And the award for the longest name for a pub goes to… These days it is known as The Running Footman or simply The Footman. One of the oldest pubs in London, it was originally called The Running Horse. In this guise it was frequented by the city’s footmen in service to the aristocratic houses in Mayfair.
In 17th and 18th century London there were footmen and then there were running footmen. Especially in the 17th century, the streets of London were narrow, overcrowded and apt to be blocked by carts, animals, pedestrians, and any number of other obstructions. It was the job of a running footman to run ahead of his master’s coach clearing the way and paying any tolls at bridges and toll gates ahead of the coach’s passage. At night the running footman might run head carrying a lamp to light the way.
In typical aristocratic fashion, the men who employed running footmen loved to pit theirs against those of other households in foot races upon which they would place ridiculously expensive wagers.
From the diary of Samuel Pepys:
3rd July, 1663
‘The town talk this day is of nothing but the great foot-race run this day on Banstead Downs, between Lee, the Duke of Richmond’s footman, and a Tyler, a famous runner. And Lee hath beat him; though the King and the Duke of York and all men almost did bet three or four to one upon the Tyler’s head.’
After the Great Fire (1666) the streets of London were widened and made clearer. Eventually the need for running footmen dwindled. Most households simply repurposed their running footmen to serve as carriage escorts and to run messages and letters from household to household. Everything from invitations to illicit love letters often pass through the hands of these footmen.
They did continue to congregate at The Running Horse where they commiserated about demanding employers, stingy tippers, and other travails of working in service. And, of course, every bit of gossip imaginable was passed around this haven for London’s footmen. Imagine the intrigue and news a man might acquire as he traveled from house to house in the erudite and aristocratic households of Mayfair. If those walls could talk now!
When the pub was put up for sale in 1749, one of the last men employed as an actual running footman retired and bought the establishment. He promptly renamed it after himself and catered to his fellow former runners and to the footmen employed in the wealthy houses of London. It served as a gathering place for these young men well into the early 20th century.
The pub is even memorialized in the title of one of Martha Grimes’s Richard Jury mysteries. Nothing like having the body of a murdered girl found outside a pub to attract mystery fans and the morbidly curious.
Today the pub is known for excellent cuisine and a more upper crust atmosphere. The Georgian bowed window remains and whilst the pub has been remodeled a few times since 1749 those brick walls have stood the test of time. As does the long moniker and perhaps the muttering voices of those young men who knew every little secret of London’s 18th and 19th century elite.
In 1652, a Dalmatian man named Pasqua Rosee brought Middle Eastern coffee to London. He established his shop on the spot now occupied by The Jamaica Wine House pub. If you think the name for this pub is problematic now, just imagine the fun the locals had at London’s very first coffee shop called Pasqua Rosee’s Head. Go ahead and giggle. I’ll wait.
It was a good thing people had fun with the name of the shop. With Oliver Cromwell in charge of England after the execution of King Charles I (30 January, 1649) there was not a great deal of fun to be had. Taverns and other establishments that served beer and liquor were shut down. As Cromwell considered coffee an appropriate and sobering drink the establishment of coffee houses similar to that of Mr. Rosee soon increased exponentially.
It is generally believed Mr. Rosee’s establishment burned in the fire of 1666, but was quickly rebuilt in the same spot. At some point, either before or after the fire, the name was changed to The Jamaica Coffee House. This probably happened around 1655 after Cromwell and his forces conquered the island of Jamaica. The coffee house in St. Michael’s alley then became a meeting place for merchants and traders doing business in this new sugar colony. In fact it became such a hub for any business to do with trade in the Caribbean that many businessmen, merchants, importers, and sea captains used The Jamaica Coffee House as their business address.
A great many of these establishments sprang up in the area of St. Michael’s Alley, Newman’s Court, and Threadneedle Street because of the proximity to the London Exchange, Lloyd’s, and numerous banks. In the late 18th century The Jamaica Coffee House posted the latest news articles about insurrections in the Caribbean, notices of the ships sailing out of London and their cargoes, notices of the ships sailing into London and their cargoes, and various other pieces of information vital to the sugar trade and, as a consequence, the slave trade.
In fact, The Post Man and The Historical Account carried an advertisement in January of 1718 that a fifteen-year-old Black boy named James had run away and ‘whoever brings him back to the Jamaica Coffeehouse in Cornhill shall receive a ten shilling reward.’
A century later, some sources claim the descendants of The Jamaica Coffee House merchants met there to plot against the abolitionist movement and the work of William Wilburforce.
Coffee houses depended on subscribers to keep their businesses going, especially after the defeat of Cromwell and the return of taverns and pubs. The Jamaica Coffee House had anywhere from 250 to 350 subscribers in any given year. The subscription room in this establishment boasted the latest intelligence on trade in Madeira and the West Indies. The supplies of newspapers and shipping lists were said to be extensive. It was considered the most accurate place to acquire any information about mail packets or merchant ships heading to or coming from the West India station. Merchants and businessmen met here in the morning before they went to the Exchange or their counting offices or after their day’s work was done. Another perk offered to subscribers was food in the form of a sandwich bar, coffee, tea, wines, and other liquor.
Eventually The Jamaica Coffee House became The Jamaica Wine House, affectionately called The Jampot by the locals, which is also a bit of a misnomer. The first floor is a traditional pub set in the rooms that housed the coffee house. In the basement, which was in fact a wine cellar and storage area, is a wine bar. In the windows of the pub on the main floor ledgers of old transactions from the coffee house heyday are displayed in the windows. It is said Charles Dickens used The Jamaica Coffee House as the model for Ebenezer Scrooge’s office in A Christmas Carol. And, of course, the ghost of a woman in grey haunts the George and Vulture next door and has been known to accost those leaving The Jamaica Wine House by way of St. Michael’s Alley.
The Spaniards Inn was built around 1585. The tavern formed the entrance to the Bishop of London’s estate and there is even a boundary stone from 1755 that can still be seen in the pub’s garden. The toll house opposite the tavern was built in 1710. The lane between the two buildings forms the perfect toll road and it served as the last toll booth leading into London for hundreds of years.
Originally an inn in addition to a tavern, there are a few theories as to how the establishment got its name. One theory is that the inn was named after a Spanish ambassador reputed to have an almost hypnotic control over King James I. The ambassador is said to have stayed at the inn to avoid the plague in London during a number of years of James I’s reign.
The other popular theory about the inn’s name has to do with two of its earliest landlords, Spanish brothers Juan and Francesco Porero. There is an even more logical tie connecting the inn’s name to these two proprietors. Apparently Juan and Francesco both fell in love with the same woman. It ended badly, as these things so often do. The brothers fought a duel, which resulted in Juan’s burial in what is now the pub’s beer garden.
The Spaniards Inn was a two hours drive by coach from London. That drive was across Hampstead Heath, a lonely open area frequented by highwaymen. It is said the Spaniards Inn was the perfect place for these gentlemen of the road to watch out for wealthy travelers to rob. Records from Old Bailey show numerous arrests of men who plied the highwayman’s trade between the Spaniards Inn and London. On 16 October, 1751 one Samuel Bacon was indicted for robbery on the King’s Highway after he was caught less than two hundred yards from the inn. There was even a tree (gone now) at the end of the road where highwaymen were hanged and left as a warning to others of their ilk.
Of course the most famous highwayman associated with the Spaniards Inn is one Richard Turpin (1705 – 7 April, 1739.) His father was rumored to be the landlord at the Spaniards and many say Dick Turpin was born there, though it was more likely he was born in Essex. He did, however, spend a great deal of time at the inn, watching for coaches to rob. It is said he stabled his favorite horse, Black Bess, at the toll keeper’s cottage. There is still a horse trough at the cottage to this day.
The Spaniards Inn definitely played a part in saving Lord Mansfield’s Kenwood House during the Gordon Riots in 1780. Prior to 1780 the rights of Catholics to move freely or to participate in other aspects of British life, such as joining the army, were restricted. In 1780 these restrictions were relaxed. Protestants in Britain reacted badly to these new laws and showed their displeasure in the time-honored practice of riots and ransacking the homes of the wealthy.
Kenwood House is located across Hampstead Heath from the Spaniards Inn. When the rioters came for Lord Mansfield’s home, the inn’s landlord, Giles Thomas, thwarted their blood lust with a rather interesting tactic. He offered them free booze. He persuaded the mob to quench their thirsts before continuing their rampage and whilst they did he sent for the Horse Guards. The militia showed up and convinced the now inebriated mob to lay down their weapons and go back to London.
The Spaniards Inn was a popular spot for London’s creative artists during the nineteenth century. John Keats (1795-1821) is said to have enjoyed an ale or two in the inn’s gardens. Rumor has it he wrote Ode to a Nightingale there, although it is more likely he wrote it at his house a mere mile and a half away.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) frequented the tavern and sometimes stayed at the inn. George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) is said to have visited the tavern with his friends, like Mary Shelley (1797-1851,) on his way to and from London. William Hogarth (1697-1764) stopped at the inn for food and drink when he visited the Heath. Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) and John Constable (1776-1837) spent time at the Spaniards after wandering the Heath and enjoying the inspiring views of London from the area.
The Spaniards Inn also makes an appearance in Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers and in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In fact, Stoker is said to have pilfered one of the inn’s ghost stories for part of the plot of Dracula.
Ghost stories, you say?
Why yes, there are several associated with the Spaniards. One is cautioned not to walk across the Heath from Kenwood House to the inn, especially at night, as one might be overtaken by Dick Turpin and Black Bess as they race for their favorite safe house. Sometimes, if one stands in front of the inn late at night and listens carefully one will Black Bess’s hoof beats on the road. Some even claim to have seen her in the car park on moonlit nights. Of course, the ghost of Juan Porero, killed by his brother in a duel over a woman and buried in the inn’s garden, is said to haunt the tavern as well. The ghost of a devious local money lender named Black Dick, run down by a coach in the inn yard, is said to tug the sleeves of patrons drinking at the bar. And a woman in a flowing white gown is said to have been seen crossing Hampstead Heath to come to the inn in search of her lover, a highwayman who never arrived for their last assignation.
Today the interior of the Spaniards Inn is very much as it was in the days of Dick Turpin.
The food is outstanding, especially the Sunday roast. But be forewarned, make reservations well ahead of your selected Sunday or you may be relegated to a table in the beer garden as Kristine Hughes Patrone, Andrea Stein, Sandra Mettler and I were one rainy Sunday afternoon. We saw no ghosts, but enjoyed a fantastic Sunday roast with all of the trimmings before going on to visit Kenwood House and to stop and gaze across Hampstead Heath at the view of London in the distance.
Next time we’ll venture out further onto the Heath in the hope of meeting a dashing highwayman or two. One never knows!
There has been a tavern on this site since “God was a lad,” to quote one patron. The current establishment was originally built in 1762, but there was a tavern there even before the current incarnation. Records show a tavern located here as early as the 1730’s. It was once a smaller structure. In the early 19th century the tavern expanded into the neighboring house and the current frontage was added. The present day decor is from the early Victorian era. Its location in the St. James area of London put it in close proximity to the exclusive gentlemen’s clubs like White’s, Brooks, and Boodles.
The tavern’s proximity to Almack’s Assembly Rooms no doubt made it the favorite haunt of young Regency gentlemen forced to attend the Society subscription balls designed to “help” them find a wife. The fare at Almack’s left something to be desired, especially in the beverages department. I suspect many a young gentleman nipped out of Almack’s for a quick brandy or three at The Golden Lion before he had to return to dance with whichever young lady his mother deemed worthy of his attentions.
Another attraction of The Golden Lion was the fashionable hotel next to it. The hotel was established by John Nerot in 1776 in a house which had previously been the town residence of Richard Jones, Earl of Ranelagh. The building was probably built during the reign of Charles II. It had a grand, heavy staircase ornately carved in the fashion of the day. The carved panels depicted images of Apollo and Diana from mythology. The hotel sported no fewer than twenty-four windows across the front of the house.
Anyone who was anyone stayed in Nerot’s and very likely frequented The Golden Lion for some relaxation and good company. Patrons of Nerot’s included Edmund Burke in 1795 and Lord Nelson, who met his wife and his father there after his return from the Battle of the Nile in 1800. In 1811 the hotel was moved to Clifford Street. In 1830 the house was known as a ware room.
In 1835 the building was purchased by the renowned tenor, John Braham. He demolished the hotel and built a theatre designed to showcase his talents as a singer. In addition to Braham, The St. James’ Theatre featured works by Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, and eventually plays by Oscar Wilde and even a farce by Charles Dickens. There was also a popular show featuring performing lions, monkeys, dogs, and goats.
Once the theatre opened in 1835, The Golden Lion enjoyed a booming business from its patrons. In fact, the pub’s upstairs bar was connected to the theatre by a walkway across the alley. The walkway led directly into the establishment’s Circle. And as the theatre catered not only to the wealthiest of London’s society but to anyone who had a the price of a ticket, it would not have been unusual for Society bucks, the theatre’s thespians and crew, and even the lowest of London’s citizens to rub elbows at The Golden Lion. Some well-known patrons of The Golden Lion include Napoleon III and Oscar Wilde.
Among The St. James’ later attendees were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Interesting as one of the later managers of the theatre was the actress Lillie Langtry, Edward VII’s mistress. The last managers of the theatre were Sir Lawrence Olivier and Vivian Leigh. They took over in 1950, but unfortunately a developer obtained the freehold on the building and after an extended public battle that ranged from the newspapers to the Houses of Parliament the theatre closed for the last time in 1957. The theatre was demolished as was the walkway between it and The Golden Lion.
The pub, however, has endured. Nestled amongst large, cold, modern architecture The Golden Lion is a step back in time. The upstairs theatre bar is a monument to the St. James’ Theatre decorated with photos, clippings, and posters from the theatre’s past.
The interior has changed very little from the early Victorian Era. And the pub even comes with its own ghost, a barmaid murdered there in the early 19th century is said to prowl the stairs to the theatre bar in search of her murderer.