Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Mug-House Clubs in Georgian London


Among the political Clubs of the metropolis in the early part of the eighteenth century, one of the most popular was the Mug-house Club, which met in a great Hall in Long Acre every Wednesday and Saturday, during the winter. The house received its name from the simple circumstance, that each member drank his ale (the only liquor used) out of a separate mug. The Club is described as a mixture of gentlemen, lawyers, and statesmen, who met seldom under a hundred. In A Journey through England, 1722, we read of this Club:

"But the most diverting and amusing of all is the Mug-house Club in Long Acre.

"They have a grave old Gentleman, in his own gray Hairs, now within a few months of Ninety years old, who is their President, and sits in an arm'd chair some steps higher than the rest of the company to keep the whole Room in order. A Harp plays all the time at the lower end of the Room; and every now and then one or other of the Company rises and entertains the rest with a song, and (by the by) some are good Masters. Here is nothing drunk but Ale, and every Gentleman hath his separate Mug, which he chalks on the Table where he sits as it is brought in; and every one retires when he pleases, as from a Coffee-house.

"The Room is always so diverted with Songs, and drinking from one Table to another to one another's Healths, that there is no room for Politicks, or anything that can sow'r conversation.

"One must be there by seven to get Room, and after ten the Company are for the most part gone.

"This is a Winter's Amusement, that is agreeable enough to a Stranger for once or twice, and he is well diverted with the different Humours, when the Mugs overflow."

Although in the early days of this Club there was no room for politics, or anything that could sour conversation, the Mug-house subsequently became a rallying-place for the most virulent political antagonism, arising out of the change of dynasty, a weighty matter to debate over mugs of ale. The death of Anne brought on the Hanover succession. The Tories had then so much the better of the other party, that they gained the mob on all public occasions to their side. It then became necessary for King George's friends to do something to counteract this tendency. Accordingly, they established Mug-houses, like that of Long Acre, throughout the metropolis, for well-affected tradesmen to meet and keep up the spirit of loyalty to the Protestant succession. First, they had one in St. John's-lane, chiefly under the patronage of Mr. Blenman, member of the Middle Temple, who took for his motto, "Pro rege et lege." Then arose the Roebuck Mug-house, in Cheapside, the haunt of a fraternity of young men, who had been organized for political action before the end of the late reign.

According to a pamphlet on the subject, dated in 1717, "the next Mug-houses opened in the City were at Mrs. Read's, in Salisbury-court, in Fleet-street, and at the Harp in Tower-street, and another at the Roebuck in Whitechapel. About the same time several other Mug-houses were erected in the suburbs, for the reception and entertainment of the like loyal Societies: viz. one at the Ship, in Tavistock-street, Covent Garden, which is mostly frequented by royal officers of the army, another at the Black Horse, in Queen-street near Lincoln's Inn Fields, set up and carried on by gentlemen, servants to that noble patron of loyalty, to whom this vindication of it is inscribed [the Duke of Newcastle]; a third was set up at the Nag's Head, in James-street, Covent Garden; a fourth at the Fleece, in Burleigh-street, near Exeter Change; a fifth at the Hand and Tench, near the Seven Dials; several in Spittlefields, by the French refugees; one in Southwark Park; and another in the Artillery-ground." Another noted Mug-house was the Magpie, without Newgate, which house still exists as the Magpie and Stump, in the Old Bailey. At all these houses it was customary in the forenoon to exhibit the whole of the mugs belonging to the establishment, in a row in front of the house.

The frequenters of these several Mug-houses formed themselves into "Mug-house Clubs," known severally by some distinctive name, and each club had its President to rule its meetings and keep order. The President was treated with great ceremony and respect: he was conducted to his chair every evening at about seven o'clock, by members carrying candles before and behind him, and accompanied with music. Having taken a seat, he appointed a Vice-president, and drank the health of the company assembled, a compliment which the company returned. The evening was then passed in drinking successively loyal and other healths, and in singing songs. Soon after ten they broke up, the President naming his successor for the next evening; and before he left the chair, a collection was made for the musicians.

We shall now see how these Clubs took so active a part in the violent political struggles of the time. The Jacobites had laboured with much zeal to secure the alliance of the street mob, and they had used it with great effect, in connexion with Dr. Sacheverell, in over-turning Queen Anne's Whig Government, and paving the way for the return of the exiled family. Disappointment at the accession of George I. rendered the party of the Pretender more unscrupulous; the mob was excited to greater excesses, and the streets of the metropolis were occupied by an infuriated rabble, and presented a nightly scene of riot. It was under these circumstances that the Mug-house Clubs volunteered, in a very disorderly manner, to be champions of order; and with this purpose it became part of their evening's entertainment to march into the street, and fight the Jacobite mob. This practice commenced in the autumn of 1715, when the Club called the Loyal Society, which met at the Roebuck in Cheapside, distinguished itself by its hostility to Jacobitism. On one occasion this Club burned the Pretender in effigy. Their first conflict with the mob, recorded in the newspapers, occurred on the 31st of January, 1715, the birthday of the Prince of Wales, which was celebrated by illuminations and bonfires. There were a few Jacobite alehouses, chiefly on Holborn Hill, in Sacheverell's period; and on Ludgate-hill: the frequenters of the latter stirred up the mob to raise a riot there, put out the bonfire, and break the windows which were illuminated. The Loyal Society men, receiving intelligence of what was going on, hurried to the spot, and thrashed and defeated the rioters.

On the 4th of November in the same year, the birthday of King William III., the Jacobite mob made a large bonfire in the Old Jewry, to burn an effigy of the King; but the Mug-house men came upon them again, gave them "due chastisement with oaken plants," extinguished their bonfire, and carried King William in triumph to the Roebuck. Next day was the commemoration of Gunpowder Treason, and the loyal mob had its pageant. A long procession was formed, having in front a figure of the infant Pretender, accompanied by two men bearing each a warming-pan, in allusion to the story about his birth; and followed by effigies in gross caricature of the Pope, the Pretender, the Duke of Ormond, Lord Bolingbroke, and the Earl of Marr, with halters round their necks; and all of them were to be burned in a large bonfire made in Cheapside. The procession, starting from the Roebuck, went through Newgate-street, and up Holborn-hill, where they compelled the bells of St. Andrew's church, of which Sacheverell was rector, to ring; thence through Lincoln's Inn Fields and Covent Garden to the gate of St. James's Palace; returning by way of Pall Mall and the Strand, and through St. Paul's Churchyard. They had met with no interruption on their way, but on their return to Cheapside, they found that, during their absence, that quarter had been invaded by the Jacobite mob, who had carried away all the fuel which had been collected for the bonfire.

On November 17, in the same year, the Loyal Society met at the Roebuck to celebrate the anniversary of the Accession of Queen Elizabeth; and, while busy with their mugs, they received information that the Jacobites were assembled, in great force, in St. Martin's-le-Grand, and were preparing to burn the effigies of King William and King George, along with the Duke of Marlborough. They were so near, in fact, that their party-shouts of High Church, Ormond, and King James, must have been audible at the Roebuck, which stood opposite Bow Church. The Jacobites were starting on their procession, when they were overtaken in Newgate Street, by the Mug-house men from the Roebuck, and a desperate encounter took place, in which the Jacobites were defeated, and many of them were seriously injured. Meanwhile the Roebuck itself had been the scene of a much more serious tumult. During the absence of the great mass of the members of the Club, another body of Jacobites, much more numerous than those engaged in Newgate Street, suddenly assembled, attacked the Roebuck Mug-house, broke its windows, and those of the adjoining houses, and with terrible threats, attempted to force the door. One of the few members of the Loyal Society who remained at home, discharged a gun upon those of the assailants who were attacking the door, and killed one of their leaders. This and the approach of the Lord Mayor and city officers, caused the mob to disperse; but the Roebuck was exposed to attacks during several following nights, after which the mobs remained tolerably quiet during the winter.

Early in 1716, however, these riots were renewed with greater violence, and preparations were made for an active campaign. The Mug-houses were re-fitted, and re-opened with ceremonious entertainments. New songs were composed to stir up the Clubs; and collections of these Mug-house songs were printed. The Jacobite mob was heard beating with its well-known call, marrow-bones and cleavers, and both sides were well equipped with staves of oak, their usual arms for the fray, though other weapons and missiles were in common use. One of the Mug-house songs thus describes the way in which these street fights were conducted:—

"Since the Tories could not fight,

And their master took his flight,

They labour to keep up their faction;

With a bough and a stick,

And a stone and a brick,

They equip their roaring crew for action.

"Thus in battle array,

At the close of the day,

After wisely debating their plot,

Upon windows and stall

They courageously fall,

And boast a great victory they've got.

"But, alas! silly boys!

For all the mighty noise

Of their 'High Church and Ormond for ever!'

A brave Whig, with one hand,

At George's command,

Can make their mightiest hero to quiver."

On March 8, another great Whig anniversary, the day of the death of William III., commenced the more serious Mug-house riots of 1716. A large Jacobite mob assembled to their own watch-cry, and marched along Cheapside, to attack the Roebuck; but they were soon driven back by a small party of the Royal Society, who then marched in procession through Newgate Street, to the Magpie and Stump, and then by the Old Bailey to Ludgate Hill. When about to return, they found the Jacobite mob had collected in great force in their rear; and a fierce engagement took place in Newgate Street, when the Jacobites were again worsted. Then, on the evening of the 23rd of April, the anniversary of the birth of Queen Anne, there were great battles in Cheapside, and at the end of Giltspur Street; and in the immediate neighbourhood of the Roebuck and the Magpie. Other great tumults took place on the 29th of May, Restoration Day; and on the 10th of June, the Pretender's birthday. From this time the Roebuck is rarely mentioned.

The Whigs, who met in the Mug-house, kept by Mr. Read, in Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, appear to have been peculiarly noisy in their cups, and thus rendered themselves the more obnoxious to the mob. On one occasion, July 20, their violent party-toasts, which they drank in the parlour with open windows, collected a large crowd of persons, who became at last so incensed by some tipsy Whigs inside, that they commenced a furious attack upon the house, and threatened to pull it down and make a bonfire of its materials in the middle of Fleet Street. The Whigs immediately closed their windows and barricaded the doors, having sent a messenger by a back door, to the Mug-house in Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, begging that the persons there assembled would come to the rescue. The call was immediately responded to; the Mug-house men proceeded in a body down the Strand and Fleet Street, armed with staves and bludgeons, and commenced an attack on the mob, who still threatened the demolition of the house in Salisbury Court. The inmates sallied out, armed with pokers and tongs, and whatever they could lay their hands upon, and being joined by their friends from Covent Garden, the mob was put to flight, and the Mug-house men remained masters of the field.

The popular indignation was very great at this defeat; and for two days crowds collected in the neighbourhood, and vowed they would have revenge. But the knowledge that a squadron of horse was drawn up at Whitehall, ready to ride into the City on the first alarm, kept order. On the third day, however, the people found a leader in the person of one Vaughan, formerly a Bridewell boy, who instigated the mob to take revenge for their late defeat. They followed him with shouts of "High Church and Ormond! down with the Mug-house!" and Read, the landlord, dreading that they would either burn or pull down his house, prepared to defend himself. He threw up a window, and presented a loaded blunderbuss, and vowed he would discharge its contents in the body of the first man who advanced against his house. This threat exasperated the mob, who ran against the door with furious yells. Read was as good as his word,—he fired, and the unfortunate man Vaughan fell dead upon the spot. The people, now frantic, swore to hang up the landlord from his own sign-post. They forced the door, pulled down the sign, and entered the house, where Read would assuredly have been sacrificed to their fury, if they had found him. He, however, had with great risk escaped by a back-door. Disappointed at this, the mob broke the furniture to pieces, destroyed everything that lay in their way, and left only the bare walls of the house. They now threatened to burn the whole street, and were about to set fire to Read's house, when the Sheriffs, with a posse of constables, arrived. The Riot Act was read, but disregarded; and the Sheriffs sent to Whitehall for a detachment of the military. A squadron of horse soon arrived, and cleared the streets, taking five of the most active rioters into custody.

Read, the landlord, was captured on the following day, and tried for the wilful murder of Vaughan; he was, however, acquitted of the capital charge, and found guilty of manslaughter only. The five rioters were also brought to trial, and met with a harder fate. They were all found guilty of riot and rebellion, and sentenced to death at Tyburn.

This example damped the courage of the rioters, and alarmed all parties; so that we hear no more of the Mug-house riots, until a few months later, a pamphlet appeared with the title, Down with the Mug; or Reasons for suppressing the Mug-houses, by an author who only gave the initials Sir H—— M——, but who seems to have so much of what was thought to be a Jacobite spirit, that it provoked a reply, entitled the Mug Vindicated.

The account of 1722 states that many an encounter they had, and many were the riots, till at last the Government was obliged by an Act of Parliament to put an end to this strife, which had this good effect, that upon pulling down of the Mug-house in Salisbury Court, for which some boys were hanged on this Act, the city has not been troubled with them since.

There is some doubt as to the first use of the term "Mug-house." In a scarce Collection of One Hundred and Eighty Loyal Songs, all written since 1678, Fourth Edition, 1694, is a song in praise of the "Mug," which shows that Mug-houses had that name previous to the Mug-house riots. It has also been stated that the beer-mugs were originally fashioned into a grotesque resemblance of Lord Shaftesbury's face, or "ugly mug," as it was called, and that this is the derivation of the word.

John Timbs
Club Life of London Vol. I
London, 1866