Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Heaven and Hell Taverns Westminster


At the north end of Lindsay-lane, upon the site of the Committee-rooms of the House of Commons, was a tavern called "Heaven;" and under the old Exchequer Chamber were two subterraneous passages called "Hell" and "Purgatory." Butler, in Hudibras, mentions the first as

"False Heaven at the end of the Hell;"

Gifford, in his notes on Ben Jonson, says: "Heaven and Hell were two common alehouses, abutting on Westminster Hall. Whalley says that they were standing in his remembrance. They are mentioned together with a third house, called Purgatory, in a grant which I have read, dated in the first year of Henry VII."

Old Fuller quaintly says of Hell: "I could wish it had another name, seeing it is ill jesting with edged tools. I am informed that formerly this place was appointed a prison for the King's debtors, who never were freed thence until they had paid their uttermost due demanded of them. This proverb is since applied to moneys paid into the Exchequer, which thence are irrecoverable, upon what plea or pretence whatever."

Peacham describes Hell as a place near Westminster Hall, "where very good meat is dressed all the term time;" and the Company of Parish Clerks add, it is "very much frequented by lawyers." According to Ben Jonson, Hell appears to have been frequented by lawyers' clerks; for, in his play of the Alchemist, Dapper is forbidden

"To break his fast in Heaven or Hell."

Hugh Peters, on his Trial, tells us that he went to Westminster to find out some company to dinner with him, and having walked about an hour in Westminster Hall, and meeting none of his friends to dine with him, he went "to that place called Heaven, and dined there."

When Pride "purged" the Parliament, on Dec. 6, 1648, the forty-one he excepted were shut up for the night in the Hell tavern, kept by a Mr. Duke (Carlyle); and which Dugdale calls "their great victualling-house near Westminster Hall, where they kept them all night without any beds."

Pepys, in his Diary, thus notes his visit: "28 Jan. 1659-60. And so I returned and went to Heaven, where Ludlin and I dined." Six years later, at the time of the Restoration, four days before the King landed, in one of these taverns, Pepys spent the evening with Locke and Purcell, hearing a variety of brave Italian and Spanish songs, and a new canon of Locke's on the words, "Domine salvum fac Regem." "Here, out of the windows," he says, "it was a most pleasant sight to see the City, from one end to the other, with a glory about it, so high was the light of the bonfires, and thick round the City, and the bells rang everywhere."

After all, "Hell" may have been so named from its being a prison of the King's debtors, most probably a very bad one: it was also called the Constabulary. Its Wardenship was valued yearly at the sum of 11s., and Paradise at 4l.

Purgatory appears also to have been an ancient prison, the keys of which, attached to a leathern girdle, says Walcot's Westminster, are still preserved. Herein were kept the ducking-stools for scolds, who were placed in a chair fastened on an iron pivot to the end of a long pole, which was balanced at the middle upon a high trestle, thus allowing the culprit's body to be ducked in the Thames.

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