The alleyways and courtyards of London: R

Red Lion Court EC4

Nestling in the midst of a modernised block on the corner of Fetter Lane the narrow passage of Red Lion Court branches from Fleet Street undeterred by the rolling years. A little way along, the passage widens out and here, until quite recently, stood the Red Lion tavern – after which the Court was named. There has been a tavern in Red Lion Court since 1575 but unfortunately the long establishment came to an end when redevelopment encompassed the area a few years ago – alas, the Red Lion is no more. It was a friendly little place, tucked away minding its own business and hindering no one. The brown glazed brick frontage to the lower floor welcomed many an office worker and inside, the tiny bar was given a spacious effect by a proliferation of mirrors around the walls. Quietly unassuming, it boasted no great characters as past customers; Johnson never set his foot through the door and, surprisingly, neither did Dickens. The Red Lion remained to the end of its days one of the most charming relics of old London. Just past the site of the tavern a right left kink leads to Pemberton Row where an arrow on the wall points right, under an archway, to Dr Johnson’s House in Gough Square.

As the Great Fire approached Red Lion Court, on its westward progression, it came up against a brick built house which gave the City fire fighters that much needed time to demolish buildings further along the way. By creating an open space over which the fire could not jump, it spread no further in this direction. But the blaze had already been roaring for three days and the total number of burnt out buildings, comprising of 13,000 houses, 84 churches, 44 company halls, and St Paul’s Cathedral was not far off. A staggering fate for a blaze which began from a spark in Mr Farriner’s Pudding Lane bakery.

Red Lion Court forms part of labyrinth of little passages that twist and turn behind the shops on the north side of Fleet Street. Although many of the old buildings have been replaced by modern structures these age-old byways hold a great deal of history and provide for a very satisfying stroll away from the hustle and bustle of Fleet Street.

Red Lion Yard W1
UG: Hyde Park Corner
Bus: 2 10 16 36 73 74 82 137
From Hyde Park Corner Station take the underpass to the east side of Park Lane. Walk north along Park Lane and turn into Curzon Street, cross Chestfield Gardens and turn left into Chesterfield Street. At the end turn left into Charles Street and Red Lion Yard is straight ahead.
Nestling in the corner of Charles Street and Waverton Street we come face to face with the Red Lion tavern, heavily draped from top to bottom in luscious greenery. It stands on the site of a previous Red Lion and with its ‘patio’ along the front, encourages a multitude of outside drinkers on summery days. In this quiet corner, tucked away in secretive Mayfair, the Red Lion is quite at home; it is the type of house typically found in a small village – all that is missing is the green and the cricketers. Running along side is the yard, named from its location rather than its association – it was never the delivery yard of the tavern as is usually the case with many like named byways. This is one of the delights of byway saunterings; unruffled by the scurrying of crowds, narrow, cobbled Red Lion Court is permanently ‘asleep’.

Rising Sun Court EC1
UG: Barbican
Bus: 4 56 153
From Barbican Station turn onto Long Lane and walk south-west towards Smithfield Market. Rising Sun Court is the first opening on the left, about 150 yds from the station.
This is an attractive but simple Court, brought into full glory in summer months by a display of hanging baskets and window boxes adorning the Rising Sun tavern. A tavern has occupied this corner of Cloth Fair for centuries and many years ago the court running alongside formed its busy yard. During the early 1970’s it seemed that the Rising Sun was destined to go the same way as the dozens of other taverns which once graced the precincts of St Bartholomew’s. It was boarded up with all glimmer of life extinguished from its bowels. Its signboard hung as a weather-beaten faded hue, but Samuel Smith’s came on the scene and injected an overdue dose of revitalisation.

In 1573 Inigo Jones, a notable designer of stately buildings who became Surveyor to Prince Henry in 1611, lived near to this Court. He died in 1652.

Also see Cloth Court

Rolls Passage EC4
UG: Chancery Lane
Bus: Any along High Holborn or Fleet Street
From Fleet Street, about 300 yards along Chancery Lane on right. From Holborn about 300 yards on left.
Strolling along Chancery Lane, on the east side, it is impossible to miss the elaborate fortress like building of the Public Records Office. It was built in two stages; the Fetter Lane section between 1851 and 1866; the Chancery Lane section between 1891 and 1896. Much of the roof is constructed of iron and the whole structure is made as near fire proof as possible, for this is the principle national archives and repository for State papers and legal documents of national importance. The adjoining Passage, whilst having its roots way back in history, is entirely built of modern but tasteful structures, although the paving might have been laid of a material perhaps slightly more luxurious than Tarmac. Near to where the Court turns through 90° to join Bream’s Buildings is the Blue Anchor public house.

Probably of more general interest than the Records Office itself is the adjoining Public Records Office Museum, It occupies the site of the old Chapel of the House of Converts built in 1232 by Henry III for Jews converted to Christianity. In 1307 the house and chapel were put in the charge of Adam de Osgodeby, Keeper of the Rolls, but it was not until the appointment of William Ayremyne in 1378 that the two offices were formally united. Ayremyne carried out a number of modifications to the house and made it his principle residence; from shortly after this time the chapel was known as the Rolls Chapel. Successive Keepers (or Masters) continued to hold the joint offices until the appointment of George Jessel in 1873 who was elevated to the position of Master of the Rolls but not Keeper of the House of Converts.

The house and chapel were twice rebuilt, firstly in 1372 and again, because of dilapidation, in 1717 when the house was greatly enlarged. When the decision was made to construct the present building, the house was demolished to provide extra space. Although there were vigorous protests against pulling down the chapel, it too came to the end of its days in 1896.

In the Museum are the monuments to various holders of the office of Master of the Rolls, many of them buried beneath the floor of the old chapel. Secured in the many numbered cases are document from Kings and Queens, Prime Ministers, Lords, notable dignitaries, conspirators and numerous other historic characters, but the most cherished possession is the Doomsday Book. The two volumes contain the statistics resulting from a survey of thirty-four counties in England carried out for William the Conqueror in 1086. Here also is the Doomsday Chest, the triple locking ‘safe’ which housed the volumes while kept in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey.

Rose and Crown Yard SW1
UG: Green Park
Bus: 8 9 14 19 22 38
From Green Park Station walk along the south side of Piccadilly, towards Piccadilly Circus and, in about 200 yds, turn right into St James’s Street. On the left cross Jermyn Street, Ryder Street then turn left into King Street. Rose and Crown Yard is about 100 yds on the right. between Pall Mall Place and Cleveland Place
When King Street and the adjoining streets were still in their primary years and St James’s lay on the verge of open fields, the Rose and Crown tavern was entering its swinging hey-day. It stood on the south side of King Street with the Yard at its side, bustling in the shadow of newly built houses already attracting some of the most affluent families in London. Since there is no early licensing record of the tavern or its owner, the Rose and Crown probably started out as one of the fashionable coffee houses which sprang up throughout this district in the 1670’s. It certainly existed as a tavern in later years and most likely survived until the late 18th century.

At some time in the history of the Yard, probably following the closure of the tavern, there were a number of small dwellings here for the accommodation of the less affluent set. Properties such as these were sometimes rented or owned by the nobility for housing the lower graded servants such as those who were not required to be permanently on hand.

Rose and Crown Court EC2
UG: St Paul’s
Bus: 4 8 25 56 141 172
From St Paul’s Station cross onto the north side of Cheapside and turn into Foster Lane. Pass the church of St Vedast, Priest’s Court, and Rose and Crown Court is on the right by number 6.
Rose and Crown Court starts from Foster Lane as one of those delightful covered passages so familiar in the City. Too soon the delight is partially marred by modernisation and a trace of neglect as it turns right to link up with the eastern end of Priest’s Court. From here it winds through what used to be an enchanting passage of twists and turns behind St Vedast’s, to emerge in Gutter Lane. There are still twists and turns along this way but the enchantment faded away years ago.

The Court is the remnant of an inn so long gone and apparently of such insignificance that nothing relating to its history now survives. It probably stood here during the 17th century but its dates are buried with the inn itself. Of more modern times the Granary Restaurant holds dominance in its adjacent position at number six Foster Lane.

Rose Alley SE1
UG: London Bridge
Bus: 149 344 D1 D11
From London Bridge Station cross to the west side of Borough High Street and continue in a southerly direction. Cross Bedale Street, bear right into Southwark Street and then turn right into Stoney Street. Take the first left into Park Street following it round to the right and then left. Rose Alley is about 215 yds on the right, just to the west of Southwark Bridge Road.
By the 1590’s Southwark was already established as one of the most popular places of entertainment in London. The choice was endless; bear baiting, dog fighting, cock fighting, acrobatic monkeys, and four theatres. The first of these theatres was the Rose, built on the site adjacent to this Alley as a joint venture by Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn. In 1585 this duo purchased a house on the west side of Rose Alley known as Little Rose House – so called to distinguish it from a larger property to the east also called Rose House. They subsequently pulled the house down and in its place built their circular wooden theatre, which of course could go under no name other than the Rose. It opened in 1588 and enjoyed a good few years of profitable attendance until competition from the newly constructed Globe, only yards away, resulted in a declining audience. The Rose was demolished in about 1605.

Edward Alleyn did not only rank among the finest actors of his time, he was also a shrewd businessman and went on to invest his interest in other entertainment of Bankside. After the folding of the Rose he took control of the Bear Gardens and with his partner Philip Henslowe owned a large proportion of public venues including the money spinning brothels, known as stews. Before he departed this life Alleyn founded a group of almshouses in Dulwich, collectively naming them ‘The College of God’s Gift’ where he was buried in the chapel.

On the east side of Rose Alley is a ten storey modern office block built of orange brick and to the west is the rear of the Shakespeare Globe Museum (formerly Bear Gardens Museum), a rugged brick structure.

Rupert Court W1

Towards the southern end of Rupert Street this narrow, partly covered Court reaches out to connect with Wardour Street, at one time noted for its association with a thriving British film industry. The Court was built, along with its namesake street, in 1677 and named as a tribute to the cavalier efforts of Prince Rupert in the Civil War. However, it seems that had the naming of streets been left to Samuel Pepys we would not have had Rupert Street, Court, Road, or anything else. For on the 29th September 1667 the old scribbler inscribed in his diary ‘This day or yesterday, I hear, Prince Rupert is come to Court; but welcome to nobody.’ Whether he liked it or not made no difference, but some years later old Sam himself was posthumously remembered in a like fashion.

Nell Gwyn was a one-time nearby resident. In 1666 she took up residence in a house just to the north of the Court, in Wardour Street. And who would you guess signed the lease? – none other than that dark horse, Charles II. We might suppose that he also had something to do with her removal to a house next to the gardens of St James’s Palace in 1671, but that is the subject of another story.

Rupert Court is a pleasant welcoming place; it occasionally bustles with the to and fro of people passing between the streets, some pausing for a brief moment to glance in the little shop windows, others in too much of a hurry to notice. By night it seems to rest, which is a strange thing when we consider that this is only a stones throw from the late hour resorts of Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Shaftsbury Avenue. Lying adjacent to the Court is the shop of Wilson, Roberts and Company selling a fascinating selection of teas and coffees ranging from the plain bland to the most exotic of oriental flavours. Mingling with the variety of foliage-draped shops in the Court is the Blue Posts public house, so named from an old time practice of referring to taverns by the colour in which the door posts were painted, rather than a hanging sign board. There used to be a licensed establishment of a different kind at the opposite end of the Court, but that ceased when the pawnbroker was driven into virtual extinction some years ago.

Russell Court SW1
UG: Green Park
Bus: 8 9 14 19 22 38
Follow the directions for Blue Ball Yard but continue past Blue Ball Yard, cross St James’s Place and Little St James’s Street. Carry on to the end of the road and turn right into Cleveland Row. Russell Court is a few yds on the right.
The somewhat present misleading direction of Russell Court which turns westward naturally raises the impression that it at one time emerged into Little St James’s Street. In fact Russell Court used to turn east and link with St James’s Street, around the back of St James’s Coffee House, owned in 1690 by John Gaunt. Business was not always as lively as it could have been at the house; it started off as a swinging success but under successive ownership’s following Gaunt’s departure in 1706 there were many long years of hard times. It was the unfortunate burning down of White’s Chocolate House in 1733 that gave the Coffee House its much needed lift. As a temporary measure Francis White transferred his business to the Coffee House and the two traded side by side until the gutted shop was rebuilt. St James’s Coffee House was thus saved from possible extinction by the fame and reputation held by White’s.

In order to find Mr Russell we would need to go back further than the time of the St James’s Coffee House, to about 1660 when he and his family lived in a house sited around the angle of the Court. Nothing really has come to light regarding Russell or his family although it seems pretty certain that he was a man of reasonable means and status.

With regard to social standing, thing have changed little in these parts; St James’s was just as fashionable in the 17th century as it is today and Russell Court has always been in the midst of the activity. Cleveland Row, from which the Court branches, was a favoured locality for the rich and famous, of creditable and the not so creditable spheres of life. In about 1670 John Ogle, known as ‘Mad Jack’ from his eccentric escapades, lived here. Always game for anything to attract public attention he excelled in flamboyant duelling artistry and was frequently on show in selective gambling dens. Through back-door means he was quickly elevated to a high ranking army officer but could not match the life and ridicule forced him to resign. He died of over-indulgence in 1685.

A few doors away was the residence of Madame Elizabeth Mitchell, high flying lady offering entertainment to gentlemen of a noble background. Among her clients were the local landed gentry, VIP’s from St James’s Palace and it was not unknown for the Prince of Wales to take time out for a little of the ‘how’s your father’. In later years Miss Mitchell founded an agency for the prime purpose of matching quality ladies with gentlemen of equal breeding for casual meetings. She remained at Cleveland Row until 1785.

Russia Court EC2
UG: St Paul’s
Bus: 8 25 501
From St Paul’s Station walk east along the north side of Cheapside. Cross Foster Lane, Gutter Lane, Wood Street and then turn left into Milk Street. In about 45 yds turn right into Russia Row. Russia Court is about 20 yds on the left.
Situated in an area rich in age old alleys and narrow streets which have remained unchanged for centuries, Russia Court is a relative new-comer. It first appeared on the scene in about 1815 when the overflowing traders of the ancient Honey Lane Market were still setting up their stalls in every available crevice. A century earlier, the milk sellers around the corner tethered their cattle to posts driven into the ground, but only the name – Milk Street – survives to recall those smelly old days. In this street was the church of St Mary Magdalen, built in the early 12th century and burnt down on the 4th September 1666, never to be rebuilt.

An air of ambiguity lingers over the naming of Russia Court, for it apparently had no connection with that country, and neither did its traders or residents. Very little now remains of the Court and recent restructuring of this area has caused the Court to submit to modern times. Severely truncated, it exists as a short paved inlet merely providing access to the ‘Udder Place’, a pub and wine bar where the younger set are amply catered for.

Ryder Court SW1
UG: Green Park
Bus: 9 14 19 22 38 to St James’s Street
From Green Park Station walk along the south side of Piccadilly, towards Piccadilly Circus. Cross Arlington Street then turn right into St James’s Street. Cross Jermyn Street, then in about 55 yds turn left into Ryder Street. Ryder Court is about 20 yds on the right.
Lest you be in any doubt of the law, a notice on the high gate informs thus, ‘This Court is Crown property. Proceedings will be taken by the Crown lessees against any person depositing rubbish.’

This is a narrow Court and leads between the properties fronting on to Bury Street and St James’s Street. There are no great delights here, but the opportunity to savour your imagination of the past while wandering aimlessly through Captain Richard Ryder’s creations of Ryder Street, its Court and its Yard. The Captain was a carpenter by trade who happened to carry out the odd job for Charles II. There can be no doubt that he was a superb craftsman and the King recognised his talents by appointing him Master Carpenter to His Majesty. Although Ryder acquired this plot of land in the 1670’s through deceiving the parish council and stealing its property, the King turned a blind eye and it was on his nod and a wink that the captain was granted permission to build the street and its byways.

Towards the end of the 17th century a small French community grew up around this quarter of St James’s and to support their spiritual needs a French Protestant church was built in Ryder Court.

Ryder Yard SW1
UG: Green Park
Bus: 9 14 19 22 38
From Green Park Station walk along the south side of Piccadilly towards Piccadilly Circus. Cross Arlington Street then turn right into St James’s Street. In about 55 yds turn left into Jermyn Street and at the first right turn into Bury Street. Ryder Yard is about 20 yds on the left.
Ryder Yard is a gated cul-de-sac in private ownership. It slots quite snugly in between the double fronted shop of art dealers Chris Beetles at numbers 8-10 Ryder Street. There is no access to the Yard and if there were, there would be no reason to enter.

The Yard is the creation of Captain Richard Ryder who also built the Street and Ryder Court towards St James’s Street.

This is a narrow Court and leads between the properties fronting on to Bury Street and St James’s Street. There are no great delights here, but the opportunity to savour your imagination of the past while wandering aimlessly through Captain Richard Ryder’s creations of Ryder Street, its Court and its Yard. The Captain was a carpenter by trade who happened to carry out the odd job for Charles II. There can be no doubt that he was a superb craftsman and the King recognised his talents by appointing him Master Carpenter to His Majesty. Although Ryder acquired this plot of land in the 1670’s through deceiving the parish council and stealing its property, the King turned a blind eye and it was on his nod and a wink that the captain was granted permission to build the street and its byways.

Towards the end of the 17th century a small French community grew up around this quarter of St James’s and to support their spiritual needs a French Protestant church was built in Ryder Court.

Ryder Yard SW1
UG: Green Park
Bus: 9 14 19 22 38
From Green Park Station walk along the south side of Piccadilly towards Piccadilly Circus. Cross Arlington Street then turn right into St James’s Street. In about 55 yds turn left into Jermyn Street and at the first right turn into Bury Street. Ryder Yard is about 20 yds on the left.
Ryder Yard is a gated cul-de-sac in private ownership. It slots quite snugly in between the double fronted shop of art dealers Chris Beetles at numbers 8-10 Ryder Street. There is no access to the Yard and if there were, there would be no reason to enter.

The Yard is the creation of Captain Richard Ryder who also built the Street and Ryder Court towards St James’s Street.


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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