Lundy Foot opened a tobacco shop with a brightly painted “Virginia Planter” sign in a rented storefront on the corner of Blind Quay in Dublin in 1758. He had something for everyone: Bristol Roll, Common Roll, High and Low Scotch Snuff, Pig-Tail, and even Superfine Pig-Tail for his more delicate customers.
The manufacture and processing of tobacco was a cottage industry across Europe. Tobacco grown, cut, and dried on the plantations of the Americas arrived in massive hogsheads weighing nearly 1000 pounds. Then, the tobacco would be moistened again so that it expanded and became pliable enough for the leaves to be stripped away. The choicest leaves were reserved for cigars. The rest became the everyman’s tobacco compressed plugs for pipes, twisted pig-tails for chewing, dried and ground for snuff. Most manufacturers sweetened and altered their products to suit (or deceive) their customers and dilute the expensive raw crop with cheap additives. Lundy Foot, though, advertised pure, genuine tobacco. As historian John Fitzegerald suggested, the Foot business may have had a leg up because of smuggling. The 18th century was the golden age of smuggling. Although there is no evidence that the Foots engaged in anything criminal, Foot’s father was a customs official and small businesses that sold directly to consumers could escape enforcement.
Foot’s early marketing suggests he may have sought a wealthy clientele, but he made his fortune serving the common man. As tobacco lore would have it, a drunken night watchman at Foot’s shop burned a batch of snuff so badly that Foot put it outside for passerby to take for free. The blackened tobacco proved more popular than his caringly manufactured products. He branded the heady, dark snuff as Lundyfoot or Irish Blackguard. His snuff may have even helped establish “blackguard” as an offensive word for a shady character in the 18th century. By the 1790s, Lundy Foot was a household name across Britain. The snuff even inspired some of the period’s greatest poetry: Interviewed in 1794, Robert Burns said that when he found himself at a loss for words during a night of writing, he would seize a pinch if Lundy Foot and find a surge of inspiration.
Selling scorched snuff made Foot a wealthy man. He established himself in Dublin’s politics and sent his sons to Trinity College, the most prestigious school in Ireland. He invested his profits in land around Dublin, including where Orlagh now stands.When his son, also named Lundy, married Anne Gilbert in 1790, they built Orlagh House. Another son, Jeffrey, took over the family business. Money, though, could not buy Foot’s total acceptance into the upper class. According to one possibly apocryphal story, Foot asked a well-respected barrister for advice on what motto he should attach to the coat of arms he had adopted to decorate his carriage. The Latin of a tradesman like Foot may well not have been up for the task. Curran smugly suggested Quid Rides. Quid was slang for tobacco, while the motto translates as “what are you laughing at.”
Lundy Foot was a hard-edged man whose wealth did not soften him. In 1769, he was already a rich man, but he personally chased down a robber and did not stop his pursuit even when the culprit wounded him with a pistol shot. He successfully caught the man and took him to the authorities. 30 years later, soldiers of the Tyrone militia fell into rowdy disorder and threatened Foot’s shop. The militia had been raised, armed, and trained to defend Ireland from a possible French invasion. Perhaps, the young soldiers had gone stir-crazy in their barracks in Dublin when they started wrecking the city’s shops. Foot or his staff protected the shop with “spirited resistance” and even wounded a soldier.