The alleyways and courtyards of London: T

Talbot Court EC3

It is many years since a ‘talbot’ was sighted stalking the bounds of Gracechurch Street. No doubt they were once a regular sight but that would have been a good few centuries ago, perhaps even before the time of the herb, or grass, market which lent itself to the naming of the street. This long extinct large breed of hound was usually white with long drooping ears and massive jaws; a favoured animal for tracking and hunting.

It could have been this beast that was responsible for the naming of the inn which occupied the site adjacent to Talbot Court until 1666 when the Great Fire swallowed it and left nothing but a heap of ashes. On the other hand it may have been a similar corruption suffered by Chaucer’s celebrated Tabard in Southwark, changed to the ‘Talbot’ after it was rebuilt in the early 17th century. There is no conclusive evidence to the origin of its name but the Talbot as it stood in Gracechurch Street was one of a whole array of inns and taverns, about ten in all, between here to Threadneedle Street.

Talbot Court is cobbled as it leaves Gracechurch Street through a modern square archway, turning southwards through 90° to link with Eastcheap. The Ship public house has now taken over dominance in the Court, a very popular resort on summery evenings when crowds of ale-swilling workers congregate and block the way.


Talbot Yard SE1

On this site, until 1875, stood the most famous of all inns, the Tabard. It was immortalised by Chaucer when he selected it as the starting place of the pilgrims in his celebrated Pilgrims Progress. He sets the seen at the Inn on the night before the pilgrimage:

‘Byfel that in that sesoun on a day,
In Southwark at the Tabard as I lay
Ready to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Canterbury, with ful devout courage,
At night was come into that hostelrie,
Wel nyne and twenty in a compainye.’
The Tabard as it stood in 1875 was not the inn that Chaucer knew of 1388; the original was destroyed by fire in 1628.

This once renowned inn first appeared on the scene in 1304 when the Abbot and Convent of Hythe became the owner of two houses purchased from William Latergareshall. On the site of these houses the Abbot built a dwelling house and a hostelry and erected the sign of the Tabard, a sleeveless leather coat. It was probably the first of the High Street inns and the forerunner of a multiplicity of inns, which became the trademark of Southwark.

We know from records kept by Chaucer that the proprietor at the time of the pilgrimage was Henry Bailly who was the representative for Southwark at the Westminster Parliament of 1376. Fire was always the greatest hazard to the wooden framed buildings of that time and in 1628 Chaucer’s inn was completely destroyed. Its replacement was a more sturdy structure built of brick and it appears in the records under the name of the Talbot, undoubtedly a mistranscription of Tabard. However, as sound as its structure might have been, fire was once again the cause of its ruination. On the 16th May 1676 a great fire swept along the entire length of Borough High Street destroying about 500 houses including the King’s Head, Queen’s Head, the George Inn and the White Hart. The Talbot was virtually burnt to the ground but was later rebuilt in its former design. Unlike the double tier gallery of the George Inn, the Talbot had a single overhanging gallery supported on pillars and with dormer windows. It continued to function as an inn until it was demolished in 1875.

Although the Talbot is long gone, the Yard where it stood is still wide enough to turn a coach round although the cobble stones, sunk into the earth to check the horses from slipping, have been replaced by Tarmac and the rooms of the Inn have been succeeded by offices. In the days of the Talbot the entrance would have been covered – as it still is, although a time conscious driver would be hard pressed to pass his heavily laden stage beneath today’s opening.


Tenison Court W1
UG: Piccadilly Circus
Bus: 3 6 12 13 15 23 53 88 94 139 159
From Piccadilly Circus continue along the east side of Regent Street towards Oxford Circus. Tenison Court is about 500 yds on the right, opposite New Burlington Street.
Tenison Court is not often included in guide books and is generally only known to those who need to use it, possibly as a cut-through between Regent Street and Kingly Street.

The Court, originally known as Chapel Place, leads to the little church of St Thomas, built by Thomas Tenison in 1702. Tenison was moved by the lack of attention paid to the educational needs of poor children and so built a school and chapel on a plot of land near to his house in this Court. In later years the school moved to a new location in Kennington and the chapel, which was formerly known as Archbishop Tenison’s Tabernacle – probably resulting from the fact that it is entombed by tall and tightly packed buildings – was rededicated to St Thomas. In 1903 the entrance to the chapel was removed from Regent Street and a replacement built in Tenison Court. As a religious centre, the church is now redundant.

The six storeys of Hamley’s, the largest toy shop in the world, is nearby, also the shops of Dickins and Jones, Liberty, Jaeger, and Mappin and Webb are only strides away.

Throughout the duration of writing these pages Tenison Court has been inaccessible through long-term building maintenance taking up part of Kingly Street and Regent Street.

Three Nun Court EC2
UG: Moorgate
Bus: 8 25 501 to the Guildhall
4 56 172 to Wood Street
From Moorgate Station turn onto Moorgate and walk south. Cross to the south side of London Wall and turn right. At the first left turn into Coleman Street then at the first right turn into Basinghall Avenue. Continue to the end and turn left into Basinghall Street. Three Nun Court is about 30 yds on the right.
Three Nun Court was formerly a narrow alley leading from Aldermanbury to the walkway known as Church Alley, around the church of St Michael, Bassishaw. First built in about 1190 the church stood on the west side of Basinghall Street. It was rebuilt during the 15th century and again by Wren in 1679 after complete destruction in the Great Fire of 1666. In 1893 the ever declining population of the inner City caused the Bishop of London to consider amalgamating the parish of St Michael’s with St Lawrence Jewry and St Mary Magdalene, Milk Street. The joining of the parishes took place in 1895 and two years later the demolition men made small work of the place. By the end of the century Bassishaw House was occupying the site of St Michael’s but it too came to a premature end when it was eliminated by Hitler’s men in 1940. In the rebuilding project a new block was erected housing the City of London exhibition Hall.

Until 1938 the unpretentious little Axe Tavern occupied an almost grace and favour spot in the Court. It had been here since the 16th century but was then a large inn enjoying pride of place as one of the major coaching termini in London. Coaches calling at all towns northward, some to the wayward distance of the cotton metropolis of Lancashire rumbled out of its bustling yard. Departing at nine o-clock in the morning, with a stop for lunch, and travelling through until seven in the evening the total journey would have taken four days to complete. At each terminus the coachman and his guard were scheduled for a one day rest before embarking on the return journey. With one service leaving on three days of the week this would necessitate the use of four coaches operating the route in order to maintain the timetable. When we take into consideration the periodic change of horses en route, stable men, and the various other hands involved, the cost of operating a single service must have been a tidy expenditure.

The Axe was forced to relinquish its standing along with most of the other coaching inns when the railway began to stretch out its feelers like spokes radiating from the central metropolis. It closed its doors for the final time in 1938 and was demolished in the following year.

But what of the ‘Three Nuns’? Well, they seem to be something of a mystery; there was certainly no religious house here and the existence of another inn is unlikely. St Michael’s probably holds the key but the obscurity of evidence makes it vague.

Three Kings Yard W1
UG: Bond Street
Bus: 6 7 10 12 13 15 23 73 94 98 133 137 139 159
From Bond Street Station turn into Davies Street, on the south side of Oxford Street just by the station. Pass, on the right, St Anselm’s Place and then cross Brook Street. Three Kings Yard is then about 55 yds on the right.
At number 53 Davies Street are the offices of Grosvenor Estates who own this Yard, and just about everything in it – with the exception of the telephone kiosk just inside the gateway, which is for public use. Although this is a private yard the public may freely enter and walk around at will, but in doing so it should be borne in mind that man’s best friend is as unwelcome as a wild boar – exercising the dog is strictly taboo. Estate office buildings are on both sides of this wide yard and at the far end an archway leads to a narrower cross section. The many parking bays are for the use of Estate employees only.

The sign of the Three King’s, reflecting the prominent Epiphany characters of Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar has been seen swinging above inns and taverns ever since the institution of ale drinking. It was a most appropriate name for an inn since their unusual and lengthy journey made the ‘three’, once worthy of adoption as the patron saints of travellers. The Three King’s Tavern, which stood adjacent to the Yard, in Davies Street, was pulled down in 1880.

Tilney Court EC1
UG: Old Street
Bus: 55 243 505
On the south side of Old Street, about 300 yds west of the station. Between Bunhill Row and Whitecross Street.
The rebuilding of Tripe Yard, as this inlet used to called, in 1771 was very much called for – it was one of the most disgusting places in London. Truly, it was a terrible scene with the remains of cattle piled high and left to rot in a corner while ‘butchers’ removed the stomachs and intestines from each new delivery. Even the men who toiled here were forced, for the good of their own well being, to take a breather every so often. If there had been a contest between this yard and a knackers yard to see who could produce the most foul stench, Tripe Yard would have won hands down.

In 1770 there came a blessing from heaven, or so it seemed to the long suffering locals; a row of wooden buildings in the Yard had become so decayed with age that the supporting timbers finally gave way. With the fall of one, the rest came toppling like a line of dominoes. An attempt was made by the tripe merchants to rebuild the Yard but an angry mob intervened and so prevented their progress. Tripe Yard was then acquired by a City property developer who transformed the Yard, building thirteen bright new houses where the row of sheds had previously stood. It is not known whether the houses were built to order but Anne Tilney was quickly on the scene and records of 1771 show that she owned all thirteen. The instant change of name to Tilney’s Court would naturally have been welcomed by all and sundry.

Since the days of Anne Tilney, her Court has declined in social acclaim and whilst it has not in any way turned full circle there are no ‘bright houses’ here today, but merely the walls of adjacent business premises and parking space for their vehicles. There is nothing pretty about Tilney Court although it still retains its near original shape in the way of a fairly narrow opening leading to a wider yard, as in the days of the tripe merchants.

Tilney Court is located in a district known as St Luke’s, after the derelict church which stands in Helmet Row, a little to the west, on the opposite side of Old Street. The tower of the church is still here in its entirety but the body of the church was pulled down earlier this century on account of sinking foundations. Once a noble gleaming white structure, its stone is now tainted with unsightly grime but the old oak doors, although showing signs of much repair work, are still in situ as sturdy as ever. For many years there was some doubt concerning the representation of the weather vane surmounting the obelisk crowning the tower of St Luke’s. It was thought to show a clear likeness to a parasitic bug, and for decades the church suffered the degradation of being known as ‘lousy St Luke’s’. The true representation only came to light when the vane was taken down for repair and found to be a dragon-like creature with forked tongue and flaming tail. ‘Lousy’, however, was too firmly embedded, and stuck.

Tisbury Court W1
UG: Piccadilly Circus
Bus: Any to Piccadilly Circus
Leave Piccadilly Circus via Shaftsbury Avenue and cross Gt Windmill Street then turn left into Rupert Street and in about 45 yds pass Winnett Street on the right. Tisbury Court is then about 20 yds on the right.
In keeping up with the Jones’s, as it were, and in no way wishing to be considered an outcast, Tisbury Court has adopted its own ample share of peep-shows. Gentlemen sidle casually from one end of the Court to the other as though completely unaware of these ‘entertainment’ houses, biding their time until the opportune moment when they slip unobtrusively – or so they think – through the doors. This to-and-fro, up-and-down pacing can seemingly go on for a duration; it is the typical hovering tactic of the uninitiated, whilst the hardened regular has no qualms and fidgitlessly makes his entrance. Frolicsome ‘revuers’, in this little quarter of Soho are an all too familiar sight – but really, it would not be the same without them.

For those who satisfy their lust for enjoyment in more conventional forms, there are not many pleasures in Tisbury Court. It is not an attractive place, but if there has to be a crowning glory it must surely be the neighbouring tower of St Anne Soho which is all that remains of this church. The body of the church was destroyed in the last World War and rebuilt by Wren in 1686 but the tower, designed by Samuel Pepys Cockerell, was added in 1803. The strange and somewhat unusual spire is supported on a structure of yellow brick with interspersed stone work. It was dedicated to St Anne as a tribute to the Princess Anne who was crowned Queen Anne in 1702

On the tower there is a memorial to William Hazlitt, the essayist, who died in 1830 at number 6 Frith Street. He was buried in the churchyard as the memorial reveals, ‘on the north side of this ground’. In the 1930’s part of the churchyard was claimed by the council to enable the widening of Wardour Street and the remaining part was laid out as a garden.

In 1854 a cholera epidemic swept through London, wiping out over 700 people living within 100 yards of Tisbury Court. At that time Canon Wade was the parish priest of St Anne’s and his curate was Henry Whitehead who spent days and nights attending the sick and dying. Both had memorials in the church but they were lost in the rubble.

Tokenhouse Yard EC2
UG: Bank
Bus: 8 11 15B 21 23 25 26 43 76 133 149 501 to Bank
From Bank Station cross to the Bank and walk east along Threadneedle Street. By the side of the Bank turn left into Bartholomew Lane and at the end turn left into Lothbury. Tokenhouse Yard is about 45 yds on the right.
Tokenhouse Yard is a curious place, although from its Lothbury entrance you would never imagine the delights in store behind its northern reaches. Beneath a row of buildings a beckoning ‘tunnel’, its walls painted plain white, appropriately sets the scene for the treat beyond. Instantly you approach this covered way the bustle of the wide City streets is gone and you are taken back a couple of centuries into a part of London which has remained largely unchanged and untainted by developers since Dr Johnson was around – well, almost. With every step the years regress and Tokenhouse Yard looks out into Telegraph Street, once a continuation of Great Bell Alley until Moorgate severed the link. To the right is Whalebone Court and then Copthall Buildings, which used to be connected to Throgmorton Street by Copthall Court, now demolished. Across from Tokenhouse Yard, really quite unexpected, is a sandwich bar, and on the corner of Whalebone Court is the Butler’s Head, a public house that should have a distinguishing character, but has not. Robert Bloomfield (1766-1823), author of ‘The Farmer’s Boy’, opened a shop on this site and followed his other calling as a shoemaker.

Tokenhouse Yard owes its existence to the ‘token house’ established on the site in about 1635. Tokens were the small change coins given to customers by traders prior to the introduction of halfpenny and farthing coins. Originally these metal discs were produced by the traders themselves and bore a trade sign or emblem for identification. The advantage to the small time business man was that these coins could only be exchanged for goods at the issuing shop – a kind of forerunner to modern day gift or book vouchers. This ensured that the trader would enjoy repeated, if not continual, custom from individuals. About 1635 Lord Maltravers had a bright idea for a scheme that was to make him a fortune; he applied to the King for permission to set up a private business for the sole issue and control of tokens. The King’s decision to endorse the proposal aroused fierce anger among the traders, claiming that the scheme would be a financial burden and they would lose business, but there was no reprieve, Maltravers went ahead. By a stroke of luck his father owned a house facing onto Lothbury; with the Poultry market virtually on the doorstep, and the prosperous traders of Cheapside only a cock stride away – nowhere could have been more convenient. Here he established the administration, charging high fees for his service. Tokens were officially withdrawn from circulation in 1672 on the introduction of low denominational coins of the realm.

Adjacent to Tokenhouse Yard is the church of St Margaret, Lothbury. The date of the first church on this site is unknown but the second building of 1140 remained until it was swallowed by flames in 1666. In 1690 Sir Christopher Wren completed the exquisite masterpiece we see here today, a moderate sized building of similar proportions to the earlier church. Much of the interior woodwork comes from other City churches demolished since the Great Fire; of particular note is the richly carved chancel screen rescued from All Hallows the Great. It has finely twisted slender pillars carrying a cornice on either side of the more robust entrance. As well as its own parish, St Margaret’s serves six other former parishes of churches previously demolished.

Took’s Court EC4
UG: Chancery Lane
Bus: 4 8 11 15 17 25 26 45 46 171A
From Chancery Lane Station (Holborn south side) walk east for about 80 yds and turn into Fernival Street. Continue for about 90 yds and turn right into the Court
The dozens of alley’s and court’s which were once scattered between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane would have had some great stories to tell. Sad though it is, all but two or three have been banished into obscurity and wiped away in a never ending effort to provide office space for the companies who clamber for prestigious addresses. From Funival Street, the Court continues westerly to the south-east corner of the Patent Office and then turns through 90° towards its southern end in Cursitor Street. Charles Dickens lodged in a house at number 15, now the offices of L Dawson and Company, Solicitors.

Took’s Court is believed to have been newly built about 1650 by Thomas Tooke, a prosperous City landowner. He is said to have taken over a great deal of the land immediately to the north and saturated it with tenements, alleys, and gardens, building himself a tidy estate. In 1685, presumably being in the evening of his life, he sold everything to a single buyer and sank into obscurity.

It was here, in 1814, that Sheridan spent an unpleasant spell in Sloman’s sponging house, a temporary prison for debtors, in the charge of the bailiff. He had just experienced the serious set back of being ousted from Parliament through the loss of his Stafford seat. Suffering from ill health and depression he rapidly fell into decline and when at his lowest ebb he was bailed out by a close friend. Sheridan had fond recollections of Chancery, the inns of court, and of the Temple, although on this occasion he had no inclination to call on his one time colleagues and palls. No doubt, in the confines of that dimly lit room in Took’s Court he recalled the exuberance with which he was admitted as a member of the Middle Temple on 6th April 1773. And how could he have failed to bring to mind the occasion of one week later when he was married to Miss Linley, a girl he had once fought two duels over to save her from the clutches of a rascal admirer. On his release he returned to his home at number 14 Savile Row but died two years late in a bedroom of number 17.

Just around the corner in Cursitor Street, then called Cursitor’s Alley, another member-to-be of the Middle Temple took shelter in a dingy house almost opposite to Sloman’s. He was John Scott, a promising young student at Oxford, who abandoned his studies and ran away with his lover, Bessie Surtees, daughter of a Newcastle banker. They married and found refuge in these rooms behind Chancery Lane where the enchantingly beautiful Bessie might have wished, but could have had no inclination, that her husband was soon to become Lord Eldon.

It was from this address that John and his wife took their lives into their hands and fled through the frenzied Gordon rioters to safety within the Temple. On the way, her hat was taken by one of the bunch, her shoes were lost and her dress was tugged so much that it hung in tatters. Just before they reached Middle Temple Lane her husband yelled ‘The scoundrels have got your hat, Bessie, but never mind, they have left you your hair.’

When on the verge of despair, brought on through lack of progress, John Scott presented himself as a parliamentary candidate and was elected as member for Weobly. In Pitt’s government he was appointed Attorney General and proved himself as a formidable opponent and powerful speaker. Horne Tooke, on the occasion of his acquittal declared that if he was ever brought to answer the charges of high treason again he would plead guilty rather than suffer the long speeches of Sir John Scott.

Returning to Took’s Court, the passage east along Cursitor Street leads through to a narrow way once known as Black Raven Passage but since 1810 called Greystoke Place. It crosses the site of the St Dunstan’s old burial ground, before emerging into Fetter Lane. Until earlier this century it was a curious little place with tiny cottages on either side fronted with iron railings.

I could continue for pages more revelling in this legal quarter, once richly endowed with nests of alleys. But the mystery has now almost completely disappeared and perhaps, before the tone becomes too sentimental, it is a good time to gently bow out.

Tower Court WC2
UG: Leicester Square
Bus: 14 19 24 29 38 55 176
From Leicester Square Station cross to the east side of Charing Cross Road and walk north crossing Cranbourn Street, Newport Street, and in about 100 yds turn right into Litchfield Street. At the end turn left but not immediately left. At the end of the street is Tower Street and Tower Court is directly opposite.
Tower Court is built on the southern part of a plot of land which used to be known as Cock and Pie Fields, named after a lonely inn called the Cock and Pie – presumably from the chefs speciality. There is evidence to suggest that a small number of buildings existed in the area as early as 1650 but the major development of the fields did not take place until 1693 when Thomas Neal, Master of the Mint and Groom Porter to Charles II obtained permission from the King to build houses, of which the first stage was apparently completed within two years. His major plan was to lay out and build along seven streets, all converging on a central spot – the junction known as Seven Dials, from a column bearing seven sun dials, one facing each of the streets.

At the same time as Neal was pushing on with his outrageous plan, the Tower tavern was beginning to take shape along a narrow road linking two of the main spokes, Monmouth Street and Earl Street (now Earlham Street). In the usual course of events the street became known as Tower Street and the yard constructed at the side of the tavern naturally took the name Tower Yard. By 1848 the tavern had seemingly outlived its usefulness and was demolished, leaving the yard, which was then renamed Tower Court.

Tower Court runs to the north and south of Tower Street but by far the prettier section is that to the north where some attempt has been made to beautify the place with potted shrubbery. Along here are two simple, unadorned electric standard lamps set amidst a paving of old stone slabs. The southern half is for the autograph seekers, for here are the dominating high walls and stage doors of the Ambassador and St Martins theatres, built in 1913 and 1916 respectively.

Tower Royal EC4
UG: Cannon St/Mansion House
Bus: 11 15 17 23 26 76 172
From Cannon Street UG Station (Cannon Street north side), cross Walbrook and continue west passing Budge Row and in about 30 yds turn right.
It happened by pure chance that a building called ‘Royal’ was in later years taken over by King’s and Queen’s; a peculiar circumstance you might think, but that is how it was.

As with most intriguing curiosities, if we delve more deeply into the evidence, the mystery is soon made plain, and in the case of Tower Royal the ‘mystery’ becomes quite clear at the very outset. In the reign of Henry III, when Candlewick Street (Cannon Street) extended no further west than Walbrook, the wine merchants importing wine from the vineyards of La Reole, near Bordeaux, located their activities in the area around College Hill. As business increased and the profits accumulated they built a large and tall mansion on the site east of College Hill. From the dimensions of its structure the mansion took on the name of ‘The Tower’ and by 1272 the district was commonly known as La Reole. We can now clearly identify the connecting thread, – Reole to Royal; a simple mis-spelling or misinterpretation of the spoken word which had already taken place some 300 years before John Stow trudged the street of London in 1598 collecting material for his survey.

The Tower was some mighty building – large even by today’s standards; its eastern wall was in line with Dowgate Hill, northwards it extended as far as the upper limits of our court (Tower Royal), and on the south side an open yard and gate giving access to Cloak Lane. It was the main centre of business and social activity for the merchants; from here they traded their wares, taking orders, distributing stock from the enormous warehouses, and here in the upper rooms of the Tower, most of them would have lived.

When the merchants moved out, King Edward III took charge of the place and in 1331 he granted it to Queen Phillippa to serve as her personal wardrobe for as long as she should live. Phillippa is thought to have carried out extensive renovation to the building and some historians believe that she actually rebuilt it. In 1370, following the Queen’s death, the mansion was leased at a rent of £20 per year to the College of St Stephen’s, Westminster but by a quirk of the lease, the King retained the right to use it and re-lease it as he thought fitting. When Wat Tyler and his 100,000 men stormed on London in 1381 and terrorised the inhabitants of the Tower (of London) Richard II’s mother fled to Tower Royal for safety. She was joined by the King three days later on his return from Smithfield where he had witnessed Tylers death at the dagger of Sir William Walworth, the Mayor. Richard seems to have lingered here for some time; Stow says he was still at the ‘Royall’ in 1386 when he received the exiled Leon VI, King of Armenia, and granted him ‘a charter of a thousand pounds by year during his life’.

During the reign of Henry VIII the building became uninhabitable and was turned into stables for the King’s horses until it was divided into tenements. All came to an abrupt end in 1666, leaving this 20 yards of cul-de-sac, as the only memorial.

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

Tweezer’s Alley WC2

A passage of little visual interest. It is bounded on the south side with high buildings faced with white glazed tiles. The origin of its curious name is unknown.


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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