KENSINGTON AND BROMPTON TAVERNS
Kensington, on the Great Western road, formerly had its large inns. The coffee-house west of the Palace Road was much resorted to as a tea-drinking place, handy to the gardens.
Kensington, to this day, retains its memorial of the residence of Addison at Holland House, from the period of his marriage. The thoroughfare from the Kensington Road to Notting Hill is named Addison Road. At Holland House are shown the table upon which the Essayist wrote; his reputed portrait; and the chamber in which he died.
It has been commonly stated and believed that Addison's marriage with the Countess of Warwick was a most unhappy match; and that, to drown his sorrow, and escape from his termagant wife, he would often slip away from Holland House to the White Horse Inn, which stood at the corner of Lord Holland's Lane, and on the site of the present Holland Arms Inn. Here Addison would enjoy his favourite dish of a fillet of veal, his bottle, and perhaps a friend. He is also stated to have had another way of showing his spite to the Countess, by withdrawing the company from Button's Coffee-house, set up by her Ladyship's old servant. Moreover, Addison is accused of having taught Dryden to drink, so as to hasten his end: how doubly "glorious" old John must have been in his cups. Pope also states that Addison kept such late hours that he was compelled to quit his company. But both these anecdotes are from Spence, and are doubted; and they have done much injury to Addison's character. Miss Aikin, in her Life of Addison, endeavours to invalidate these imputations, by reference to the sobriety of Addison's early life. He had a remarkably sound constitution, and could, probably, sit out his companions, and stop short of actual intoxication; indeed, it was said that he was only warmed into the utmost brilliancy of table conversation, by the time that Steele had rendered himself nearly unfit for it. Miss Aikin refers to the tone and temper, the correctness of taste and judgment of Addison's writings, in proof of his sobriety; and doubts whether a man, himself stained with the vice of intoxication, would have dared to stigmatize it as in his 569th Spectator. The idea that domestic unhappiness led him to contract this dreadful habit, is then repudiated; and the opposite conclusion supported by the bequest of his whole property to his lady. "Is it conceivable," asks Miss Aikin, "that any man would thus 'give and hazard all he had,' even to his precious only child, in compliment to a woman who should have rendered his last years miserable by her pride and petulance, and have driven him out from his home, to pass his comfortless evenings in the gross indulgence of a tavern." Our amiable biographer, therefore, equally discredits the stories of Addison's unhappy marriage, and of his intemperate habits.
The White Horse was taken down many years since. The tradition of its being the tavern frequented by Addison, was common in Kensington when Faulkner printed his History, in 1820.
There was a celebrated visitor at Holland House who, many years later, partook of "the gross indulgence." Sheridan was often at Holland House in his latter days; and Lady Holland told Moore that he used to take a bottle of wine and a book up to bed with him always; the former alone intended for use. In the morning, he breakfasted in bed, and had a little brandy or rum in his tea or coffee; made his appearance between one or two, and pretending important business, used to set out for town, but regularly stopped at the Adam and Eve public-house for a dram, and there ran up a long bill, which Lord Holland had to pay. This was the old roadside inn, long since taken down.
When the building for the Great Exhibition of 1851 was in course of construction, Alexis Soyer, the celebrated cook from the Reform Club, hired for a term, Gore House, and converted Lady Blessington's well-appointed mansion and grounds into a sort of large restaurant, which our poetical cook named "the Symposium." The house was ill planned for the purpose, and underwent much grotesque decoration and bizarre embellishment, to meet Soyer's somewhat unorthodox taste; for his chief aim was to show the public "something they had never seen before." The designation of the place—Symposium—led to a dangerous joke: "Ah! I understand," said a wag, "impose-on-'em." Soyer was horrified, and implored the joker not to name his witticism upon 'Change in the City, but he disregarded the restaurateur's request, and the pun was often repeated between Cornhill and Kensington.
In the reconstruction and renovation of the place, Soyer was assisted by his friend Mr. George Augustus Sala, who, some years after, when he edited Temple Bar, described in his very clever manner, what he saw and thought, whilst for "many moons he slept, and ate, and drank, and walked, and talked, in Gore House, surrounded by the very strangest of company":—
"From February to mid-March a curious medley of carpenters, scene-painters, plumbers, glaziers, gardeners, town-travellers for ironmongers, wine-merchants, and drapers, held high carnival in the place. By-and-by came dukes and duchesses, warriors and statesmen, ambassadors, actors, artists, authors, quack-doctors, ballet-dancers, journalists, Indian princes, Irish members, nearly all that was odd and all that was distinguished, native or foreign, in London town. They wandered up and down the staircases, and in and out of the saloons, quizzing, and talking, and laughing, and flirting sometimes in sly corners. They signed their names in a big book, blazing with gold and morocco, which lay among shavings on a carpenter's bench in the library. Where is that wondrous collection of autographs, that Libro d'Oro, now? Mr. Keeley's signature followed suit to that of Lord Carlisle. Fanny Cerito inscribed her pretty name, with that of 'St. Leon' added, next to the signature of the magnificent Duchess of Sutherland. I was at work with the whitewashers on the stairs, and saw Semiramis sweep past. Baron Brunnow met Prof. Holloway on the neutral ground of a page of autographs. Jules Janin's name came close to the laborious paraphe of an eminent pugilist. Members of the American Congress found themselves in juxtaposition with Frederick Douglas and the dark gentleman who came as ambassador from Hayti. I remember one Sunday, during that strange time, seeing Mr. Disraeli, Madame Doche, the Author of Vanity Fair, a privy councillor, a Sardinian attaché, the Marquis of Normanby, the late Mr. Flexmore the clown, the Editor of Punch, and the Wizard of the North, all pressing to enter the whilom boudoir of the Blessington.
"Meanwhile, I and the whitewashers were hard at work. We summoned upholsterers, carvers and gilders to our aid. Troops of men in white caps and jackets began to flit about the lower regions. The gardeners were smothering themselves with roses in the adjacent parterres. Marvellous erections began to rear their heads in the grounds of Gore House. The wilderness had become, not exactly a paradise, but a kind of Garden of Epicurus, in which some of the features of that classical bower of bliss were blended with those of the kingdom of Cockaigne, where pigs are said to run about ready roasted with silver knives and forks stuck in them, and crying, 'Come, eat us; our crackling is delicious, and the sage-and-onions with which we are stuffed distils an odour as sweet as that of freshly gathered violets.' Vans laden with wines, with groceries, with plates and dishes, with glasses and candelabra, and with bales of calico, and still more calico, were perpetually arriving at Gore House. The carriages of the nobility and gentry were blocked up among railway goods-vans and Parcels Delivery carts. The authorities of the place were obliged to send for a detective policeman to mount permanent guard at the Gore, for the swell-mob had found us out, and flying squadrons of felonry hung on the skirts of our distinguished visitors, and harassed their fobs fearfully. Then we sent forth advertisements to the daily papers, and legions of mothers, grandmothers, and aunts brought myriads of newly-washed boys; some chubby and curly-haired, some lanky and straight-locked, from whom we selected the comelier youths, and put them into picturesque garbs, confected for us by Mr. Nicoll. Then we held a competitive examination of pretty girls; and from those who obtained the largest number of marks (of respect and admiration) we chose a bevy of Hebes, whose rosy lips, black eyes and blue eyes, fair hair and dark hair, very nearly drove me crazy in the spring days of 1851.
"And by the end of April we had completely metamorphosed Gore House. I am sure that poor Lady Blessington would not have known her coquettish villa again had she visited it; and I am afraid she would not have been much gratified to see that which the upholsterers, the whitewashers, the hangers of calico, and your humble servant, had wrought. As for the venerable Mr. Wilberforce, who, I believe, occupied Gore House some years before Lady Blessington's tenancy, he would have held up his hands in pious horror to see the changes we had made. A madcap masquerade of bizarre taste and queer fancies had turned Gore House completely inside out. In honest truth, we had played the very dickens with it. The gardens were certainly magnificent; and there was a sloping terrace of flowers in the form of a gigantic shell, and literally crammed with the choicest roses, which has seldom, I believe, been rivalled in ornamental gardening. But the house itself! The library had been kindly dealt by, save that from the ceiling were suspended a crowd of quicksilvered glass globes, which bobbed about like the pendent ostrich-eggs in an Eastern mosque. There was a room called the 'Floriana,' with walls and ceiling fluted with blue and white calico, and stuck all over with spangles. There was the 'Doriana,' also in calico, pink and white, and approached by a portal called the 'door of the dungeon of mystery,' which was studded with huge nails, and garnished with fetters in the well-known Newgate fashion. Looking towards the garden were the Alhambra Terrace and the Venetian Bridge. The back drawing-room was the Night of Stars, or the Rêverie de l'Etoile polaire; the night being represented by a cerulean ceiling painted over with fleecy clouds, and the firmament by hangings of blue gauze spangled with stars cut out of silver-foil paper! Then there was the vestibule of Jupiter Tonans, the walls covered with a salmagundi of the architecture of all nations, from the Acropolis to the Pyramids of Egypt, from Temple Bar to the Tower of Babel. The dining-room became the Hall of Jewels, or the Salon des Larmes de Danaë, and the 'Shower of Gems,' with a grand arabesque perforated ceiling, gaudy in gilding and distemper colours. Upstairs there was a room fitted up as a Chinese pagoda, another as an Italian cottage overlooking a vineyard and the Lake of Como; another as a cavern of ice in the Arctic regions, with sham columns imitating icebergs, and a stuffed white fox—bought cheap at a sale—in the chimney. The grand staircase belonged to me, and I painted its walls with a grotesque nightmare of portraits of people I had never seen, and hundreds more upon whom I had never set eyes save in the print-shops, till I saw the originals grinning, or scowling, or planted in blank amazement before the pictorial libels on the walls.
"In the gardens Sir Charles Fox built for us a huge barrack of wood, glass, and iron, which we called the 'Baronial Hall,' and which we filled with pictures and lithographs, and flags and calico, in our own peculiar fashion. We hired a large grazing-meadow at the back of the gardens, from a worthy Kensington cowkeeper, and having fitted up another barrack at one end of it, called it the 'Pré D'Orsay.' We memorialized the Middlesex magistrates, and, after a great deal of trouble, got a licence enabling us to sell wines and spirits, and to have music and dancing if we so chose. We sprinkled tents and alcoves all over our gardens, and built a gipsies' cavern, and a stalactite pagoda with double windows, in which gold and silver fish floated. And finally, having engaged an army of pages, cooks, scullions, waiters, barmaids, and clerks of the kitchen, we opened this monstrous place on the first of May, 1851, and bade all the world come and dine at Soyer's Symposium."
However, the ungrateful public disregarded the invitation, and poor Alexis Soyer is believed to have lost 4000l. by this enterprise. He died a few years after, at the early age of fifty. His friend Mr. Sala has said of him with true pathos:—"He was a vain man; but he was good and kind and charitable. There are paupers and beggars even among French cooks, and Alexis always had his pensioners and his alms-duns, to whom his hand was ever open. He was but a cook, but he was my dear and good friend."
We remember to have heard Soyer say of the writer of these truthful words, in reply to an inquiry as to the artist of the figures upon the staircase-walls, "He is a very clever fellow, of whom you will hear much,"—a prediction which has been fully verified.
Brompton, with its two centuries of Nursery fame, lasted to our time; southward, among "the Groves," were the Florida, Hoop and Toy, and other tea-garden taverns; there remains the Swan, with its bowling-green.
Club Life of London Vol. II