St Clement Danes: The parish

Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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'St Clement Danes: The parish', in Old and New London: Volume 3, (London, 1878) pp. 26-32. British History Online [accessed 24 April 2024]

In this section



Carey Street—Its Reminiscences—Residences of Benjamin Franklin, Sir William Blackstone, and Mrs. Chapone—The "Grange" Inn—The "Plough" Tavern and Gully the Prizefighter—The "Seven Stars"—Serle's Court, now called New Square—Ravenscroft's Wig-shop—Serle's Coffee House—Portugal Row—Playhouse Street—The Duke's Theatre—Origin of the Sergeant's Guard at the Theatre Royal—Curious Playbills of the last century—Portugal Street—King's College Hospital—Burial-place of Joe Miller—Enon Chapel and the Modern "Golgotha"—The "Old Black Jack."

"Sacer est locus; ite profani."—Virgil.

Leaving the site of the New Law Courts on our left hand, we will now continue our way westwards from the top of what was once Shire Lane, but which, as before mentioned, gradually developed into Serle's Place.

At right angles to Serle Street and Serle's Place, from east to west, runs Carey Street, the south side of which has been demolished to form the north side of the New Courts of Law. These houses, at the time of their demolition, were almost all tenanted by solicitors and law-stationers. Although, as compared with the rest of the neighbourhood, markedly wanting in memories of the past, Carey Street has its reminiscences. The heroic Lady Fanshawe tells us, in her "Memoirs," that in 1655–6 she and her family spent a twelvemonth in it, as tenants of a house belonging to Sir George Carey, from whom apparently the street was named. It is said by Mr. Diprose that at No. 19 Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have lived whilst working as a journeyman printer in the neighbourhood. Sir William Blackstone lived in this street in 1761, and the celebrated Mrs. Chapone, authoress of "Letters on the Improvement of the Mind," and an ardent disciple of Richardson, also resided here until her husband's death.

It is difficult to imagine any levity of conduct in a street once inhabited by this most decorous lady; indeed, Carey Street, to its credit be it spoken, seems, in spite of its surroundings, to have been

"Content to dwell in decencies for ever,"

which is perhaps the reason why its name is scarcely mentioned by Stow, Pennant, Northouck, or Malcolm, or even by such modern writers as Peter Cunningham and John Timbs. If there be truth in the old adage, "Happy are the people whose history is a blank," the denizens of Carey Street are much to be congratulated.

Though the street was dull and sober in outward appearance, yet it may probably have been the scene of more than one gay frolic in other days. The "Grange" Inn—removed in 1853 to make room for King's College Hospital—with its picturesque yard and offices, was much patronised in its day by the actors of the Duke's Theatre hard by, and of other places of the same kind. It is mentioned by Sir W. Davenant, in his "Playhouse to Let." The "Plough" Tavern, also in this street,—kept at one time by Mr. John Gully, the prizefighter, afterwards M.P. for Pontefract—was an ancient hostelry of good repute, as among those who made it their head-quarters in London was the antiquary, Browne Willis. Another inn in the street was the "Seven Stars," formerly the "Leg and Seven Stars," a corruption of the "League and Seven Stars," denoting the Seven United Provinces.

Little is known of the family of Serle, after whom this street is named, except what Mr. P. Cunningham tells us in his "Handbook of London," namely, that it was called after a Mr. Henry Serle, one of the benchers of Lincoln's Inn, who died about 1690, having bought some property in this parish from the executors of Sir John Birkenhead, the writer of "Mercurius Aulicus," during the civil war against Charles I.

The early name of New Square, Lincoln's Inn Fields, which lies on the north side of Carey Street, was Serle's Court; and the arms of Serle may still be seen, quartered with those of the Inn over the gateway leading into Carey Street, formerly known as Serle's Gate.

New Square is so called on account of its comparatively recent erection (about 1725). Seymour, in his "Survey of London and Westminster" (1735), speaks of the centre of the Court being "spacious and nicely kept, and covered with gravel, raised low, the middle to cast off the rain when it falls. In the middle of the court," he adds, "is a curious stone pillar artificially wrought, on which is a dial-clock, with four boys who used to spout water out of Triton shells, and at the bottom is a basin, that receives the said streams of water falling down from the shells, all incompassed with handsome iron bars." The garden in the centre was not railed in until about the year 1844. In 1867 a temporary building was erected in it for the purpose of exhibiting the various architectural designs for the New Law Courts.

In Serle Street is the shop of Messrs. Ravenscroft, the well-known wig-makers, which has been for a century a rendezvous of legal celebrities. Here may be seen on the walls of the shop a series of portraits of big-wigged lawyers, from Judge Blackstone downwards, and a book of legal autographs is kept in the shop with an almost religious veneration.

At the corner of Serle Street and Portugal Street stood the celebrated coffee-house, so long known to law and to literature as "Serle's." The entrance, flanked with two massive doorposts of a classical design, still stands, we are assured, unaltered from what it must have been in the days of Akenside, and his friend and patron, Jeremiah Dyson, who used to make this his head-quarters. Addison frequented it in order to study the humours of the young barristers who met there of an evening, and it is not difficult to imagine him seated in a quiet nook, and watching all that is said and done. He thus mentions the house in No. 49 of the Spectator: "I do not know that I meet in any of my walks objects which move both my spleen and laughter so effectually as those young fellows at the Grecian, Squire's, Searle's, and all other coffee-houses adjacent to the law, who rise early for no other purpose but to publish their laziness."

It ceased to be known as a coffee-house about a quarter of a century ago, but it may be said still to have a connection, though slight, with literature, as it is now a wholesale and retail stationer's shop.

As the author of "London Poems" writes so graphically in allusion to this neighbourhood—

"Beneath the shade of Temple Bar
Walk shabby wits who serve the state;
Steele, with mad laughter steeped in war,
And Addison with smile sedate,
And Swift, the bilious English Rabelais,
Plods westward shabbily,
On my Lord Bolingbroke alone to wait."

But it is time that we took up our walking-sticks and pursued our journey a little further to the north and north-west, and entered Portugal Street.

In spite of the levelling of the burying-ground on its southern side, and the erection of King's College Hospital on its site, it must be owned that Portugal Street has a dull and dingy look, as if it had met with misfortune. The blank dead wall presented by the back of the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons on the northern side contributes to this effect, and the few shops which it contains are mostly those of law-stationers and printers. Its very name, suggestive of the unhappy wife of Charles II., would seem to have cast a blight on it; and we are told that it inherited the name when the south side of Lincoln's Inn Fields ceased to be called Portugal Row. Yet, in olden days, it must have been lively and gay; for did not the "Lincoln's Inn Theatre" once cover the site of the museum just named? and was not the "Duke's Playhouse" hard by, in Portugal Row?

In Strype's time the street was without a name; and that venerable antiquary, with good reason, proposed to call it "Playhouse Street," though his suggestion fell on dull and heedless ears.

"On the back side of Portugal Row," says a writer in 1734, "is a street which runneth to Lincoln's Inn Gate, which used to pass without a name; but since the place is increased by the new buildings in Little Lincoln's Inn Fields, and the settling of the playhouse, it may have a name given it, and not improperly, Playhouse Street. Fronting the playhouse is a street which goeth to Plough Stables, which also had no name, unless one may call it Grange Street, from the 'Grange" Inn, a place of good note; nigh to which is the parish roundhouse, on the back side of which is a churchyard also belonging to the parish."

We have said that in this street there were formerly two theatres; but in reality there have been three, as "honest John Timbs" is careful to remind us. He writes, "The first theatre here (named the Duke's Theatre, from the Duke of York, its great patron, and was the opera, from its musical performances), was originally a tennis-court. It was altered for Sir William Davenant, and opened in 1662 with his operatic Siege of Rhodes, when regular scenery was first introduced upon our stage." Here Pepys, in 1662, saw acted Romeo and Juliet (for the first time), Hamlet, and Macbeth, adding, on the last occasion, that he saw "a mighty company of citizens, ordinary 'prentices, and mean people in the pit." Here, too, as he tells us, he first saw, and sat next to, "pretty, witty" Nell Gwynne, when King Charles and Lady Castlemaine were there to see Lord Orrery's Mustapha performed. It is said also, that in this theatre female characters were first played by women, among whom the most famous were Elizabeth Davenant, Mary Saunderson (afterwards Mrs. Betterton), Mary (or Moll) Davis, Mrs. Long, and Mrs. Barry. Davenant having acted musical pieces before the Restoration, Pepys frequently calls his theatre "the Opera," though, in fact, tragedies and comedies only were performed there. It should be added that among the principal actors here was Thomas Betterton, "the rival of Burbage and Garrick, and the last survivor of the old school of English actors." Sir William Davenant made this theatre his head-quarters, if not his home. Early in 1671–2 the players of the Duke's Theatre removed to Dorset Gardens; and the King's Company, being burnt out from Drury Lane, made use of it for about a year, when it was again turned into a tennis-court. The rest of its history shall be told in the words of Mr. Timbs:—"It was refitted and reopened in 1695, with Congreve's comedy of Love for Love, which was then played for the first time. This second theatre was taken down and a new house built for Christopher Rich, and opened by John Rich in 1714. . . . . Here Quin played his best parts; and from a fracas in which he was embroiled originated the Sergeant's Guard at the Theatre Royal. The first English opera was performed here in 1717–18; here was originally used the stage motto, Veluti in Speculum; and here in 1727–28 the Beggars' Opera was produced and acted for sixty-two nights, "making Gay rich and Rich gay." In 1732 Rich removed to Covent Garden, which he had lately built, and the Portugal Street house was let by turns for Italian operas, oratorios, balls, concerts, and exhibitions."

In 1735 Mr. Gifford, who had opened another place of amusement in Goodman's Fields, took this theatre, lately vacant by the withdrawal of Rich and his company to Covent Garden, but gave it up at the end of two years, when it was closed, and having undergone several vicissitudes became ultimately the pottery and china warehouse of Messrs. Spode and Copeland. It was here that in 1735 Macklin killed Mr. Hannam; and Nightingale, in the tenth volume of the "Beauties of England and Wales," gives the following strange account of its last performance: "The shutting up of this structure has been whimsically accounted for by vulgar tradition. Upon a representation of the pantomime of Harlequin and Dr. Faustus, when a tribe of demons, necessary for the piece, were assembled, a supernumerary devil was observed, who, not approving of going out in a complaisant manner at the door, to show a devil's trick, flew up to the ceiling, made his way through the tiling, and tore away one-fourth of the house; which circumstance so affrighted the manager, that the proprietor had not courage to open the house ever afterwards."

With regard to the Beggars' Opera we find the following remonstrance in the Gentleman's Magazine, September 15th, 1773:—"This day Sir John Fielding informed the bench of justices that he had last year written to Mr. Garrick concerning the impropriety of performing the Beggars' Opera, which never has been represented on the stage without creating an additional number of real thieves; he begged, therefore, the gentlemen present would join with him in requesting Mr. Garrick to desist from performing that opera on Saturday evening. The bench immediately consented to the proposal; and a polite card was dispatched to Mr. Garrick for that purpose. To which Mr. Garrick returned for answer, that his company was so imperfect and divided (many of his performers being yet in the country), that it would be impossible for him to open with any other piece; but added, that he would in future do everything in his power to oblige them."

Here is the copy of a playbill of this theatre a century and a half ago:—

"The Sixth day, 1720, for the benefit of the author, by the company of comedians, at the Theatre in Little Lincoln's Inn Fields, this present Saturday, being the 16th of January, will be presented a new farce of three acts, call'd The Half-pay Officers. A principal part to be perform'd by Peg Fryar, it being the 6th time of her performance on any stage since the reign of King Charles II. To which will be added the new farce of two acts, call'd Hob's Wedding, being the sequel of the Country Wake. With entertainments of dancing by Mrs. Fryar, particularly the Bashful Maid, and an Irish Trot. Boxes, 5s. Pit, 3s. Gallery, 2s. N.B.—The author's tickets, which could not come in on the third night, will be taken to-day."

This performance was patronised by royalty, as we find that on Monday, the 11th January, 1720, "His Royal Highness the Prince came to the New Playhouse in Little Lincoln's Inn Fields, and saw a new farce of three acts, call'd The Half-pay Officers, with another new farce of two acts, call'd Hob's Wedding."

To this we cannot resist appending a playbill culled from Mr. Diprose's "Anecdotes of the Stage and Players":—
By his Majesty's Company of Comedians.
Kilkenny Theatre Royal.
(Positively the last night, because the Company go to-morrow to Waterford.)
On Saturday, May 14, 1793,
Will be performed by desire and command of several
respectable people in this learned Matrapolish, for the
benefit of Mr. Kearnes, the manager,
The Tragedy of
Originally written and composed by the celebrated Dan.
Hyes, of Limerick, and insarted in Shakespeare's

Hamlet, by Mr. Kearnes (being his first appearance in that character, and who, between the acts, will perform several solos on the patent bag-pipes, which play two tunes at the same time). Ophelia, by Mrs. Prior, who will introduce several favourite airs in character, particularly "The Lass of Richmond Hill," and "We'll be unhappy together," from the Rev. Mr. Dibdin's oddities. The parts of the King and Queen, by directions of the Rev. Father O'Callaghan, will be omitted, as too immoral for any stage. Polonius, the comical politician, by a young gentleman, being his first appearance in public. The Ghost, the Gravedigger, and Laertes, by Mr. Sampson, the great London comedian. The characters to be dressed in Roman shapes. To which will be added, an interlude, in which will be introduced several slight-of-hand tricks, by the celebrated surveyor Hunt. The whole to conclude with the farce of
Mahomet, by Mr. Kearnes.
Tickets to be had of Mr. Kearnes, at the sign of the
"Goat's Beard," in Castle Street.

The value of the tickets, as usual, will be taken out (if required) in candles, bacon, soap, butter, cheese, potatoes, &c.—as Mr. Kearnes wishes, in every particular, to accommodate the public. N.B.—No smoking allowed.—No person whatsoever will be admitted into the boxes without shoes or stockings.

In 1726, George I. paid a visit to the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and the event is thus recorded in one of the newspapers of the day:—

"March 18.—Last night His Majesty went to the Theatre Royal in Lincoln's Inn Fields, to see the play of the Country Wife, and the entertainment of Apollo and Daphne, in which was performed a particular flying on that occasion, of a Cupid descending, and presenting His Majesty with a book of the entertainment, and then ascended—at which new piece of machinery the audience seemed much pleased."

The after history of the place is curious. Having been used first as a barrack and then as an auction room, it was bought by Messrs. Copeland and Spode, as a repository for their china-ware; and finally the premises were taken down in 1848, or the following year, to make room for the enlargement of the museum of the College of Surgeons, which was finished in 1854.

By the rate-books of St. Clement Danes for 1668 we find Portugal Street to have been the residence of many distinguished personages in the seventeenth century. The Earl of Rochester lived "in the house next to the Duke's Theatre," from whence he gives notice to a correspondent, "If you write to me, direct to Lincoln's Inn Fields, the house next to the Duke Playhouse, in Portugal Row, there lives your humble servant,—Rochester."

John Timbs tells us that Portugal Street was the last place where the stocks were set up in London, those of St. Clement Danes, which had formerly stood in the Strand, near Temple Bar, having remained here until about the year 1820. He adds that they were on the north side, facing the hospital. He also reminds us that even in recent days the street enjoyed "a sort of cant notoriety," from the fact of the Insolvent Debtors' Court being in it.

On the south side of Portugal Street, near the centre of the few small courts that have not been swept away, stands King's College Hospital, which owes its existence mainly to the exertions of Dr. R. B. Todd. It forms a plain, substantial, and unpretending block of buildings, four storeys in height, and is hardly old enough as yet to have a history, having been founded only as far back as the year 1839. It grew naturally out of the wants of the Medical Department of King's College in the Strand, of which we shall have more to say in another chapter. It stands on the site of the old workhouse of St. Clement Danes, and of one of the burial-grounds already mentioned. Its design was twofold: to offer the medical students of the college the advantage of witnessing medical and surgical practice, and receiving clinical instruction from their own professors; and secondly, to afford medical and surgical aid to a poor neighbourhood, at a distance from any other hospital. The architect was Mr. T. Bellamy. The patients relieved by the hospital in 1840 were about 4,000, a number which, in a quarter of a century, has been multiplied nearly tenfold. New buildings on an extensive scale were added in 1852, very much to the advantage of both the College and the neighbourhood. The medical staff of the College comprises a "consulting" physician, five physicians, and four "assistant" physicians, two "consulting" surgeons, three surgeons with "assistants," a surgeon-dentist, &c.; and the syllabus of its lectures embraces nearly twenty different subjects. It will accommodate about two hundred patients. The medical students attending hospital practice within its walls average about three hundred. It is under a committee of management, and is but slenderly endowed. The hospital has appended to it a medical library, several museums, a chemical laboratory, and other appliances. The usual course extends over four years, though some few students complete it in three. Though so recently established, it can already boast of a long list of distinguished names among its professors and lecturers.

A part of the buildings of this hospital stands on ground which, up to about the year 1850, was one of the burial-places belonging to the parish. It was about the third of an acre in extent, and called the "Green Ground," as if in mockery. From a report of a parochial committee in 1848, we learn that upwards of 5,500 bodies had been interred within it in the previous quarter of a century. The scenes witnessed here were of the most offensive character. In it was interred, among other lesser celebrities, Joe Miller, the author of the "Jest Book" which bears his name, who died in 1738. A monument was erected to his memory, with an inscription, said to be by Stephen Duck, who began life as a thresher, but afterwards entered the Church, and wrote some poems, which incurred the satire of Dean Swift. This monument, having become decayed and almost illegible, was renewed in 1816, and is to be seen leaning up against the wall of one of its offices. The inscription on it ran as follows:—
"Here lie the remains of honest Joe Miller,
Who was a tender husband, a sincere friend,
A facetious companion, and an excellent comedian.
He departed this life the 15th day of August, 1738, aged 54 years."
"If humour, wit, and honesty could save
The humorous, witty, honest from the grave,
His grave had not so soon its tenant found,
With honesty, and wit, and humour crowned!
Or could esteem and love preserve our health,
And guard us longer from the stroke of death,
The stroke of death on him had later fell,
Whom all mankind esteemed and loved so well."


Of "Joe Miller" little is known except what may be gathered from his tombstone. He was famous in his day as an actor for his excellent personations of some of the characters in the comedies of Congreve, and as a gleaner and compiler of other men's witticisms he has enjoyed a reputation for wit and humour which in all probability he never deserved. Allibone's "Dictionary of Authors" tells us that "his 'Jest Book' was originally published in 1739 as the compilation of his friend, Elijah Jenkins, but the real editor (and author, as it is asserted) was John Mottley, the author of a 'Life of Peter the Great.' The book itself appears to have gained a sudden celebrity, second only to that of 'Ingoldsby Legends' and 'Pickwick,' three separate editions of it having appeared in 1739, and seven editions being disposed of in as many years."

Mr. Peter Cunningham, in his "Handbook of London," published in 1850, speaks of Joe Miller's headstone as standing in the old burying-ground "half concealed in summer by a clump of sunflowers," and draws the special attention of his readers to "the 'Grange' public-house, with its old and picturesque inn-yard." It may be remembered that Sir William Davenant, in his "Playhouse to Let," mentions this hostelry in a way which implies that it was a haunt of players. "Let him enter and send his train to our house-inn, the 'Grange.'" But alas! for the progress of modern improvements, the "Grange" and its yard are gone. It was taken down in 1853, and its site in now covered by a part of King's College Hospital.

LYON'S INN. (From a View by S. Ireland, published 1800.)

But far worse than the graveyard alluded to above, was another place of burial within the limits of this parish, long known as Enon Chapel, but afterwards converted into a chapel of ease to St. Clement's, and called Clare Market Chapel. The building stands close to the eastern entrance to Clement's Inn, and the access to it is through a gateway leading into a narrow and extremely dingy court, which opens out into Carey Street. It was converted from secular to religious uses in 1823, by a Dissenting congregation, of whom Mr. Diprose writes—

"These pious people, looking very naturally to ways and means, turned the vaults beneath their meeting-house into a burial-place, which soon became filled with coffins up to the very rafters, so that there was only the wooden flooring between the living youth and the festering dead, for a Sunday-school was held in the chapel as well as the congregational meeting. This state of things was allowed to continue till 1844, when a new sewer having to be carried under the building, the Commissioners of Sewers discovered the loathsome charnel-house, and had the place closed, but left the bodies to lie there and rot, heedless of all consequences. The upper premises then became tenanted by a set of teetotallers, who, amongst other uses, turned it into a dancing-room, where the thoughtless and giddy went to 'foot it' away over the mouldering remains of sad mortality, part of the bygone generation turning to dust beneath the dancers' feet." This loathsome abomination ceased in 1847–8, when a surgeon, Mr. G. A. Walker, gained possession of the chapel with the intention of removing the remains from the vault, or "dusthole," as it was usually called, to a more appropriate place. The work of exhumation was then commenced, and a pyramid of human bones was exposed to view, separated from piles of coffin wood in various stages of decay. This "Golgotha" was visited by about 6,000 persons, previous to its removal, and some idea may be formed of the horrid appearance of the scene, when it is stated that the quantity of remains comprised four upheaved van loads. The whole mass of bodies was decently interred by Mr. Walker, at his own cost, in one pit in the cemetery at Norwood, the coffinwood being piled up and burnt. It is indeed strange to think that such foul abuses were not swept away until the reign of Victoria.

Was it in jest and scorn, or in a fit of royal pleasantry, that the little thoroughfare which joins the west end of Portugal Street to the south-west angle of Lincoln's Inn Fields was called Portsmouth Street? At all events it is not a little strange that this should have been the case when the Queen of Charles II. was Catharine of Portugal, and one of his court favourites the Duchess of Portsmouth. It is a short, narrow, and not very interesting street, though it still contains one or two of the few surviving wooden houses of the Stuart times. Mr. Peter Cunningham tells us that the "Old Black Jack," in this street, still standing, was a favourite hostelry of Joe Miller, and was long known as the "Jump," on account of the fact that another of its frequenters, "Jack Sheppard," that hero of our townbred urchins, once jumped out of its first-floor window, to escape the emissaries of Jonathan Wild. John Timbs tells us that here used to meet, until the year 1816, the members of a club known as the "Honourable Society of Jackers."