Sadler's Wells

Old and New London: Volume 2. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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Walter Thornbury, 'Sadler's Wells', Old and New London: Volume 2, (London, 1878), pp. 289-296. British History Online [accessed 19 June 2024].

Walter Thornbury. "Sadler's Wells", in Old and New London: Volume 2, (London, 1878) 289-296. British History Online, accessed June 19, 2024,

Thornbury, Walter. "Sadler's Wells", Old and New London: Volume 2, (London, 1878). 289-296. British History Online. Web. 19 June 2024,

In this section



Discovery of a Holy Well-Fashion patronises it—The Early Days of Sadler's Wells Theatre—A Fatal Panic—Sadler's Wells Visitors—A Grub Street Eulogy—Eighteenth Century Acrobats—Joe Grimaldi's Father—Dogs that Deserved a Good Name—Theatrical Celebrities at Sadler's Wells—Belzoni, the Patagonian Samson—"Hot Codlins"—Advent of T.P. Cooke—Samuel Phelps becomes Lessee of Sadler's Wells—The Original House of Correction—The "Sir Hugh Myddelton" Tavern—A Sadler's Wells Theatrical Company—Spencer's Breakfasting House —George Alexander Stevens' Lectures on Heads.

While on the subject of places of amusement in the north of London, near Islington, we must not forget Sadler's Wells (Islington Spa), or New Tunbridge Wells, as it used to be called. The chalybeate spring was discovered in 1683 by a Mr. Sadler, a surveyor of the highways, in a pleasant, retired, and well-wooded garden of a music-house he had just opened. The discovery was trumpeted in a pamphlet, detailing the virtues of the water. It was, the writer asserted, a holy well, famed, before the Reformation, for its healing power, which the priests attributed to their prayers. It had been, in consequence, looked on as a place venerated by superstition, but arched over at the Reformation, it had been since forgotten.

The Wells soon became famous with hypochondriacs. Burlesque poems (one probably by Ned Ward (fn. 1) ) were written on the humours of the place, as well as treatises on the cure of invalids by drinking the water; and finally, in 1776, George Colman produced a farce, called The Spleen; or, Islington Spa.

In the summer of 1700 Sadler's Wells became in high favour with the public. Gout hobbled there; Rheumatism groaned over his ferruginous water; severe coughs went arm-in-arm, chuckling as they hobbled; as for Hypochondria, he cracked jokes, he was in such high spirits at the thought of the new remedy. At this time dancers were admitted during the whole of the day on Mondays and Tuesdays, says Malcolm, provided they did not come in masks.

In 1733 the Wells were so fashionable that the Princesses Amelia and Caroline frequented the gardens in the June of that year daily, and drank the waters, the nobility coming in such numbers that the proprietor took above £30 a morning. Feathers flaunted, silks rustled, fans fluttered, and lovers sighed, partly with nausea and partly with love, as they sipped the bitter waters of Æsculapius. On the birthday of one of the princesses, the ladies were saluted as they passed through Spa Fields (then full of carriages) by a discharge of twenty-one guns—a compliment always paid to them on their arrival—and in the evening there was a great bonfire, and more powder was burnt in their honour. On ceasing to visit the gardens, the Princess Amelia presented the master with twenty-five guineas, each of the water-servers with three guineas, and the other attendants with one guinea each.

From 1683 till after 1811 these gardens were famous. Nervous, hypochondriac, hysteric affections, asthmas, indigestions, swellings, and eruptions, all took their doleful pleasure in them, and drank the waters with infinite belief. In 1811 the Wells were still frequented. The subscription for the water was a guinea the season; to non-subscribers, and with capillaire, it cost sixpence a glass. The spring was then enclosed by an artificial grotto of flints and shells, which was entered by a rustic gate; there was a lodging-house, to board invalids, and in the garden a breakfast-room, about forty feet long, with a small orchestra. In the room was hung up a comparative analysis of the water, and there were testimonials of its efficacy from gentlemen who had been ill for quarters of centuries, and had drunk all other mineral waters in vain.

On the bark of one of the trees (before 1811) were cut the two following lines: (fn. 2)
"Obstructum recreat; durum terit; humidum siccat;
Debile fortificat—si tamen arte bibas."

The following lines were written in a room of the lodging-house, just as a votive tablet might have been hung up on the walls of a Greek temple:—
"For three times ten years I travell'd the globe,
Consulted whole tribes of the physical robe;
Drank the waters of Tunbridge, Bath, Harrogate, Dulwich,
Spa, Epsom (and all by advice of the College);
But in vain, till to Islington waters I came,
To try if my cure would add to their fame.
In less than six weeks they produc'd a belief
This would be the place of my long-sought relief;
Before six weeks more had finished their course,
Full of spirits and strength, I mounted my horse,
Gave praise to my God, and rede cheerfully home,
Overjoy'd with the thoughts of sweet hours to come.
May Thou, great Jehovah give equal success
To all who resort to this place for redress!"

Amusements resembling those of Vauxhall—music, fireworks, &c.—were resorted to at New Tunbridge Wells, in 1809–1810, but without much success.

On the death of Sadler, his music-house passed to Francis Forcer, whose son exhibited rope-dancing and tumbling till 1730, when he died.

The place was then taken by Mr. Rosoman, a builder, and the wooden house was, about the year 1765, replaced by a brick building. A painting, introducing Rosoman and some of his actors, was in 1811, to be seen in the bar of the "Sir Hugh Myddelton," the inn introduced by Hogarth in his print of "Evening," published in 1738. There was a club, at this time, at the "Sir Hugh Myddelton," of actors, who, in 1753, formed a regular company, at what had now become a theatre. The amusements here were originally in the open air, the tickets to spectators including refreshments. The Connoisseur, of 1756, notes the feats of activity exhibited here. After that time this suburban theatre became famous for burlettas, musical interludes, and pantomimes. Here Grimaldi cracked his drollest jokes, and here the celebrated Richer exhibited on the tight rope. The New River was also taken advantage of, and introduced into a tank the size of the stage, to represent more effectively naval victories and French defeats. After Rosoman, Mr. Thomas King, the comedian, and Mr. Wroughton, of Drury Lane, became proprietors; and at one time Mr. Charles Dibdin, jun., was stage-manager.

A most fatal panic took place at this theatre on the 15th of October, 1807. The cry, "A fight!" was mistaken for "A fire!" and a rush took place from the gallery. The manager, shouting to the people' through speaking-trumpets, entreated them to keep their seats; but in vain, for many threw themselves down into the pit, and eighteen were crushed to death on the gallery stairs. The proceed of two benefits were divided among the children and widows of the sufferers.

Sadler's Musical House, which, tradition affirms, was a place of public entertainment even as early as the reign of Elizabeth, seems early to have affected a theatrical air. In May, 1698, we find a vocal and instrumental concert advertised here, the instrumental part being "composed of violins, hautboys, trumpets, and kettle-drums." It was to continue from ten to one, every Monday and Thursday, during the drinking of the waters. In 1699 the Wells were called "Miles's Music 'House;" and in that year Ned Ward, always coarse and always lively, describes going with a crowd of Inns of Court beaux to see a wretch, disguised in a fool's cap, and with a smutty face like a hangman, eat a live fowl, feathers and all.

"The state of things described by Ned Ward," says Mr. Pinks," is abundantly confirmed by the reminiscences of Edward Macklin, the actor, who remembered the time when the admission here was but threepence, except to a few places scuttled off at the sides of the stage at sixpence, which were reserved for people of fashion, who occasionally came to see the fun. 'Here we smoked and drank porter and rum-and-water, as much as we could pay for.' Of the audience Macklin says, 'Though we had a mixture of very odd company, there was little or no rioting; there was a public then that kept one another in awe.'"

Ned Ward, who was a quick observer, describes the dress-circle gallery here as painted with stories of Apollo and Daphne, Jupiter and Europa, &c. In his poem, "A Walk to Islington," Ned Ward is not complimentary to the Sadler's Wells visitors. In the pit, he says, were butchers, bailiffs, housebreakers, footpads, prizefighters, thief-takers, deerstealers, and bullies, who drank, and smoked, and lied, and swore. They ate cheesecakes and drank ale, and one of the buffoons was also a waiter. The female vocalist was followed by a fiddler in scarlet. Then came a child, who danced a sword-dance, and after her.
"A young babe of grace,
With mercury in his heels, and a gallows in his face;
In dancing a jig lies the chief of whose graces,
And making strange music-house, monkey-like faces."

About 1711 the Wells seems to have become still more disreputable, and in 1712 a lieutenant of the navy was run through the body there by a Mr. French, of the Temple, in a drunken quarrel.

Macklin says there were four or five exhibitions in a day, and that the duration of each performance depended upon circumstances. The proprietors had always a follow outside to calculate how many persons were collected for a second exhibition, and when he thought there were enough, he came to the back of the upper seats and cried out, "Is Hiram Fisteman here?" This was a cant word between the parties, to know the state of the people without, upon which they concluded the entertainment, and dismissed the audience with a song, and prepared for a second representation.

In a poem called "The New River," written about 1725, by William Garbott, the author thus describes the Wells, with advertising enthusiasm:—
"There you may sit under the shady trees,
And drink and smoak fann'd by a gentle breeze;
Behold the fish, how wantonly they play,
And catch them also, if you please, you may."

Forcer, a barrister, the proprietor in the early part of the eighteenth century, improved the pantomimes, rope-dancing, and ladder-dancing, tumbling, and musical interludes. Acrobats threw summersaults from the upper gallery, and Black Scaramouch struggled with Harlequin on the stage. The old well was accidentally discovered in Macklin's time, between the New River and the stage-door. It was encircled with stone, and you descended to it by several steps. Cromwell, writing in 1828, says that it was known that springs existed under the orchestra, and under the stage, and that the old fountain of health might hopefully be sought for there. In 1738, in his "Evening," not one of his most successful works, Hogarth introduced a bourgeois holiday-maker and his wife, with Sadler's Wells in the background. In "The Gentlemen's and Ladies' Social Companion," a book of songs published in 1745–6, we find a song on Sadler's Wells, which contained several characteristic verses. Rope-dancing and harlequinade, with scenery, feats of strength, and singing, seem to have been the usual entertainment about this period. In 1744 the place was presented by the grand jury of the county as a scene of great extravagance, luxurious idleness, and ill-fame, but it led to no good results. In 1746 any person was admitted to the Wells, "and the diversions of the place," on taking a ticket for a pint of wine. This same year a ballet on the Battle of Culloden, a most undanceable subject, one would think, was very popular; and Hogarth's terrible "Harlot's Progress" was turned into a drama, with songs, by Lampe.

The Grub Street poets, in the meantime, belauded the Wells, not without reward, and not always inelegantly, as the following verses show:—
"Ye cheerful souls, who would regale
On honest home-brewed British ale,
To Sadler's Wells in troops repair,
And find the wished-for cordial there;
Strength, colour, elegance of taste,
Combine to bless the rich repast;
And I assure ye, to my knowledge,
'T has been approved by all the Colledge,
More efficacious and prevailing
Than all the recipes of Galen.
Words scarce are able to disclose
The various blessings it bestows.
It helps the younger sort to think,
And wit flows faster as they drink;
It puts the ancient a new fleece on,
Just as Medea did to Eson;
The fair with bloom it does adorn,
Fragrant and fresh as April morn.
Haste hither, then, and take your fill,
Let parsons say whatever they will;
The ale that every ale excels
Is only found at Sadler's Wells."

A writer in the Connoisseur of 1756 praises a dexterous performer at the Wells, who, with bells on his feet, head, and hands, jangled out a variety of tunes, by dint of various nods and jerks. The same year a wonderful balancer named Maddox performed on the slack wire, tossing balls, and kicking straws into a wine-glass which he held in his mouth. Maddox, the equilibrist, entertained the public for several seasons by his "balances on the wire," and his fame was celebrated by a song set to music, entitled "Balance a Straw," which for a time was very popular. A similar feat was afterwards performed at the Wells by a Dutchman, with a peacock's feather, which he blew into the air and caught as it fell, on different parts of a wire, at the same time preserving his due equilibrium. The same performer used to balance a wheel upon his shoulder, his forehead, and his chin, and afterwards, to show his skill as an equilibrist, he poised two wheels, with a boy standing on one of them.

The road home from the Wells seems to have been peculiarly dangerous about 1757, as the manager announces in the Public Advertiser that on the night of a certain charitable performance a horse-patrol would be sent by Mr. Fielding (the blind magistrate, and kinsman of the novelist) for the protection of nobility and gentry who came from the squares. The road to the City was, as he promised, also to be properly guarded. A year later an armed patrol was advertised as stationed on the New Road, between Sadler's Wells and Grosvenor Square. Foote wrote, about the same time:—
"If at Sadler's Wells the wine should be thick,
The cheesecakes be sour, or Miss Wilkinson sick;
If the fumes of the pipes should prove powerful in June,
Or the tumblers be lame, or the bells out of tune,
We hope that you'll call at our warehouse at Drury,
We've a good assortment of goods, I assure you."

In 1765 the old wooden theatre at the Wells was pulled down and a new one built, at an expense of £4,225. A three-shilling ticket for the boxes, in 1773, entitled the bearer to a pint of port, mountain, Lisbon, or punch. A second pint cost one shilling.

In 1763 Signor Grimaldi, Joe Grimaldi's father, first appeared as chief dancer and ballet-master. He continued there till the close of 1767. In 1775 James Byrne, the famous harlequin of Drury Lane, and the father of Oscar Byrne, was employed at Sadler's Wells as a dancer, and a Signor Rossignol gave imitations of birds, like Herr Joel, and accompanied the orchestra on a fiddle without strings. About this time, too, Charles Dibdin the elder wrote some clever and fanciful pieces for this theatre, entitled "Intelligence from Sadler's Wells."

In 1772 Rosomon surrendered the management to King, the famous comedian, who held it till 1782, when Sheridan gave him up the sovereignty of Drury Lane. King had been an attorney, but had thrown up his parchments to join theatres and play under Garrick. He excelled in Sir Peter Teasle, Lord Ogleby, Puff, and Dr. Cantwell. His Touchstone and Ranger, says Dr. Doran, were only equalled by Garrick and Elliston. He was arch, easy, and versatile, and the last time he played Sir Peter, in 1802, the fascinating Mrs. Jordan was the young wife. King remained an inveterate gambler to the last, in spite of Garrick's urgent entreaties. King sold the Wells, says Mr. Pinks, for £12,000. Joe Grimaldi appeared at Sadler's Wells first in 1781, in the character of a monkey. In 1783 eggdancers and performing dogs were the rage, the dogs alone clearing for the managers, in one season, £10,000. The saying at the theatre at that time was, that if the dogs had not come to the theatre, the theatre must have gone to the dogs. Horsepatrols still paraded the roads to the City at night.

In 1786 Miss Romanzini (afterwards the celebrated ballad vocalist, Mrs. Bland) appeared at the Wells, and also Pietro Bologna, father of the celebrated clown, Jack Bologna. In 1788 Braham, then a boy, who had first appeared in 1787, at the Royalty Theatre, Wells Street, near Goodman's Fields, made his first appearance at the Wells. "Two Frenchmen," says Mr. Pinks, "named Duranie and Bois-Maison, as pantomimists, eclipsed all their predecessors on that stage. Boyce, a distinguished engraver, was the harlequin, and, from all accounts, was the most finished actor of the motley hero, either in his own day or since. On the benefit-night of Joseph Dortor, clown to the rope, and Richer, the rope-dancer, Miss Richer made her first appearance on two slack wires, passing through a hoop, with a pyramid of glasses on her head and Master Richer performed on the tight rope, with a skipping-rope. Joseph Dortor, among other almost incredible feats, drank a glass of wine backwards from the stage floor, beating a drum at the same time. Lawrence threw a somersault over twelve men's heads, and Paul Redigé, the 'Little Devil,' on October 1st, threw a somersault over two men on horseback, the riders having each a lighted candle on his head. Dubois, as clown, had no superior in his time, and the troop of voltigeurs were pre-eminent for their agility, skill, and daring."

After Wroughton's time, Mr. Siddons (husband of the great actress) became one of the proprietors of the Wells, where, in 1801, a young tragedian, Master Carey, the "Pupil of Nature," otherwise known as Edmund Kean, recited Rollo's speech from Pisarro. His great-grandfather, Henry Carey, the illegitimate son of the Marquis of Halifax, and the author of the delightful ballad, "Sally in our Alley," had written and composed many of the ballad operas and ballad farces which were very successful at Sadler's Wells.

In 1802, Charles Dibdin, jun., and Thomas Dibdin, his brother, were busy at the Wells.

In 1803 appeared Signor Belzoni, afterwards the great Egyptian traveller, as the "Patagonian Samson," in which character, says Mr. Pinks, "he performed prodigious feats of strength, one of which was to adjust an iron frame to his body, weighing 127 Ibs., on which he carried eleven persons. The frame had steps or branches projecting from its sides, on which he placed eleven men in a pyramidical form, the uppermost of whom reached to the border of the proscenium. With this immense weight he walked round the stage, to the astonishment and delight of his audience. On one occasion a serio-comic accident occurred, which might have proved fatal not only to the mighty Hercules, but also to his pyramidical group. As he was walking round the stage with the vast load attached to his body, the floor gave way, and plunged him and his companions into the water beneath. A group of assistants soon came to the rescue, and the whole party marched to the front of the stage, made their bows, and retired. On Belzoni's benefitnight he attempted to carry thirteen men, but as that number could not hold on, it was abandoned. His stature, as registered in the books of the Alien Office, was six feet six inches. He was of good figure, gentlemanly manners, and great mind. He was an Italian by birth, but early in life he quitted his native land to seek his fortune."

In 1804 Sadler's Wells first began to assume the character of an aquatic theatre. An immense tank was constructed under the stage, and a communication opened with the New River. The first aquatic piece was a Siege of Gibraltar, in which real vessels bombarded the fortress. A variety of pieces were subsequently produced, concluding with a grand scene for the finale, on "real water." Thomas Greenwood, a scene-painter at the Wells, thus records the water successes in his "Rhyming Reminiscences:"—
"Attraction was needed the town to engage,
So Dick emptied the river that year on the stage;
The house overflowed, and became quite the ton,
And the Wells for some seasons went swimmingly on."

"Among the apparently perilous and appalling incidents exhibited," says a writer to whom we have already been much indebted, "were those of a female falling from the rocks into the water, and being rescued by her hero-lover; a naval battle, with sailors escaping by plunging into the sea from a vessel on fire; and a child thrown into the water by a nurse, who was bribed to drown it, being rescued by a Newfoundland dog."

In 1819 Grimaldi sang for the first time his immortal song of "Hot Codlins," the very night a boy was crushed to death in the rush at entering. "Sadler's Wells was let at Easter, 1821, for the ensuing three seasons, to Mr. Egerton, of Covent Garden Theatre; in which year it was honoured by the presence of Queen Caroline, the wife of George IV., and her Majesty's box and its appointments were exhibited daily to the public for a week afterwards. In 1822, in a piece called Tom and Jerry, pony races were introduced, a course having been formed by laying a platform on the stage and pit. Upon the expiration of Egerton's term the Wells were let to Mr. Williams, of the Surrey Theatre, the son of the proprietor of the once-famous boiled beef house in the Old Bailey. He employed one half of his company, in the earlier part of the evening, at Sadler's Wells, and thence transferred them to the Surrey, to finish there; and at that theatre he adopted the same course, the performers being conveyed between the two houses by special carriages. Williams's speculation, however, turned out a complete failure."

In 1823 the use of water for scenic purposes was discontinued for a time at Sadler's Wells, and in 1825 the old manager's house, next the New River Head, was turned into wine-rooms and a saloon; the season, in consequence of the immense growth of the neighbourhood, was extended from six to twelve months, and Tom Dibdin was engaged as acting manager. The year 1826 being very hot, the manager got up some pony-races in the grounds, which drew large audiences. On March 17, 1828, Grimaldi took his farewell benefit at Sadler's Wells.

Subsequently Mr. T. Dibdin became manager at the Wells, and produced a variety of ballets, pantomimes, burlettas, and melodramas. In 1832 that best of all stage sailors, Mr. T. P. Cooke, made his first appearance at this theatre as William, in Black-Eyed Susan, a piece which ran one hundred nights. In 1833, during a serio-romantic lyric drama called The Island, and founded on the mutiny of the Bounty, the stage and its scenery was drawn up bodily to the roof of the house, to avoid the tediousness of a "wait." The Russian Mountains were also a great success.


But a great epoch was now about to commence. In 1844 Mr. Samuel Phelps appeared, aided by Mrs. Warner. In 1846 Mr. Phelps resolved to produce all Shakespeare's plays, and actually did represent thirty of them. These thirty, under Mr. Phelps's management, occupied about 4,000 nights, Hamlet alone running for 400. After honourable toil of eighteen years, Mr. Phelps, a true enthusiast for the "legitimate," retired from Sadler's Wells in 1862. He paid a rent of £1,000 a year.

At the west end of a paved avenue on the south side of Sadler's Wells Theatre, on the opposite side of the now buried New River, just where a row of lofty poplars once fringed the left bank, stands the "Sir Hugh Myddelton" Tavern, erected in 1831, on the site of the "Myddelton's Head," which was built as early as 1614. This was the favourite house for the actors and authors of the Wells, and here sturdy Macklin, the best of Shylocks, Rosoman, the manager, Dibdin, and Grimaldi used to fill their churchwarden's pipes, and merrily stir their glasses. In Hogarth's "Evening," published in 1738, we have a glimpse of the old signboard, and of a gable end and primitive weather-boarding, against which a vine spreads itself, and displays its clustering fruit. At an open window honest citizens are carousing, while the fat and sour City dame, of by no means unimpeachable virtue, as the painter implies, is pettishly fanning herself, attended by her obsequious Jerry Sneak of a husband, who toils along, carrying the ugly baby. Malcolm, in 1803, describes the tavern as facing the river, which was "adorned with tall poplars, graceful willows, and sloping banks and flowers." In the bar of the "Sir Hugh Myddelton" is a curious old picture of Manager Rosoman, surrounded by his select friends and members of his company; and of this picture Mr. Mark Lonsdale, a once manager of the theatre, drew up the following account:—

COLDBATH HOUSE. (From a View published in 1811.)

"The portrait of Mr. Rosoman, the then manager of Sadler's Wells, forms the centre. Then proceeding to the gentleman on his left hand, and so round the table as they sit. The seven gentlemen who are standing up are taken the last, beginning with Mr. Maddox, the wire-dancer, and so on, with the remaining six in the order they stand. The gentleman with one hand upon the pug-dog is Mr. Rosoman, manager of Sadler's Wells. On his left hand is Mr. Justice Keeling, a brewer. Mr. Romaine, a pipe-maker, is distinguished by his having a handful of pipes, and is in the act of delivering one to Mr. Justice Keeling. Mr. Copeland, the tobacconist, is also distinguished by his having a paper of tobacco in his hand, on which is written 'Copeland's best Virginia.' The gentleman with his hand upon the greyhound is Mr. Angier, a carver in Long Acre; on his left is Mr. Cowland, a butcher in Fleet Street. At Mr. Cowland's right hand is Mr. Seabrook, a glazier in Cow Cross. The name of the next gentleman, who is pointing his finger to his nose, is forgotten; he was a dancer at Sadler's Wells, and went by an unpleasant nickname, from the circumstance of his nose being much troubled with warts. The gentleman at his right hand, having his hand upon the neck of a bottle, is Mr. Smith, a well-known carcase butcher in Cow Cross. The next, who has his fingers upon a glass of wine, is Mr. Ripley, of Red Lion Street. Mr. Cracraft, a barber in the same street, sits at his right hand, and is filling his pipe out of a paper of tobacco. At his right hand is Mr. Holtham, scene-painter at Sadler's Wells. The gentleman who sits higher than the rest of the company, and who is in the attitude of singing, having a bottle under his arm, is Mr. Ranson, a tailor at Sadler's Wells, known by the name of Tailor Dick. Mr. Bass, a plasterer in Cow Cross, sits at his right hand, and is in the attitude of putting a punch ladle into the bowl. At his right hand Mr. Chalkill, a poulterer in Whitecross Street. At Mr. Chalkill's right hand is Mr. Norris, a salesman in the sheep-skin market. When he died he left £2,000 in hard cash in his chest. At his right hand is Mr. Davis, a walksman at the New River Head. The name of the gentleman at Mr. Davis's right hand is forgotten. Mr. George, a tallowchandler in Islington, sits at the right hand of the unknown gentleman. He married the late Alderman Hart's mother. The gentleman next to him is Mr. Davenport, ballet master at Sadler's Wells, and was master to Charles Matthews. Next to him is Mr. Greenwood, painter, father of the scene-painter. The gentleman at Mr. Rosoman's right hand is Mr. Hough, his partner. The gentleman in a blue and gold theatrical dress, with one hand upon Mr. Davis's shoulder, is Mr. Maddox, the wire-dancer, who was drowned. The one standing by in a cocked hat is Mr. Thomas Banks, a carver and arts' master in Bridewall; also harlequin and clown at Sadler's Wells. Billy Williams, a tumbler, is standing between Tailor Dick and Mr. Bass. Peter Garman, a rope-dancer and tumbler at Sadler's Wells, is between Mr. Holtman and Tailor Dick, and is in the attitude of blowing the smoke from his pipe into Tailor Dick's face. The next standing figure is Mr. John Collier, a watch finisher in Red Lion Street. A cheesemonger (name forgot) is at the left hand. Mr. Talmash, vestry clerk of St. James's, Clerkenwell (a mighty great man in Red Lion Street), is at the back of the chair of the gentleman before-mentioned with the vulgar nickname."

In the days when clover grew round Islington, and the cows of that region waded knee-deep in golden buttercups—when the skylark could be heard in Pentonville, the Cockney pedestrian, after his early summer walk, expected to fall upon a good honest breakfast at some such suburban tavern as the "Sir Hugh Myddelton." About 1745, Spencer's Breakfasting House, a mere but with benches outside, at the end of Myddelton Place, supplied this want—tea at threepence per head, and coffee at three halfpence per dish, fine Hyson tea at sixpence per head, "a cat with two legs, to be seen gratis." On Sunday mornings Spencer's hut was filled with 'prentices and their sweethearts. The house had a cow-lair and a wooden fence that almost surrounded it. Here, in July, 1765, the celebrated mimic and adventurer, George Alexander Stevens, delivered his "Lectures on Heads," which the celebrated comedians of the day attempted in vain to rival. In the Public Advertiser, July 24th, 1765, is the following advertisement:—

"This evening, and every evening during the summer season, at the Long Room opposite to Sadler's Wells, will be delivered the celebrated 'Lectures on Heads,' by Mr. Geo. Alex. Stevens.

"Part I. Introduction:—Alexander the Great—Cherokee Chief—Quack Doctor—Cuckold—Lawyer, humourous Oration in Praise of the Law, Daniel against Dishclout— Horse Jockeys—Nobody's, Somebody's, Anybody's, and Everybody's Coats of Arms—Family of Nobody—Architecture—Painting—Poetry—Astronomy—Music—Statues of Honesty and Flattery.

"Part II. Ladies' Heads—Riding Hood—Ranelagh Hood —Billingsgate—Laughing and Crying Philosophers—Venus's Girdle—Cleopatra—French Nightcap—Face Painting—Old Maid—Young Married Lady—Old Batchelor—Lass of the Spirit—Quaker—Two Hats Contrasted—Spitalfields Weaver.

"Part III. Physical Wig—Dissertation on Sneezing and Snuff-taking—Life of a Blood—Woman of the Town—Teatable Critic—Learned Critic—City Politician, humourously described—Gambler's Three Faces—Gambler's Funeral and Monument—Life and Death of a Wit—Head of a wellknown Methodist Parson, with Tabernacle Harangue.

"The doors to be opened at five, begin exactly at six. Front seats, 1s. 6d.; Backseats 1s."


  • 1. "Islington Wells; or, The Threepenny Academy, 1654."
  • 2. Nelson's "Islington," 1st edit., p. 212.