Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The Dog and Duck Tavern by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd from a drawing dated 1642. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.
The Dog and Duck was an infamous place of entertainment and recreation in St George’s Fields which became the focus for the ongoing struggle for jurisdiction in Southwark between the City of London and the County of Surrey. In the seventeenth century, St George’s Fields consisted mainly of open swampy fields, a place where the unwary traveller might encounter robbery and violence. The Dog and Duck, situated where the Imperial War Museum is today, was a wayside tavern offering refreshment to passers by and named after a barbaric sport which had taken place in the adjacent ponds.
As the fashion for spas grew in the early 18th century, a few establishments were opened on St George’s Fields that offered therapeutic spa waters though it’s unlikely the waters contained any therapeutic benefit at all. The Dog and Duck, renaming itself St George’s Spaw, advertised in August 1732 as follows:
“To all Gentlemen, Ladies and others, that at the Dog and Duck at St George’s Fields near Lambeth, the Purging Waters commonly called the St George’s Spaw are sold and still recommended by eminent physicians for the cure of the following: distempers viz gout, Gravel, Stone, ulcers, Fistulas, King’s Evil, Blotches, Sore eyes and all salt and sharp humours but above all the great success which these waters have had in the Cure of Investigative Cancers have rendered them truly famous throughout the Kingdoms. There are many happy instances of the Truth of this daily to be seen and heard of at the Place above mentioned which are too long to be inserted here. The Price is 4d the gallon delivered at the Pump with a ticket.”
“… the waters are in as great perfection at present as at any time of the year … the long room is open with a good fire every day for the benefit of whose who chose to drink the waters there where they may have the best Epsom Salts … the water shall be carefully bottled and corked with new corks, sealed with the arms of the Dog and Duck and City arms … a very commodious cold bath for those that chose to bathe, supplied from the mineral spring with fire and room to dress and undress in …”
At this time, the tavern was owned by Elizabeth Hedger. It was said she had been a barmaid to a tavern keeper in London who had left the Dog and Duck to her upon his death.
Around 1770, Mr Sampson set up an equestrian show where circus tricks were performed in an adjacent field. Unable to cope with the increased custom this brought to the tavern, Mrs Hedger sent for her son James who was working as a yard boy in the country. Over the next few years, the tavern was improved and expanded. The garden was laid out where a band played and in the evening, the “long room” was well lit where visitors danced, drank and listened to the organ. There were skittles and a billiard table. As the popularity for taking the water declined, advertisements placed more emphasis on the attractions and amusements of the tavern itself. “The Long Room, Gardens and Pleasure Bath are completed for the Summer Season where the public may depend on being served with the best of wines and other liquors. The Long Room is fitted up in an elegant taste for the reception of genteel company in which is an extreme fine organ. NB Coffee, Tea and hot loaves as usual. Handsome Apartments to lett, with boarding if required.”
The tavern began to acquire a reputation for attracting people of dubious morals and of licentious behaviour. In 1787 Darcy Wentworth appeared before the Bow Street Magristrates charged with committing highway robbery. He was of good family and had served as an officer in the army, but in his defence blamed his actions on the “destructive connections” he had formed with bad characters at the Dog and Duck, St George’s Fields. In the same year, Hedger applied to the Surrey Magistrates for the renewal of the tavern’s license but earlier in the year King George III had issued a proclamation against such things as drunkenness and profanation of the Sabbath, and the Surrey Magistrates, endeavouring to act in line with the intention of the proclamation, refused the license. Unperturbed, James Hedger applied to the City of London magistrates to renew his license. The Times reported on the proceedings:
“…Mr Alderman Crosby argued strongly against [renewal]; and stated the pernicious consequences likely to result to society from a house in which gangs of both whores and rogues were constantly associated.
"Sir William Plomer, on the other side, contended that the policy of every enlarged Society required that some species of public amusement should be indulged, that the amusements of the Dog and Duck were perfectly innocent – a dish of tea, or a glass of wine; that if the youth of both sexes were refused opportunities of meeting each other in an innocent way, nature would dictate associations which must in the end be more detrimental to the interests of Society.
"The Lord Mayor then explained his sentiments, that as no specific charge of disorder etc was made against the house, he should concur in granting the license, upon condition that the organ and other musical entertainments were suppressed; and that the house should be entirely shut up, during divine Service, on the Lord’s day.”
The City’s decision to grant the license angered the Surrey Magistrates who were not going to allow this to happen without a fight. At issue now was not just whether the Dog and Duck should be allowed to continue trading but who was responsible for the licensing in Southwark: the County of Surrey or the City of London. Though the City had the right to grant licenses, in practical terms it was the County of Surrey who had for many years dealt with licensing issues.
At a meeting held on October 3rd 1787 there were complaints that the endeavours of the Surrey Magistrates to carry into effect the King’s Proclamation for suppressing vice and immorality had been undermined by the City of London who had licensed several establishments who had been refused licenses by the County of Surrey. Now tavern owners were applying directly to the City of London who were now seen as more amenable. It was decided to further their complaint and “direct proper measures would be taken against the usurpation of the City Magistrates” and an indictment was made against the Mayor of London and an Alderman who had “unlawfully and wrongfully met together, and granted licenses to Hedger, and two other persons although they knew that these publicans had … been refused licenses.” The matter became the subject of much argument and discussion within Southwark “each had their supporters who were attached either from interest or inclination.”
A society whose aims were the prevention of vice and immorality had been established and it’s said their influence was a great obstacle to the Dog and Duck receiving a license. In turn, James Hedger, claiming the support of the church-wardens and the overseers of the Parish of St George the Martyr, claimed to run an orderly house and that malice and jealousy on the part of others had led to the claims of immorality. It also appears he got the Editor of The Times on side as the following article appeared on 30th August 1788:
“This pleasantly situated stop has been improved at a very enormous expense by its present Proprietor, who has laid out the Gardens with peculiar neatness, and refreshed them by a large canal;. Here it was thought the youth of both sexes met too numerous, and too often for the benefit of their morals, and a strong party was formed to annihilate the place. But the general idea of sensible men was, that the Proclamation only gave an opportunity for the long pent-up malice of a certain junto in that parish, who envied industry its long earned reward, to busy forth on this man’s head, and at once crush all his hopes of providing handsomely for his family. This is one measure they effected by shutting up his doors on a Sunday evening, and preventing him the liberty that every other victualler enjoyed of selling tea, wine, etc as if his house and Gardens were more offensive to morality than those of other people. It certainly was true that the beauties of the place, the variety of the company, and the gaiety of the music, drew together a vast concourse of people, but there was neither a private room to commit fornication, nor late hours to induce inebriety. The only complaint, in truth, was that the music invited, the company charmed, and that, as is every the case in all places of public amusement, girls of the town crowded there …”
In 1792 judgment was made against the City of London which not only brought about the eventual demise of the Dog and Duck in 1799 but also ensured licensing matters in future were dealt with by the County of Surrey.The Dog and Duck became a temporary home to the School for Indigent Blind until they moved into permanent premises at St George’s Circus in 1811. The City of London entered into discussions with Bethlem Hopsital regarding the site and the buildings of the Dog and Duck dismantled in 1812.
James Hedger had by now become a wealthy man through leases to land on St George’s Fields he had acquired from the City of London. Though it was stated within the leases that building was prohibited, he nevertheless erected small cottages. The City of London tried to make a case he was building on common land but were advised that as Hedger had the controlling interest in the land they would be unlikely to win any action. The land was not properly drained prior to the cottages' erection and were built in the cheapest manner possible. As such, they only attracted the poorest of tenants of which there was no shortage. He only held a lease of 21 years from the City of London who made it clear they would not be renewing the leases. When the leases expired, James Hedger arranged for a gang of men to take down the buildings so the materials could be reused.
Like many a clever entrepreneur who has become rich by perhaps dubious means, James Hedger had another side and gained a reputation as a “worthy private character.” A sympathetic, perhaps anecdotal , account was written by Mr De Castro in 1824 regarding events surrounding the Dog and Duck and its proprietor. He was a civically minded man, a church-warden for St George the Martyr Church, and a supporter of such causes as the Surrey Dispensary, the Philanthropic Society, the Humane Society and a soup kitchen for the poor, and he created a Trust with his five sons for the provision of eight almshouses for women over 50. He died in January 1824.
From The Times, 23 July 1930, page 12:
"The Libraries Committee of Southwark Borough Council have asked the Governors of Bethlem Hospital Lambeth-road, S.E. to present to the Cuming Museum, Walworth Road, S.E. a stone which is embedded in the garden wall of the hospital. The stone, which bears the date 1716, consists of two panels. One bears the arms of the City Ward of Bridge Without, which is now Southwark, and the other a representation of a squatting dog holding a duck by the neck. According to local records a tavern was built about 1646 in that part of St George's Fields now included in the hospital grounds. It was the centre of a very popular pastime of the period, in which a sportsman matched the strength and the skill of his dog against the elusiveness of a terrified duck. It is mentioned in records that the "Dog and Duck Tavern" was well patronized by "the quality" between 1754 and 1770. About 25 years later the building was converted into a bakery, and later came into the possession of the Bethlem Hospital authorities, who have preserved the sign of the famous tavern."
(Note: This article first appeared in 2012 on my website Bankside Then and Now which is currently offline.)