The alleyways and courtyards of London: P

Pageantmaster Court EC4

Originally Ludgate Court and renamed in the summer of 1993.

This unassuming little court, which in reality is more likened to a narrow road, has few delights to offer the casual wanderer. Until very recently it was an excellent vantage view point of one of London’s surviving World War II bomb sites, but all that is destined to disappear under developments. The Queen’s Head pub, with a rough side wall where other buildings adjoined, Until the contractors moved in the Queen’s Head pub stood like a protruding tooth in a wide open mouth. Until that fatal day in 1940 the Queen’s Head had the company of the Blue Last tavern in Ludgate Broadway but along with the Ventura Restaurant and a philatelists shop, luck had gone out of the door and it was reduced to a heap of rubble. With the never ending scramble for City office space one wonders why this desolate plot remained for so long.

This then is Pageantmaster Court; people pass along it to reach their destinations elsewhere; not many come to it, for there is not much to come to. But don’t hastily turn your back on this seemingly uninspiring quarter; venture a little further towards Playhouse Yard, Ireland Yard, the intriguing Carter Lane with its numerous tributaries and the treasure will be revealed.

Even so, before I leave the environs of deprived Pageantmaster Court there is one feature of history that would perhaps not immediately be associated with a court halfway up Ludgate Hill -the Roman wall. It is commonly thought that the old gateway – one of the access points to the City – stood at the Ludgate Circus junction of roads. This belief is quite wrong and in modern times is probably cultivated by the railway bridge which marred the scenery there until the early 1990’s. From New-Gate (Newgate Street) the line of the wall ran along the east side of the street we know as Old Bailey (opposite, on the north side of Ludgate Hill); in fact this street took its name from a parapet erected along the outside of the wall. From this line we can ascertain that Lud-Gate would have been situated only feet from Pageantmaster Court.

For nearly 1,600 years the Roman wall enclosed the City of London and was breached at six strategic points where gateways gave access to the main roads leading north, east, and west. In line from the Tower, Lud-Gate was the last and most westerly of the gates. Myth has it that the gate was built about the year 66 BC by Celtic god, King Lud, but as he only existed in the realms of fantasy we can strike that one off without further ado. We can pass through the ages a good many years before arriving at the time when Lud-Gate was actually constructed; this would probably have been during the 5th or 6th century. But who, or what was ‘Lud’? Well, if you had been around in Saxon times, you would have referred to the secondary access to a major building – the tradesmen’s entrance – as the ‘ludgeat’, a word that was dropped from the English language but similar in meaning to ‘postern’, a small door or gate. Lud-Gate was far from small but compared with its counterparts was probably one of the minor ways into the City. During the Roman occupation of the City there would have been a stone bath just inside the wall where those with right of entry could clean off the grime of the dusty road from the west.

Like the wall itself the gateway was constructed of huge blocks of solid stone, seemingly there for eternity, but it was not so. In 1215 the gateway was in such a poor state of repair that it was taken down and rebuilt using the stone from the houses of Jews who were driven out by barons, in arms against King John. John Stow tells us that when the gate was again demolished in 1586 a stone from one of these houses was found among the rubble, bearing the engraved name of Rabbi Moses, son of Rabbi Isaac. In 1377 the rooms of the gatehouse were converted into a prison for the detention of debtors, but many of the prisoners did not need to be detained; they came voluntarily, seeking refuge from their angry creditors. We can only guess at the conditions tolerated by the in-mates but most definitely the numbers would have far exceeded the limits for even basic comfort. Dame Agnes Forster and her husband Sir Stephen, one time Lord Mayor, were so appalled by the overcrowding that in 1464 they arranged the demolition of a group of houses on the south side and built a square extension for the enlargement of the prison. When Lud-Gate was again pulled down in the late 16th century its replacement took on a character all of its own; a great deal more ornate than its predecessor, having an engraved statue of Queen Elizabeth I set into a niche on the west face, and on the east side there were statues of King Lud between his two sons.

On the 4th September 1666 the Great Fire swept through old St Paul’s and on down the hill towards Lud-Gate. Fearing for their lives at the hands of hysterical prisoners, the warders released their captives who chased like madmen from the jail in search of another refuge. The intense heat from the Fire caused wide cracks to appear between the stones and the gate once again had to be rebuilt. Queen Elizabeth in her niche was only discoloured by the smoke and was later taken to St Dunstan in the West where she now occupies pride of place beneath the clock. King Lud and his sons, also only slightly damaged, were first removed to St Dunstan’s, Regent Park and later transferred to the porch of St Dunstan in the West.

London’s Roman wall, along with all the gates, was demolished in 1760 and no evidence remains of either Ludgate or any of the other five gates. However, you can still see fragments of the wall which for various reasons escaped demolition. The finest example is at Cooper’s Row, near to Tower Hill Station.

For more on the Roman wall see Cooper’s Row.

Panyer Alley EC4
UG: St Paul’s
Bus: 4 8 25 56 141 172 521
Accessed from either side of St Paul’s Station. It is the walkway around the rear of the station.
When the Alley was first constructed prior to the 16th century (possibly 15th century) it was, of course, completely different to what we see today, surrounded by high concrete buildings. Originally it was a narrow walkway lined with houses, connecting Newgate Street and Patternoster Row. On the 29th April 1667 the Common Council of the City passed an order that several streets, alleys and passages were to be widened. It seems that Panyer Alley together with St. Paul’s Alley were to be broadened to nine feet ‘for the common benefit of accommodation’.

The present alley is not really recognisable as an alley at all. It is merely a path around the access to St Paul’s station.

Its name is derived from the time when the alley was inhabited by basket makers or panyers. Set into the wall between two houses on the eastern side of the Alley there used to be a stone plaque, which was said to mark the highest point in the City. An effigy of a naked boy sitting on a panyer and holding in his hand what is thought to be a bunch of grapes; underneath, surrounded by an ornamental border, the inscription: ‘When ye have sought the citty round yet still this is the highest ground. August the 27, 1688’. These two houses were demolished in November 1892.

It seems that the plaque was positioned here after the Great Fire and replaced an earlier example; John Stow ambled through the Alley in 1598 and commented that it was ‘so called of such a sign.’ In support of his comment and the ancient existence of the Alley, the Panyer tavern, Paternoster Row, is recorded in a list of City taverns for 1430, discovered by the Brewers’ Company at the end of the 19th century.

Passing Alley EC1
UG: Farringdon
Bus: 55 63 153 243 259
From Farringdon Station walk east along Cowcross Street, cross Turnmill Street and continue for about 150 yds. Turn left into Peter’s Lane and the left into St John’s Lane. Passing Alley is about 100 yds on the right.
From time to time it is impossible, or perhaps inconvenient, to avoid treading the path of vulgarity. In the interest of realism and truthfulness I trust that my readers will now forgive me when I reveal that Passing Alley was of old times one of the numerous open public conveniences known as Pissing Alley. There were literally dozens of them about the City, all inaugurated and so named through the constant procession over the years of people rushing to visit their walls. With the exception of this single corruption, all have now either disappeared from the scene or have had their names changed beyond association.

Today’s Alley is little changed, although there are rather less people rushing hither and thither – or perhaps I should say rushing hither and strolling thither. It is still covered at both ends with old brick houses gracefully balanced above the entrances as they always have been. There are still the sombre high walls on either side gently bowing over the narrow passage, and about half way along there used to be a solitary gas lamp, but that rusted away years ago leaving only a trace of the fragile bracket marking the spot. At the St John’s Street end the access is adorned with a plain but characterful black painted stone surround, and lest you should be in doubt, the name is inscribed in bold lettering around the top curve.

Passing Alley is a fine, unaltered example of a typical ancient alley in a tourist-devoid area that is truly bulging with historic interest. Only a stones throw away is the early 16th century St John’s Gate, the only gateway spanning a public highway in London. Adjoining the gate is the Museum of the Order of St John and beyond the gate, on the east side of St John’s Square, is the Grand Priory Church of the Order. All this and plenty more can be had within the space of little over ¼ of a square mile – without the jostling crowds.

Pear Tree Court EC1
UG: Farringdon
Bus: 55 63 243 259 505
From Farringdon Station walk north along Farringdon Road for about 300 yds. Cross Clerkenwell Road and continue for about 160 yds. Pear Tree Court is set back on the right.
Pear Tree Court first appeared on the map about the year 1683, exactly 150 years after Henry VIII had closed St Mary’s Nunnery which occupied the site to the south and east of here. In those days religious communities were largely self sufficient; they owned extensive land incorporating fields for cattle and sheep, and their vegetable gardens often yielded a sufficient supply of fruit and vegetables for their own needs and to sell. It seems very likely that in this corner of their land was an orchard where, among apple and plum trees, there were also pear trees.

Following its closure the nunnery buildings remained standing, but through neglect over the years they became unsafe and the domestic quarters were demolished. The land, then owned by the Crown, was sold off for housing development and various other uses. Today Pear Tree Court is more like a narrow street and along the entire length of its southern side is the grim brown and white brick building containing flats of the Peabody Trust’s Clerkenwell Estate.

At some stage of their perambulations, travellers about the Metropolis will inevitably come across more of these barrack like structures, all looking very similar in appearance. However sombre their appearance they stand as a memorial to a man who did more for the relief of the homeless poor than any other of his time. He was George Peabody, an American who himself was born of poor parents. With only a smattering of education there was little prospect of George succeeding in life, but after spending some years as a shop assistant he started his own wholesale business and became a very wealthy man. In the mid 18th century he moved to London, taking rooms at number 99 Eaton Place – a salubrious address if ever there was one. In gratitude for the welcome he received from the British people he donated £150,000 to provide housing for London’s poor. The first block of flats were opened in 1864 in Commercial Street, Spitalfields and by the turn of the century the Trust had built dwellings in many parts of central London.

George Peabody died in 1869, only five years after his first project was completed, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His remains were later removed and transferred to Massachusetts where he now lies at the side of his mother.

Behind the Royal Exchange is a bronze statue of the seated George.

Peter’s Hill EC4
UG: Blackfriars/St Paul’s
Bus: 4 11 15 17 23 26 76 172 To St Paul’s

From Blackfriars ML Station walk east along the north side of Queen Victoria Street for almost ¼ mile. Peter’s Hill runs along the east side of the College of Arms.

Climbing from Queen Victoria Street and along Peter’s Hill leads along side the site of the church of St Peter, Paul’s Wharf, which stood on the south-east corner. It was built about 1180 and burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, never to be rebuilt. The parish was then incorporated into St Benet, Paul’s Wharf, which still stands, almost opposite, on the south side of Queen Victoria Street. Peter’s Hill was a curious place in those pre-Fire days; a dozen or so tiny houses lined the narrow alley just to the north of the church. Along the side of the church was Boss Court with its corner tavern, and next door a ropemaker’s shop. It isn’t that quaint old haunt any more, and has not been so for a good many years; all that greets us now is a wide hill of concrete steps raising the level to St Paul’s Churchyard and Old Change Court, another contemporary creation developed for modern London.

Dominating the western side of ‘the Hill’ with its frontage facing onto Queen Victoria Street is the imposing building of the College of Arms, sometimes referred to as the Heralds’ College. It stands on the site of Derby House, built by the first Earl of Derby who married the mother of Henry VII, and presented to the Garter King of Arms by Queen Mary in 1555. Along with most of its neighbours the house was largely destroyed on the 3rd September 1666 but the Heralds had received prior warning and transferred their valuable centuries old archives to the Palace of Westminster. Rebuilding gave the planners an opportunity to design a building more suited for its purpose; the Heralds’ didn’t entertain guests and they had no use for the banqueting hall and large catering kitchen so these were omitted from the plans. To make way for the construction of Queen Victoria Street in 1871 the east and west wings were shortened but with this exception the building survives today in very much the same appearance as in the 17th century. Major renovation work took place in 1956 when the ornate crest mounted gates, originally made for Goodrich Court in Hertfordshire, were added to the courtyard.

The Heralds’ and officers of the College of Arms are the official authority in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Commonwealth on all matters concerning Heraldry and pedigree. They were first incorporated by a charter granted by Richard III in 1484 and this was renewed by Mary I in 1555 shortly after she had presented them with Derby House. All officers of the College are directly appointed by the Crown and since 1672 they have acted on the authority of the Duke of Norfolk as Earl Marshall. Under his jurisdiction the College has for centuries been responsible for issuing arms and seals to notable persons. Among their other varied functions is the organisation of State ceremonies such as coronations, and the Heralds can be seen each year in ceremonial dress accompanying the Queen at the State opening of Parliament.

Opposite, on the south side of Queen Victoria Street, is the headquarters of the Salvation Army founded by William Booth in 1865. The ‘Army’ grew from the most modest of beginnings; no grand building, church, or even a shack, but from a man, so dedicated, preaching the Gospel from a wooden box around the streets of Nottingham. He moved to London, taking up work in a pawnbrokers shop, and continued his mission to ‘win souls’ amidst hostility and abuse, in the Mile End Road. In 1865 he opened the Christian Mission and through sheer determination his followers braved the streets of the East End, always ready to lend an ear to the deprived and down-and-outs.

In 1881 the Salvation Army began administering the organisation from their new headquarters here in Queen Victoria Street,continuing until it was destroyed by fire in May 1941. A new building was completed and opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in November 1963, just two years before the ‘Army’ celebrated its 100th anniversary.


Pickering Place SW1

Before turning into Pickering Place have a look at the two adjacent old shops – Lock and Company, hat makers, at number 6 St James’s Street, and the premises of Berry Bros and Rudd, wine merchants, at number 3, owned at the beginning of the 18th century by William Pickering. He was a grocer by trade but extended his service to jobs well adrift of supplying daily provisions. To the rear of his shop he kept a generously equipped workshop and store where he could frequently be found engaged in repairing an item of furniture or tinkering with the works of a clock. In his later years, presumably as a provision for retirement, he built his house in the yard and remained here until he died in 1735.

A feature of fine old oak panelling covers the entire length of the passageway where there is a single door being the side access to Berry Bros and Rudd. At the end of the passage a bracketed gas lamp hangs above the arch and surrounding the irregular shaped yard are four brick houses built by Pickering. In the centre of the yard is a piece of artwork mounted on a stone pillar. The contrasting character between grand St James’s Street and the rather laid back Pickering Place is striking, but not at all out of place in this quarter of London. During the 17th century this charming little cul-de-sac was the common venue for settling differences of opinion by duelling.

Pineapple Court SW1
UG: Victoria/St James’s Park
Bus: 11 24 211 507 or any to Victoria station
From Victoria Station cross to the north side of Victoria Street and after crossing Bressenden Place continue in an easterly direction for about 180 yds. Turn left into Palace Street and then right into Castle Lane where Pineapple Court is a few yards on the left.
Turning into Pineapple Court it comes as something of a surprise to find facing us, not the Pineapple Tavern but the Colonies public house. Of course, it was at one time quite appropriately called the Pineapple but in a frenzy of unpredictable wisdom someone had to rename it. There has been a tavern standing on this site since about 1750, thought to have been built by Greene’s Brewery which occupied a site in Stag Place. The brewery was purchased by James Watney in 1837 and his company continued to brew ‘proper’ beer there until mashing ceased in 1959. During the initial years of its business the tavern continued to function under the sign of the licensee. That was until a long missing patron returned from journeying over seas and popped his head round the door encouraging the landlord to sample a wedge of his peculiar fruit. Warily, with juice dribbling down his chops, he chomped away at the spiky exhibit and eventually, with glee in his eyes, he scoffed the lot. Eagerly enquiring of the sailor, ‘what is it?’ he swiftly pulled down the sign, pinned the leaves of the fruit to the door and called his house the Pineapple.

Today the Colonies sits at the end of a roughly concreted cul-de-sac, with Westminster College occupying the plot on the corner of Castle Lane.

Playhouse Yard EC4
UG: Blackfriars/St Paul’s
Bus: 4 11 15 17 23 26 76 172
See Pageantmaster Court. At Carter Lane take the right fork into Blackfriars Lane. Pass the Queen’s Head public house and Playhouse Yard is about 40 yds on the left.
Turning left into Playhouse Yard it is not manifestly obvious in these much changed years, that had you been trudging this way five centuries ago you would have been about to enter the kitchens of the Black Friars monastery. In 1538 the friars were sent packing while Henry VIII’s henchmen, led by Thomas Cromwell, searched their monastery for anything valuable. Nothing much happened to the old buildings in the following years – they were left to decay until 1596 when the grounds were disposed of to individual buyers. At this time Richard Burbage, a famous actor of his time and pal of William Shakespeare, was on the lookout for a site on which to open London’s first indoor playhouse. It was built here as a replacement for the old Shoreditch open-air theatre and with all up-to-date facilities it took off with tremendous popularity. A shared top of the bill featuring Shakespeare and Burbage was guaranteed to pull a crowd from as far a field as the town crier could broadcast. When the performances were over and the cast had taken their final bows the exuberant audiences, filled with admiration for the entertaining troop, made merry in the streets around. Naturally, this was not conducive to good relations with local residents who, wishing that Shakespeare and his buddies would be stricken hoarse, were provoked into complaining to the authorities. Despite Queen Elizabeth speaking favourably of the theatre the locals achieved their goal; the place was subsequently closed and the company of actors moved to the Globe Theatre on Bankside. In 1655 it was decided that the theatre had no further use – it was pulled down and rows of tenements were built in its place.

Plough Yard EC2
UG: Liverpool Street
Bus: 5 8 26 35 43 47 48 149 243A
From Liverpool Street Station turn onto Bishopsgate and walk north along the west side. Cross Pinder Street and Primrose Street. Continue for about 135 yds and cross Worship Street. Plough Yard is about 75 yds on the left.
Plough Yard is really a quaint sort of a place. It is fairly narrow as it leaves Shoreditch High Street and opens out into a wider area as it passes beneath the railway bridge carrying the tracks from Liverpool Street Station. There remains in the Yard very little of interest to nominate this place as an attraction to the average tourist. The long walk from the station will only be rewarded with satisfaction if you have an unusually eager passion to touch the blue brick of railway walls or to catch a glimps of the Richmond flyer clattering overhead. With this apart, the Yard has retained the old cobble stones of its more tasteful past, although over the years some have been removed and replaced with rough Tarmac. Small business premises housed in old warehouses surround the Yard and private car parking bays are dotted here and there.

In 1670, and possibly for many years previous, the Plough Inn stood at the end of the Yard. Being situated some short distance outside the ancient City walls the Plough would have been a popular calling point for those travelling in and out of the City. Its yard would then have been teaming with activity. The old Inn was demolished at some time around 1800 when the Yard was formerly named.

As an additional flavouring of history it may be of interest to note that the first building of the National Penny Bank was opened around the corner in Great Eastern Street on the 1st January 1878. Over 200 people opened accounts on the first day and it was instantly popular with the less wealthy, later becoming a common depository for children’s savings. The downfall of the bank came at the beginning of the 20th century as a result of unsound management policies -withdrawals were frozen and the receivers were brought in to wind up the business.

Plough Court EC4
UG: Bank
Bus: 25 40 47 48 100 or any to Monument
From Bank Station walk down Lombard Street, on the south side for about 180 yds, crossing Nicholas Lane and Clements Lane. Plough Court is then about 30 yds on the right.
Leaving Lombard Street by way of a square unadorned opening, Plough Court is covered throughout its length. It runs in a straight southerly direction and links with Lombard Court, where the Red Lion stands on the corner.

Although there is no solid evidence of proof, Plough Court is believed to have been the birth place of the poet Alexandra Pope in 1688. Supposition has it that he lived here until moving with his parents to the Fox and Hounds Inn in Chiswick.

It seems that a change in the name took place about the mid-18th century. In 1725 the passage was known as Plough Yard, being the private property of the Plough Inn which once occupied the site. Towards the end of the century it was recorded as Plough Court.

Plumtree Court EC4
UG: Chancery Lane/Farringdon
Bus: 8 25 45 46 63 501 521
Walk down the steps from Holborn Viaduct onto Farringdon Street. Plumtree Court is immediately on the right.
Just to the south side of the intricately painted red and gold Holborn Viaduct, modernised Plumtree Court leads up to Shoe Lane. Roughly on the site of the viaduct there used to be Holborne Bridge, crossing the Fleet River, which Stow refers to as Oldborne Bridge. In a meticulous description of the area he makes no reference to a thoroughfare leading from the River to Shoe Lane. Plumtree Court, however, is recorded in the early 18th century so we can therefore assume that it was built at some time between 1600 and 1700. Shortly before 1600 Christopher Hatton had been busy laying his hands on all the land he could from the Bishops of Ely. Although the extent of his gain seems to have been confined to the area north of Holborn Circus, the site of Plumtree Court was possibly an outlying orchard attached to the Bishops’ garden. (see Ely Place)

Standing at the northwest corner and facing onto Shoe Lane is the City Temple, London’s principal basilica to Nonconformity. It was opened in 1874 to serve the ‘multitudes ever coming and going through the Metropolis’. Along its western face a two-tiered portico of four columns displays the figures of Faith holding onto a cross, Hope wrestling with an anchor, while Charity clutches a child’s hand. Behind the facia all was wrecked in the Second World War and rebuilt in 1958 by Seely and Paget. Its main hall is representative of a theatre layout with a gallery and has seating to accommodate 1,400 people.

Pope’s Head Alley EC3
UG: Bank
Bus: Any to Bank
Off the south side of Cornhill and opposite the west end of the Royal Exchange, a few yds from Bank Station.
A partly covered square tunnel of little character, lined with tall walls and covered in white glazed tiles. Pope’s head Alley is gloomy and dull, not at all like the pre-Fire days when it was a favourite haunt of children visiting the many toy shops lining its way.

The Alley was named from having been a passageway by the side of the Pope’s Head tavern, which occupied the site as early as 1465 and was still going strong 300 years later. At the Reformation the owner was presumably forced to change the name; he chose the Bishop’s Head but shortly after, when he assumed that the King had forgotten his fracas with Rome, changed it back. The tavern was by all accounts a massive place ‘strongly built of stone’, occupying the whole site between Cornhill and Lombard Street. Here, for one penny, you could indulge in a pint of wine, and while the offer lasted, a chunk of bread was given free; a sort of happy hour at the Pope’s Head.

Whilst the tavern flourished Pope’s Head Alley was a busy place. Before the Great Fire it was a resort for fruit sellers, then came the bookseller, followed by the toy dealers parading up and down the Alley, showing off their novelties to scores of children. In the early 17th century, George Humble and John Sudbury opened the first general print shop in London at the sign of the ‘White Horse’ here in the Alley. Almost next door, at the sign of the ‘Red M and Dagger’, Mrs Milner (M) brewed and sold her potions for the cure of every ill known and unknown to man.

Lloyd’s Coffee House moved to premises here in 1769 after previously occupying shops in Tower Street and then Lombard Street. It was the popular meeting place for dealers and purveyors of foreign wares, where many a business transaction was settled. With most of the shop trade coming from this class of customer, Mr Lloyd hit on a brilliant idea to keep his customers interested. He started producing a weekly bulletin of ships arriving at the Thames wharfs. It was from this meagre beginning that Lloyd’s of London was formed.

Poppins Court EC4
UG: Blackfriars
Bus: 4 11 15 23 26 45 63 76 172
From Ludgate Circus walk west along Fleet Street. The court is about 25 yds on the right
Up on the red building by the side of the Court, in Fleet Street there used to be a clue to the origin of this curious name. It was in the form of an engraving highlighting that this was the site of the Inn of the Abbots of Cirencester. Below a perched bird, resembling a parrot, was the inscription ‘The Poppinjay’. This was the sign or crest of the Abbey of Cirencester. The house was standing in the 14th century.

Along the east side of the Court is the Poppins Café and Restaurant, Leonard and Michael, hairdressers, and Photosport film developing services, all facing a drab concrete wall on the west side. Frank Coral, bookmakers, have premises on the corner of Fleet Street and directly opposite to the Court, on the south side of Fleet Street is the quaint Old Bell Tavern. It was built in 1670 by Sir Christopher Wren as a lodging for his workmen whilst engaged in the rebuilding of St Brides church (see St Bride’s Avenue).

Post Office Court EC4
UG: Bank
Bus: Any to Bank
Off the south side of Lombard Street, about 100 yds from Bank Station, the Court runs through to King William Street.
When the ash and rubble left by the Great Fire had been swept away and London was once again settling down to routine life, the Post Office moved from its location in Bishopsgate to this site in 1678. Sir Robert Vyner, the wealthiest man in England, had previously ruled the roost here; his fine mansion lay amid neatly trimmed lawns and well tended flower beds. Sir Robert wisely kept his money in securities and as the flames lapped at his door he gathered his bonds – whilst he lost his house, he retained his wealth. The Post Office maintained its position in Vyner’s garden until September 1829 when it moved to larger premises in St Martin le Grande. There is a branch office on this site to this day, with its entrance in King William Street and mail boxes at the Lombard Street end of the Court.

Continuing in the only theme imaginable in the vicinity of Lombard Street – money – the Bankers’ Clearing House was established in this Court in 1770. It is still here today, occupying premises built in 1951 where it receives daily the statements from each of the clearing banks and settles the balance by cheques drawn on the Bank of England.

Post Office Court is covered throughout its length and is lit.

Priest’s Court EC2
UG: St Paul’s
Bus: 4 8 25 56 172 501
Cross from St Paul’s Station onto the north side of Cheapside and turn into Foster Lane. Pass the church of St Vedast and Priest’s Court is on the right.
At number 5 Foster Lane, just to the north of the church, is the little Court, still carrying the old oak surround to its entrance, where the parish priest and curates of St Vedast had their house. The parish priest no longer lives here and the house was removed earlier this century, but the Court remains a place of delicate antiquity. It joins up at the far end with Rose and Crown Court.

The first church on this site dedicated to St Vedast, Bishop of Arras, was built in the late 13th century, probably about 1280, and remained until 1666. With the exception of Tathwell in Lincolnshire, it is the only church in England dedicated to this saint, who died in 540. The church was badly damaged in the Great Fire, but not so severely as it might have been. Whilst the nave was gutted the tower and steeple were left standing. St Vedast was one of the fifty London churches built by Wren after the Fire and his plans for the replacement were drawn up to incorporate the miraculously untouched tower of the old church. However, building work must have disturbed the foundations and the tower became unstable, resulting in its replacement in 1697. The church suffered an unfortunate hit in the Second World War causing untold damage but once again the tower and splendid steeple remained untouched. Restoration work was completed in 1962. Inside, four Tuscan columns support the arches dividing the nave and south aisle beneath a richly decorated ceiling. Other notable features are the magnificent Renatus Harris organ that was transferred from St Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange, the font came from St Anne and St Agnus, Gresham Street, and the 17th century pulpit from Allhallows, Bread Street. The parish of St Vedast incorporates no less than thirteen former parishes of churches destroyed in the Great Fire or later demolished.

Foster Lane was originally known as St Vedast Lane and although it is usually considered that ‘Foster’ is a corruption of ‘Vedast’, it is not easy to understand how such a mistranscription came about. The corruption took place very early on; by 1281 it had already changed to Fauster – it was then a matter of little time before this became Foster.

Primrose Hill EC4
UG: Blackfriars
Bus: 4 11 15 23 26 45 63 76 172
From Ludgate Circus keep to the south side of Fleet Street and continue for about 100 yds. Turn left into Salisbury Court and pass Salisbury Square. In about 55 yds turn right into Hutton Street. Primrose Hill is on the right just before the junction with Whitefriars Street.
It is a good many years since these parts were filled with the scented aroma of primroses; the only vegetation in evidence nowadays is the occasional straggly weed poking its anaemic head between the paving in search of a faint sparkle of daylight. This is a dismal place – although not as dismal as it was before the developers took hold of it – desperately in need of brightening up with a display of flower baskets dotted here and there.

Primrose Hill was once a through route providing a short cut between Tudor Street/Whitefriars Street and Salisbury Square, entering by the side of the now disappeared Salisbury Hotel. It was closed off in the 1960’s when the Square was given a new image and Salisbury House replaced the Hotel. However, the passage does have its uses, even if the only way out is by the same way that you went in. Here, for the convenience of those in the know, is the back door of the Harrow public house, with its frontage at number 22 Whitefriars Street. The history behind the name of this tavern is very vague but one thing is certain; its foundations have nothing whatsoever to do with cultivating the land in these parts. But as the situation stands, the Harrow has two credits of worthy note: its rear access is the only characteristic feature of Primrose Hill; the ale is kept to perfection, and, as a bonus, the virtue of these off-the-beaten-track pubs is that you will not be ripped off.

Providence Court W1
UG: Bond Street
Bus: Any along to Bond Street station
Turn left out of Bond Street Station along the south side of Oxford Street. Cross Gilbert Street, Binney Street, Duke Street and turn into Lumley Street. At the end turn right then left into Balderton Street. Providence Court is about 35 yds on the right.
Since Lord Grosvenor completed the lengthy project of building up his estate in the mid-18th century, Mayfair has been one of the most desirable addresses in London. It must, however, be remembered that for all the household staff employed by the aristocratic residents there were only a limited number of ‘live-in’ rooms available which meant that those ‘off call’ were lodged in billets nearby. The northern part of Mayfair, in which Providence Court is situated, grew up as a favoured location for the housing of service staff and associated working classes. In 1886 the Grosvenor Estate was party to building nine blocks of flats in the area to supplement Clarendon Flats in Balderton Street (built in 1871), in total providing accommodation for over 2000 domestics.

The wide expanse of Providence Court – it would be more appropriately designated a street – was probably originally built for stabling and carriage parking, perhaps with dwellings for attendants. Although there are no horses or carriages here today, the Court retains a character very much in the ‘light’ industrial mode with clean buildings of rugged red brick. Outside Providence House, at number 18, there is a fascinating, though somewhat peculiar, ornamental gas standard lamp. Of the name – we know not whether the inhabitants provided a service of providence.

Prudent Passage EC2
UG: Bank
Bus: Any to Bank
From Bank Station cross to the north side of Poultry. Pass Grocers Hall Court and cross Old Jury, then in about 70 yds turn right into Ironmonger Lane. Prudent Passage is about 60 yds on the left.
This is quite literally a passage; it leads to nothing and nothing leads to it. By its narrow covered way we merely pass between Ironmonger Lane and King Street to come face to face with the Bank of Brazil. However, for this narrow alley of such apparent insignificance someone saw fit to line its walls from end to end in white glazed bricks, a seemingly unusual and extravagant embellishment for what is effectively a short cut. But perhaps there is more to this humble path than meets the eye – an occluded history lurking, or even lost, in the depths of time. Or could it be that the evidential facts are there lying mistily beneath the surface and I, through ineffective means, have totally missed the bate.

Whatever we make of it, Prudent Passage, in name, has only been with us for little over 100 years. During the mid 18th century it was known as Sun Alley, possibly from a shop sign, and it retained that name until 1875 when it first appeared as Prudent Passage… An over cautious resident?

Despite its insignificance, the Passage is very easily identified; Look for the stump on the edge of the pavement, directly opposite to the remaining tower of St Olave’s church in Ironmonger Lane.

Puma Court E1
UG: Liverpool Street
Bus: 67 B1
From Liverpool Street Station cross to the east side of Bishopsgate and walk north. Cross Middlesex Street and Artillery Lane then just past the library turn right into Brushfield Street. Pass, on the left, Spitalfields Market. At the end turn left into Commercial Street. Puma Court is about 55 yds on right.
Puma Court is guarded at both ends by four black painted stumps and is illuminated by three tall gas style lamps down the centre of the walk way.

On the north side of the court are a collection of tiny almshouses built ‘for the poor inhabitants of the Liberty Norton Folgate’ in 1860. There used to be a number of stone urns littered around the Court but these are no longer in evidence. The entire Court is a pleasurable experience; it is not grand or lavish in any respect, but there is an air of tranquillity and modest charm about the place. Modern developers have not yet found Puma Court, leaving the hair stylists shop and neighbouring houses to survive in the abounding peace along side an old rugged stone path. But what of the big cat?

Across Commercial Street is the closed down Spitalfields Market currently being used by traders of all sorts of craft wares. In a street on the south side of the market, now demolished, Jack the Ripper committed his sixth and final murder. A little to the south, on the corner of Fournier Street and Commercial Street, is the Ten Bells public house and on the opposite corner is Christ Church, Spitalfields. It was built in 1714 by Nicholas Hawksmoor, although his structure has been somewhat altered following a fire in 1836 and further modifications of 1866. Christ Church was saved from total extinction in 1960 by a group of Hawksmoor enthusiasts who heard on the grape vine that the diocese were reluctant to finance the cost of vital repairs and planned to pull it down. This group eventually founded the Hawksmoor Committee and persuaded the diocese to financially support a team of voluntary renovators.

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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