Capel Court has little to offer unless, of course, you happen to be involved in the lucrative profession of stockbroking. This short walkway, leading up to the entrance of the Stock Exchange is lined with modern offices; quite a different scene from that viewed by Sir William Capel as he looked out from his drapers shop around the turn of the 15th century. He was elected Lord Mayor in 1509 and during that year financed the building of a chapel adjoining the south side of St Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange. Six years later the members of his Company carried him out of his shop in a coffin and laid him to rest in his chapel.
Exchanging of stocks and shares saw its beginning in 1773 with a gathering of Stock Market brokers who met daily in Jonathon’s Coffee House, Change Alley. When City business men became hooked onto the idea of buying and selling stocks, and Jonathon got tired of his shop being used as an office, the brokers sought permanent premises. They settled for a central site near to St Bartholomew’s church and the first purpose built Stock Exchange opened its doors in 1802. Over 160 years later the old building came to the end of its days and was replaced by a twenty-six storey block, trading floor, and visitors gallery, completed in 1973. Until the time of the ‘Big Bang’ in October 1986 the trading floor of the Stock Exchange could be likened to a market place on a Saturday morning. Now that dealing has been computerised and the procedure of buying and selling brought into line with modern day methods the trading floor is almost deserted.
St Bartholomew’s, originally known as Little St Bartholomew’s to distinguish it from the ‘Great’ at Smithfield, stood on the south east corner of Bartholomew Lane, a few strides from the Court. The date of its original foundation is unknown but the last church on the site was built about 1435 by Alderman Thomas Pike and Nicholas Yoo, a Sheriff of the City. It was demolished in 1840 and the site sold to the Bank of England.
Until the time of the reformation the Abbot of St Mary Overy, which is now Southwark Cathedral, owned a large part of the area of Southwark, and Cardinal Cap Alley undoubtedly had connections with the Abbey. At some point way back in history, certainly long before 1533, the Abbot built a house on the site of the Alley, which, at the dissolution of the monasteries was seized by the Crown. It is not known whether this house remained standing or a new building was erected but shortly after Henry VIII had rid himself of Papal connections the site was taken over by an inn known as the Cardinal’s Hat. When the wardens of St Saviour’s dined at this inn in 1579 Thomas Mansfield was in occupation of the tenancy and a few years later Thomas Browker was the owner. The Alley may have formed an access to the inn.
Once a maze of Thames-side warehouses, the area around Cardinal Cap Alley has for a number of years now been under redevelopment. The Alley itself still remains, shadowed in the disused Bankside Power Station, and just to the east is the International Shakespeare Globe Centre containing a full size reproduction of the Globe Theatre. A path joining the Thames-side a little to the east of Blackfriars Bridge leads past the power station to link up with Bankside. From here there is a most advantageous view of the north bank and St Paul’s Cathedral. During the building of the Cathedral it is thought that Sir Christopher Wren paced this stretch viewing the progression of his masterpiece. Then it was a forest of spires, now it is a jungle of concrete and glass.
Carter Court EC4
UG: St Paul’s/Blackfriars
Bus: 4 11 15 17 23 26 76 172
Easiest access is from the south west corner of St Paul’s Cathedral. Turn into Dean’s Court, off St Paul’s Churchyard. Turn right into Carter Lane and continue almost to the end. The Court is between Blackfriars Lane and Church Entry.
Carter Court is of such quaint appearance that one would not be unduly taken aback if the bulky figure of Dr Johnson were to suddenly emerge from a doorway, followed hot on his heels by his long suffering biographer, James Boswell. Surrounding the square covered entrance to this ancient alley is an encasement of worn old English oak, painted in black, having the appearance of being in situ when Johnson was a lad. Inside the narrow passage one side is panelled with oak whilst the other is plain, both sides being coated with white wash. Towards the end of the short passage the Court opens out and terminates in a cul-de-sac. The current purpose of the Court is mysterious, for it appears to have not a single access.
Carter Lane EC4
UG: St Paul’s
Bus: 4 11 15 17 23 26 76 172
Ref: 3-31 81 D
Easiest access is from the south west corner of St Paul’s Cathedral. Turn into Dean’s Court, off St Paul’s Churchyard. Carter Lane is at the end of here.
Without any shadow of a doubt, Carter Lane is very old and probably dates from the 12th century, at that time being known as Shoemakers’ Row. Its present name did not appear until the beginning of the 13th century when the Lane was divided into Great and Little Carter Lane. This name probably originated from an old bypass route used by the carriers of the day. With the parallel Ludgate Hill being so congested with cattle and traders, the carters moving their consignments between Fleet Street and the City found it easier to use the more convenient parallel route to the south (Carter Lane). Thus, the name evolved. It is a satisfying place, narrow and not unlike a typical village street with the occasional corner shop. As though isolated and far from the City hustle and bustle, Carter Lane has a tranquil air – just a gentle but purposeful movement to and fro.
More curious than Carter Lane itself are the many adjoining byways of Church Entry, Cobb’s Court, Friar Street, Burgon Street, Wardrobe Place, Addle Hill, and Dean’s Court. On the corner of Dean’s Court is the old St Paul’s Choir School dating from 1875, with its playground on the roof, now in the hands of the Youth Hostel Association. Still almost as fresh as the day it was stencilled is the Latin inscription on the frontage to the building.
Inns and Taverns were at one time plentiful in Carter Lane. There was the Rising Sun, Saracen’s Head, White Horse, the Bell, and others, in fact one on almost every corner. Of these, the Rising Sun was the last to disappear. Occupying the west corner of Burgon Street, it was about the most homely of the Carter Lane set; a tavern where the telephone operators of Faraday House mingled with the printers of Royle’s, next door. Its bar was a treasure of wooden panelling, etched mirrors, and varnished Lincrusta extending part way up the walls. From the upstairs restaurant a small, cosy, informal chop bar, drifted the enticing aroma of simple, home cooking.
Turning to the eastern end of Carter Lane, just past Dean’s Court, is Bell Yard, at one time the alleyway leading to the Bell Inn. It was from this hostelry in 1598 that Richard Quyney sat down with quill in his hand and wrote to his ‘loving good ffrend and contreyman Mr Willm Shackespere’. This is the only known surviving letter written to England’s most famous playwright; it is now preserved at Stratford-on-Avon. The inn has long gone but Bell Yard is still there, complete with its fading painted sign. However, a high wooden gate bars access.
Castle Yard SE1
Bus: 45 63 149 172 D1 P11
From the south side of Blackfriars Bridge walk south along Blackfriars Road for about 160 yds then turn left into Southwark Street. Pass under the railway bridge and turn left into Hopton Street. In about 150 yds follow the road round to the right, and turn into Holland Street. Castle Yard is then on the right.
A large house situated just north of here came to be known by locals as the Castle because of its turreted walls. Its use is uncertain but it is quite likely that it had associations with the organisers of the various animal fighting spectacles which were popular in the area. Bear and Bull bating, cock and dog fighting all took their turn as top-of-the-bill entertainment.
Preparation for the building of the first Blackfriars Bridge commenced in 1762. Although the house did not obstruct the work, the large area required for the storing of construction material meant that the house needed to be demolished.
The Castle Inn also stood on the site of the Yard in the mid-17th century. At that time it was in the hands of John Eierby who operated one of the Southwark ‘Stewhouses’, more commonly known to us as a brothel. John Stow is quite informative on these establishments and says that ‘These allowed stew-houses had signs on their fronts, towards the Thames, not hanged out, but painted on the walls’. This would seem to indicate that the usual access was by ferry. Running a ‘stew’ was no casual affair; as early as 1162 a list of rigorous rules were laid down by an act of parliament:
‘That no stew-holder or his wife should let or stay any single woman, to go and come freely at all times when they listed.
No stew-holder to keep any woman to board, but she to board abroad at her pleasure.
To take no more for the woman’s chamber in the week than fourteen pence (7p).
Not to keep open his doors upon the holidays.
Not to keep any single woman in his house on the holidays, but the bailiff to see them voided out of the lordship.
No single woman to be kept against her will that would leave her sin.
No stew-holder to receive any woman of religion, or any man’s wife.
No single woman to take money to lie with any man, but she lie with him all night till the morrow.
No man to be drawn or enticed into any stew-house.
The constables, bailiff, and others, every week to search every stew-house.
No stew-holder to keep any woman that hath the perilous infirmity of burning, not to sell bread, ale flesh, fish, wood coal, or any victuals, etc.’
Anyone caught flaunting these rules was severely dealt with by ‘great pain and punishment’.
The Castle went through a series of ownerships and in 1764 Henry Thrale, who the previous year had taken over the Anchor Brewery, purchased the property. By this time a great many buildings had sprung up in the vicinity and the inn had been transformed from a place of ill repute to a plain and simple ale house. What Henry Thrale did with the inn is unclear but six years after his purchase it was reported to be in a ruinous condition and the building was pulled down. The lease of the land was offered to William Allen on the condition that he put it to sober use and erect substantial houses or similar buildings on the site. On the death of Henry Thrale in 1781 the Anchor Brewery and associated buildings, of which the Castle site was part, were sold by auction to David Barclay and his partner John Perkins for £135,000.
Castle Court EC3
Bus: Any to the Bank
From Bank Station walk along the south side of Cornhill. In about 150 yds turn right into Birchin Lane. Castle Court is about 30 yds on the left.
Tucked away between Cornhill and Lombard Street, this Court is one of an incredible maze of little alleys. It probably gets its name from the Castle Inn, which at one time stood at its entrance in Birchin Lane.
Here, at number 3 Castle Court is the George and Vulture, a fine old inn frequented by city workers and virtually unknown to tourists. The Tavern boasts a history dating back in time to the 12th century. Chaucer is said to have frequented the place and Dick Whittington used to call in for a vessel when he got cheesed off with council meetings. In fact celebrities from all walks of early London life are supposed to have popped in for a swift one, but if we believe the claims of most of the City of London public houses then Johnson was rarely sober and Dickens never had time to go home. However, the George and Vulture can in all honesty claim to have played host to Dickens for he referred to it in ‘Pickwick Papers’ when Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller dined there.
Fixed to a wall inside the tavern are two boundary markers defining the dividing line between the parishes of St Michael’s, Cornhill and St Edmund the King, Lombard Street. They originate from pre-Great fire days when City churches were so close together that there needed to be some physical means of ascertaining the limits of each parish. The boundary of the two parishes runs right through the bar of the George and Vulture.
Originally, the tavern was merely named the George but when the big blaze of 1666 swept through these alleys it devoured everything in its path and left the George as a shell of charred embers. A wine merchant of George Yard, whose sign was a tethered live vulture, lost his home and his livelihood, and after the tavern was rebuilt he negotiated with the landlord for part use of the George. Unhappy with the idea of having a live bird squawking around the door he agreed to change the name of his house to the George and Vulture.
The rear of Simpson’s Tavern is opposite to the George and Vulture on the north side of the Court.
Catherine Wheel Yard SW1
UG: Green Park
Bus: 9 14 19 22 38 55
From Green Park Station (Piccadilly south side) walk east towards Piccadilly Circus for about 200 yds, crossing Arlington Street and then turn right into St James’s Street. Continue along the west side until Little St James Street. Turn right and the Yard is straight ahead.
Little St James’s Street and its immediate locality became a very desirable place to live during the reign of King James II. Fashionable clubs opened and a profusion of coffee houses set up business for the pleasure of the noble residents.
Catherine Wheel Yard now has only the vaguest memory of the Catherine Wheel tavern, which from about 1600 used to stand along-side in Little St James’s Street. It was one of the earliest taverns of St James’s, carrying on a bustling trade in those prime years, but when the aristocracy began to infiltrate the area and coffee houses were the places to be seen. The Catherine Wheel was given the cold shoulder. During the mid to late 19th century it was hanging on with a mere trickle of business but competition had the final say and the terminal hour was called for the last time in 1908.
Now in private ownership, the Yard remains pretty much as it was in those hard times, still wide enough to turn a dray cart, and still sporting its shiny cobbles.
Catherine Wheel Alley E1
UG: Liverpool Street
Bus: 8 26 35 47 48 149 505 to Liverpool Street Station
Cross from Liverpool Street Station to the east side of Bishopsgate. Catherine Wheel Alley is between Middlesex Street (signed Petticoat Lane Market) and the Police Station.
The opening to Catherine Wheel Alley is not difficult to find. It departs from Bishopsgate via a very narrow archway between the bookmakers office of William Hill and Reed Employment Bureau. From there it twists along its course, almost squeezed to extinction by high walls, before emerging into the thick of Petticoat Lane Market.
Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder but if you hanker after spectacular scenery or medieval monuments then Catherine Wheel Alley is not going to bring a life long search to a rapturous close. It has, however, been here for a long time and apart from any historical values, provides a little known access to the market, or perhaps more to the point, a convenient exit; a bypass to avoiding the crowds.
For over 300 years the galleried Catherine Wheel Inn stood here until it was destroyed by fire in 1895. Although a large part of the structure remained standing after the fire, the Inn was never rebuilt and the site was cleared of the empty shell some years later. At some point in its long history the name was changed to the Cat and Wheel in order to satisfy the whims of the Puritans who demonstrated their objection to its association with the 9th century saint.
During the early part of the 18th century the Catherine Wheel was one of the many secretive haunts of Dick Turpin. He and his associate bunch of thieves used to meet here to plan their next hold-up of some well-to-do personality being escorted through Epping Forest.
A couple of yards away at number 202 Bishopsgate, another ‘Dick’ is remembered, this time Nathaniel ‘Dick’ Bentley commemorated in the establishment of Dirty Dick’s public house. Cobwebs, bats, dead cats, creepy-crawlies, and dust galore, they are all here to satisfy the desires of the wallowing filthy pub goer. As grubby as this place might appear, if it were all genuine muck the Public Health Inspector would have had a field day and the place would have been closed and fumigated years ago, but they are all imitation, strategically placed to attract the entertainment-thirsty tourist trade.
Nathaniel Bentley of Leadenhall Street was a fashionable man about town. His dandy antics were a familiar sight, tripping along in his top hat and twizzling his silver topped cane. But things changed as he was about to launch into his stag night celebration. The room was prepared, tables were lavishly decorated and the savory aroma of the sizzling roast was already drifting from the bustling kitchen. Bentley was in high spirits ready to receive his guests when a messenger arrived, not bearing good wishes for his future happiness, but with news of the tragic death of his wife-to-be. He instantly dismissed the chefs and locked up the room, never to be entered again by anyone in his lifetime. He became a recluse living in absolute basic conditions, wearing patched up clothing and allowing himself only the minimum expense for daily needs. Personal hygiene was non-existent; he once told an enquirer, ‘If I wash my hands today, they will be dirty again tomorrow’, and so they remained grubby. It was at this time in his life that Bentley was branded with the name of Dirty Dick.
At his death in 1809 the contents of the house were purchased by a speculative tavern keeper and transferred to his premises at Bishopsgate where he recouped the outlay in a matter of days. The curious display has attracted inquisitive visitors for nearly 200 years and may it long continue.
Cavendish Court EC2
UG: Liverpool Street
Bus: 8 26 35 47 48 149 505 to Liverpool Street Station
On the east side of Bishopsgate, opposite Liverpool Street, turn into Devonshire Row and Cavendish Court is about 50 yds on the right.
Just to the north of Cavendish Court is Devonshire Row, the main carriage drive leading to Devonshire House which used to stand on this site until Nicholas Barbon pulled it down in 1677. Cavendish Court was most probably constructed as an auxiliary footway for the use of lesser mortals, such as servants and maintenance staff. At the northern end the Court remains very much as it did in those times, with its white-washed square tunnel giving access to the opened out exit in Houndsditch. Of course, in the days when the Duke ruled the roost round here, the adjacent sandwich bar – The Bunker – was not on hand to serve him with a light lunch – that, of course, is of more recent times.
The southern end of the Court, along with adjacent Stonehouse Court, was shortened in length by a few feet at the beginning of the 20th century to accommodate the widening of Houndsditch. All of the buildings surrounding the Court at this end are consequently of that period.
Cecil Court WC2
UG: Leicester Square
Bus: 24 29 176
Off the east side of Charing Cross Road, about 50 yds south of Leicester Square Station
This is a most fascinating passageway where the predominant theme is rare books, prints and memorabilia. If you are looking for second hand books then this is the place to come. The Court is wide and literally lined from one end to the other with antiquarian and plain, down to earth, second hand bookshops. There is also a dealer of old prints, a poster shop and a philatelist (stamp dealer). For refreshment there is the Piazza Pasta and Salad Bar. Down the centre line the Court is graced by two gas lamp standards.
During the reign of James I when residential property in the Strand was much sought after by the noble and well-to-do of the time, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, built a large house on a site near to the present Lyceum in the Strand. Lord Burghley had two sons, Thomas who became Earl of Exeter and on his father’s death inherited the house; and Robert who became Earl of Salisbury. In 1609 the King, who had always looked on Robert as a favourite, granted him a piece of land stretching from the east side of Leicester Square to St Martin’s Lane. On part of the land, facing St Martin’s Lane he built a block of residential property for the use of servants. The remainder of the land was developed by a later Earl of Salisbury at the end of the 17th century.
One of the most notable celebrities to have taken up residence in Cecil Court was Mozart who temporarily occupied rooms here in 1764.
Change Alley EC3
Bus: Any to Bank
From Bank Station walk along the south side of Cornhill past Pope’s Head Alley. Change Alley is the next opening on the right.
Sauntering around this rambling thoroughfare, looking up at its shiny high walls and down at its neatly paved walkway, will scarcely reveal a single clue to the real identity of Change Alley. Its claim to a rightful place in the modern City environment stems from deep-rooted associations with that old-time popular London institution which began to lure the Capital’s population in the 17th century – the coffee house.
In many ways these social haunts formed the central hub of daily life; they were where the news was gathered and distributed; they were the main places for the exchange of gossip. Here a business man could meet his client and discuss a deal in relative comfort and warmth over a dish of coffee and perhaps a hearty meal. As popular as the coffee houses became, they were not without their enemies and slanderers. In 1674 a congregation of ladies formed the ‘Women’s Petition against Coffee’, circulating notices about London in which they complained that by indulging in the beverage men were made as ‘unfruitful as the dessert where that unhappy berry is said to be bought’. Despite their efforts, by the 18th century it was estimated that there were over 3000 coffee houses in London.
Almost from the very outset of the new craze Change Alley was on the map of regularly frequented byways, with the establishment of Robin’s Coffee House attracting the ‘quality’ business fraternity. Very soon after, Garraway’s and Jonathon’s coffee houses opened in the Alley taking their share of the plentiful City trade. It was in an upstairs room at Garraway’s that the wine merchants met for the twice weekly auctions of vintage imports ‘by candle’. At the start of each lot a short candle, placed in full view of the assembled crowd, was lit and as it burnt down, the various bidders called out their price. When the candle extinguished, the last man to call paid his figure and took the prize. But what did these traders drink as they waived their silk handkerchieves and shouted themselves hoarse? It was not coffee and it was certainly not the contents of tbose precious gains – it was tea. Thomas Garraway was no fool; he saw the opening, took the plunge, and thereby established himself as the first retailer of tea in the City of London.
Jonathon, on the other hand, was an entrepreneur of a different breed; he made his fortune by offering a welcome to the dealers who bought and sold stock when they were snubbed by the Royal Exchange in 1698. From this cosy beginning – a meeting of buyers and sellers huddled around a roaring fire – the Stock exchange was born. It was in Jonathon’s coffee house that the scheme known as the South Sea Bubble was thought up, a plan to develop trading in the southern hemisphere to repay the British national debt. This was not one of the most celebrated of ideas cooked up in Change Alley – the bubble burst while still a soap-sud in the eye of its instigator.
All three of the Alley’s coffee houses, along with 100 residential houses, were destroyed in the Cornhill fire of 1748. Garraway’s and Jonathon’s were rebuilt and the stockbrokers and jobbers resumed trading until business became too swift for the restricted accommodation and they acquired purpose built premises at Capel Court in 1802.
‘Why did Change Alley waste thy precious hours,
Among the fools who gap’d from golden showers?
No wonder if we found some poets there,
Who live on fancy and can feed on air;
No wonder they were caught by South-Sea schemes,
Who ne’er enjoyed a guinea but in dreams.’
Today, Change Alley, originally Exchange Alley, has changed beyond all recognition from those coffee house days. Towering walls faced with white glazed tiles give it a cold and uninhabited eerie atmosphere. It is now lined with the rear of premises owned by the financial breed of companies who have their frontages on the surrounding streets.
One striking feature of Change Alley is, as you wander around the bordering streets of the triangle, you keep seeing it. There are five access points. Two off Cornhill, two off Lombard Street and one leading out of Birchin Lane.
Chapel Court SE1
Bus: 21 35 40 133 P3
From Borough Station walk north along Borough High Street past the library at the junction with Long Lane and continue for about 90 yds. Chapel Court is on the right.
On the corner of Chapel Court stands the Blue Eyed Maid. But hang on- before my gentlemen readers go rushing out in expectation of a night in the long grass and a bit of how’s-y-father, the ‘Maid’ is actually a very pleasant pub with tables and chairs set out in the Court. It stands as a conspicuous marker alongside the passageway which once led to the Borough Baptist Chapel – such an establishment encouraging the quaffing of evil intoxicating liquor would never have been tolerated in the days when staunch worshippers filed past here in their droves.
This is a pleasant Court; a cul-de-sac where the buildings are an agreeable blend of gracefully old and modern. Trinity House, an office block with a cobbled forecourt, occupies a far end position adjacent to the site of the old chapel.
Cheshire Court EC4
Bus: 4 11 15 23 26 76 171A
From Ludgate Circus keep to the north side of Fleet Street and continue for about 170 yds. Look up for the hanging lamp sign of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
Covered Cheshire Court adjoins the Old Cheshire Cheese and provides access to a new bar opened in 1992. Previously it led nowhere but to the cellar drop. It is adjacent to the somewhat more historical Wine Office Court.
Church Court EC4
Bus: 21 43 133 or any to the Monument
From Monument Station continue north along the east side of King William Street and turn right into Clement’s Lane. The Court is just past the church on the right.
Tucked away from view, as though hiding from the thousands who daily tramp the pavements of King William Street and Gracechurch Street, only feet away, is narrow Church Court. It gracefully rises from Clement’s Lane up three steps. In the midst of these great streets, rarely resting from the scramble of City traffic, it lies in tranquil obedience like a dog at the feet of his master. It is one of the City courts responsible for a great deal of confusion in years gone by, resulting from the multiple church-side paths simply called ‘church court’. For clearer identification it was more frequently referred to as St Clement’s Court, leading to St Clement’s churchyard – now almost completely disappeared, and subsequently the name was officially changed to reflect its public pseudonym. Now that all, with the exception of Church Court in the Temple, have been renamed and the case of mis-identity no longer exists, the path around St Clement’s has very recently reverted to its original title.
This was not always the throttled down backwater of today; prior to 1831, when King William Street was built, Clement’s Lane was a bustling thoroughfare. In those days it was the main connecting road between Candlewick Street (Cannon Street) and Lombard Street with tradesmens’ houses lining the route. As far back as 1370 the residents of Clement’s Lane joined with those of Candlewick Street in a protest against an assemblage of plumbers who had set up a lead smelting plant nearby. They claimed that the chimney of the furnace was not high enough and that the noxious fumes emitted forth were causing untold ill-health. In consequence the Mayor declared that the plumbers would be allowed to continue with their work providing the height of the chimney was raised.
The church of St Clement’s, Eastcheap, after which the Lane (and previously the Court) are named, was built by Wren in 1687 to replace an earlier building destroyed in the Great Fire. By comparison with many of Wren’s creations it is a plain structure of almost entirely stuccoed brickwork. It has undergone many internal changes since Wren left the scene; firstly by Butterfield in 1870 and again in 1933 when some of the woodwork was embellished by Ninian Comper. The fine Harris organ of 1695, originally installed in the gallery, was relocated in one of the aisles by Butterfield but in 1936 it was returned to the gallery. Among the memorials is one to Brian Walton, compiler of the Polyglot Bible who later became Bishop of Chester and died in 1661.
There are some who claim that the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons rightly belongs to St Clement’s Eastcheap and not to St Clement Danes. But the truth we shall never know, since the author died some five centuries ago and the ditty would have gone the same way had Wynkyn de Worde not included it in his Demaundes Joyous childrens book in 1510. I include the rhyme here to sway on the side of the Eastcheap church, not merely to be contradictory to popular belief, but because all of the other churches mentioned are within ‘cockney’ London; St Clement Danes is not:
Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St Martin’s.
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.
I’m sure I don’t know,
Says the great bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!
Chop, chop, chop, chop!
The ringing of the bells might be a most pleasant experience but the chopper remains as doubtful as the rhyme’s origin.
On the wall of St Clement’s House, by the side of the church, is a small plaque telling us that Dositey Obradovich, a scholarly writer of his time, lived in a house on this site. We may never have heard of him but someone thought him worthy of recognition.
Church Entry EC4
UG: St Paul’s
Bus: 4 11 15 17 23 26 76 172
See Carter Lane. Turn right into Carter Lane, passing Addle Hill and Wardrobe Place. Turn into St Andrew’s Hill then into Ireland Yard. 60 yds on right
Two churches are remembered in the name of Church entry: they are the Priory church of the Dominican Friars, commonly known as the Black Friars, and the church of St Anne ,Blackfriars.
After the dissolution of the monasteries the Black Friars church and domestic quarters were left to deteriorate and by 1596 the stones of its vast walls were strewn about the site like rubble. At this time the grounds were sold off as individual plots and the actor Richard Burbage took possession of a small part lying to the south-west of Church Entry, on which he built his Blackfriars Theatre. While Burbage was preparing his plans, the adjacent plot was donated by the crown for the building of a new church, to be dedicated to St Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin. It was consecrated in 1597 and sixteen years later it was enlarged by having a chapel added to the south side.
No other London church has had so short a life as St Anne’s. On Tuesday 4th September 1666 the raging furnace took it while still in its prime. Although the Great Fire left this area a devastated ruin, there was one tiny row of houses that remained almost untouched. To the west of the church, separated by Church Entry, was Fleur-de-Lys Court, and whilst the hungry flames roared about the walls of St Anne’s they were prevented form leaping across to the Court by the intervening open space.
The church of St Anne was never rebuilt; its parish was amalgamated with that of St Andrew by the Wardrobe. Its graveyard, however, remains to this day; protected behind iron railings with a central gateway it is laid out with shrubbery and seating.
A notice on the sturdy iron railings proclaims that ‘On this plot of land stood, in the middle ages, part of the preaching nave of the church of the great Dominican Priory of Blackfriars. The choir lay the other side of the church entry and the name Church Entry indicates the usual passage between the nave and the chancel, passing north and south between the steeple in the planning of the priors church. The nave had seven bays and measured 114 feet by 60 feet. The priory, founded in 1278, was dissolved in 1538 and subsequently this plot was used as a churchyard for the parish of St Ann Blackfriars. It was closed for burials in 1848.’
Clements Inn Passage WC2
Bus: 4 11 15 23 26 76 171A
On the west side of the Royal Courts of Justice, opposite St Clement Danes Church, turn into the gateway and follow the walkway round by the side of the offices. Walk up the steps and Clements Inn Passage is straight ahead.
Standing hard by the Royal Courts of Justice, Clements Inn Passage was so named because of its close proximity with Clement’s Inn, one of the Inns of Chancery, now surviving in name only. This inn, according to John Stow, was so called ‘because it standeth near to St Clement’s church, but nearer to the fair fountain called Clement’s well’. Of this well, Stow informs us that it stood ‘north from the parish church of St Clement’s and near unto an inn of Chancerie called Clement’s Inn, is fair curbed square with hard stone, kept clean for common use, and is always full.’
The Inns of Chancery were formed out of a cluster of hostels used as preparatory schools for ‘young men learning the first elements of the law’. As early as 1486 the houses of Clement’s Inn were leased for a period of eight years to William Elyot and John Elyot in trust for the young students of law. In the early 18th century the Inn was describes as consisting of three small courts with a well proportioned hall of genuine Queen Anne style, in which hung a portrait of Sir Matthew Hale, Chief Justice from Lincoln’s Inn, now in the hall of the Inner Temple. In the garden was a statue of a kneeling black boy supporting a sundial, presented to Clement’s Inn by Lord Clare, who brought it from Italy in about 1700 – this too is now in the Inner Temple. Of the ancient buildings none now survive; as long ago as 1800 Sir Edward Herbert noted that many had been demolished and that those still remaining had been turned into palatial offices. By 1884 all the buildings of Clement’s Inn had been demolished and replaced by more up-to-date structures.
Turning to the church of St Clement Danes; it was said by Stow to be ‘so called because Harold, a Danish king, and other Danes, were buried there.’ First built in the early 12th century, St Clement’s was out of reach of the Great Fire but about the same time as the City churches were receiving the heat treatment, surveyors discovered that it was suffering from advanced decay and gave the word to pull it down. Rebuilding was completed in 1682 to plans drawn up by Sir Christopher Wren and the steeple, by James Gibbs, was added in 1719.
Originally, the church stood on the north side of the Strand but when the Aldwych was laid out in the early 20th century the roadway severed its attachment and thus rendered it an island church along with its neighbour, St Mary le Strand. To passers by the bells of St Clement’s have been its most notable feature; for years they have attracted visitors and locals alike for the hourly tuneful peal of the famous nursery rhyme, Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St Clement’s – they are now silent.
This was Dr Johnson’s church, and here in the gallery, on the front row, is his pew, identified by a plaque. It was from this very spot that James Boswell observed the good doctor at prayer: ‘I never shall forget the tremulous earnestness with which he pronounced the awful petition in the Litany ‘In the hour of death, and at the day of judgement, good Lord deliver us.’ In recognition of his association with St Clement Danes, the squat statue of Dr Johnson stands outside the east end, looking down his favourite Fleet Street.
Back in St Clement’s Passage, at the Strand entrance, vehicle access to the Passage is controlled by an electronic card reader and automatic gates, and a side gate for the use of pedestrians which is locked out of business hours. The Passage winds round past modern offices on the west side and the grounds of the Royal Courts of Justice on the east. The Womens’ Social Union, better known as the Suffragettes, founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, had their headquarters at number 3.
At the northern end there are twelve steps climbing up to, on the right, Grange Court, while Clement’s Inn Passage continues straight ahead for a few yards. It emerges into Portugal Street near to the Old Curiosity Shop, of Dickens fame.
Cliffords Inn Passage EC4
Bus: 4 11 15 23 26 76 171A
On the north side of Fleet Street, between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane -to the west of the church
In 1307 Robert Clifford was granted the lease on a substantial house and a plot of land towards the northern end of the passage. At that time lawyers had not settled into any particular area of London and it was completely by chance that when Clifford died in 1343 his widow leased the house to a number of law students. Clifford’s Inn, or Clifford’s House as it was called, was the first established Inn of Chancery and from this beginning the long history of legal London started. The house remained in the ownership of the Clifford family until the mid-17th century when it was sold to a group of lawyers as residential apartments.
Clifford’s Inn ceased to function as a legal establishment in 1802 and one by one the buildings were demolished until the last survivor went under the demolition contractor’s hammer in 1935.
Cloth Court EC1
On the south side of Long Lane, about 190 yds west of Barbican Station, between Rising Sun Court and Barley Mow Passage.
In a locality bearing street names such as Cloth Fair, Cloth Street and Cloth Court it would be reasonable to assume that somewhere back in time there might have been a drapers shop around here. Cloth Fair and its surroundings have a long history associated with the drapery and tailoring trade. However, the history of the area goes back a little further than the establishment of the clothing trade.
It all started when Rahere, one of Henry I’s favourite courtiers, woke up with a start and decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. While he was there he caught a bug and became violently ill with sickness, diarrhoea, the shakes and other conceivable symptom. It was touch and go but within a few days, as though affected by some divine power, he was miraculously restored to full health. Feeling assured that this was the work of heaven, he vowed, in gratitude, that when he returned home he would build a hospital for the treatment of those of unsound financial means. As he stepped back onto the shores of England he was halted in his tracks by a vision of a towering man before him. The vision declared himself to be Bartholomew and he told Rahere that along with his hospital he was also to build a great church. Both of these projects he undertook to the best of his ability and by 1150 his great church, or priory, was completed. The Augustinian Order of monks took up residence, with Rahere as the first prior. Funding of the priory and hospital were not easy so Rahere applied to the King and was granted permission to hold an annual August fair to raise money. The scheme was an immediate success and soon became an established event, initially held every August. By tradition, the official opening ceremony was performed by the Mayor from the steps of the Hand and Shears tavern, in Middle Street. His loud declaration was followed by letting loose a dozen or so rabbits into the milling throng, which were chased by a noisy gang of ruffians. Cattle traders from far and wide set up a market here, later designated as the official London cattle market with the stipulation that no other was to be opened within seven miles radius. Clothing traders and drapers soon latched on to the idea of opening stalls and before too long the fair developed into the largest cloth and clothing event in the country. It first of all lasted for three days and from the 16th century it was extended to a fortnight.
Like all good things, someone had to spoil it. The fair became a place of riots, looting and murder, and it was finally ordered to cease in 1855. However, although the fair ceased to be recognised, in 1884 an article in a local paper reported that trading was still in evidence, stating that the price paid for women varied from one penny to twenty-five guineas. When we considers that the twenty-five guinea quality were as rough as they came, I wonder what one might expect for a penny.
Punters and traders alike would no doubt have called into Ye Olde Dick Whittington tavern which stood on the corner of Kinghorn Street until it was demolished in 1916. The eventual total demise of the fair obviously contributed in a major part to its down fall. Although it had undergone many modifications, like the addition of an 18th century frontage to the ground floor, it held the noble reputation of being London’s oldest tavern. A proud claim indeed, but even in those days competition was tough and just like the present day, there were probably a dozen or more other contenders reaching out for the title.
An exceedingly fine example of a 17th century house (built about 1640) comprising of numbers 41 and 42 Cloth Fair should not be missed. Although it has been renovated it offers an opportunity to see a very small part of the city as it was, prior to being swallowed up by the fire. When gazing at this house it is very easy to slip back a few centuries into the time of Pepys and visualise the London of his day.
Cobb’s Court EC4
UG: Blackfriars/St Paul’s
Bus: Any to Ludgate Circus
On the south side of Ludgate Hill turn into Pageantmaster Court. Continue across Pilgrim Street and into Ludgate Broadway. Cobb’s Court is on the left.
cobbsct.jpg (11544 bytes)In the clean up, after the Great Fire had taken its toll and left Carter Lane and its tributaries a pathetic ruin, Cobbs Court rose from the ashes like a phoenix, built up of tall red brick houses. It was not here before that devastating day in September 1666; the site was occupied by the vestry and rectory adjoining the church of St Anne, Blackfriars (see Church Entry).
The only Cobb of any notable prominence around at that time was Paul Cobb, Mayor of Bedford, who, during a prolonged visit to London, came into the confidence of speculative builder, Nicholas Barbon. His wheelings and dealings with Barbon aroused public suspicion and it was later revealed that he had spent the outrageous sum of twenty pounds of Corporation money in entertaining his guests. After the Fire, Nicholas Barbon presented his plans for rebuilding the City and although his scheme was not adopted, his unorthodox style was seen springing up all over the place, including a plot to the south of Ludgate Hill. The association between Paul Cobb and Cobb’s Court remains a possibility.
Today it is a modernised Court with ornamental gates at both ends. It leaves Ludgate Broadway through a narrow covered passage, which widens as it opens to daylight. Here there is a secluded paved courtyard with a central fountain and seating. All the buildings are of recent construction. Turning to the right through almost 90° it emerges into Carter Lane opposite to Church Entry. Everything in this quiet corner is very pleasant indeed.
Cockpit Yard WC1
UG: Chancery Lane
Bus: 19 38 45 46 55
From Chancery Lane Station turn into Grays Inn Road, continue for about 3 mile and cross over Theobalds Road (buses 17 18 45 46). Carry on for a further 90 yds and turn left into Northington Street. Pass King’s Mews, cross John Street and John’s Mews. Cockpit Yard is about 25 yds on the left.
In the London of the 18th century the number of byways named from their association with fighting cocks was absolutely bewildering. There were ten Cock alley’s, nine Cock courts, four Cock lanes, eight Cock yards, and sundry others, all leading to the various venues of the popular sport of cockfighting.
In a widening at the far end of this Yard was the cockpit commonly known as the Gray’s Inn Cockpit. It had a pointed conical roof and in structure was not unlike a theatre with seating around a central arena. The Gray’s Inn venue was one of the most frequented in the whole of London, attracting nobility from far and wide and many a handsome bet, even by today’s standards, were placed on the duelling birds.
The cockpit changed hands in 1710 and again in 1723 when it was put up for sale along with an adjoining piece of land offered for the purposes of building. In 1745 it again came under the hammer and was taken over by John Westcott, a cabinet maker of the parish of St Andrew, Holborn. He then sold it to John Skipwick but retained for himself the right to manage the cockpit at his own discretion.
During the 18th century cock fighting was one of the most popular sporting events, rather like football is today, and large numbers of people jostled for front positions around the pit. The claws of each cock were fitted with long blades and, cheered on by the spectators, they lashed out at each other to the death. Pepys described the scene on the 6th April 1668 when he went to check out the new King’s Gate Cockpit: ‘and there saw the manner of it, and the mixed rabble of people that come thither, and saw two battles of cocks, wherein is no great sport, but only to consider how these creatures, without any provocation do fight and kill one another, and aim only at one another’s heads.’ Not a pretty sight, but it continued until the reign of Queen Victoria when cock fighting was declared illegal.
The scene around Cockpit Yard has changed slightly since those days and it now forms a base for council refuge collection lorries. It was not really a pretty sight in the 18th century and neither is it today.
Cockspur Court SW1
UG: Charing Cross
Bus: Any to Trafalgar Sq
From Charing Cross ML Station turn left, crossing Craven Street, Northumberland Street Northumberland Avenue, Whitehall, and the approach to Admiralty Arch. Follow the road round into Cockspur Street and then turn left into Spring Gardens. Continue for a few yards and turn right.
Lying just off Cockspur Street, this little square tunnel was the site of a thriving business in the 18th century. The Yard was occupied by a manufacturer of blades or spurs for fitting to the claws of fighting cocks. These blades were made to a razor sharp perfection and the demand of products from the best makers was so that the company owners often realised a small fortune. Cock fighting was made illegal in the mid 19th century and the more flexible spur manufacturers turned their hands to other items of manufacture while those who were less adventurous went out of business.
Cockspur Court still has a flavour of rough antiquity within the bounds of its darkened brick walls, and the old iron gates at either end have been here since before anyone can remember. Pressing down on this short tunnel, a four storey building can remember the years going back to the beginning of the 20th century, but the concrete jungle of the British Council, at the southern end, has no memory at all – it was built in 1975.
Colville Place W1
UG: Goodge Street
Bus: 10 24 29 73 134
Turn right out of Goodge Street Station and take the first right into Goodge street. Turn left into Whitfield Street and Colville Place is on the right.
Colville Place stands on the approximate site of an 18th century windmill erected on the land known as Crabtree Field, owned at that time by William Berresford. It was situated a little to the west of the long hedge lined lane, which led to the old manor house named Tottenham Court. When Berresford died in about 1717 the land was inherited by his widow, Ann, who shortly after fell passionately in love with a local carpenter, John Goodge and the two were married. They enjoyed many years of blissful companionship together but John outlived his wife and died in 1748; the land then passed into the hands of his nephews, Frances and William. In the following years these two started to prepare the land for development but they were not large scale developers and it seemed right that they should seek the skill of a more qualified man. On recommendation they contracted a substantial part of the work out to John Colville but they were not aware that he had never before attempted anything of this magnitude; he was a mere small-time builder and carpenter and evidence soon came to light that he was ill-equipped to tackle the major project of building streets and houses. John Colville built the ‘Place’ and part of some of the streets around, but long before the work was completed he found himself in dire straights and fell into obscurity.
Coleville Place is the sort of place that we always hope is just around the corner. Well, here it is -a surviving Georgian court of about 1765, complete with attractive houses all graced by ornamental stone pots and urns filled with greenery, making this one of the more scenic places in an area dominated by computer buffs and electronic wizardry. There are three electric standard lamps down the centre of the old rugged stone flagged pavement, although these are of no outstanding beauty and merely serve their purpose. A line of trees and a ‘green’ park on the southern side complete the picture of this appealing byway.
Compton Passage EC1
Bus: 55 153 243
From Farringdon Station walk east along Cowcross Street, cross Turnmill Street and continue for about 150 yds. Turn left into Peter’s Lane and then straigt across into St John’s Street. Continue north and cross Clerkenwell Road. In a little way turn right into Compton Street.
For the inquisitive wanderer, with a few hours to spare, searching out the byways of central London offers one of the most pleasurable and unusual pastimes imaginable. At every turn there is some feature of unexpected surprise; will there be an age old covered alley characterfully steeped in history?; will our eyes be opened in amazement at the sight of well preserved Georgian shops?; or will we find an uncared-for shambles with grass growing out of every crack?. The surprise is all part of the joy and in the district of Clerkenwell there are surprises galore – Compton Passage is one of them.
When we turn up the history relating to this Passage we find, like many of the thoroughfares in this corner of the City, it has past associations with Lord Compton, Earl of Northampton. With such noble connections we may, in our mind’s eye, conjure up a picture of grand houses, perhaps now turned into offices; polished door knockers and brass letter boxes; perhaps the odd Rolls Royce parked nearby. The surprise is all yours – but let me relieve you of a morsel of the suspense. Approaching from St John Street and turning into Compton Street we feast our eyes on a collection of small cafes, in the style of small two-up, two-down terrace houses, lining the south side. Nearing Compton Passage, on first sight there is no obvious sign of prestigious accommodation; in fact on second sight there is no glaring evidence of the neatly kept buildings we may have come to expect. In reality, Compton Passage offers an unrivalled example of high, unpointed red brick walls, the continuity of which is occasionally broken by wire mesh protected windows. Barbed wire on the top of the walls serves as a security device providing protection against the determined cat-burglar. And what about the paving! Slabs of natural stone, worn and hollowed by centuries of tramping feet? Afraid not; just mere boring Tarmac of those inventive architecturally creative years around 1960. It is good to trundle down the occasional ‘Crompton Passage’, if for no other reason, the experience leaves us with the expectation that things can only get better.
At the southern end of the Passage is Dallington Street, named after Sir Robert Dallington, Master of the Charterhouse during the late 16th century. It was constructed on part of the site occupied by the burial ground known as Pardon Churchyard. Its foundation resulted from a vicious plague which started in Dorset and reached London in late 1347. The Great Plague of 1665 was to all accounts a flea in the ocean compared with this epidemic; few of those who remained in London escaped, and by the beginning of 1348 it is estimated that no more than ten percent of the original population were alive. All the available churchyards were overflowing and the situation became so unmanageable that the Bishop of London, Ralph Stratford, bought a piece of ground known as ‘No Man’s Land’ and consecrated it for the purpose of burying the surplus bodies. By 1349 the plague was still causing havoc, and fearful that the City might find itself once again in a similar situation, Sir Walter Manny purchased this adjoining plot of over thirteen acres.
When the plague ceased and the additional ground was no longer required for victims it became the common place for burial of executed criminals and those who had ‘desperately ended their lives’ (Stow). There bodies were carried in the ‘friary cart’, an enclosed box on wheels, and draped with a black pall bearing a plain white cross. On the front of the cart was the cross of St John; a single bell jangled by the jolting of the cart as it proceeded on its mournful journey.
This is merely a taste of Compton Passage and its surroundings; for the full flavour, go and see.
Conduit Passage W2
Bus: 7 23 27 36
From Paddington Station and the junction of Pread Street and Eastbourn Terrace cross to the south side of Pread Street and walk down Spring Street, opposite Eastbourn Terrace. In about 40 yds turn left into Conduit Place. Conduit Passage is then a few yds on the right.
A glance through the index of a comprehensive directory of London will reveal no less than fourteen ‘conduits’, all in some way having past associations with the supply of water to central areas of the capital. The stoney earth of Bayswater, around the banks of the Westbourne stream was particularly rich in rising springs and it is in one of these watering holes that ‘Bayswater’ has its foundation. During the 14th century the lord of the manor, a certain Baynard, owned a powerful spring for supplying constant water to the manor house. As the supply was plentiful he constructed a duct to channel the water to a trough where horses could drink. This became known as Baynard’s Watering – see the connection?
Near to Conduit Passage was the main spring of Ox Lease with its head housed in a sturdy round building topped with a stone ball. Between 1470 and 1815 the Roundhead Conduit, as it was called, channelled the water via Oxford Street, where it joined a conduit from the banks of the Tyburn and continued via Mayfair to the City.
The Roundhead Conduit house disappeared in 1820 and the lead pipes were replaced with a modern water piping system. Until 1825 there remained a very good crop of watercress to be had from the continuing trickling streams.
Conduit Court WC2
UG: Covent Garden Bus: Any to Aldwych, Strand or Charing Cross From Covent Garden Station turn right (south west) into Floral Street and continue along the north side for about 150 yds.
Built in the 1680’s, Conduit Court was most likely the creation of Leonard Cundit who owned a tavern nearby in Long Acre. The corruption to Conduit is easy to appreciate.
Thomas Chippendale started his cabinet making business here in 1748. It was a very small concern at the time and the confined space of the Court left little scope for enlargement. Whilst still working here he bought a house in Northumberland Court and there commenced writing his encyclopedia of wood work designs, The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Directory. By 1752 Chippendale had built up a steady demand for his furniture and the Conduit Court workshop was proving impractical, not only from the production point of view but also for the storage of prepared orders. The following year, in his ardent search for alternative workshops, he came upon the ideal premises; a large work area with shop frontage and living accommodation above, near to Garrick Yard, in St Martin’s Lane. In the same year he sold his house in Northumberland Court, gave up his old workshop, and moved to his new premises in preparation for the flood of orders which were to result from the publication of his book in 1754.
At the southern end of Conduit Court is Floral Street, renamed in 1895 from Hart Street after the White Hart Inn, built in 1632 and demolished around the mid-18th century. Charles Macklin, a famous actor of the time, bought this building when still a house and turned it into a tavern and eating house. It became known as Macklin’s Ordinary and was opened for an extremely limited period each day. At five-to-four in the afternoon a bell was rung from the top of the building for the duration of five minutes; at four o-clock, prompt, the doors were opened; ten minutes later the doors were closed and the first course was served. The fixed charge for a three course dinner was three shillings (15p) including a beverage of the customers choice.
Until earlier this century the Bird in Hand tavern occupied the position of number 17 Long Acre with an entrance in Conduit Court. It was a picturesque two storey old hostelry with dormer windows projecting from the quaint rickety roof and a cladding of numerous sign boards on the outside walls. On one such board the words of an appropriate famous proverb were stylishly written in a rhythmic flow of words so infrequently encountered in our day of modernists:
‘A bird in the hand is better far
Than two that in the bushes are’.
Alas, along with most of the other alleys of Long Acre, Conduit Court has been subjected to the treatment suffered by a good many of London’s treasured byways. All that now greets us are the plain high brick walls characterlessly built in a fashion as though to hide from view the old tavern. However, the site of the entrance to the Bird in Hand can still be traced where there is an inlet on the east side about half way along the Court. Near to Conduit Court at numbers 12-14 Long Acre is the map shop of Edward Stanford, considered to be the largest map shop in the world. It was established in 1852.
Cooper’s Row EC3
UG: Tower Hill
Bus: 15 23 42 47 56 78
Copper’s Row leads from the north east corner of Trinity Square, just by Tower Hill Station, northwards, under Fenchurch Street Station and emerges into Crutched Friars.
Among the historical landmarks of London, Cooper’s Row rates highly. Most visitors have probably never heard of it and many locals have not the slightest knowledge of its historical possession – a fragment of the Roman City wall.
In a courtyard, accessed from an opening between numbers 8 and 10 Cooper’s Row, is perhaps the most impressive remnant of the wall built by the Romans probably between 190 and 220 AD. It towers to a height of 35 feet and the medieval parapet, where guards kept a constant watch, still survives. On the south side, still detectable with a tight squint, is a faint indication in the masonry of the stone steps leading up to the parapet. In the upper part of the wall are the round-headed embrasures of about the 12th century through which archers fired at the unsuspecting enemy.
This portion of the wall is approximately 100 feet long, but of course, it originally encircled the entire City, at that time contained in the area between the Tower and Blackfriars Bridge. At strategic positions along its length the wall was breached and gates erected, usually giving access to main roads; all of these gates have long since disappeared but are still remembered in their names: Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Cripplegate, Aldersgate Newgate, and Ludgate. The first gate from leaving the Tower, and the nearest to Cooper’s Row would have been Aldgate, giving access to the road leading east to Colchester, now the approximate direction of the A12 trunk road.
Many are not aware that the Roman City wall existed in its entirety until little more than two centuries ago. It had been regularly maintained and almost worshipped by some until 1766 when an unworthy committee responsible for the sewage systems of the City got their heads together and decided that the wall was a health hazard. Ah! you might say, a wise and considerate move; large pieces of loose masonry could easily fall from the dizzy heights and injure an innocent bypasser. But this perilous possibility was far from their minds; the obscure theory of this committee was that the enclosed City was being denied the free passage of clean air and thereby causing unnecessary sickness and disease. Their argument was accepted and the City governors issued an order that as many as are willing to demolish the wall may take for their own use as much as they can remove.
The self-appointed contractors set to work and the vast structure of something like 1,000,000 cubic feet of stone was quickly reduced to flat earth. Every trace of the wall was demolished except for a few isolated sites where it was undetected or passed through private property. Here in Cooper’s Row the enormous task of demolishing this remaining section was avoided when Joseph Barber and Company incorporated its length as a supporting wall into their new bonded warehouse. To make way for modern buildings the warehouse itself is now demolished and the wall is once again exposed to the elements in a modern courtyard with seating and a fountain.
Copthall Close EC2
Bus: 21 43 76 133
From Moorgate Station walk south along the east side of Moorgate and turn left into London Wall. In about 75 yds turn right into Copthall Avenue. Continue for about 70 yds. Pass Langthorn Court on the right, followed by Gt Swan Alley. Copthall Close is then about 25 yds on right.
Copthall Close is a successor to the now disappeared Copthall Court which formed the access to Copthall Buildings and extended northwards from Throgmarton Street, just to the west side of Drapers Hall. Its name derives from the style of the buildings occupying this site during the 16th century, which had ‘copted’ or high ridged rooves. Although there must have been a hall standing near to here at some time there is no obvious evidence in support of it.
Sheltered from the scurrying tempo of Moorgate, Copthall Close is a pleasant place but for the quaintly minded. A turning on the south side of the Close leads to the narrow Copthall Buildings, Telegraph Street, and Tokenhouse Yard – a much more rewarding and worthwhile expedition.
There is a telephone kiosk in Copthall Close, but if you can find it vacant you have the luck of the gods.
Corbet Court EC3
Bus: Any to Bank or Monument
From Monument Station take the underpass to Gracechurch Street/King William Street and walk north along the west side of Gracechurch Street. Cross Lombard Street and Corbet Court is about 100 yds on the left.
After the staggering labyrinth of Cornhill’s alleys, Corbet Court can be something of a disappointment. But too much excitement crammed into a short space of time can over burden the system and perhaps a short respite at this point is a timely welcome.
There is no fun to be had here, and the proprietors are not going to let you forget it; a bold notice states ‘Unauthorised parking is subject to normal police clamping’. So be warned! This has always been a dreary unaccommodating Court; It seems that old Corbet, a property owner, set the seed in the late 17th century when he attempted to prevent unauthorised persons from entering his newly built Court. He was a misery if ever there was one, but it seems that his clan were also a bunch of unsociable characters with an inbuilt determination to make mountains out of worm casts; Miles Corbet, who plotted against Charles I, was a member of this family. At that time it was merely the hostile attitude of grumpy Corbet – there was nothing private about his Court, it was a common right of way. There is no way through Corbet Court now, it is a cul-de-sac, and to be fair it is private property.
Counter Court SE1
UG: London Bridge
Bus: 21 35 40 133 P3
From the south side of London Bridge continue under the railway bridge and along Borough High Street to where Southwark Street branches off to the right. Counter Court intersects the island in the middle of the road, approximately opposite to George Inn Yard.
When the Tabard Inn stood across the road from here and the George Inn Yard was choked up with coaches, there stood on this site the 12th century church of St Margaret, sometimes called St Margaret’s-on-the-Hill. On its closure in the mid 16th-century the parish, along with that of St Mary Magdalene, was amalgamated with St Mary Overy, now Southwark Cathedral. The church and its graveyard were sold and transformed into a court of law with adjoining prison, or comptor as they used to be known, and a pillory was erected in the middle of the road. John Stow passed by here a few years after the conversion and noted ‘A part of the parish church of St Margaret is now a court, wherein the assizes and sessions be kept, and the court of admiralty is there kept. One other part of the same church is now a prison, called the Compter in Southwark’. In 1676 a fire swept along Borough High Street taking everything in its path and the prison was completely destroyed. For six years the site remained a charred ruin until a decision was made to rebuild the comptor and an adjoining court house. It continued to serve as the Borough Comptor until an order was passed for its demolition in 1855.
Counter Court, which is a mis-transcription of Compter Court, is a narrow place having but one door giving access to an Indian Restaurant. In a way the Court bears a distinct likeness to that of its former day character; there are grimy walls and boarded-up windows – a similar picture to the one we would have encountered over a hundred years ago. There are no cherished treasures between these close walls, not even an old building worth looking at. It remains merely as a cut-through passage – here for the preservation of history.
Cowper’s Court EC3
Bus: Any to Bank
From Bank Station walk along the south side of Cornhill past Pope’s Head Alley and Change Alley. Cowper’s court is then on the right.
During the late 16th century, when pints of wine flowed freely in the nearby Cardinals Hat and Pope’s Head taverns, John Cowper bought a house on this site. It was not that he had a drink problem and needed to be within a stride of the local hostelry, but for the necessity to have a base close to the Council debating chamber. He was an Alderman of the City of London but is more notably remembered for the long line of celebrated descendants he headed. John Cowper died in 1609 and was buried in nearby St Michael’s Cornhill where there are a number of memorials to the Cowper family. Excavations carried out earlier this century uncovered some large vaults, believed to have been the cellars beneath his house.
Most prominent among John cowper’s descendants was poet, William Cowper, born to the family in 1731. He was educated at Westminster School and went on to study law under Mr Chapman, an eminent solicitor of Lincoln’s Inn. With his friend Edward Thurlow, later Lord Chancellor, William, at the age of twenty-three, was called to the Bar in 1754. Cowper at first took up chambers in Pump Court, Middle Temple, but in 1759 he purchased a suite of rooms in the Inner Temple for £250. Shortly after this time, while reading a newspaper article in Dick’s Coffee House, Hare Court, he had a brain storm and was moved to instantly retire to his lodging and hang himself, but failed. A contributing factor to his unstable frame of mind was the anxiety caused by an imminent examination to test his suitability for the post of Clerk of the journals of the House of Lords, which he had set his sights on. But on top of this he was suffering immense torment of mind brought on by his failing love affair with his cousin, Theodora. After a further bungled attempt to hang himself from a beam over a doorway in his chambers he bought a bottle of laudanum but short of courage to take it he went to throw himself into the river. Again his attempt was thwarted at the sight of a man observing his movements from the bank. The following day, at his lowest ebb, he made a more determined effort by placing a garter round his neck and fixing it to a hook in the ceiling; if the garter had not broken, William Cowper would not have lived to tell the tale.
The Court today is surrounded by high buildings covered in white glazed tiles. It is interesting if only for its past associations.
Cox’s Court EC1
UG: St Paul’s
Bus: 4 8 25 56 501
From St Paul’s Station cross onto the north side of Newgate Street and continue west for about 90 yds. Turn right into King Edward Street and carry on across Angel Street, opposite the Post Office. Continue along Little Britain and Cox’s Court is on the right, opposite St Bartholomew’s Hospital.
Cox’s Court used to be a pretty place but since the developers got their hands on it the scenery has been brought into line with modern-day thinking. Mr Cox, who lived here at the end of the 17th century, would not have been pleased.
However, across the road, on the west side of Little Britain, is a building that has remained unchanged in design for over 250 years, – St Bartholomew’s Hospital. It was established on the site by Rahere, a court jester turned monk, in 1123 (see Cloth Court) and although it escaped damage by the Great Fire in 1666 the structure became unstable and rebuilding took place between 1730 and 1759. As the hospital was directly associated with the Augustinian Priory of St Bartholomew, Henry VIII saw it as an intolerable establishment and along with the monasteries he closed it down in 1533. Its loss was seen as a disaster, the effects felt mainly by the poor people of London, so the Lord Mayor of the time made a plea to the King and out of the goodness of his heart Henry granted a new charter. To commemorate this noble move a statue was erected over the main gateway in 1702.
Just inside the gateway is the medieval church of St Bartholomew the Less, originally built to serve as the Hospital chapel but afterwards it became a parish church for the convenience of those living in the vicinity of the hospital grounds. The interior of the little church received some restyling at the hands of George Dance in 1789 but only 34 years later it was largely rebuilt by Thomas Hardwick. Preserved from the original church are memorials to William Markeley (1439); Sir Ralph Winwood, Secretary of State to James I; Anne Bodley, wife of Thomas Bodley and founder of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Inigo Jones was baptised in the church in 1573.
At the east end of Cox’s Court a right turn leads into the narrow passage known as Cross Keys Square. On the left, where the passage emerges into Little Britain, is the White Horse public house with its name depicted in tiles on both sides of the passage entrance. The house was built about 1890 and the exterior reflects the period but unfortunately the interior has suffered from the treatment brought about by modernist thinking.
Craig’s Court SW1
UG: Charing Cross
Bus: 6 9 11 12 13 15 24 53 77A 88 91 109 159 176
From Charing Cross ML Station turn left crossing Craven Street, Northumberland Street and Northumberland Avenue. Turn left into Whitehall, continue for about 70 yds along the east side. Craig’s Court is on the left opposite the Whitehall Theatre.
When John Stow trundled down the Strand clutching his parchment and quill he stopped at the Eleanor Cross, squinted at the panorama, shook his head, and recalled the good old days, which inspired him to write: ‘Then was there an hospital of St Marie Rouncivall by Charing Cross (a cell to the priory and covent of Rouncivall in Navar, in Pampelion diocese)… Near unto this hospital was a hermitage a chapel of St Katherine, over against Charing Cross’.
This hermitage and chapel had been formed about 1255 but in his determination to rid England of Papal authority nothing escaped the searching eye of Henry VIII and it lost out after the Reformation. For many years the site remained bare until Joseph Craig took a shine to it in 1674 and built a substantial house here together with a courtyard and carriage driveway. His family is believed to have lived there until the early 1800’s when one of his descendants left it in his will to the Earl of Harrington who, without further ado, applied his name to the house.
In 1748 this Court was the home of Teresa Constantia Phillips. She was a truly scandalous character who had just published a rather spiky version her memoirs. So outrageous were the contents of her publication that the police were provoked into seeing her answer to charges in court. It is said that early one morning no fewer than 13 constables surrounded her house in an effort to bring about an arrest. Mrs Phillips took advantage of the situation and from the bedroom window promoted her book to the officers and assembled spectators. It appears that she managed to resist arrest and later fled the country to take up residence in foreign parts.
For many years the house and adjoining building has been occupied by the Telephone Exchange. On the west side the rear of the Old Shades, a characterful but expensive public house, looks onto the Court. There is metre parking in the courtyard although the probability of finding a vacant slot in daylight hours is almost nil. Walkers of Whitehall Wine and Ale Bars are at the entrance to the Court.
Cranbourn Alley WC2
UG: Leicester Square
Bus: 1 24 29
Cranbourn Alley is about 20 yds west of Charing Cross Road on the south side of Cranbourn Street, almost opposite the Charing Cross Road (west side) entrance to Leicester Square Station.
The Alley is built on land acquired in 1609 by Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury. Cecil also held the title of Viscount Cranbourn which accounts for the name of the Street and Alley. But Cranbourn Alley of today is really a token replacement for the original alley which in later years became a street. Before the developers got to work in 1845 Robert Cecil’s alley was a passageway measuring a mere six feet across at its widest section; when they had finished their transformation it measured fifty feet across and was renamed Cranbourn Street.
Here at Gamble’s silversmith shop William Hogarth learnt the art of engraving on silver and copper plate, an apprenticeship which in later life brought him pleasure and a fortune. It was in Cranbourn Alley that Jane Austen came upon the little haberdashers shop and treated herself to a length of ‘sattin ribbon with propre perl edge’.
Food of every nature is available in this area of London and there are two choices adjacent to Cranbourn Alley itself. On the corner of Bear Street there is a twenty-four hour cafe and on the corner of Cranbourn Street there is a fish and chip shop.
See also Cecil Court.
Crane Court EC4
Bus: 4 11 15 23 26 76 171A
Off the north side of Fleet Street, immediately east of Fetter Lane.
Leaving Fleet Street through a narrow covered opening, Crane Court quickly takes on wider dimensions to reveal the grace of rehabilitated antiquity. It was in rooms at number nine that the first edition of the magazine ‘Punch’ was published and ‘The Illustrated London News’ started its long life at number ten. Under the presidency of Isaac Newton, the Royal Society established their headquarters at the far end of the Court in 1710. They stayed for seventy years and sold the property for £1000 in 1780.
In the late 17th century a house lying adjacent to Crane Court named the Lock and Key was the home of the eccentrically named ‘If-God-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Had-Been-Damned’ Barbon, commonly known to his fraternity as ‘Praisegod’ or ‘Damned’. He was a Member of Parliament, leatherseller, renowned anti-Royalist, mob-raiser and considered by some to be a general pain-in-the-neck. His son Nicholas, who was of similar character to his father, went to study medicine at Leyden in Holland, staying for only four months. However, this short session was apparently long enough, for he emerged as a Doctor of Medicine and on his return to England became an Honorary Fellow of the College of Surgeons. He probably never actually entered the profession as a practising doctor, realising the rewards of more lucrative openings in life, and set himself up as a property developer. In about 1680 he rebuilt his fathers fire-gutted house, moving its site from the Fleet Street end to the far end of the court, in the position of numbers five and six. This was by necessity rather than choice for the widening of Fleet Street had incorporated the original site. Since the fire had forced his removal, the old man moved into rented property, first in Fetter Lane and then in Shoe Lane, while Nicholas stayed on in Crane Court living in stately luxury. The cheery barrister, Roger North probably knew Nicholas Barbon as well as anyone and gives this account in his autobiography: ‘He was the inventor of this new method of building by casting of ground into streets and small houses, and to augment their number with as little front as possible, and selling the ground to workmen by so much per foot front and what he could not sell, build himself’.
Unfortunately, numbers five and six fell victim to a fire in 1971 and were badly damaged; they were the earliest known survivors of post-Fire houses in London and the oldest examples of Nicholas Barbon’s work.
Nicholas Barbon was a man of considerable persuasive powers and managed to secure contracts for the building of a number of structures in London. The trouble was, he took on too many contracts at one time, ran out of money and couldn’t pay his men. His suppliers were often forced to accept houses in payment for materials. Towards the end of his life he was elected Member of Parliament for Bramber in Sussex and served through two sessions. He died in 1698 owing a considerable amount of money. There are few examples of his work still remaining in London but one of his structures can be seen in the Middle Temple; a building with seven bays in New Court.
Although major redevelopment has taken place in this area over recent years, Crane Court in modern day London still radiates a pleasing character; brightly painted doors adorned with shiny knockers, knobs and name-plates are plentifully in evidence. There are now new buildings on the west side and revitalised frontages to the old buildings on east which are occupied mainly by associates of the legal profession. When the scaffolding was removed, the old stone paving flags, by this time cracked and uneven, were relayed and given a new lease of life.
At its northern end the walkway rises in two or three steps as it turns through 90° to emerge beneath modern buildings in Fetter Lane.
Craven Passage WC2
UG: Charing Cross
Bus: 6 9 11 12 13 15 24 53 77A 88 91 109 159 176
Turn left out of Charing Cross ML Station and almost immediately left again down Craven Street. Craven Passage crosses in about 100 yds.
A passage that rose from the dust through the property inheritance of William, Earl Craven. He is best remembered for his noble deeds towards the victims of the 1665 Great Plague when he assisted in the arrangements for daily street cleaning and removal of household filth. He made a tour of the pest-houses, advising the authorities that their size was inadequate to meet the demands for isolation. When there was no response to his recommendations he acquired a piece of land, now occupied by Carnaby Street in Soho, and built an annex to the overcrowded lazaretto (an isolation hospital) already established there, commenting that this pest-house contains ‘but 90 persons which now serve for St Martins, St Clements, St Pauls Covent Garden and St Mary Savoy’. At the end of the epidemic Craven donated this annex to the local people ‘in case it should please God that the plague brake out againe.’
Legend has it that sly old William was secretly married to Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia and daughter of James I, with whom he had been carrying on a love affair for most of his life. By the time he got round to proposing, Charles II was on the throne and it seems that when Earl Craven knocked on the King’s door to ask his consent to the marriage it was promptly slammed in his face. The bargaining then started and the King drove a hard one, consenting to the marriage between his aunt and William Craven upon payment of £50,000. In 1673 Craven applied for permission to partly rebuild Drury House; he proposed to make vast improvements and install all the labour saving devices which he stated would be both ‘ornamental and useful’. As for these ornamental adornments there is no comment but its usefulness was assured, for his only intention for the refurbished house was to install his wife there.
Turning right from Craven Street will bring you to Northumberland Street and on the corner, the popular Sherlock Holmes public house. The pub was previously called the Northumberland Arms, mentioned in the Hound of the Baskervilles, but in 1957 it took on the ‘Holmes’ theme and changed its name. Now a licensed museum of the fictional detective, it is absolutely filled with relics of the Arthur Conan Doyle character. The collection was originally gathered together for an exhibition in New York and afterwards brought here by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.
Turning left (north-east) from Craven Street leads in a very short distance to the arches burrowing beneath the platforms of Charing Cross Station and on towards Villiers Street. Extensive redevelopment has recently taken place in the surrounding area and some of the latter year’s character of this old passage has disappeared. Until a few years ago a fine old pub, The Ship and Shovel, reputed to date back to the 16th century, occupied the site of number two. Its name is said to originate from the workers employed in constructing Victoria Embankment who used to leave their shovels outside the pub. A flight of steps take the passage beneath the station where, until very recently, coins of all periods and realms could be purchased from the market which occupied the site here. The Players Theatre has now returned to this ‘tunnel’ after temporarily being re-sited at the Duchess Theatre. Near to the Theatre, in a line of newly opened lock-up’s, is a shop that will provide easy ways of tanning your skin – at a price. Close to the Villiers Street end is the newly established Champagne Charlie’s pub. This transformation from dingy to very acceptable has been tastefully accomplished and thankfully, the developers have thought fit to retain the old stone flag paving and the rough brick walls.
The Passage emerges into Villiers Street under a psychedelic clock, part of the recently erected modern complex.
Crawford Passage EC1
Bus: 63 259 to Ray Street
From Farringdon Station walk north along Farringdon Street for about 300 yds and cross Clerkenwell Road. Cross to the west side of Farringdon Road and continue for about 100 yds. Turn left into Ray Street and Crawford Passage is about 55 yds on the right.
Every time you hear a curious and seemingly unbelievable tale, don’t dismiss it with a jocular laugh and conclude that the story teller is completely devoid of his marbles; there is a remote chance that the words of wisdom may carry some measure of the truth. The story behind Crawford Passage is one such tale; it goes something like this:
One day when Charles II found himself at a loose end, bored and pacing up and down his palace room, it struck him that he hadn’t been fishing for a long time. Without further ado he gathered up his tackle and set out to see if Nell Gwynne wanted to join him. Knocking on her door in Maypole Alley, a tiny turning off Drury Lane, he already had his invitation rehearsed: ‘Come dear Nell, accompany me in a flutter of sport in the long grass down by the river’. She could have failed to grasp his intention but flatly turned him down that morning because she was washing her hair on account of the residue of an exploding orange getting stuck in it. A trifle dispirited he wished the wench good day and set out on his lonesome. In the gentle breeze of that summery morning the Thames-side was likely to be busy and he couldn’t be bothered with the hordes clambering for autographs so the King made off for the more secluded upper reaches of the River Fleet. He’d heard from one of his chums that the fish are more active in the shade, so settling himself down under a tree, not far from St John’s Priory, he cast his line and waited for the first bite. Enjoyment? he was bubbling over; the fish were almost jumping into his lap and the big one would have been nice for dinner but in the interest of conservancy he threw it back. As the morning went by, a rumbling stomach was telling him it was time for lunch, but low-and-behold, – he’d forgotten to pack his sandwiches. ‘Stuck out here, miles from anywhere; where on earth is a guy going to get a bite to eat?’ Then he remembered, his old dominoes partner had told him of a nice little inn not far away. He would have pulled out his ‘Good Pub Guide’ but it was not due to be published for the next 300 years.
At the inn the landlord welcomed the King with open arms. ‘Well stone the crows, look who it is’ he yelled across the bar; ‘what can I get y’.’ The King ordered a pint of best and, spying a jar of pickled eggs, he called for half a dozen. Having not sold a pickled egg in the past three weeks, the landlord threw his entire stock in at half price, and the King scoffed the lot. So honoured was he by the King’s visit that in a fit of jocularity he skipped outside, ripped down the sign board and changed the name to the Pickled Egg. Naturally, the lane came to be known likewise. However, the next landlord, John Crawford, could not stand the sight of pickled eggs and he renamed the inn Crawford’s Tavern (in Crawford(‘s) Passage).
A likely story you might think – believe it or not.
Crawford Passage may have been a pleasant place to live in those days. Certainly the Pickled Egg tavern seemed a welcoming enough place but things have definitely changed since then. It is now a grimy place and perhaps the last venue you would choose to enjoy a quiet drink on a summer evening, but whatever your inclination don’t come with expectations, – the tavern is long gone.
Crosby Court SE1
Bus: 21 35 40 133 P3
From Borough Station cross the High Street to the north side of Long Lane with the Coroners Court on the corner. Walk east for about 200 yds and turn into Crosby Row. Pass Plantain Place on the left opposite Porlock Street. Pass Badam Place. Crosby Court is a few yds on left.
There was one prominent Crosby who had associations with Southwark, and was Lord Mayor of London in 1770. He was Brass Crosby, sent to the Tower for his firm refusal to sentence a printer for the unlawful deed of publishing Parliamentary debates. As fortune had it, the people rebuffed the harsh treatment and held rallies in support of Crosby and his stand. On his release from the Tower a jubilant procession accompanied him to the Mansion House and the result of the showdown was that debates in Parliament have been open to lawful publication ever since.
A memorial to Brass Crosby and his daring deed used to stand in the middle of the road at St George’s Circus, it was erected there in 1771 and removed to the Imperial War Museum in 1907. Around three faces of the base are recorded the distance to Fleet Street, London Bridge and Westminster City Hall although these measurements, being recorded from St George’s Circus, are now slightly out of true.
In Crosby Court there is nothing but offices, although these are given a certain charm and elegance by foliage draped from balconies on the three sides of the cul-de-sac.
Approaching the Court, Crosby Row has some picturesque houses with fine shop fronts.
Cross Keys Close W1
UG: Bond Street
Bus: 2 13 30 74 82 113 139 159 274 or any to Bond Street station
From Bond Street Station cross to the north side of Oxford Street and look for the ornate clock on the edge of the pavement (about 15 yds east of James Street). Here turn into Gees Court, cross paved Barrett Street and continue through St Christopher’s Place. At the end, cross Wigmore Street and directly opposite cut through Jason Court into Marylebone Lane. Continue north crossing Bentinck Street/Hinde Street and Bulstrode Street. Cross Key Court is then about 35 yds on the right, by the Prince Alfred public house.
The route from Bond Street Station via Gees Court, St Christopher’s Place, Jason Court, and Marylebone Lane makes the rather disappointing culmination all worth while. This little tour, for that is what it is, takes in two of the prettiest byways in the whole of London’s West End; they are Gees Court and St Christopher’s Place. Historic, twisting Marylebone Lane, once the footpath along side the old Tyburn brook, is an antiquity not to be missed.
But then we come to Cross Keys Close, a wide cobble stoned cul-de-sac which takes its name from the builder, Philip Keys. The whole of this corner of Marylebone was of his creation as was the Cross Keys Tavern at one time standing at the entrance to the Close; a predecessor of the present Prince Alfred public house. He bought the plot of land here in 1773 when green fields dominated the scenery, and development was extending northwards along Marylebone Lane.
The Close is of selective interest and all the properties here are commercial.
Crown Court EC4
Bus: 8 25 501
From Bank Station walk along the south side of Poultry and cross the junction with Queen Street. From here the Court is about 30 yds on the left.
The abundance of ‘Crown’ courts, passages, streets, and lanes once liberally scattered about the Metropolis was largely due to the influence of the Monarch. There still remain within the bounds of Central London alone some half dozen thoroughfares so named. Others have either fallen in the turmoil of the years or been renamed to avoid confusion. All but a handful acquired their names from inns or taverns which once stood on their various sites, but Crown Court on the south side of Cheapside boasts more direct royal connection.
Jousting tournaments have been a favourite sport of kings for centuries; they jeered and cheered the mounted armour-clad knights as they rode in fearless battle, each with determination to toss their opponents to the ground. His Royal Highness and selected company were always seated at the contest side vantage point while the Queen and her chosen gathering viewed from a raised wooden scaffold. Crown Fields, which lay to the east of Bow Church was a favourite jousting ground with Edward III and in the autumn of 1313 the King and his guests were assembled awaiting the start of the tournament. Queen Philippa and her ladies in all their finery were in position when, as the knights made their entrance, the whole structure collapsed causing the Queen to suffer considerable embarrassment, and no doubt a sore bottom. Immediately, the King sprung into action, calling for the head of the responsible carpenter, but Philippa pleaded on bended knee that the man should be spared. Edward was receptive to the Queen’s request but never again did that guilty carpenter erect another scaffold – for the King or anyone else.
To ensure against a reoccurrence the King ordered the building of a stone ‘shed’ where he, the Queen, and all their guests could stand, ‘there to behold the joustings and other shows at their pleasure.’ (Stow). This structure was certainly some ‘shed’; it stood on the west side of the field, backing onto the church of St Mary le Bow and for that reason, John Stow says, all the windows and doors on that side of the church were blocked up – ‘which greatly darkeneth the said church’.
By the early 13th century Cheapside (West Chepe) was already well established as a street of stalls with shops on both sides. At first the stalls were nothing more than planks of wood supported at each end by just about anything that was available, but by the 13th century large permanent structures to house the stalls began to spring up. These were known as ‘selds’ having a roof supported on pillars, similar in design to the Market at Covent Garden. Towards the end of the 14th century the ‘shed’ in Crown Fields was transformed into a seld and in 1410 Henry IV sold the building, recorded as having shops and cellars, to a partnership of three silk traders. However, it continued to be used by the reigning monarch and his party for viewing tournaments and other festive shows, for which Cheapside was famous, until after the reign of Henry VIII.
Crown Court is built on the approximate site of the King’s entrance gate into Crown Fields.
Crown Court WC2
UG: Covent Garden
Bus: Any to Charing Cross or Aldwych
From Covent Garden Station walk north east along Longacre and turn right into Bow Street. Turn into Broad Court on the east side of Bow Street, by the court, then turn right into Crown Court.
Before the Aldwych was opened in 1905 the area to the south of Drury Lane used to contain literally dozens of alleys and passages, most of them with low class taverns. When Russell Street was constructed in 1631 the Crown Tavern followed shortly after, and leading off from the street down by the side of the tavern, a narrow path then known as Crown Passage. Along with the neighbouring taverns the Crown quickly turned into a notable riotous drinking den attracting the most impoverished of London’s population. Gin was drunk profusely and unbelievable squalor and poverty abounded. Children could be found playing in the gutters while their mothers swilled gin in the grotty taverns. Like the Crown, most of these taverns appeared from their exterior as grand buildings but inside they were full of the most awful sights; women sprawled out on the floor and men staggering about or fighting – Hogarth’s Gin Lane is no exaggerated portrayal.
Although riddled with poverty all around, Crown Court was one of the least deprived in the area. Most of its inhabitants were engaged in some form of employment, be it only temporary or part time. Some worked as musicians at the local theatres, but these were very poorly paid and were only compensated for the hours they were actually required. Other occupations were perhaps police constables stationed at Bow Street, and traders at the Strand markets.
The Crown closed its doors for the final time just prior to 1870 but it was not until the Aldwych and Kingsway were planned that the large majority of taverns and alleys around Drury Lane were cleared away. At the same time, as part of the redevelopment of the area and general clean-up, Crown Court was extended westward to link up with Cross Court which was later renamed under the single title of Crown Court.
Walking in Crown Court today is an experience very much different from that of a hundred years ago when we would have been molested at every step by begging children. Along the way little ones can still be found playing around the flats here – high red-brick structures with metal balconies – but today’s youngsters seem quite contented in their inner-city environment. The neo-Elizabethan styled National Church of Scotland, built in 1909, is in the southern section of the Court.
Crown Passage SW1
UG: Piccadilly Circus/Green Park
Bus: 9 14 19 22 38 to St James’s Street
3 13 15 23 88 94 159 to Pall Mall
From Piccadilly Circus walk west along Piccadilly and turn left into Duke Street St James’s. Continue to the end of the street and turn right into King Street. Crown Passage is about 80 yds on the left.
Where, in the run of a single thoroughfare, could you have engaged the services of a chimney sweep, purchased the week’s groceries, be measured for a suit, have a pair of shoes made, called in for a hair cut, bought a daily paper, left the week’s washing at the laundry, and called in at the tavern for a swift one before scurrying off home to put your feet up? The answer is, in Crown Passage. For years Crown Passage has been noted for its little ‘market’ of shops and today the scene is little changed. The selection of services on offer is perhaps not so widely varied as of late; you will no longer find a chimney sweep here but there is an estate agents office, a shoe repairer, a sandwich bar, and a choice of eating establishments. The small comfortable rooms of The Red Lion, claiming to hold the second oldest licence in the West End, offer relief to the weary or just plain thirsty. Here you can well recline into oblivion and imagine yourself in some place far from central London. Indeed, Crown Passage would fit just as snugly into a quaint old village as it does here in the middle of St James’s.
The Passage, which opens into Pall Mall through a square stone surrounded entrance by the side of Quebec House at number 59, was built in 1673. Since that time it has shared the neighbourhood with the royal palace behind the Tudor gateway, almost opposite. This is St James’s Palace, built by Henry VIII after he acquired a 12th century leper hospital on the site. Mary I made it her principal private residence, and here she died in 1558. In this Palace Charles I was present to witness the birth of most of his children and here he spent the final days leading up to his execution in Whitehall in 1649. About the time that the Great Plague and Great Fire were causing devastation in the City of London, Christopher Wren was commissioned to build additional state apartments at St James’s. However, it was not until the Palace of Whitehall was destroyed by fire in 1698 that St James’s became the official residence of the sovereign. It remained that way until the crowning of Victoria. On a cold morning in 1837, when the young Princess received the news at Kensington Palace that she was Queen of England, she packed her bags and set off not to ‘dusty’ St James’s, but to Buckingham Palace.
Directly opposite to Crown Passage, on the south side of Pall Mall, is the unpretentious entrance to Marlborough House, created on the site of St James’s pheasantry by Wren in 1710. It was built for John, Duke of Marlborough and his Duchess, the controversial Sarah, who, when lying on her death bed, overheard her physician whispering to her maid, ‘She must be blistered or she will die’, and exclaimed in no uncertain terms, ‘I will not be blistered and I will not die.’ She proved her point and battled on for nearly twelve months after. Various royal’s have used the house from time to time: Leopold I stayed here until his crowning in 1831, and the widowed Queen Adelaid took up residence in 1837. In 1850 Marlborough House became the residence of the Prince of Wales and in 1910 Queen Alexandra, widow of Edward VII, made it her home. The house has lately been modified and is now used to accommodate visiting Commonwealth dignitaries.
Just by Marlborough House is the Queen’s Chapel or Chapel Royal, originally proposed as a private chapel for Maria of Spain, the intended wife of Prince Charles (later Charles I). As it happened, Charles had other plans and married Henrietta Maria who added the final touches to the Chapel. Although now permanently housed at St James’s the ‘Chapel Royal’ refers to the body of people engaged to perform divine service for members of the royal family rather than to the building in which they perform. Until the late 16th century, the ‘Chapel’ accompanied the sovereign on official business and held services for the royal household wherever they happened to be. In 1702, being discharged from duty while the King was away from London, it became temporarily established in Kensington Palace before taking up permanent residence at St James’s. The choir school was closed down in 1923 and its choristers are now drawn from the City of London Boys School together with a complement of six men and an organist.
Visitors are allowed to attend the services held at 9.15 and 11.00. The Chapel is closed during August.
This page is taken from Ivor Hoole’s defunct GeoCities site listing the alleys and courtyards in Central London, last updated in 2004 and now taken offline.
The Underground Map blog lists this information as is, with no claim of copyright.