The early decades of the 18th century were the golden age for London clubs and one of the most popular was the Mug-house club which met in a large hall on Long Acre every Wednesday and Saturday during the winter. The club took its distinctive name from the fact that each member drank his ole (ale was the only beverage on offer in the establishment) from his own mug.
Judging by the hoo-hah over whether Corbyn should have sung the national anthem or not, matters royal can still rouse passions. Back then, the country was deeply divided over the Hanoverian succession, George the First having been “invited” over to maintain the Protestant ascendancy following the death of Queen Anne. The Tories had gained the upper hand by whipping up the fervour of the mobs against the German interlopers and supporters of the King were desperate to find ways in which they could fight back.
The idea they hit upon was to replicate the success of the Long Acre Mug-house by setting up similar establishments around the metropolis where those loyal to the Hanoverian cause might meet, associate with each other and plot against their opponents. And so a number of Mug-houses sprang up.
The first of the copycat Mug-houses was established by a member of the Middle Temple, a Mr Blenman who firmly nailed his colours to the mast by using as his motto, pro lege et rege. This club met in St John’s Lane which is midway between Farringdon and the Barbican. Then a club was established at Mrs Read’s coffee shop in Salisbury Court just off Fleet Street, followed by one at the Harp in Tower Street and another at Roebuck in Whitechapel.
Others quickly sprang up in what contemporary sources quaintly called the suburbs but which to the 21st century reader are slap bang in the centre of London. Perhaps one of the most famous was the Magpie which is now known as the Magpie and Stump in Old Bailey. As well as serving Two’penny ale in your own mug it offered its clientele a prime view of the hangings outside nearby Newgate Prison and even served the poor condemned their last pint – I was unable to trace whether they charged for this!
At noon it was customary to hang all the mugs belonging to the gaff in a line outside the main door, indicating that this was a place where loyalists congregated. So deeply associated with the Hanoverian cause were the mug-houses that the mug rather than the White Horse of Hanover became emblematic of the cause.
Proceedings were conducted with due ceremony. A president was appointed to run proceedings and keep order and he would be conveyed to his chair sometime between 7 and 8 in the evening by members fore and aft carrying candles and to the strains of accompanying musicians. The president would then toast the members who then would return the compliment and the next couple of hours were spent making loyal toasts, in singing songs and, of course, drinking. Proceedings would break up around 10 but not before the president had named his successor for the next meeting and a whip round for the musicians.
The political atmosphere worsened and the rabble was often on the verge of rioting. In the autumn of 1715 the mug-houses volunteered to be the champions of law and order and so marching into the street to fight the Jacobite mob became part of their evening’s entertainment, to disastrous effect as we shall see next time!