Between Glasshouse Alley and Whitefriars Street is the site of the Whitefriars Glass Company. From 1710 until 1923 it continued to output the finest of lead crystal glassware to be found anywhere in the world. Until the mid-16th century the site had supported another labour of love; that of preaching. Since 1241 the Carmelite friars had occupied this vast site stretching westward as far as the Temple and who knows, they may still have been here had Henry VIII not turfed them out in 1538. For near on 200 years after their departure the area remained a den of crime and squalor brought about by the villains who took advantage of the honoured right of sanctuary enjoyed by the friars.
Eerie and almost devoid of natural daylight are the only words to describe this narrow alleyway. Walking down here, one cannot avoid the experience of confinement and a need to depart in haste lest a ruffian from the dark ages should still be lingering. Old stone flag paving beneath the feet and high rise old buildings tower on both sides. What a relief to emerge into Tudor Street and slink into the White Swan Tavern for a heart composing brandy. Of course, for the more stout hearted, Glasshouse Alley is not such a tormenting place at all; if the mind does not wander, the palpitations are kept in check. - Maybe, after all, a pint of ale will suffice.
Glass making in 17th century London was a growing industry and by 1700 there were no less than 30 factories turning out glass for various uses. Due to the noxious fumes produced in the manufacturing of glass the factory owners were required to build high chimneys to take away the fumes and so prevent ill health problems in local communities. Those owners who failed to comply were ordered to do so, or ran the risk of closure.
When a glass works was set up in this Yard about 1677 it probably happened amid shouts of protest from neighbouring residents that included the old gentlemen at Thomas Sutton's hospital, who shared the adjacent buildings with the Charterhouse School. However, the inscribed history of this square site lying between St John Street and Aldersgate Street begins much further back in time. In 1348 this prosperous city of near on 60,000 population was stricken by the most fatal epidemic - the Black Death. At its height, in the spring months of 1349, the disease was claiming lives at the rate of hundreds every day. Burial pits were opened in fields owned by St Bartholomew's Hospital and at Smithfield, where it is said that over 200 bodies were tipped daily. With this sort of volume the mass graves were quickly nearing capacity, so Sir Walter de Manny, a distinguished swordsman of Edward III, purchased this land, then known as Spital Croft, to be used as a supplementary burial ground. But Manny's plans for the site were not short term; he had long been nurturing the idea of founding a community of twelve priests and so, when the epidemic was over, he built here a chapel and adjoining domestic quarters. At the request of the Bishop of London, Michael de Northburgh, his plans were to take on new dimensions and by 1371 the entire site was covered with cloisters, cells and allotments. It was named the Priory of the Salutation of the Mother of God and its foundation was to welcome the Carthusian monks who for the previous 200 years had been making their way from their mother house at Grande Chartreuse in France. It is from this name that we get the corruption, Charterhouse.
After the dissolution of the monasteries, many of the buildings were pulled down and the site was granted to Edward North, afterwards Lord North, who built a mansion here. Throughout the remainder of the 16th century the estate passed through the hands of the Dukes of Northumberland and Norfolk, both of whom were executed, until it was bought by Thomas Sutton for £13,000 in 1611. Sutton had made a fortune from selling coal and on this site ploughed his reserves into the founding of a hospital for aged gentlemen and a free school for forty poor boys.
Out of Thomas Sutton's foundation, Charterhouse School quickly developed into one of the most distinguished public schools in the country. In 1872 it was transferred to Godalming in Surrey and 1875 the Charterhouse site became the temporary home of the Merchant Taylors' School. Excavations carried out prior to rebuilding, after devastating damage in 1941, revealed the lead coffin containing the remains of the priory founder Walter de Manny - he died in 1372 and was buried beneath the high altar. New buildings here are now the home of St Bartholomew's Medical School.
Depleted finances now allow for a maximum of forty old gentlemen who must be bachelors or widowers, over sixty years of age, and members of the Church of England. They occupy rooms, or almshouses, in Master's Court and Wash-house Court.
There is no access to the Charterhouse from Glasshouse Yard but admittance can be gained via the 16th century gatehouse in Rutland Place off the northeast corner of Charterhouse Square. Permission is however required from the Master and there is a charge.
Today's high walls of Glasshouse Yard no more contribute to a salubrious habitat than their predecessors did in those bygone days; it was not a pretty place then - but for the newness of the orange bricks of the five storey Orion building the visual impact has changed little. Once it was a typical yard with a narrow passage giving access to the wider working area, but now it has effectively been turned into a passage with the opening up of a second entrance onto the main road - providing for a hasty retreat should you feel the need.
At the junction with Oxford Street and Davies Street, near Bond Street Station, turn into South Moulton Street. Globe Yard is approx 135 yds on the left adjacent to number 56.
Globe Yard, in the midst the fashionable South Moulton Street shops, leads to the Globe Restaurant and Wine Bar. Following the Yard round to the right it emerges into Haunch of Venison Yard.
Today it is almost impossible to accept that South Moulton Street was once the scene of untold deprivation. Such was the destitution here that it was commonly know as Poverty Lane. The area forms part of the Grosvenor Estate and was developed in the early 18th century.
Gloucester Court is a relative newcomer to the City, created out of the eastern end of Great Tower Street which, until the end of the 19th century, used to continue to Tower Hill. In a programme of major alterations a section of Great Tower Street, from Rood Lane to Mark Lane, was widened, and at the same time, Byward Street was constructed to provided a more convenient access to Trinity Square. Thus the narrow east end of Great Tower Street was rendered redundant, pedestrianised, and called a court. It now contains touristy shops, and yes, as if you had not already guessed - a Macdonalds. At the western end, where the Court has more recently become Tower Place, there are a number of seats.
Along side the Court at its western end is the church of All Hallows, more correctly titled All Hallows Barking, with its dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints. Barking, because it was founded as a chapel for the nuns of Barking Convent. The date of its foundation is unknown but certainly there has been a church on this site since the 13th century and possibly much earlier. All Hallows is steeped in history, contributed to by its close proximity to the Tower. Victims of the unsavoury happenings on Tower Hill were often temporarily accommodated until a final resting place could be arranged. John Fisher, after remaining headless on Tower Hill for a whole day, was taken by order of the King to be buried at All Hallows. Humphrey, Duke of Monmouth after suffering at the hands of a drunken executioner found momentary repose there. Archbishop Laud and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey too had passing graves in the churchyard of All Hallows.
It narrowly escaped destruction in the Great Fire thanks to the quick thinking of Admiral Penn who sent workmen to blow up neighbouring houses, so creating a gap and starving the flames of fuel. However, the last war took its toll when the church was severely damaged by incendiary bombs.
John Quincy Adams who later was elected President of the United States was married here in 1797, so too was the infamous Judge Jeffries who in later years knelt at the mercy of the executioner only yards away on Tower Hill. William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, was baptised in the church in 1644.
In 1922 All Hallows was made the Guild Church of Toc H. The constantly burning 'Lamp of Maintenance', from which all Toc H lamps are lit, is kept here.
Right in the centre of the frontage to The Theatre Goers Club of Great Britain are two steps leading into this narrow gem of a court. Built about 1627 it really is a delightful experience - a treasure of old London, and as fresh today as when the mortar was still wet. On the south side of the Court, numbers one to eight have enchanting Georgian bowed windows painted black, and highly polished knockers and knobs fitted to each of the doors. There are also some fine examples of working gas lamps outside the stepped entrances to number 1, owned by C P Carpets of Kidderminster, and numbers five and eight. Note the clock above the first floor window over the archway leading into Bedfordbury.
Before the London Fire Brigade was established, it was up to the individual owners of property to insure against damage by fire. So that the fire fighting forces of the day could see that houses were insured, owners displayed identification marks on doors. One of these marks can be seen at Goodwin's Court.
Number 10 is Giovanni's Italian Restaurant, a delicate reminder that the properties here used to be shops.
The wide cul-de-sac forming Goslet Yard has greatly changed its image since the stock rooms of Alfred Goslet encompassed the entire area. Whether for the better or worse, it now contains the rooms of the Royal George public house from where the young blooded in their droves pour out into the open air. Loud music seems to be the order of the day - every day; the customers love it - and, for a different reason, so do the management.
Alfred Goslet started his own business as a supplier of plate glass in 1854 after serving for a number of years as a salesman for the Soho Glass Company. His shop used to be adjacent to the Yard on Charing Cross Road - an impressive frontage with tall arched windows.
When Richard Gough, a prosperous wool merchant, wandered down Fleet Street in the closing years of the 17th century, nipping in and out of the narrow passages, he took a shine to a small plot of land quite near to the Globe tavern. Within a year or two it was laid out to reflect his mind's eye plan - a quadrangle surrounded with elegant three storey houses. Very soon after the Square was built it became popular with the well-to-do fashionable element of society who were attracted by the secluded location. Most of the houses were pulled down at the beginning of the 20th century to make way for commercial premises and only number 17 remains.
There is one person and one person only who can justly be associated with Gough Square, and he is none other than that crotchety lexicographer, writer and wit, Samuel Johnson.
While still a relatively unknown figure in the City streets, Johnson moved into number 17 Gough Square in 1748 out of the need to be conveniently near to his printer, William Strahan of New Street. Dressed in his very rusty looking brown suit of clothes, ill drawn up black worstered stockings, unbuckled shoes and his old shrivelled un-powdered wig, the affluent neighbours must have wondered what on earth was coming upon them. It was during his time at Gough Square the Johnson achieved public notoriety; most of the happenings for which he is remembered, his character and personality, opinions and events, occurred after walking through the door of number 17.
He arrived clutching the contract for his Dictionary of the English Language, a work he hoped to bring to the 'verge of publication' within three years. When asked how he was going to complete such a mammoth task in so short a time, when the French Academy took forty years, he relied 'Sir, thus it is. This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of a Frenchman to an Englishman.' - it actually took him eight years.
On the top floor of the house, he and six helpers laboured - he pouring over books and writing definitions while the others were involved in cutting and pasting. For this tedious drudgery the six were collectively paid a princely twenty-three shillings per week (£1.15). Although he was never happy that they delivered value for money, they were company for the great orator and provided him with conversation when he needed a break. At last, in 1755, the final pages went to press and Boswell was there to record the event: 'When the messenger who carried the last sheet to Millar [Johnson's publisher] returned, Johnson asked him,"Well, what did he say?" - "Sir (answered the messenger), he said thank God, I have done with him." - "I am glad (replied Johnson with a smile), that he thanks God for any thing."' The dictionary appeared in two large folio volumes containing a total of almost 2300 pages of words and their definitions. Soon after its publication it was suggested to Johnson that perhaps he had not realised the enormity of the undertaking, to which he responded 'I knew very well what I was undertaking - and very well how to do it - and have done it very well.'
At Gough Square Johnson suffered the greatest set-back of his entire life - the death of his wife Elizabeth, 'Tetty', as he affectionately called her. After a sequence of illnesses her final day came on the 17th March 1752, and only then did he realise the full value she had contributed to his life. We hear very little of her while alive but after her death Johnson scarcely let a day go by without a mention in his diaries; until his own final hours she was always his 'poor dear Tetty'. Although he held the view that 'a second marriage is a triumph over experience', Johnson never remarried.
Over the steps leading up to the doorway of number 17 have passed some of the most famous characters in the history of literature. To this house, on many occasions, came the man from whom we have learnt virtually all we know of Samuel Johnson - his biographer, James Boswell. John Hawkins, who from another angle told of the life of Johnson, paid many a visit. Actor David Garrick, who accompanied Johnson in the move from Litchfield to London, made frequent calls, as did artist Sir Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, and Charles Burney. Johnson was constantly surrounded by people, many came purely for the scintillating conversation and others to quiz on this and that
Since Tetty's death, the house in Gough Square had become more and more unmanageable; it was fine while she was around busying herself with household chores but now he no longer needed a property of these proportions. His negro servant, Frank Barber, having temporarily left him for the high seas, Johnson decided to quit the Square and by March 1759 had taken up lodgings at Staple Inn.
During Johnson's time at number 17 the third floor had three windows looking down onto Gough Square but the middle one was blown out during the Second World War and the space was bricked up. Towards the end of the 19th century the ground floor was occupied by Waller and Bains, printers. The first floor was a reading club set up by a Mr Campbell in 1887 for the use of working boys and girls. In 1911 the house was purchased by Cecil Harmsworth to save it from demolition and presented it as a gift to be kept in trust for the nation - it is now restored in much the same character as the doctor left it. All that is missing is the man himself. It is now the home of the London Johnson Society, open to the public on Monday to Saturday throughout the year.
Buildings first occupied the site of Grange Court in the early 13th century when the Dominican Friars, commonly known as the Black Friars, built their substantial but temporary monastery on land stretching to the north-east. In 1279 the monks moved to a new site on the north bank of the Thames (Blackfriars) and Edward I granted the house, sundry buildings, and land to his buddy, Henry de Lacey, Earl of Lincoln. In his twenties Lacey had studied law and now as an established practitioner the King appointed him to set up a working committee with responsibility for investigating unscrupulous trends in the courts of law. When Lacey died in 1312 he left his mansion and all out-houses at the disposal of students of law for use as hostels.
Three or four of the out-houses stood close to the site of Grange Court and by the end of the 14th century these were being used as the bakery and grain store of the inn. By about 1700 it appears that the Society of Lincoln's Inn had no further use for this small cluster, they were abandoned and subsequently demolished. There seemed little else to do with the vacant site so they built a tavern and, reflecting the old wheat store - with slight corruption - named it the Grange. The house was demolished in 1852.
Grange Court is dominated on the west side by the grimy brick walls of the London School of Economics. On the east side, behind railings, are the brighter but characterless modern buildings of the Royal Courts of Justice, completed in 1968.
In 1774 Sir Thomas Edwardes was already in the process of developing the land he had some years previously acquired from Thomas Barrett. It consisted of a small but valuable plot adjoining the west side of the Cavendish-Harley estate which Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford, had commenced building up in 1717. Sir Thomas's plans were to construct a number of streets to link up with the fashionable, well-to-do complex around Cavendish Square and thereby attract the wealthy classes to provide him with a nice little earner.
His research, however, had faltered along the way and he overlooked one possible complication: Edward Stratford was sitting prettily on an intervening slender strip of land leased from the City of London Corporation in 1771. For four years the plot lay unused and there was no apparent urgency to present any plans until, that was, Stratford heard of his neighbours proposals. Before Edwardes could think of his next move the markers for Stratford Place were already being laid out. It seems too much of a coincidence to suppose that this vindictive action was already in the pipe-line for the resulting 'street' protrudes like a sore thumb, a cul-de-sac going nowhere, and at that time, leading to nothing. The effect on Thomas Edwardes's scheme can still be seen today in the partly completed Barrett Street which he intended to connect with Henrietta Place on the east side of Stratford Place. His expectations for the new development were instantly dashed; prospective tenants withdrew their interest, resulting in the dire aftermath of rapidly declining property values.
There was a small corner of the plot that still remained undeveloped but Edwardes was advised that his finances would be less depleted if he leased the land at a small price rather than enter into personal development expenditure. Enter Edward Gray, locally famed scavenger and open dustbin for anything going. He was not a builder himself, in fact he was not aligned with any recognised trade, donning the hat which happened to fit at the time. If ever there was a quick way to dispose of a near useless piece of land it was surely by offering it to Gray. The plot was snapped up on an agreed lease and without further ado work was commenced on Gray's Yard followed by Edward's Mews.
Beyond its large square opening the widened out Yard contains nothing of special interest - not that it ever has. Old Gray was not prone to adding those non-essential trimmings, and in keeping with his strictly adhered to style, his commemorative cul-de-sac is totally devoid of them. In contrast, the most striking feature around here is on the opposite side of the main street. During the summer months James Street takes on a truly Continental appearance decked with numerous tables, chairs and a forest of parasols outside the Christie Ristorante Italiano and other like establishments. If Gray's Yard is a disappointment, this scene is certainly not.
The outstanding feature of Great Swan Alley is the hall of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. Whilst not being of particularly ancient construction it does offer certain delights on which to feast the eye. It was designed by John Belcher and built in 1893 with an extension added in 1930. Of particular note is the frieze above the first floor windows which depicts a variety of crafts, trades, and professions presented in an expanse of over 100 figures continuing round the building into Moorgate Place.
Today, Great Swan Alley is approximately half its former length. It was curtailed in 1835 when work began on the construction of Moorgate. Before that time it linked Copthall Avenue with Coleman Street. This area of the City is an intriguing place with its many alleys and narrow streets, once so confined that during the Great Plague the local sexton was almost driven insane through the problems encountered when removing bodies. Until 1969 you could still take refreshment in the tavern which gave the Alley its name, the White Swan. It replaced a previous tavern on the site and in the process its name was changed to Ye Old Swans Nest.
Great Bell Alley, or purely Bell Alley, as it was originally named - from the Old Bell Inn that stood in Coleman Street during the 17th century - was one of many which were truncated when the construction of Moorgate was commenced in 1835. It used to continue along the line of Telegraph Street and mingle into the little maze of alleys and courts between Moorgate and Copthall Avenue. The western length which remains today was renamed Great Bell Alley while the severed length to the east retained its old name. When the General Post Office opened a branch of the telegraph office on the site in 1840 the name of the eastern length was changed to Telegraph Street.
Robert Bloomfield, author of The Farmers Boy, served his apprenticeship as a shoemaker and in later years set up his shop at number 14. The site is now covered by the Butler's Head public house, on the corner of Whalebone Court.
Until Holborn Viaduct Station caused its truncation, this was the eastern upper limit of Turnagain Lane. So called because it went down to the bank of the Fleet River where there was no bridge across, which meant that the only option was to turn round and come back. Holborn Viaduct Station was opened on the 1st March 1874 and now Green Arbour Court proceeds no further than its walls. The dedication of its name is not certain but it seems that the lane was once lined with shady trees, hence arbour (bower): an enclosure surrounded by foliage or trees.
Today that idyllic greenery is replaced by cold, drab concrete buildings. The Spear and Pond Hotel formerly stood at number 15 Old Bailey, on the corner of the Court. Now the site is occupied by the Friends Provident Insurance Company.
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