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Devil Tavern, 2 Fleet street, St Dunstan in West EC4

St Dunstan in West pub history Index

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A listing of historical London public houses, Taverns, Inns, Beer Houses and Hotels in  St Dunstan in West, City of London.

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The DEVIL TAVERN, which formerly stood upon the site of the present Child's Place, No. 2, Fleet Street, is first mentioned in the reign of James I. * “ Mr. Benjamin Jonson, Bricklayer,” employed in the erection of the Lincoln's Inn garden wall, &c., in Chancery Lane, formed his celebrated “ Apollo" Club at the “ Devil," and framed his rules commencing :

“Welcome all ! who lead or follow To the Oracle of Apollo,” which were written in letters of gold on a black ground; and, over the chimney in the room where Steele wrote in 1709 ; and still in the possession of Messrs. Child, who in June, 1787, purchased for £2,800 the freehold of the premises, and erected Child's Place and a portion of their banking-house upon the site. In the Record Office is a letter from Chamberlain to Carleton, dated 19th June, 1624, in which occurs this paragraph : “I send here certain leges convivales of Ben Johnson made for a faire roome or chamber lately built at the taverne or signe of the Divill and St. Dunstan by Temple Barre; they bee reasonable goode, and not improper for such a place."

Here Jonson composed some of his plays, especially “ The Devil is an Asse," written “ when I and my boys drank bad wine at the Devil';" his boys” being his brother wits. Aubrey tells us that the poet, to be near the “ Devil,” lived without Temple Bar, at a comb maker's shop, but by the document which Mr. Carter has kindly allowed me to publish (see page 99) he was living close to Cripplegate in 1619. In his “: Welcome,” he makes old Simon Wadlow, the vintner and host of the tavern, declare :

“ Hang up all the poor hop drinkers,
Cries oíd Sym the King of Skinkers."

But Mr. Chappell I says the song: “Old Sir Simon the King," was of earlier date than Jonson's time, but then altered to suit the times and Wadlow's great popularity. The vintner reigned supreme at his tavern for many years; he died in 1627,  was succeeded by his widow and his son John, who issued a token with the popular legend of St. Dunstan holding the devil by the nose.

When Charles the Second entered London to his coronation in 1661, Pepys saw Wadlow leading a company of “ young comely men in white doublets;" later we find him deserting the “ Devil” and opening the " Sun Tavern,” behind the Exchange.

The “Devil” continued the resort of the wits and poets of the day. Here, March 18th, 1703, in the Apollo Chamber (hence Apollo Court, No. 201, Fleet Street), was sold the beautiful Duchess of Richmond's jewels; and here, 1709, the wedding entertainment mentioned by Steele, as held in “ a place sacred to mirth, tempered with discretion.” Here Dean Swift, Garth, and Addison dined, 1710; here in 1737 was a musical and dancing academy; here for several years, from 1746, the Royal Society kept its dinners. From the “ Devil Tavern,” April 1st, 1771, was issued by the “ Firebrand Society," a political squib asserting the people's “rights” &c.; the very year that nearly saw the whole buildings destroyed by fire. Dr. Johnson, with the Ivy Lane Club, here regaled Mrs. Lennox, and crowned her with a wreath of laurel. “Mr. Fletcher, master of the Devil Tavern' at Temple Bar" died at Croydon, July 4th, 1757; and thirty years later the house was closed for ever. In the “ Battle of Temple Bar” print, of 1769, the devil is represented with a long beak, holding the sign with one hand and offering the other with the invite “Fly to me my bairns," Hogarth in his plate, “Burning of the Rumps” shows the sign, but places it on the wrong side of the street.

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  • And Last updated on: Thursday, 25-Jan-2024 10:28:08 GMT