['Johnson's Alamode Beef House': celebrated London eaterie associated with Charles Dickens.] Autograph Letter Signed from proprietor R. J. P. Jaquet, asking Sir Herbert Taylor to help with application to Bow Street magistrates Birnie and Minshull.

'Johnson's Alamode Beef House', Drury Lane, London, Robert John Philip Jaquet, (1799-1867), proprietor [Sir Herbert Taylor (1775-1839); Sir Richard Birnie (c.1760-1832); Charles Dickens; Bow Street]
Publication details: 
21 Clare Court [Drury Lane, Covent Garden, London]; 2 March 1829.
SKU: 21915

An interesting document relative to London social history, and a nice piece of Dickensiana. George Johnson is said to have established his celebrated restaurant Johnson's Alamode Beef House at 21 Clare Court, Drury Lane, in the 1780s, although the present letter states that it was licensed around 1805 . In 1824 a twelve-year-old Charles Dickens – employed in a nearby blacking warehouse as a result of his father's imprisionment for debt – himself experienced an incident which he later made use of in 'David Copperfield'. As he later described it: 'Once, I remember tucking my own bread (which I had brought from home in the morning) under my arm, wrapped up in a piece of paper like a book, and going into the best dining-room in Johnson's alamode beef-house in Clare Court, Drury Lane, and magnificently ordering a small plate of alamode beef to eat with it. What the waiter thought of such a strange little apparition, coming in all alone, I don't know; but I can see him now, staring at me as I ate my dinner, and bringing up the other waiter to look. I gave him a halfpenny, and I wish, now, that he hadn't taken it.' George Johnson died around 1827 (two years before the writing of the present letter), and his son-in-law Jaquet became his executor. The restaurant was subsequently named after Jaquet, and he became Church Warden of St Clement Danes. Regarding the restaurant during the period of Jaquet's ownership it was later recalled: 'Here the affairs of the parish used to be discussed, and occasionally a little scandal, to enliven the scene.' Jaquet was evidently on familiar terms with the recipient Sir Herbert Taylor (for whom see the Oxford DNB), as he addresses him twice in the letter as 'Sir Herbert', but the circumstances of his connection with such a distinguished figure are unclear. (At the time of the letter Taylor was Master Surveyor and Surveyor-General of the Ordnance, and Adjutant-General of the Forces.) 5pp, 4to. On two bifoliums. (The second bfiolium also carries an autograph copy of the letter written by Taylor in response to Jaquet's letter, described below.) In good condition, lightly aged. Signed 'R. J. P Jaquet'. Jacquet begins by apologising for again troubling Taylor, but explains that 'the case is a very hard one and unless I succeed with your influence I shall sustain a very considerable loss of property'. He continues: 'When you gave me a letter of recommendation to Sir Richard Birnie I took the same myself to Bow Street he was on the bench with Mr Minshull. [i.e. George Rowland Minshull (c.1762-1840)] Sir Richard enquired the nature of my application. I stated it was to obtain permission of the Magistrates to enlarge “Johnson's premises” to make up best for Gentlemen and also to have a coffee room on the Ground floor. Sir Richard said the Magistrates had no power to prevent Licensed Houses being enlarged he immediately turned to Mr Minshull and said do you know any law to prevent Licensed Houses being enlarged he replied he did not. I assured Sir Richd. our wish was to obtain the sanction of the Magistrates before we took any proceedings. Sir Richard spoke highly of the House and the manner in which it had always been conducted and requested we would go and make the alteration and it should not meet with any opposition whatever'. He reminds Taylor that he subsequently wrote to him, after which a contract with a surveyor was entered into 'for the necessary alterations which could not be commenced till the beginning of the year on account of giving due notice for rebuilding the party wall of the adjoining House.' Addressing the recipient twice as 'Sir Herbert', he expresses his astonishment at receiving a subsequent 'paragraph' from Bow Street. He has been to see Birnie, who 'now says he must hear what his colleagues have to say on the subject and treated me very indifferently'. He protests that no complaint has been lodged against 'our establishment since it has been Licensed which is now about 24 years since'. He asks for 'a note to Thos Hall [i.e. Thomas James Hall, another magistrate] and – Minshull Esq', which would enable him 'to state the case to them and point out in what our alterations was to consist, As we have not nor never had any idea of making a Liquor Shop of it as is stated in the paper [i.e. a newspaper cutting laid down on the letter, described below]'. The 'Licensing day' falls on the following Monday, and unless Jaquet 'can see the above Gentlemen tomorrow and obtain their interest' he will be 'placed in a very uncertain position'. He 'sincerely' wishes for 'a similar note to what you sent to Sir Richard', but asks him 'to make use of the name of “Johnson” as the House is Licensed in the same and is in much repute being the original Alamode Beef House'. He ends by stating that he will call at Taylor's office the following day. The letter addressed to 'Sir Herbert Taylor' on the reverse of the last leaf, and is also endorsed '3d. March Lr to Sir Rd. Birnie delivered to Mr Jaquet'. Written at the head of the first page is 'March [3?] | To Sir R Birnie'. Taylor's autograph draft of his letter resulting from Jaquet's request is written in pencil across the two central pages of the second bifolium: 'Mr [Brown?] wrote to Sir Rd. Binnie. | My dear Sir | I have heard with much concern that Some Difficulties have arisen & Objections been made relative to the Enlargement of Johnsons Premises in Clare Court on the Subject of which I took the Liberty of [?] You some time ago as One of the Customers was a very [?] servant of [Their late?] Magistrates. I shall therefore be much obliged to You and Your Brother Magistrates if you will extend Your Justices Protection to these Interests'. Laid down beneath Jaquet's signature at the end of the letter is a newspaper cutting: 'At this juncture, Mr. Collier, Vestry Clerk of St. Clement's, entered the Office on parish business. | Sir Richard said he wanted to speak to him respectihg the intended enlargement of Johnson's alamode beef-shop, Clare court, into a tavern and liquor shop, [last two words deleted] which he thought the Magistrates ought not to permit. | Mr. Collier said Johnson was dead, and the improvements were contemplated by his widow.'