I have asked many people if they know where to find a perfect example of an eighteenth-century shop, bow windows, little flight of steps and all, a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus -and they look at me in blank astonishment.
Yet there it stands, at 34 Haymarket, two doors down from Coventry Street on the left-hand side, its pot-bellied windows filled with quaint jars and bottles and more modern packages of the upstart cigarette, that has ousted the honest snuff which was sold there for two hundred years.
It belongs to another day and generation, and through the old doorway the 20th-century passer-by can see the oaken shelves with their rows of old wooden boxes and snuff jars that used to contain the “King’s Morning Mixture,”as supplied to His Majesty King George IV.
The old shop has had many royal customers, and going through the beautiful Adam screen into the back room, one may be shown, if the courteous proprietor is not too busy, the accounts of Queen Charlotte, who bought her snuff here for nineteen years of the Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex and the Princesses Charlotte and Elizabeth, who also indulged in the best rappee.
Most of the great names of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England may be found in these old ledgers. David Garrick and Inigo Jones were customers, and so were my Lord Halifax, Lady Shrewsbury and the Duchess of Grafton. Beau Brummell’s accounts lie, cheek by jowl as he would have them, with those of the Earl of Dorchester and the Duke of Bedford, and the long array of famous names of men and women to be found in the yellowing papers might well have served as a list of guests present at any brilliant political function of the time.
The snuff-taking of those days has passed with the lace jabots and the silk knee-breeches, but the fashion died hard, and so recent a figure as Lord Russell of Killowen was one of the last of the famous snuff-takers. The twentieth century turns up its nose at what it calls a disgusting habit, yet it had its graces and was responsible for the creation of the beautiful boxes and bottles now treasured as heirlooms.
The actual owners of this fascinating shop have carried on the business in their family since 1780, when the founder, M. Fribourg, retired. One of the present partners, Mr. George Evans, has written a delightful monograph on the Old Snuff House of Fribourg and Treyer, “At the Rasp and Crown, at the upper End of the Haymarket, London.”It is a charming book, filled with illustrations and reminiscences of the leisurely days before the arrival of the departmental store, when an oldestablished firm had time to have intimate courtly relations with its customers.
What Lord Petersham could now change his mind and return 216 pounds of anything and be urbanely credited with £75 12s. ; and do grateful customers now make presents of gold-lined amboyna snuff boxes to mark their satisfaction?
If they do, I am as ignorant of the fact as the ordinary pedestrian of the historical interest of the unnoticed shop he passes daily on his way to Piccadilly Circus.