The Story of the Three Cups


A Season at Harwich by W.H. Lindsey, 1851, p.106-109.

I propose we pay a visit to this establishment, called the 'Three Cups,' kept by Mrs. Bull, where we shall meet with every attention and all things in as much readiness as if we had been expected." They accordingly repaired to a room in that well conducted house.

The Doctor remarked, over their luncheon, that to those who visited Harwich, either for pleasure or business, a few years ago, the recollection of the comfortable and home-like reception at this hotel, and its worthy host, the late Mr. William Bull, would not be easily effaced. Who can forget the appearance of the good man, when, with dish in hand, he marched up his spacious room to the head of the table, inviting his guests to a repast made doubly welcome by the attentions personally rendered by himself. Then, again, the acts of benevolence and kindness related of him! Where was the man, who, landing from a foreign country, driven, perhaps, from a continental home by the hard conditions of war, but received at his hand the ready assistance his necessities demanded? "I am, myself,"
continued the worthy Doctor," perfectly cognizant of facts of this benevolent kind ; and it has been said, that so tenacious were the recipients of this good man's assistance, that but few instances can be adduced of his not obtaining repayment of his bountiful advances. Mr. Bull was a fine specimen of a man of half a century ago; his dress was of the period - the powdered head and tie gave a character to his appearance, which continued to the day of his lamented death. So proverbial was his good humour, that on the occasion of a party of country gentlemen assembling at a periodical dinner, a wager was laid that no person could put our worthy host out of temper: one was found with temerity enough to accept the
challenge, and a day was fixed for the trial. A dinner being ordered for the party, the adventurous hero took his place at the head of the table, when ' enter mine host,' with a tureen of mock-turtle soup, for which the house was, and still is, noted.

" 'Do you call this soup, Mr. Bull?' inquires the chairman.' To my taste, it is mere wash, made from unwholesome meat. Take it away, sir, and bring in the fish.'

" 'Very sorry, indeed,' says our host, with astonishment forcibly depicted on his countenance,'that the soup does not please; there must be some mistake about it, as Mrs. Bull has always been famed for the quality of her mock-turtle, and it was placed on the table in the full assurance of its giving- the same satisfaction as a like quantity has done to a party in another room.'

"Away goes soup, and enter fish - soles, declared to have been alive within a few hours. Not so, thought the complaining chairman ; he pronounced them to have been dead at least a week; to all which, the meek host expressed his grief, and only attempted to parry the complaint by recommending a dish of stewed eels, for which, he said, the "Three Cups" was celebrated. To this it was of course replied, that a house which could serve up bad soup
and stale soles, was not likely to supply a palatable dish of stewed eels. The mutton was complained of, as being from an old ewe, and sent off the table accordingly; as was the poultry, certified to have laid innumerable eggs, and to have reared up many a brood; the vegetables stale, and not eatable; while the port - that famous port which the nobles of our own land, and even foreign princes, had pronounced to be of the most choice quality - was declared by the chairman to be mere sloe-juice and water. ' In short, Mr. Bull,' said the captious gentleman, 'since the company can get nothing either to eat or to drink at your hotel, send in the bill, that we may retire to another, to seek that accommodation denied us at the "Cups." '

"Here the good host appeared to falter ; but soon recovering his equanimity, with that blandness and good humour which, however trying the occasion, never forsook him, at once replied by expressing his sincere sorrow that he had not given that satisfaction which he was so solicitous to do ; adding, he could on no account accept a remuneration under such circumstances; but if the party would, on any day to be named, again condescend to visit his hotel, he would, by the most unremitting attention and care, endeavour to make up for a disappointment, which he was then unable to account for. The scene was in an instant changed; the secret of the wager divulged ; all the party shook the hand of the worthy man; and what was a short time ago declared to be execrable trash, was now pronounced to be the perfection of the culinary art. Need it be added, that a bumper was filled to the health of one who had passed through, with credit to himself, an ordeal at once trying and distressing? Mr. Bull belonged to the corporation of his day; and those who survive of that body, will not be offended at the remark, that to enjoy the good things, of which he was so excellent a caterer, was not the least of the inducements which made an entrance into that assembly enviable. Indeed, at this period, so great was the celebrity of the hotel, that no less than two men cooks were maintained on its establishment - a great consideration in those days. This excellent man has been for some years gathered to his fathers, as his tomb in Harwich church-yard shows; but his amiable widow, taught by his example, still remains to afford to the traveler, those attentions and civilities for which her house has been so long- renowned."