It was not my intention to mention turtles again so soon after my last post on the subject titled Cowabunga dude, but I came across some additional information while researching pubs within the area of the Bank of England.
I was reading about a wine bar named Birch’s in nearby Angel Court which existed up until the late 1970s. The article made a mention that the company that owned it was originally based at 15 Cornhill.
It appears that the Cornhill shop had started as a Coffee House /Tavern in the mid 17th century and was bought by a Mr Horton around 1710 who converted it into a a purveyor of cakes and pastries. The business was bought in the 1750s by an established pastrycook called Lucas Birch who ran it along with his son Samuel who was his apprentice. Samuel began to take more responsibility for the running of the business and proved himself to be a competent man of business. This he coupled with his political aspirations and soon was elected as an Alderman of the City. He married well and his family consisted of thirteen children. It appears he put all his efforts into the Cornhill business as I could find no other records of any other establishments in the City.
Samuel Birch (1757–1841)
The shop gathered a reputation for being the highest class bakers in the City with Birch’s products in very high demand and he earned himself the nickname, Mr Pattypan. It would appear that he was faced with a problem of production space situated in quite a small premises. So in the early 1800s the shop’s basement was extended to take new ovens and create extra production space. It is said that the this extension ran under the Cornhill building for about fifty yards. With the advent of this expansion Samuel seems to have made a foray into the outside catering business, providing sumptuous banquets to the great and the good of London. By this time he had risen through the ranks and was elected as Lord Mayor in 1815. Possibly thorough his position he seems to have been the provider of one of the most sought after courses at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, Turtle soup. Given his premises were only a couple of hundred away from the large tanks of turtles housed at the King’s Head Tavern mentioned in the earlier post he had a readily available supply on his doorstep. An article of the time describes his soup in glowing terms.
“Birch’s turtle soup, thick or clear, according to taste, is a dream. A City banquet without turtle soup is a thing too dreadful to think of. It would be an unprecedented horror“.
In 1836 Samuel sold the business and it was successfully carried on by Messer’s Ring & Brymer until the 1870s. The shopfront was still part of the building until the 1930s when it was redeveloped and is now housed in the Museum of London.