Hanging Sword Alley (largely demolished)
UG: Blackfriars
Bus: 4 11 15 23 26 76 To Fleet Street/Whitefriar’s Street

Off the south side of Fleet Street, about 200 yds west of ludgate Circus, turn into Whitefriars Street. The opening to Hanging Sword Alley was a few yards down, on the left.

All endeavours to trace the whereabouts of this curiously named backwater will be to no avail; it was largely built over some years ago and virtually all that remains is a vague memory. The only lingering trace is a section now taken over by the gents toilet of the Harrow public house further down Whitefriars Street.

Even before the days of change, Hanging Sword Alley was not the easiest of places to locate; the blinking of a well pealed eye could have caused one to slip past, for its opening was never more than a crack in the wall. John Stow came upon it just after he had been meandering around Salisbury Court and merely says, ‘Then is Water Lane, running down, by the west side of a house called the Hanging Sword, to the Thames.’ He then cleared off and went searching for the Whitefriars church which of course by that time had been pulled down. The house to which Stow refers can certainly be traced back to the 1560's and the Alley was probably here long before that, when it was known as Ouldwood Alley and formed part of the Bishop of Salisbury's estate.

Hanging Sword Alley has not always enjoyed the most honourable of reputations. Setting aside the fact that Dickens did it no favours when he immortalised it in The Tale of Two Cities and nominated it as the home of Jerry Cruncher, it for many years featured a house noted for the most bloodthirsty wickedness, known as ‘Blood Bowl House’. In 1743 Captain George Morgan was returning home along Fleet Street in the early hours of the morning when he spotted a seemingly lost dear old lady. Being the gallant gentleman he was, he offered to escort her home. She not only took advantage of his kind offer, but led him round the corner to Blood Bowl House where he was set upon by a gang of thugs, robbed of all his belongings, and thrown out into the Alley almost dead.

As will be seen in other parts of this work, through the privilege of sanctuary granted by James I, the alleys and courts to the south side of Fleet Street were inhabited by rogues of every nature. On the other hand, it was the frequent resort of a more gentle set of characters; on account of the hall of the dissolved Whitefriars monastery having been turned into a playhouse, there were hoards of actors, poets, musicians, and people from all walks of life coming's and going's by day and night.

This area was also famed as the quarter of the masters of the art of fencing, which could have had something to do with naming of the Alley. It was here in the Alley that master of the art, Turner was savagely killed by two ruffians at the request of Lord Sanquhar who had accidentally lost his eye at the point of Turner's sword. His Lordship paid dearly for his deed and the two murderers were later caught and hanged near to Whitefriars Gate.


Herbal Hill EC1

UG: Farringdon
Bus: 63 221 259 to Clerkenwell Road
55 243 505 to Farringdon Road

From Farringdon Station turn onto Farringdon Road and walk north for about 300 yds then turn left into Clerkenwell Road. Cross to the north side of Clerkenwell Road and Herbal Hill is about 75 yds on the right.

‘Take ginger, galingale, cinnamon, nutmeg, grains of paradise, cloves bruised, fennel seed, caraway seeds, origanum, one ounce each. Next, take sage, wild margorum, pennyroyal, mint, red roses, thyme, pellitory, rosemary, wild thyme, camomile, lavender, one handful of each. Beat the spices small, bruise the herbs, put all into a limbeck with wine for twelve hours; then distil.’ If taken four times daily it was claimed to cure dropsy, prolong life to eternity and probably scare evil spirits out of their wits. In our day of sophisticated medical remedies it would take the courage of a hero to contemplate swallowing such a preparation, but until less than 100 years ago it was a typical remedy, at the finger tips of every dedicated housewife.

The secret of a successful mixture was to have a goodly number of ingredients; that is, as many as necessary to convince the patient that it was going to do him good. Thus, a cure for a simple illness, such as the common cold, might have included merely two or three varieties of herb whereas the most popular cure for the plague, known as ‘plague water’, included the combination of fifty nine varieties.

Herbs and spices have been the basis of every medicinal preparation ever since the cure of illness was first thought of. On the kitchen shelf of every household there was a mighty tome of recipes for the treatment of all kinds of ailment; the housewife diagnosed the problem and prescribed the treatment. Only when in immediate danger did anyone think of calling in a physician, or more commonly a herbalist. Treatments varied widely and no two herbalists held alike views on remedies; they were all independent in their thinking and everyone claimed to have ‘invented’ the cure for all ills.

The demand for herbs in a large city like London was such that some gardeners dedicated their entire grounds to the cultivation of herbs; these were the main suppliers to the herbalists, but every gardener choosing to set aside a plot for the growing of herbs would be sure to sell his yield. We know that in the 16th century there was an established garden on the site of Herbal Hill wherein a variety of herb plants were grown; whether this was an expanse entirely given over to the purpose, or a section of a multi purpose garden is not known. Also unknown is the owner or tender of the garden. There are various possibilities but three distinctly come out as clear contenders. Firstly, there was St Mary's Nunnery which occupied the site to the east of Farringdon Road; the nuns owned numerous acres of land but their boundary is unlikely to have extended further west than the line of the present main road. Then there was the garden of the Bishops of Ely, notable throughout London for its quality orchards and fine strawberry patch of which Shakespeare found necessity to mention in Richard III: ‘My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn I saw good strawberries in your garden there.’ The Bishop's garden was a sizeable estate but presumably the northern limit was on a line with that of the garden of Sir Christopher Hatton who gained his plot from the Ely estate with the help of Elizabeth I. This means that the Herbal Hill site would have been just outside the Bishop's garden.

Coming in very strongly is John Gerard, barber surgeon and native of Cheshire, who moved to London in 1577 and took up the position of head gardener to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Gerard bought a house in Holborn, about mid way between the two gardens he was commissioned to tend; one at Lord Burghley's mansion in the Strand and the other at Theobalds, to the north of the Ely estate. On these plots he continued the work he had been following for many years, that of refining the art of rearing and nurturing an unrivalled array of herbs, fruits and flowers. The high degree of his dedication inspired the writing of Herball, published in 1597, the first comprehensive catalogue of herbs, ever compiled. In 1602 Gerard's skill was recognised by Anne of Denmark and as a reward for his commitment to the subject he was granted the lease of a two acre plot of land on the site of the present King's College. All evidence does seem to suggest that it was the activities of John Gerard that led to the naming of Herbal Hill.

There are no herbs or flowers here now, not even a solitary ghost of Gerard's skilful creation desperately trying to poke its head between the cracked paving. Today, Herbal Hill gives the impression of not knowing where it is; it seems lost in its surroundings of not quite inner city, yet not quite anything else.


Honey Lane EC2

UG: Mansion house
Bus: 8 25 242 To St Mary le Bow

Leave Mansion House station via the Bow Lane exit. Walk north along Bow Ln past the church of St Mary Aldermary and cross Watling St. Continue to the end of Bow Lane and Honey Ln is directly opposite on the north side of Cheapside.

Many of the streets, alleys and courts in London still bear the names of commodities once made or sold there. You only need to walk the length of Cheapside to see a fair selection: Wood Street, Bread Street, Milk Street, Ironmonger Lane, and Honey Lane. This was the passageway leading to a market established in the 12th century where, along with other provision traders, honey producers congregated to sell their wares. It was a substantial and spacious market stretching from Milk Street in the west, where there was a supply of running water, to Ironmonger Lane on the east side. There were no fewer than 135 covered stalls for butchers alone, and presumably a similar number divided between the other traders. In the centre was a large square building raised from the ground on pillars and housing permanent facilities for those who could afford the higher rents. The market, however, was not free of its problems; there were complaints of butchers slaughtering sheep and pigs, and of farmers leaving the place in a filthy state. Fires were often lit there, causing damage to the stalls and destroying produce.

Honey Lane Market survived until 1835 when it was replaced by the City of London School. Early in the 20th century the school moved to Victoria Embankment and the site was built over with offices. The Lane has changed little during the intervening years, - covered at both ends and dominated by a seven storey stone faced building.

Also in Honey Lane, on the corner of Cheapside, was the 13th century church of Allhallows. It was burnt down on the 4th September 1666 and never rebuilt; the parish was afterwards amalgamated with St Mary le Bow.

John Stow seems to disregard any association with sweet tasting substances and suggests that the Lane is so called on account 'of often washing and sweeping, to keep it clean.' Truly, with the constant procession of farmers and sheep, it must have been a street cleaners nightmare, but it is also true that honey was sold there.


Hooper's Court SW3

UG: Knightsbridge
Bus: 9 14 19 22 30 52 73 74 137

Leave Knightsbridge Station via the Knightsbridge exit and turn left into Brompton Road. Hooper's Court is about 70 yds on the left.

The absolute straight forward directions to Hooper's Court are simply to follow the crowds making for Harrods, for this must be one of the most densely trampled routes in the whole of London. Meandering around the elegant shops and thoroughfares in this corner of Knightsbridge few would conceive that less than a century ago this neck of the woods was a miserable conglomeration of slums. Today it is a close rival to the highly respectable Bond Street.

It all started in 1765 when John Hooper, a horticulturist with the greenest fingers you ever saw, took a shine to a six acre plot of luscious fertile ground near to where the River Westbourne flowed beneath Knightsbridge. Everyone expected him to cultivate the land and reap the profits to swell his already healthy income, but old John was no idiot; he thought about his retirement, and built houses. When he no longer had the strength or the inclination to continue tending his gardens the rents from the houses provided a steady pension. After Hooper's death his widow, Sarah, continued to benefit from the wise investment.

Of course, nothing now remains of John Hooper's property, it has long gone. Further houses replaced them, but the westward spread of the West End meant that the area was not going to remain a secluded residential haven for too long. With the redevelopment of the adjoining estate, Brompton Road and its tributaries soon became littered with sparkling high class shops.


Hop Gardens

UG: Leicester Square
Bus: 24 29 176 To the Lumiere Cinema

From Leicester Square Station walk east along Cranbourne Street towards St Martin's Lane. At the junction cross the road and turn right into St Martin's Lane. Continue for about 100 yds passing Garrick Yard, New Row and Goodwin's Court.

In absolute contrast to its northern neighbours, Goodwin's court, Hop Gardens is a dreary passage with a Tarmaced paving and uninteresting brick walls. Down the centre of the walkway are three plain, blue painted electric standard lamps. There is but one property entrance in the Court, that of the Quakers Meeting House.

Hop Gardens seems to be the strangest of names for what we see here today; in no way does it give the vaguest of illustrations relating to its origin. There is no absolute evidence relating to the source of the name but one very likely probability is that it formed part of the convent garden of the Abbey of Westminster. The allotments, from which Covent Garden gets its name, covered the area bounded north to south by Long Acre and the Strand, and east to west by Drury Lane and St Martin's Lane. A wide variety of fruit and vegetables were grown in the gardens and what the monks did not use themselves, they sold. In 1335 the charge of the garden was put into the hands of the cellarer (also the brewer). Transportation was exceedingly difficult and slow in those days and it is quite feasible to conclude that for convenience, self sufficiency, and delight on those occasional days of feasting and merry-making, the monks grew their own hops.


Idol Lane EC3

UG: Monument
Bus: 15 25 To Great Tower Street

From Monument Station walk east along the south side of Eastcheap. Cross Fish Street Hill, Pudding Lane, Botolph Lane, Lovatt Lane, St Mary at Hill. Idol Lane is then about 35 yds on the right.

During the 16th century the name of this narrow cobbled lane was known as St Dunstan's Hill, being a ‘hairpin’ continuation of the neighbouring lane to the east. ‘they meeting on the south side of this church [St Dunstan's] and churchyard, do join in one, and running down to the Thames street, the same is called St Dunstan's hill’ By the mid 17th century the two lanes had parted their intimate relationship and the name appeared as Idle Lane. This may be a reflection on the social inclinations of those who dallied here, implying that the area was frequented by layabouts, content to idle their time away without either trade or other constructive occupation. On the other hand, this theory may be totally out of order and ‘Idle’ could after all be the result of a lack of standardisation in spelling which was common before Johnson published his dictionary in 1755. In the 17th century there was a common belief among protestants that the Mass was a practice of idolatry and this was after all the precinct of St Dunstan in the East which shadily supported a number of Roman Catholic organisations and where the Fraternity of Our Lady was founded fifteen years after the Reformation. It is also understood that in the years following, successive parish priests of St Dunstan's continued to say secret Masses at the Altar of Our Lady.

The church of St Dunstan in the East receives further mention in the entry for St Dunstan's Alley.


Lambeth Hill EC4

UG: Mansion House
Bus: 15 17 25 To Friday Street

From Mansion House Station (Queen Victoria Street south side) walk west along Queen Victoria Street. Lambeth Hill is about 300 yds on the left.

During modern redevelopment of this area, earlier in the century, the line of Lambeth Hill was changed beyond all recognition and comparison with that of previous years. As well as incorporating a minuscule part of the old Lambeth Hill, the line of the present ‘Hill’ follows the direction of two antique haunts that have now completely lost their identity. These were, Old Fish Street Hill, a narrow passage, which in the early years used to run down to the Thames side wharfs but for centuries now has survived only in its northern half. Also, lying from east to west was Brook's Yard, with its old stone archway giving access to the partly covered alley. Both of these ghosts of past days now make up the southern section of present Lambeth Hill which, running northwards, links up with the original line of (old) Lambeth Hill for the final yard or two into Queen Victoria Street - all very complicated.

There were once two churches active in the locality of Lambeth Hill, now there is less than one -a tower minus its nave. St Nicholas, Cole Abbey used to be in the northern reaches until it was segregated by Queen Victoria Street in 1871, but now retains its firm ground on the north side of the main street accompanied by all that remains of Old Fish Street Hill. On Upper Thames Street, adjacent to Lambeth Hill, is the tower of St Mary, Somerset, the sole surviving monument to yet another of Wren's almost forgotten churches. Wren was commissioned to build it in 1695 as a replacement for an earlier building destroyed in the Great Fire. Despite a viorous campaign by Ewan Christian, joint builder of the National Gallery, to retain the church, it was pulled down in 1868 but the tower was spared. It is plain in design, until the eyes are raised to meet with a surprise topping of pinnacles, obelisks and vases.

In 1964 a group of archaeologists were allowed a matter of days to excavate a site adjoining St Mary, Somerset, which was being prepared for the construction of a new car park. In the few hours available they were successful in uncovering the remains of a Roman public bath along with a section of a Roman retaining wall. However, the contractors, in their eagerness to push on with the work, were never very far away and insisted that the dig be curtailed.


Laurence Pountney Hill EC4

UG: Cannon Street
Bus: 15 17 25 521 To Cannon Street station

From Cannon Street ML Station walk east crossing Bush Lane. In about 25 yds turn right.

Laurence Pountney Hill is just one in a cluster of little lanes to the east of Cannon Street Station. They are all now dominated by the surrounding high-rise offices but were once packed with the houses of merchants working at trades represented by the nearby company halls of the Skinners, Joiners, and Tallow Chandlers.

The lane once went under two separate names with the northern part called Green Lettuce Lane but when Cannon Street was widened in 1854 the whole was brought under the one title of Laurence Pountney Hill. Sir John Poultney, after whom the lane is named, was a wealthy draper who was elected Lord Mayor of London on four occasions in the 1330's. In 1336 he bought a mansion named ‘Cold Harbrough’ at the southern end of the Hill and renamed it Poultney's Inn which he leased to Humfrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex, in 1348. Like many of his counterparts Sir John was not a miserly person - he had compassion for prisoners and in 1337 he donated money at the rate of four marks per year for the relief of those detained in Newgate. He supported the work of St Giles Hospital and each year gave them ten shillings (50p) towards the upkeep. His religious conviction led him to build the church of Allhallows-the-Less, which until 1666 stood on the south side of Thames Street. A church for the Carmelite friars in Coventry was built entirely at his expense, and to the church of St Lawrence, which stood in the adjacent lane to the east of here, he added a chapel and a college. In keeping with the common practice in those days of appending the name of the benefactor to the dedication, the church became known as St Lawrence Pountney. Sir John Poultney died in 1349, supposedly of the plague, but despite this his diseased body was laid to rest in old St Paul's Cathedral.

The church of St Lawrence Pountney, built about 1310, stood on the west side of narrow cobble stoned Laurence Pountney Lane. At the Reformation the church and college were seized by the Crown and remained in its keeping until Elizabeth I granted it to Edward Dorening, owner of the manor of East Geenwich. The church was destroyed in the Fire of 1666 and for years after the site remained a ruinous shambles. It was never rebuilt and the parish was incorporated into St Mary Abchurch. All that is now left in remembrance is a plaque and a small fragment of the graveyard.

Next, to the east of Laurence Pountney Lane, is Martin Lane. It was named after the church of St Martin Orgar, built about 1300 and burnt down in the Great Fire. Its parish was incorporated into St Clement's, Eastcheap and the church was never rebuilt although the churchyard remains, protected by iron railings.

St Martin's occupied the east side of the Lane and the congregation would have been familiar with the Old Wine Shades on the west side. It stands here today, unchanged in appearance, as it did in 1662 when it was built. The Fire of 1666 swept up this Lane on the 2nd of September and the flames must have looked in at the door but by some miraculous happening the tavern was left untouched. So close is this to Pudding Lane that the landlord might easily have bought his daily supply of pies from Thomas Farriner's bakehouse, where the Fire started. The flooring of the Old Wine Shades is of bare wooden boards and the lighting is dim, producing an atmosphere reminiscent of Dickensian times. City office workers make up the bulk of the clientele, filling the old place to capacity at lunch times and early evening. In keeping with 99 per cent of the City drinking houses, the Old Shades is closed at weekends.

Back in Lawrence Pountney Hill the narrow turning into Suffolk Lane leads off to the west where Poultney's Inn once stood. When Sir John Poultney leased the house to the Earl of Hereford and Essex he asked in return for one rose at mid summer. This small payment no doubt accounted for the subsequent name change to the Manor of the Rose. It seems to have remained in the same ownership until 1397 when the Manor fell into the hands of John Holland, Duke of Huntingdon and subsequently William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. At the pleasure of Henry VII, Suffolk was executed in 1450 after spending the last six years of his life in the Tower, and the house passed to his second son, John, Earl of Lincoln. In the following years the Manor passed through the ownership of the duke's of Buckingham, Devon, and Sussex until, in 1560, it was sold for 500 to the Merchant Taylors for use as their school. On the 2nd of September 1666 the Great Fire mercilessly swept round these little lanes and within hours of the blaze starting, the building was gutted and only one wall remained standing.

Gophir Lane, to the west, was the home of John Gofaire, a candle maker, in the mid 14th century. Then into Bush Lane, named from the ‘Bush’ tavern here in the mid 15th century and at some time called Great Bush Lane. The sign of the bush is perhaps the oldest of inn signs and was one of the most frequently encountered in the 15th and 16th centuries. It stemmed from the Roman god, Bacchus, installed as the god of wine and the sign was traditionally a bunch of ivy and vine leaves tied to a pole outside a wine sellers shop. The Bush, or Le Bussh as the sign read, has long since gone; it was followed in more recent years by the Bell, at number 29. Described as ‘a cosy little pub’, the Bell is one of the smallest in the City and as one would expect, it is swollen to extremes at lunch times and early evening.

Between Bush Lane and Dowgate Hill the way is completely blocked by Cannon Street Station, opened in 1866. Its 152,000 square feet cover a site once occupied by an assortment of timber houses and company halls. In those days a narrow lane branched from the east side of Dowgate Hill to cross the site of the station and join Cannon Street (then Candlewick Street). This was Turnwheele Lane, totally obliterated in the construction of the new rail terminus. However, one ancient alley survived the turmoil and although it is now private property its course still follows the same line, unhindered by the station, as it did over 500 years ago. But that is the story of Scott's Yard.

 

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