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Copenhagen House : 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


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.

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: Tuesday, 26-Apr-2022 01:16:22 BST
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