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The Yorkshire Stingo

At the Lisson Grove end of Marylebone Road you will find Westminster Magistrates Court. What to my mind is a rather drab building has been enlivened by the addition of an art installation by artist and blacksmith Bex Simons. The artwork references Marylebone life and in particular the former building that sat on the site of the present day court.

The court and several other modern buildings sit on the site of a public house called the Yorkshire Stingo. The Inn opened in 1680 when the area of Marylebone was still very rural and soon became something of a landmark to both visitors making their way into London and those who wanted to venture further afield for their refreshments. The Stingo part of the name was a slang word that meant very strong ale.

The early site had a small garden and would provide modest entertainments. This became so popular that a small admission charge was made to combat people who came for the entertainment but failed to buy a drink. You would pay your entrance fee, which would then be redeemable from the waiter when you purchased your first drink.

For over a century, it was known as a house of entertainment. It also held an annual May Day Fair which ran for several years before it was suppressed by the Magistracy due to the multitude of disorderly characters becoming a nuisance to the inhabitants of the vicinity. According to records written around the time it became a ‘respectable tavern’ after this, but there are instances of its association with criminals.

One such was James Godbolt, who in 1771 frequented the inn regularly. He would wait until darkness fell and then venture out hoping to waylay an unwary traveller. That July he accosted a carpenter, Henry Hunt, who was returning home. Drawing a pistol Godbolt requested that Hunt gave up his purse of money, which Hunt reticently did. However, as Godbolt received the purse, Hunt grabbed the pistol causing Godbolt to flee across the fields with Hunt in close pursuit. Hunt tried to fire at him but the powder failed to ignite and Godbolt escaped capture.

This wasn’t the end of Godbolt’s misfortunes. The following day he recounted the episode to a man named Sheredine who immediately informed on him to the local justice. Godbolt was taken by the constable and stood trial at the Old Bailey two months later, where he was convicted of highway robbery and sentenced to be hanged. His sentence was later respited and in February 1772 he was transported to Australia for life.

Despite its earlier dodgy reputation the inn appears to have been a location from 1786 for the distributing of alms by the committee for the Relief of the Black Poor.

In addition to its well publicised entertainments, the surrounding grounds were used for the display of oddities and exhibitions.

One of these was the second cast-iron bridge ever to be built. Designed by Thomas Paine, better known as the author of the revolutionary best-seller Rights of Man. He had gained a patent for the bridge in 1788 and a small model measuring 90 feet (27.4 metres) was manufactured and displayed at the Yorkshire Stingo in 1790. Paine’s plan was to attract investors to produce the full size bridge, which would be used to span the Schuylkill River in the American city of Philadelphia.

Despite early interest and investment, the project got into financial difficulties and the plan and the model were both scrapped. Towards the end of the 18th century, the gardens were enlarged and a bowling green was added.

In 1828 Mr Richard Staines acquired the site and built the Yorkshire Stingo brewery on part of the land. He sold the brewery in 1867 and it continued through several different companies until it was purchased by Watney Breweries and immediately closed down in 1907. The sketch below from diorama maker Paul Bambrick is from around the turn of the 19th century.

On 4th July 1829, a Mr. Shillibeer started the first of two omnibuses in the metropolis. For the price of a shilling, passengers could travel from the Yorkshire Stingo to Bank in the City, attended to on the journey by conductors renowned for their courtesy.

There is very little left that demarks the site of the “Stingo” and its surrounding grounds, but a small alleyway which was once known as Little Harcourt street can be found in the south corner of the plot. Now a service road for entrance to the magistrate’s court it used to run through the pleasure gardens and is today named after the instigator of the London bus service as Shillibeer Place.

In 1836, an early music hall for vaudeville and burlesque, called the Apollo Saloon, was added, but by 1848 the gardens were closed. The public house was finally closed in 1964 and the site became a public baths before the current building was erected.

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