Esoteric London

No. 250: Gough Square, EC4

Posted in Food, Literary London, Public Art, Pubs by esotericlondon on February 11, 2011

Gough Square, London, EC4. Photo © Roger Dean 2010.

Covent Garden, Its Romance and History – Reginald Jacobs,1913:

In Vinegar Yard stood a small tavern, or oyster and refreshment rooms, known as “ The Whistling Oyster,” and, according to Mr. Walford, a haunt of Bohemians and artists. The sign of the house was a humorous picture of a gigantic oyster whistling a tune, with a twinkle in its eye. The tale goes that about 1840 the proprietor, when passing a tub  filled with delicate “natives”  heard a curious (as the French would say) “sifflement”. On investigating the cause he found that one of the oysters was actually whistling. Thereupon  the fortunate and accomplished  performer was removed from the tub full of its less vocally gifted comrades, and placed by itself in a post of honour. The news of this tuneful crustacean (no longer one of the muti pisces) spreading, the place was soon besieged by people anxious to view the phenomenon. The consequence was that a roaring (or whistling) trade was done, and the hero of the occasion, like Nero, fiddled (or fifed) whilst Rome burnt. That the oyster did actually whistle is beyond question,  the cause being ascribed to the existence of a minute hole in the shell and the action of breathing probably cased the noise that gave it fame.

[ The above oyster shell lies at the feet of the statue of Mr Hodge, Dr Johnson’s beloved cat, which stands in Gough Square. I have often found morsels laid on the plinth by either cat or Johnson lovers, and I had to temporarily remove a festive ribbon from around the cat’s neck, the shot being taken in early December, as it repeatedly fluttered before my lens. R.D.]

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