Old and New London: Volume 2. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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In this section
Ray Street—Bear Garden of Hockley-in-the-Hole—Amusements at Hockley—Bear-baiting—Christopher Preston Killed—Indian Kings at Hockley—Bill of the Bear Garden—Dick Turpin.
This place was formerly one of those infamous localities only equalled by Tothill Fields, at Westminster, and Saffron Hill, in the valley of the Fleet. It was the resort of thieves, highwaymen, and bullbaiters. Its site was marked by Ray Street, itself almost demolished by the Clerkenwell improvements of 1856–7. The ill-omened name of Hockleyin-the-Hole seems to have been derived from the frequent overflows of the Fleet. Hockley, in Saxon, says Camden, means a "muddy field:" there is a Hockley-in-the-Hole in Bedfordshire; and Fielding makes that terrible thief-taker, Jonathan Wild, son of a lady who lived in Scragg Hollow, Hockleyin-the-Hole. In 1756 this wretched locality was narrow, and surrounded by ruinous houses, but the road was soon after widened, raised, and drained. In 1855 the navvies came upon an old pavement near Ray Street, and oak piles, black and slimy, the site of a City mill.
The upper portion of the thoroughfare in continuation of Coppice Row was, says Mr. Pinks, formerly called Rag Street, in allusion, it may be, to the number of marine-store shops. In 1774 the notorious and polluted name of Hockley-in-theHole was formally changed to that of Ray Street.
On the site of the "Coach and Horses," in Ray Street, once stood the Bear Garden of Hockley-inthe-Hole, which, in Queen Anne's time, rivalled the Southwark Bear Garden of Elizabethan days. Here, in 1700, the masters of the noble science of self-defence held their combats.
The earliest advertisement of the amusements at Hockley occurs in the Daily Post of the 10th July, 1700. In the spring of the following year it was announced that four men were "to fight at sword for a bet of half-a-guinea, and six to wrestle for three pairs of gloves, at half-a-crown each pair. The entertainment to begin exactly at three o'clock." The same year a presentment of the grand jury for the county of Middlesex, dated the 4th June, 1701, complained of this place as a public nuisance, and prayed for its suppression. "We having observed the late boldness of a sort of men that stile themselves masters of the noble science of defence, passing through this city with beat of drums, colours displayed, swords drawn, with a numerous company of people following them, dispersing their printed bills, thereby inviting persons to be spectators of those inhuman sights which are directly contrary to the practice and profession of the Christian religion, whereby barbarous principles are instilled in the minds of men; we think ourselves obliged to represent this matter, that some method may be speedily taken to prevent their passage through the city in such a tumultuous manner, on so unwarrantable a design."
"You must go to Hockley-in-the-Hole and Marybone, child, to learn valour," says Mrs. Peachum to Filch, in Gay's Beggar's Opera. On Mondays and Thursdays, the days of the bull and bear baitings at this delectable locality, the animals were paraded solemnly through the streets.
"In 1709 a most tragical occurrence took place at Hockley-in-the-Hole. Christopher Preston, the proprietor of the Bear Garden, was attacked by one of his own bears, and almost devoured, before his friends were aware of his danger. A sermon upon this sad event was preached in the church of St. James's by the Rev. Dr. Pead, the then incumbent of Clerkenwell."
When the bull and bears were paraded in the street, or swordsmen were to fight, bills such as the following were distributed among the crowd:—
"A trial of skill to be performed between two profound
masters of the noble science of self-defence, on Wednesday
next, the 13th of July, 1709, at two o'clock precisely. I, George
Gray, born in the city of Norwich, who has fought in most
parts of the West Indies—viz., Jamaica, Barbadoes, and
several other parts of the world, in all twenty-five times upon
the stage, and was never yet worsted, and am now lately
come to London, do invite James Harris to meet and exercise
at the following weapons: back-sword, sword and dagger,
sword and buckler, single falchion, and case of falchions. I,
James Harris, master of the said noble science of defence,
who formerly rid in the Horse Guards, and hath fought 110
prizes, and never left a stage to any man, will not fail (God
willing) to meet this brave and bold inviter at the time and
place appointed, desiring sharp swords, and from him no
favour. No person to be upon the stage but the seconds.
"At his Majesty's Bear Garden, in Hockley-in-the-Hole, a trial of skill is to be performed to-morrow, being the 9th instant (without beat of drum), between these following masters:—I, John Terrewest, of Oundle, in Northamptonshire, master of the noble science of defence, do invite you, William King, who lately fought Mr. Joseph Thomas, once more to meet me and exercise at the usual weapons.—I, William King, will not fail to meet this fair inviter, desiring a clear stage, and, from him, no favour. Note. There is lately built a pleasant cool gallery for gentlemen." (Advertisement in the Postboy for July 8th, 1701.)
"At the Bear Garden, Hockley-in-the-Hole, 1710.—This is to give notice to all gentlemen gamesters, and others, that on this present Monday is a match to be fought by two dogs, one from Newgate Market against one from Hony Lane Market, at a bull, for a guinea, to be spent. Five let-goes out of hand; which goes fairest and farthest in wins all. Likewise a green bull to be baited, which was never baited before, and a bull to be turned loose, with fireworks all over him; also a mad ass to be baited. With a variety of bull-baiting and bear-baiting, and a dog to be drawn up with fireworks. To begin exactly at three of the clock."
In 1710 the four Indian kings mentioned by Addison came to Hockley-in-the-Hole, to see the rough playing at backsword, dagger, single falchion, and quarter-staff. In 1712 Steele described a combat here, in the Spectator. The result of these fights was, it appears, often arranged beforehand, and the losing man often undertook to receive the cuts, provided they were not too many or too deep. About this time the proprietor of the Bear Garden left Hockley, and started a new garden at Marylebone, and for a time Hockley-in-the-Hole fell into disrepute with "the fancy." In 1715, however, there was a great backsword player here, who boasted he had cut down all the swordsmen of the West, and was ready to fight the best in London. In 1716 a wild bull was baited with fireworks, and bears were baited to death; and, in 1721, people came to Hockley to see sparring and eat furmenty and hasty-pudding.
In 1735 we find swordsmen having nine bouts with single sword, their left hands being tied down. When a favourite dog was tossed by a Hockley-inthe-Hole bull, his master and his friends used to run and try to catch him on their shoulders, for fear he should be hurt in the fall. Good sensitive creatures! It was also the custom to stick ribbon crosses on the foreheads of favourite bull-dogs, and when these were removed and stuck on the bull's forehead, the dog was cheered on till he had recovered his treasured decoration. Cowardly dogs stole under the bull's legs, and often got trampled to death. The really "plucky" dog pinned the bull by the nose, and held on till his teeth broke out or he was gored to death. There was cockfighting here too, and, in 1744, says Mr. Pinks, the prize was a large sow and ten pigs. No game-cock was to exceed four pounds and an ounce in weight.
The old dwelling-house that adjoined the Bear Garden was, in later years, the "Coach and Horses" public-house. The place is so old that the present large room over the bar was originally on the second storey, and the beer-cellars were habitable apartments. Many years ago a small valise, with wooden ends, and marked on the lid "R. Turpin" (perhaps the famous Dick Turpin, the highwayman) was found here, and also several old blank keys, such as thieves wax over to get impressions of locks they wish to open. For the use of such "minions of the moon," there used to be a vaulted passage, now closed, that communicated with the banks of the Fleet.