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Copenhagen House : London coffee houses and taverns
A historical site about early London coffee houses and taverns
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This old suburban tavern, which stood in Copenhagen Fields, Islington, was
cleared away in forming the site of the New Cattle Market.
The house had a curious history. In the time of Nelson, the historian of
Islington (1811), it was a house of considerable resort, the situation affording
a fine prospect over the western part of the metropolis. Adjoining the house was
a small garden, furnished with seats and tables for the accommodation of company
; and a fives ground. The principal part of Copenhagen House, although much
altered, was probably as old as the time of James I., and is traditionally said
to have derived its name from having been the residence of a Danish prince or
ambassador during the Great Plague of 1665. Hone, in 1838, says: "It is certain
that Copenhagen House has been licensed for the sale of beer, wine, and spirits,
upwards of a century ; and for refreshments, and as a tea-house, with garden and
ground for skittles and Dutch pins, it has been greatly resorted to by
Londoners." The date of this hostelry must be older than stated by Hone.
Cunningham says : " A public-house or tavern in the parish of Islington, is
called Coopenhagen in the map before Bishop Gibson's edition of Camden, 1695."
About the year 1770 this house was kept by a person named Harrington. At his
decease the business was continued by his widow, wherein she was assisted for
several years by a young woman from Shropshire. This female assistant afterwards
married a person named Tomes, from whom Hone got much information respecting
Copenhagen-house. In 1780 — the time of the London Riots — a body of the rioters
passed on their way to attack the seat of Lord Mansfield at Caen-wood ; happily,
they passed by without doing any damage, but Mrs. Harrington and her maid were
so much alarmed that they dispatched a man to Justice Hyde, who sent a party of
soldiers to garrison the place, where they remained until the riots were ended.
From this spot the view of the nightly conflagrations in the metropolis must
have been terrific. Mrs. Tomes says she saw nine fires at one time. On the New
Year's-day previous to this, Mrs. Harrington was not so fortunate. After the
family had retired to rest, a party of burglars forced the kitchen window, and
mistaking the salt- box, in the chimney corner, for a man's head, fired a ball
through it. They then ran upstairs with a dark lantern, tied the servants, burst
the lower panel of Mrs. Harrington's room door — while she secreted 50/. between
her bed and the mattresses — and three of them rushed to her bed-side, armed
with a cutlass, crowbar, and a pistol, while a fourth kept watch outside. They
demanded her money, and as she denied that she had any, they wrenched her
drawers open with the crowbar, refusing to use the keys she offered to them. In
these they found about 10/. belonging to her daughter, a little child, whom they
threatened to murder unless she ceased crying ; while they packed up all the
plate, linen, and clothes, which they carried off. They then went into the
cellar, set all the ale barrels running, broke the necks of the wine bottles,
spilt the other liquors, and slashed a round of beef with their cutlasses. From
this wanton destruction they returned to the kitchen, where they ate, drank, and
sung ; and eventually frightened Mrs. Harrington into delivering up the 50/. she
had secreted, and it was with difficulty she escaped with her life. Rewards were
offered by Government and the parish of Islington for the apprehension of the
robbers ; and in May following one of them, named Clarkson, was discovered, and
hopes of mercy tendered to him if he would discover his accomplices. This man
was a watchmaker of Clerkenwell ; the other three were tradesmen. They were
tried and executed, and Clarkson pardoned. He was, however, afterwards executed
for another robberv. In a sense, this robbery was fortunate to Mrs. Harrington.
A subscription was raised, which more than covered the loss, and the curiositv
of the Londoners induced them to throng to the scene of the robbery. So great
was the increase of business that it became necessary to enlarge the premises.
Soon afterwards the house was celebrated for fives-playing. This game was our
old hand tennis, and is a very ancient game. This last addition was almost
accidental. " I made the first fives-ball," savs Mrs. Tomes, " that was ever
thrown up against Copenhagen House. One Hickman, a butcher at Highgate, a
countryman of mine, called, and, seeing me counting, we talked about our country
sports, and, amongst the rest, Jives. I told him we'd have a game some day. I
laid down the stone myself, and against he came again made a ball. I struck the
ball the first blow, he gave it the second — and so we played — and as there was
company, they liked the sport, and it got talked of." This was the beginning of
fives-play which became so famous at Copenhagen House.
Lots of references are made to two sources on the
Edward Callows, Old London Taverns &
John Timbs, Club life of London Volume 2
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