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

The Ivy Lane Club

This was a relatively short-lived club, founded in the 1740s, the brain child of Samuel Johnson who wanted to fill his leisure hours with good conversation and a forum in which to impress his comrades with the breadth of his knowledge and acerbity of his tongue. The assembled company met on Tuesday evenings at the King’s Head, a tavern and beefsteak house which was to be found in the eponymous Ivy Lane, off to the left of Paternoster Row, if you were looking down it from the west, under the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral.

As well as the good Doctor, its members included his good friend, Dr Richard Bathurst, the author John Hawkesworth, the publisher John Payne, John Hawkins, an attorney, and the Archdeacon of Norwich, Dr Samuel Salter. Evenings were engaged in literary discussions, Johnson often using the occasion to try out his latest theories or road test his compositions. Inevitably, food and drink were partaken.

Occasionally, the club would move venue, as it did upon Johnson’s suggestion to celebrate the publication of the first book by one of his literary proteges, Charlotte Lennox, The Life of Harriott Stewart, Written by Herself. Although the idea was hatched at the Ivy Lane the club members together with Charlotte and her husband assembled at the Devil Tavern in Fleet Street at 8 o’clock. There were twenty there in all. Johnson had arranged for a magnificent hot apple pie to be baked in Lennox’s honour, topped with bay leaves symbolising the fact that she was now an authoress. Invoking the Muses with all due ceremony, Johnson placed a crown of laurel leaves on the astonished woman’s head.

Sir John Hawkins picked up the story. “The night passed, as must be imagined, in pleasant conversation and harmless mirth, intermingled, at different periods, with the refreshments of tea and coffee”. About five in the morning, Johnson was beaming, although he had only imbibed lemonade. The restraint shown by Johnson was not replicated by his companions who were with difficulty persuaded to forsake the delights of Bacchus for another round of coffee. When it came to getting the bill, there was another difficulty. “The waiters were so overcome with sleep, that it was two hours before we could get a bill, and it was not till near eight that the creaking of the street-door gave the signal for our departure.”

One of the benefits of being a member of a club is the connections one makes. John Payne was looking to establish a literary magazine, the Adventurer, which, although running from 1752 to 1754, was one of the most influential periodicals of the 17th century. He appointed his fellow Ivy Lane clubman, John Hawkesworth, who was then a jobbing journalist. But Hawkesworth had learned at the feet of Johnson and he learned to emulate the moral and literary voice of his master, so much so that readers were scarcely able to determine what was Johnson’s and what had been written by Hawkesworth. In many ways, the Ivy Lane club was Hawkesworth’s finishing school.

Alas, though, things didn’t last. Hawkesworth was said to have made much of his close association with Johnson which pissed the Doctor off and they fell out in 1756. The club disbanded and when Johnson in 1783, a year before his death, tried to reassemble as many of the old crew as were left, he found that the old landlord of the King’s Head was dead and the pub shut down. And that was the end of that.

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

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The Wittinagemot of the Chapter Coffee House

At the south side of London’s Pasternoster Row in London in Chapterhouse Court stood the eponymous coffee house, opened around 1710, which was famed in the 18th century for its punch, pamphlets and goodly supply of newspapers. I assume coffee was also available. In the north east corner of the gaff was a box which was known as the Wittinagemot, named after a kind of public parliament which met annually in Saxon times.

In an area famed for its book selling trade it was no surprise to learn that at this box many of the capital’s men of letters could be found and lively conversation was guaranteed. What made for a good book in the estimation of many of those assembled was whether it would shift copy rather than its artistic merits. Nothing changes!

According to Alexander Stephens, a regular himself between 1797 and 1805, you could be guaranteed to find a certain Mr Hammond, a manufacturer from Coventry, who occupied the same spot every evening for forty five years. He was renowned for his severe and able commentaries on the events of the day and was famed for using a Socratic approach to disputation which often led his opponent down an alley sign-posted reduction ad absurdum, to the general amusement of all assembled.

Another stalwart was a Scottish episcopal minister, Mr Murray, who stayed in situ from 9 in the morning until 9 at night and was reputed to have read cover to cover every morning and evening newspaper published in London. His memory was so prodigious that he was often called upon to arbitrate upon any dispute as to facts. Stephens reported that one of his favourite companions was the political and historical writer, Dr Towers, who over a half pint of Lisbon, presumably a port, entertained with lively and sarcastic but never deep repartee.

From a club perspective, there was a loose grouping known as the Wet Paper Club who met in the early morning to receive the newspapers of the day hot off the press before the waiters had time to dry them. Another group, including the redoubtable Mr Murray, would seize on the evening editions as soon as the newsmen entered the premises.

For the fixed price of a shilling a supper could be had including a pint of porter. For one habitue, Baker, a manufacturer from Spitalfields and a great talker and eater, this was his only meal of the day. When he no longer could afford the shilling for his fare he shot himself.

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Archetypal country mice, Charlotte and Emily Bronte together with their father, Patrick stayed there on a rare trip to the Smoke en route to Brussels in February 1842. Charlotte’s biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, described the Chapter as having low-beamed ceilings, wainscoted rooms and a broad, dark, shallow staircase. It had a few overnight guests who were mainly university men and country clergy and booksellers keen to hear some literary conversation. “The high, narrow windows looked into the gloomy Row”  and whilst the sounds of the city could be heard in the distance like the roar of the ocean, footsteps echoed down the deserted street.

In 1854 the coffee house was converted into a tavern.

The Streets Of London – Part Twenty Seven

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Paternoster Square – EC4M

Directly north of St Paul’s Cathedral and just south of Newgate Street is to be found a modern square which is the home of the London Stock Exchange. Paternoster Square, for that is the name of the piazza surrounded by modern office buildings, has had a rather chequered history, as we shall see.

Before the square was developed there was Paternoster Row. The name, Latin for our father, is thought to have been derived from the practice of monks and clergy processing from the Cathedral along the street chanting, amongst other things, the Lord’s Prayer. Some credence may be given to this theory by the presence of Ave Maria Lane and Amen Corner nearby. Others think that the origin of the street’s name came from the fact that traders sold a type of prayer bead known as a pater noster there.

Whatever may have been the origins of its name, by the early 19th century the street had become the centre of the London book trade. John Murray, writing in the World of London, published in 1841 in Blackwood’s Magazine, records, “The Row…is the nucleus of the literary neighbourhood. ..How the literary man delights to haunt this place. He pauses, before the immense emporium of the Longmans, with its fourteen windows in front, its little Ionic pilasters, and its iron crane, emblematic of the very heavy commodities in which the proprietors are sometimes compelled to deal…” He goes on to describe some of the other publishing houses there, including the large premises of Whittaker and Co which extended half the length of Ave Maria Lane, the impressive headquarters of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Messrs Simpkin and Marshall who sell, in his quaint phrase, “the lighter artillery of literature”.

Max Schlesinger in his Saunterings in and around London of 1853 reports that “about 15,000 persons are employed in the printing, binding and in the sale of books. The mechanical aids and machinery have been brought to an astounding height of perfection, and an edition of a thousand copies in octavo requires but ten or twelve hours for the binding”. I would have spent a lot of time and a small fortune, I dare say, there.

The street was changed for ever on 29th December 1940 when the area was subjected to one of the heaviest night raids of the Blitz. Paternoster Row took the brunt and the publishing houses which Murray extolled were all destroyed.

The first incarnation of Paternoster Square was a hideous example of 1960s architecture – grim and austere. It was never popular, described as full of “ghastly monolithic constructions without definition or character”, and the presence of this monstrous carbuncle so close to a prime tourist attraction was seen as a source of embarrassment. The lack of popularity translated into a reduction in footfall and premises were difficult to rent. In the 1980s it was a bit of a ghost town. Not unsurprisingly, the square was redeveloped again, the present square being open again for business by October 2003. At least now it has an airy piazza and the materials in which the buildings are constructed blend in with the surroundings.

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There are three monuments to note if you venture there. The 75 foot tall Corinthian column made of Portland Stone with a gold leaf covered flaming copper urn atop is known locally as the pineapple. As well as enhancing the look of the piazza it serves as a ventilation shaft for a service road running underneath. At the north end of the square is a bronze sculpture of a Shepherd and Sheep and at the entrance to the square from the cathedral is to be found a stone archway that once formed part of Temple Bar on Fleet Street. But more of this anon.