Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Knightsbridge Taverns


Knightsbridge was formerly a noted "Spring-Garden," with several taverns, of gay and questionable character. Some of the older houses have historical interest. The Rose and Crown, formerly the Oliver Cromwell, has been licensed above three hundred years. It is said to be the house which sheltered Wyat, while his unfortunate Kentish followers rested on the adjacent green. A tradition of the locality also is that Cromwell's body-guard was once quartered here, the probability of which is carefully examined in Davis's Memorials of Knightsbridge. The house has been much modernized of late years; "but," says Mr. Davis, "enough still remains in its peculiar chimneys, oval-shaped windows, the low rooms, large yard, and extensive stabling, with the galleries above, and office-like places beneath, to testify to its antiquity and former importance." The Rising Sun, hard by, is a seventeenth century red-brick house, which formerly had much carved work in the rooms, and a good staircase remains.

The Fox and Bull is the third house that has existed under the same sign. The first was Elizabethan with carved and panelled rooms, ornamented ceiling; and it was not until 1799, that the immense fireplaces and dog-irons were removed for stove-grates. This house was pulled down about 1836, and the second immediately built upon its site; this stood till the Albert-gate improvements made the removal of the tavern business to its present situation.[48]

The original Fox and Bull is traditionally said to have been used by Queen Elizabeth on her visits to Lord Burghley, at Brompton. Its curious sign is said to be the only one of the kind existing. Here for a long time was maintained that Queen Anne style of society, where persons of parts and reputation were to be met with in public rooms. Captain Corbet was for a long time its head; Mr. Shaw, of the War Office, supplied the London Gazette; and Mr. Harris, of Covent Garden, his play-bills. Sir Joshua Reynolds is said to have been occasionally a visitor; as also Sir W. Wynn, the patron of Ryland. George Morland, too, was frequently here. The sign was once painted by Sir Joshua, and hung till 1807, when it was blown down and destroyed in a storm. The house is referred to in the Tatler, No. 259.

At about where William-street joins Lowndes-square was "an excellent Spring Garden." Among the entries of the Virtuosi, or St. Luke's Club, established by Vandyke, is the following: "Paid and spent at Spring Gardens, by Knightsbridge, forfeiture, 3l. 15s." Pepys being at Kensington, "on a frolic," June 16, 1664, "lay in his drawers, and stockings, and waistcoat, till five of the clock, and so up, walked to Knightsbridge, and there eat a mess of cream, and so to St. James's," etc. And, April 24, 1665, the King being in the Park, and sly Pepys being doubtful of being seen in any pleasure, stepped out of the Park to Knightsbridge, and there ate and drank in the coach.

Pepys also speaks of "the World's End," at Knightsbridge, which Mr. Davis thinks could only have been the sign adopted for the Garden; and Pepys, being too soon to go into Hyde Park, went on to Knightsbridge, and there ate and drank at the World's End; and elsewhere the road going "to the World's End, a drinking-house by the Park, and there merry, and so home late." Congreve, in his Love for Love, alludes, in a woman's quarrel, to the place, between Mrs. Frail and Mrs. Foresight, in which the former says: "I don't doubt but you have thought yourself happy in a hackney-coach before now. If I had gone to Knightsbridge, or to Chelsea, or to Spring Garden, or Barn Elms, with a man alone, something might have been said." The house belonging to this Garden stood till about 1826.

Knightsbridge Grove, approached through a stately avenue of trees from the road, was a sporting-house. Here the noted Mrs. Cornelys endeavoured to retrieve her fortunes, after her failure at Carlisle House. In 1785, she gave up her precarious trade. "Ten years after," says Davis's Memorials of Knightsbridge, "to the great surprise of the public, she re-appeared at Knightsbridge as Mrs. Smith, a retailer of asses' milk. A suite of breakfast-rooms was opened; but her former influence could not be recovered. The speculation utterly failed; and at length she was confined to the Fleet Prison. There she ended her shallow career, dying August 19, 1797."

A once notorious house, the Swan, still exists on the Knightsbridge-road, a little beyond the Green. It is celebrated by Tom Brown. In Otway's Soldier's Fortune, 1681, Sir Davy Dunce says:—

"I have surely lost, and ne'er shall find her more. She promised me strictly to stay at home till I came back again; for ought I know, she may be up three pair of stairs in the Temple now, or, it may be, taking the air as far as Knightsbridge, with some smooth-faced rogue or another; 'tis a damned house that Swan,—that Swan at Knightsbridge is a confounded house."

To the Feathers, which stood to the south of Grosvenor-row, an odd anecdote is attached. A Lodge of Odd Fellows, or some similar society, was in the habit of holding its meetings in a room at the Feathers; and on one occasion, when a new member was being initiated in the mysteries thereof, in rushed two persons, whose abrupt and unauthorized entrance threw the whole assemblage into an uproar. Summary punishment was proposed by an expeditious kick into the street; but, just as it was about to be bestowed, the secretary recognized one of the intruders as George, Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV. Circumstances instantly changed: it indeed was he, out on a nocturnal excursion; and accordingly it was proposed and carried that the Prince and his companion should be admitted members. The Prince was chairman the remainder of the evening; and the chair in which he sat, ornamented, in consequence, with the plume, is still preserved in the parlour of the modern inn in Grosvenor-street West, and over it hangs a coarsely-executed portrait of the Prince in the robes of the order. The inn, the hospital, and various small tenements were removed in 1851, when the present stately erections were immediately commenced. On the ground being cleared away, various coins, old horse-shoes, a few implements of warfare, and some human remains were discovered.[49]

Jenny's Whim, another celebrated place of entertainment, has only just entirely disappeared; it was on the site of St. George's-row. Mr. Davis thinks it to have been named from the fantastic way in which Jenny, the first landlady, laid out the garden. Angelo says, it was established by a firework-maker, in the reign of George I. There was a large breakfast-room, and the grounds comprised a bowling-green, alcoves, arbours, and flower-beds; a fish-pond, a cock-pit, and a pond for duck-hunting. In the Connoisseur, May 15, 1775, we read: "The lower sort of people had their Ranelaghs and their Vauxhalls as well as the quality. Perrot's inimitable grotto may be seen, for only calling for a pint of beer; and the royal diversion of duck-hunting may be had into the bargain, together with a decanter of Dorchester, for your sixpence, at Jenny's Whim." The large garden here had some amusing deceptions; as by treading on a spring—taking you by surprise—up started different figures, some ugly enough to frighten you—a harlequin, a Mother Shipton, or some terrific animal. In a large piece of water facing the tea-alcoves, large fish or mermaids were showing themselves above the surface. Horace Walpole, in his Letters, occasionally alludes to Jenny's Whim; in one to Montagu he spitefully says—"Here (at Vauxhall) we picked up Lord Granby, arrived very drunk from Jenny's Whim."

Towards the close of the last century, Jenny's Whim began to decline; its morning visitors were not so numerous, and opposition was also powerful. It gradually became forgotten, and at last sank to the condition of a beer-house, and about 1804 the business altogether ceased.[50]

Jenny's Whim has more than once served the novelist for an illustration; as in Maids of Honour, a Tale of the Times of George the First:—"There were gardens," says the writer, mentioning the place, "attached to it, and a bowling-green; and parties were frequently made, composed of ladies and gentlemen, to enjoy a day's amusement there in eating strawberries and cream, syllabubs, cake, and taking other refreshments, of which a great variety could be procured, with cider, perry, ale, wine, and other liquors in abundance. The gentlemen played at bowls—some employed themselves at skittles; whilst the ladies amused themselves at a swing, or walked about the garden, admiring the sunflowers, hollyhocks, the Duke of Marlborough cut out of a filbert-tree, and the roses and daisies, currants and gooseberries, that spread their alluring charms in every path.

"This was a favourite rendezvous for lovers in courting time—a day's pleasure at Jenny's Whim being considered by the fair one the most enticing enjoyment that could be offered her; and often the hearts of the most obdurate have given way beneath the influence of its attractions. Jenny's Whim, therefore, had always, during the season, plenty of pleasant parties of young people of both sexes. Sometimes all its chambers were filled, and its gardens thronged by gay and sentimental visitors."[51]

[48] Stolen Marriages were the source of the old Knightsbridge tavern success; and ten books of marriages and baptisms solemnized here, 1658 to 1752, are preserved. Trinity Chapel, the old edifice, was one of the places where these irregular marriages were solemnized. Thus, in Shadwell's Sullen Lovers, Lovell is made to say, "Let's dally no longer; there is a person at Knightsbridge that yokes all stray people together; we'll to him, he'll dispatch us presently, and send us away as lovingly as any two fools that ever yet were condemned to marriage." Some of the entries in this marriage register are suspicious enough—"secrecy for life," or "great secrecy," or "secret for fourteen years" being appended to the names. Mr. Davis, in his Memorials of Knightsbridge, was the first to exhume from this document the name of the adventuress "Mrs. Mary Aylif," whom Sir Samuel Morland married as his fourth wife, in 1697. Readers of Pepys will remember how pathetically Morland wrote, eighteen days after the wedding, that when he had expected to marry an heiress, "I was, about a fortnight since, led as a fool to the stocks, and married a coachman's daughter not worth a shilling."

[49] Davis's Memorials of Knightsbridge.

[50] The last relic of "Jenny's Whim" was removed in November, 1865.

[51] In 1755, a quarto satirical tract was published, entitled "Jenny's Whim; or, a Sure Guide to the Nobility, Gentry, and other Eminent Persons in this Metropolis."

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