In Fulwood's (vulgo Fuller's) Rents, in Holborn, nearly opposite Chancery-lane, in the reign of James I., lived Christopher Fulwood, in a mansion of some pretension, of which an existing house of the period is said to be the remains. "Some will have it," says Hatton, 1708, "that it is called from being a woody place before there were buildings here; but its being called Fullwood's Rents (as it is in deeds and leases), shows it to be the rents of one called Fullwood, the owner or builder thereof." Strype describes the Rents, or court, as running up to Gray's-Inn, "into which it has an entrance through the gate; a place of good resort, and taken up by coffee-houses, ale-houses, and houses of entertainment, by reason of its vicinity to Gray's-Inn. On the east side is a handsome open place, with a handsome freestone pavement, and better built, and inhabited by private house-keepers. At the upper end of this court is a passage into the Castle Tavern, a house of considerable trade, as is the Golden Griffin Tavern, on the West side."
Here was John's, one of the earliest Coffee-houses; and adjoining Gray's-Inn gate is a deep-coloured red-brick house, once Squire's Coffee-house, kept by Squire, "a noted man in Fuller's Rents," who died in 1717. The house is very roomy; it has been handsome, and has a wide staircase. Squire's was one of the receiving-houses of the Spectator: in No. 269, January 8, 1711-1712, he accepts Sir Roger de Coverley's invitation to "smoke a pipe with him over a dish of coffee at Squire's. As I love the old man, I take delight in complying with everything that is agreeable to him, and accordingly waited on him to the Coffee-house, where his venerable figure drew upon us the eyes of the whole room. He had no sooner seated himself at the upper end of the high table, but he called for a clean pipe, a paper of tobacco, a dish of coffee, a wax candle, and the Supplement [a periodical paper of that time], with such an air of cheerfulness and good humour, that all the boys in the coffee-room, (who seemed to take pleasure in serving him,) were at once employed on his several errands, insomuch that nobody else could come at a dish of tea, until the Knight had got all his conveniences about him." Such was the coffee-room in the Spectator's day.
Gray's-Inn Walks, to which the Rents led, across Field-court, were then a fashionable promenade; and here Sir Roger could "clear his pipes in good air;" for scarcely a house intervened thence to Hampstead. Though Ned Ward, in his London Spy, says—"I found none but a parcel of superannuated debauchees, huddled up in cloaks, frieze coats, and wadded gowns, to protect their old carcases from the sharpness of Hampstead air; creeping up and down in pairs and leashes no faster than the hand of a dial, or a county convict going to execution: some talking of law, some of religion, and some of politics. After I had walked two or three times round, I sat myself down in the upper walk, where just before me, on a stone pedestal, we fixed an old rusty horizontal dial, with the gnomon broke short off." Round the sun-dial, seats were arranged in a semicircle.
Gray's-Inn Gardens were resorted to by dangerous classes. Expert pickpockets and plausible ring-droppers found easy prey there on crowded days; and in old plays the Gardens are repeatedly mentioned as a place of negotiation for clandestine lovers, which led to the walks being closed, except at stated hours.
Returning to Fulwood's Rents, we may here describe another of its attractions, the Tavern and punch-house, within one door of Gray's-Inn, apparently the King's Head. From some time before 1699, until his death in 1731, Ward kept this house, which he thus commemorates, or, in another word, puffs, in his London Spy: being a vintner himself, we may rest assured that he would have penned this in praise of no other than himself:
"To speak but the truth of my honest friend Ned,
The best of all vintners that ever God made;
He's free of the beef, and as free of his bread,
And washes both down with his glass of rare red,
That tops all the town, and commands a good trade;
Such wine as will cheer up the drooping King's head,
And brisk up the soul, though our body's half dead;
He scorns to draw bad, as he hopes to be paid;
And now his name's up, he may e'en lie abed;
For he'll get an estate—there's no more to be said."
We ought to have remarked, that the ox was roasted, cut up, and distributed gratis; a piece of generosity which, by a poetic fiction, is supposed to have inspired the above limping balderdash.
Club Life of London Vol. II