Nell-of-Old-DruryThis Covent Garden pub in London’s West End is named after Nell Gwyn, the 17th century orange seller turned actress who became most famous for being the mistress of King Charles II (for more on Nell, see our earlier post here)

‘The Nell’, as its known, is one of the area’s oldest pubs – a sign says there has apparently been a pub on the site since before 1660 when the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – located opposite – was built.

Nell-of-Old-Drury2There’s supposedly an underground tunnel that connects the theatre and the pub which is said to have been used by the king when he was visiting Nell (we’re not sure if it was Nell or the king who was in the pub). It was also apparently used by other theatre-goers who were warned to return to the theatre when intermission was over by a bell located inside the pub.

Now located at 29 Catherine Street pub (the street was formerly known as Brydges Street – we’ll deal with its renaming in an upcoming post), was apparently originally called The Lamb and then renamed the Sir John Falstaff in the nineteenth century, during which period it hosted exhibitions featuring a tattooed man from the South Seas and a Zulu warrior woman, before assuming its current moniker.

The pub was also apparently a regular for many prominent literary and theatrical figures, not to mention market traders from nearby Covent Garden. The exterior of the pub appears in the Alfred Hitchcock film, Frenzy.

For more on the pub, see www.nellofolddrury.com.

 

 

 

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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

Sitting on the bank of the Thames at Old Isleworth in the city’s west stands The London Apprentice public house.

The pub’s licence dates back to at least 1731 and it has been associated with the likes of such luminaries as King Henry VIII (it’s suggested he met Catherine Howard here – she was later imprisoned in nearby Syon House), King Charles I and King Charles II (the latter apparently cavorted with his mistress, actress Nell Gwynne, here), as well as the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

Others whose names come up in reference to the pub include the ever-present author Charles Dickens (this is said to have been one his favorite pubs) and notorious highwayman Dick Turpin.

While there remain some doubts over its origins, the name of the pub – which stands opposite the small isle known as the Isleworth Ait – is said to stem from the fact that it was here that London apprentices, having faithfully served their masters, came to while away the hours in their downtime. They are said to have entertained themselves by playing about in decorated barges on the river.

There is said to be a tunnel, now blocked, which links the pub with the nearby All Saint’s Church – the story goes that this was used by smugglers to get their contraband into the pub’s cellars.

For more information or to pay a visit, see www.thelondonapprentice.co.uk.

This curiously named street in the heart of London’s St James district traces the origins of its moniker back to the 17th century when the game of “pall mall” (“pell mell” and “paille maille” being among a host of alternative spellings) was played there.

The game, mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his famous diary, involves the use of a mallet and ball similar to that used in modern croquet but, according to some commentators, pall mall was more likely a predecessor of golf than croquet, with players attempting to belt the ball as far as possible along a pitch before putting the ball through a hoop suspended high off the ground.

Pall Mall, which runs parallel to The Mall from St James’ Street in the west to Haymarket in the east with an eastern extension, Pall Mall East, completing the journey from Haymarket into the northern end of Trafalgar Square, became famous in the 19th and early 20th centuries for housing numerous ‘gentlemen’s clubs’. Among those still in business are the Travellers Club, the Athaenaeum Club, the Reform Club, the Army and Navy Club, the Oxford and Cambridge Club, and the Royal Automobile Club.

St James’s Palace sits at the street’s western end and it is of note that nearly all of the southern side of the street is still part of the Crown Estate (the exception being a home Charles II is believed to have given to the actress Nell Gwynne, who apparently sensibly demanded the freehold on the property).

Other buildings along the street include Schomberg House, built for the Duke of Schomberg in the late 17th century (only the facade of which remains), and the Sir Christopher Wren-designed Marlborough House, which is tucked in between Pall Mall and The Mall and sits opposite St James’s Palace. The National Gallery and the Royal Academy also both briefly had homes in Pall Mall.