For many years I’ve known, enjoyed, and occasionally used the expression “This is Liberty Hall, you can spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard!” For almost as many years I’ve vaguely wondered where I got it, and it finally occurred to me to ask Professor Google, so now I know, thanks to this web page:

John Grimes often welcomed his guests with the phrase “Come In. This is Liberty Hall; you can spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard!”. There seems to be some interest in the origin of this quote.

One of the earliest variations of this quote seems to comes from the Oliver Goldsmith play “She Stoops to Conquer” written in 1773. The quote goes “Mr. Marlow—Mr. Hastings—gentlemen—pray be under no constraint in this house. This is Liberty-hall, gentlemen. You may do just as you please here.”(

A. Bertram Chandler used the phrase and it is used in nearly all the John Grimes books. It is first used in “The Road to the Rim” published in If magazine in 1967.

Since I was a loyal reader of If in those years, I think I can say with confidence that that is my source. And I’m glad to know about the prehistory in Goldsmith.


  1. Here I’d thought you came across the expression in O’Brien. Something is tickling the back of my mind about it occurring in those books.

  2. Yes, Jack Aubrey definitely says “This is Liberty Hall”.

  3. Quoth Jubal Harshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land: “This is Freedom Hall, my dear. Everyone does as he pleases … then, if he does something I don’t like, I kick him the hell out.”

  4. Add me to the list of people who until now mainly associated this with Jack Aubrey. Nice to see some detective work on it!

  5. Turns up in a bunch of nineteenth century works, so clearly it had a good deal of currency. My great generation mother uses it habitually, though the shortened version, no impugning of cats.

  6. In his groundbreaking monograph On Numbers and Games, mathematician John Horton Conway uses the quote (properly attributed to Goldsmith, I believe) in his “Afterword to Part Zero”, in which he defends the permissive style of mathematical formalism and presentation which he has been using. I read ONAG as a late teenager, and that’s the first time I remember seeing the expression. Which is odd, because She Stoops to Conquer was on my parents’ bookshelf, and I’m pretty sure I read it.

  7. Unrelated, but how come today is National Hat Day and there is no word of it from you?

  8. I blush.

  9. I believe I have read it more in the outraged negative as, “What do you think this is, Liberty Hall?!” But alas I have no citations. I love the spitting/bastard calling addition and intend to use it at the first opportunity.

  10. Loved reading this — I’ve always said it when people are over and are concerned their children are making too much mess/noise — haven’t heard the addendum — my mum never said it — though I did see She Stoops to Conquer as a student so maybe I picked it up then?

    However today I have picked up a reversible wooden candlestick sign with some age to it which says ‘strict order’ on one side and ‘Liberty Hall’ on the reverse — wonder if it was used in a school or ecclesiastical dining room and if the origin is pre Goldsmith and related to religious orders! Any now it is Liberty Hall in my dining room, though no cats were offended or harmed during this post!

  11. I’m glad you found and enjoyed the post!

  12. Charlie Spencer says

    I spend many an adolescent day with my nose buried in space operas. 40 years later, either my father or I will start, “This is Liberty Hall…” and wait for the other one to finish the quote.

    Needless to say, our respective wives hate it.

  13. Herbert Von Sherbert says

    Just acquired an Edwardian mahogany desk rotating sign which has Liberty Hall on one side and Working Order on the other…so another variation on Janes candlestick sign

  14. mary zarrilli says

    “Body in the Library” Agatha Christie. Dolly’s husband declares ” Liberty Hall… Liberty Hall! ” when the police come to investigate the scene of the crime.
    This is why I wanted to know what it meant. This is why I found you. I am glad of your web page and elucidation.

    Thanks guys… from a person who recognized “She Stoops to Conquer” but pretty much nothing else you referenced. Thanks for your smarts.

  15. Glad you found the post!

  16. Dinah Morris says

    Love this in today’s ethos of Cancel Culture….my Dad used this phrase often,
    but he would drop the second ”H”….=
    ”Liberty ‘all.”

    I have no idea why.

  17. Susanna Rance says

    I’m fascinated to read just now about the Liberty Hall / Strict Order or Working Order reversible candlestick and rotating desk sign. These feel so applicable to family household culture in my memoir writing. Please can the contributors of these comments, or others, provide any images of these artefacts? I’d love to see them…

  18. So helpful to find this! My British/Canadian grandfather b. 1888 used to say, “What do you think this is? Liberty Hall?”

    In reaction, my father declared Liberty Hall for some days of family vacations. Do as you like when you want as long as you have no negative impact on others. For me, this meant cereal for dinner and staying up all night devouring Hardy Boys mysteries. But no crabbiness the next day!

    A friend just found a “Strict Order/Liberty Hall” reversible sign in the Cotswolds and remembered my family tradition. Apparently a common saying there.

    The Goldsmith origin makes good sense. Next up is determining where my grandfather’s “Lazy man’s load” saying comes from.

    Thanks for welcoming us down the rabbit hole!

  19. Thanks for sharing your delightful story, which makes me feel affection for your father.

  20. John Cowan says

    Next up is determining where my grandfather’s “Lazy man’s load” saying comes from.

    My mother used to accuse me (correctly) of carrying a load that was too large/heavy for me and made me stagger along instead of dividing it in two easy trips, because I was too lazy to walk the distance twice. From my point of view I was just trying to save precious time, although I probably didn’t do anything of the sort.

    I was finally cured of this when I was carrying a not-too-heavy load of packages that was higher than my head, so I couldn’t see where I was going. I made a sharp right out of the front door of the building I was leaving and fell down the open basement-access hatch, which covered a flight of stairs. Fortunately, I had no warning and the drop was short, so I didn’t tense up and wasn’t injured. I left half the boxes in the basement with my daughter (about 9) to guard them while I took the other half where they were going.

  21. in my immediate blood family, the defining anecdote in that vein is of a friend who did not take two trips to carry i-can’t-remember-what upstairs, and was given good enough drugs for her injuries that she said it was like taking two trips.

  22. The PG Wodehouse character Uncle Fred always urged guest on with “This is Liberty Hall.”

Speak Your Mind