A wry view of life for the world-weary

The Streets Of London – Part Sixteen


Horse & Dolphin Yard, London WC1D

Deep in the Chinatown district off Soho and on the right of Macclesfield Street if you approach it from Gerrard Street is to be found Horse and Dolphin Yard. It was originally the site of the Horse and Dolphin pub, although that establishment is now a Dutch bar, De Hem.

There are two possible explanations for the slightly unusual name. The first is down to the English inability to pronounce French words. The theory goes that Dolphin is a bastardisation of the French word for a prince, dauphin. The other explanation I have found is that a dolphin was the name given to a stump or a bollard to be found outside and to which the thirsty client could tie their horse. Take your pick!

The original Horse and Dolphin was built in 1685. One of its most famous landlords was Bill Richmond (1763 – 1829) who leaving America after the War of Independence where he served as a servant to Lord Percy, the Duke of Northumberland, made his name as a boxer.

Fighting under the sobriquet the Black Terror Richmond, who these days would have been categorised as a welterweight, prototyped the bob and weave style of boxing which stood him in good stead in his epic encounter with Tom Cribb. The bout lasted an incredible 60 rounds and the heavier Cribb ultimately prevailed but spent a frustrating amount of time chasing his elusive opponent round the ring.

The pub was rebuilt in 1890 and rather unimaginatively was renamed the Macclesfield, reflecting the name of the street in which it was located. It was soon leased by a retired Dutch sea captain who went by the name of Papa De Hem.

Under his tenure the Macclesfield became famous for its oysters which De Hem charged the princely sum of one shilling and fourpence halfpenny for a serving. So famous and (presumably) delicious were the servings that the poet Algernon Swinburne made a 10 mile round trip each day to eat the bivalve molluscs at the pub’s marble bar. The bar was immortalised in a quatrain penned by George Sims which goes as follows: “When oysters to September yield/ and grace the grotto’d Macclesfield/ I will be there, my dear De Hem/ to wish you well and sample them”. The grotto refers to the Shell room on the upper floor where the walls were said to be plastered with the shells of some 300,000 oysters, some of which can still be seen.

During the Second World War the pub became the focal point for members of the Dutch resistance. Another patron at the time was Kim Philby, doubtless keeping an eye on them.

In 1959 the pub was renamed De Hem’s in honour of the famous publican and at the turn of the 21st century it hosted the Oranje Boom Boom cabaret which amongst other things gave The Mighty Boosh their debut. Today it sells beers from the Low countries and specialises in Dutch food.


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