A wry view of life for the world-weary

I Don’t Want To Belong To Any Club That Will Accept People Like Me As A Member – Part Fifteen


The London Mug-House Riots

We saw last time how the activities of the pro-Hanoverian London mug-houses were extended to include mixing it with the mobs who had been persuaded to support the Jacobite cause, known as Jacks. One of the first encounters occurred on 17th November 1715, the anniversary of the accession of good Queen Bess.

The Loyal Society was toasting her health when news reached them that a large crowd of Jacks was assembling at St-Martin’s-Le-Grand with the intention of burning effigies of Kings William and George. The men from the Roebuck caught up with the Jacks around Newgate and, according to contemporary records, “a desperate encounter took place in which the Jacobites were defeated and many of them were seriously injured”. But more was to follow.

Another and larger group of Jacks assembled and attacked the Roebuck mug-house, breaking its windows and those of neighbouring properties and with terrible threats attempted to force the door. One of the few Loyalists in the Roebuck discharged his gun on the assailants, killing one of the leaders. This caused the mob to disperse but the Roebuck was under attack for the next few days.

Mug-house riots resumed with some fervour around February 1716 and it seems that both sides had spent the winter preparing for the new season of disorder. The mug-houses were re-fitted and reopened with great ceremony and new songs were composed and printed in volumes to encourage the members. The Jacobite mob would be heard gathering in the streets with their tell-tale sound of the beating of marrow-bones and cleavers and both sides would assemble for a set-to using oaken staves as their weapon of choice or failing that, whatever came to hand, as this song shows, “Since the Tories could not fight and their master took his flight/ they labour to keep up their faction:/ with a bough and a stick/ and a stone and a brick/ they equip their roaring crew for action”.

Key anniversaries were the time for major clashes, no more so than 8th March, the anniversary of the death of King William. On that day in 1716 the Jacks assembled and marched down Cheapside to the Roebuck where they were driven off by a small group of the Loyal Party who, flushed with their success, proceeded to a number of mug-houses, including the Magpie, on their way to Ludgate Hill. There they found that another group of Jacks had assembled at their rear and a fierce clash ensued in Newgate Street. The Jacks, however, were soundly beaten, many persons, according to contemporary accounts, “sustaining serious personal injuries”.

Another flashpoint was April 23rd, the anniversary of the birth of Queen Anne, when there were great battles in Cheapside and the Giltspur Street, around the premises of the Roebuck and the Magpie. For some reason, after the middle of 1716 the Roebuck ceased to become the focal point for mug house riots, perhaps because of the ferocity of the attacks meted out by the Loyal Society stationed there.

In July, the mug-house in Southwark and on the 20th the mug house in Salisbury Court, known as Read’s Coffee House, were attacked but successfully defended. The mob returned to Read’s three days later, and after a battle which lasted all night, forced their way in, trapped the Loyalists on the upper floor, gutted the lower floor, drinking as much ale as they could and let the rest run away. Read took out his blunderbuss and shot the Jacks’ ringleader. In retaliation the rioters left Read for dead.

In the subsequent trial Read was acquitted whilst a number of the Jacks were hung. This decision seems to have taken the wind out of the Jacks’ sails and life at the Mug Houses soon returned to normal. Fascinating.


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