Tiddy Dolls

When on The Knowledge one has to go out, find and memorise ’points’, places where you might reasonably he asked to take a passenger when driving a cab.

Some points are easily forgotten while others for various reasons stick in the memory.

One such place was, for me, Tiddy Dol’s Eating House, remembered, I suppose, for its unusual name. It closed in 1998.

[M]uch missed by many. An account by Lesley Styles recalls this quintessential English restaurant in its heyday. The name has always fascinated me and reading Lucy Inglis: Georgian London: Into the Streets
I discovered that this Mayfair Restaurant was the last of many eating houses given the same name – one of which Titty Doll’s (its name slightly changed) even operated from within Marshalsea Debtors Prison and run by a prisoner and his wife.

The origins of Tiddy Doll derive from a unique Georgian street seller. Nowadays we will buy popcorn while watching a movie, for the Georgians in 18th century London it was gingerbread that was eaten while being entertained while watching a hanging or any other outside amusement.

Tiddy Diddy Doll was a celebrated baker and vendor of gingerbread who obviously had a flare for self-publicity. With his stylish clothing, a laced hat topped with an ostrich plume, a laced ruffled shirt, a white gold suit of clothes, white silk stockings and a fine white apron, his apparel was more suited to a person of high rank. This led him to become known as ’The king of the itinerant tradesmen’.

He was in attendance at every public occasion, amusing the crowds with a constant stream of humorous patter. Often he would sing his own words to the tune of a popular ballad:

“Mary, Mary, where do you live now Mary?
I live, when at home, in the second house in Little Ball Street,
Two steps underground, a wiscum, a riscom, and a why-not.
Walk in ladies and gentlemen, my shop is on the second floor backwards
With a knocker on the door
Here is your nice gingerbread, your spice gingerbread
It will melt in your mouth like a red-hot brick-bat
And rumble in your insides like Punch and his wheelbarrow.”

He always ended by singing “Tiddy Diddy Doll”, lol, lol, lol” hence his nickname.

Such was his fame in popular culture of the day that his name became linked to popular sayings relating to a person who dressed above their station e.g., “You look quite the Tiddy Doll” or “You are as tawdry as Tiddy Doll.”

gillray-tiddy-doll Perhaps part of Tiddy’s success was a cutting satirical wit used to attract customers to his gingerbread. The famous print-maker James Gillray once depicted him in, ‘Tiddy-Doll, the great French Gingerbread-Baker, drawing out a new Batch of Kings’. The print [right] shows details such as a basket in the foreground, with the heads of men and women puppets wearing crowns and holding sceptres, peeking out. The basket is labelled ‘True Corsican Kinglings for Home Consumption and Exportation’. Nearby a fool’s cap forms a cornucopia containing ‘Hot Spiced Gingerbread! All hot – come who dips in my luckey bag’ – and spilling from it are coronets, crowns, sceptres, and a cardinal’s hat.

Whatever happened to Tiddy Doll, or what his true name was, seems to have been lost in the mists of time, in the reign of George II he was one of London’s most colourful and famous characters. He appeared in Hogarth’s ‘Southwark Fair’, people dressed up as Tiddy Doll for fancy-dress parties and chop-houses carried his name into the 20th century.

6 thoughts on “Tiddy Dolls”

  1. Thanks for the fascinating history lesson. Of course, I remember Tiddy Dolls & always wondered where the name came from; it was a well-known meeting point in my day (the 80s & 90s) where we would all meet before going clubbing. So sad that it managed to survive for so long before Westminster Council’s rent hikes ended Tiddy’s long-standing tenure. I love to learn about the colourful past of London & thank goodness there are still people like you ready to share their knowledge and pass it on to the next generation.


    1. Thanks for those kind words of encouragement. Yes the restaurant held a fascination for me when we were tasked to find it whilst on The Knowledge. Pity though so many independent establishments have been forced out of business through high overheads.


  2. I bloody love our London history. I love Georgian/Victorian architecture. I live in Covent Garden & find the history of my area fascinating. (Especially the ‘ladies of the night’).

    Thanks for the history lesson!


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