There’s a funny little pub on Bishopsgate in the City of London called Dirty Dicks. It’s narrow, but it’s easy to spot–partly because it’s got a bright red neon sign above it, and partly because there’s always a stag-night party in one stage of pissheadedness or another having their photo taken outside. It’s called Dirty Dicks (and, by the way, if you’re googling it, I cannot advise you strongly enough to check you have “safe search” enabled. Promise me you’ll check first? Please?)
It always used to fascinate me when I walked past it–usually on the way to the even more exotically-named Woodins Shades… what can I say? They had pool tables… and I figured there had to be a reason for giving a pub a name like that. Besides luring in men of a certain age wearing red polyester wigs, that is.
“Dirty Dick” was, in fact, Nathaniel Bentley, an 18th-Century merchant who owned a hardware shop and warehouse on Leadenhall Street. He was something of a dandy: stylish and well-dressed, he was nicknamed “The Beau of Leadenhall Street”.
This changed with the death of his fiancee: according to legend, he refused to wash or to change his clothes after that day, and became a complete recluse. When his cats died, he left their corpses to rot where they fell. Some versions of the story tell that his fiancee died on the very eve of their wedding and–distraught and heartbroken–Bentley simply locked the door of the dining room, leaving the table laid and the wedding breakfast to moulder within…
The long and short of it was that Bentley became a celebrity of sorts–any letter addressed to “The Dirty Warehouse, London” automatically found its way to Leadenhall and that nickname, “Dirty Dick”, stuck.
Bentley ceased trading in 1804, and died shortly after. But his legacy of filth lived on: so infamous had his warehouse become that the owners of the Bishopsgate Distillery in its various incarnations bought the contents of the building and, after its demolition, moved them (cats and all) to another location nearby: the Old Jerusalem pub, which in due course changed its name…to Dirty Dicks.
As for the cats–and everything else–they used to be on display in the bar (in some instances, on the bar), although today they’re tucked away in a glass case.