The alleyways and courtyards of London: W

Warner Yard EC1
UG: Farringdon
Bus: 55 63 243 259
As for Bath Court. Warner Yard is almost opposite Bath Court on the south side of Warner Street.
Just below the Rosebery Avenue flyover is the dismal yard that once belonged to Robert Warner. In the early 18th century this plot of land formed part of a group of fields known as Coldbath Fields, along the western bank of the Fleet River. They were purchased in 1697 by Walter Baynes, a lawyer of the Inner Temple, as an investment for the future, but his investment started to reap profits much sooner than he had imagined. Taking a stroll one day, he noticed a spring emerging from the ground and quickly realised that with a little originality this could be his chance to make a small fortune. That night he had very little sleep and emerged the next day with his polished plan; over the spring he erected a bath-house and conned the public into believing that the water held superior medicinal qualities. We have no record of Baynes’s subsequent financial position but in 1720 he thought it sufficiently profitable to take on a partner and was joined by John Warner as joint owner of the fields and the hoodwinking enterprise. Warner died the following year leaving the partnership with his son, Robert who succeeded in persuading Baynes that the land was an unproductive burden. In a speculative venture they leased the plot for development to builder Richard Baker who laid out Warner Street and the adjoining tributaries in 1725. The land lease remained with the descendants of Robert Warner until the beginning of the 19th century.

There is an air of originality about this place; it started out in the mid-18th century as a workmen’s yard and after all those years it is still a workmen’s yard. Not very much has changed apart from the men and the signs indicating their businesses. Presently, the signs on the wall declare that these are now the premises of Colyer Graphics, ‘Goods entrance down yard’, and Corbett’s Warehouse. The Yard is private property and, out of business hours, enclosed by a gate.

See also Bath Court.

Warwick Court WC1
UG: Chancery Lane
Bus: 8 17 25 45 46 171A 243 501 521 to Gray’s Inn
Off the north side of High Holborn, about 210 yds west of Chancery Lane Station.
Warwick Court occupies part of the site of Warwick House, the 17th century London residence of Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick. He was a notable lawyer of Gray’s Inn and presumably built his mansion here for convenience of being close to his chambers. The house passed through the family to his grandson, Robert, Earl of Holland and Fifth Earl of Warwick who had no connections with Gray’s Inn and neither, it seems, did he have any affection for High Holborn. Shortly after inheriting the property he arranged for its demolition and took off for recently built Holland House in Kensington.

In the 18th century Warwick Court was the home of prosperous antique book dealer Thomas Osborn. He was a little plump man with the most appalling manners, shouting at his customers and scolding them if they failed to purchase one of his own publications. One such customer referred to him as ‘the most ignorant bookseller in London’. His shop was in Gray’s Inn Lane where Dr Johnson and Pope, among other celebrated personalities, were frequent callers. When Osborn purchased the library of Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford, in 1742 for £13,000 he employed Johnson to catalogue the entire collection. As time went on, Osborn became increasingly irritated over the time Johnson was taking to complete the task and so visited him to inspect the progress. There he found Johnson sitting at a table amid piles of dusty volumes, engrossed in some magnum opus. Without further ado and purple with rage Osborn accused the great man of spending too much time reading the books instead of writing down their titles. At this, Johnson became angry and said he could only do the job properly if he had first of all gained some knowledge of their contents. Osborn called him a liar, on which remark Johnson seized the heaviest volume he could lay his hands on and threw it at Osborn knocking him to the floor. Johnson later relayed the incident to Boswell in these summary words, ‘Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him.’

There is now nothing spectacular about Warwick Court, its paving is plain and there are no outstanding monuments here, but the house at number 5, with its ornamental doorway is perhaps worth more than a cursory glance. Electronics specialists, Berrys of Holborn are on the corner of the Court and opposite their shop, just inside the Court, are three telephone kiosks.

Vine Yard SE1
UG: Borough
Bus: 21 35 40 133 P3
From Borough Station turn into Marshalsea Road, by the station and in about 100 yds turn left into Sanctuary Street. Vine Yard is about 25 yds on the left.
This strangely curved passageway probably encircled the Vine tavern, which stood on the corner of Lant Street and Sanctuary Street in the early 19th century. It was known locally as the Grapes.

In 1824 Charles Dickens took lodgings around the corner in Lant Street to be near his father who was then serving time in the Marshalsea Prison. During that time, while still only twelve years old, he was employed in the local shoe polish factory as a means of raising funds to pay his way. Anyone who has read The Old Curiosity Shop will already have met the Garland family of Abel Cottage, Finchley, where Kit observed, on the occasion of meeting the family, that old Mr Garland kept a garden which ‘seemed to be the perfection of neatness and order.’ This was the family who in Dickens mind represented the image of the family in Lant Street who looked after him in desperate times. The Garland family may also have inspired the characters of Mrs Raddle and her husband, of Lant Street, who offered lodgings to Bob Sawyer of Pickwick Papers.

Vinegar Yard SE1
UG: London Bridge
Bus: 47 P11
From the southern end of London Bridge pass under the railway bridge into Borough High Street and turn left into St Thomas Street, signed Guy’s Hospital. On the left pass Joiner Street and in about 155 yds, on the right, pass Weston Street. In about 155 yds cross Fenning Street. Vinegar Yard is about 70 yds on the right.

‘Tis melancholy, and a fearful sign
Of human frailty, folly, also crime,
That love and marriage rarely can combine,
Although they both are born in the same clime;
Marriage from love, like vinegar from wine –
A sad, sour, beverage – by time
Is sharpened from its high celestial flavour,
Down to a very household savour.’

In our day there are perhaps not many couples who would associate their progression from love to marriage with the maturing process of vinegar; but Lord Byron was talking of a different time.

In France they make it from wine, reflecting the precise definition – vin aigre, but in England we have traditionally favoured beer. Because of the convenience of transporting hops from Kent, the brewing industry has had a home in Southwark for centuries, and as a by-product, barrels of the soured beverage have been hauled by the cart load from the breweries south of the Thames. We can well imagine the brewers jumping with glee when the first fish and chip shop opened its doors.

The method of producing vinegar is not a difficult one – it produces itself – a perfectly natural bacteriological process of exposing the fermented liquor to the atmosphere. In the days of rather less meticulous cellar management it was not uncommon to be served with a pint of vinegar in the local pub; the landlord had gone to bed the previous night a little the worse for ware and forgotten to knock the spile home.

Vinegar Yard is a strange place, it is not really a yard at all, but a narrow road forming the access to a National Car Park. Along its twisting route between St Thomas’s Street and Melior Place there is an old four-storey warehouse with red painted doors on each level, at one time used for storing vinegar.

Walker’s Court W1
UG: Piccadilly Circus
Bus: Any to Piccadilly Circus
Leave Piccadilly Circus via Shaftsbury Avenue. Cross Gt Windmill Street and in about 95 yds turn left into Rupert Street and continue to the end. Cross Brewer Street and Walker’s Court is directly opposite.
In the midst of the bustling Berwick Market, Walker’s Court links Berwick Street with Rupert Street – both of them a hive of activity. This is one of the many passageways which in years gone by was known as ‘Paved Alley’. The state of the walkway in these narrow thoroughfares was so primitive, usually nothing more than the potholed earth, that when any-one took on the task to ‘make a good way’ by laying solid flag stones, irrespective of name, became known as ‘Paved Alley’.

A notable feature of Walker’s Court is that it houses one of the few council licensed sex establishments in London, going under the name of Raymond’s Review Bar. The red lights are not so noticeable today, showing only a glimmer of their colour faintly reflected in the shiny black brick paving. It attracts customers of all ages and is open most hours, if that is your want. About opposite Raymond’s is the ‘Live Show’, another ‘palace of male entertainment’ where gentlemen are lured in by the soft tones of ‘Hello sir, very sexy ladies inside’. Someone lately remarked of Walker’s Court, ‘if you get what you want, nothing matters’ – I have no notion of what facility was being referenced, but it doesn’t take a scholastic highbrow to come up with a fair guess.

There are however other reasons to visit Walker’s Court. On either side there are a variety of shops including a welcoming cafe, and the Mona Lisa Book Shop on the corner of Brewer Street.

The best time to visit this area all depends on your interest. Berwick Market, which takes up the entire length of the street is in full swing Monday to Saturday 9-00am until 5-00pm. It is at its busiest around lunchtime.

When the stall holders have gone home and the gutters are cleared of bruised apples, cabbage leaves and fragments of vegetables the area is transformed into one of Soho’s evening delights. Restaurants of many nationalities and entertainment to suit a variety of requirements. Exactly the image that Soho conjures up – although the over 30’s may find more acceptable entertainment in the area of St Martin’s Lane.

Wallis Alley SE1
UG: Borough
Bus: 21 35 40 133 P3
Wallis Alley is only a few yards from Borough Station, off the south side of Marshalsea Road, by the side of the station.
Clinging to the rear of Borough Station, Wallis Alley is situated between high buildings and has a single stump at either end. It is a bland, characterless passage totally devoid of inspiring qualities. Wallis, whoever he was, left no clues to his identity so it can only be assumed that he either originally built the place or he lived here – poor man.

The Court connects with Vine Yard – not exactly a revelation, but by comparison…

Wardrobe Place EC4
UG: St Paul’s/Blackfriars
Bus: 4 11 15 17 23 26 76 172
See Addle Hill. Wardrobe Place is adjacent to Addle Hill, a few yards to the west.
‘Brooding quietness; remote and intimate; the City in slumbers’. These are the terms that have been used to describe one of the most exquisitely calm spots in London’s square mile. The courtyard marks the exact site of Sir John Beauchamp’s house, acquired by Edward III in 1359 to store the royal finery on its removal from the Tower. (See Wardrobe Terrace). This is a delightful place, in essence, little changed since rebuilding after the Great Fire destroyed much of the surroundings on the 4th September 1666. In fact almost the entire length of Carter Lane and its byways have so far luckily escaped the developers hammer, but perhaps to mention this is tempting fate. Meanwhile, until the 20th, and soon the 21st, century catches up we can gaze on the surviving post fire houses of about 1710 at numbers 3-5 Wardrobe Place.

From the south east corner a covered passage leads alongside the now defunct Bell public house and joins with Wardrobe Terrace.
Wardrobe Terrace EC4
UG: Blackfriars
Bus: 4 11 15 17 23 26 76 172
From Blackfriars Underground Station turn into Queen Victoria Street and cross to the north side. Pass under the railway bridge and continue for about 165 yds. Ascend the steps on the east side of St Andrew’s Church and Wardrobe Terrace is on the right.
Wardrobe Terrace and Wardrobe Place are memorials to the Royal Wardrobe, which used to be situated between St Andrew’s Church and Carter Lane.

In 1359 King Edward III acquired the town house of Sir John Beauchamp which stood in the courtyard just to the north of St Andrew’s Church. To here he transferred the collection of ceremonial robes and dresses previously housed in the Tower. During the mid-17th century the collection was in the charge of Sir Edward Montague, Master of the Wardrobe, and wealthy cousin of Samuel Pepys. When the house was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 the Royal Wardrobe was temporarily moved to the Savoy where some 400 years previous, Peter, Earl of Savoy had built his mansion. It was subsequently relocated in Buckingham Street, to the south of the Strand.

The first Church dedicated to St Andrew was built here about the beginning of the 13th century and known as St Andrew next Baynard’s Castle. This stronghold was constructed by Ralph Baynard in the time of William the Conqueror and destroyed, together with the Church, by the Fire of 1666. The Church was rebuilt by Wren in 1693 when the parish of St Anne Blackfriars was incorporated within its boundary (see Ireland Yard). It was the last in Wren’s list of 51 City church scheduled for rebuilding after the Fire. St Andrew’s suffered further devastation in the Second World War and was restored in 1961. Compared with the grandeur of most of Wren’s other churches, St Andrew’s is somewhat plain. Stow sums it up in a few words: ‘a proper church, but few monuments hath it’.

A passage at the end of Wardrobe Terrace leads along the north wall of the church, where there are steps into St Andrew’s Hill, and continues around the west side leading to a flight of steps and a wrought iron gate onto Queen Victoria Street. On the east side of the church a long fright of steps links Wardrobe Terrace with Queen Victoria Street.

The Old Bell Hotel on the corner of Wardrobe Terrace and Addle Hill has long since closed its doors but it there remains boarded up and pad-locked. At the time of writing there was still a notice pasted to the wall bearing the heading, ‘Shelter in Underground Stations’. It was placed there many years ago by London Transport and outlines the restrictions for those resorting to below ground refuge.

Warwick Yard EC1
UG: Old Street
Bus: 55 243 505
From Old Street Station walk west along the south side of Old Street for about ¼ mile and turn left into Whitecross Street. In about 100 yds cross Banner Street then Roscoe Street. Warwick Yard is then about 35 yds on the right.
Warwick Yard is a strange old place although not so strange as to appear out of place, in fact it fits with absolute comfort into the neighbouring and equally strange Whitecross Street market. Here can be found stalls stocked high with articles, secondhand and new, ranging from fruit and vegetables to old gramophone records and electrical parts, but the place does not seem to have the same appeal as, for instance, the market of Petticoat Lane and other notable street venues. No doubt its failure to secure a place on the tourist route is that few writers on London’s markets seem to consider it worthy of mention. As far as the popular guides are concerned, Whitecross Street is out of bounds. There are not many other attributes concerning Whitecross Street unless we turn to the early years of the 19th century and the illumination of selected London streets by those new-fangled gaslights. In August 1807 nearby Beech Street and Whitecross Street were the first to be lit up.

But what of Warwick Yard? Well, there is little to tell; it has been here for a good many years but no one seems to have the faintest idea of its original purpose or who, or what, inspired its naming. All of the western end of the Yard is now taken over by the Peabody Estate with the vast blocks of flats filling the panorama. The adjoining walkway has, I suppose quite appropriately but regretfully, been renamed Peabody Court. The modern paving which has replaced the cobbles of the old Yard only enhance the distinct lack of character now abounding here, but there is one minuscule feature which, accompanied by a giants helping of imagination, could perhaps reflect a vision of the opening which once occupied this ground – Peabody Court is wide and (possibly) yard-like.

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Turnagain Lane EC4
UG: Chancery Lane
Bus: 8 25 501
From Holborn Viaduct walk down the steps onto Farringdon Street. The Lane is then on the east side.
Until the Fleet River was covered over this was a little lane that ran from Old Bailey down to the river bank. There being no bridge crossing at this point, it was impossible to proceed any further and the only option was to return to Old Bailey – or a John Stow inscribed, ‘it turneth down to Turnemill brook, and from thence back again, for there is no way over.’ In other words it was a cul-de-sac stopped by the river. In the 13th century it was known as Wendageyneslane and in the 15th century as Turneagayne Lane. The Lane now is more reminiscent of a triangular shaped yard with the white glazed brick building of Meridian House on the south side. Turnagain Lane is still a cul-de-sac but now you must ‘wendagain’ to Farringdon Street.

Tweezer’s Alley WC2
UG: Temple
Bus: Any to Aldwych
Turn left out of Temple Station then left into Temple Place, which runs round to the rear of Temple Station. Walk straight ahead towards the north-east corner and through the gate into Milford Lane. Follow the path round to the left then to the right for about 90 yds and Tweezer’s Alley is on the left.
A passage of little visual interest. It is bounded on the south side with high buildings faced with white glazed tiles. The origin of its curious name is unknown.

Union Court EC2
UG: Liverpool Street
Bus: 11 23 42 100 133 141 172 214 271
Leaving the station via the Liverpool Street exit turn into Liverpool Street. Cross the road and turn left into Old Broad Street. Pass, on the right, Broad Street Avenue and New Broad Street. At the cross roads with London Wall & Wormwood Street continue straight ahead. Union Court is on the left
Prior to the 19th century it was quite common to hear people talking of a ‘union’ when referring to what now is more usually called a passage; a footpath linking two thoroughfares together, or to put it another way – a short cut. Pathways such as Lamb’s Passage, Lime Street Passage and Marylebone Passage were most probably identified in every day conversation as ‘unions’ and Union Court may very well have been either Broad Street Union or Wormwood Street Union.

Before recent redevelopments changed the face of this quarter, Union Court used to turn through 90° and emerge by way of a covered passage into Wormwood Street but now it terminates in a dead end and is in danger of total extinction. Even at the time of writing, the Court and its surroundings are undergoing further change and through the existence of high boarding, access is denied and the noise of pneumatic drills is an awakening sound.

Vandon Passage SW1
UG: St James’s Park
Bus: 11 24 211 507
Turn left out of St James’s Park Station and walk west along Petty France. Cross Palmer Street. Vandon Passage is about 75 yds on the left.
It was on the site adjacent to this Passage that Cornelius Van Dun, a Dutchman and Yeoman of the Guard to Henry VIII, built a row of almshouses in 1575 for the well being of eight deprived women of the district. Not content with this singular generous deed, he provided the cash for the building of twelve more at St Ermin’s Hill, round the back of St James’s Park Station.

At the time the almshouses were built, Petty France had already been in existence for about 100 years as a continuation of Tothill Street, the main west road from the Abbey. For those living in the alleys to the south of here, Vandon Passage was a vital link with civilisation, long before the roadway of Buckingham Gate was constructed and when the line of Victoria Street was still a dusty track. Vandon Street, still almost as narrow as it was 400 years ago, is a survivor of one of these alleys and marks the southern limit of the plot purchased by Van Dun.

Tucked away from the scurrying rat race, Vandon Passage has little to show for its long years of existence. Surfaced in Tarmac, its only hint of attention-worthy artefacts are the two gas-style standard lamps, long since converted to electricity. For much of the day this Passage reclines in an almost hushed withdrawal from existence, but rises during the lunchtime and early evening hours as an indispensable cut-through for those mortals eager to take refreshment in the Buckingham Arms at 62 Petty France. The Buckingham is a superb pub, which on weekday lunchtimes always seems to give the impression of being filled with the entire workforce of Victoria. Just how close this notion is to absolute accuracy I have no idea but it is certainly very busy. Try it – but go early.

Vine Hill EC1
UG: Farringdon
Bus: 55 63 243 259 505
From Farringdon Station walk north along Farringdon Road for about 300 yds and turn left into Clerkenwell Road. On the right pass Herbal Hill, Back Hill, Eyre Street Hill. Vine Hill is then about 25 yds on the right.
As will probably be your expectation, Vine Hill now displays not the faintest shred of evidence that vines once flourished in the grounds on which it stands. When we stand outside the Duke of York public house, on the corner, it seems beyond our wildest fantasies to conceive that even a blade of grass would have dared to poke through the surface. It was, of course, over 400 years ago when the gardens of the Bishops of Ely covered the land between here and their town house east of Hatton Garden. By the late 16th century the Diocese of Ely had temporarily abandoned the house, during which time Sir Christopher Hatton, with the help of Queen Elizabeth, had seized most of the estate. The Hatton estate passed down through three generations of the family to Baron Hatton of Kirby in 1640. Financial difficulties caused him to dispose of the entire holding and by 1660 Hatton Garden and a series of smaller roads had replaced the house and grounds. The northern extent of the Hatton estate lay barren for a few years longer and the vineyard was swept away in about 1710 when this area was developed.
Vine Hill is effectively a cul-de-sac although a steep flight of steps leads up to busy Rosebery Avenue. All has changed greatly over the years and where the grapes once grew, an uninviting block of flats frown sourfully on the lacklustre below.

Warner Yard EC1
UG: Farringdon
Bus: 55 63 243 259
As for Bath Court. Warner Yard is almost opposite Bath Court on the south side of Warner Street.
Just below the Rosebery Avenue flyover is the dismal yard that once belonged to Robert Warner. In the early 18th century this plot of land formed part of a group of fields known as Coldbath Fields, along the western bank of the Fleet River. They were purchased in 1697 by Walter Baynes, a lawyer of the Inner Temple, as an investment for the future, but his investment started to reap profits much sooner than he had imagined. Taking a stroll one day, he noticed a spring emerging from the ground and quickly realised that with a little originality this could be his chance to make a small fortune. That night he had very little sleep and emerged the next day with his polished plan; over the spring he erected a bath-house and conned the public into believing that the water held superior medicinal qualities. We have no record of Baynes’s subsequent financial position but in 1720 he thought it sufficiently profitable to take on a partner and was joined by John Warner as joint owner of the fields and the hoodwinking enterprise. Warner died the following year leaving the partnership with his son, Robert who succeeded in persuading Baynes that the land was an unproductive burden. In a speculative venture they leased the plot for development to builder Richard Baker who laid out Warner Street and the adjoining tributaries in 1725. The land lease remained with the descendants of Robert Warner until the beginning of the 19th century.

There is an air of originality about this place; it started out in the mid-18th century as a workmen’s yard and after all those years it is still a workmen’s yard. Not very much has changed apart from the men and the signs indicating their businesses. Presently, the signs on the wall declare that these are now the premises of Colyer Graphics, ‘Goods entrance down yard’, and Corbett’s Warehouse. The Yard is private property and, out of business hours, enclosed by a gate.

See also Bath Court.

Warwick Court WC1
UG: Chancery Lane
Bus: 8 17 25 45 46 171A 243 501 521 to Gray’s Inn
Off the north side of High Holborn, about 210 yds west of Chancery Lane Station.
Warwick Court occupies part of the site of Warwick House, the 17th century London residence of Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick. He was a notable lawyer of Gray’s Inn and presumably built his mansion here for convenience of being close to his chambers. The house passed through the family to his grandson, Robert, Earl of Holland and Fifth Earl of Warwick who had no connections with Gray’s Inn and neither, it seems, did he have any affection for High Holborn. Shortly after inheriting the property he arranged for its demolition and took off for recently built Holland House in Kensington.

In the 18th century Warwick Court was the home of prosperous antique book dealer Thomas Osborn. He was a little plump man with the most appalling manners, shouting at his customers and scolding them if they failed to purchase one of his own publications. One such customer referred to him as ‘the most ignorant bookseller in London’. His shop was in Gray’s Inn Lane where Dr Johnson and Pope, among other celebrated personalities, were frequent callers. When Osborn purchased the library of Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford, in 1742 for £13,000 he employed Johnson to catalogue the entire collection. As time went on, Osborn became increasingly irritated over the time Johnson was taking to complete the task and so visited him to inspect the progress. There he found Johnson sitting at a table amid piles of dusty volumes, engrossed in some magnum opus. Without further ado and purple with rage Osborn accused the great man of spending too much time reading the books instead of writing down their titles. At this, Johnson became angry and said he could only do the job properly if he had first of all gained some knowledge of their contents. Osborn called him a liar, on which remark Johnson seized the heaviest volume he could lay his hands on and threw it at Osborn knocking him to the floor. Johnson later relayed the incident to Boswell in these summary words, ‘Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him.’

There is now nothing spectacular about Warwick Court, its paving is plain and there are no outstanding monuments here, but the house at number 5, with its ornamental doorway is perhaps worth more than a cursory glance. Electronics specialists, Berrys of Holborn are on the corner of the Court and opposite their shop, just inside the Court, are three telephone kiosks.

Vine Yard SE1
UG: Borough
Bus: 21 35 40 133 P3
From Borough Station turn into Marshalsea Road, by the station and in about 100 yds turn left into Sanctuary Street. Vine Yard is about 25 yds on the left.
This strangely curved passageway probably encircled the Vine tavern, which stood on the corner of Lant Street and Sanctuary Street in the early 19th century. It was known locally as the Grapes.

In 1824 Charles Dickens took lodgings around the corner in Lant Street to be near his father who was then serving time in the Marshalsea Prison. During that time, while still only twelve years old, he was employed in the local shoe polish factory as a means of raising funds to pay his way. Anyone who has read The Old Curiosity Shop will already have met the Garland family of Abel Cottage, Finchley, where Kit observed, on the occasion of meeting the family, that old Mr Garland kept a garden which ‘seemed to be the perfection of neatness and order.’ This was the family who in Dickens mind represented the image of the family in Lant Street who looked after him in desperate times. The Garland family may also have inspired the characters of Mrs Raddle and her husband, of Lant Street, who offered lodgings to Bob Sawyer of Pickwick Papers.

Vinegar Yard SE1
UG: London Bridge
Bus: 47 P11
From the southern end of London Bridge pass under the railway bridge into Borough High Street and turn left into St Thomas Street, signed Guy’s Hospital. On the left pass Joiner Street and in about 155 yds, on the right, pass Weston Street. In about 155 yds cross Fenning Street. Vinegar Yard is about 70 yds on the right.

‘Tis melancholy, and a fearful sign
Of human frailty, folly, also crime,
That love and marriage rarely can combine,
Although they both are born in the same clime;
Marriage from love, like vinegar from wine –
A sad, sour, beverage – by time
Is sharpened from its high celestial flavour,
Down to a very household savour.’

In our day there are perhaps not many couples who would associate their progression from love to marriage with the maturing process of vinegar; but Lord Byron was talking of a different time.

In France they make it from wine, reflecting the precise definition – vin aigre, but in England we have traditionally favoured beer. Because of the convenience of transporting hops from Kent, the brewing industry has had a home in Southwark for centuries, and as a by-product, barrels of the soured beverage have been hauled by the cart load from the breweries south of the Thames. We can well imagine the brewers jumping with glee when the first fish and chip shop opened its doors.

The method of producing vinegar is not a difficult one – it produces itself – a perfectly natural bacteriological process of exposing the fermented liquor to the atmosphere. In the days of rather less meticulous cellar management it was not uncommon to be served with a pint of vinegar in the local pub; the landlord had gone to bed the previous night a little the worse for ware and forgotten to knock the spile home.

Vinegar Yard is a strange place, it is not really a yard at all, but a narrow road forming the access to a National Car Park. Along its twisting route between St Thomas’s Street and Melior Place there is an old four-storey warehouse with red painted doors on each level, at one time used for storing vinegar.

Walker’s Court W1
UG: Piccadilly Circus
Bus: Any to Piccadilly Circus
Leave Piccadilly Circus via Shaftsbury Avenue. Cross Gt Windmill Street and in about 95 yds turn left into Rupert Street and continue to the end. Cross Brewer Street and Walker’s Court is directly opposite.
In the midst of the bustling Berwick Market, Walker’s Court links Berwick Street with Rupert Street – both of them a hive of activity. This is one of the many passageways which in years gone by was known as ‘Paved Alley’. The state of the walkway in these narrow thoroughfares was so primitive, usually nothing more than the potholed earth, that when any-one took on the task to ‘make a good way’ by laying solid flag stones, irrespective of name, became known as ‘Paved Alley’.

A notable feature of Walker’s Court is that it houses one of the few council licensed sex establishments in London, going under the name of Raymond’s Review Bar. The red lights are not so noticeable today, showing only a glimmer of their colour faintly reflected in the shiny black brick paving. It attracts customers of all ages and is open most hours, if that is your want. About opposite Raymond’s is the ‘Live Show’, another ‘palace of male entertainment’ where gentlemen are lured in by the soft tones of ‘Hello sir, very sexy ladies inside’. Someone lately remarked of Walker’s Court, ‘if you get what you want, nothing matters’ – I have no notion of what facility was being referenced, but it doesn’t take a scholastic highbrow to come up with a fair guess.

There are however other reasons to visit Walker’s Court. On either side there are a variety of shops including a welcoming cafe, and the Mona Lisa Book Shop on the corner of Brewer Street.

The best time to visit this area all depends on your interest. Berwick Market, which takes up the entire length of the street is in full swing Monday to Saturday 9-00am until 5-00pm. It is at its busiest around lunchtime.

When the stall holders have gone home and the gutters are cleared of bruised apples, cabbage leaves and fragments of vegetables the area is transformed into one of Soho’s evening delights. Restaurants of many nationalities and entertainment to suit a variety of requirements. Exactly the image that Soho conjures up – although the over 30’s may find more acceptable entertainment in the area of St Martin’s Lane.

Wallis Alley SE1
UG: Borough
Bus: 21 35 40 133 P3
Wallis Alley is only a few yards from Borough Station, off the south side of Marshalsea Road, by the side of the station.
Clinging to the rear of Borough Station, Wallis Alley is situated between high buildings and has a single stump at either end. It is a bland, characterless passage totally devoid of inspiring qualities. Wallis, whoever he was, left no clues to his identity so it can only be assumed that he either originally built the place or he lived here – poor man.

The Court connects with Vine Yard – not exactly a revelation, but by comparison…

Wardrobe Place EC4
UG: St Paul’s/Blackfriars
Bus: 4 11 15 17 23 26 76 172
See Addle Hill. Wardrobe Place is adjacent to Addle Hill, a few yards to the west.
‘Brooding quietness; remote and intimate; the City in slumbers’. These are the terms that have been used to describe one of the most exquisitely calm spots in London’s square mile. The courtyard marks the exact site of Sir John Beauchamp’s house, acquired by Edward III in 1359 to store the royal finery on its removal from the Tower. (See Wardrobe Terrace). This is a delightful place, in essence, little changed since rebuilding after the Great Fire destroyed much of the surroundings on the 4th September 1666. In fact almost the entire length of Carter Lane and its byways have so far luckily escaped the developers hammer, but perhaps to mention this is tempting fate. Meanwhile, until the 20th, and soon the 21st, century catches up we can gaze on the surviving post fire houses of about 1710 at numbers 3-5 Wardrobe Place.

From the south east corner a covered passage leads alongside the now defunct Bell public house and joins with Wardrobe Terrace.
Wardrobe Terrace EC4
UG: Blackfriars
Bus: 4 11 15 17 23 26 76 172
From Blackfriars Underground Station turn into Queen Victoria Street and cross to the north side. Pass under the railway bridge and continue for about 165 yds. Ascend the steps on the east side of St Andrew’s Church and Wardrobe Terrace is on the right.
Wardrobe Terrace and Wardrobe Place are memorials to the Royal Wardrobe, which used to be situated between St Andrew’s Church and Carter Lane.

In 1359 King Edward III acquired the town house of Sir John Beauchamp which stood in the courtyard just to the north of St Andrew’s Church. To here he transferred the collection of ceremonial robes and dresses previously housed in the Tower. During the mid-17th century the collection was in the charge of Sir Edward Montague, Master of the Wardrobe, and wealthy cousin of Samuel Pepys. When the house was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 the Royal Wardrobe was temporarily moved to the Savoy where some 400 years previous, Peter, Earl of Savoy had built his mansion. It was subsequently relocated in Buckingham Street, to the south of the Strand.

The first Church dedicated to St Andrew was built here about the beginning of the 13th century and known as St Andrew next Baynard’s Castle. This stronghold was constructed by Ralph Baynard in the time of William the Conqueror and destroyed, together with the Church, by the Fire of 1666. The Church was rebuilt by Wren in 1693 when the parish of St Anne Blackfriars was incorporated within its boundary (see Ireland Yard). It was the last in Wren’s list of 51 City church scheduled for rebuilding after the Fire. St Andrew’s suffered further devastation in the Second World War and was restored in 1961. Compared with the grandeur of most of Wren’s other churches, St Andrew’s is somewhat plain. Stow sums it up in a few words: ‘a proper church, but few monuments hath it’.

A passage at the end of Wardrobe Terrace leads along the north wall of the church, where there are steps into St Andrew’s Hill, and continues around the west side leading to a flight of steps and a wrought iron gate onto Queen Victoria Street. On the east side of the church a long fright of steps links Wardrobe Terrace with Queen Victoria Street.

The Old Bell Hotel on the corner of Wardrobe Terrace and Addle Hill has long since closed its doors but it there remains boarded up and pad-locked. At the time of writing there was still a notice pasted to the wall bearing the heading, ‘Shelter in Underground Stations’. It was placed there many years ago by London Transport and outlines the restrictions for those resorting to below ground refuge.

Warwick Yard EC1
UG: Old Street
Bus: 55 243 505
From Old Street Station walk west along the south side of Old Street for about ¼ mile and turn left into Whitecross Street. In about 100 yds cross Banner Street then Roscoe Street. Warwick Yard is then about 35 yds on the right.
Warwick Yard is a strange old place although not so strange as to appear out of place, in fact it fits with absolute comfort into the neighbouring and equally strange Whitecross Street market. Here can be found stalls stocked high with articles, secondhand and new, ranging from fruit and vegetables to old gramophone records and electrical parts, but the place does not seem to have the same appeal as, for instance, the market of Petticoat Lane and other notable street venues. No doubt its failure to secure a place on the tourist route is that few writers on London’s markets seem to consider it worthy of mention. As far as the popular guides are concerned, Whitecross Street is out of bounds. There are not many other attributes concerning Whitecross Street unless we turn to the early years of the 19th century and the illumination of selected London streets by those new-fangled gaslights. In August 1807 nearby Beech Street and Whitecross Street were the first to be lit up.

But what of Warwick Yard? Well, there is little to tell; it has been here for a good many years but no one seems to have the faintest idea of its original purpose or who, or what, inspired its naming. All of the western end of the Yard is now taken over by the Peabody Estate with the vast blocks of flats filling the panorama. The adjoining walkway has, I suppose quite appropriately but regretfully, been renamed Peabody Court. The modern paving which has replaced the cobbles of the old Yard only enhance the distinct lack of character now abounding here, but there is one minuscule feature which, accompanied by a giants helping of imagination, could perhaps reflect a vision of the opening which once occupied this ground – Peabody Court is wide and (possibly) yard-like.

Watling Court EC4
UG: Mansion House
Bus: 4 11 15 17 23 26 76 172
From Mansion House Station (Cannon Street north side, Bow Lane) walk north along Bow Lane and left into Watling Street. Watling Court is about 50 yds on the left.
There are two taverns in Watling Street; of these, the foundations of most ancient antiquity are here at Watling Court where the Red Lion stands on the corner. Taking the evidence on view today, a vast proportion of the population would most certainly refute this statement in favour of Ye Olde Watling which was built in 1667 on the site of its predecessor burnt down in 1666. Without doubt the Watling is an old treasure surviving from the days when Bow Lane and Watling Street were main thoroughfares, but it is not so old as the Red Lion which was entertaining the folk of these parts when John Stow came on his perambulations in 1598. We can not be sure when the first tavern was built on the corner of Bow Lane and Watling Street, but the meticulous hand of Stow recorded no evidence and so we can be reasonably sure that it did not exist. . On the other hand, there has been a Red Lion tavern in Watling Street since at least 1540, and the Court that gave access to its rear entrance is as old as the tavern itself. Until the early 1900’s it was in fact known as Red Lion Court but there is a Red Lion Court in Fleet Street, also in the postal district of EC4, and so to make the postman’s lot a happier one, they changed its name.

Before Cannon Street was extended towards St Paul’s Cathedral in 1852, Watling (Red Lion) Court continued through to what was then Basing Lane, a narrow thoroughfare lying roughly along the line of Cannon Street. From the time of its foundation until the day its southern end was closed off, the Court had held significant prominence in City life. Unlike many of the neighbouring courts its spacious dimensions gave scope to the traders who kept large shops here, among them some of the better names in the drapery business. Many of the old buildings were still standing here until 1940 when the blitz wiped the smile from the faces of everything that had survived through thick and thin. Even the Red Lion tavern was caught on the hop and is now a modern pub chaperoned by the Booke Bond tea building.

In the Red Lion they proudly display a map of the Roman Watling Street throughout its route between Chester and Dover. They would have us believe that somewhere about Marble Arch the old road took a diversion from its north south direction and ran along the line of Oxford Street, entering the City at Newgate. The theory has been argued for and against for many years past and will continue so for many more. However, I fear that the disappointment is for those whose allegiance is aligned with the Red Lion, for the scales weigh far lighter on their side. There was in fact no sudden turn towards the east; the Roman road continued its line from Edgware Road to Park Lane and so on to a place named Thorney Island, a shallowing in the Thames, where it crossed to the south bank.

Furthermore, ‘Watling’, in relation to the City street, is a fairly recent corruption. Until well into the 15th century it was called Atheling Street, meaning the street of a nobleman or prince. By about 1500 it had become Watheling Street, the name by which the street was known until about the mid-1700’s when the translation to Watling occurred. And what of the Red Lion and its court? Stow says ‘a place so called of a great lion of timber placed there at a gate, entering a large court…’

Well Court EC4
UG: Mansion House
Bus: 4 8 11 15 17 23 25 26 76 172
From Mansion House Station (Cannon Street north side, Bow Lane) walk along Bow Lane, crossing Watling Street. and in about 35 yds turn right into the Court.
Well Court is one of those byways we all tend to think of as a typical example of an Old London alley. Throughout its twisting route between attractively elegant Bow Lane and rather formal Queen Street it is intriguingly pleasant – that is, to all but perhaps the most difficult to satisfy. This Court is the result of two differently named courts amalgamated under a single title. No physical change took place, but earlier this century the Bow Lane end was known as George Yard whilst the Queen Street end has always been Well Court. The Court owes its origin and name to the seven watering holes sunk on the site in Roman times. It probably all started when a Roman soldier noticed a spring rising from the ground and informed his commanding officer. One hole after another would then be dug down to the underground streams, each culminating in joyous shouts as the vessels were lowered to draw up the crystal clear water. These wells were uncovered on the south side of the Court during excavation work in 1960.

The City was once rich in underground water supply resulting from the impermeable London clay which carried the streams from the higher ground to the north down to the Thames. Even with all these watering holes the householder – or more specifically, his wife – would still have to walk a considerable distance to fetch a pale of water. However, she had to grin and bear it until 1240 when the City commenced a water supply improvement scheme. They purchased a selection of fields noted for their high production wells and springs, in the area of Tyburn, in the west, and channelled the water through lead pipes to a conduit at the west end of Cheapside. This was the first of many similar systems to follow, paving the way, in the early 17th century, for Hugh Myddleton’s New River project and the eventual piping of water to individual properties.

There have been many findings of Roman building remains and relics in Well Court; a recent discovery is thought to have been a bakery.

Although Well Court is rich in underground antiquity it has not altogether stayed in the past centuries. For a start it is a very tidy Court; its walls are clean and freshly painted and the paving is laid with the neatness of modern techniques. Here, the 20th century Bow Lane Coloney Wine Bar resides in perfect union alongside the wells of the 2nd century, and almost adjacent is the Golden Fleece Cellar Bar with a waitress service restaurant.

Whitcomb Court WC2
UG: Piccadilly Circus
Bus: 3 6 9 12 13 15 23 53 88 94 139 159
From Piccadilly Circus walk along Coventry Street towards Leicester Square. Shortly before the square turn right into Whitcomb Street. Whitcomb Court is about 35 yds on the right.
The Court is a tributary of Whitcomb Street, known until 1670 as Hedge Lane, from its entire length being hedge lined.

Adjoining the site of Whitcomb Court, to the south, was Shaver’s Hall, a renowned gaming house of the 17th century. It was purchased by Colonel Thomas Panton in 1664 who subsequently pulled it down as part of his plans to build on the site, but regulations against new developments brought into force in 1671 put paid to his idea. Panton prepared a petition to present to the King and had the good fortune of being supported by Sir Christopher Wren who managed to persuade the King that the plans were sound. The resulting development was Oxendon Street, Orange Street and Panton Street, all incorporating housing for traders.

Of the two courts running out of Whitcomb Street, Whitcomb Court is without any shadow of a doubt the untidy relation. From its covered entrance at the Oxendon Street end there is all the promise of an untainted old alley, alas, soon dashed as the Court opens out to daylight. The rough Tarmaced paving is a fitting accompaniment to the unsightly rubbish bins which permanently adorn this Court, making it a most unsavoury place. Completing the picture, along the north side of the Court is the drab high wall of the Prince of Wales Theatre, opened in 1884.

Opposite, in Oxendon Street is the Comedy public house, named not from the hilarious happenings inside, but from the nearby theatre.

For a more exhilarating tributary of Whitbomb Street see Excel Court.

White Lion Court EC3
UG: Bank
Bus: Any to Bank
Leaving Bank Station via the Cornhill (north side) exit, continue along the side of the Royal Exchange. Cross Exchange Buildings, Finch Lane, Newman’s Court, and Sun Court. White Lion Court is then on the left.
An exceedingly ill-fated tale surrounds the White Lion tavern, which stood here in the 17th and 18th centuries. It tells how, in 1765, the landlord, desperate to repay his heavy debts, sold the house and its contents for an amazing £3000. He had not expected to realise anything like this figure but learning that the prospective purchaser was a gullible fellow he pushed his luck one notch further. The man fell for it and that night the landlord threw a party with free ale to celebrate the deal. In the dead of night, when the last drop of ale was drained and the guests gone, the landlord retired to dream of his fortune. It turned out that one of the last stragglers to leave had emptied his lighted pipe into a bag of sawdust and the discarded tobacco lay smouldering until it ignited in the early hours of the next morning. Amid smoke-filled rooms the landlord raised the alarm by calling to the night watchman in the street below but it was too late; the dry timbers of the building were alight like tinder and within minutes the place was burnt out.

Unfortunately, no money had changed hands and the deeds and other legal documents of the sale were as yet unprepared. The sale had effectively not taken place and with no home, income, or means of paying off his hefty debts the unlucky guy was thrown into the local comptor.

The White Lion was never rebuilt and today the Court is home to the Westminster Aviation Insurance Group, also the Carroll Insurance Group has offices here. This is a pleasant Court, paved with slabs, where seated stone white lions are on guard at the stepped entrance to the building at the far end of the Court. Out of office hours sturdy iron gates bar the covered access.

White Lion Yard W1
UG: Bond Street
Bus: 6 7 10 12 13 15 23 73 94 98 113 135 137 139 159
From Bond Street Station turn into Davies Street, near the station and continue to the junction with Brook Street (about 180 yds). Turn left into Brook Street and in about 100 yds cross Avery Row on the right. White Lion Yard is on the right.
The cobbled footway into White Lion Yard descends from Brook Street beneath a square covering. Adjacent to the Yard, during the 18th century, stood the White Lion Inn. No doubt a haunt far removed from the dominoes, shove-halfpenny, and bar billiards type of establishment, for Robert Seymoure noted in 1735 that Brook Street was ‘nobly built and inhabited by people of quality’. From the door it would probably have been possible to reach out and engage in a spot of fishing in the Tyburn which flowed alongside, but that watercourse was covered over when Avery Row was constructed in the 1720’s. If the White Lion had been here today it would surely have been one of the more congenial houses in the West End, catering for the commuting fraternity rather than the tourists. Alas, the old inn has been lost in time, demolished many decades ago, and only its Yard now remains as a memorial.

Not far away, at number 25 Brook Street is the house where Handel moved to in 1723 – it was here that he wrote the Messiah and where he lived until just before his death in 1759.

White Horse Yard EC2
UG: Moorgate
Bus: 172 to Moorgate
21 43 X43 76 133 141 172 214 271 to London Wall
From Moorgate Station walk south along the west side of Moorgate. Cross to the south side of London Wall and turn right. In about 45 yds turn left into Coleman Street. On the right pass Basinghall Avenue and White Horse Yard is about 25 yds on the right in the midst of modern offices.
Of the numerous alleyways at one time sprouting from Coleman Street like twigs from a branch, many still survive in one form or another. Although truncated or severed through the passage of their long history some of them might even be said to still reflect their ‘old world’ image. There are others that merely spark off a reminder of those bygone days, their character having been changed beyond all association with their latter day standing.

When we reflect on the scene in Coleman Street of 200 years ago it is very easy to let the imagination stray and conjure up a picture of White Horse Yard with its cosy tavern playing host to the City dwellers and local merchants. This is as it may have appeared, but a great deal of water has passed under the bridge since those times and we are destined to drop to earth with one mighty thud, for the scene at present day White Horse Yard is not quite that sort of picture. The White Horse Inn is long gone but the narrow passage and rear yard survived for many years after, giving way in very recent times to modern development. All that now remains is the name, in what can be more accurately described as a widened section of the main street, where clinically white office buildings nestle amid their neighbours of similar appearance.

White Bear Yard EC1
UG: Farringdon
Bus: 55 63 243 259 505
Follow the directions for Vine Hill. White Bear Yard is between Back Hill and Eyre St Hill.
White Bear Yard once formed the side access and back yard to the tavern which stood on this site, but that was a long time ago. Clerkenwell’s Wine Bar with its canopied corner door now occupies the site. The grossly truncated Yard, now only a few feet in length, appears to have been greatly demoted in status. It does not even seem to be worthy of supporting an address any longer – the only access in the Yard is given as 144A Clerkenwell Road. But perhaps this is the fate of a forgotten old yard, once great and active in its time. A taste of the lovely cobblestones of adjacent Back Hill would not go amiss here, to bring back a little characterful charm to this miserable cul-de-sac.

As an inn name, ‘White Bear’ probably stems from Henry III who kept his white bear in the Tower of London so that it could conveniently be let into the Thames to catch fish. In 1542 the French Ambassadors, after they had feasted with the Duke of Somerset, were entertained to their delight by watching a bear hunting in the river. Some years later, the white bear was adopted as the personal emblem of Anne, consort of Richard III. The sign became popular with tavern owners but it was by no means exclusive to them; grocers and printers were among the tradesmen who advertised themselves ‘at the sign of the white bear’.

White Hart Court EC2
UG: Liverpool Street
Bus: 5 8 26 35 42 47 48 78 100 149
Off the west side of Bishopsgate, just south of Liverpool Street

‘Next unto the parish church of St Buttolph is a fair inn for the receipt of travellers’. So says John Stow in his Survey of 1598. He probably called in at the White Hart for a swift one while taking time out to catch up on his notes before going on to the ‘hospital of St Mary Bethelem’. This was one of the two main London hospitals for ‘distracted people’ and occupied the site of the present Liverpool Street main line station. It was founded by Simon Fitzmary, a sheriff of the City, in 1246 as a priory, the monks offering an open house to the Bishop of Bethlehem whenever he had business in London. Within 100 years of its foundation the priory was transformed into a hospital for lunatics and the monks, for most of their time, were engaged in begging money to support themselves and the inmates. At that time everybody in London had heard of Bethlehem Hospital, it was the source of daily conversation and became shortened by some to Bethlem, but more in evidence was the corruption to Bedlam. This latter give rise to the present day usage indicating a noisy disturbance. Stow would have had no difficulty in gaining access to the hospital, it was open to the public as an entertainment venue on payment of a small entrance fee. On Monday 8th May 1775 Johnson and Boswell, always eager to investigate the talk of the town, came to view the ‘mansions of Bedlam’. Referring to the visit Boswell noted in his journal ‘the general contemplation of insanity was very affecting.’ What they found at the hospital was quite obviously not a pleasing sight but to the majority it was an amusement of great delight. Over 100 people at any time, each having paid their two pence entrance fee, could run riot up and down the wards tormenting the miserable inmates. For those who wanted an additional dose of excitement and an element of risk, on payment of an extra penny they could join the patients for dinner. Naturally, the management held no responsibility for the frequent casualties.

The church of the original priory remained standing until the mid-16th century when it was pulled down and replaced by houses for Christ’s Hospital. As for Bethlehem Hospital, it survived on this site until 1676 when it moved a little way to the west on London Wall and then, in 1815, it was transferred to a new building in Lambeth Road providing accommodation for a thousand patients classified as mental. Bedlam building remained for few more years until the site was acquired by the Great Eastern Railway Company with plans to extend the line from the Shoreditch terminus into the heart of the City. Liverpool Street Station, occupying over ten acres of land, was opened in November 1874.

The White Hart Inn was conveniently situated first for pilgrims visiting the priory and in later years it was used as a night stay by those travelling long distance to experience the spectacle of Bedlam. At the height of its popularity, in the 15th century, there would have been a daily turnround of about 50 guests staying at the Inn. Not all of these were mad-house spectators; a large proportion would be travellers arriving either too late at night to enter the City, or those wishing to pass through the gate before curfew in order to make an early start the next morning. All of the City gates had the facility of accommodation outside the bounds of the wall and their landlords made rich pickings from frequently overcharging. To assess the magnitude of business passing through these establishments we only need to consider the profusion of inns in Southwark, largely established on the strength of traveller leaving and entering the City via London Bridge, which was also barred by curfew gates. Of course, the White Hart of today is a modern pub, tarted up and brought into line with the expectations of the up-to-date fraternity of City workers. But the Inn has not forgotten its root, the very history in which its foundations lie, of priories, monks and pilgrims; of mad-houses, lunatics, and the crowds that came to revel at the expense of the unfortunate few. The history of the Inn goes back to at least the time of the foundation of Bethlehem Priory. It was then a much larger place with galleries surrounding the courtyard where during the summer months guests were treated to regular theatrical performances. All this has long gone but the Yard remains, much changed in character, but still as an accompaniment to the Inn and as a reminder of the days when over laden stage coaches rattled and rolled over its cobbles from early morning until dusk.

White Hart Yard SE1
UG: London Bridge
Bus: 21 35 40 133 P3
Follow the directions for King’s Head Yard but continue past King’s Head Yard for about 25 yds and White Hart Yard is on the left.
Until the late 19th century the one time famous White Hart Hotel stood on this site. Like the George Inn and many of the other now demolished inns of Southwark it was built around a courtyard with a first floor gallery. At the height of its popularity the Hotel would have been nightly full to capacity with travellers into and out of London. On the 26 May 1676 it was reduced to ashes in a fire said to have started in a house between the George Inn and the Talbot (Talbot Yard). About 500 houses were swallowed up in the flames as the fire roared along the Borough High Street. None of the inns in the street were completely saved but most were resurrected to see another day. The White Hart ended its days in dereliction after ceasing business as an inn, and was finally pulled down in July 1889.

This was the same White Hart of which Shakespeare made reference in Henry VI. On that occasion he was recording the deeds and words of Jack Cade, an Irishman who claimed fame and favour through proclaiming that he was Lord Mortimer, a relative of the Duke of York. In 1450 Cade led a riotous gang in protest against the incompetence of the King, using the White Hart as his headquarters and it was from here that he rode towards the City, severing the ropes of the bridge with his sword, to declare himself Mayor of the City. On the way back he was accosted by the people when Shakespeare makes him say ‘Hath my sword therefore broke through London Gates, that you should leave me at the White Hart in Southwark?’ Dickens, many years later, couldn’t resist it as being the meeting place between Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller.

In striking contrast to neighbouring King’s Head Yard, White Hart Yard leaves the High Street through an unadorned square arch. It now offers little in the way of olde worlde treasures other than to savour the quaint memory of the long gone famous Inn. Most of the buildings in the Yard have recently been replaced by up-to-date offices, and on the south side of the Yard a newly opened wine bar has a pleasant court-yard and seating. In modernising the Yard the central drainage channel has been retained, even if it is now formed from modern cobble style paving.

Wild Court WC2
UG: Holborn
Bus: 1 68 91 168 171 188 501 505 521
From Holborn Station continue south along the west side of Kingsway, crossing Parker Street and Gt Queen Street. Wild Court is then about 80 yds on the right
The dirty walls and high wire-netting of Wild Court have just about as much appeal as a tormented skunk in a ladies boudoir, but its history, on the other hand, is quite a different matter.

This triangle of land roughly bounded by High Holborn, Drury Lane and Kingsway was, until the early 17th century, known as Oldwyck Close and across it lay the private path used by James I when riding between Westminster and his haunt at Theobalds. Hob knobbing with royalty had been an itching aspiration of the affluent class of society for some time and when word got around that the King could regularly be found in these parts it immediately became fashionable to live nearby. It was not too long before these new inhabitants were pestering Queen Anne of Denmark to give the private road a name, to which she subsequently obliged, calling it Queen Street, later altered to Great Queen Street to distinguish it from Little Queen Street, now obliterated.

Two or three houses already occupied plots scattered about the fields – one of them was owned by Lord Herbert of Cherbury who died there in 1648. However, major development was first attempted when Richard Brett and John Parker jointly purchased a section to the south of Queen Street and attempted to raise buildings, but the locals complained that they were spoiling the open landscape and the two men were thrown into jail. In 1630 Sir Edward Stradling purchased the plot, applied for permission to build, and was allowed to carry out his plans, which materialised as a stately mansion with two wings and two court-yards. The frontage of the house measured 150 feet along the street and the garden was of equal distance wide and 300 feet in length.

It was in 1640 that John Weld, son of Sir Humphrey Weld, grocer and Lord Mayor of London in 1608, acquired the Queen Street mansion and named it Weld House. His family lived there until 1675 and at some point, presumably after the death of John, Mrs Weld received a letter from the Lord Mayor stating that he had been requested by the Lord Chamberlain to provide a house in London for the Spanish Ambassador who was shortly expected, and that he had chosen the Weld household. We have no knowledge of how long the Ambassador stayed, but it was of a sufficiently lengthy period to cause him to set up his private stables in nearby Parker Lane, now Parker Street.

On the south side of Wild Court Mr Watts ran his business of journeyman printer, and daily, in the early hours of the morning, his right hand man, Benjamin Franklin, walked round the corner from his lodging in Wild Street to man the presses. On a different mission, Titus Oates abided his time around the corner in, now disappeared, Cockpit Alley. At the place once known as Snatcher’s Island, where Wild Street meets Great Queen Street, pickpockets, male and female, lurked in their droves. It was then becoming a depressing place.

Wine Office Court EC4
UG: Blackfriars
Bus: 4 11 15 23 26 to Fetter Lane
17 45 59 63 172 to Ludgate Circus
West of Ludgate Circus, about 180 yds on the north side of Fleet Street.
Visited by tourists from every nation, Wine Office Court must be one of the most frequented courts in the whole of London. With its narrow covered access, darkened rough brickwork, worn paving, and treasured buildings storing over 300 years of history, it is a typical representation of our image of old London. But the average tourist does not come here to revel in the hollowed out stones beneath his feet or to venerate the age old walls; he comes to eat, drink and make merry in the famous Old Cheshire Cheese. For decades its bars and restaurants have been a major attraction on the visiting lists of British and foreign tourists alike.

There has been a tavern on this site ever since the late 16th century, but resulting from a spark in Mr Farriner’s Pudding Lane bakery it went the same way as everything else in Fleet Street. No time was wasted in rebuilding and the new tavern was open again for business in 1667, only months after the Fire had reduced the site to a smouldering heap. The Cheshire Cheese has a well-chronicled association with the literary set, going back to the time of its foundation. If we are to believe the claims of successive landlords down the centuries, Samuel Johnson, that great lexicographer, writer, and wit is supposed to have spent half OCC.jpg (17180 bytes)his life here. In fact there are items of Johnsonian memorabilia at almost every turn. For many years a painting of Johnson and his biographer, Boswell, has hung over the restaurant door, ‘Come, let us dine at the Cheese’ reads the caption below. Inside the restaurant, at the head of the long ‘Johnson table’ is what is claimed to be ‘the favourite seat of Dr Johnson’ and hanging above is a copy of a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Boswell, in his Life of Samuel Johnson seems to indicate that the Doctor’s favourite tavern was the Mitre, which used to stand on Fleet Street. He makes no bones about it when he states that ‘I had learnt that his place of frequent resort was the Mitre Tavern in Fleet Street, where he loved to sit up late’. (It was pulled down in 1829 by Messrs Hoare to extend their banking premises). Although there is no reference in ‘the Life’ to the Cheshire Cheese it is difficult to believe that Johnson never ventured into the place, particularly when we recall that for much of his life in London he lived just around the corner.

Oliver Goldsmith too must have been a frequent customer. He lived across the passage at number 6 Wine Office Court where he wrote The Vicar of Wakefield. And how can we mention such an old tavern without a peek at Dickens who must have walk in and out of these Fleet Street courts by day and by night. Few people know it, but Dickens kept a rule of life that compelled him to visit every tavern in the City of London daily; at least this is what some will have us believe. With this knowledge to hand it seems very likely that the renowned pub goer downed the odd vessel or two in the ‘Cheese’. He gave a hint of the tavern in his Tale of Two Cities where he says, ‘Down Ludgate Hill to Fleet Street and so up a covered way into a tavern’. It does appear that the covered way may have been Wine Office Court.

Fleet Street is not generally considered as one of the most favoured sauntering areas for tourists but ‘the Cheese’, as it’s affectionately known, attracts visitors from far and wide. Squashed in the tiny bar you can brush shoulders with sightseers of all tongues. Americans sipping pints of English beer and commenting on Dr Johnson and the sawdust covered floor. The tavern also attracts local workers from a variety of professions and trades who prefer to gather at the serving hatch in the corridor. Impenetrable men of advertising huddle together telling dirty stories and laughing very heartily.

The Cheshire Cheese was recently closed for almost 18 months, undergoing renovation, and now, for the first time in its long history, has a window facing onto Fleet Street. Thankfully, the ground floor bar and restaurant have been untouched and remain as they have been for decades. Also remaining, almost as part of the fixtures, is Mike, a restaurant waiter, who has been at the ‘Cheese’ since about 1967, and is still serving up steaks, roast beef, and ‘Ye Famous Pudding’ – all with the most obliging service.

John Ogilby and Hugh Morgan, two of the earliest scientific cartographers, lived in Wine Office Court while compiling and printing their 1677 map of London. At the time these two were diligently engraving their blocks they would have heard outside, the occasional tramping of those visiting the wine office. It occupied part of the west side of the Court, from where licenses for the sale of wine were formerly issued.

Wyndham Yard W1
UG: Marylebone
Bus: 2 13 18 27 30 74 82 113 139 159 274
From Marylebone Station walk onto Marylebone Road and cross to the south side. Continue down either Wyndham Street or Enford Street. Cross York Street and walk round St Mary’s Church into Wyndham Place. Cross Crawford Street and Wyndham Yard is about 25 yds on the right.
In the normal course of events Wyndham Yard is only accessible to those who have authority to enter; a gate across the opening prevents the infiltration of waifs and strays. It all sounds very grand, and why not in a district containing the salubrious address of Portman Square. The surprise here is that one is led into the expectation of being greeted with something rather more graceful, whereas the reality is that there is nothing to classify this place as extraordinary. Beyond the short passage a collection of buildings surround the Yard, some displaying more character than others, but all with an equally cheerless facade.

To the north is St Mary’s Bryanston Square, built in 1824 by Sir Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum. To the south the elongated dimensions of Bryanston Square points like a slender finger in this maze of meticulously laid out streets.

The estate was commenced in about 1760 on land acquired by Sir William Portman, Lord Chief Justice, in 1553. Many of the streets around this area bear names associated with the family and Wyndham Yard commemorates Anne Wyndham who married Henry William Portman, instigator of the project.

Yorkshire Grey Yard WC1
UG: Holborn
Bus: 8 19 25 38 55 68 91 168 188 501 521
From Holborn Station cross to the north side of Holborn. Walk east for about 90 yds and turn into Proctor Street. In about 45 yds turn right into Eagle Street and Yorkshire Grey Yard is on the left.
Yorkshire Grey Yard is not quite the picture we would expect to find if purely relying on the illusion conjured up by its haughty sounding name. This dejected cul-de-sac which once sported one of the most fashionable taverns in town is now private and just a little grubby.

The Yorkshire Grey Tavern, named after the horses popularly used by many of the stage-coach companies, was probably built here around the beginning of the 18th century and demolished about the mid to late 19th century. Despite its standing among the upper crust of society there remains only a fragment in reference to its history.

ã No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without the written permission of the author

Watling Court EC4
UG: Mansion House
Bus: 4 11 15 17 23 26 76 172
From Mansion House Station (Cannon Street north side, Bow Lane) walk north along Bow Lane and left into Watling Street. Watling Court is about 50 yds on the left.
There are two taverns in Watling Street; of these, the foundations of most ancient antiquity are here at Watling Court where the Red Lion stands on the corner. Taking the evidence on view today, a vast proportion of the population would most certainly refute this statement in favour of Ye Olde Watling which was built in 1667 on the site of its predecessor burnt down in 1666. Without doubt the Watling is an old treasure surviving from the days when Bow Lane and Watling Street were main thoroughfares, but it is not so old as the Red Lion which was entertaining the folk of these parts when John Stow came on his perambulations in 1598. We can not be sure when the first tavern was built on the corner of Bow Lane and Watling Street, but the meticulous hand of Stow recorded no evidence and so we can be reasonably sure that it did not exist. . On the other hand, there has been a Red Lion tavern in Watling Street since at least 1540, and the Court that gave access to its rear entrance is as old as the tavern itself. Until the early 1900’s it was in fact known as Red Lion Court but there is a Red Lion Court in Fleet Street, also in the postal district of EC4, and so to make the postman’s lot a happier one, they changed its name.

Before Cannon Street was extended towards St Paul’s Cathedral in 1852, Watling (Red Lion) Court continued through to what was then Basing Lane, a narrow thoroughfare lying roughly along the line of Cannon Street. From the time of its foundation until the day its southern end was closed off, the Court had held significant prominence in City life. Unlike many of the neighbouring courts its spacious dimensions gave scope to the traders who kept large shops here, among them some of the better names in the drapery business. Many of the old buildings were still standing here until 1940 when the blitz wiped the smile from the faces of everything that had survived through thick and thin. Even the Red Lion tavern was caught on the hop and is now a modern pub chaperoned by the Booke Bond tea building.

In the Red Lion they proudly display a map of the Roman Watling Street throughout its route between Chester and Dover. They would have us believe that somewhere about Marble Arch the old road took a diversion from its north south direction and ran along the line of Oxford Street, entering the City at Newgate. The theory has been argued for and against for many years past and will continue so for many more. However, I fear that the disappointment is for those whose allegiance is aligned with the Red Lion, for the scales weigh far lighter on their side. There was in fact no sudden turn towards the east; the Roman road continued its line from Edgware Road to Park Lane and so on to a place named Thorney Island, a shallowing in the Thames, where it crossed to the south bank.

Furthermore, ‘Watling’, in relation to the City street, is a fairly recent corruption. Until well into the 15th century it was called Atheling Street, meaning the street of a nobleman or prince. By about 1500 it had become Watheling Street, the name by which the street was known until about the mid-1700’s when the translation to Watling occurred. And what of the Red Lion and its court? Stow says ‘a place so called of a great lion of timber placed there at a gate, entering a large court…’

Well Court EC4
UG: Mansion House
Bus: 4 8 11 15 17 23 25 26 76 172
From Mansion House Station (Cannon Street north side, Bow Lane) walk along Bow Lane, crossing Watling Street. and in about 35 yds turn right into the Court.
Well Court is one of those byways we all tend to think of as a typical example of an Old London alley. Throughout its twisting route between attractively elegant Bow Lane and rather formal Queen Street it is intriguingly pleasant – that is, to all but perhaps the most difficult to satisfy. This Court is the result of two differently named courts amalgamated under a single title. No physical change took place, but earlier this century the Bow Lane end was known as George Yard whilst the Queen Street end has always been Well Court. The Court owes its origin and name to the seven watering holes sunk on the site in Roman times. It probably all started when a Roman soldier noticed a spring rising from the ground and informed his commanding officer. One hole after another would then be dug down to the underground streams, each culminating in joyous shouts as the vessels were lowered to draw up the crystal clear water. These wells were uncovered on the south side of the Court during excavation work in 1960.

The City was once rich in underground water supply resulting from the impermeable London clay which carried the streams from the higher ground to the north down to the Thames. Even with all these watering holes the householder – or more specifically, his wife – would still have to walk a considerable distance to fetch a pale of water. However, she had to grin and bear it until 1240 when the City commenced a water supply improvement scheme. They purchased a selection of fields noted for their high production wells and springs, in the area of Tyburn, in the west, and channelled the water through lead pipes to a conduit at the west end of Cheapside. This was the first of many similar systems to follow, paving the way, in the early 17th century, for Hugh Myddleton’s New River project and the eventual piping of water to individual properties.

There have been many findings of Roman building remains and relics in Well Court; a recent discovery is thought to have been a bakery.

Although Well Court is rich in underground antiquity it has not altogether stayed in the past centuries. For a start it is a very tidy Court; its walls are clean and freshly painted and the paving is laid with the neatness of modern techniques. Here, the 20th century Bow Lane Coloney Wine Bar resides in perfect union alongside the wells of the 2nd century, and almost adjacent is the Golden Fleece Cellar Bar with a waitress service restaurant.

Whitcomb Court WC2
UG: Piccadilly Circus
Bus: 3 6 9 12 13 15 23 53 88 94 139 159
From Piccadilly Circus walk along Coventry Street towards Leicester Square. Shortly before the square turn right into Whitcomb Street. Whitcomb Court is about 35 yds on the right.
The Court is a tributary of Whitcomb Street, known until 1670 as Hedge Lane, from its entire length being hedge lined.

Adjoining the site of Whitcomb Court, to the south, was Shaver’s Hall, a renowned gaming house of the 17th century. It was purchased by Colonel Thomas Panton in 1664 who subsequently pulled it down as part of his plans to build on the site, but regulations against new developments brought into force in 1671 put paid to his idea. Panton prepared a petition to present to the King and had the good fortune of being supported by Sir Christopher Wren who managed to persuade the King that the plans were sound. The resulting development was Oxendon Street, Orange Street and Panton Street, all incorporating housing for traders.

Of the two courts running out of Whitcomb Street, Whitcomb Court is without any shadow of a doubt the untidy relation. From its covered entrance at the Oxendon Street end there is all the promise of an untainted old alley, alas, soon dashed as the Court opens out to daylight. The rough Tarmaced paving is a fitting accompaniment to the unsightly rubbish bins which permanently adorn this Court, making it a most unsavoury place. Completing the picture, along the north side of the Court is the drab high wall of the Prince of Wales Theatre, opened in 1884.

Opposite, in Oxendon Street is the Comedy public house, named not from the hilarious happenings inside, but from the nearby theatre.

For a more exhilarating tributary of Whitbomb Street see Excel Court.

White Lion Court EC3
UG: Bank
Bus: Any to Bank
Leaving Bank Station via the Cornhill (north side) exit, continue along the side of the Royal Exchange. Cross Exchange Buildings, Finch Lane, Newman’s Court, and Sun Court. White Lion Court is then on the left.
An exceedingly ill-fated tale surrounds the White Lion tavern, which stood here in the 17th and 18th centuries. It tells how, in 1765, the landlord, desperate to repay his heavy debts, sold the house and its contents for an amazing £3000. He had not expected to realise anything like this figure but learning that the prospective purchaser was a gullible fellow he pushed his luck one notch further. The man fell for it and that night the landlord threw a party with free ale to celebrate the deal. In the dead of night, when the last drop of ale was drained and the guests gone, the landlord retired to dream of his fortune. It turned out that one of the last stragglers to leave had emptied his lighted pipe into a bag of sawdust and the discarded tobacco lay smouldering until it ignited in the early hours of the next morning. Amid smoke-filled rooms the landlord raised the alarm by calling to the night watchman in the street below but it was too late; the dry timbers of the building were alight like tinder and within minutes the place was burnt out.

Unfortunately, no money had changed hands and the deeds and other legal documents of the sale were as yet unprepared. The sale had effectively not taken place and with no home, income, or means of paying off his hefty debts the unlucky guy was thrown into the local comptor.

The White Lion was never rebuilt and today the Court is home to the Westminster Aviation Insurance Group, also the Carroll Insurance Group has offices here. This is a pleasant Court, paved with slabs, where seated stone white lions are on guard at the stepped entrance to the building at the far end of the Court. Out of office hours sturdy iron gates bar the covered access.

White Lion Yard W1
UG: Bond Street
Bus: 6 7 10 12 13 15 23 73 94 98 113 135 137 139 159
From Bond Street Station turn into Davies Street, near the station and continue to the junction with Brook Street (about 180 yds). Turn left into Brook Street and in about 100 yds cross Avery Row on the right. White Lion Yard is on the right.
The cobbled footway into White Lion Yard descends from Brook Street beneath a square covering. Adjacent to the Yard, during the 18th century, stood the White Lion Inn. No doubt a haunt far removed from the dominoes, shove-halfpenny, and bar billiards type of establishment, for Robert Seymoure noted in 1735 that Brook Street was ‘nobly built and inhabited by people of quality’. From the door it would probably have been possible to reach out and engage in a spot of fishing in the Tyburn which flowed alongside, but that watercourse was covered over when Avery Row was constructed in the 1720’s. If the White Lion had been here today it would surely have been one of the more congenial houses in the West End, catering for the commuting fraternity rather than the tourists. Alas, the old inn has been lost in time, demolished many decades ago, and only its Yard now remains as a memorial.

Not far away, at number 25 Brook Street is the house where Handel moved to in 1723 – it was here that he wrote the Messiah and where he lived until just before his death in 1759.

White Horse Yard EC2
UG: Moorgate
Bus: 172 to Moorgate
21 43 X43 76 133 141 172 214 271 to London Wall
From Moorgate Station walk south along the west side of Moorgate. Cross to the south side of London Wall and turn right. In about 45 yds turn left into Coleman Street. On the right pass Basinghall Avenue and White Horse Yard is about 25 yds on the right in the midst of modern offices.
Of the numerous alleyways at one time sprouting from Coleman Street like twigs from a branch, many still survive in one form or another. Although truncated or severed through the passage of their long history some of them might even be said to still reflect their ‘old world’ image. There are others that merely spark off a reminder of those bygone days, their character having been changed beyond all association with their latter day standing.

When we reflect on the scene in Coleman Street of 200 years ago it is very easy to let the imagination stray and conjure up a picture of White Horse Yard with its cosy tavern playing host to the City dwellers and local merchants. This is as it may have appeared, but a great deal of water has passed under the bridge since those times and we are destined to drop to earth with one mighty thud, for the scene at present day White Horse Yard is not quite that sort of picture. The White Horse Inn is long gone but the narrow passage and rear yard survived for many years after, giving way in very recent times to modern development. All that now remains is the name, in what can be more accurately described as a widened section of the main street, where clinically white office buildings nestle amid their neighbours of similar appearance.

White Bear Yard EC1
UG: Farringdon
Bus: 55 63 243 259 505
Follow the directions for Vine Hill. White Bear Yard is between Back Hill and Eyre St Hill.
White Bear Yard once formed the side access and back yard to the tavern which stood on this site, but that was a long time ago. Clerkenwell’s Wine Bar with its canopied corner door now occupies the site. The grossly truncated Yard, now only a few feet in length, appears to have been greatly demoted in status. It does not even seem to be worthy of supporting an address any longer – the only access in the Yard is given as 144A Clerkenwell Road. But perhaps this is the fate of a forgotten old yard, once great and active in its time. A taste of the lovely cobblestones of adjacent Back Hill would not go amiss here, to bring back a little characterful charm to this miserable cul-de-sac.

As an inn name, ‘White Bear’ probably stems from Henry III who kept his white bear in the Tower of London so that it could conveniently be let into the Thames to catch fish. In 1542 the French Ambassadors, after they had feasted with the Duke of Somerset, were entertained to their delight by watching a bear hunting in the river. Some years later, the white bear was adopted as the personal emblem of Anne, consort of Richard III. The sign became popular with tavern owners but it was by no means exclusive to them; grocers and printers were among the tradesmen who advertised themselves ‘at the sign of the white bear’.

White Hart Court EC2
UG: Liverpool Street
Bus: 5 8 26 35 42 47 48 78 100 149
Off the west side of Bishopsgate, just south of Liverpool Street

‘Next unto the parish church of St Buttolph is a fair inn for the receipt of travellers’. So says John Stow in his Survey of 1598. He probably called in at the White Hart for a swift one while taking time out to catch up on his notes before going on to the ‘hospital of St Mary Bethelem’. This was one of the two main London hospitals for ‘distracted people’ and occupied the site of the present Liverpool Street main line station. It was founded by Simon Fitzmary, a sheriff of the City, in 1246 as a priory, the monks offering an open house to the Bishop of Bethlehem whenever he had business in London. Within 100 years of its foundation the priory was transformed into a hospital for lunatics and the monks, for most of their time, were engaged in begging money to support themselves and the inmates. At that time everybody in London had heard of Bethlehem Hospital, it was the source of daily conversation and became shortened by some to Bethlem, but more in evidence was the corruption to Bedlam. This latter give rise to the present day usage indicating a noisy disturbance. Stow would have had no difficulty in gaining access to the hospital, it was open to the public as an entertainment venue on payment of a small entrance fee. On Monday 8th May 1775 Johnson and Boswell, always eager to investigate the talk of the town, came to view the ‘mansions of Bedlam’. Referring to the visit Boswell noted in his journal ‘the general contemplation of insanity was very affecting.’ What they found at the hospital was quite obviously not a pleasing sight but to the majority it was an amusement of great delight. Over 100 people at any time, each having paid their two pence entrance fee, could run riot up and down the wards tormenting the miserable inmates. For those who wanted an additional dose of excitement and an element of risk, on payment of an extra penny they could join the patients for dinner. Naturally, the management held no responsibility for the frequent casualties.

The church of the original priory remained standing until the mid-16th century when it was pulled down and replaced by houses for Christ’s Hospital. As for Bethlehem Hospital, it survived on this site until 1676 when it moved a little way to the west on London Wall and then, in 1815, it was transferred to a new building in Lambeth Road providing accommodation for a thousand patients classified as mental. Bedlam building remained for few more years until the site was acquired by the Great Eastern Railway Company with plans to extend the line from the Shoreditch terminus into the heart of the City. Liverpool Street Station, occupying over ten acres of land, was opened in November 1874.

The White Hart Inn was conveniently situated first for pilgrims visiting the priory and in later years it was used as a night stay by those travelling long distance to experience the spectacle of Bedlam. At the height of its popularity, in the 15th century, there would have been a daily turnround of about 50 guests staying at the Inn. Not all of these were mad-house spectators; a large proportion would be travellers arriving either too late at night to enter the City, or those wishing to pass through the gate before curfew in order to make an early start the next morning. All of the City gates had the facility of accommodation outside the bounds of the wall and their landlords made rich pickings from frequently overcharging. To assess the magnitude of business passing through these establishments we only need to consider the profusion of inns in Southwark, largely established on the strength of traveller leaving and entering the City via London Bridge, which was also barred by curfew gates. Of course, the White Hart of today is a modern pub, tarted up and brought into line with the expectations of the up-to-date fraternity of City workers. But the Inn has not forgotten its root, the very history in which its foundations lie, of priories, monks and pilgrims; of mad-houses, lunatics, and the crowds that came to revel at the expense of the unfortunate few. The history of the Inn goes back to at least the time of the foundation of Bethlehem Priory. It was then a much larger place with galleries surrounding the courtyard where during the summer months guests were treated to regular theatrical performances. All this has long gone but the Yard remains, much changed in character, but still as an accompaniment to the Inn and as a reminder of the days when over laden stage coaches rattled and rolled over its cobbles from early morning until dusk.

White Hart Yard SE1
UG: London Bridge
Bus: 21 35 40 133 P3
Follow the directions for King’s Head Yard but continue past King’s Head Yard for about 25 yds and White Hart Yard is on the left.
Until the late 19th century the one time famous White Hart Hotel stood on this site. Like the George Inn and many of the other now demolished inns of Southwark it was built around a courtyard with a first floor gallery. At the height of its popularity the Hotel would have been nightly full to capacity with travellers into and out of London. On the 26 May 1676 it was reduced to ashes in a fire said to have started in a house between the George Inn and the Talbot (Talbot Yard). About 500 houses were swallowed up in the flames as the fire roared along the Borough High Street. None of the inns in the street were completely saved but most were resurrected to see another day. The White Hart ended its days in dereliction after ceasing business as an inn, and was finally pulled down in July 1889.

This was the same White Hart of which Shakespeare made reference in Henry VI. On that occasion he was recording the deeds and words of Jack Cade, an Irishman who claimed fame and favour through proclaiming that he was Lord Mortimer, a relative of the Duke of York. In 1450 Cade led a riotous gang in protest against the incompetence of the King, using the White Hart as his headquarters and it was from here that he rode towards the City, severing the ropes of the bridge with his sword, to declare himself Mayor of the City. On the way back he was accosted by the people when Shakespeare makes him say ‘Hath my sword therefore broke through London Gates, that you should leave me at the White Hart in Southwark?’ Dickens, many years later, couldn’t resist it as being the meeting place between Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller.

In striking contrast to neighbouring King’s Head Yard, White Hart Yard leaves the High Street through an unadorned square arch. It now offers little in the way of olde worlde treasures other than to savour the quaint memory of the long gone famous Inn. Most of the buildings in the Yard have recently been replaced by up-to-date offices, and on the south side of the Yard a newly opened wine bar has a pleasant court-yard and seating. In modernising the Yard the central drainage channel has been retained, even if it is now formed from modern cobble style paving.

Wild Court WC2
UG: Holborn
Bus: 1 68 91 168 171 188 501 505 521
From Holborn Station continue south along the west side of Kingsway, crossing Parker Street and Gt Queen Street. Wild Court is then about 80 yds on the right
The dirty walls and high wire-netting of Wild Court have just about as much appeal as a tormented skunk in a ladies boudoir, but its history, on the other hand, is quite a different matter.

This triangle of land roughly bounded by High Holborn, Drury Lane and Kingsway was, until the early 17th century, known as Oldwyck Close and across it lay the private path used by James I when riding between Westminster and his haunt at Theobalds. Hob knobbing with royalty had been an itching aspiration of the affluent class of society for some time and when word got around that the King could regularly be found in these parts it immediately became fashionable to live nearby. It was not too long before these new inhabitants were pestering Queen Anne of Denmark to give the private road a name, to which she subsequently obliged, calling it Queen Street, later altered to Great Queen Street to distinguish it from Little Queen Street, now obliterated.

Two or three houses already occupied plots scattered about the fields – one of them was owned by Lord Herbert of Cherbury who died there in 1648. However, major development was first attempted when Richard Brett and John Parker jointly purchased a section to the south of Queen Street and attempted to raise buildings, but the locals complained that they were spoiling the open landscape and the two men were thrown into jail. In 1630 Sir Edward Stradling purchased the plot, applied for permission to build, and was allowed to carry out his plans, which materialised as a stately mansion with two wings and two court-yards. The frontage of the house measured 150 feet along the street and the garden was of equal distance wide and 300 feet in length.

It was in 1640 that John Weld, son of Sir Humphrey Weld, grocer and Lord Mayor of London in 1608, acquired the Queen Street mansion and named it Weld House. His family lived there until 1675 and at some point, presumably after the death of John, Mrs Weld received a letter from the Lord Mayor stating that he had been requested by the Lord Chamberlain to provide a house in London for the Spanish Ambassador who was shortly expected, and that he had chosen the Weld household. We have no knowledge of how long the Ambassador stayed, but it was of a sufficiently lengthy period to cause him to set up his private stables in nearby Parker Lane, now Parker Street.

On the south side of Wild Court Mr Watts ran his business of journeyman printer, and daily, in the early hours of the morning, his right hand man, Benjamin Franklin, walked round the corner from his lodging in Wild Street to man the presses. On a different mission, Titus Oates abided his time around the corner in, now disappeared, Cockpit Alley. At the place once known as Snatcher’s Island, where Wild Street meets Great Queen Street, pickpockets, male and female, lurked in their droves. It was then becoming a depressing place.

Wine Office Court EC4
UG: Blackfriars
Bus: 4 11 15 23 26 to Fetter Lane
17 45 59 63 172 to Ludgate Circus
West of Ludgate Circus, about 180 yds on the north side of Fleet Street.
Visited by tourists from every nation, Wine Office Court must be one of the most frequented courts in the whole of London. With its narrow covered access, darkened rough brickwork, worn paving, and treasured buildings storing over 300 years of history, it is a typical representation of our image of old London. But the average tourist does not come here to revel in the hollowed out stones beneath his feet or to venerate the age old walls; he comes to eat, drink and make merry in the famous Old Cheshire Cheese. For decades its bars and restaurants have been a major attraction on the visiting lists of British and foreign tourists alike.

There has been a tavern on this site ever since the late 16th century, but resulting from a spark in Mr Farriner’s Pudding Lane bakery it went the same way as everything else in Fleet Street. No time was wasted in rebuilding and the new tavern was open again for business in 1667, only months after the Fire had reduced the site to a smouldering heap. The Cheshire Cheese has a well-chronicled association with the literary set, going back to the time of its foundation. If we are to believe the claims of successive landlords down the centuries, Samuel Johnson, that great lexicographer, writer, and wit is supposed to have spent half OCC.jpg (17180 bytes)his life here. In fact there are items of Johnsonian memorabilia at almost every turn. For many years a painting of Johnson and his biographer, Boswell, has hung over the restaurant door, ‘Come, let us dine at the Cheese’ reads the caption below. Inside the restaurant, at the head of the long ‘Johnson table’ is what is claimed to be ‘the favourite seat of Dr Johnson’ and hanging above is a copy of a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Boswell, in his Life of Samuel Johnson seems to indicate that the Doctor’s favourite tavern was the Mitre, which used to stand on Fleet Street. He makes no bones about it when he states that ‘I had learnt that his place of frequent resort was the Mitre Tavern in Fleet Street, where he loved to sit up late’. (It was pulled down in 1829 by Messrs Hoare to extend their banking premises). Although there is no reference in ‘the Life’ to the Cheshire Cheese it is difficult to believe that Johnson never ventured into the place, particularly when we recall that for much of his life in London he lived just around the corner.

Oliver Goldsmith too must have been a frequent customer. He lived across the passage at number 6 Wine Office Court where he wrote The Vicar of Wakefield. And how can we mention such an old tavern without a peek at Dickens who must have walk in and out of these Fleet Street courts by day and by night. Few people know it, but Dickens kept a rule of life that compelled him to visit every tavern in the City of London daily; at least this is what some will have us believe. With this knowledge to hand it seems very likely that the renowned pub goer downed the odd vessel or two in the ‘Cheese’. He gave a hint of the tavern in his Tale of Two Cities where he says, ‘Down Ludgate Hill to Fleet Street and so up a covered way into a tavern’. It does appear that the covered way may have been Wine Office Court.

Fleet Street is not generally considered as one of the most favoured sauntering areas for tourists but ‘the Cheese’, as it’s affectionately known, attracts visitors from far and wide. Squashed in the tiny bar you can brush shoulders with sightseers of all tongues. Americans sipping pints of English beer and commenting on Dr Johnson and the sawdust covered floor. The tavern also attracts local workers from a variety of professions and trades who prefer to gather at the serving hatch in the corridor. Impenetrable men of advertising huddle together telling dirty stories and laughing very heartily.

The Cheshire Cheese was recently closed for almost 18 months, undergoing renovation, and now, for the first time in its long history, has a window facing onto Fleet Street. Thankfully, the ground floor bar and restaurant have been untouched and remain as they have been for decades. Also remaining, almost as part of the fixtures, is Mike, a restaurant waiter, who has been at the ‘Cheese’ since about 1967, and is still serving up steaks, roast beef, and ‘Ye Famous Pudding’ – all with the most obliging service.

John Ogilby and Hugh Morgan, two of the earliest scientific cartographers, lived in Wine Office Court while compiling and printing their 1677 map of London. At the time these two were diligently engraving their blocks they would have heard outside, the occasional tramping of those visiting the wine office. It occupied part of the west side of the Court, from where licenses for the sale of wine were formerly issued.

Wyndham Yard W1
UG: Marylebone
Bus: 2 13 18 27 30 74 82 113 139 159 274
From Marylebone Station walk onto Marylebone Road and cross to the south side. Continue down either Wyndham Street or Enford Street. Cross York Street and walk round St Mary’s Church into Wyndham Place. Cross Crawford Street and Wyndham Yard is about 25 yds on the right.
In the normal course of events Wyndham Yard is only accessible to those who have authority to enter; a gate across the opening prevents the infiltration of waifs and strays. It all sounds very grand, and why not in a district containing the salubrious address of Portman Square. The surprise here is that one is led into the expectation of being greeted with something rather more graceful, whereas the reality is that there is nothing to classify this place as extraordinary. Beyond the short passage a collection of buildings surround the Yard, some displaying more character than others, but all with an equally cheerless facade.

To the north is St Mary’s Bryanston Square, built in 1824 by Sir Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum. To the south the elongated dimensions of Bryanston Square points like a slender finger in this maze of meticulously laid out streets.

The estate was commenced in about 1760 on land acquired by Sir William Portman, Lord Chief Justice, in 1553. Many of the streets around this area bear names associated with the family and Wyndham Yard commemorates Anne Wyndham who married Henry William Portman, instigator of the project.


The alleyways and courtyards of London

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.



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