Catering and Entertainment
One major sector of the commercial world was omitted from the last section—the sale of drink. This was a very important part of the metropolitan economy, which may well have employed some 30,000 people. The thirst of Londoners also provided many opportunities for the men and women of the middle station, though it is probable that the majority of drink outlets were too humble to earn their owners any more than an artisan income and often not even that. Indeed, many such places were run by former artisans or their wives, the ambition of workmen to retire and keep a pub being no less strong in the seventeenth century than it is today.
Few artisans could, however, have aspired to take over the city's inns, the largest and most venerable of London's catering establishments, of which there were between 150 and 200, most of them quite easily distinguished from other eating and drinking places by their extensive lodging and stabling facilities.
Many inns also had an important part to play in the country's transport services, being the termini of the carrier and coaching routes which radiated from the capital. This role gave them a particular regional flavour, depending on the routes which they served, and provided a link between the metropolis and the provinces from which coachmen and carriers could be relied on to provide the latest news.
The layout of inns can be seen in contemporary maps, which show that most had a comparatively modest frontage with a gateway which allowed waggons to pass through into a series of yards set well back from the high rentals of the principal streets. These yards were surrounded by buildings containing the taproom or bar, lodging rooms for guests, often with the galleried access so familiar from old prints, coach-houses, stabling, farrier's, smith's and ironmonger's shops. Inns operated as markets as well as places of lodging and refreshment, and many kept warehousing space for goods in transit or as a permanent facility for those with no business premises in London. The Blossom in Laurence Lane and the Cross Keys in Wood Street had stockrooms for twenty-four separate provincial hosiers by the 1760s and many other provincial businessmen found it convenient to organize their businesses in this way.
The social role played by inns in country towns was normally filled in London by the taverns, the most up-market drinking establishments, where Londoners went for good food and drink and lively company. Taverns sold wine almost exclusively and they were also the fashionable restaurants of the day, most of them offering a fixed-price 'ordinary' for their clientèle, a very convenient arrangement thought Samuel Pepys , 'because a man knows what he hath to pay'. The ordinary normally consisted of plain English fare, but our period also sees the beginning of that fondness for French cuisine which has been a feature of eating-out in London ever since. A passion for things French might simply involve the disguising of bad meat by a bad sauce, as Jonathan Swift discovered in 1710 when he had 'a neck of mutton dressed à la Maintenon, that the dog could not eat'. It could also involve outrageous prices, as Ned Ward warned his readers: 'Every fop with a small fortune, who attempts to counterfeit quality, and is fool enough to bestow twenty shillings worth of sauce upon ten penniworth of meat, resorts to one of
these ordinaries.' But London, or at least the West End, was full of fops with small fortunes and the French ordinaries prospered.
Most taverns had a big ground-floor room called the barroom, buttery or simply the tavern. Here was the place for general eating and drinking, and some idea of contemporary drinking habits can be gleaned from such items as bar-boards or score-boards for marking up credit; gallon, quart and pint measuring pots for serving out wine; 'drinking towells', presumably for clearing up the mess; and chamber pots indoors and pissing cisterns in the yard. The most striking aspect of the rest of the tavern was the large number of private drinking-rooms, which might be used for business meetings, gambling or amorous assignations. Each room would have one or more tables, several chairs and nearly always its own fire, while the better quality rooms had carpets, window-curtains, hangings, pictures and other ornaments. Most taverns also had at least one very large and handsomely furnished private room which could be used for social, business or political meetings, such as the best room in the Crown in Threadneedle Street, which was used for suppers by Fellows of the Royal Society after their meetings.
The main working quarters of a tavern, apart from the bar, were the kitchens and the cellars and vaults. The kitchens usually had an impressive range of equipment, with ten or more spits and over half a ton of pewter listed in their inventories. However, it was the wine in the cellars which dominated the capital investment made by tavern-keepers. The wine stocks of the twenty tavern-keepers in our sample averaged over £1000, this often being more than the net worth of the owner. Canary and, particularly, claret were the most popular wines in the early part of our period but, from 1678 onwards, government policy was to create an enforced change in English taste, as the import of French wines was either prohibited or subject to very high duties. In the long run, this policy worked in favour of the wines of Spain, Portugal and Madeira, though many tavernkeepers still kept French wines even during periods of prohibition and the English taste for claret was not easily to be eradicated.
A challenge to claret and canary, and indeed to taverns as a
whole, came from the coffee-house, which developed to serve essentially the same clientèle. This by-product of England's trade with the Levant first appeared in London in 1652 and was immediately successful. Ten years later, there were eighty-two coffee-houses in the City alone and many more in the rest of the metropolis, while Londoners wondered how they had ever been able to do without them. Coffee-houses were cheap—a penny gained admission for anyone respectably dressed—and they offered a simple, but valuable, range of amenities: coffee as a morning drink instead of 'ale, beer or wine, which by the dizziness they cause in the brain, make many unfit for business'; pipes and tobacco for the smoker; newspapers and gossip for the curious; and an address for those who did not want to stay at home all day. Indeed, as Macaulay noted, the coffee-house was the home of many Londoners: 'Those who wished to find a gentleman commonly asked, not whether he lived in Fleet Street or Chancery Lane, but whether he frequented the Grecian or the Rainbow.
The typical coffee-house was in fact a coffee-room, a single large room with one or two long tables round which the clients sat and talked or read the newspapers which were on display. Further useful information could be gleaned from the broadsheets and advertisements with which the walls were often adorned. Presiding over the entertainment would be the proprietor, or more often his handsome wife, while boys would distribute dishes of coffee, pipes and tobacco. Sometimes, the atmosphere would be one of sepulchral calm, quiet conversation and the occasional flash of wit. Sometimes, it was one of pandemonium. 'In we went, where a parcel of mudling muckworms were as busie as so many rats in an old cheese-loft, some going, some coming, some scribbling, some talking, some drinking, some smoaking, others jangling and the whole room stinking of tobacco like a Dutch scoot or a boatswains cabbin.
Something of the same atmosphere could often be found in the alehouse, the forerunner of the modern pub. In the alehouse kept in Little Moorfields by Thomas Crooke, for instance, you could drink his home-brewed beer in the parlour or the 'great room', but you would also be able to enjoy most of the extraneous facilities offered by a coffee-house, as can be seen from his unpaid debts for tobacco, pipes, newspapers and
candles. Crooke would have been unusual in brewing his own beer, most of which was supplied by the common brewers. However, with nearly 6000 alehouses in the metropolis by the 1730s, there was room for a little individuality and alehouses came in all sorts, as is indicated by the varied nomenclature which was used by contemporaries. A dive, boozing ken or tippling house does not sound as though it is in quite the same class as even an alehouse, let alone a public house, an expression which was just coming in.
Most customers of alehouses belonged to the 'mechanick part of mankind', who found there many other services apart from a plentiful supply of drink. Many alehouses offered lodging on a permanent or temporary basis. Others served as a focus for workers in a particular trade, providing a club-room for communal entertainment and operating as a 'house of call' in which information about possible employment could be obtained. Other publicans enhanced their income by serving as the poor man's banker, lending money on the security of pawns or serving beer on tick until the Saturday pay-day. Most alehouses also served food, the usual fare being bread and cheese. However, some establishments combined the functions of an alehouse and a cook-shop, an important part of the London eating scene, which had once been the monopoly of the Company of Cooks but which, by our period, had been invaded by all-comers.
At one level, the cook-shop offered meals similar to those served at the tavern ordinary. Misson gives a good description of a high-class establishment: 'Generally four spits, one over another carry round each five or six pieces of butchers (never anything else; if you would have a fowl or a pidgeon you must bespeak it) meat, beef, mutton, veal, pork and lamb. You have what quantity you please cut off, fat, lean, much or little done, with this a little salt and mustard upon the side of a plate, and a bottle of beer and a roll, and there is your whole feast.' At a much lower level, the cook-shop provided cheap, hot meals for the poor. Roderick Random visited one situated in a cellar where he was 'almost suffocated with the steams of boil'd beef, and surrounded by a company consisting chiefly of hackney-coachmen, chairmen, draymen, and a few footmen out of place, or on board wages, who sat eating shin of beef, tripe, cow-heel
or sausages at separate boards, covered with cloths which turned my stomach'. He may not have been delighted with the company, but both food and price were delicious, 2 1/2d. for shin of beef, small beer and bread.
The last and lowest form of drinking establishment was the brandy or dram shop, the numbers of which began to expand rapidly as small shopkeepers and poor housekeepers realized that an investment in a few gallons of spirits and some glasses could add some easily earned pennies or shillings to their weekly income. In 1739, at the height of the gin craze, William Maitland claimed that there were 8659 brandy-shops in the metropolis. He showed, as one might expect, that the density of brandy-shops was greatest in poor areas, there being one for every eight houses in the East End and Southwark and only one in thirty-nine in the City, where the density of taverns and coffee-houses was correspondingly higher. The dram-shops do not seem to have provided any of those elementary comforts which could be found in even the poorest class of alehouse. They existed in the dreariest of surroundings, in damp cellars or back rooms, in sheds and holes in the wall. Here, there were no tables and benches, just a shop counter from which the spirits might be dispensed and a pile of straw for those who could drink no more.
There seems little doubt that drinking, often to excess, was the main entertainment of contemporary Londoners. There were, however, many other things that they could do to amuse themselves. The drink outlets themselves often offered music and dancing, some being specifically described as 'music houses', while many pandered to the Londoner's love of the curious and bizarre. A mermaid or a dancing bear soon drew in thirsty customers while, in the mid-1680s, the great coaching inn of the Belle Sauvage on Ludgate Hill was making £15 a day from a rhinoceros, a marvel indeed, for which the management charged is. for a look and 2s. for a ride.
Taverns and alehouses also provided facilities for games such as cards, dominoes and backgammon, while some had billiardrooms and bowling alleys. Gambling was in fact second only to drinking as a London amusement and it took place in every possible sort of venue, from the Court to taverns and the street, Daniel Defoe proposing in 1725 that 'gaming at orange and
gingerbread-barrows should be abolish'd'. There were also specialist gaming-houses, whose owners were thought to have huge fortunes, one former drawer from a tavern being said to be worth £60,000 after a few years as the proprietor of a faro table in Covent Garden. The houses were well organized, each having 'a commissioner, always a proprietor, who looks in of a night, a director who superintends the room, an operator who deals the cards . . . two crowpees who watch the cards and gather the money for the bank, two puffs who have money given them to decoy others to play, a squib, a puff of a lower rank', as well as a waiter, an usher, a porter and an orderly man 'who walks up and down the outside of the door to give notice . . . of constables'.
Further amusement was provided by the various forms of animal baiting sports which were so rife in the city, such as the rat-pits where punters betted on how many rats a dog could kill in a given time, the cock-pits and the bull and bear baiting establishments. Cock-fighting was a very popular sport which drew its audience from the whole gamut of London's social hierarchy, as Samuel Pepys noted when he visited the Shoe Lane cock-pit in December 1663: 'But Lord! to see the strange variety of people, from Parliament men . . . to the poorest 'prentices, bakers, brewers, butchers, draymen, and what not; and all these fellows one with another cursing and betting.' Pepys also went to the Bankside Bear Gardens in August 1666 'and saw some good sport . . . but it is a very rude and nasty pleasure', sentiments which were echoed rather more strongly a few years later by Evelyn, who left the bear-baiting early, 'most heartily weary of the rude and dirty pastime'. Such sentiments were not common, however, and if appetites did become jaded by the antics of the bulls and bears, the proprietors had the answer, introducing an African tiger which was baited by six bull and bear dogs or a leopard to be baited to death in the bear-garden at Soho Square, the audience paying 2s.6d., 5s . or 10s.6d. for a ringside seat. With admission charges exactly the same as at the opera, it would seem that it was not just rude and nasty people who paid to watch these spectacles.
The bear-baiting arenas were also increasingly used for prize fights where men would fight for large purses with a variety of weapons. As prize fighting became more popular, purpose-built
amphitheatres were erected to stage the sport, of which the best known was Figg's Amphitheatre near Cavendish Square. 'Here, commonly once or twice a week, is a challenge between two champions, who, like the Roman gladiators, fight at back-sword and other weapons, and very cruelly wound one another. There is also wrestling and playing at cudgels; and what is still more to be admired, women often, like intrepid amazons, appear upon the stage, and with equal skill and courage fight with the same weapons men use. This commonly draws much company.'
Rather less savage entertainment could be had by listening to music. Concerts where one paid to hear good music made their first tentative start in the 1670s and, by the reign of Queen Anne, several places were putting on performances on a weekly or more frequent basis, the most famous being Thomas Hickford's Great Room off the Haymarket, which opened in 1691, and the concert room in York Buildings, which had been opened by musicians 'determined to take the business in their own hands'. Roger North said that 'all the quality and beau mond' went to York Buildings and the proprietors made sure that it stayed that way by charging 5s. or as much as a guinea on special occasions. The concert room held 200 comfortably, so that the musicians could expect a reasonable return for their labours.
If you wanted to do more than just listen to music you could go dancing, which was another very popular form of entertainment in Augustan London. The dancing masters were familiar figures, moving from house to house to teach the children (and often the adults as well), despised for their supposed effeminacy but in constant demand for the social graces which they were able to impart. Many enhanced their incomes by running public dances at their own schools or at such places as the City Livery Halls, which were let out on a regular basis for this purpose. There were also much more public hops at the spas which flourished on the outskirts of London. Lambeth Wells, for instance, opened on Easter Monday and 'had public days on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with musick from seven in the morning till sunset; on other days till two. Admission 3d.' Sadler's Wells and its close neighbour and rival Islington Spa or the New Tunbridge Wells were other favourites for
music and dancing. Ned Ward describes a day out at Islington in 1699 in his salacious poem, A Walk to Islington, and provides one with a vivid picture of the crowds of citizens and their wives, apprentices, law students and domestic servants who mingled with members of the lower and criminal classes who flocked to such places for amusement and profit.
Music and dancing were also increasingly important aspects of the entertainment offered by the London theatres, both before, after and during plays, and in the opera, which became more or less permanently established in London in the early eighteenth century. London had only two theatres in the first half of our period and only one between 1682 and 1695, but there was some expansion in the reign of Queen Anne and in the 1720s, so that there were six theatres by the time that Covent Garden opened in 1732, not to mention a considerable amount of fringe theatre in taverns and other venues. All this became increasingly popular with the men and women of the middle station as time went on, few middling people going to the theatre in the early part of our period, hardly surprisingly since so many of the plays performed on the Restoration stage were designed to mock the pretensions of the cits and to insult the honour and taste of their wives.
The theatre, like other forms of entertainment, offered scope for the entrepreneur, most theatre buildings being built and owned by investors who received an income of so much per acting day from the theatrical companies. These companies were often organized on an equity basis, with a small number of sharing actors and a much larger number of actors, dancers, musicians and non-acting personnel on salaries. Rewards were on the whole good. In the 1690s, for instance, the leading actor Thomas Betterton, who had withdrawn from a sharing agreement, was being paid £5 a week and an annual present of 50 guineas, and other actors and actresses got wages from £4 down to £1, while an apprentice actor like the young Colley Cibber got 10s., incomes which suggest that the leading actors and actresses were members of the middle station in material terms, even if by inclination they aspired to the West End and in actuality they belonged to their traditional demi-monde.
London, then, was well provided with entertainment, as befitted a great city, which has been described by one historian
as 'a centre of conspicuous consumption'. The most conspicuous consumers were the aristocracy and gentlemen of the West End and their hangers-on, who seemed to have little other purpose in life, but the poor had a great thirst as well, all grist to the mill of the men and women of the middle station, who might well find that running a tavern, a bear-pit or a gaming-house could be just as profitable as any other type of business in the metropolis.