Before the beginning of the 19th century, the pub was called The Old Jerusalem, but the owner William Barker renamed the pub after an infamous resident who owned a warehouse around the corner from the pub.
The original Dirty Dick, was Richard, or some say Nathanial, Bentley, a prosperous city merchant living in the middle of the 18th century, who owned a hardware shop and warehouse, and it said to be the inspiration for Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.
Bentley had been quite a dandy in his youth, but following the death of his fiancée, he refused to clear up or clean anything, including himself.
His house, shop and warehouse became so filthy that he became a celebrity of dirt. Any letter addressed to The Dirty Warehouse, London, would be delivered to Bentley. He stopped trading in 1804 and died in 1809. The warehouse was later demolished.
The pub that perpetuates the name and legend was described thus in 1866:
"A small public house or rather a tap of a wholesale wine and spirit business"..."a warehouse or barn without floorboards; a low ceiling, with festoons of cobwebs dangling from the black rafters; a pewter, bar battered and dirty, floating with beer, numberless gas pipes tied anyhow along the struts and posts to conduct the spirits from the barrels to the taps; sample phials and labelled bottles of wine and spirits on shelves- everything covered with virgin dust and cobwebs."
It seems that successive owners of the Bishopsgate Distillery and its tap capitalised on the legend. By the end of the 19th century, its owner, a public house company called William Barker's (D.D) Ltd, was producing commemorative booklets and promotional material to advertise the pub.
For years it kept the cobwebs, dead cats and other disgusting things in the cellar bar, but these have now been tidied a to a glass display case situated close to the Main Bar toilets.