Dirty Dick’s, in Bishopsgate (just opposite Liverpool Street Station), is a fine drinking establishment today. However, this was very much not the case two hundred years ago.
Nathaniel Bentley, known as Richard, was a sharp dresser and a successful businessman. The central location of his shop and attached warehouse made him quite a catch on the marriage market: before long, he found the girl of his dreams. Of course, the perfect venue for the reception was his own warehouse. The decorations were exquisite, entirely wonderful by Georgian tastes, and his servants had laid out the cutlery and prepared the table for the post-wedding meal. Fresh flowers had been bought from Covent Garden and a cake big enough to feed their families and servants was lovingly iced and displayed for the guests to admire.
However, the wedding never came to pass. The night before they were due to be married, Nathaniel’s bride-to-be died. Devastated, he locked up the warehouse and let the wedding preparations rot, just like Miss Havisham in Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’. He couldn’t bear to take off his wedding suit until it hung from him in rags. Even by the standards of the age, he was filthy: in a land where bathing was considered medicinal or something only the poor would be forced to do, visitors were disgusted by the state of his dirty hands.
It became a sort of bizarre tourist attraction over the next forty years of his life. Locals would pay a small fee to see the feast covered with mould and the tragic groom, sitting despondently in a corner. When he was asked why he never bothered to look after himself, he said,
“What is the point of washing my hands or anything else for that matter when they will be only dirty again tomorrow?”
Since he never spent much money, and never replaced his possessions, the entry fees added up and Bentley became spectacularly wealthy. However, since he died in 1809 and as he had no heirs, his wealth disappeared.
The site of the warehouse became a brewery and distillery. To cash in on ‘Dirty Dick’s reputation for as long as possible, the pub attached to the distillery created a museum in the cellar of his relics: the disgusting cake left in the sun for half a century, the tatters of a handsome suit and some tarnished cutlery. Luckily, the modern age has only somewhat intervened: We can still see these items today, but they are behind glass and next to the toilets, if you’d like to see what remains of a man who carried disappointment and grief for his entire life.