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Street View: 19
Address: 142 Strand

The Turk’s Head (with or without the apostrophe), opposite Catherine Street, had existed for at least eighty years before Tallis produced his Street View in 1839, and possibly even longer. Samuel Johnson and his friend James Boswell frequented the Turk’s Head as, for instance, on 22 July, 1763, when Boswell wrote, “at night Mr. Johnson and I had a room at the Turk’s Head Coffee-house, which he encouraged because the mistress of the house is a good civil woman and wants business”.(1) In 1797, the then proprietor, Anne Munday, went bankrupt, but not much else is known about her.(2) In 1832, an advertisement mentions the sale of the goods and stock from the coffee house and hotel. Mr. Bailey, the auctioneer announced the sale of more or less everything that was in the building because of the “very extensive improvements” that were to take place.

advertisement in The Times, 17 May 1832

Six years later, J. Wright announced in the newspapers that the premises had been “rebuilt and furnished at a very considerable expense” and were “now complete and ready for the reception of gentlemen and families”. Wright did not just expect customers from London; he also advertised in the Ipswich, Bristol and Liverpool papers with his coffee room, stock of wines, private sitting rooms and hot and cold baths.(3) The alterations had been many years in the making and the RIBA collection contains drawings of designs by the architect John Buonarotti Papworth, which, although certainly on the scale of the later building, do not quite match the depiction by Tallis, so either the design was changed, or Tallis made a mistake (see here for more pictures). Whatever the reason for the difference, it was a grand building and Wright must have forked out a substantial sum of money; according to John Timbs in his Club Life of London (1866) it had cost £8,000.

Designs for alterations to premises for the 142 Strand (Source: RIBA20732)

advertisement in The London Dispatch and People’s Political and Social Reformer 17 June 1838

The 1841 census tells us that J. Wright was John Wright, 50 years old, and living with him was Matthew Wright, 25 years old, as well as several servants, one of whom was George Blackstone who, in 1843, started his own business in Hull, the Tiger Inn and Hotel, calling himself “late manager of Wright’s Hotel, 143 Strand”.(4) Matthew was probably the Matthew James who was baptised on 29 August, 1815, at St. George in the East, as the son of John Wright, victualler of Radcliffe Highway, and his wife Hannah Colls.(5) The marriage of John and Hannah was not without problems and she seemed more than willing to carry on with one of Wright’s relatives who sometimes came up to town from Norwich. It all ended at the Court of King’s Bench with damages of a hundred pounds awarded to John (see here).(6)

advertisement in The Morning Chronicle, 1 August 1844

Robson’s Directory of 1842 and the Post Office Directory of 1843 suddenly changed the name of the Turk’s Head to Old Turks Head, suggesting that there was also a New one somewhere. Perhaps to end the confusion, from 1843, advertisements for Wright’s Hotel and Coffee-House started to appear. Another of Wright’s employees, William Fisher, turned out to have other ambitions than those of a mere wine-cooper. Wright had fired him in September 1843, although it remains unclear why. In December of that year, Fisher returned to Wright’s wine cellar in Hungerford market to force open the door and steal a pipe of wine (a cask of about 500 litres). He was found out and sentenced to fifteen years’ transportation.(7)

advertisement in The Daily News, 8 July 1847

John Wright died in early 1847, aged just 60,(8) and very soon afterwards advertisements started to appear for the sale of the content of the hotel. Messrs Warlters, Lovejoy and Son were to sell by auction the furniture, bedsteads, hangings, mattresses, etc. Although the advertisements for the sale in the newspapers do not mention it, The London Gazette tells us that the auction was “under an order in bankruptcy” and it is said that Wright had killed himself out of despair. He had become implicated in the Reay & Reay bankruptcy case as a bad debtor and had owed the Reays £31,000. Reays’ had allowed him the credit, because they thought that the 60,000 bottles of wine in Wright’s cellar could be used as collateral against the debt, but it turned out that the wine had also been pledged to other people.(9) In other words, Wright was filling one hole with another and was in deep trouble indeed when he died. The hotel building with the cellars were advertised as ‘to be let’. The place was quickly taken over by John Chapman, a bookseller and publisher from Newgate Street; his fate will be reported in a forthcoming post.

advertisement in The Daily News, 24 July 1847

Watercolour by John Wykeham Archer of the cellar under the George and Dragon Inn, Rochester, 1849 (© The Trustees of the British Museum). Did Wright’s cellar look like this?

(1) Boswell’s London Journal 1762-1763, ed. by F.A. Pottle (1950), p.318.
(2) The London Gazette, 4 March, 1797.
(3) The Ipswich Journal, 2 June 1838, The Liverpool Mercury, 8 June 1838, and The Bristol Mercury, 9 June 1838.
(4) The Hull Packet and East Riding Times, 30 June 1843.
(5) Matthew died in 1883, apparently a bachelor, and probate was granted to his niece Jane Cubitt Christall. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1883.
(6) ‘The Cuckold’s Chronicle’ in Rambler’s Magazine, 1 January 1822, p. 8-12 online here.
(7) Old Bailey case t18440819-2130.
(8) He was buried at Norwood Cemetery on 8 January 1847.
(9) The Times, 27 November 1845.

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