Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Slaughter's Coffee House


This Coffee-house, famous as the resort of painters and sculptors, in the last century, was situated at the upper end of the west side of St. Martin's-lane, three doors from Newport-street. Its first landlord was Thomas Slaughter, 1692. Mr. Cunningham tells us that a second Slaughter's (New Slaughter's), was established in the same street about 1760, when the original establishment adopted the name of "Old Slaughter's," by which designation it was known till within a few years of the final demolition of the house to make way for the new avenue between Long-acre and Leicester-square, formed 1843-44. For many years previous to the streets of London being completely paved, "Slaughter's" was called "The Coffee-house on the Pavement." In like manner, "The Pavement," Moor fields, received its distinctive name. Besides being the resort of artists, Old Slaughter's was the house of call for Frenchmen.

St. Martin's-lane was long one of the head-quarters of the artists of the last century. "In the time of Benjamin West," says J. T. Smith, "and before the formation of the Royal Academy, Greek-street, St. Martin's-lane, and Gerard-street, was their colony. Old Slaughter's Coffee-house, in St. Martin's-lane, was their grand resort in the evenings, and Hogarth was a constant visitor." He lived at the Golden Head, on the eastern side of Leicester Fields, in the northern half of the Sabloniere Hotel. The head he cut out himself from pieces of cork, glued and bound together; it was placed over the street-door. At this time, young Benjamin West was living in chambers, in Bedford-street, Covent Garden, and had there set up his easel; he was married, in 1765, at St. Martin's Church. Roubiliac was often to be found at Slaughter's in early life; probably before he gained the patronage of Sir Edward Walpole, through finding and returning to the baronet the pocket-book of bank-notes, which the young maker of monuments had picked up in Vauxhall Gardens. Sir Edward, to remunerate his integrity, and his skill, of which he showed specimens, promised to patronize Roubiliac through life, and he faithfully performed this promise. Young Gainsborough, who spent three years amid the works of the painters in St. Martin's-lane, Hayman, and Cipriani, who were all eminently convivial, were, in all probability, frequenters of Slaughter's. Smith tells us that Quin and Hayman were inseparable friends, and so convivial, that they seldom parted till daylight.

Mr. Cunningham relates that here, "in early life, Wilkie would enjoy a small dinner at a small cost. I have been told by an old frequenter of the house, that Wilkie was always the last dropper-in for a dinner, and that he was never seen to dine in the house by daylight. The truth is, he slaved at his art at home till the last glimpse of daylight had disappeared."

Haydon was accustomed in the early days of his fitful career, to dine here with Wilkie. In his Autobiography, in the year 1808, Haydon writes: "This period of our lives was one of great happiness: painting all day, then dining at the Old Slaughter Chop-house, then going to the Academy until eight, to fill up the evening, then going home to tea—that blessing of a studious man—talking over our respective exploits, what he [Wilkie] had been doing, and what I had done, and then, frequently to relieve our minds fatigued by their eight and twelve hours' work, giving vent to the most extraordinary absurdities. Often have we made rhymes on odd names, and shouted with laughter at each new line that was added. Sometimes lazily inclined after a good dinner, we have lounged about, near Drury-lane or Covent Garden, hesitating whether to go in, and often have I (knowing first that there was nothing I wished to see) assumed a virtue I did not possess, and pretending moral superiority, preached to Wilkie on the weakness of not resisting such temptations for the sake of our art and our duty, and marched him off to his studies, when he was longing to see Mother Goose."

J. T. Smith has narrated some fifteen pages of characteristic anecdotes of the artistic visitors of Old Slaughter's, which he refers to as "formerly the rendezvous of Pope, Dryden, and other wits, and much frequented by several eminently clever men of his day."

Thither came Ware, the architect, who, when a little sickly boy, was apprenticed to a chimney-sweeper, and was seen chalking the street-front of Whitehall, by a gentleman, who purchased the remainder of the boy's time; gave him an excellent education; then sent him to Italy, and, upon his return, employed him, and introduced him to his friends as an architect. Ware was heard to tell this story, while he was sitting to Roubiliac for his bust. Ware built Chesterfield House and several other noble mansions, and compiled a Palladio, in folio: he retained the soot in his skin to the day of his death. He was very intimate with Roubiliac, who was an opposite eastern neighbour of Old Slaughter's. Another architect, Gwynn, who competed with Mylne for designing and building Blackfriars Bridge, was also a frequent visitor at Old Slaughter's, as was Gravelot, who kept a drawing-school in the Strand, nearly opposite to Southampton-street.

Hudson, who painted the Dilettanti portraits; M'Ardell, the mezzotinto-scraper; and Luke Sullivan, the engraver of Hogarth's March to Finchley, also frequented Old Slaughter's; likewise Theodore Gardell, the portrait painter, who was executed for the murder of his landlady; and Old Moser, keeper of the Drawing Academy in Peter's-court. Richard Wilson, the landscape painter, was not a regular customer here: his favourite house was the Constitution, Bedford-street, Covent Garden, where he could indulge in a pot of porter more freely, and enjoy the fun of Mortimer, the painter.

Parry, the Welsh harper, though totally blind, was one of the first draught-players in England, and occasionally played with the frequenters of Old Slaughter's; and here, in consequence of a bet, Roubiliac introduced Nathaniel Smith (father of John Thomas), to play at draughts with Parry; the game lasted about half an hour: Parry was much agitated, and Smith proposed to give in; but as there were bets depending, it was played out, and Smith won. This victory brought Smith numerous challenges; and the dons of the Barn, a public-house, in St. Martin's-lane, nearly opposite the church, invited him to become a member; but Smith declined. The Barn, for many years, was frequented by all the noted players of chess and draughts; and it was there that they often decided games of the first importance, played between persons of the highest rank, living in different parts of the world.

T. Rawle,[26] the inseparable companion of Captain Grose, the antiquary, came often to Slaughter's.

It was long asserted of Slaughter's Coffee-house that there never had been a person of that name as master of the house, but that it was named from its having been opened for the use of the men who slaughtered the cattle for the butchers of Newport Market, in an open space then adjoining. "This," says J. T. Smith, "may be the fact, if we believe that coffee was taken as refreshment by slaughtermen, instead of purl or porter; or that it was so called by the neighbouring butchers in derision of the numerous and fashionable Coffee-houses of the day; as, for instance, 'The Old Man's Coffee-house,' and 'The Young Man's Coffee-house.' Be that as it may, in my father's time, and also within memory of the most aged people, this Coffee-house was called 'Old Slaughter's,' and not The Slaughter, or The Slaughterer's Coffee-house."

In 1827, there was sold by Stewart, Wheatley, and Adlard, in Piccadilly, a picture attributed to Hogarth, for 150 guineas; it was described A Conversation over a Bowl of Punch, at Old Slaughter's Coffee-house, in St. Martin's-lane, and the figures were said to be portraits of the painter, Doctor Monsey, and the landlord, Old Slaughter. But this picture, as J. T. Smith shows, was painted by Highmore, for his father's godfather, Nathaniel Oldham, and one of the artist's patrons; "it is neither a scene at Old Slaughter's, nor are the portraits rightly described in the sale catalogue, but a scene at Oldham's house, at Ealing, with an old schoolmaster, a farmer, the artist Highmore, and Oldham himself."

[26] Rawle was one of his Majesty's accoutrement makers; and after his death, his effects were sold by Hutchins, in King-street, Covent Garden. Among the lots were a helmet, a sword, and several letters, of Oliver Cromwell; also the doublet in which Cromwell dissolved the Long Parliament. Another singular lot was a large black wig, with long flowing curls, stated to have been worn by King Charles II.: it was bought by Suett, the actor, who was a great collector of wigs. He continued to act in this wig for many years, in Tom Thumb, and other pieces, till it was burnt when the theatre at Birmingham was destroyed by fire. Next morning, Suett, meeting Mrs. Booth, the mother of the lively actress S. Booth, exclaimed, "Mrs. Booth, my wig's gone!"

John Timbs
Club Life of London Vol. II
London, 1866