Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 The Bedford Coffee House in Covent Garden

THE BEDFORD COFFEE-HOUSE IN COVENT GARDEN

This celebrated resort once attracted so much attention as to have published, "Memoirs of the Bedford Coffee-house," two editions, 1751 and 1763. It stood "under the Piazza, in Covent Garden," in the north-west corner, near the entrance to the theatre, and has long ceased to exist.

In The Connoisseur, No. 1, 1754, we are assured that "this Coffee-house is every night crowded with men of parts. Almost every one you meet is a polite scholar and a wit. Jokes and bon-mots are echoed from box to box: every branch of literature is critically examined, and the merit of every production of the press, or performance of the theatres, weighed and determined."

And in the above-named Memoirs, we read that "this spot has been signalized for many years as the emporium of wit, the seat of criticism, and the standard of taste.—Names of those who frequented the house:—Foote, Mr. Fielding, Mr. Woodward, Mr. Leone, Mr. Murphy, Mopsy, Dr. Arne. Dr. Arne was the only man in a suit of velvet in the dog-days."

Stacie kept the Bedford when John and Henry Fielding, Hogarth, Churchill, Woodward, Lloyd, Dr. Goldsmith, and many others met there and held a gossiping shilling rubber club. Henry Fielding was a very merry fellow.

The Inspector appears to have given rise to this reign of the Bedford, when there was placed here the Lion from Button's, which proved so serviceable to Steele, and once more fixed the dominion of wit in Covent Garden.

The reign of wit and pleasantry did not, however, cease at the Bedford at the demise of the Inspector. A race of punsters next succeeded. A particular box was allotted to this occasion, out of the hearing of the lady at the bar, that the double entendres, which were sometimes very indelicate, might not offend her.

The Bedford was beset with scandalous nuisances, of which the following letter, from Arthur Murphy to Garrick, April 10, 1769, presents a pretty picture:

"Tiger Roach (who used to bully at the Bedford Coffee-house because his name was Roach) is set up by Wilkes's friends to burlesque Luttrel and his pretensions. I own I do not know a more ridiculous circumstance than to be a joint candidate with the Tiger. O'Brien used to take him off very pleasantly, and perhaps you may, from his representation, have some idea of this important wight. He used to sit with a half-starved look, a black patch upon his cheek, pale with the idea of murder, or with rank cowardice, a quivering lip, and a downcast eye. In that manner he used to sit at a table all alone, and his soliloquy, interrupted now and then with faint attempts to throw off a little saliva, was to the following effect:—'Hut! hut! a mercer's 'prentice with a bag-wig;—d—n my s—l, if I would not skiver a dozen of them like larks! Hut! hut! I don't understand such airs!—I'd cudgel him back, breast, and belly, for three skips of a louse!—How do you do, Pat! Hut! hut! God's blood—Larry, I'm glad to see you;—'Prentices! a fine thing indeed!—Hut! hut! How do you, Dominick!—D—n my s—l, what's here to do!' These were the meditations of this agreeable youth. From one of these reveries he started up one night, when I was there, called a Mr. Bagnell out of the room, and most heroically stabbed him in the dark, the other having no weapon to defend himself with. In this career the Tiger persisted, till at length a Mr. Lennard brandished a whip over his head, and stood in a menacing attitude, commanding him to ask pardon directly. The Tiger shrank from the danger, and with a faint voice pronounced—'Hut! what signifies it between you and me? Well! well! I ask your pardon,' 'Speak louder, sir; I don't hear a word you say.' And indeed he was so very tall, that it seemed as if the sound, sent feebly from below, could not ascend to such a height. This is the hero who is to figure at Brentford."

Foote's favourite Coffee-house was the Bedford. He was also a constant frequenter of Tom's, and took a lead in the Club held there, and already described.[24]

Dr. Barrowby, the well-known newsmonger of the Bedford, and the satirical critic of the day, has left this whole-length sketch of Foote:—"One evening (he says), he saw a young man extravagantly dressed out in a frock suit of green and silver lace, bag-wig, sword, bouquet, and point-ruffles, enter the room (at the Bedford), and immediately join the critical circle at the upper end. Nobody recognised him; but such was the ease of his bearing, and the point of humour and remark with which he at once took up the conversation, that his presence seemed to disconcert no one, and a sort of pleased buzz of 'who is he?' was still going round the room unanswered, when a handsome carriage stopped at the door; he rose, and quitted the room, and the servants announced that his name was Foote, that he was a young gentleman of family and fortune, a student of the Inner Temple, and that the carriage had called for him on its way to the assembly of a lady of fashion." Dr. Barrowby once turned the laugh against Foote at the Bedford, when he was ostentatiously showing his gold repeater, with the remark—"Why, my watch does not go!" "It soon will go," quietly remarked the Doctor. Young Collins, the poet, who came to town in 1744 to seek his fortune, made his way to the Bedford, where Foote was supreme among the wits and critics. Like Foote, Collins was fond of fine clothes, and walked about with a feather in his hat, very unlike a young man who had not a single guinea he could call his own. A letter of the time tells us that "Collins was an acceptable companion everywhere; and among the gentlemen who loved him for a genius, may be reckoned the Doctors Armstrong, Barrowby, Hill, Messrs. Quin, Garrick, and Foote, who frequently took his opinion upon their pieces before they were seen by the public. He was particularly noticed by the geniuses who frequented the Bedford and Slaughter's Coffee-houses."[25]

Ten years later (1754) we find Foote again supreme in his critical corner at the Bedford. The regular frequenters of the room strove to get admitted to his party at supper; and others got as nearly as they could to the table, as the only humour flowed from Foote's tongue. The Bedford was now in its highest repute.

Foote and Garrick often met at the Bedford, and many and sharp were their encounters. They were the two great rivals of the day. Foote usually attacked, and Garrick, who had many weak points, was mostly the sufferer. Garrick, in early life, had been in the wine trade, and had supplied the Bedford with wine; he was thus described by Foote as living in Durham-yard, with three quarts of vinegar in the cellar, calling himself a wine-merchant. How Foote must have abused the Bedford wine of this period!

One night, Foote came into the Bedford, where Garrick was seated, and there gave him an account of a most wonderful actor he had just seen. Garrick was on the tenters of suspense, and there Foote kept him a full hour. At last Foote, compassionating the suffering listener, brought the attack to a close by asking Garrick what he thought of Mr. Pitt's histrionic talents, when Garrick, glad of the release, declared that if Pitt had chosen the stage, he might have been the first actor upon it.

One night, Garrick and Foote were about to leave the Bedford together, when the latter, in paying the bill, dropped a guinea; and not finding it at once, said, "Where on earth can it be gone to?"—"Gone to the devil, I think," replied Garrick, who had assisted in the search.—"Well said, David!" was Foote's reply; "let you alone for making a guinea go further than anybody else."

Churchill's quarrel with Hogarth began at the shilling rubber club, in the parlour of the Bedford; when Hogarth used some very insulting language towards Churchill, who resented it in the Epistle. This quarrel showed more venom than wit:—"Never," says Walpole, "did two angry men of their abilities throw mud with less dexterity."

Woodward, the comedian, mostly lived at the Bedford, was intimate with Stacie, the landlord, and gave him his (W.'s) portrait, with a mask in his hand, one of the early pictures by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Stacie played an excellent game at whist. One morning, about two o'clock, one of his waiters awoke him to tell him that a nobleman had knocked him up, and had desired him to call his master to play a rubber with him for one hundred guineas. Stacie got up, dressed himself, won the money, and was in bed and asleep, all within an hour.

Of two houses in the Piazza, built for Francis, Earl of Bedford, we obtain some minute information from the lease granted in 1634, to Sir Edmund Verney, Knight Marshal to King Charles I.; these two houses being just then erected as part of the Piazza. There are also included in the lease the "yardes, stables, coach-houses, and gardens now layd, or hereafter to be layd, to the said messuages," which description of the premises seems to identify them as the two houses at the southern end of the Piazza, adjoining to Great Russell-street, and now occupied as the Bedford Coffee-house and Hotel. They are either the same premises, or they immediately adjoin the premises, occupied a century later as the Bedford Coffee-house. (Mr. John Bruce, ArchŠologia, XXXV. 195.) The lease contains a minute specification of the landlord's fittings and customary accommodations of what were then some of the most fashionable residences in the metropolis. In the attached schedule is the use of the wainscot, enumerating separately every piece of wainscot on the premises. The tenant is bound to keep in repair the "Portico Walke" underneath the premises; he is at all times to have "ingresse, egresse and regresse" through the Portico Walk; and he may "expel, put, or drive away out of the said walke any youth or other person whatsoever which shall eyther play or be in the said Portico Walke in offence or disturbance to the said Sir Edmund Verney."

The inventory of the fixtures is curious. It enumerates every apartment, from the beer-cellar, and the strong beer-cellar, the scullery, the pantry, and the buttery, to the dining and withdrawing-rooms. Most of the rooms had casement windows, but the dining-room next Russell-street, and other principal apartments, had "shutting windowes." The principal rooms were also "double creasted round for hangings," and were wainscoted round the chimney-pieces, and doors and windows. In one case, a study, "south towards Russell-street, the whole room was wainscoted, and the hall in part." Most of the windows had "soil-boards" attached; the room-doors had generally "stock locks," in some places "spring plate locks" and spring bolts. There is not mentioned anything approaching to a fire-grate in any of the rooms, except perhaps in the kitchen, where occurs "a travers barre for the chimney."


[24] See "Club at Tom's Coffee-house," vol. i. pp. 159-164.

[25] Memoir by Moy Thomas, prefixed to Collins's Poetical Works. Bell and Daldy, 1858.

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