THATCHED-HOUSE TAVERN ST JAMES'S-STREET
"Come and once more together let us greet
The long-lost pleasures of St. James's-street."—Tickell.
Little more than a century and a half ago the parish of St. James was described as "all the houses and grounds comprehended in a place heretofore called 'St. James's Fields' and the confines thereof." Previously to this, the above tavern was most probably a thatched house. St. James's-street dates from 1670: the poets Waller and Pope lived here; Sir Christopher Wren died here, in 1723; as did Gibbon, the historian, in 1794, at Elmsley's, the bookseller's, at No. 76, at the corner of Little St. James's-street. Fox lived next to Brookes's in 1781; and Lord Byron lodged at No. 8, in 1811. At the south-west end was the St. James's Coffee-house, taken down in 1806; the foreign and domestic news house of the Tatler, and the "fountain-head" of the Spectator. Thus early, the street had a sort of literary fashion favourable to the growth of taverns and clubs.
The Thatched House, which was taken down in 1844 and 1863, had been for nearly two centuries celebrated for its club meetings, its large public room, and its public dinners, especially those of our universities and great schools. It was one of Swift's favourite haunts: in some birthday verses he sings:—
"The Deanery-house may well be matched,
Under correction, with the Thatch'd."
The histories of some of the principal Clubs which met here, will be found in Vol. I.; as the Brothers, Literary, Dilettanti, and others; (besides a list, page 318.)
The Royal Naval Club held its meetings at the Thatched House, as did some art societies and kindred associations. The large club-room faced St. James's-street, and when lit in the evening with wax-candles in large old glass chandeliers, the Dilettanti pictures could be seen from the pavement of the street. Beneath the tavern front was a range of low-built shops, including that of Rowland, or Rouland, the fashionable coiffeur, who charged five shillings for cutting hair, and made a large fortune by his "incomparable Huile Macassar." Through the tavern was a passage to Thatched House-court, in the rear; and here, in Catherine-Wheel-alley, in the last century, lived the good old widow Delany, after the Doctor's death, as noted in her Autobiography, edited by Lady Llanover. Some of Mrs. Delany's fashionable friends then resided in Dean-street, Soho.
Thatched House-court and the alley have been swept away. Elmsley's was removed for the site of the Conservative Club, In an adjoining house lived the famous Betty, "the queen of apple-women," whom Mason has thus embalmed in his Heroic Epistle:—
"And patriot Betty fix her fruitshop here."
It was a famous place for gossip. Walpole says of a story much about, "I should scruple repeating it, if Betty and the waiters at Arthur's did not talk of it publicly." Again, "Would you know what officer's on guard in Betty's fruitshop?"
The Tavern, which has disappeared, was nearly the last relic of old St. James's-street, although its memories survive in various modern Club-houses, and the Thatched House will be kept in mind by the graceful sculpture of the Civil Service Clubhouse, erected upon a portion of the site.
Club Life of London Vol. II