The Strand (northern tributaries): Clement's Inn, New Inn, Lyon's Inn etc.

Pages 32-35

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

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Curious Legend about St. Clement's Lane—Clement's Inn—New Inn—Stanhope Street—Birthplace of Grimaldi—Holywell Street—The "Old Drury" Tavern—Ancient Shop-Signs—"Bookseller's Row"—Wych Street—New Inn—The "White Lion" and Jack Sheppard—The "Angel" Inn and Bishop Hooper—"Saddling the Spit"—Lyon's Inn—The "Spotted Dog"—The Globe Theatre—The Opera Comique—The Olympic Theatre.

"He must to the Inns of Court. I was of Clement's once myself, where they talk of Mad Shallow still."—2 Henry IV., Act iii. a.

Turning southwards down that portion of St. Clement's Lane which still remains, and which lies between King's College Hospital and New Inn, it occurs to us that the narrow, dark, and irregular alleys in the neighbourhood of Clare Market and Wych Street, encumbered as they were with low projecting eaves, arched doorways, and bulkheads, must have afforded every facility, a century ago, or even less, for the unforeseen attacks of footpads and for the escape of the offenders; and even now it is almost as true as it was a century ago, that in the words of a writer in the Builder, "the whole nest of streets and passages behind the south side of Lincoln's Inn Fields requires re-arrangement and improvement. There is a legend hereabout that years ago a young man from the country, bearing a black bag, started one winter night from Portugal Street to get into the Strand, and that he has been wandering round and about ever since, constantly returning with a disconsolate aspect to his original starting-point. On foggy nights his form may be descried in Clare Market. Anyhow, no one has yet heard that he ever reached the Strand."

Fortescue, a celebrated man of letters in the fifteenth century, was of opinion that the name Inns of Court arose from these places being the inns, hospitals, or hotels where young noblemen and others belonging to the Court temporarily resided; for many persons of rank sent their sons here to pursue a course of study, without designing them to follow the profession of the law.

Clement's Inn, the west boundary of the New Law Courts, was so named, as we are told by Stow, "Because it standeth near to Clement's Church, but nearer to the fair fountain called Clement's Well." It is stated by Dugdale to have been an Inn of Chancery in the reign of Edward II.; but Pennant speaks of it as dating back only as far as the reign of Edward IV.

The following is quoted from an old writer, whose style at least is quaint and amusing, Sir George Buc:—"Clement's Inne was a messuage belonging to the parish of St. Clement Dane, the deuise whereof is an anchor without a stocke, with a capital C couchant upon it; and this is grauen in stone over the gate of St. Clement's Inne. It seemeth to be a hieroglyphike, or rebus (as some conjecture), figuring herein. St. Clement, who having been Pope, and so reputed head of the Church (and the Church being resembled to a shippe), both his name and office are expressed in this deuise of the 'C' and anchor."

The entrance to Clement's Inn from the thoroughfare on the north side of the church of St. Clement Danes was formerly through a noble archway, supported by lofty columns, which, however, has been demolished to make room for the New Law Courts. Our readers will scarcely need to be reminded that St. Clement's Inn is the one which Shakespeare has made immortal as the home of "Master Shallow" in his Temple days; if they do, they will forgive the motto prefixed to this chapter.

Clement's Inn is said by Seymour in his "Survey" to have descended to the Earls of Clare from Sir William Hollis, Lord Mayor of London in 1539.

In the garden is a celebrated bronze figure of a negro supporting a sundial, which was brought from Italy early in the eighteenth century by Lord Clare, by whom it was presented to the Inn. The Hall of Clement's Inn, the east end of which overlooks the site of the New Law Courts, is built of brick, and is an elegant, well-proportioned room. It contains, among other pictures, a good portrait of Sir Matthew Hale.

New Inn, which adjoins Clement's Inn, is said by tradition to have been removed to Wych Street from Seacole Lane, before which time there was here a common hostelry or inn, known by the sign of the "Blessed Virgin."

"To this inn," says Seymour, with his usual quaintness, in his "Survey of London and Westminster" (1735), "are pleasant walks and gardens. The north-easterly part joints to Clement's Inn, from which it is separated by a handsome iron gate, shut up a nights, which was placed here anno 1723."

Pennant, writing in 1805, says of it—"New Inn, where the students of the Strand Inn nestled after they were routed thence by the Duke of Somerset. In New Inn the great Sir Thomas More received the early part of his education before he removed to Lincoln's Inn." The armorial bearings of this Inn are Vert, a flower-pot argent. It became an Inn of Chancery in 1485.

Stanhope Street, in this immediate neighbourhood, is worthy of a passing note as having been the birthplace of the famous clown, Grimaldi, who here first saw the light of day, Dec. 18, 1778. He seems to have been born in the purple of the theatre. His father was of Italian extraction; his mother, according to Mr. Diprose, was a Miss Rebecca Brooker, who had been from infancy a dancer at Drury Lane, and subsequently played "old woman" at Sadler's Wells. From "Pink's History of Clerkenwell" we learn that "Joe Grimaldi" made his first appearance at "the Wells" in 1781 in the character of a monkey, became part proprietor of the house in 1818, and finally quitted it in 1832. He died, somewhat suddenly, at his house in Southampton Street, Pentonville Road, at the end of May, 1837, and was buried in the churchyard of St. James's, Pentonville, by the side of his friend Charles Dibdin.

There is but little in the way of antiquarian lore or of recent anecdote to be told concerning Holywell Street, which no doubt received its name—not, we fear, much in keeping with its real character—from the "holy well" already mentioned near St. Clement's Church. Leigh Hunt, in his "London Journal," passes it by with discreet silence. Allen, in his "History of London," dismisses it in a line, styling it a "narrow, inconvenient avenue of old, ill-formed houses;" and Mr. Peter Cunningham "a narrow, dirty lane, chiefly occupied by old clothesmen and the vendors of low publications."

It appears from honest Strype that in his day it was tenanted by "divers salesmen and piecebrokers," and was commonly called "the Back Side of St. Clement's." Mr. Timbs says that the "holy well" which gave to it its name was "under the 'Old Dog' Tavern" (No. 24); but this is clearly a mistake. He adds that the "salesmen and piecebrokers of Strype's day have nearly deserted it, and that it is now the head-quarters of old bookstalls." A few lofty-gabled and deep-bayed fronts still remain upon some of the houses, especially on the southern side. It is only fair to add that during the last few years the character of the street has shown a marked improvement, owing to the stringent enforcement of Lord Campbell's Act against the sale of bad books and prints, for which formerly this thoroughfare was a notorious market. At the corner of one of the houses on the south side, near the centre of the street, there still remains a grotesque carving—a lion's head—probably the last of such ornaments now to be found in the metropolis.

Holywell Street contains several ancient houses, and was formerly used as the emporium of the mercers, who had their appropriate signs. Of these one still remains, the "Half Moon," a carved projecting sign; another—the "Indian Queen," painted by one of the members of the first association of the Royal Academy, one Catton—might be seen down to a very recent period. The "Golden Ball" was a noted house for silk remnants in this street, and continued in repute to the end of the last century. As the mercery trade declined in Holywell Street, the traffic in frippery and old clothes took its place, and has, to a certain extent, continued to the present time.

Of late years many houses in this street have been occupied by booksellers of a certain class—those who deal in indecent and immoral literature; and so bad has been its reputation that, in the interest of the more respectable inhabitants it has been proposed more than once to alter the name to "Booksellers' Row," but the idea has not been carried out by the Metropolitan Board of Works, with whom rests the power of changing the names of the streets of the metropolis. It is only right to add that in the street at the present time are many second-hand bookshops of a far different character from those above mentioned.

Wych Street—our pathway as we walk from Pickett Street towards Drury Lane—derives its name from the Via de Aldwych, whereof it originally formed a part, a lane leading from the north side of the Strand to Broad Street, St. Giles's. It still contains, especially on the south side, some of those curious old wooden-fronted and gabled houses which are equally picturesque and inconvenient. Like Holywell Street, of late years this thoroughfare has gained a notoriety for the sale of books and prints of an immoral class, and at present the sale of them is only partially suppressed. In bygone days, however, it was tenanted by a very different class of persons; although in 1734, according to a statement quoted by Mr. Diprose, this street was "much taken up by upholsterers for the sale of bedding and second-hand household goods."

On the north side of Wych Street, nearly about the centre, is the entrance to New Inn, through which in the day-time there is a thoroughfare into the dismal region of Clare Market. In a narrow court of this street the notorious Jack Sheppard served his apprenticeship to Mr. Wood, the carpenter; and in White Lion Passage stood the "hostelrie" of the "White Lion," the scene of many of the events in the career of that prince of "cracksmen," who used nightly to meet in the taproom his professional friends and acquaintances, and with whose feats and various adventures the pen of Mr. Harrison Ainsworth has made us so familiar.

The site of the old "White Lion" was at the corner of one of the small courts on the northern side, and is now occupied as a carpenter's shop.

Speaking of Wych Street as it was in the days of Jack Sheppard, we may say of the Via de Aldwych, as the writer of "Haunted London" says of Holborn Hill—
"The street curves quaint,
And cumbrous sign-boards creak on left and right."

From the "Angel" Inn, at the bottom of Wych Street, Bishop Hooper was taken in 1554 to Gloucester to be burnt at the stake. Something more than two centuries later, the "Angel" Inn figured in a curious advertisement which appeared in the Public Advertiser, March 28, 1769:—

"To be sold, a Black Girl, 11 years of age; extremely handy; works at her needle tolerably, and speaks English well. Inquire of Mr. Owen, at the 'Angel' Inn, behind St. Clement's Church, in the Strand."

It is said by Allen, in his "History of London," that the "Great Fire" of 1666 was not the first of its kind which laid London waste, for that "in 1136 a great fire happened within the City, which destroyed all the way westward to St. Clement Danes," but he does not mention the precise spot where this fire ended at the west.

We have seen that the parish of St. Clement Danes was not considered remarkable for decency and order in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; for in spite of the rank, wit, and fashion which distinguished it a century and a half later, we find that it even then bore no better character; and the Clement's Lane of the First and Second Georges was no bad precursor to the Wych Street of our own day. The London Spy of that date observes, half in earnest and half in jest, that it "is deemed an excellent air for breeding attorneys in, the chief subject of all conversation turning here upon verdicts, costs, damages, writs of inquiry, &c."

According to the same authority, published in 1725, there was formerly in the parish of St. Clement's the custom of "saddling the spit," which, the writer adds, "is now laid aside, for reasons well known at Westminster Hall." It would seem that whatever this custom may have been—and as far as we have been able to discover, history preserves a discreet silence as to its nature—it was a rough and boisterous one, "more honoured in the breach than in the observance."

Lyon's Inn, lately demolished, was an old Inn of Chancery, belonging in former days to the Inner Temple. It faced Newcastle Street, on its eastern side, between Wych Street and Holywell Street; one entrance led to it from the latter, and also another through Horne Court, next door to an inn known as the "Spotted Dog." Mr. Diprose, in his "Account of St. Clement Danes," tells us that this same "Spotted Dog" had been a hostelry for some 230 years at least before its demolition in 1864, for the purpose of carrying out a building speculation of the "Strand Hotel Company," a speculation which ended in failure. It is said—but we know not with what amount of truth—that the once holy well, which gave its name to the street, was under the "Spotted Dog."

Howes, in his "Annals," in continuation of Stow, quaintly tell us that it was "a guest inn or hostelerie held at the sign of the 'Lyon,' and purchased by gentlemen professors and students in the law in the reign of King Henry VIII., and converted to an Inn of Chancery." Sir Edward Coke was a student there in 1578.

This Inn, never of much importance, had fallen utterly into disrepute before the beginning of this century, and become the resort of gamblers and swindlers. Here lived Mr. Weare, who was murdered near Edgware by Thurtell, in 1824. The latter in defence pleaded in extenuation that Weare had cheated him at cards out of £300.

Each of the three Inns alluded to in this chapter was governed by a Principal or Treasurer, and a number of "Ancients," corresponding to Benchers; and Seymour tells us, in his "Survey," that there were "mootings" in each Inn in every term.

The property of "Lyons Inn" was sold about the year 1863, and on its site now stand two theatres, the "Globe," as if in memory of Shakespeare's theatre, and the "Opera Comique."

The Globe Theatre, which covers its western portion, was built and opened in 1868. It has a narrow frontage in Newcastle Street. On this site the Architectural Association had its first home. The theatre was built from the instructions of Mr. Sefton Parry, the proprietor, and will seat 1,500 persons. The auditorium is effectively decorated in relief, and has a domed ceiling, with a sunlight in the centre. The site having been excavated very considerably for the proposed hotel, the floor of the pit has been made many feet below the line of the street, and is approached by a steep flight of steps from Wych Street. In Wych Street also are the entrances to the gallery stairs, and that to the "royal box." The ordinary boxes are entered from Newcastle Street, and are on a level with the street, so that stairs are avoided. Here, too, enter the occupants of the stalls. The seats are all fairly commodious, and conveniently placed, so that all that is passing on the stage can be distinctly seen and heard from any part of the house. The house opened in December, 1868, with Mr. J. H. Byron's comedy of "Cyril's Success," which in itself proved a great success.

The principal front of the "Opera Comique" is in the Strand, and observant passengers who know the narrowness of the area between the Strand and Holywell Street will find it difficult to imagine how, even in London, where now-a-days theatres are edged in among houses anyhow, an "Opera Comique" can have been formed there. This frontage, however, is, in truth, nothing but the entrance to an underground way leading across Holywell Street to a theatre which has been built between that and Wych Street. The building, which is very small, backs on the "Globe," and is to a considerable extent underground, as will be understood when we mention that a long flight of stairs in Wych Street leads down to the stage level, and that the pit, of course, is lower than that again. The theatre was opened in 1870, and has seen several changes of lessees. It is a pretty little theatre, very nicely decorated, but has no marked characteristic with regard to the entertainments given. These consist principally of French plays or opera bouffe, and are presented sometimes in French and at other times in English.

The Olympic Theatre, at the end of Wych Street, occupies the site of old Craven House, which was taken down in 1803, the ground being purchased by Mr. Philip Astley, of the "Amphitheatre" over Westminster Bridge, who constructed what was called at the time "a house of public exhibition of horsemanship and droll," which he styled "the Olympic Pavilion." It was opened as such in 1806, but the speculation does not appear to have been successful. In 1813 the lease was sold to Robert Elliston, who introduced pieces of sufficient merit to attract the fashionable dwellers in the West-end, and by that means raised the theatre to something like successful popularity. The building was destroyed by fire in 1849, but rebuilt and opened again in the same year, and is now one of the most popular theatres in London. Madame Vestris had the management of the "Olympic" from 1832 to 1839, and many of the most eminent actors of the day have appeared upon its boards. The pieces brought out at this theatre are principally melodramas of the superior kind. For many years Robson, one of the most gifted modern comedians, attracted thousands here to witness his wonderful delineations of the tears and laughter, the joys and sorrows, of human life in its humbler aspects. Mr. Horace Wigan was for some time manager here; Mr. Benjamin Webster has likewise had the management, and since then Miss Ada Cavendish took it in hand and redecorated it.