My starting point for this post is a book that will fascinate anyone interested in Georgian London – The Epicure’s Almanac: Eating and Drinking in Regency London by Ralph Rylance, edited by Janet Ing Freeman (British Library 2012).
In 1815 Rylance published the first guide to London eating, with, as he put it, the intention of guiding his readers to those establishments where they might ‘dine well and to the best advantage.’ Incredibly, Rylance claimed to have investigated all the locations himself, over 600 of them. His recommendations range from smart Mayfair hotels, inns, chop houses, markets, tea gardens and cake shops. Poor Rylance must have hoped his work would go into many editions, but it survived only the one and the publisher, Longmans, did not reprint.
Janet Ing Freeman has taken Rylance’s original text and investigated all the establishments he mentions, giving us notes on location and lots of interesting snippets about how they developed, who ate there and quotes from other sources. There are original maps to assist. Her detailed scholarly work turns Rylance’s book from a curiosity into a useable guide for the modern reader.
In addition to the places where one might eat there is a ‘Review of Artists Who Administer to the Wants and Conveniences of the Table’ ie shops for kitchen equipment and ingredients. These include Deakin’s Philosophical Kitchen Range which may be obtained from the inventor at 47, Ludgate Hill. We are told it ‘combines economy with simplicity. It contains an improved oven for bread or pies; a capacious boiler, a place for several stewpans and saucepans with the addition of a moveable steaming apparatus…’ The boiler can also be used for distilling. The editor explains that ‘philosophical’ is used in the sense of ‘scientific’ and in 1817 prices ranged from 11 to 20 guineas.
One of the most frequently mentioned type of eating place is the oyster room. Oysters were cheap fast food and could be eaten at various shellfish warehouses and in most other eateries. Rylance mentions many oyster rooms such as Lynn’s at 145 Fleet Street where ‘the best accommodations are upstairs’, and Sawyer’s, St Martin’s Lane noting that it is, ‘One of the largest concerns of the kind in London, for the sale not only of shell-fish, but also of pickled and dried salmon, spruce beer and other beverages.’
In my collection I have this print, ‘A noted Oyster Room near the theatres -Time 3 o’Clock in the Morning’. (Drawn by Samuel Alken, published 1823). A very good time is being had by everyone and I strongly suspect that the gentlemen are not accompanied by their wives!
Another popular type of eating place was the coffee house, a very masculine preserve, where coffee was drunk, newspapers read and matters of business and politics discussed. Food was also served in many of them, for example the Piazza Coffee House in Covent Garden, founded by actor Charles Macklin, where ‘dinners for large and small parties are served up in the most consummate style of elegance.’
This illustration from Ackermann’s Repository of October 1811 shows the Auction Mart Coffee Room in Throgmorton Street. Auctions were often held in coffee houses and the Auction Mart was an attempt to move some of them into a purpose-built venue, although of course it still had to have its coffee room. Rylance observes that it was ‘fitted up in very neat style. Here soups, and the usual coffee-house refreshments, are served up.’ The notes in the Repository are only concerned with the architecture, not the refreshments unfortunately, and the illustration shows an unconvincingly quiet and uncrowded space.
Finally, for another type of establishment, we have the confectioners. As I have an invoice from Parmentier’s in my collection I’ve chosen that one from the many that Rylance describes. Parmentiers was located in Edwards Street (now part of Wigmore Street). ‘Here every article is perfected in the true Parisian style of excellence. You find eau de Cologne, pâte de guimauve [marshmallow confections], cachou à la rose, cachou à l’orange et à la violette [lozenge-shaped sweetmeats], papillottes avec devises [small candies wrapped in paper containing jokes or mottoes]. Here are to be had preserves and conserves, wet and dry, jellies, jams, coloured transparent pastes, fruits dried or preserved in French brandies, comfits, lozenges, drops of every colour and flavour, superior macaroons, and rout cakes of the most fanciful forms, with ices and creams.’ My invoice is for lemon and orange syrups.
It is still possible to eat in some of the establishments that Rylance mentions. For example The Cheshire Cheese is still in Wine Office Court off Fleet Street, and close to the Bank of England you can eat at Simpson’s Tavern in Ball’s Court and the nearby George and Vulture in George Yard.
For my next post I’ll be discovering some recipes for popular foods in Georgian London.