Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 The Devil Tavern


This celebrated Tavern is described in the present work, Vol. I., pp. 10-15, as the meeting-place of the Apollo Club. Its later history is interesting.

Mull Sack, alias John Cottington, the noted highwayman of the time of the Commonwealth, is stated to have been a constant visitor at the Devil Tavern. In the garb and character of a man of fashion, he appears to have levied contributions on the public as a pick-pocket and highwayman, to a greater extent than perhaps any other individual of his fraternity on record. He not only had the honour of picking the pocket of Oliver Cromwell, when Lord Protector, but he afterwards robbed King Charles II., then living in exile at Cologne, of plate valued at £1500. Another of his feats was his robbing the wife of the Lord General Fairfax. "This lady," we are told, "used to go to a lecture on a weekday, to Ludgate Church, where one Mr. Jacomb preached, being much followed by the precisians. Mull Sack, observing this,—and that she constantly wore her watch hanging by a chain from her waist,—against the next time she came there, dressed himself like an officer in the army; and having his comrades attending him like troopers, one of them takes out the pin of a coach-wheel that was going upwards through the gate, by which means, it falling off, the passage was obstructed; so that the lady could not alight at the church-door, but was forced to leave her coach without. Mull Sack, taking advantage of this, readily presented himself to her ladyship; and having the impudence to take her from her gentleman usher, who attended her alighting, led her by the arm into the church; and by the way, with a pair of keen or sharp scissors for the purpose, cut the chain in two, and got the watch clear away: she not missing it till sermon was done, when she was going to see the time of the day." At the Devil Tavern Mull Sack could mix with the best society, whom he probably occasionally relieved of their watches and purses. There is extant a very rare print of him, in which he is represented partly in the garb of a chimney-sweep, his original avocation, and partly in the fashionable costume of the period.[33]

In the Apollo chamber, at the Devil Tavern, were rehearsed, with music, the Court-day Odes of the Poets Laureate: hence Pope, in the Dunciad:

"Back to the Devil the loud echoes roll,

And 'Coll!' each butcher roars at Hockley Hole."

The following epigram on the Odes rehearsals is by a wit of those times:

"When Laureates make Odes, do you ask of what sort?

Do you ask if they're good, or are evil?

You may judge—From the Devil they come to the Court,

And go from the Court to the Devil."

St. Dunstan's, or the Devil Tavern, is mentioned as a house of old repute, in the interlude, Jacke Jugeler, 1563, where Jack, having persuaded his cousin Jenkin,

"As foolish a knave withall,

As any is now, within London wall,"

that he was not himself, thrusts him from his master's door, and in answer to Jenkin's sorrowful question—where his master and he were to dwell, replies,

"At the Devyll yf you lust, I can not tell!"

Ben Jonson being one night at the Devil Tavern, a country gentleman in the company was obtrusively loquacious touching his land and tenements; Ben, out of patience, exclaimed, "What signifies to us your dirt and your clods? Where you have an acre of land I have ten acres of wit!" "Have you so," retorted the countryman, "good Mr. Wise-acre?" "Why, how now, Ben?" said one of the party, "you seem to be quite stung!" "I was never so pricked by a hobnail before," grumbled Ben.

There is a ludicrous reference to this old place in a song describing the visit of James I. to St. Paul's Cathedral on Sunday, 26th of March, 1620:

"The Maior layd downe his mace, and cry'd,

'God save your Grace,

And keepe our King from all evill!'

With all my hart I then wist, the good mace

had been in my fist,

To ha' pawn'd it for supper at the Devill!"

We have already given the famous Apollo "Welcome," but not immortal Ben's Rules, which have been thus happily translated by Alexander Brome, one of the wits who frequented the Devil, and who left Poems and Songs, 1661: he was an attorney in the Lord Mayor's Court:

"Ben Jonson's Sociable Rules for the Apollo.

"Let none but guests, or clubbers, hither come.

Let dunces, fools, sad sordid men keep home.

Let learned, civil, merry men, b' invited,

And modest too; nor be choice ladies slighted.

Let nothing in the treat offend the guests;

More for delight than cost, prepare the feast.

The cook and purvey'r must our palates know;

And none contend who shall sit high or low.

Our waiters must quick-sighted be, and dumb,

And let the drawers quickly hear and come.

Let not our wine be mix'd, but brisk and neat,

Or else the drinkers may the vintners beat.

And let our only emulation be,

Not drinking much, but talking wittily.

Let it be voted lawful to stir up

Each other with a moderate chirping cup;

Let not our company be, or talk too much;

On serious things, or sacred, let's not touch

With sated heads and bellies. Neither may

Fiddlers unask'd obtrude themselves to play.

With laughing, leaping, dancing, jests, and songs,

And whate'er else to grateful mirth belongs,

Let's celebrate our feasts; and let us see

That all our jests without reflection be.

Insipid poems let no man rehearse,

Nor any be compelled to write a verse.

All noise of vain disputes must be forborne,

And let no lover in a corner mourn.

To fight and brawl, like hectors, let none dare,

Glasses or windows break, or hangings tear.

Whoe'er shall publish what's here done or said

From our society must be banishèd;

Let none by drinking do or suffer harm,

And, while we stay, let us be always warm."

We must now say something of the noted hosts. Simon Wadlow appears for the last time, as a licensed vintner, in the Wardmote return, of December, 1626; and the burial register of St. Dunstan's records: "March 30th, 1627, Symon Wadlowe, vintner, was buried out of Fleet-street." On St. Thomas's Day, in the last-named year, the name of "the widow Wadlowe" appears; and in the following year, 1628, of the eight licensed victuallers, five were widows. The widow Wadlowe's name is returned for the last time by the Wardmote on December 21st, 1629.

The name of John Wadlow, apparently the son of old Simon, appears first as a licensed victualler, in the Wardmote return, December 21, 1646. He issued his token, showing on its obverse St. Dunstan holding the devil by his nose, his lower half being that of a satyr, the devil on the signboard was as usual, sable; the origin of the practice being thus satisfactorily explained by Dr. Jortin: "The devils used often to appear to the monks in the figure of Ethiopian boys or men; thence probably the painters learned to make the devil black." Hogarth, in his print of the Burning of the Rumps, represents the hanging of the effigy against the sign-board of the Devil Tavern.

In a ludicrous and boasting ballad of 1650, we read:

"Not the Vintry Cranes, nor St. Clement's Danes,

Nor the Devill can put us down-a."

John Wadlow's name occurs for the last time in the Wardmote return of December, 1660. After the Great Fire, he rebuilt the Sun Tavern, behind the Royal Exchange: he was a loyal man, and appears to have been sufficiently wealthy to have advanced money to the Crown; his autograph was attached to several receipts among the Exchequer documents lately destroyed.

Hollar's Map of London, 1667, shows the site of the Devil Tavern, and its proximity to the barrier designated Temple Bar, when the house had become the resort of lawyers and physicians. In the rare volume of Cambridge Merry Jests, printed in the reign of Charles II., the will of a tavern-hunter has the bequeathment of "ten pounds to be drank by lawyers and physicians at the Devil's Tavern, by Temple Bar."

The Tatler, October 11, 1709, contains Bickerstaff's account of the wedding entertainment at the Devil Tavern, in honour of his sister Jenny's marriage. He mentions "the Rules of Ben's Club in gold letters over the chimney;" and this is the latest notice of this celebrated ode. When, or by whom, the board was taken from "over the chimney," Mr. Burn has failed to discover.

Swift tells Stella that Oct. 12, 1710, he dined at the Devil Tavern with Mr. Addison and Dr. Garth, when the doctor treated.

In 1746, the Royal Society held here their Annual Dinner; and in 1752, concerts of vocal and instrumental music were given in the great room.

A view of the exterior of the Devil Tavern, with its gable-pointed front, engraved from a drawing by Wale, was published in Dodsley's London and its Environs, 1761. The sign-iron bears its pendent sign—the Saint painted as a half-length, and the devil behind him grinning grimly over his shoulder. On the removal of projecting signs, by authority, in 1764, the Devil Tavern sign was placed flat against the front, and there remained till the demolition of the house.

Brush Collins, in March, 1775, delivered for several evenings, in the great room, a satirical lecture on Modern Oratory. In the following year, a Pandemonium Club was held here; and, according to a notice in Mr. Burn's possession, "the first meeting was to be on Monday, the 4th of November, 1776. These devils were lawyers, who were about commencing term, to the annoyance of many a hitherto happy bon-vivant."

From bad to worse, the Devil Tavern fell into disuse, and Messrs. Child, the bankers, purchased the freehold in 1787, for £2800. It was soon after demolished, and the site is now occupied by the houses called Child's-place.

We have selected and condensed these details from Mr. Burn's exhaustive article on the Devil Tavern, in the Beaufoy Catalogue.

There is a token of this tavern, which is very rare. The initials stand for Simon Wadloe, embalmed in Squire Western's favourite air "Old Sir Simon the King:"—"AT THE D. AND DVNSTANS. The representation of the saint standing at his anvil, and pulling the nose of the 'D.' with his pincers.—R. within temple barre. In the field, I. S. W."

[33] Jesse's 'London and its Celebrities.'

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