Coursitor's office, "built," says Stow, "with divers fair lodgings for gentlemen, all of brick and timber, by Sir Nicholas Bacon, late lord keeper of the Great Seal ". On the eastern side, near Holborn, stood one of the mansions of Cardinal Wolsey ; Thomas Wentworth, afterwards the great Earl of Strafford, was born in this street.

A narrow passage, on the eastern side of the lane, near Fleet Street, leads into that ancient house of the law, Clifford's Inn, originally the town house of the Lords de Clifford, which was given over to the students in the eighteenth year of Edward III. Of all the inns of court this wears the air of greatest antiquity, but it is the antiquity of decay that precedes dissolution. Harrison, Cromwell's lieutenant, was a lawyer's clerk here before he joined the Parliamentary army. Coke, that great lawyer but bitter advocate, who so ruthlessly crushed Raleigh, lived here for a time, but he is chiefly identified with the Middle Temple.

Passing beneath the great gateway of Lincoln's Inn, some of the bricks of which, it is said, were laid by Ben Jonson, whose stepfather was a mason, we note



that ancient tower in the south-west corner, a plate upon which indicates to passers-by that my Lord Protector's secretary, Thurloe, had chambers there. And to think how often old Noll's burly form might have ascended those narrow winding stairs.

Timbs tells a romantic story in connection with these chambers. One evening Cromwell came there to talk with Thurloe over a plot which had been devised for seizing the persons of the Prince of Wales and the Dukes of York and Gloucester. In the dusk they had not perceived a young clerk with his head upon his desk, seemingly asleep. Cromwell drew his dagger and would have killed the man had not Thurloe interposed. The clerk, however, had only been shamming slumber, and found means to warn the princes of their danger.

Henry de Lacey, Earl of Lincoln, early in the fourteenth century, bestowed this noble domain upon the law students. In those days it was a rural garden filled with fruit trees and embowered in roses, with a fish pond in the centre. Previous to his time, in , it was the first home of the Dominicans in London, where they continued to dwell until , and then removed to their great house near Ludgate, thereafter called Blackfriars. With the exception of the gateway, hall and chapel, none of the buildings are older than the time of Charles II. The hall was built in the twenty-second year of Henry VII., and the chapel by Inigo Jones, . Among the most famous men associated with this Inn are Sir Thomas More, Sir


Matthew Hale, Sir Robert Walpole, Lords Mansfield, Camden, Brougham. Although Lincoln's Inn was as famous for its revels and feasts as its great rivals, its traditions, apart from the law, would have little interest for the general reader, so I will leave it for the Fields.

During the seventeenth century, Digby, Newcastle, Somers, Sandwich and other nobles, erected mansions in Lincoln's Inn Fields-the Duchess of Portsmouth resided in one at the south-west corner, the fleur de lys may still be seen upon the walls of the remnant that yet remains of her house, which spans a passage leading to Clare Market casual ward. But the centre, which we now call the Square, was given over to swarms of loafers and beggars, who took their meals, played cards, quarrelled, fought, importuned every passer-by for alms, slept beneath the shadow of the trees, and under cover of night waylaid, robbed and sometimes murdered the belated wayfarer. A Lincoln's Inn mumper was a proverb. Mountebanks harangued, bears danced, bulls were baited by dogs, horses were exercised, and rubbish was shot everywhere.

The Fields were not infrequently used as a place of execution; there Babington and his accomplices expiated their treason against Elizabeth, and there a far more illustrious personage, Lord William Russell, was beheaded for his alleged complicity in the Rye House Plot. On that July morning, , a vast crowd fills the Square and looks down upon it from every window and roof and " coign of vantage ". Very


slowly is the coach containing the victim and Bishops Burnet and Tillotson able to make its way through the dense human mass, and the Oxford Blues have much ado to keep back the mob, who make rushes to get near the carriage window. Some yell, some hiss and curse, others take off their hats and murmur prayers and blessings, and women sob; but all draw back with a momentary shudder as the headsman, clothed from head to foot in black, his face covered by a black mask, and the glittering axe upon his shoulder, stalks noiselessly, like Fate, in the rear. Singing a psalm and with a firm step, looking neither to right nor left, Russell mounts the black-draped scaffold, and, after protesting his innocence, kneels and prays; then strips off his coat and bares his neck, and when the executioner has cut off his hair, lays his noble head upon the block. An awful hush falls upon the riotous mob, the vilest among which are awed, for the shadow of the Angel of Death is over all. There is a flash in the sunlight, a silent thrill shivers through the multitude; the axe is raised; another flash and it descends; a third rise and fall of glittering steel, an awful shriek from the women and a cheering and groaning from the men, and the severed head falls upon the scaffold dyeing it with blood.

At the back of the Fields, in Portugal Street, [1] stood the famous Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, a fine house,


handsomely decorated and glittering with lookingglass: you will find plenty about it in Pepys' Diary. But that gossipy chronicler has long been laid at rest in St. Olave's Church, and the second George is on the throne when we pay our visit to it. The boxes are filled with beaux and belles, the pit with coffeehouse wits from Covent Garden, the gallery with butchers from Clare Market; on each side of the stage is a double row of seats, which the fops affect, as they did in the days of the Blackfriars. The play is Macbeth, and Mr. Quin, most pompous and stilted of actors, personates the Thane of Cawdor in a scarletvelvet coat, knee breeches, silk stockings, buckled shoes, a huge powdered wig and a cocked hat; while Lady Macbeth is in hooped skirt and stomacher, according to the fashion of the day, and all the other characters are costumed in the same mode. The beaux and belles on the stage are more interested in displaying their toilettes to the house and in their own conversation than in the business of the play, and freely exchange remarks. In the midst of the dagger soliloquy my Lord Sandwich deliberately crosses the actor to speak to some person on the opposite side. Cries of " Shame !" " Throw him into the pit! " come from the gallery, and John Rich, the manager-and most famous of harlequins-in great indignation, steps from the side scene and expostulates with the earl upon the unseemliness of his behaviour. My lord's reply is a blow in the face; manager Rich draws his sword ; the beaux start to their feet; the actors rush to


the support of their chief, and the next moment there is a clash of steel and the players and their patrons are at cut and thrust; gentlemen leap from the boxes to the succour of their friends; ladies scream and faint.

The actors have the best of it, and drive their opponents off the stage and out of the building. But the hot-blooded beaux are not so easily got rid of. Rushing to the houses of the nobles close by for reinforcements, they soon return to the theatre in overwhelming numbers, cut down the door-keepers who oppose their entrance, and force their way in; the more prudent among the audience have taken their departure, but some of the more fiery spirits, including the butchers, side with the actors. The beaux and their lacqueys, however, are too many for the defenders, who are put to the rout. Then the work of destruction commences, the mirrors are smashed, seats and scenery torn up, cast into a pile and set alight. But just at that moment there is a cry without of " The soldiers! The soldiers!" and in a few minutes a detachment of troops arrives, just in time to prevent a conflagration.

There will be no play at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre for many a day after this, and a custom, which has fallen into desuetude since the time of Charles II., will be revived-that is to say, a guard of soldiers will attend at both Lincoln's Inn and Drury Lane for every performance. And this regulation has always been observed at Drury Lane and Covent


Garden, the latter being the successor to Lincoln's Inn, which was not used after about .

Above that heavy stone archway leading into Duke Street is Sardinia Chapel, built in , originally for the Sardinian Embassy, it will go for the new street. It has been partly destroyed more than once in nopopery riots, especially after the flight of James II., when every Romish church throughout London was sacked and burned, and again in Lord George Gordon's rising. That imposing-looking house, approached by a high flight of steps at the north-west corner, dates back to ; first known as Powis House from its builder, the Marquis of Powis; it was renamed Newcastle House when it came into the possession of that duke, whom Macaulay epigrammatically says, was "a living, moving, talking caricature". One of the most absurd and ignorant of men, the laughing-stock of every satirist of the day, was for thirty years a Secretary of State, and for ten, First Lord of the Treasury under George II. Foote said of him that he always appeared as if he had lost an hour in the morning and was all the rest of the day looking for it.[2] 

As we turn round under the heavy stone arcade, where in days gone by footpads used to lurk at night for unwary pedestrians, our eye is caught by the name of "Whetstone Park". Why such a cramped-up bit of ground should be called a park I


cannot discover; in the time of Charles II. it was one of the most vicious spots in the metropolis. Yet Milton, on leaving Barbican, resided in it, or close by it, for several years.

Great Queen Street, notwithstanding its width, is a dull, depressing thoroughfare, yet with an air of faded gentility about it that tells of better days. And it has seen better days. Built by Inigo Jones, and named after Queen Henrietta Maria, its noble houses were early inhabited by the famous Lord Herbert of Cherbury, the author of one of the most interesting of autobiographies; by the Bristols, the Finches, the Conways and Paulets. Here lived the eccentric Dr. Radcliffe, as blunt and uncouth to his patients as was Abernethy after him. "I would not have two such legs as you have for your three kingdoms," he said to William III., to whom he was court physician. He frequently sent rude messages to Queen Anne when she summoned him. " Tell Her Majesty I shall not come; she's only got the vapours." When she was dying he sent a similar message, not believing in the gravity of her illness, and, after her death, would have been lynched by the mob, could they have got hold of him. He was the founder of the magnificent Radcliffe Library at Oxford.

Sir Godfrey Kneller, whom we shall meet again in Bow Street and Covent Garden, died in this street. Brinsley Sheridan lived at Nos. 55 and 56, south side, when he first became manager of Drury Lane Theatre in , and it is probable that the School for Scandal


was written there. Its vicinity to the great theatres brought some notable actors and actresses to Great Queen Street: "the airy" Lewis, most incomparable of light comedians; Kitty Clive, most humorous of soubrettes; and her successor, Miss Pope; " Little" Knight, and others. Sir Robert Strange, the celebrated engraver, and Opie, the no less celebrated painter, also resided here. Most of these dwellings were at the south-west end of the street, but little remains of them now.

Lord Herbert of Cherbury's house was close to Great Wild Street, down which we must now turn on our way to Clare Market. Wild Street marks the site of Weld House, a fine mansion which was destroyed in those terrible riots, when James II. by his cowardly flight left London without head or government to the mercy of a fanatical mob.

The last remnants of that once notorious haunt of vice and misery, Clare Market, will soon have disap-- peared. Until recently a bit of Dickens's Tom All Alone's survived in a narrow lane of tall, toppling houses, hideous with dirt and decay, and dark as pitch at night. It lay at the back of the south end of Portsmouth Street, and you reached it by passing through an opening beneath a tumble-down house, upon which were carved the arms of the Earls of Clare.

In the time of Charles I. the whole of this neighbourhood was covered by the mansion and gardens of that noble family, who afterwards gave their names and titles to the various streets. A plate let into the


wall of one of the houses in Denzil Street, of which an illustration is given, tells the story. A little before the death of Cromwell, John Holles, a son of the earl, created Marquis of Clare and Duke of Newcastle, opened a market upon a portion of the grounds. It was not until , when the title became extinct, that
the family ceased to reside there. Picture to yourself bright parterres of flowers, velvet lawns and blossoming fruit trees flourishing in that now murky district!

While the eighteenth century was still young the tide of poverty and crime was creeping closer and


closer up to this once aristocratic quarter. Clement's Lane, however, was quite a fashionable lounge, and beaux of the first water, with clouded canes, silverhilted rapiers and diamond buckled shoes, picked their way among brawling butchers, squalid povertyand vice, and along side-ways slippery with offal and garbage, to the Spiller's Head, where an actors' club was held. Spiller was a famous player who made his fame as Mat o' the Mint in The Beggar's Opera at the Portugal Street Theatre; the butchers swore by him and changed the sign of their favourite tavern, the Butcher's Head, to the Spiller's Head in his honour. And it must be borne in mind that the knights of the shambles were a power in the theatrical world of that day; the success of a new actor or a new play depending not a little upon those burly blue-frocked frequenters of Olympus. Thus their good-will was much courted by the members of the sock and buskin.

So while Queen Anne was still upon the throne some actors formed a club, which held weekly meetings at the Spiller's Head until nearly the middle of the century. Tom Durfey, who used to sing duets with Charles II., and wrote novels and poems not puerisque virginibus, a rakehelly cavalier, was the first president; and that most famous of fops, off the stage and on, whose Lord Foppington was to that age what Sothern's Dundreary was to the last generation, though a member of White's, was his successor. Can you not see him, his broad, flat face half-hidden by a twenty-guinea periwig, his stockings of spotless silk rolled high over


his velvet breeches, in his square-cut, buckram-skirted, embroidered silk coat and red-heeled shoes, groping his way up the dark staircase into the smoke-dimmed atmosphere of the low-ceiled room, where "King Colley" is hailed with a shout of welcome by those famous confreres, about whom, in old age, he will write so graphically in his Apology for his life. There is handsome Will Mountfort, with his musical voice, most irresistible of stage lovers, over whom hangs the shadow of a real tragedy, reminding one of poor Terriss's fate; crooked saturnine Sandford, most incomparable of stage villains, who might have played Richard III. without any make up; owlishly solemnlooking Nokes, who, however, cannot show his face upon the stage without provoking a roar; droll Willy Pinkethman, who has come from his booth at Bartholomew Fair; Dick Estcourt, facile princeps of mimics, about whom Steele writes so unctiously in The Tatler; the admired Tom Spiller himself, and others who are now nomines pretercaea nihil. When Spiller died, a Clare Market poet wrote:-

Down with your marrow bones and cleavers all,

And on your marrow bones ye butchers fall;

For prayers from you who never prayed before,

Perhaps poor Jemmy may to life restore.

Guy Fawkes day was celebrated with high jinks in Clare Market: a huge bonfire was always made in front of Newcastle House, in the Fields; but the butchers had one of their own, in the space near Bear Yard, and thrashed each other round about the fire


with the strongest sinews of bulls; while large parties of them from all the markets paraded the streets with marrow bones and cleavers. Indeed the whole of London was so lit up by bonfires and fireworks, " that from the suburbs," says Hone, " it looked in one red heat," and such disorder reigned in the streets that horses and carriages were sometimes overthrown by the hustling, driving, fighting mobs.

Clare Market was noted for its taverns and sixpenny and shilling ordinaries, with " private rooms for the nobility and gentry," who occasionally patronised these houses; they were mostly frequented, however, by gentlemen in shabby scarlet coats, high jack-boots, jingling spurs and fiercely cocked hats, their weatherbeaten faces showing them to be soldiers, most of whom were proud of having fought under Marlborough. Yet these heroes of Ramilies, Blenheim and many another bloody field, were glad of a sixpenny dinner-when they could get it, and ogled and flattered buxom landladies to shorten the reckoning, and sometimes lived at free quarters with their Desdemonas.

How many ghosts flit across our memories of the old place. Here is a dainty one, quietly but exquisitely attired, a charming brunette, a pretty, demure face half-hidden beneath a hood, upon which every eye is turned; the rough butchers check their free talk and respectfully salute her; she has a basket upon her arm, and is making little purchases, and as she buys her vegetables she talks to the poor women, oh, so kindly, and asks them about their troubles, and


as she passes along drops coins in the hands of hungry shivering wretches huddled on doorsteps, and then hurries away, followed by showers of blessings from lips little used to such utterances. That is sweet Anne Bracegirdle-you walk over her tombstone in the abbey's cloisters; "the darling of the theatre," says Cibber in his Apology. "For it will be no extravagant thing to say, scarce an audience saw her that were less than half of them lovers, without a suspected favourite among them; and though she might be said to have been the universal passion and under the highest temptations, her constancy in resisting them served but to increase the number of her admirers."

Would she could make of me a saint,

Or I of her a sinner!

sighed Congreve, one of her most devoted admirers.

A later ghost that haunts the market is that of a young barrister, named John Scott, who not long ago ran off with beautiful Bessie Surtees from her home at Newcastle, flitted over the border and married her at Gretna Green, without a sixpence between them. It is hard times for the young couple who have to live upon love-and herrings, which the bridegroom cheapens in Clare Market. Bessie's parents are inexorable, little thinking that one day poor John Scott will sit upon the woolsack and be known as Lord Eldon. Only fancy such a romance being attached to the future ogre of the Tory party! Alas, for the end of a romance, in years to come my lord will be glad to


steal into the George Coffee-house, at the top of the Haymarket, to drink his pint of wine, which his dear Bessie will not allow him to enjoy in peace at home!

A notable Clare Market tavern, which has only just disappeared, the Black Jack, was particularly associated with the names of Joe Miller and Jack Sheppard. In the low-ceiled, wainscotted room upstairs-so well known to old medical students, and old lawyers' clerks of the Fields, who often took their dinner there before the days of the Holborn Restaurant-Joe Miller, an actor at Drury Lane, smoked many a pipe. Never was a reputation more curiously acquired than his. Joe was the most stolid of men, he could neither read nor write, and could learn his parts only by his wife reading them to him; he seldom opened his mouth, except to put his knife or his pipe into it, and was never known to make a joke. So John Motley, a fellow-player, thought it would be capital fun to make a collection of jests and affix Joe Miller's name to them, little thinking that posterity would take him literally.

It is said that the Black Jack was at one time called the Jump, to celebrate one of Jack Sheppard's many escapes from the pursuit of Jonathan Wild. While Jack was lying perdu in the tavern, the word was passed that the thief-taker was at the door, and when he was mounting the stairs Jack leaped from the first-floor window into the street below and got clear off. This house was also the scene of " the Popgun


Plot," , which aimed at assassinating the king with a poisoned arrow.

A peculiar-looking tavern at the corner of Portsmouth Street-to the south of the Black Jack-with the upper storey supported by slender pillars-known by the sign of the George the Fourth, which has also passed away, is generally believed to have been the Magpie and Stump of The Pickwick Papers, where Lowton, Mr. Perker's clerk, spent his evenings presiding over harmonic meetings, where Mr. Pickwick listened to the story of " The Queer Client," and where old Weller and his fellow-coachmen entertained Mr. Pell. It would appear that several successive landlords of this house kept a register of the names of the different students attached to the hospital opposite, who used the tavern, and some late and present very famous doctors are to be found in the list. Another notoriety of Clare Market, whom the butchers swore by, was the mad preacher, Orator Henley, satirized by Hogarth, Pope, and Foote, and in almost all the literature of the time.[3]  He had a


chapel at the corner of Lincoln's Inn Fields, though he frequently preached in the market, and he is described as leaping, harlequin fashion, into the pulpit, which Pope called his "gilt tub," through a spring door, falling to work at once with hands, arms, legs, head, and ranting and raving at the top of his voice.

Though greatly shrunken in its area Clare Market still retains its characteristic features, and no more graphic picture of how the poor of London live could be gained than by mingling with the crowds that on Saturday night gather about the stalls of stale and much-watered vegetables, about the butchers and bacon shops, chaffering for uninviting-looking morsels of fly-blown meat and scraps of bacon that are heaped upon the boards. The flaring lights of paraffin jets [4] 


throw up in grim relief this motley mob of buyers and sellers, while ears polite are outraged by the shouting costers and the riotous noise from densely packed public-houses. In all these things Clare Market is much the same as it was in the time of the Spiller's Head Club. But its days are numbered. Year by year, for a generation and more, this gruesome neighbourhood has been gradually vanishing before the march of improvement. The grand new thoroughfare which is shortly to pass through it will complete its demolition; and though one cannot repress a sentimental regret at the disappearance of any historic landmarks, the most ardent antiquary must admit that in this case at least it was an urgent necessity.


[1] Now covered by an extension of the College of Surgeons. Much of the theatre was preserved in a large china warehouse until 1848.

[2] John Forster had chambers in Newcastle House. It was visiting him there that probably suggested to Dickens to make it, in Bleak House, the scene of Tulkinghorn's murder.

[3] " Preacher at once and Zany of thy age," wrote Pope in The Dunciad. His career is another illustration of the poor-devil author. Master of a Grammar School in Leicester, Henley came to London to try and make a living by his pen, endowed with a knowledge of ten languages; but he shared the fate of his brothers of the craft, both literate and illiterate, and fell to be a bookseller's hack. Soured by poverty and lack of appreciation, he resolved " to live by making one half the world laugh at the other ". He first opened his School of Oratory in Newport Market, and then, at the invitation of the silly Duke of Newcastle, removed to Clare Market. He proposed by his lectures to supply the want of a universal school for all classes of the community. But it was by preaching-always the best card for an adventurer to play in cant-ridden England-in something after the style afterwards so successfully adopted by Whitfield, Rowland Hill and Spurgeon, a judicious mixture of brimstone and buffoonery, that he made his mark. He advertised an oration on marriage, got together an immense assemblage of women, and then coolly told them he was afraid they oftener came to church in the hope of getting husbands than to be instructed by the preacher, and wound up with indecent jest. He announced a lecture on the most expeditious method of making shoes, and attracted thereby all snobdom. Holding up a boot, he cut off the leg! Yet, says Pope:- "'Twill break the benches, Henley, with thy strain, While Sherlock, Hare and Gibson preach in vain "

[4] All this time he was pursuing learned studies; he left behind him 6000 MSS., and 150 volumes of commonplaces, wit and memoranda, all of which when sold realised less than £ 100, although for some years the money had flowed galore into the oratory. Hurrah for cant and buffoonery, they always appeal to John Bull's organ of benevolence !