From Gin Punch to Collins – Part 6: Limmer’s Hotel

Limmer's Hotel - Titelbild.

After the gin punch was made with soda water at the Garrick Club, Limmer’s Hotel played an important role in its further evolution into Collins.

Now that we have described the Garrick Club Punch, which is basically very similar to a Collins, we must turn to Limmer’s Hotel to understand the origin of the Collins. It is said that a gin punch was also prepared in this hotel, which probably later received the name Collins. David Wondrich calls the hotel’s gin punch “Limmer’s Gin Punch”.

Limmer’s Hotel

George Street, Hanover Square. Rudolph Ackermmann: The Repository of Arts, Vol. 8, page 256. In front on the left, at the corner of Conduit Street and George Street, is Limmer's Hotel.
George Street, Hanover Square. Rudolph Ackermann: The Repository of Arts, Vol. 8, page 256. In front on the left, at the corner of Conduit Street and George Street, is Limmer’s Hotel. [20-256]

Around 1768 Stephen Limmer left the small town of Tuddenham in Suffolk, went to London and found employment at the “New Exchange Coffee House”. After 15 years he left and opened his own Coffee House, officially called “The Prince of Wales Coffee House and Limmer’s Hotel”, on the corner of Conduit Street and St. George Street, south of Hanover Square. Stephen Limmer died in 1818. His assistant Sam took over the Coffee House, and it remained a fashionable place until the 1860s. Then it fell out of fashion. It closed in 1876. The furniture was auctioned off. The hotel was rebuilt and reopened under the old name. [11] [17-103] The hotel’s address in 1843 was 1 George Street. [16-973] After rebuilding, the entrance had apparently been moved to 26 Conduit Street. [18-7]

There are various reports about this hotel, and in our opinion it is important to know them. Because this is crucial for the subsequent popularity of the gin punch offered there.

Rees Howell Gronow, circa 1840.
Rees Howell Gronow, circa 1840. [12]

Rees Howell Gronow, a member of the Garrick Club, [15-7] [30-33] gives an account of the hotel as he remembered it from 1814 in his memoirs published in 1862:

Rees Howell Gronow: Reminiscences of Captain Gronow. London, 1862. Page 74-75.
Rees Howell Gronow: Reminiscences of Captain Gronow. London, 1862. Page 74-75. [2-74] [2-75]

„LONDON HOTELS IN 1814: – There was a class of men, of very high rank, such as Lord Wellington, Nelson, and Collingwood, Sir John Moore and some few others, who never frequented the clubs. The persons to whom I refer, and amongst whom were many members of the sporting world, used to congregate at a few hotels. The Clarendon, Limmer‘s, Ibbetson‘s, Fladong‘s, Stephens‘, and Grillon‘s, were the fashionable hotels. … Limmer‘s was an evening resort for the sporting world; in fact, it was a midnight Tattersall‘s, where you heard nothing but the language of the turf, and where men with not very clean hands used to make up their books. Limmer‘s was the most dirty hotel in London; but in the gloomy, comfortless coffee-room might be seen many members of the rich squirearchy, who visited London during the sporting season. This hotel was frequently so crowded that a bed could not be obtained for any amount of money; but you could always get a very good plain English dinner, an excellent bottle of port, and some famous gin-punch.“ [2-74] [2-75]

The statement that Limmer’s was the dirtiest hotel in London is often quoted. However, we have our doubts about this one. The other descriptions of the hotel speak a different language, as we will show in the following quotes. So let us first start with the hotel description in “The Epicure’s Almanack” from 1815:

Anonymus: The epicure's almanack. London, 1815. Page 190-191.
Anonymus: The epicure’s almanack. London, 1815. Page 190-191. [10-190] [10-191]

„Prince of Wales. We will now cross Bond-street into Conduit-street, and there at the left hand corner of George-street, will we do homage to that truly elegant and very extensive establishment, the Prince of Wales Hotel and Tavern. It has for many years been conducted ably, and we trust successfully, by Mr. Limmer, who is perhaps the most active man in London of his age, being as we have heard him say, somewhat older than his present Majesty. It is no derogation to hi merit or his reputation for wealth to say, that industry alone has raised him to the station of master of this almost unique Hotel. Forty-six years ago Mr. Limmer officiated as principal waiter at the New Exchange Coffee-house in the Strand. So large is the concern he now manages with such great ability, that including cooks and scullions, waiters and drawers, house-maids and chamber-maids, hair-dressers and boot-cleaners, cellar-men and porters, bar-women and grooms of the chamber, Mr. Limmer does not retain fewer than thirty domestics, the expense attending to whom, together with that of the large supplies of coals, candles, linen, and other articles of constant consumption is very great indeed; and this consideration should of itself operate as an ample justification of the apparently high charges which Mr. Limmer and other Hotel keepers of his rank and degree are necessarily compelled to make.“ [10-190] [10-191]

The new sporting magazine, Vol. 8, 1844. Page 351.
The new sporting magazine, Vol. 8, 1844. Page 351. [19-351]

This description paints a completely different picture, namely that of a rather luxuriously run hotel with all kinds of amenities. What is also interesting about this description is that women served the drinks at the bar in the hotel. Another piece of information is also remarkable, because it gives us a hint about Stephen Limmer’s age. He describes himself as “somewhat older than his present Majesty”. The latter was George III in 1815, born in 1738, but whose official duties had been taken over by the later George IV in 1811, 9 years before his death. [9] Stephen Limmer was thus probably born before 1738. This means that he was at least 78 years old in 1815, when the hotel description appeared.

In a narration that appeared in The New Sporting Magazine in 1844, the hotel is also described. Since the story refers to the year when the gracious Queen came to the throne of her ancestors, it can only be set in 1837, when Queen Victoria ascended the throne:

The new sporting magazine, Vol. 8, 1844. Page 352.
The new sporting magazine, Vol. 8, 1844. Page 352. [19-352]

„It was in the year that our gracious Queen came to the throne of her ancestors that I arrived in town, having just taken a good degree at Cambridge. … we put ourselves into two hack-cabs, and ordered the respective Jehus to drive us to Limmer‘s Hotel, Conduit-street. Limmers! What a history might be written of your walls! … It was here that John Collins flourished, than whom a more respectable, kind-hearted creature never existed, and who gave rise to an inimitable song, written by one who inherits all the wit and poetry of his talented ancestors – Charles Sheridan, Esq. In the coffee-room at Limmer‘s every man of note in the fashionable, sporting, military, naval, or country-gentleman world, have met. How many books for the Derby, Oaks, and St. Leger have been cast up in the small snuggery, yclept the writing-room! How many men have gone forth from Limmer‘s in the hope of winning thousands, and have returned beggars! Were half the “sayings and doings” of this far-famed house made known to the public, how would they beat in interest all the memoirs, reminiscences, anecdots, and adventures that have emanated from the press for the last half century! “Limmer‘s as it Was, with Anecdotes of its Past Patrons and Frequenters,” would take the reading world by storm, and soon eclipse Cecil or Coningsby in their respective editions.“ [19-351] [19-352]

Limmer’s Hotel was – as Rees Howell Gronow puts it – already famous for its gin punch around 1814. As this is well before the appearance of the Garrick Club Punch, it could not yet have been prepared with soda water.

Mrs. Gore: The money-lender. Vol. I. London, 1843. Page 13.
Mrs. Gore: The money-lender. Vol. I. London, 1843. Page 13. [14-13]

People went to Limmer’s for gin-punch parties, according to Catherine Grace Frances Gore’s story “The Money Lender”, [14-13] published in 1832: „for one day, when he made his appearance as usual, and the effects of a gin-punch party at Limmer’s the previous night, were only too visible in my face, … .“ [13-141] [14-13]

In 1845 it is written that there are several hundred inns, hotels and taverns in London, many of them splendid, all more or less spacious and extensive. The number of elegant hotels, where everything is on the highest scale of elegance and expense, is said to be about thirty, and these are all situated at the west end of the city. Among them was Limmer’s Hotel. [29-206] So Limmer’s was by no means – at least around 1845 – the “dirty joint” that Captain Gronow depicted it as being in 1814. Rather, it was an exclusive place. This is also confirmed by other sources. Many noble gentlemen rented rooms there, for example in 1848 the Earl of Orkney as a representative of Scotland and member of the high nobility, [27] [28-94] who lodged there as early as 1839, [24-411] likewise other members of parliament, for example two [26-209] [26-223] in 1837 or four members of parliament in 1838. [25-77] [25-83] [25-86] [25-88] This should suffice as proof of the quality of the accommodation.

George John Whyte-Melville: Tilbury Nogo. London, 1854. Page 221.
George John Whyte-Melville: Tilbury Nogo. London, 1854. Page 221. [23-221]

Limmer’s was open day and night, as can be seen from these remarks: „We were to take our departure from Limmer‘s – that unceremonious hostelry, whose doors, like those of another much-thronged locality, stand open „night and day.“ [23-221]

However, Limmer’s also eventually closed, in 1876. This was a reason in contemporary newspapers to review the importance of the hotel, not only in Britain but also in the USA. Thus writes The True Northener in 1876:

The Last of Limmer's. In: The True Northerner, 17. November 1876, page 3.
The Last of Limmer’s. In: The True Northerner, 17. November 1876, page 3. [22]

 „THE LAST OF LIMMER’S. A Famous London Sporting Hotel Torn Down. “Limmer’s,” a celebrated tavern in the west of London, has been demolished. It was to our fathers and grandfathers what the Turf Club, Pratt’s, the Victoria and Albert are to sporting men of to-day. The London Telegraph indulges in the following comments upon the event: “The name of Limmer’s Hotel, as being the foremost tavern of its class in the world, has been coextensive in celebrity with ‘Weatherby’s’ and ‘Tattersall’s.’ Crop after crop of gallant and light hearted youngsters has arisen, has run its course and fallen before the inexorable scythe of the bookmaker, leaving no other record of its existence, and no other epitaph than the inscription of its not always settled tavern accounts upon the faithful and suggestive register at Limmer’s. What punishment have not the supporters of Limmer’s endured since the Prince Regent and Sheridan and Beau Brummel cracked their first bottle under its roof, when the century was in its babyhood. … When Limmer’s was at its zenith, from 1830 to 1860, what a troop of ‘mad rogues’ thronged its passages, were ‘bitten’ as the old phrase ran – by the ‘barn-mouse’ at its bar and in its coffee-room, and made it their favorite camping-ground as week followed week and left them still in town. … It has long been a theory with modern denizens of Limmer’s that the luck of the house departed when the old bare and sanded floor was replaced by a Brussels carpet. The truth is that when Limmer’s was started, and called itself the Prince Regent’s Tavern, the famous coffee-room was carpeted. … There are few now living to remember the first and most famous of Limmer’s waiters, whose name is perpetuated on both sides of the Atlantic by a still favorite drink, in which gin, soda water, ice, lemon and sugar are the constituent elements. ‘My name is John Collins,’ sang the gay youth of a bygone age, ‘head waiter at Limmer’s, corner of Conduit street, Hanover square; my chief occupation is filling of brimmers for all the young gentlemen frequenters there.’ It was to his vigilant and characteristic prudence that some of his young clients owed the possession of a ‘loophole of retreat,’ which enabled them to escape without passing through the easily-watched portal. … The tavern which, as a guest-house, has probably run its earthly course, and of which, before many moons have rolled away, there will be nothing but memories left, occupies a space in the West-End life of London, which no other building in the metropolis can so adequatly fill.“ [22] Dieser Text erschien auch in der Chicago Daily Tribune am 5. November 1876. [21]

George IV. (1762-1830), King of Hanover, King of Great Britain and Ireland, c. 1811.
George IV. (1762-1830), King of Hanover, King of Great Britain and Ireland, c. 1811. [8]

In this text published in America, a few passages dealing with the monarchist background are missing. And it is these that are very interesting. The Illustrated Sporting And Dramatic News reports on it. It says there:

The illustrated sporting and dramatic news. Vol. 6. 28. October 1876. London.
The illustrated sporting and dramatic news. Vol. 6. 28. October 1876. London. . [17-103]

– „George Frederik Augustus, Prince of Wales, Limmer‘s great hero, after whom it became known as “The Prince Regent‘s Tavern,” was … a constant frequenter of Limmer‘s. He had his own room there, which is still pointed [at], and which up to Saturday last contained the chair in which [he sat], and the carved feathers of his crest … But the Turf was the first love of Prince George Frederick Augustus, and Limmer‘s was then its head-quarters“. [17-103]

George IV in 1780.
George IV in 1780. [6]

It was certainly a great honour for Limmer’s that the future King George IV had a room of his own at Limmer’s. It could hardly have been more prominent. George Frederik Augustus was born in 1762, from 1811 he exercised the office of regent, as George III was no longer able to do so, and in 1820 he ascended the throne as George IV. Not everyone liked him. [7] At this point we will not go into detail about his biography, but content ourselves with a few key words.

Caricature of George IV, as Prince of Wales, 1792.
Caricature of George IV, as Prince of Wales, 1792. [5]

He led a dissolute and extravagant life, had a broken relationship with his father, entered into a secret marriage in 1785, which, however, was legally invalid due to the King’s lack of consent, and finally, also due to his immense debts, had to marry his cousin Caroline of Brunswick in 1795 so that his allowance would be increased and he would thus be saved from personal ruin. This bridal couple had only met for the first time three days before the marriage, and the prince simply left his bride shortly after greeting her and asked for a brandy. However, this marriage soon failed, they separated in 1797, and he wanted to have the marriage annulled by an Act of Parliament in 1820. Because of his extravagance and gambling addiction, his affairs and his corpulence, he was a favourite target of caricaturists. Among his confidants was “Beau” Brummell, who is still considered the prototype of the dandy. Under his influence, a decidedly luxurious and colourful men’s fashion developed. One innovation was the prince’s renunciation of wearing powdered wigs. [7]

Now that we have looked at Limmer’s Hotel and its clientele, in the next post in this series we can turn to John Collins, who worked there and was famous for his punch.

  1. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_(Vereinigtes_K%C3%B6nigreich) Victoria (Vereinigtes Königreich).
  2. https://archive.org/details/reminiscencesca00grongoog/page/n97 Rees Howell Gronow: Reminiscences of Captain Gronow, formerly of the grenadier guards, and M. P. for Stafford: Being anecdotes of the camp, the court, and the clubs, at the close of the last war with France. London, 1862.
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tattersalls Tattersalls.
  4. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/coffee_room Coffee room.
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:A-voluptuary.jpg A voluptuary under the horrors of digestion. 1792.
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GeorgeIV1780.jpg Portrait of George IV of the United Kingdom (1762-1830), between circa 1780 and circa 1782.
  7. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_IV._(Vereinigtes_K%C3%B6nigreich) George IV. (Vereinigtes Königreich).
  8. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Georg_IV._(Vereinigtes_K%C3%B6nigreich)@Residenzmuseum_Celle20160708.jpg Georg IV. (1762-1830), König von Hannover, König von Großbritannien und Irland, etwa 1811.
  9. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_III._(Vereinigtes_K%C3%B6nigreich) Georg III. (Vereinigtes Königreich).
  10. https://books.google.de/books?id=K7NgAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA191&lpg=PA191&dq=%22prince+of+wales%22+Limmer%27s&source=bl&ots=d5Apb30oJw&sig=ACfU3U0Z5yRE4dYPnQs6Tvj7zgB3-WqcSg&hl=de&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjq-syHx4fnAhWxMewKHQfEDXUQ6AEwBXoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22prince%20of%20wales%22%20Limmer’s&f=false Anonymus: The epicure’s almanac; or, calendar of good living: containing a directory of the taverns, coffee-houses, inns, eating-houses, and other places of alimentary resort in the British metropolis and its environs: a review of artists who administer to the wants and enjoyments of the table; a survey of the markets; and a calendar of the meats in season during each month of the year. London, 1815.
  11. https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-the-john-collins-became-the-tom-collins?ref=scroll How the John Collins Became the Tom Collins. By David Wondrich, vom 11. July 2018.
  12. https://cy.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rees_Howell_Gronow#/media/Delwedd:Portrait_of_R._H._Gronow_(4670809).jpg Rees Howell Gronow.
  13. https://archive.org/details/taitsedinburghm07johngoog/page/n146?q=%22gin+punch%22 Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, March 1842.
  14. https://archive.org/details/moneylender01gore/page/12?q=%22gin+punch%22 Mrs. Gore: The money-lender. Vol. I. London, 1843.
  15. https://archive.org/details/garrickclubnoti00ingogoog/page/n5 R. H. Barham: The Garric Club. Notices of One Hundred and Thirty-five of Its Former Members. 1896
  16. https://archive.org/download/B-001-002-906/The_Post_Office_London_Directory.pdf und https://books.google.de/books?id=lw87AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA343&lpg=PA343&dq=George+IV+chair+Limmer%27s&source=bl&ots=korwY0rWLE&sig=ACfU3U083fai-vWXO51rhtBSuWi_NvZOcA&hl=de&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiet-nRvoPnAhVqMewKHYavDwEQ6AEwDXoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=Limmer’s&f=false The small edition of the post office London directory 1843. London, 1843.
  17. https://books.google.de/books?id=dYI2tl0I7FYC&pg=PA103&dq=%22Limmer%27s%22&hl=de&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjctb7Iv9vmAhUFzaQKHUCCD0IQ6AEIKzAA#v=onepage&q=%22Limmer’s%22&f=false The illustrated sporting and dramatic news. Vol. 6. 28. October 1876. London.
  18. https://archive.org/details/londonanditsenv09firgoog/page/n24 K. Baedeker: London and Its Environs, Including Excursions to Brighton, the Isle of Wight, etc.. 5. edition, Leipzig and London, Karl Baedeker, 1885.
  19. https://books.google.de/books?id=g4MEAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA353&lpg=PA353&dq=what+is+%22wombwell%27s+mixture%22&source=bl&ots=8RYszT4tq-&sig=ACfU3U1hY0LFXjehHL-nLS9mVLBbSCMXSw&hl=de&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiUxJm9k9fkAhXqwAIHHSQNAPMQ6AEwAXoECAIQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22wombwell’s%20mixture%22&f=false The new sporting magazine, Vol. 8, 1844
  20. https://archive.org/details/repositoryofarts812acke/page/256 Rudolph Ackermmann: The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions, and Politics. Vol. 8, November 1812. Page 256.
  21. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84031492/1876-11-05/ed-1/seq-3/#date1=1789&index=2&rows=20&words=brimmers+filling&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1963&proxtext=%22filling+of+brimmers%22&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1 Chicago Daily Tribune. 5. November 1876, page 3.
  22. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85033781/1876-11-17/ed-1/seq-3/#date1=1789&index=0&rows=20&words=brimmers+filling&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1963&proxtext=%22filling+of+brimmers%22&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1 The Last of Limmer’s. In: The True Northerner, 17. November 1876, page 3.
  23. https://archive.org/details/tilburynogoorpas01whyt/page/220?q=Limmer%27s George John Whyte-Melville: Tilbury Nogo; or, Passages in the life of an unsuccessful man. London, Chapman and Hall, 1854.
  24. https://archive.org/details/postofficeannual184546edin/page/410?q=Limmer%27s The Post Office Annual Directory … For 1845-1846. Edinburgh, Ballantyne and Hughes, 1845.
  25. https://archive.org/details/royalkalendarcou00unse_17/page/n103?q=Limmer%27s The Royal Kalendar … for the year 1838. London, 1838.
  26. https://archive.org/details/parliamentarygu00mossgoog/page/n231?q=Limmer%27s Richard Bartholomew Mosse: The parliamentary guide, a concise biography of the members of both houses of parliament, their connexions, etc. London, A. H. Baily & Co., 1837.
  27. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peer_(Adel) Peer (Adel).
  28. https://archive.org/details/dietrichsenhanna1848lond/page/94?q=Limmer%27s Dietrichsen and Hannay‘s Royal Almanack … for the year 1848. 11. edition. London, Dietrichsen and Hannay, 1848.
  29. https://archive.org/details/cruchleyspictur00cruc/page/206?q=Limmer%27s Anonymus: Cruchley’s picture of London, comprising the history, rise, and progress of the metropolis to the present period; with a full description of Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, Woolwich, Greenwich, Chelsea, and other places in the environs, useful for the visitor. The tenth edition. London, 1845.
  30. https://archive.org/details/garrickclubnoti00ingogoog/page/n56 R. H. Barham: The Garrick Club. Notices of one hundred and thirty-five of its former members. 1896.

explicit capitulum


Hi, I'm Armin and in my spare time I want to promote bar culture as a blogger, freelance journalist and Bildungstrinker (you want to know what the latter is? Then check out "About us"). My focus is on researching the history of mixed drinks. If I have ever left out a source you know of, and you think it should be considered, I look forward to hearing about it from you to learn something new. English is not my first language, but I hope that the translated texts are easy to understand. If there is any incomprehensibility, please let me know so that I can improve it.

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