Cock And Pye

To make a Peacock Pye. Pick it, and leave the Feathers on the Neck, cut the Neck off close to the Body, skin the Neck close to the Head, and cut it off; put a Stick tight into the Skin up to the Head, dry it in an Oven; cut off the Legs, and keep them, then draw it and singe it; keep some of the short Feathers of the Tail; truss it as for boiling, break down the Breast Bone, season it with Pepper and Salt, skewer it, put a Piece of Butter into the Belly of it, roast it about half enough, and let it cool; raise a Pye for it, or make it as you do a Ham Pye; put in the Belly of the Peacock ten Yolks of Eggs boil’d hard, blanch half a Dozen Sweet-breads, cut them in Dice, lay them round the Bird so as to make it even at Top, lay over that some thin Slices of interlar’d Bacon, and Butter over all; close your Pye, and make a Funnel in the Middle; garnish it as you’ll see in the garnishing of some of the other Pies, which will direct you how to place the Head and Feet; you must make a Piece of Paste like the Rump, stick five or six Feathers in it after the Pye is bak’d, place the Head at the Head of the Pye, and carve the Outsides; when it is bak’d, fillthe Pye up with clarified Butter, and keep it for a standing Dish to ornament the Middle of your Table, or set it on a Side Table.

John Thacker. The Art of Cookery. 1757

Well, I’ll certainly be adding all of those ingredients to my next Ocado delivery.

The Peacock Pie or as it was known to the classes that were unlikely to be able to afford to eat it, Cock & Pye, was considered a delicacy from Tudor times onward. The nearest the labouring classes ever got to one was drinking in the Cock & Pye Tavern which stood in Little St Martin’s Lane (now Upper St Martin’s Lane).

The tavern sat on the boarders of an area called Marshland. Long before the tavern appeared the area was described as “Wet & soggy ground bordered by many ditches“. The first map to record its location is Fairthorn & Newcourt in 1658, where it is shown as St Gyle’s Fields, the church of St Gile’s in the Fields being just to the north.

In time these ditches became joined and bordered the area, while following the line of St Martin’s Lane to flow into the River Thames just by where Embankment tube station is today. It appears that these combined ditches were known after the Tavern and by 1682 William Morgans map shows the area as Cock & Pye Fields.

During the 1680s the area was still mainly wasteland and the ditch had a reputation for being “A foul and public nuisance“. The MP Thomas Neale proposed a plan in the early 1690s to clean up the area and to develop it in the same style as nearby Covent Garden. The ditch was enclosed by brick tunnels to become a sewer and the field itself was transformed by the building of six converging roads, although this was later increased to seven. A sundial column was built in 1693 with six faces, with the column itself acting as the gnomon (the part that generates the shadow) of the seventh dial, and the area became known as Seven Dials.

This layout produced triangular plots, maximizing the frontage of houses to be built on the site, as rentals were charged per foot of frontage rather than by the square footage of properties.

Neale had speculated to attract wealthy residents. This was not to be the case and the area gradually deteriorated. At one stage, each of the seven apexes facing the column housed a pub. By the 19th century, Seven Dials was among the most notorious slums in London, The area was described by Charles Dickens during 1835 … “streets and courts dart in all directions, until they are lost in the unwholesome vapour which hangs over the house-tops and renders the dirty perspective uncertain and confined.”

“The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time…at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time…”

Legend has it that the column supporting the sun dials was toppled by a mob in 1773, who were under the illusion that a bag of gold had been buried beneath it. However, it is recorded that it was deliberately removed by the Paving Commissioners in an attempt to rid the area of “undesirables” congregating beneath it. A replacement sundial column was constructed on the same site in the 1980’s, to the original design.

During the 1840s Seven Dials was a major meeting area for the Chartists in their campaign for electoral reform. However, the intended uprisings there were thwarted by police infiltrators.

By 1851 sewers were laid in the area but poverty intensified in the Seven Dials although the population began to decrease as workshops and breweries began occupying some of the houses. It remained a byword for urban poverty for another 80 or so years and in the late 1920s the crime writer Agatha Christie based her book “The Seven Dials Mystery” in the area.

During World War Two, the area was still run down and developed into the center of the Black Market. It was home to a dapper gangster, Billy Hill, who would emerge from the war as the leading figure in the capital’s underworld.

The area escaped the Blitz relatively lightly with only seven recorded bombs landing.

Today, there are only two remaining houses from the original Thomas Neale development of the 1690s; 61 Monmouth Street and 64 Neal Street.

It will come as no surprise that there is little evidence remaining for either the ditch or the tavern, which was later renamed Two Angels and Crown before being demolished in the late 1840s.

An Indian restaurants sit on the site of the tavern in a modern building complex. I’ve had a look on the menu and there is no Peacock, curried or otherwise to be had.

Having read Paul Talling’s “London’s Lost Rivers” he says of the ditch that just up from the restaurant there “is a small grate in the road where you can see (and smell) the sewer flowing beneath.”

PS. After spending some hours researching and writing this post, I came across an article that said that the origination of the Cock & Pye name accredited to the lower classes could well be a bit of Victorian romanticism. One other credible theory is that the name derives from a tavern called the Cock & Magpie. There was another tavern of the same name that stood in Drury Lane around the late 1600s. There are instances of Magpie being spelled Magpye , so it does have some credibility. However, I’m going with my original story as I do like a pie (or two), which will neatly lead into a forthcoming post.

Published by endean0

Hi, I'm Steve, a London tour guide and owner of A London Miscellany Tours, a guided walking tour company who specialise in small number tours of the greatest city in the world!

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