It may not be the year of the horse, but it is the Chinese New Year and we were in Soho yesterday, so where better to go than Horse & Dolphin Yard in Chinatown, just a few minutes’ walk from Soho Square?
This tiny passageway, with its sign showing the name in Chinese characters as well as English, takes its name from a coaching inn that was built in 1685 (it was later named the Macclesfield Arms, Macclesfield Street being just around the corner, and later still De Hems after a retired Dutch captain who leased it and ran it as an oyster house).
The derivation of the name is unclear: the horse is a common emblem on tavern signs, nearly always either qualified (Trotting Horse, Galloping Horse, Pack Horse) or in conjunction with something else (Horse and Groom, Horse and Hounds, Horse and Jockey). Dolphin is also not uncommon in signs, either as the friendly creature who brought luck to sailors, or as the dauphin, the eldest son of the king of France.
Unless there is some special and now unknown significance behind the horse and dolphin combination, it could have been an example of two pub signs being combined to keep two sets of customers happy.
When the inn was still the Horse and Dolphin, in the early 19th century, it was owned by the American bare-knuckle boxer Bill ‘The Black Terror’ Richmond. Apart from his boxing prowess, he is also noted in history as being one of the hangmen who executed Nathan Hale. Richmond was only 13 at the time.
Nathan Hale, considered a spy by the British and a hero by the Americans, ranks among those people with the most famous of dying words, his being, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”