This City of London square sits on the part of the site of what had been Salisbury House, the town house of the bishops of Salisbury.

The house, which later became known as Dorset House, burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and the square, now at the southern end of Salisbury Court, developed in its aftermath.

Lying just to the south of Fleet Street, the square was once home to the Salisbury Court Theatre in the mid-17th century and John Dryden lived here from 1673 to 1682, a period during which he wrote works including Amboyna (1673), All for Love (1678) and The Spanish Fryar (1681). It was also a popular place for actors to reside given its proximity to the Dorset Garden Theatre which was also built on part of the site of Salisbury House.

There was an alehouse here when King George I acceded to the throne – known as a locale frequented by his supporters, it was famous for an incident in 1716 in which it was stormed by a Jacobite mob during which the landlord shot a weaver (he was acquitted but five rioters were hanged at the end of the court.

Samuel Richardson ran a printing shop lived here from 1723 – Pamela was among the works he wrote here. He later pulled down some old residences to expand his printing operations (and it was in his house that Dr Samuel Johnson and William Hogarth first met).

In 1863, all the houses on the south side were replaced by the Salisbury Hotel and this was replaced in  the 1960s by Salisbury Square House when the square was remodelled and the central area laid out. Only number one remains of the early 18th century houses which once stood here.

The now largely paved square features garden boxes in the middle along with an obelisk commemorating Robert Waithman, Lord Mayor of London between 1823-24. It had apparently originally been erected in Farringdon Street but was moved here in the 1970s.

PICTURE: Google Maps.

 

 

We’ve mentioned this Covent Garden pub, redolent with history as it is,  before but we thought it worth a second look.

Lamb-and-FlagThere’s not much mystery surrounding the origins of the name – the Christian symbolism of the sign is fairly obvious and the symbol, which was used by the Templars and is also that of the Middle Temple, was apparently a reasonably common one for pubs. But the Lamb & Flag hasn’t always been its name.

While there’s been a pub on the site dating as far as back as the 17th century (the building was survivor of the Great Fire of 1666), it was apparently only named the Lamb & Flag in 1833.

Prior to that it was apparently known as the Cooper’s Arms (in what we assume was a reference to barrel-makers) and at one time in its long history was nick-named the ‘Bucket of Blood’ thanks to the location being used for prizefights.

The core of the present, Grade II-listed, building at 33 Rose Street is said to date from 1772, but the brick facade is 20th century. A narrow passageway known as Lazenby Court, which dates from the late 17th century and connects Rose Street to Floral Street, runs alongside it.

Regular patrons have included author Charles Dickens (one of the many London pubs he apparently attended not infrequently) and other famous associations include the poet John Dryden – he is famously associated with Rose Street thanks to the fact he was beaten up there twice in 1679 after upsetting people with his satires (the pub’s upstairs room is named after him).

For more on the pub, see www.lambandflagcoventgarden.co.uk.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro, Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Perhaps now best known as the most prominent of the many mistresses of King Charles II, Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn – currently subject of a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery – was a renowned actress in the years after the Restoration, known for her wit and beauty – “Pretty, witty Nell “as diarist Samuel Pepys called her.

Gwyn’s (variously spelt as Gwynn or Gwynne) origins remain something of a mystery – believed to have been born around 1651, her parents remain something of a mystery (some have suggested a Cavalier, Captain Thomas Gwyn, as her father) as does the place of her birth, variously claimed to be London, Hereford or Oxford – one source from 1715 claims she was born in Coal Yard Alley, off Drury Lane in Covent Garden.

Ascribed as having various jobs during her childhood – everything from helping at a bawdyhouse to a street vendor or cinder girl – around 1663, she was working as an “orange girl” at a theatre then known as the King’s Theatre in Bridge Street (now the site of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane).

She clearly made an impression for a year later she was working as an actress and is believed to have taken prominent actor Charles Hart as her lover. It has been suggested her first recorded stage appearance was in March, 1665. She wasn’t viewed as a brilliant dramatic actress but instead came into her own in comedies where her wit, as well as her beauty, could shine.

Having already been known to have had at least two lovers – Charles Hart and aristocrat Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst – by 1667 George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, had decided to bring her to the attention of the king as a possible new mistress and so increase his influence. By 1668 or 1669, Nell is believed to have succeeded in this, joining the growing number of women who could claim the title (Charles II ended up having at least 12 children by his many mistresses).

Her acting work gradually decreased and in 1670, she gave birth to Charles, her first son and believed to be the king’s seventh illegitimate child. She briefly returned to the stage in 1670-71 before retiring from the theatre for good.

In February, 1671, Nell moved into a townhouse at 79 Pall Mall (she was granted freehold of the property five years later and the property, which still stands, remains the only one on the south side of Pall Mall not owned by the Crown) and in December, she gave birth to her second child by the king, another son James (he died in Paris while attending school there 10 years later).

Both sons were given titles – Charles was later named Duke of St Albans – and given the surname Beauclerk. In the 1670s, Charles granted Nell Burford House in Windsor where she resided when the king was resident there.

In the 1670s, Nell – who continued to maintain her friendships with the likes of Villiers – successfully fought off several rivals for the king’s affection and by the 1680s, her position as the king’s mistress was not in doubt. It was during this period that the story goes when her coach was mistaken by an angry to be that of the unpopular Duchess of Portsmouth, she put her head out the window to tell them “Pray good people be silent, I am the Protestant whore”.

When King Charles II died on 6th February, 1685, he left instructions she was to be looked after – his brother King James II both paid her debts and continued to pay her an annual pension.

Nell died less than three years later – still only aged in her thirties – on 14th November, 1687, have suffered strokes in previous years. She was buried in the church of St Martins-in-the-Fields.

Gwyn is seen as a key figure in London during the period after the Restoration and a symbol of the hedonism of the court of King Charles II, and her rise from apparently humble origins to the royal court has been the subject of numerous books, plays and films.

Gwyn is currently featured in an exhibition currently being held at the National Portrait Gallery: The First Actresses – Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons. The exhibition runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information visit www.npg.org.uk.

PICTURE: Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn, by Simon Verelst, © National Portrait Gallery, London