03:24 :: Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Only Running Footman

Posted by David Styles on 13 August 2012 | 0 Comments

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In Charles Street, Mayfair there remains evidence of the last vestiges of Georgian competitive running with a tentative link to the cabbies of their day. Dating from 1749 this pub has a curious name: 'The Only Running Footman'. The pub was once called the Running Horse and frequented by the footmen who were in service to the households of Mayfair. As the fashion for footmen dwindled one bought the pub and renamed it after himself.

London in the 17th century was a pretty chaotic place, narrow streets, overcrowded, animals, carts and numerous other obstructions. A footman's job was to run ahead of his master's coach paying any tolls and clearing a safe passage. After The Great Fire of London many streets were clearer and the need for a running footman lessened, they were then employed as house servants.

By 1750 a footman's advertised annual salary was £7, including a smart uniform, white stockings and shirts with full board. But with 'vails' he could expect an income of £40 (about £60,000 in today's money).

He had to be tall (about 6ft), look fit, be nonchalant and handsome. Footmen were notoriously the source of the best gossip, trusted with clandestine errands and hanging around with women 'above their station'. These runners were also useful in a household to fetch things and take messages before a reliable postal service had been introduced.

King Charles I's household accounts record the payment of 2/- (10p) paid to a footman to run from London (presumably Whitehall) to Hampton Court.

The aristocracy would also like to pitch their footmen in a race with others from wealthy households. On the 3rd July 1663 Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary:

The town talk this day is of nothing but the great foot-race run this day on Banstead Downs, between Lee, the Duke of Richmond's footman, and a tyler, a famous runner. And Lee hath beat him; though the King and Duke of York and all men almost did bet three or four to one upon the tyler's head.

That old reprobate The Marquess of Queensbury is said to have kept the last running footmen as a mark of his own virility. The Survey of London records an incident (possibly anecdotal) in which 'Old Q' met his match:

The duke was in the habit of trying the pace of candidates for his service by seeing how they could run up and down Piccadilly, watching and timing them from his balcony. They put on a livery before the trial. On one occasion, a candidate presented himself, dressed, and ran. At the conclusion of his performance he stood before the balcony. "You will do very well for me," said the duke. "And your livery will do very well for me," replied the man, and gave the duke a last proof of his ability as a runner by then running away with it.

The pub's full name is actually 'I Am The Only Running Footman' and has been the venue for many a historic London pub crawl, treasure hunt, mystery tour and even a novel by American detective fiction writer Martha Grimes.


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