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
Turning from the Hall of Commerce and Finch Lane, let us walk a short
distance to the left.
Opposite to where the telegraph office now stands, between the North British Life Office and the Hercules Passage entrance to the Stock Exchange, once stood the Old Fleece and Sun Tavern, kept by two brothers named Cooper, at the corner of Spread Eagle Court, a narrow passage then leading into Finch Lane.
The Fleece Inn was a chop-house, very unlike those already mentioned, inasmuch as all the customers took their own uncooked provisions in with them.
It was frequented by some of the wealthiest men of Lloyd's the Stock Exchange, and the various offices round about. Next door was Banister's, the butcher's, over whose shop were the royal arms, and in gold letters, " To Her Majesty." Here each customer selected his chop, steak, or what he fancied, saw it cut off and weighed, and after paying for it, and having it handed to him done up in newspaper, he trotted in next door to the Fleece and Sun and handed it over to the waiter, or, if he was "a werry partic'ler gent," to the cook himself, with full instructions.
Frequently a Stock Exchange man would make his purchase early in the day and take it into the Fleece, fixing a time when he would be in to dinner. Then he would go over to the house or his office, and so lose no time in the busy hours in waiting during the culinary process, which others of necessity had to do.
On entering the Fleece, a good-sized room with a sanded floor presented itself to view. On one side, half-way up the room, was a small bar, and opposite to it was the fire and gridiron. Such things as silver grids were unborn at that time.
All round the remaining space were the customary cosy little boxes with room for four, and no more, to sit with comfort. Decorations or embellishments there were none ; but though the place looked rough, it was scrupulously clean.
No customer was very long before being attended to by the waiter, who received his orders for beer or wine. The former, as at other chop-houses, was served in the pewter pot ; and the wine, particularly port, was of a quality rarely to be met with nowadays. So soon as the chop or steak was ready, it was produced on a pewter or china plate, as required, and was flanked by another plate filled with floury potatoes, boiled in their "jackets," that would have delighted the soul of an Irishman to behold. Bread was also supplied, and, if desired, cheese, butter, celery, or watercress could be had ; but these latter were extras. After enjoying his dinner, and asking the waiter what he had to pay, a modest charge of 3d. was made, for what John euphoniously called, " bread cookin' and 'taters." The account for wine or beer and extras became an additional charge, of course.
It was the Fleece and Sun that the late George Augustus Sala confounded with Joe's in Finch Lane, in one of his articles in the Daily Telegraph.
The wines drunk in those days were port and sherry. Champagne, though of course well known and drunk occasionally, was not greatly in vogue, except at special dinner parties and ball suppers.
What is called dry champagne was aloiost, if not altogether, unknown, and it is, comparatively speaking, an invention of modern times. Possibly, nay, most probably, it is bad taste on my part. but I never drink it without a sigh for the champagne of the days of my youth.
A door or two from Banister's was Lemann's — or, as it was then spelt, Leman — the celebrated biscuit baker ; the maker of those well-known items of child and babyhood's early sustenance, called tops and bottoms. Rusks, captains, and small round biscuits known as dollars, were then, and I believe are now, specialities of Lemann's bakeries.
Banister moved in 1861 to King Street, Cheapside, and ten years later to Newgate Street. He was deputy of his ward of Broad Street from 1860 until his death in 1875.
The old Fleece and Sun has disappeared in toto, and left not a vestige behind.
Lemann's business alone survives. It was removed to London Wall, and a while ago was again removed to 28 and 29, St. Swithin's Lane, and now stands opposite the offices of Messrs. Rothschilds, so that any of my readers having recent additions to their family circles, in St. Swithin's Lane can there get the good old tops and bottoms.
On the site these three buildings once occupied now stand the Scottish Amicable Life Office, a pile of stockbrokers' offices, and the Peabody Statue.
Lots of references are made to two sources on the
Edward Callows, Old London Taverns &
John Timbs, Club life of London Volume 2