THE COAL HOLE
15 and 16 Fountain Court – London
Originally established in 1815, The Coal Hole was a tavern that had formerly been known as The Unicorn. It was located in a corner of an alley called Fountain Court, just off The Strand. Fountain Court received its name from Fountain Tavern, an eighteenth-century establishment where the opponents of Sir Robert Walpole met.
In its early days, The Coal Hole, appropriately enough, was the haunt of London’s coal heavers. These burly men with strong backs and stronger work ethics saw to the unloading of coal from ships and barges and also delivered coal to the homes of London’s citizens. Which made for a rough and rowdy establishment when the work was done, and the coal heavers did their bit to unwind after a hard day’s labor.
Eventually the famous actor, Edmund Kean (1787-1833) established the Wolf Club at The Coal Hole. The purpose of the club? Drunken orgies and general high jinks. Kean was the chairman of the club and usually called the group to his idea of order around eleven in the evening. Though it had no real platform it was very well attended by celebrities of the day. Songs, soliloquy, limerick composition, and various drinking games were on the program so far as most records show.
After the death of Kean, John Rhodes directed the tavern’s entertainment in the form of a forerunner of the nightclub. He had a passion for silver plate and furnished the establishment with silver tankards, goblets, loving cups, and flagons enough to put many of London’s finest hotels to shame. He is said to have had a fine baritone voice and was one of the most popular singers to take a turn at entertaining The Coal Hole’s patrons. But he went to great lengths to provide every sort of entertainment available.
‘John Rhodes begs to inform his friends and the public they will find every variety of Vocal Entertainment at the above old established house, commencing every evening at Eight o’Clock precisely. Glees, Duets, Solos, Catches, Comic Singing &c., executed by the most numerous and talented company of vocalists in the metropolis, under the direction of the celebrated Mr. Baldwin, for sixteen years Vocal Director at Mr. Rouse’s Grecian Saloon.’
‘The celebrated writer of comic songs, Mr. John Labern, is engaged exclusively for this establishment, where only can his original and humorous productions be heard and obtained.’
The above advertisement appeared in the newspapers to advertise the various amenities available at The Coal Hole. The Judge and Jury Society were performances led by Renton Nicholson (1809 – 1861) an impresario, actor and writer. These acts mocked and satirized members of London society and the preoccupations of the popular press. Though his acts were derided by some for their crudeness, they were attended by many aristocrats, politicians, and other prominent citizens.
Whilst the supper club aspect is gone, The Coal Hole remains one of the few pubs in London to retain its original decor and ambiance. Its proximity to the city’s theatres promises an influx of the after performance crowd and one never knows who might stop in for a pint after the curtain falls.
THE BUNCH OF GRAPES
76, Narrow Street – London
This post is the first in what I intend to be a series of posts on some of the historic pubs in London and throughout the UK. I realize that the phrase “Historic Pub Crawl” could actually have two meanings. I intend it to mean visits to historic pubs. However, it could mean a series of visits to pubs one after another that ends up being a historical event. If you know the motley crew associated with Number One London, you know any trip we take can and usually does end up being a historic event. But I digress.
Although the current name of the pub is simply The Grapes, a tavern of some sort or another has stood on the present site for almost 500 years. And for most of those years it was known as The Bunch of Grapes. The first tavern was built on this spot in 1583, but the current building dates from 1720. Imagine the history it has seen, surviving the Blitz during World War II, and still operating as a pub to this day.
I will confess I first discovered this fascinating pub whilst I did research for my novel, A Study in Passion. My heroine had to visit a Chinese apothecary in search of aid for her pet pangolin. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Limehouse area of London was home to England’s largest Chinese community. Not surprising when one realizes much of the Chinese community in London was made up of sailors and tradesmen from the many ships bringing in goods from the Far East and their families. They left the East India Company ships coming into the Limehouse Dockyards and established every sort of business from apothecaries to trading and import companies to boarding houses, to yes – opium dens.
Before the pub was built the location was in proximity to lime kilns, customs houses, docks and shipyards. By the Elizabethan Era Limehouse was established as the doorway to world trade in London as most of the ships embarking on trade trips across the British Empire left from these docks. Supposedly, Sir Walter Raleigh set sail on his third voyage to the New World from a spot just below the Bunch of Grapes.
The pub’s greatest claim to fame may well be its thinly veiled description used in the first chapter of the novel Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Again, not a surprise as Dickens was said to be a frequent visitor to the pub in the 1820’s when he visited his godfather who lived in Limehouse.
“A tavern of dropsical appearance… long settled down into a state of hale infirmity. It had outlasted many a sprucer public house, indeed the whole house impended over the water but seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver, who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.”
A rather more sinister aspect of the history of The Bunch of Grapes associates it with the watermen who operated ferry services on the Thames for both passengers and freight. Because of the stringent rules against dissection and obtaining corpses for same, a great deal of supplemental income might be made by providing London’s medical schools, anatomists, and physicians with fresh corpses. Apparently these watermen would lurk about the back stairs of The Bunch of Grapes and drag inebriated customers down said stairs to drown them in the Thames before taking them by boat to their waiting customers.
Note to the characters in my Regency romances: Do not leave The Bunch of Grapes by the back stairs if you have indulged in too much drink.
Note to those who wish to visit The Grapes today: If at all possible visit on a Monday as the current owner of the pub, Sir Ian McKellen, has been known to run the pub quiz on Mondays from time to time.
This is an oil painting of a pineapple grown in Sir Matthew Decker’s garden in Richmond, Surrey. The painting by Theodorus Netscher, made in 1720, is a celebration of the successful cultivation in England of a pineapple plant that actually produced fruit.
During the 18th century, a pineapple cost the equivalent of £5,000 today. They became such a symbol of wealth that the pineapple motif was used to decorate buildings – John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunmore, built a 75ft-high stone pineapple atop a pavilion in his estate in 1761 (below).
Though native to South America, pineapples (scientific name: Ananas comosus) made their way to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and it was here that Christopher Columbus first spotted their spiky crowns in 1493. Despite dogged efforts by European gardeners, it would be nearly two centuries before they perfected a hothouse method for growing a pineapple plant.
Thus, into the 1600s, the pineapple remained so uncommon and coveted a commodity that King Charles II of England posed for an official portrait (above) in an act then symbolic of royal privilege — receiving a pineapple as a gift. But was it a gift? Or had the pineapple been grown in his own hothouse? According to post entitled, “A pineapple? . . . Gosh, thank you Mr. Rose” on the Parks & Gardens UK blog, that question remains to be answered.
What is for certain is that on 9th August 1661 John Evelyn noted in his diary that he “first saw the Queene-Pine bought from Barbados presented to his Majestie…the first that were ever seen in England were those sent to Cromwell foure years since.”
Certainly plants must have survived the journey more than once, because King Charles used pineapples again on 14th August 1668, to impress the French ambassador, by serving them at a banquet held in his honour. Evelyn was there too and tasted “that rare fruite called the King-Pine” because ”his Majestie having cut it up, was pleased to give me a piece off his owne plate to taste of.” Sadly, Evelyn was mildly disappointed by the taste because “in my opinion it falls short of those ravishing varieties of deliciousnesse described in cap. liggons history & others but possibly it might be, and certainly was, much impaired in coming so farr. It has yet a graceful acidity, but tastes more of the Quince and Melon, than of any other fruite he mentions.”
Of course, all this assumes that it is John Rose in the picture. This attribution comes from Horace Walpole who had the original painting hanging in the Breakfast Room at Strawberry Hill. It features in his description of the house as ” a most curious picture of Rose, the royal gardiner, presenting the first pine-apple raised in England to Charles 2d, who is standing in a garden. The whole piece is well painted , probably by Dankers. It was a present to Mr W from the Rev.Mr Pennicott of Ditton, to whom it was bequestheed by Mr London, grandson of him who was partner with Wise”. [A description of the villa of Horace Walpole,1774].
Author Lucy Ingless tells us more about 18th century pineapple cultivation in an article on The Foodie Bugle:
“In 1735, twenty-one year old American Robert Hunter Morris accompanied his diplomat father on a trip to London and on the 30th of June visited a friend’s garden of ‘luctutious plants’ (does this mean succulents?), which included ‘the pineapple, of which he had a great many and they seemed to flourish very well. They grew in pots of earth which were set in a bed of tanners bark’. Incidentally, Robert was an interesting young character, who was very conscious of his father’s welfare and notes many tiny details about London life that would otherwise be missed. His London diaries are short and worth a read if you come across them.
“An article on education in the London World during 1755 makes casual reference to the pineapple thus:
“Through the use of hothouses…every gardiner that used to pride himself in an early cucumber, can now raise a pineapple.”
“By 1772, pineapples were no longer the preserve of those with hothouses of their own. They were available to purchase at the markets, and also as plants to take home and grow for yourself, or with which to stock a nursery. I love the sound of Andrew Moffett’s ‘Pinery’ on Grange Road in Southwark, where ‘Fruiting and Succession Plants’ were to be purchased of the largest and sweetest sort, guaranteed ‘free of insects’.
“As the 18th century went on, the pineapple became a common theme on dishes, plates, teapots, tea caddies and even in architecture. Many believe it symbolises hospitality.
“By February 1798, any problems with planting environment had clearly been overcome, as Mr William North, at his Nursery near the Asylum in Lambeth, Surrey, was advertising new forms of dwarf broccoli above his pineapple plants. The advertisement from the Morning Chronicle gives an insight into 18th century horticulture, and also gives rise to the excellent title of this post: “To the curious in vegetables”. It is interesting to see that by this stage, the pineapple was worthy only of a nota bene but also interesting to note that a London tradesman was content to advertise not only the largest selection in England, but also in Europe: The largest collection of Pine-Apple Plants and Grape Vines in Pots for the Hot-house, &c., in Europe, with every other article of the first quality in Horticulture.”
The pineapple entered the broader Georgian culture in a number of ways. The phrase ‘a pineapple of the finest flavour’ was a metaphor for the most splendid of things. In Sheridan’s popular play The Rivals, Mrs Malaprop exclaims: ‘He is the very pineapple of politeness.’
Even after growing pineapples on English soil became a possibility, getting hold of one was still so costly that many nobles didn’t eat them, opting instead to simply display them around their homes as one would a precious ornament or carry them around at parties. Those who weren’t quite as affluent could rent a pineapple for a few hours at a time. This pineapple would be passed around from renter to renter for their respective parties over the course of several days until finally being sold to the individual who could afford to actually taste it.
Pineapples held pride of place on dinner tables and on Negri’s tradecard below, the premises soon to be known by the name of “Gunter’s.”
There were also pineapple-shaped cakes, pineapple-shaped gelatine molds, candies pressed out like small pineapples, pineapples molded of gum and sugar, pineapples made of creamed ice, cookies cut like pineapples and pineapple shapes created by arrangements of other fruits. There were also ceramic bowls formed like pineapples, fruit and sweet trays incorporating pineapple designs, and pineapple pitchers, cups and even candelabras.
An original eighteenth-century pineapple pit was discovered at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. In 1997, after much historical research and horticultural effort, the pinery saw its first twentieth century fruit – grown just as it would have been done in the past. In a nod to Charles II, the second pineapple produced there (the first was sampled by the staff …) was delivered to Queen Elizabeth on her 50th wedding anniversary. For an in-depth and technical look at the structure of early English hothouses and the construction of a “pinery,” see this post on the Building Conservation website.
Click here to read more on age old growing techniques and the world’s most expensive pineapple.
Napoleon After Waterloo
Andrea K. Stein
Bellerophon was a famous Greek hero, mostly known for defeating Chimera, a fire-breathing, mythical monster. By some quirk of fate and history, the H.M.S. Bellerophon was also the name of the ship where the monster Napoleon, who bloodied two continents in his obsession to rule the world, turned himself over to the Royal Navy after his defeat at Waterloo.
Stories surrounding the final, decisive battle of Waterloo abound, but have you ever heard an account of what happened to the little megalomaniac emperor in the days following his massive defeat? He somehow thought after all the horrors he’d wrought, everyone would overlook his misdeeds. He variously dreamed of living the life of a country gentleman in England or managing an escape to America.
Napoleon fled to Paris after the June 18, 1815, battle, arriving there on June 21. When he tried to rally what troops he had left, his friends and commanders either abandoned him or turned against him. He had to abdicate two days later. He then fled to Rochefort in the coastal area known as Basque Roads. He’d hoped for a French frigate to take him to asylum in America, but the Royal Navy blockade of the area was too tight for French ships to evade. With French Royalists hot on his heels, he ran out of options, and on July 15, he surrendered to Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland on the Bellerophon.
With its famous prisoner aboard, the Bellerophon, heavily guarded by other Royal Navy warships, made its way to Brixham in Devon, arriving the morning of July 24. John Smart, a schoolboy who later wrote a memoir of the day, described rowing out to the 74-gun ship with a baker from the town to sell loaves of bread. They were warned away, but he claimed a sailor aboard the ship secretly threw a corked bottle overboard with a small piece of paper inside rolled up with the message, “We have got Bonaparte on board.” Smart recalled, “in five minutes after we reached shore, there was not a soul in Brixham, except babies, ignorant of the news.”
Ultimately, the allies decided to send him to remote St. Helena, a rocky island about halfway between Africa and South America, owned by the East India Company. Why didn’t they simply execute him? Perhaps this quote from Wellington might shed some light:
The Duke of Wellington to Sir Charles Stuart, Orvillé
28 June 1815—
“I send you my dispatches, which will make you acquainted with the state of affairs. You may show them to Talleyrand if you choose.
General ——— has been here this day to negotiate for Napoleon’s passing to America, to which proposition I have answered that I have no authority. The Prussians think the Jacobins wish to give him over to me, believing that I will save his life. Blücher wishes to kill him; but I have told him that I shall remonstrate, and shall insist upon his being disposed of by common accord. I have likewise said that, as a private friend, I advised him to have nothing to do with so foul a transaction; that he and I had acted too distinguished parts in these transactions to become executioners; and that I was determined that if the sovereigns wished to put him to death they should appoint an executioner, which should not be me.”
Napoleon’s charisma, and his effect on the people around him, is legendary, not to mention somewhat hard to fathom. Captain Maitland of the Bellerophon, to whom Napoleon surrendered, wrote this in his memoir of the event:
“It may appear surprising, that a possibility could exist of a British officer, being prejudiced in favour of one who had caused do many calamities to his country; but to such an extent did he possess the power of pleasing, that there are few people who could have sat at the same table with him for nearly a month, as I did, without feeling a sensation of pity, allied perhaps to regret, that a man possessed of so many fascinating qualities, and who had held so high a station in life, should be reduced to the situation in which I saw him.”
Captain Maitland was not alone in his apparent fascination. The former French emperor so charmed the ship’s Irish surgeon, Barry Edward O’Meara, that he accompanied Napoleon to St. Helena and became his physician there. After Napoleon’s death in 1821, O’Meara wrote Napoleon in Exile, or A voice from St. Helena in 1822. His allegations of mistreatment of the former emperor by his gaoler, Governor Hudson Lowe, caused a small sensation back in England as well as the rest of Europe.
Letters leaked to newspapers while Napoleon was still alive, about alleged deprivations such as insufficient firewood, caused an uproar among the very people who suffered throughout the Napoleonic Wars. The imprisoned dictator who’d wanted to conquer the world seemed to evoke romantic notions once he’d been exiled.
However, there were also many Britons who voiced strong opposing opinions, as evidenced by this letter published by The Times on July 26:
“What is to be done with him? Is he after all his crimes to be suffered to go unpunished; or in what way is he to be brought to justice?… He has, for a long succession of years, deluged Europe in blood, to gratify his own mad vanity, his insatiable and furious ambition. It is calculated, that every minute he has reigned, has cost the life of a human being…”
A lieutenant taking dispatches to London from Brixham spread the news while changing horses in Exeter. By the next day, the Bellerophon was surrounded by all manner of craft from local ports, and even further away, hired by people trying to catch a glimpse of Napoleon.
Officers going ashore from the ships were treated like celebrities. One Midshipman Home recalled he was asked questions like “Was he really a man? Were his hands and clothes all over blood when he came aboard. Was his voice like thunder? Could I possibly get them a sight of the monster?” The former emperor had been portrayed as the devil incarnate in stories and caricatures in the English papers for years.
The Admiralty decided the Bellerophon should be moved to Plymouth for extra security against any rescue attempt. On July 31, a letter arrived with the official decision of the British government – exile to St. Helena. The former emperor was to be transferred to the Northumberland, a ship the Admiralty deemed more sea-worthy for the long voyage. On August 4, the Bellerophon set sail from Plymouth along the south coast of Devon where it met the Northumberland off Start Point on August 6 for transfer of Napoleon and his entourage. The next day, he sailed toward his last exile.
After his final imprisonment, there was one cork-brained plan to smuggle him to Chile from St. Helena to try to re-conquer the world from there. That plan never materialized, due to Napoleon’s deteriorating health. An attempt to spirit him off the remote island by submarine was also cut off when British agents seized the invention whilst being tested in the Thames. The submarine, manufactured by Tom Johnson, the smuggler, was ostensibly to be towed all the way to St. Helena by a larger ship.
“The War for all the Oceans” by Roy and Lesley Adkins
“Commander” by Stephen Taylor, a biography of Captain Edward Pellew
“Cochrane – Britannia’s Sea Wolf” by Donald Thomas
“The Command of the Ocean” by N.A.M. Rodger
“Narrative of the Surrender of Buonaparte and of his residence on Baord H.M.S. Bellerophon” by Captain F.L. Maitland, C.B.
AUTHOR – ANDREA K. STEIN
Andrea K. Stein is the daughter of a trucker and an artist. She grew up a scribbler. The stories just spilled out.
After writing and editing at newspapers for twenty-five years and then a short, boring stint as a consultant to commercial printers, she ran away to sea for three years to deliver yachts up and down the Caribbean.
She earned her USCG offshore captain’s license, but perversely, now writes romance set at sea while wrapped in sweaters and PJs in her writing room in Canon City, CO.
She has multiple published romance novels available on Amazon. Three of those titles have been honored with awards. “Secret Harbor” earned a first place in the Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Contest in the romance category; “Fortune’s Horizon” finaled in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Romance category; and the latest novel, “Pride of Honor,” finaled in the national 2018 Beau Monde Royal Ascot Contest.
Book Three in The Men of the Squadron Series – PRIDE OF VALOR – Debuted on February 23, 2021. Visit your favorite purveyors of fine books and spend some time with the Men of the Squadron!