The Filthiest Pub in London
During the early 19th century, Dirty Dick’s was called The Old Jerusalem, but the then owner, William Barker, renamed the pub after an infamous resident who had owned a warehouse around the corner from the pub.
The original Dirty Dick, Richard Bentley, was a prosperous city merchant living in the middle of the 18th century.
He’d been quite a dandy in his youth, but following the death of his fiancée on their wedding day, he refused to wash or clean and for the rest of his life lived in squalor. His house and warehouse shop became so filthy he became a celebrity of dirt. Any letter addressed to ‘The Dirty Warehouse, London’ would be delivered to Bentley. He stopped trading in 1804. The warehouse was later demolished.
The pub on Bishopsgate which Bentley once owned changed its name from The Old Jerusalem to Dirty Dick’s and recreated the look of Bentley’s warehouse shop. The contents, including cobwebs and dead cats, were originally a part of the cellar bar, but have now been put into a glass display case. Successive owners of the Bishopsgate distillery and its tap capitalised on the legend.
This was how it was described in 1866 – ‘A small public house or rather a tap of a wholesale wine and spirit business… a warehouse or barn without floorboards – a low ceiling, with cobweb festoons dangling from the black rafters – a pewter bar battered and dirty, floating with beer – numberless gas pipes tied anyhow along the struts and posts to conduct the spirits from the barrels to the taps – sample phials and labelled bottles of wine and spirits on shelves – everything covered with virgin dust and cobwebs.’
Charles Dickens knew Dirty Dick’s and was fascinated with the myth that Bentley sealed up the door to a room on his wedding day. Leaving the wedding breakfast, wedding cake and table decorations to acquire dust eternally.
In a letter to the printer of his weekly publication ‘Household Words’ Dicken’s wrote, ‘Don’t leave out the Dirty Old Man, he is capital.’ And it has been suggested that Nathaniel Bentley was the inspiration for the character of Miss Havisham in ‘Great Expectations.’
Dirty Dick’s was rebuilt in the eighteen seventies, though the cellars are of an earlier date, and now the bizarre artefacts are banished to a glass case, and is worth a visit. You can explore the wonky half-timbered spaces and seek out the secluded panelled rooms at the rear, where you can enjoy a quiet drink away from the commotion of Bishopsgate to contemplate the ancient coaching inns that once lined this street, long before the age of the train and the motor car.
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