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Don Salteros coffee house : London coffee houses and taverns
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DON SALTERO'S COFFEE-HOUSE, Cheyne walk, Chelsea.
Among the curiosities of Old Chelsea, almost as well known as its china, was the
Coffee-house and Museum, No. 18, Cheyne Walk, opened by a barber, named Salter,
in 1695. Sir Hans Sloane contributed some of the refuse gimcracks of his own
collection ; and Vice-Admiral Munden, who had been long on the coast of Spain,
where he had acquired a fondness for Spanish titles, named the keeper of the
house Don Saltero, and his coffee-house and museum, Don Saltero's.
The place, however, would, in all probability, have enjoyed little beyond its
local fame, had not Sir Richard Steele immortalized the Don and Don Saltero's in
The Tatler, No. 34, June 28, 1700; wherein he tells us of the necessity of
travelling to know the world by his journey for fresh air, no further than the
village of Chelsea, of which he fancied that he could give an immediate
description, from the five fields, where the robbers lie in wait, to the
Coffee-house, where the literati sit in council. But he found, even in a place
so near town as this, there were enormities and persons of eminence, whom he
before knew nothing of.
The Coffee-house was almost absorbed by the Museum. " When I came into the
Coffee-house," says Steele, " I had not time to salute the company, before my
eyes were diverted by ten thousand gimcracks round the room, and on the ceiling.
When my first astonishment was over, comes to me a sage of thin and meagre
countenance, which aspect made me doubt whether reading or fretting had made it
so philosophic; but I very soon perceived him to be of that sort which the
ancients call a " gingivistee" in our language ( tooth-drawers) I immediately
had a respect for the man ; for these practical philosophers go upon a very
practical hypothesis, not to cure, but to take away the part affected. My love
of mankind made me very benevolent to Mr. Salter, for such is the name of this
eminent barber and antiquary."
The Don was famous for his punch and his skill on the fiddle; he also drew
teeth, and wrote verses; he described his museum in several stanzas, one of
which is —
" Monsters of all sorts are seen :
Strange things in nature as they grew so ;
Some relicks of the Sheba Queen,
And fragments of the fam'd Bob Crusoe."
Steele then plunges into a deep thought why barbers should go further in hitting
the ridiculous than any other set of men ; and maintains that Don Saltero is
descended in a right line, not from John Tradescant, as he himself asserts, but
from the memorable companion of the Knight of Mancha. Steele then certifies that
all the worthy citizens who travel to see the Don's rarities, his
double-barrelled pistols, targets, coats of mail, his sclopeta, and sword of
Toledo, were left to his ancestor by the said Don Quixote, and by his ancestor
to all his progeny down to Saltero. Though Steele thus goes far in favour of Don
Saltero' s great merit, he objects to his imposing several names (without his
licence) on the collection he has made, to the abuse of the good people of
England; one of which is particularly calculated to deceive religious persons,
to the great scandal of the well-disposed, and may introduce heterodox opinions.
[Among the curiosities presented by Admiral Munden was a coffin, containing the
body or relics of a Spanish saint, who had wrought miracles.]
" He shows you a straw hat, which," says Steele, " I know to be made by Madge
Peskad, within three miles of Bedford ; and tells you "It is Pontius Pilate's
wife's chambermaid's sister's hat." To my knowledge of this very hat, it may be
added that the covering of straw was never used among the Jews, since it was
demanded of them to make bricks without it. Therefore, this is nothing but,
under the specious pretence of learning and antiquities, to impose upon the
world. There are other things which I cannot tolerate among his rarities, as,
the china figure of the lady in the glass-case ; the Italian engine, for the
imprisonment of those who go abroad with it ; both of which I hereby order to be
taken down, or else he may expect to have his letters patent for making punch
superseded, be debarred wearing his muff next winter, or ever coming to London
without his wife." Babillard says that Salter had an old grey muff, and that, by
wearing it up to his nose, he was distinguishable at the distance of a quarter
of a mile. His wife was none of the best, being much addicted to scolding ; and
Salter, who liked his glass, if he could make a trip to London by himself, was
in no haste to return.
Don Saltero's proved very attractive as an exhibition, and drew crowds to the
coffee-house. A catalogue was published, of which were printed more than forty
editions. Smollett, the novelist, was among the donors. The catalogue, in 1760,
comprehended the following rarities: —
Tigers' tusks; the Pope's candle; the skeleton of a Guinea-pig; a fly-cap monkey
; a piece of the true Cross ; the Four Evangelists' heads cut on a cherry-stone
; the King of Morocco's tobacco-pipe ; Mary Queen of Scots' pincushion ; Queen
Elizabeth's prayer-book ; a pair of Nun's stockings ; Job's ears, which grew on
a tree ; a frog in a tobacco-stopper; and five hundred more odd relics ! The Don
had a rival, as appears by " A Catalogue of the Rarities to be seen at Adams's,
at the Royal Swan, in Kingsland-road, leading from Shoreditch Church, 1756." Mr.
Adams exhibited, for the entertainment of the curious, " Miss Jenny Cameron's
shoes; Adam's eldest daughter's hat; the heart of the famous Bess Adams, that
was hanged at Tyburn with Lawyer Carr, January 18, 1736-7 ; Sir Walter Raleigh's
tobacco-pipe ; Vicar of Bray's clogs ; engine to shell green peas with ; teeth
that grew in a fish's belly ; Black Jack's ribs; the very comb that Abraham
combed his son Isaac and Jacob's head with; Wat Tyler's spurs ; rope that cured
Captain Lowry of the head-ach, ear-ach, tooth-ach, and belly-ach ; Adam's key of
the fore and back door of the Garden of Eden, &c, &c." These are only a few out
of five hundred others equally marvellous.
The Don, in 1723, issued a curious rhyming advertisement of his Curiosities,
dated " Chelsea Knackatory," and in one line he calls it " My Museum
In Dr. Franklin's Life we read : — " Some gentlemen from the country went by
water to see the College, and Don Saltero's Curiosities, at Chelsea." They were
shown in the coffee-room till August, 1799, when the collection was mostly sold
or dispersed ; a few gimcracks were left until about 1825, when we were informed
on the premises, they were thrown away ! The house is now a tavern, with the
sign of " The Don Saltero's Coffee-house."
The success of Don Saltero, in attracting visitors to his coffee-house, induced
the proprietor of the Chelsea Bun-house to make a similar collection of
rarities, to attract customers for the buns; and to some extent it was
was open until at least the 1861 census.
In the 1829 Robsons directory is listed
James Waldie, at the Don Saltero tavern, 18 Cheyne walk, Chelsea
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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