The alleyways and courtyards of London: A


Abchurch Yard EC4

This is one of those retreats in which London is so abundantly rich. Although not one of the City’s most secluded byways, it is ideally situated at the side of a tiny lane – an antique area that has changed little in layout since the 12th century.

The bulk of Abchurch Yard, a paved square lying to the south of St Mary Abchurch, was once the graveyard to this outstanding church, and now, during the summer months, is prettily decked with five large tubs of colourful flowers. From the seats arranged along the church wall you can take time out to watch the scurrying lunchtime herds making for Punters Restaurant and Wine Bar on the west side. Leading from the ‘square’, along the west side of Wren’s red bricked church, is the old churchyard path, now formed as a narrow lane but retaining, through its name (this is still Abchurch Yard), a link with centuries past.

The present church was built in 1681 after its predecessor was destroyed on the 3rd September 1666, a victim of the Great Fire. Although it is one of the smallest of Wren’s City churches, the almost square interior is made to appear spacious by the great dome, pierced by stained glass circular windows and richly painted by John Snow in 1708. The magnificent reredos by Grinling Gibbons is one of the largest in London, its central pinnacle almost touching the rim of the dome. Interestingly, the churchwardens’ pews still retain the dog kennels beneath the seats, a feature quite common until the 19th century, but now rarely encountered.

St Mary Abchurch was severely damaged in World War II when much of the internal woodwork was shattered and the reredos blown into thousands of pieces. Restoration work carried out in 1953 has returned the place to its former glory. At the time of renovation the floor of the church was lowered to its original level and in the process the crypt of the previous church was uncovered, restored, and opened to public view.

Abchurch is one of those curious names of old London and may have derived from the church builder or whoever donated the money to fund its building. In years gone by the patron of a church was often commemorated by having his name tagged on to the dedication; in the case of St Mary Abchurch the origin is far from clear. It could have come from the Latin, abbatia – the head of a monastic community, or abbas – a monk, even the French, abbé – a priest. John Stow says that he has seen it spelt as Apechurch and Upchurch; a reference to the first church on the site has it as ‘Habechirce’ which makes the matter even more confusing. Although it is unlikely that a religious community ever inhabited the church, it is possible that such a community financed its building.

Adam and Eve Court W1

The Garden of Eden was a little closer to Oxford Street when the Adam and Eve tavern stood here. It was probably part of the landscape throughout the 17th century, occupying a rural setting just to the north of the ‘Tyburn Way’ or ‘the way to Uxbridge’ which we now know as Oxford Street. Its actual location was about 50 yards north of the main road which on today’s layout would be about two thirds of the way into the Court. At that time, the Court itself was a rough track forming the only convenient access to the tavern. This was, of course, before Edward Harley, William Berners, and sundry small-time land owners commenced developments in the 1720’s. The Adam and Eve tavern survived until about 1746 when the new competitive environment overtook it and survival became impossible. In the same year, houses began to spring up along the dusty access road, heralding the transformation from rural to urban, and Adam and Eve Court was hatched into life.

Nearby, on the north side of the tavern, was the ‘Boarded House’, an amphitheatre style building run by celebrated swordsman, James Figg. At this venue he staged contests between a variety of local masters of the art, among whom he was the central and most popular attraction. Along with cockfighting, fencing and bare-fist boxing were the most popular crowd-drawing sporting event of the period and the Oxford Street area had some of the top ranking venues.

In 1725 Figg had a dispute with his landlord; it happened late one night when, against all odds, Figg had beaten off the unquestionable favourite. Seats were thrown into the arena and the riotous crowd lurched forward as Figg waved his sword in triumph; he could have decapitated his opponent but left that to the mob. As the victor made his exit, the stillness of the outside air became alive with uncontrollable brawling.

By the time James Figg was back in his billet, a matter of yards away, the noise had reached a deafening rate of decibels and as he sipped the dregs of his coco, a thundering rap caused him to nervously pitch the cup in the air and jump to his feet. Thinking it to be a gang of rioters he took up his sword and poised himself as he flung open the door. To his astonishment he was confronted by his landlord, clad in winceyette shirt and night-cap. At the risk of being lynched, the man hailed forth his command to quit the ‘Boarded House’ without further ado. ‘Enough is enough’, he raged, tightly clenching his fists.

Of course, this was no hardship to Figg; he had already been contemplating opening a hall at the rear of his house, just to the east of the Adam and Eve tavern. Within weeks the new venue was in operation and from these premises James Figg boldly advertised himself as ‘Master of ye Noble Science of Defence’ and taught the skills of swordsmanship to wealthy clients.

Those wealthy clients no longer come for instruction in sabre rattling, although – perhaps not quite so well endowed – they still pass across the entrance to Adam and Eve Court in daily droves; the shop keepers of Oxford Street certainly prosper from the seemingly endless queues eager to dispense with the contents of their wallets. Adam and Eve Court shares none of these generous contributions although it is one of the Oxford Street courts that has everything going for it; there is the potential here for creating another Gee’s Court or even St Christopher’s Place. At the present time the only trading which takes place here is in the form of the small souvenir stall on the corner of Oxford Street. Beyond this, a narrow covered entrance leads onward, where the back-drop is a scene of – not exactly neglect, but rather of being over-looked. Whilst the summer hanging baskets suspended from the gas-style standard lamps are a step in the right direction, it is like adding the seasoning before the meat. At the northern end of the Court, as though strictly for the use of those who pass along Eastcastle Street, are four telephone kiosks.

Adams Court EC2

When Thomas Adams lived here, his court was a good deal prettier than can be said of it today. We are led from Old Broad Street through a dirty stone archway forming the entrance to the Court and on to a collection of grimy, drab buildings just crying out for renovation. However, this is only the beginning and better things lie ahead. Further along the Court we pass through a wrought iron gateway and up a short flight of steps into a pleasant little brick built garden. There are plenty of seats dotted about the shrubbery but they are soon filled on sunny lunch times by workers from the surrounding modern offices. Adams, of course, never knew this – it is of quite recent construction, created to add a little greenery amid what would otherwise have been a characterless concrete jungle. Until the change took place Adams Court used to continue left to link up with a passageway running between Old Broad Street and Threadneedle Street, just to the west of the Natwest Tower, but even that has passed into extinction.

Thomas Adams probably moved into the Court about 1642, the year he was elected as Master of the Drapers’ Company; their Hall has stood just across the road on the north side of Throgmorton Street since 1541. As a Sheriff of the City of London in 1639 he was elevated to the Court of Aldermen and from there went on to become Lord Mayor in 1645. At the time of the Civil War Adams remained a faithful subject of his sovereign but suffered the consequences when the Roundheads suspected him of harbouring the King. They searched his house from top to bottom without turning up as much as a trace of evidence, but still took him captive for holding staunch allegiance to the Crown. After a gruelling spell in clink he was portrayed as a martyr by his fellow royalists and later played his part in restoring Charles II to the throne.

Addle Hill EC4

In this quaint and marginally pretty locality, where the City almost seems to have stood still, Addle Hill is the let-down. Once the stately home of a Saxon nobleman, from whence its name is derived (addle = noble), it has now turned full circle, just about falling into the category of abandoned, with a touch of shabbiness for added descriptive flavour. Almost every building on the west side is presently boarded up and seems destined to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

‘Addle’ came into common usage about six centuries ago when it applied to eggs that were empty or rotten and so produced nothing. In 1874 George Eliot wrote: ‘Speech is often barren; but silence also does not necessarily brood over a full nest. Your still fowl, blinking at you without remark, may all the while be sitting on one addled egg; and when it takes to cackling will have nothing to announce but that addled delusion.’ Dr Johnson, one hundred and twenty years earlier, screwed down the lid on any doubt relating to the modern-day definition when he discovered that the word was ‘now transferred to brains that produce nothing.’

Is it mere fate, or a happening that owes its circumstance to pure consequence that many of the buildings in Addle Hill now hold nothing, and produce nothing?

Alderman’s Walk EC2

Alderman’s Walk is one of those names that tend to spark off thoughts of summery strolls along well kept tree lined avenues. Indeed, if we were contemplating our walk in a suburban village or almost any place other than the City of London that is what we may very well expect to find. However, the City of London is where we are and Alderman’s Walk is not remotely like that. On the doorstep is Liverpool Street Station, the modernised gateway to eastern England; only yards away and visible from all angles of the City, the Natwest Tower reaches skyward; a mere stone’s throw away is the Bank, the ‘old lady’ who has her thumb on the hub of financial London.

This has been a busy section of the City for centuries; carts and trucks have been rumbling around here ever since the Romans built the Bishops Gate and opened up a main thoroughfare into the City. Despite all this turmoil Frances Dashwood, an 18th century Member of the Common Council of the City, liked it so much that he built his house here, on the south side of the Walk near to Old Broad Street. When Dashwood received a Knighthood the place became known as Dashwood’s Court until he was elected to the Court of Aldermen of the City of London and from that time the name changed to Alderman’s Walk.

Adjoining the Walk, on the south side, is the church of St Botolph, Bishopsgate, one of three surviving churches dedicated to the seventh century patron saint of travellers. The first church on this site was built about the beginning of the 13th century and was probably twice replaced before the 17th century. On Tuesday the 4th September 1666 St Botolph’s was shaking in its foundation as the Great Fire swept across the lower reaches of Bishopsgate, moving round to Throgmorton Street where it took the Drapers’ Hall. Although there was a sigh of relief when the danger was past, St Botolph’s was not in the best of repair and sixty years after the fire (1725) the church was demolished and rebuilt by James Gold. The unusual interior has two aisles separated from the nave by enormous Corinthian columns supporting a gallery running around the north, south and west sides. Strangely, the square tower is at the east end and therefore above the chancel and sanctuary, an arrangement only occasionally encountered. The marble fluted font is a relic of the 18th century, doubly celebrated because John Keates, poet, was baptised in it in 1795. In the graveyard of the old church Ben Jonson and his family gathered to mourn the passing of his young son, a tragic victim of the plague.

The church once controlled a charity school for fifty poor boys and girls. In 1861 the classrooms were transformed into the parish hall and it can be seen to the west of the church with two charming statues of the charity children; a boy and a girl each wearing a badge and holding a book.

Amen Corner EC4

Originally called Amen Lane, this short ‘path’ forms the approach road to Amen Court. John Stow records it as ‘a short lane which runneth west some short distance, and is there closed up with a gate into a great house’. This ‘great house’ was none other than the College of Physicians. Founded in 1518 by Thomas Linacre, the College moved from his own house in Knightrider Street to the site of Amen Corner in about 1540. At the height of the Great Plague the physicians saw at close quarters the ravages caused by the epidemic and fled for their lives. Rumours of the empty house soon spread among the throng of thieves and vagabonds who broke in and used it to hide from their raging victims. Less than twelve months later the flames of the Great Fire swept along the lanes and alleys around St Paul’s, taking in their path St Paul’s School and then the Stationers’ Hall, but so far the old Cathedral stood in defiance. From the Stationers’ it moved along Ave Maria Lane and by the evening of Tuesday 4th September (1666) the College of Physicians was no more. In the aftermath they established themselves only a few yards away, in Warwick Lane, then, in later years, in Pall Mall where they stayed until 1964 before moving to brand-new premises at Regent’s Park. Just as Stow portrayed it all those years ago, a locked gate is still there to this day and access is only permitted on application to the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral.

John Carey, writing in an edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1828 offers the following suggestion for the original naming of these ‘ecclesiastical’ streets: ‘Let us suppose processioners mustered and marshalled at upper end of Paternoster Row next Cheapside. These commence to march westward, and begin to chant the Paternoster, continued this whole length of the street (thence Paternoster Row). On arrival at bottom of the street they enter Ave Maria Lane, at the same time beginning to chant the Salutation of the Virgin – Ave Maria – which continues until reaching Ludgate Hill, and crossing over to Creed Lane. They there commence the chant of the Credo, which continues until they reach the spot now called Amen Corner, where they sing the concluding Amen.’

Amen Court EC4

Many of the highways and byways around the precincts of St Paul’s Cathedral bear names which have ecclesiastical origins. It is very likely that Amen Court housed the scribes and letter writers employed in writing the great volumes of the Cathedral.

Reputedly built by Sir Christopher Wren, Amen Court is a secluded little solace hidden away behind Ave Maria Lane. This charming little Court contains the late 17th century houses of the residentiary cannons of St Paul’s Cathedral, some of which still retain the original torch-light extinguishers, positioned by their doors. One or two are further graced with old iron foot scrapers. Tucked away at the far end a pretty garden adds the finishing touches to this tranquil setting.

Before the Great Fire, the ground on which Amen Court is constructed was occupied by the Oxford Arms, one of the many galleried coaching inns of the City. All were built on a similar style where the galleried rooms, usually of two storeys, bordered three sides of the court and the fourth side was built up with stabling. In the Oxford Arms courtyard the stables lay on the west side, up against the Roman Wall. The old inn was burnt down in the Fire but as the cogs of commerce once again began to grind and as the construction of new St Paul’s Cathedral was taking shape, the Dean and Chapter rebuilt the inn on the same site. Adjoining the inn, on the site of part of the old courtyard, they built the cannons’ houses with a connecting door to the inn. In a later lease of the inn it was stipulated that on no account was this door to sealed up or barred.

The Oxford Arms inn is long gone; like the rest of the old coaching inns of London it rapidly lost trade when the railways claimed a foot-hold in the carriage business and the Oxford stage was forced off the road.

It is unfortunate that we mortals do not have the run of Amen Court; it is protected by a high gate and the only means of gaining access is by prior application to the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Anchor Yard EC1

During they 18th century the popular Anchor Tavern graced this part of Old Street. A good old drinking den where the local pigeon fancier could get on his soap box and air his views about government policy or anything else that stuck on his chest. In those days the Yard was much larger than it is today, probably with an opening wide enough to accept a dray cart. Here would have stood the empty wooden hogsheads awaiting collection on delivery day, and on summery evenings there would very likely have been multitudes swilling jugs of ale while looking on at a friendly skittle or bowling match.

For nigh on 200 years the Yard has been without its tavern; the Anchor was demolished at the beginning of the 19th century and with the passage of time it has lost much of its character. Attractive Wenlake Cottage, at the end of the Court, while appearing just a trifle out of place, helps to convey a trace of gentle antiquity to what could quite easily become a typically uncared-for Old Street yard. Immediately to the west of the Yard, by Anchor House, a small patch of railed grass supporting a solitary tree seems determined to contribute a touch of rurality to an area that last saw ploughmen and yokels over 300 years ago.

Angel Court EC2
UG: Bank
Bus: 6 8 9 11 21 25 43 76
From Bank Station walk along Threadneedle Street, past the Bank and turn into Bartholomew Lane. Continue to the end of the lane and cross to the north side of Throgmorton Street. Turn right and Angel Court is on the left, opposite number 1 Throgmorton Street.
Although there is little laid down in the history books, Angel Court has been here for many centuries. It is the site of the long gone Angel Tavern and later, Birch’s wine-house where for over a century the soup course was prepared for Lord Mayor’s banquets.

During the 18th century ‘Angel’ was one of the most common names given to inns and taverns. Consequently the number of courts and yards that sprung up in the City of London under that name must have caused a great deal of confusion. There now remain but two byways called ‘angel’ within the City, the other being Angel Passage EC4. All the others have either been the victims of redevelopment or have been renamed.

Angel Court takes its leave of the thoroughfare named after Sir Nicholas Throgmorton’s through an unpretentious brick archway. Bordering its sides there are modern buildings on the right, while the left side is taken up by the older walls of the Natwest Bank. It was surely a more welcoming place when the landlord of the hospitable old tavern filled so many mugs that ale flowed over its doorstep.

Angel Court SW1
UG: Piccadilly Circus/Green Park
Bus: 9 14 19 22 25 38 55
From Piccadilly Circus walk west along Piccadilly and turn left into Duke Street St James’s. Continue to the end of the street and turn right into King Street. Angel Court is about 70 yds on the left.
There is no disputing that this is one of the most attractive courts in London, but what else might we expect to find in a tributary of Pall Mall, the street regarded by many to be the most handsome in London? Angel Court comes as a complementary asset to the surrounding class; it sits elegantly amid its equally elegant neighbours comprising of world famous names like Christie’s, and clubs of the highest renown sporting handles such as Carlton, Boodle’s, and White’s.

Although the overall atmosphere in Angel Court is modern, the stately charm of the 17th century – when the Angel tavern stood here – still largely prevails. Wending between its two covered entrances the most outstanding visual feature of this Court is the display of numerous planted flower baskets; they form a picturesque scene on the dullest of winter days but in the summer months are a bloom of colour.

Adjacent to the west side of the Court, in King Street, is the site of the departed St James’s Theatre. It was built in 1835 and in 1892 staged the first performance of Oscar Wild’s ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’. Three years later they rang up the curtain on the first production of his roaring success ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. Despite the vigorous efforts of celebrated campaigners including Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, who went to press her case from the Strangers Gallery in the House of Lords, the theatre was pulled down in 1957. Two years later the site was taken over by St James’s House, and to recall their association with the theatre, the modelled heads of Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier are displayed on one of the panels.

On the opposite side of the Court, and built about the same time as the theatre, is the Golden Lion public house. It was quickly established as a sort of reception annex to the theatre, being frequented before, during and after performances by actors and audience alike. Now that the theatre has gone the clientele consist of local residents, local employees, visitors, in fact anyone who does not quite fit into the ‘my club’ bracket.

Angel Passage EC4
UG: Cannon Street/Monument
Bus: 15 17 25 521
To the east of Cannon Street Station turn right into Bush Lane. Turn left into Gophir Lane and then right into Suffolk Lane. At Upper Thames Street cross to British Telecom’s Mondial House on the south side. Angel Court is just to the east of here
Like Angel Court in EC2, this is the site of one of the many Angel taverns which sprung up around the City in the 18th century. A couple of hundred years ago there were as many as 60 alleys, courts and passages bearing the name of Angel. Angel Court and Angel Passage are all that now remain within the City boundary; the rest have either suffered a change in their names or have been demolished.

Not too long ago the south side of Upper Thames Street was made up of a warren of tiny thoroughfares all leading down to the river. Whilst some of these narrow ways still remain, the vast majority have either been transformed into wide access road or have been obliterated. Unlike some of the City byways – those that can be passed by in the blinking of an eye – Angel Passage has been transformed into dimensions far beyond those expected of a City of London passages. It exists as a relic of the old time in nothing more than name. On both sides a grotesque bulk of concrete offices overshadow any faint visions in the mind’s eye of quaint taverns, bowling greens, or rollicking drunken evenings.

At the southern end of Angel Passage a Thames-side walk has been newly constructed with seating and shrubbery. From here there are excellent views of the River, London Bridge, and the 163 foot high tower of Southwark Cathedral.

Angel Place SE1
UG: Borough
Bus: 21 35 40 133 P3
Off the north side of Long Lane, opposite St George’s church. Only a few strides from the junction with Borough High Street.

Years have passed and scenes have changed since Dickens went in search of the Marshalsea Prison, but Angel Place (then called Angel Court) is still here. It is named after a tavern which stood on the north side of the Court and in the reign of Henry VIII was owned by Richard Fulmerston. For a number of years a room had been set aside in the tavern for use as a prison, but Fulmerston was unhappy with the situation and so erected a new building alongside his tavern and surrounded it with a high wall. In later years this building was sold to the Crown who leased it to the Marshal of the King’s Bench for use as a prison. By 1755 the King’s Bench Prison was in a desperate state of repair and was declared inadequate for the custody of prisoners. The old building was demolished and on the same site, enlarged through the purchase of part of St George’s Fields, a new prison was erected at a cost of £7,800. Who better to describe this little area than the master of story-telling himself, and for the very words we need only turn to the preface to Little Dorrit:

‘Wandering, however, down a certain adjacent Angel Court, leading to Bermondsey, I came to Marshalsea Place, the houses in which I recognised, not only as the great block of the former prison, but as preserving the rooms that arose in my mind’s eye when I became Little Dorrit’s biographer…. Whosoever goes into Marshalsea Place, turning out of Angel Court, leading to Bermondsey, will find his feet on the very paving-stones of the extinct Marshalsea Goal; will see its narrow yard to the right and to the left, very little altered if at all, except that the walls were lowered when the place got free; will look upon the rooms in which the debtors lived; will stand among the crowded ghosts of many miserable years.’

The history of the Marshalsea and the King’s Bench Prisons is more than slightly confusing due to the rebuilding and the loose terms applied in those days to each prison. Marshalsea was closed in 1842, twenty-eight years before the death of Dickens (1870) but the King’s Bench continued to receive prisoners until 1869.

Angel Place still has pitted old red bricks resembling those surrounding the prison. On the site of that dreadful place is a tatty garden reached from the passage by ascending a few steps and passing through the wrought iron gates. When taking a stroll down here, the aspect may be vaguely similar to the view that Dickens experienced, although not quite as daunting, but you can still pick up the flavour of the old times.

Appletree Yard SW1
UG: Piccadilly Circus
Bus: 3 6 9 12 13 14 15 19 22 38 53 88 94 139
On the west side of Regent Street (south of Piccadilly Circus) turn right into Jermyn Street. In about 180 yds turn left into Duke of York Street and Appletree Yard is on the left.
Today we might approach Appletree Yard with a degree of wary reservation, but until the late 17th century it would have been a gracious honour to be invited to stroll around these grounds. The story of St James’s began in the 11th century, or as John Stow preferred to put it ‘before the time of any man’s memory’. It all started with a lonely hospital lying in the fields west of Edward I memorial to his deceased queen (Charing Cross). These were the times when the risk of becoming a victim of leprosy put hysterical fear into the minds of every man and woman. So contagious was the disease that the only effective guard against infection was to keep those stricken with the illness locked up as far away from civilisation as possible. The hospital of St James in the Fields was ideal, and in the 12th century it was transformed into a place for the confinement of ‘fourteen sisters, maidens, that were leprous, living chastely and honestly in divine service’.

In 1530, when Henry VIII was on the lookout for a base from which he could hunt in the western reaches, he seized on the idea of converting the hospital. All fourteen of the maidens were moved to another location and granted a life-long pension as Henry proceeded to demolish the buildings. Here he built himself a ‘goodly manor’ surrounded by parkland and all enclosed within a ‘wall of brick’.

The great expense to which Henry extended may have seemed at the time an unnecessary extravagance, for he only used the lodging very occasionally. Successive monarchs disregarded the manor until Mary I took a liking to the place, making it her private residence, and there she died in 1558.

During the reign of Charles II, Christopher Wren was commissioned to carry out extensive alterations which included the building of a chapel and state apartments overlooking the grounds. From that time the manor, as it was still known, was in regular use. James, Duke of York, took up residence prior to being crowned James II and when the Palace of Whitehall was destroyed by fire in 1698 William and Mary made it their principal home. It was then designated as the official residence of the British Monarch and named St James’s Palace.

However, to return to Appletree Yard – although I have not really strayed from it… As already stated, Henry surrounded his new house with luscious greenery, the envy of all who set eyes upon it. He also laid out flower gardens, vegetable plots and, to the north, orchards of many trees. In these grounds strolled the generations of kings and queens, entertaining their guests, drinking, eating, and getting extremely merry.

Around the site of this Yard, the gardeners pruned and tended the trees that bore the apples that filled the fruit bowls of the royal houses. They continued to yield fruit until the end of the 17th century when most of this area was taken over for development and Appletree Yard was built.

Samuel Pepys noted in his diary for 1688 that he did ‘steal some apples off the trees’ in the King’s garden. Some of the trees were allowed to remain during building and were still bearing fruit when the properties were first occupied. At the time of street naming, the preference for the Yard was obvious.

Lying in the shadow of St James’s church, Piccadilly – well, it would be if the office of William Hill were not shielding the view – Appletree Yard bears none of the cheerful pleasantries suggested in its name. Rough Tarmac has replaced the green grass and where wind-blown’s were once abundantly strewn, cars are now parked. Wheeler’s of St James’s restaurant occupies a corner spot, offering an enticing menu of all sorts of seafood dishes – but woe to him who dares to call for apple pie and cream… ‘It’s off’.

Artillery Passage E1
UG: Liverpool Street
Bus: 5 6 8 22A 26 35 47 48 78 149
On the east side of Bishopsgate, opposite Liverpool Street Station turn into Middlesex Street (signed Petticoat Lane Market). Within 70 yds branch left into Widegate Street and continue across Sandy’s Row.
artilery.jpg (17771 bytes) When Henry VIII dissolved the Priory and hospital of Our Blessed Lady, commonly called St Mary Spital, he took their land and apportioned it at his own discretion. Seeing that the military were in need of a permanent site on which to practice defence, he offered the southern acres to their Company. John Stow, on his travels around the City in 1598 noticed that the ground ‘being inclosed with a brick wall, serveth to be an artillery yard, whereunto the gunners of the Tower do weekly repair, namely, every Thursday; and there levelling certain brass pieces of the great artillery against a butt of earth, made for that purpose, they discharge them for their exercise.’ Although the ground was often referred to as ‘Artillery Yard’ its complete name was ‘Tasel Close Artillery Yard’ from it being laid out on the site of a field for growing teasels which the Huguenot weavers of Spitalfield used for combing their materials.

All that, however, is long past and Artillery Passage retains none of its regimented military acquaintances. It is a most intriguing place with a colourful array of signboards hanging overhead from the rows of shops, like flags on a royal occasion. Here there are is an ample selection of purveyors of a variety of foodstuffs, predominantly of Asian origin. There are two Indian grocers, a sandwich bar, various other eating establishments, and when you have sampled and noshed to your heats content there is the convenient dentist to clean the residue from your choppers

The Artillery Company abandoned the site in 1642 when the present street layout was formed. Gun House, on the corner of Sandy’s Row stands as a further memorial to the artillery practice ground and Artillery Lane leading off the Row has the tributaries of Gun Street and Fort Street.

Ashentree Court EC4
UG: Blackfriars
Bus: 4 11 15 23 26 76 171A
Ref: 3-31 81 C
As for Magpie Alley. Turn into Magpie Alley and follow the passage for about 30 yds. Ashentree Court is on the right.
Between about 1240 and 1538 a large site reaching from Fleet Street down to the bank of the Thames was occupied by the Monastery of the Carmelite Friars – or White Friars as they became more commonly called. Ashentree Court stands on the site of one of the cloisters of the Monastery where the Friars would spend certain times of the day in leisurely walking. The Court is now a cul-de-sac but in the time of the Monastery the area was laid out in a quadrangle, probably surrounding a fountain and lawns.

This little Court is interesting but not prettily so; it is not a place to wander, wallowing in the delights of shear exquisite scenery – on the contrary. At the northern end, about the position of the Monastery dormitory, is a tall modern building faced with glazed bricks. On the west side is a dirty old white brick building sporting all the obvious signs of abandonment, and above, trees are beginning to sprout from the brickwork of the upper floors. Ashentree Court is a neglected sorrowful sight but in its present state is closely in keeping with its similarly untended neighbours.

Austin Friars EC2
UG: Bank
Bus: 8 11 21 22 25 43 76
From Bank Station walk along Threadneedle Street and at the Stock Exchange bear left along Old Broad Street. Cross Throgmorton Street then turn immediately left into the narrow lane.
Without enlightenment concerning its roots, the name of Austin Friars opens up all sorts of mind-clamping explorations, but quite simply it is an ages old corruption stemming from the Augustinian Friary founded in 1253 by Humphrey Bohun, Earl of Hereford. Commonly known as the ‘begging friars’ their community rapidly established itself as one of the wealthiest religious houses in the City and the church was adorned with the most splendid array of monuments. Chronicler, John Stow was most impressed with the steeple: ‘a most fine spired steeple, small, high, and straight, I have not seen the like.’ But this was not the original steeple – that, Stow informs us, ‘was overthrown by a tempest of wind in the year 1362, but was raised of new, and now it standeth, to the beautifying of the city.’

At the dissolution of the monasteries the Friary became the property of the Crown and subsequently passed into the hands of the Marquis of Winchester who demolished most of the buildings leaving the little chapel of the Friary standing alone. In 1550 the church was handed over to the Dutch community of London by Edward VI and became known simply as the Dutch Church. A few years later a Venetian glass-blower named Verrelyn, greatly envied by his counterparts for the quality of his craftsmanship, set up his workshop in a vacant chapel in the church. The Dutch church was spared in the fire of 1666 but that which the turmoil of seven centuries had left unscathed, Hitler destroyed in minutes. In 1957 rebuilding of the church was completed and depicted in the west window are Edward VI, and Princess Irene of the Netherlands who laid the foundation stone.

The line of the path which runs along the west side of the church would have been the main access to the friars church, monastic buildings, and burial ground. Adjacent to the path, in Throgmorton Street, Thomas Cromwell would have been able to look from the window of his ‘large and spacious’ house and watch the comings and goings of the Friars as they went about their daily chores.

Cromwell, the man set in charge of closing the monasteries, built his house on the site now occupied by the Drapers’ Hall. Not being content with his already sizeable garden, he sent his henchmen to remove the fencing posts from his neighbours’ gardens and to set them back twenty-two feet towards their houses, ‘a line there to be drawn, a trench to be cast, a foundation laid, and a high brick wall to be built.’ John Stow remembered it well – his father was a victim.

Austin Friars is really in three section. From its covered entrance in Throgmorton Street it twists round with close buildings on either side. Approaching the church it opens out into a street of particular character. Turning right by the church leads to Austin Friars Square which is most certainly on the site of one of the courts of the old monastery and still retains something of its former character. Alternatively, turning left by the church reveals such a sight as might be conjured up at the thought of its ‘polished’ name. Neat iron gates at both ends enclose this section of the street, which is paved with old stone flags. The buildings are mainly Victorian, some constructed in red brick and terracotta. Down the centre of the paved area are three charming gas style standard lamps – everything is pleasingly in keeping.

Avery Row W1
UG: Bond Street
Bus: Any to Bond Street or 8 to Grosvenor Street
From Bond Street station turn into New Bond Street. Continue along the west side and turn right into Brook Street. Cross Horse Shoe Yard and Whit Lion Yard. Avery row is then on the left
Set in the upper quarters of fashionable Mayfair, Avery Row runs in a north westerly direction from Grosvenor Street to Brook Street. It follows the course of the Tyburn Brook which was covered over in the early 18th century. The Row is just wide enough to take single file traffic and on each side has pavements wide enough for one person. Yates’s Wine Lodge is at the southern end, and further north there is a small cafe, a design shop, a tobacconist and a newsagent. However these small traders lived in daily fear of losing their livelihoods for ever. A threat of re-development brought about by the Cooperative Insurance Society some years ago was scuppered by the local authority but new proposals are afoot.

The Tyburn marked the eastern boundary of Ebury Manor, at one time owned by the Grosvenor family through the marriage of Sir Thomas Grosvenor to Mary Davies who inherited the estate in the mid 17th century. Avery is most probably a corruption of Ebury.

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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