“…what gives the Lyceum its chief interest…”

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

lyceum (n.)

1580s, Latin form of Greek lykeion, name of a grove or garden with covered walks in the eastern suburb of ancient Athens, also the site of an athletic facility. Aristotle taught there. The name is from the neuter of Lykeios, an epithet of Apollo under which he had a temple nearby, which probably meant or was understood to mean “wolfish” (the exact legend appears to have become muddled), from lykos “wolf” (see wolf (n.)). Frazer (Pausanias) notes “The same epithet was applied to Apollo at Sicyon and Argos,” and adds that “Wolves were dear to Apollo … and they frequently appear in the myths told of him,” and lists several.

But what gives the Lyceum its chief interest is that here, pacing the shady walks of the gymnasium, Aristotle expounded to his disciples that philosophy which was destined to influence so profoundly the course of European thought for two thousand years. [Frazer, “Pausanias’s Description of Greece”]

Hence lycée, name given in France to secondary schools maintained by the state (a pupil is a lycéen). In England, early 19c., lyceum was the name taken by a number of literary societies (based on a similar use in late 18c. French); in U.S., after c. 1820, it was taken by institutes that sponsored popular lectures in science and literature, and their halls. Related: Lyceal

Ann Laffeaty, journalist, writes on her blog Where London’s History Happened- In The Pub:

The Lyceum Tavern (left of image above, two doors from The Wellington).

This is a satisfyingly olde-worlde pub in a prominent position on the Strand. Hidden away out of sight like my beloved Nell Gwynne it isn’t. But its beautiful frontage panelled in golden-hued wood plus the obligatory Victorian lamps and hanging baskets (in summer) will no doubt tempt you in nonetheless.

The history

EST: 1906 Monarch: Edward VII

The “EST” date is a red herring since a tavern stood on this site since the 1840s. Prior to that the space was occupied by the Lyceum Theatre which despite its name, was actually an exhibition hall. Built in 1765 it played host to all sorts of weird and wonderful spectacles: you could pop along to watch a Shakespeare play, for instance, or see some of Madame Tussaud’s finest waxworks. Or you could take in a circus, “ooh” and “aaah” at a firework display, marvel at a baby rhino or ogle an eight-foot Irish giant. Not sure why his Irishness was relevant, but still.

The Lyceum was normally used as an opera house during the summer months – until one fateful night in 1830. July 5 that year was a chilly night and the powers-that-were thought it would be a good idea to light a stove to warm the audience. But they forgot to extinguish it properly afterwards and in the early hours of July 6, the whole kit and caboodle went up in a massive plume of smoke.

Panic ensued and soon the street was filled with nightgown-clad residents of nearby buildings, swarming to safety Wee-Willie-Winkie style. One scantily-clad woman even threw herself out of an upstairs window. Luckily there were a few bobbies below to catch her.

The opera house was a write-off but on the upside, the Lyceum Tavern rose from the ashes and a new Lyceum Theatre was built just 200ft away (see right of image above). And this was a place where literary history happened.

A young Irishman took up the post of business manager at the theatre in the 1870s and proceeded to pen a number of novels, one of which remains a classic. Bram Stoker spent 27 years at the Lyceum during which he became unaccountably obsessed with the theatre’s manager  – a brooding, charismatic actor named Henry irving. In fact, when Stoker wrote his famous book Dracula some say he based the title character on the over-dramatic, larger-than-life personage he worked with. According to sources it was either him or Vlad the Impaler – a 15thcentury Romanian nobleman who had a habit of impaling his enemies on stakes. A cross between the two, perhaps?

Dracula was completed in 1897, but where did Bram write it? Most say at the Lyceum Theatre, but when I was on a spooky London bus tour one night (I know, I need to get out more) the tour guide pointed out the Lyceum Tavern on the Strand and informed us that Stoker actually wrote his classic while living in a room above the pub. Whether or not this is true, Dracula evenings are now held periodically in the Lyceum’s upstairs room where punters can tap into the vampire vibe and talk about the most famous blood-sucker of them all.

Weirdly, history repeated itself in these very upstairs quarters just a few short years ago. On September 6 2015, 35 firefighters converged on the Strand to tackle a fire in a flat above the Lyceum Tavern, with passers-by reportedly seeing thick black smoke billowing from the upstairs windows. Around 50 people were forced to flee the building but none were in nightgowns (allegedly) and no-one was injured.”


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