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Cock Tavern, Threadneedle street : London coffee houses and taverns

A historical site about early London coffee houses and taverns and will also link to my current pub history site and also the London street directory

COCK TAVERN, Threadneedle street

This noted house, which faced the north gate of the old Royal Exchange, was long celebrated for the excellence of its soups, which were served at an economical price, in silver. One of its proprietors was, it is believed, John Ellis, an eccentric character, and a writer of some reputation, who died in 1791. Eight stanzas addressed to him in praise of the tavern, commenced thus : — ¦

" When to Ellis I write, I in verse must indite,
Come Phoebus, and give me a knock,
For on Fry day at eight, all behind ' the 'Change gate,'
Master Ellis will be at " The Cock.' "

After comparing it to other houses, the Pope's Head, the King's Arms, the Black Swan, and the Fountain, and declaring the Cock the best, it ends :

" 'Tis time to be gone, for the 'Change has -struck one :
O 'tis an impertinent clock !
For with Ellis I'd stay from December to May ;
I'll stick to my Friend, and ' The Cock !' "

This house was taken down in 1841 ; when, in a claim for compensation made by the proprietor, the trade in three years was proved to have been 344,720 basins of various soups — viz. 166,240 mock turtle, 3,920 giblet, 59,360 ox-tail, 31,072 bouilli, 84,128 gravy and other soups : sometimes 500 basins of soup were sold in a day.

The Cock Tavern was at 64 Threadneedle street, and the 1832 street directory lists Lockett at the Cock. This appears to have been the case since at least 1811 when either John Lockett or Elizabeth Lockett and son are listed here. The 1837 civil register places the Cock Tavern in St Bartholomew exchange.

The Old Cock of Threadneedle Street.
Opposite to where these three houses stood, and adjoining what was then Prescott's Bank, was a very well-known tavern of a somewhat different and higher stamp from those we have already visited — the North and South American and Colonial Coffee House and Cock Tavern. The upper part of the house was the long-named coffee house, a rendezvous of American and Colonial merchants and brokers ; and the ground floor was the tavern.
The Cock in Threadneedle Street was renowned for its soups and its port wine. Mock turtle soup and mutton broth, in which latter was a fair-sized neck chop, were specialities.
Many a time when I have not felt over well — not up to the mark — it was to the Cock I bent my steps when the prandial hour arrived. A basin — a silver basin, please — of broth or soup and a modest gill of sherry soon braced me up.
All the table appliances at the Cock, i.e. spoons, forks, cruets, and even the soup-basins, were silver — no electro, but the real thing, hall-marked.
The head waiter at the Cock was a character. His name was Robert, and from him Punch took his model for " Robert the Waiter." A picture will be found in one of the early numbers of Punch, representing a waiter at the pump filling up a decantei- of port wine : " Oh, the gen'lman wants a holder and a thinner wine, do he ? " That was " Robert," of the Cock.
A propos of waiters : customers, some forty years or so ago, received considerably more and quicker attention from waiters than they do now. The modern style is not to be compared with the old.
Waiters were prompt and civil, not only in speech, but in manner. At some of the West End places a waiter will now coolly be reading the evening paper, seated comfortably, while you are ringing the table bell, if there is one, or shouting out loud to attract his attention.
These remarks more particularly pertain to the various semi-foreign restaurants. When first the limited companies were started to run hotels, and any extra delay took place, it was attributed to the fact of your order being taken by the waiter to the secretary, and by him submitted to the board of directors before being passed into the kitchen for execution.
The Cock, or rather the Old Cock's roosting-place, in Threadneedle Street, has years since been pulled down, and Master Chanticleer found a new perch in St. Michael's Alley, where we shall arrive in due course by-and-by. Not only has the Old Cock vanished, but also the adjoining hosier's shop — Waterman's, where all the " newest things out" were displayed, to tempt the younger members of the Stock Exchange. Those were the days of highly-coloured cravats, neckties, and waistcoats, when, in the words of Albert Smith, a swell wore —

" A stock of bright satin surrounding his throat,
All blue and gold sprigs, with a jewel therein
That would serve for a drumstick as well as a pin."

The business of the Cock was removed to the top of St. Michael's Alley, on the other side of the Royal Exchange, leading out of Cornhill, and occupied for some time a spot close to the old George and Vulture Inn, where, it will be remembered, Mr. Pickwick, of immortal memory, and his friends put up, and, together with the faithful Sam Weller, were served with subpoenas by Mr. Jackson, the wide-awake clerk of Messrs. Dodson and Fogg, to appear and give evidence in the forthcoming action of Bardell v. Pickwick for breach of promise.

I have an indistinct recollection of having once been in the George and Vulture before it was pulled down. I never visited the Cock in either of his last roosting-places, but I am told the same brand of mock turtle and mutton broth-cum-chop could be obtained up to the end of its existence.

Poor old chanticleer has again been disturbed and bundled off his perch. The lease of the premises in St. Michael's Alley has expired, as all leases are wont to do, after running a long while ; and consequently all the poor bird's belongings have been invaded by auctioneer's men, stuck over with beastly little tickets — Lot 409, and so on — and distributed far and wide among those to whom the gentleman in the rostrum has knocked them down.

A few steps from the old site of the Cock, going towards Old Broad Street, is still to be found Hercules Passage, at the end of which is one of the many entrances to the Stock Exchange. In this passage was " Betsey's " Chop-house, much on the same lines as " Joe's " and " Snook's " in Finch Lane.

References :  Lots of references are made to two sources on the internet archive :
Edward Callows, Old London Taverns &
John Timbs, Club life of London Volume 2

And Last updated on: Friday, 15-Sep-2023 12:28:03 BST
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