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The Coal Hole, 15 and 16 Fountain Court, Strand, London

Fountain Court Strand - 2003 - Photo M.L.See Theatreland MapsThe Coal Hole was a tavern, formerly called the Unicorn, located in the north east corner of a narrow alley called Fountain Court, just off the Strand, and opposite the former Exeter Hall. It was established in 1815. Fountain Court itself was arched over when Savoy Buildings replaced the buildings in that part of the Strand, including the former Fountain Tavern from which the court originally took its name. Later part of the site would be used to erect the Terry's Theatre.

Right - Fountain Court today.

In its time the Coal Hole was quite a rough place, and is said to have been where Edmund Kean helped in drunken orgies. It had no platform, commenced proceedings at eleven p.m. and was conducted by a chairman: It was very well patronised by all the celebrities of the time.

It gained fame under the direction of John Rhodes, who had a passion for silver plate and boasted that more silver tankards, goblets and flagons, loving cups and the like could be seen there than in any of the big hotels in London. He ran it successfully on the lines of Evans's and was himself Chairman. He was a big man with a fine presence, an excellent baritone voice and was one of the most popular turns of the time. When he died, his son improved it but when Rhodes Junior died in 1850 his widow tried to carry on but without success, likewise John Bruton, of Vauxhall Gardens, and so the glory of the Coal Hole departed.

The above text is an edited version of a piece in 'The Melodies Linger On' by W Maqueen-Pope, with additions by M.L.

In an advertisement in the ERA of 21st January 1849 the Coal Hole is described thus: 'John Rhodes begs to inform his friends and the public they will find every variety of Vocal Entertainment at the above old established house, commencing every evening at Eight o'Clock precisely. Glees, Duets, Solos, Catches, Comic Singing &c., executed by the most numerous and talented company of vocalists in the metropolis, under the direction of the celebrated Mr. Baldwin, for sixteen years Vocal Director at Mr. Rouse's Grecian Saloon.

J. H. Cave, the celebrated Banjo Player, and Singer of the most popular Nigger Melodies, * is nightly engaged; also that laughter-moving son of Momus, Bob Glindon, the only rival to John Parry. J. R. has negotiations pending with several vocalists, whose style is perfectly unique and Original, and whose debut will be officially announced.

The celebrated writer of comic songs, Mr. John Labern, is engaged exclusively for this establishment, where only can his original and humorous productions be heard and obtained.

The chair taken by John Rhodes every Evening.

In the commodious and comfortable Coffee-room, Joints, Poultry, &c., are always ready for Dinner; and Suppers recherché supplied on the most reasonable terms.

Private Rooms for Clubs, Masonic-Meetings, &c. Visitors to the Metropolis can depend upon well-aired Beds.

N.B. - No Charge for Admission.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 21st January 1849.

A Notice in the ERA of the 9th of January 1853

Above - A Notice in the ERA of the 9th of January 1853 stating 'COAL-HOLE TAVERN, FOUNTAIN-COURT, STRAND, Opposite Exeter Hall. - The LORD CHIEF BARON-NICHOLSON has the honour to apprise his Friends that he has redecorated the Coffee-room of the above establishment, and that it will be ready for the reception of the Public on Monday evening. Chops, Steaks, Kidneys, &c., from the Patent Gridiron. Dinners, Soups, &c., Beds, 1s. 6d. The JUDGE and JURY SOCIETY sits Every Night at Nine o'C;ock. New Cases of thrilling interest. B. NICHOLSON respectfully intimates to those Friends whom bushiness or pleasure may call to the neighbourhood of the Coal-Hole, that his exertions are now solely for his OWN BENEFIT.

Photo M. L. 2003Photo M. L. 2003

 

Above - Detail of the inscriptions flanking the entrance to Fountain Court - 2003

The Present Coal Hole Public House, 91 Strand

The present Coal Hole Public House, looking up the Strand. - M. L. 2003Edward Lee in Thirteen Guided Walks to the Fascinating Music Landmarks of London suggests that the name came as a result of its use by coal heavers. He also indicates the existence of a memorial plaque that states that the original song and supper room was located nearby.

Right - The present Coal Hole Public House, looking up the Strand.

There is a Public House at 91 The strand which still bears the name The Coal Hole, but although close to the original location is related by name only.

The present Coal Hole Public House - M. L. 2003High wooden rafters and faded pennants give this pub an authentic mediaeval feel; the high traditions of the Robber Barons of yore are also maintained by the soft drinks prices. Formerly a haunt of the city's heavers of coal to every smog-creating household, that Actor with a capital A, Edmund Kean started The Wolf Club there for the purposes of hard drinking & high jinx. Nothing has changed. Cheers!

Left - The present Coal Hole Public House, Strand.

Photo of the Coal Hole sign (Probably 1950s - 1970s) with image of Edmund Kean - Courtesy Ken StewartWilliam Blake lived in two rooms on the first floor of No. 3 Fountain Court, a red brick house,from 1821 until his death in 1827. He was very poor, and frankly admitted that 'he lived in a hole'. He consoled himself, however, with the thought that 'God had a beautiful mansion for him elsewhere'. It was here that Blake produced his Illustrations to ante's Divine Comedy and his Illustrations to The Book of Job.

From the steps behind the Tavern you can enjoy a similar view of the Thames - looking like 'a bar of gold'- to that which Blake enjoyed.

Right - A Photo of the Coal Hole sign (Probably 1950s - 1970s) with image of Edmund Kean Courtesy Ken Stewart.

Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.