St John's Path EC1
UG: Farringdon
Bus: 55 153 243
From Farringdon Station turn into Turnmill Street by the station and in about 50 yds turn right into Benjamin Street. Take the first left into Britton Street and on the right pass Briset Street. St John's Path is about 40 yds on the right.

From time to time we come across a passage of extra ordinary antiquity, and St John's Path is certainly that. At one time it was known as St John's Passage and served as the path between St John's Rectory house, which stood adjacent to the passage, and the Priory Church in St John's Square. There is nothing here now to remind us of the past, even the old worn paving, hollowed by centuries of tramping feet, has been replaced by modern materials.

The Passage runs from Britton Street through an archway, to St John's Square where at number two is the Coach and Horses tavern. Hanging from the wall of this tavern there used to be a most unusual sign depicting a lioness attacking the leading horses of a mail coach, while a country yokel waiving a pitchfork, and a dog try to fight off the animal. The scene was set near to a pond and, in the background, a lonely inn. The event as portrayed in the sign actually happened and took place on the 20th October 1816. The mail coach was on its regular route between Exeter and London with intermediate stops along the way. At one of the usual calls, Winter's Low Hut, about seven miles from Salisbury, the driver was unloading the sacks when a stalking lioness pounced on the leading horse. Seeing this, a haymaker in a nearby field, followed by a large mastiff ran to ward off the ferocious beast, but it turned on the dog and gave chase. Against such a powerful animal the dog had no chance - it was killed and devoured within forty yards of the coach. It seems that the lioness had escaped from a travelling circus on its way to Salisbury Fair. She was eventually surrounded and caught in a barn with blood still dripping around her jowls.

Until 1935 Britton Street went under the name of Red Lion Street and an equally true story surrounds the tavern after which it was named. The Red Lion was a popular tavern of its day; the clientele were well catered for, there was always a welcome at the door and the landlord, a seemingly cheerful chap, was there to meet every demand. Unknown to the customers was the young fellow confined to the depths of the dingy cellar, forever at the beck-and-call of his uncle, the landlord. He was John Britton, assigned to the tavern under the guidance of his uncle, supposedly to learn the trade of an innkeeper. The lad suffered a most miserable existence, never allowed to see the light of day and fed from the scraps left on the plates of the charmed punters. His chores, which extended far beyond those of a cellar man, kept him from his damp mattress in a corner of the dingy hole, well after the tavern doors were closed. Poor health, brought on by years of confinement, was a constant problem for the boy.

One morning when his uncle called down the cellar to arouse the weary lad from his slumbers, there was no response - young John had done a bunk in the early hours and fled to unknown parts. He was eventually taken on as a clerk by a company of architects and developed an interest in the work of his professional colleagues, reading on the subject and taking instruction. In later years John Britton became a notable architect of his time; he wrote a number of books and often voiced his opinion on the structural creations of his counterparts. Speaking of churches, he once said, 'there have been scarcely any pre-eminent specimens of art in the edifices erected. There are few we can fully approve and admire, but many that provoke censure.' Britton died in 1857.

 

St Margaret's Court SE1
UG: London Bridge
Bus: 21 35 40 133 344 D1 P3 P11
From the southern end of London Bridge pass under the railway bridge into Borough High Street. Pass London Bridge Street, then St Thomas Street and on the right pass Southwark Street. St Margaret's Court is then about 90 yds on the right, opposite Queens Head Yard.

St Margaret's Court has only existed in name since 1837, just prior to the demolition of the Borough Comptor, which occupied the nearby site of St Margaret's Church. However, the Court has physically existed since at least the 15th century when it was known as Fishmongers' Alley, where the Company of Fishmongers' owned a row of storehouses which were let out to local traders. In the mid-16th century the Company disposed of the property and offered the freehold to sitting tenants.

The church of St Margaret was built during the 12th century and stood on the site nearby known as St Margaret's Hill, although John Stow refers to Market Hill 'where the leather is sold'. In 1540 the parish was amalgamated with St Mary Overy and the church and its graveyard were sold to the authorities for use as a prison 'called the Compter in Southwark... wherein the assizes and sessions be kept'. When a ferocious fire swept along the High Street in 1676 none of the inns along the street escaped unscathed and the Borough Comptor was burnt to the ground. In a matter of months the neighbouring inns were resurrected and once again flourishing, but the comptor remained a shambles - an eye-sore to the many travellers passing through. For nearly six years the site lay as an unattended plot before rebuilding began. The Comptor ceased to function in 1855 and the entire site was cleared shortly after.

The are no remaining memorials to St Margaret's or the Comptor other than the courts bearing their names, and neither of these places are endowed with lavish allocations of rare curios.

 

St Martin's Court WC2
UG: Leicester Square
Bus: 24 29 176
St Martin's Court is off the east side of Charing Cross Road about 40 yds south of Leicester Square Station.

St Martin's Court, Lane, Place, and Street were all named, as might be supposed, from the church of St Martin in the Fields. This notable London landmark was built originally in the 12th century as a chapel for monks working in the Abbey fields so that they would be spared the backwards and forwards trek to Westminster for the saying of daily offices. When Henry VIII, in his great fury began to abolish the monasteries in 1533 the Abbey was surrendered to the Crown along with the convent garden. This move rendered the chapel of St Martin's redundant and it was demolished. Only ten years later, a new church was built on the site and the northern half of the parish of St Margaret's Westminster was given over to St Martin's.

St Martin's Court, with its three rather plain gaslight standards in a line just off centre of the path, has two entrances leading from Charing Cross Road, one adjacent to the station and the other a few yards further south. This is the heart of theatre land, and in the Court are the walls of two theatres. Between the two entrances is Wyndhams Theatre and at the opposite end in St Martin's Lane is the Albery Theatre. The Brewmaster public house is on the corner just by the station. Further into the Court is the black painted Round Table Wine and Ale Bar. The Salisbury, a characterfully preserved Victorian pub, frequented by members of the acting profession, is on the corner of St Martins Lane. All the books on motoring and travel you could ever want are stocked by Motor Books at number 33.

 

St Michael's Alley EC3
UG: Bank
Bus: Any to the Bank
St Michael's Alley is off the south side of Cornhill, about 185 yds east of Bank station and about 35 yds east of Birchin Lane. The church of St Michael, Cornhill with its decorative arched door is on the corner.

Set in from the pavement and hidden from view between offices and the church of St Michael, Cornhill, St Michael's Alley is easily missed.

St Michael's was once the crowning glory of the City. Its tower, gleaming white and higher than any other in the City, could be seen for miles and served as a direction indicator for travellers. As modern developers have extended their creations forever skyward St Michael's is now but a dwarf encircled by a forest of concrete and glass.

Turning into St Michael's Alley, the eye will at once be drawn to the enormous lamp style sign suspended over the walkway just past the church. This is the red bricked Jamaica Wine House, one of London's most interesting drinking dens. It started out in 1652 as the Turk's Head, a common-or-garden tavern of its day serving wine and ale under the watchful eye of landlord Edwards. However, Mr Edwards didn't realise that he was setting the foundations of a little piece of history when he returned from a journey over seas loaded with coffee beans and accompanied by a surf named Pasqua Rosee (Easter Rose) who was adept in the art of soaking the beans to produce a palatable beverage. Setting Pasqua to work, Edwards invited his friends to call and sample the new drink. Within days the word spread from one side of the City to the other and soon Mr Edwards was tearing his hair out through interruptions from a constant flow of visitors. He was at his wits end when the bright lad suggested he might consider charging for the infusion. Brilliant idea - Edwards leapt in the air, instantly made enemies of all his friends, and the very next day the first coffee shop was born.

Today the Jamaica Wine House still serves fine coffee along with a range of beers and wines. It also has an excellent restaurant behind windows displaying account books of centuries past. A wander inside will reveal the magnificent oak panelled walls and the unusual browned panelling on the ceiling. Out in the narrow Alley is a plaque set into the wall recording for posterity the establishment of London's first coffee house. The building was restored after being badly scared in the 1748 fire of Cornhill.

It is believed that there was at one time in the region of 3000 coffee houses in London, catering for all different classes of clientele. They were the clubs of the 18th century but quite different to anything we have today. Every type of business was conducted within their walls and each coffee house had its own particular speciality. You would have gone to a coffee house to consult a medical practitioner, to arrange the copyright on your latest book, or to sell your stocks. If your interest was perhaps nothing more than lively conversation you might have gone to one of the many houses in Fleet Street where authors, journalists, actors, and general men of wit gathered. The numerous coffee houses located around Cornhill catered for financiers; stock brokers, bankers and the like - quite a different scene from those somewhat social establishments further west. In fact a stranger to London wishing to contact a certain gentleman would have had more success in enquiring which coffee house he frequented rather than asking where he lived.

Turning left around the Jamaica Wine House leads to a secluded garden at the rear of St Michael's Church. There is ample seating here among tastefully planted gardens - an ideal escapement.

 

St Mildred's Court EC2
UG: Bank
Bus: Any to the Bank
St Mildred's Court is off the north side of Poultry, a short distance from Bank Station and opposite Walbrook (by the Mansion House).

St Mildred's Court leads nowhere and today access is denied through the existence of massive sturdy iron gates. There is very little evidence on display here of past associations, but there are certainly deep-rooted memories of old times. Here, on the corner of the Court, where the impressive building of the Midland Bank now stands, was the medieval church of St Mildred, Poultry, built about 1200. The old church was pulled down and rebuilt in 1457 over a filled in section of the Walbrook, a stream that followed the course of St Mildred's Court, continuing across Poultry, and along the line of the street which now bears its name. John Stow tells us that the parish priest, John Saxton, donated 32 towards the rebuilding of the new choir 'which now standeth upon the course of Walbrooke.' Devastation struck on the 4th September 1666 as the Great Fire swept along Poultry leaving the church a burnt out shell. It was replaced to a design by Wren and on completion the parish of St Mary Colechurch, another victim of the fire, was amalgamated with that of St Mildred's. By 1870 St Mildred's was so poorly attended and with its financial position at rock bottom the parish was incorporated into St Olave, Jewry. Two years later the building was pulled down and the new offices of the Gresham Life Assurance Company were erected on the site. This building was little more than 50 years old when the Midland Bank took an avid interest in the site and such was their determination to acquire it that they met the total cost of rehousing the Company in new premises in Fleet Street.

Demolition of the Gresham offices and the construction of the new Bank offices took an amazing twelve years to complete - they were opened in 1938. Effigies at either end of the building of a boy tussling with a goose are a reminder of the poultry market which gave its name to the high street.

Between 1800 and 1809 Elizabeth Fry lived in a house which stood adjacent to the Court and a little further to the west, at number 31, used to be the bookseller's shop of Vernon and Hood. In a room over the shop Thomas Hood was born on the 23 May 1799.

 

St Olave's Court EC2
UG: Bank
Bus: 8 25 501
From Bank Station cross to the north side of Poultry. Walk past St Mildred's Court and Grocers Hall Court then turn right into Old Jewry. St Olave's Court is about 75 yds on the left.

In the maze of little alleys and lanes just to the north of the poulterer's stalls of the Cheapside market, the ironmongers clattered and banged in their tiny shops producing an untold selection of hardware items. Some specialised in the making of certain products like pots and pans, knives, or fire implements while others were general manufacturers, open to orders of every kind. The intense competition for business compelled them to work day and night - a slow worker could easily lose orders in favour of a man able to supply immediately. Among all this great activity was a parish church dedicated to St Olave. He was Olaf Haroldsson, king of Norway and through determination to unit his people in belief of the Christian faith the nation adopted him as their patron saint. Ousted from power by Danish king Canute II, Olave thereafter turned his affection to London in an effort to preserve the City from the Danes when Canute became king in London (1016). Olaf was highly favoured and in his honour the City dedicated three churches to his name.

St Olave, Jewry, or St Olave, Upwell as John Stow had seen it written, was built in the mid-12th century and stood along the northern line of the Court with the graveyard to the west abutting onto Ironmonger Lane. For the first few years the patronage of the church was with the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's but in 1171 it was handed over to the Prior of Butley Convent in Suffolk. However, the church in England was still under the jurisdiction of Rome but all that changed in 1533 when Henry VIII broke off allegiance to the Pope; the Convent of Butley was closed and the King seized the patronage of St Olave's for the Crown.

On the 4th September 1666 the whole of Ironmonger Lane and the numerous alleys around were swallowed in the flames of the Great Fire and St Olave's, along with its neighbour church, St Martin Pomeroy, was totally destroyed. Seven years later, the church was reopened for worship, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren to his magnificent architectural standard. However, the following years saw a gradual exodus from the expensive houses of the City and churches were more and more experiencing dwindling congregations; in 1888 St Olave's was declared redundant and all but the tower was demolished.

Today, St Olaves Court is as attractive as it ever was. The church tower, for some time incorporated into the vicarage of St Margaret, Lothbury, still remains, now in use as the offices of Sullivan and Cromwell. It stands at the end of a cobble stoned path through a pretty garden, laid out on the site of the old graveyard.

Adjacent to St Olave's Court, to the south, is the charming Frederick's Place, commemorating Sir John Frederick, Lord Mayor of London in 1661. Surely this must be the outstanding floral treasure of Cheapside. In the summer months it is a shear picture of delight with multicoloured blooms spraying forth from a proliferation of planting boxes at every window. It is almost like a village lane just before the 'Britain in Bloom' competition.

 

St Peter's Alley EC3
UG: Bank
Bus: 8 26 35 47 48 67 253 or any to the Bank
From Bank Station walk east along Cornhill, on the south side of the Royal Exchange. Pass Birchin Lane and continue past Ball Court and St Michael's Alley. St Peter's Alley is then about 55 yds on the right.

This is a pleasant secluded area offering an ideal retreat from the hustle and bustle of the streets beyond. Here stands the church of St Peter's, Cornhill which is now used as a Christian Aid study centre and is currently not open to the public. The first reference to a church on this site was in 1040, but its foundations are probably the most ancient in the City, for it seems that there has been a place of worship here since the year 179. 'the first archbishop of London, in the reign of Lucius, built the said church by the aid of Ciran, chief butler to king Lucius; and also that Eluanus, the second archbishop, built a library to the same adjoining, and converted many of the Druids, learned men in the Pagan law, to Christianity.' At the time of the Great Fire St Peter's was severely devastated but despite attempts to restore the fabric it had to be demolished and Sir Christopher Wren was brought in to raise a new church in 1680. Substantial restoration work took place in 1872. Of particular interest is the carved wooden rood screen, one of only two in a Wren church - the other, and perhaps finer example, is in St Margaret, Lothbury. The distinction of this example is that it was specifically built for St Peter's, whereas that in St Margaret's was transported from Allhallows, Thames Street. Mendelssohn is known to have played the organ here and the instrument on which he played is still installed, although the console is confined to the vestry. To the south of St Peter's is the elevated graveyard of which Dickens commented in Our Mutual Friend that the graves were 'conveniently and healthily elevated above the living'. It was in use as the main place of burial for the parish until 1850 and following closure it was laid out as a garden for public use.

 

St Stephen's Row EC4
UG: Bank
Bus: Any to Bank
Use the underpass to cross from Bank Station to Queen Victoria Street/Walbrook. Turn into Walbrook and St Stephen's Row is on the south side of the Mansion House.

With its old stone flag paving St Stephen's Row is crushed between the Mansion House on the north side and St Stephen's Church on the south. It winds round the rear of the Mansion House to link up with Mansion House Place.

Two previous churches have occupied the site, the first built about 1100 and the second in 1429. That which we see here today was completed in 1679 by Sir Christopher Wren and, second only to St Paul's, it is the master's magnum achievement. The exterior of the church is uninspiring being dominated at a distant view by the four-storey tower and spire, but inside, the prospect is of a different matter. On entering, the eye is immediately taken up to the painted dome supported on eight arches and slender Corinthian columns. This is a church of vast space filled with dazzling light streaming in from the lantern windows beneath the 43 feet diameter dome. The pulpit and reredos are fine examples of carved woodwork of Wren's time, but the organ casing was added in 1765. The font is of marble with an ornamental wooden cover composed of carved figures by William Newman. Amid controversial objections a hideous large round central altar was installed in 1986 - it does nothing to compliment this great piece of architecture. St Stephen's was damaged in World War II but is now fully restored.

 

Salisbury Court EC4
UG: Blackfriars
Bus: 4 11 15 23 26 45 63 76 172
From Ludgate Circus walk west along the south side of Fleet Street. Past Bride Lane and Bride Avenue. Salisbury Court is then on the left.

Leading from Fleet Street this Court formed the main driveway and access road to the London residence of the Bishop's of Salisbury. In 1564 the diocese of Salisbury decided to rid themselves of the ever increasing maintenance costs and sold the house to the Earl of Dorset who renamed it after his title.

Samuel Richardson, novelist, printer, and outer-circle acquaintance of Samuel Johnson, lived at a house in the north west corner of the Square. Through the success of his novels, Pamela and Clarissa, Richardson became a wealthy man and enjoyed a somewhat luxurious life. It was at this house, in 1753, that Johnson and William Hogarth first set eyes on each other. Hogarth had visited Richardson for discussion concerning the execution of one Dr Cameron. While in conversation he noticed with some alarm a strange figure peering out of the window, shaking his head and rolling about in a very peculiar manner. Hogarth instantly thought him to be a chronic lunatic put under the care of Richardson. It was not until a later date that he became aware that this was Johnson.

Undoubtedly the best known resident of Salisbury Court was Samuel Pepys. He was born in 1633 at a house on the east side, only a few yards from Fleet Street - a blue plaque now marks the spot. Much of what we know about London life in the 17th century is attributed to Pepys and without his meticulously kept diary we would not be so wise concerning the Great Plague and Great Fire of London.

 

In 1629 a disused barn and grain store at the far end of Salisbury Square was converted and opened as the Salisbury Playhouse. It remained until 1649 when it was pulled down and replaced in 1660 by a new theatre for the Duke's Company of Players. Unfortunately, only six years late the Great Fire devastated the area and reduced the building to ashes.

At number four Salisbury Court the first editions of the Sunday Times saw the light of day. It commenced publication here on the 20th October 1822. The premises are now occupied by Hughes Allan Management Services Ltd. Except for number one on the north side of Salisbury Square all of the old buildings have now been demolished and have gradually been replaced in major redevelopment. Salisbury Square House has succeeded the Salisbury Hotel, which used to occupy the south side of the Square

 

Salters' Hall Court EC4
UG: Cannon Street
Bus: 15 17 25 521
Off the north side of Cannon Street, about 70 yds east of Walbrook. Opposite Cannon Street main line station

Here was the home of London's first Mayor, Henry Fitz Ailwyn. It was later taken over by John de Vere, Earl of Oxford and after him it became the property of John Hart, son-in-law of Lord Burleigh. (see Oxford Court). Also in this Court, and providing its name, was the Hall of the Salters' Company.

Before the days of refrigerators and modern food additives, salt was the most widely used preservative of meat and particularly fish. For centuries all butchers and fishmongers have used it as a vital resource of their trade and the demand for the commodity made producers and suppliers a very wealthy branch of society. As science advanced the term 'salter' extended to those trades and professions where salt was ancillary to the main product.

It seems that the Company of Salters' was in existence as early as 1350 but it was some 200 years later before their first charter was granted by Elizabeth I in 1558. By this time they were already established in their Hall in Bread Street. In fact the first Hall, built about 1454 on land left by Thomas Beamond, a sheriff of London in 1422, had burnt down 1539 and its replacement was erected on the same site.

The move to Salters' Hall Court, which of course took the name at a later date, was in 1641 when the Company purchased Oxford House from John Hart. Twenty five years later the Salters' were without a home once more - on the 3rd September 1666, the second day of the Great Fire, Salters' Hall was gutted, leaving nothing more than a shell of the 'fair and large built house'. The losses sustained were enormous; their substantial library and treasured archives were largely reduced to a heap of ashes.

By 1672 the Company was back in residence and enjoyed a relatively trouble free passage through to 1821 when the building was declared unsafe and it was pulled down. In its place was erected their fifth Hall which would have been here today had it not been ruined by enemy action in 1941.

In 1687 part of the site of the old Oxford House was leased by the Company to a self-styled congregation of protestants. Here they built their chapel, to be known as 'Salters Hall Chapel', where their eloquent pastor, Mr Mayo, held enthralled congregations in stone-like posture for hours on end. It is said that at every meeting the crowds clambered up at the windows outside to grasp a snatch of his oration. Under successive leaders the congregation remained as solid and as numerous as ever, and the introduction of a 'Lord's Day evening sermon', in about 1695, saw numbers swelled to an unprecedented all time record. These sermons continued until 1821 when the Salters' turned their thoughts to rebuilding their Hall and gave the congregation notice to quit with almost immediate effect, whereupon the pastor and his sheep acquired premises in next door Oxford Court. Referring to this gathering, the author Tom Brown wrote in 1709: 'A man that keeps steady to one party, though he happens to be in the wrong, is still an honest man. He that goes to the Cathedral in the morning, and Salters' Hall in the afternoon, is a rascal by his own confession.' However, the atmosphere was unsatisfactory for their cause and eventual abandonment soon followed, leaving their chapel vacant for a bizarre band of religious fanatics who called themselves 'The Christian Evidence Society'. This bunch fell into financial difficulties, were forced to abandon the place, and in 1827 the Baptists moved in and remained until moving to Islington in 1868.

 

Sandy's Row EC2
UG: Liverpool Street
Bus: Any to Liverpool Street stn
Opposite Liverpool Street ML Station turn into Middlesex Street (signed Petticoat Lane Market). Keep to the left and branch off along Widegate Street. Sandy's Row crosses in about 50 yds.

Sandy's Row is just one small part of a meandering complex of narrow byways hidden away behind Bishopsgate. It has probably been here since the mid-17th century when most of this area was first laid out into streets, although its length has been severely curtailed from the original when it followed part of the line of present Middlesex Street (Petticoat Lane). There is no firm evidence of Sandy himself but it may reasonably be assumed that he was either a previous resident or the principle builder of houses here.

The Row presents itself in a very similar way to neighbouring Artillery Passage with its innumerable hanging signs. There are not so many signs here but the place is just as enchanting as it twists along its narrow way. Look out for the King's Stores public house - as though you could miss it. This is a deceivingly large pub with a name commemorating the royal warehouse that once occupied the site. However, story has it that one of the past regulars used to nightly take his pet pig and donkey for a walk and call in for a swift one while he left the two animals tied up outside. As a consequence frequent customers have for years referred to the house as the Hog and Donkey. The King's Stores is a convenient place to call on Sunday lunch times after browsing round Petticoat Lane Market.

 

Saracen's Head Yard EC3
UG: Aldgate
Bus: 40 67 100 253 D D11
From Aldgate Station cross to the south side of Aldgate High Street. Walk west and cross Minories then in about 35 yds turn left into Jewry Street. Saracen's Head Yard is the first turning on the right.

By the early 1600's the Aldgate district was already well populated with inns and taverns but the continuing demand for even more saw the opening of the Saracen's Head in about 1650. It faced on to Aldgate, opposite to the site of Holy Trinity Priory, which was prematurely dissolved just prior to the Reformation. As it appears today, Saracen's Head Yard still conveys something of its original intended purpose, even if everything here is now ultra-modern. Although considerably smaller than in the days when coaches rumbled over the cobble stones setting off for stops en-route to East Anglia, it still holds the dimensions worthy of a yard.

London's most successful inns were situated just inside or outside the City gates; ideal locations for catching weary travellers who needed to shack up for the night when the locks went on. This was one of the benefits enjoyed by the Saracen's Head - along with its thriving coach trade there was an almost unending stream of people seeking rooms. Strategically positioned just inside the Roman wall the Saracen's Head stood adjacent to the Aeld Gate or Old Gate on the busy road to Cambridge. The line of the wall at this point ran along the east side of Jewry Street where in the cellar of the Three Tuns public house the remains of a short length are still to be found.

Until about thirty years ago there was a pre-Fire house standing at number 7 Jewry Street. It was built in 1650 and displayed a plaque which proudly declared that it 'survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz of 1940-45'. Then the developers came along and promptly replaced it with Boundary House.

 

Savoy Court WC2
UG: Charing Cross
Bus: Any to Aldwych
From Charing Cross Station walk east along the south side of the Strand. Cross Villiers Street then in about 220 yds cross Adam Street. Savoy Court is then about 120 yds on the right.

Savoy Court is not really a court at all, but the grand entrance to the Savoy Theatre and the luxurious Savoy Hotel. By rights it should not have a place within these pages at all - only in the most far-reaching sense could it be regarded as a byway - but, it is designated a court, although I challenge anyone to find the sign which tells you so.

Both theatre and hotel were founded by Richard D'Oyly Carte of Savoy Operas fame. He built the theatre in 1881 to stage productions of his cherished Gilbert and Sullivan operas. A few years later he had the idea of building a hotel to match up to the lavish designs of modern American; it was originally a block facing south along the Thames but in 1904 the northern extension was added and Savoy Court was transformed into its forecourt.

'Savoy', however, is a name that had existed for centuries prior to D'Oyly Carte, and before the ancient ancestors of William Gilbert or Arthur Sullivan were even the faintest twinkle in their mother's eyes. It all started in 1245 when Peter, Count of Savoy and uncle to Queen Eleanor, built his mansion on the site of a house once owned by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Eleanor later bought the house, enlarged it, and made a present of it to her son Edmund, Earl of Lancaster. Through marriage the Palace of Savoy, as it was called, then passed into the hands of John of Gaunt who took up residence and lived a life of almost royal luxury, entertaining the noble and the famous. Geoffrey Chaucer was here from time to time, enjoying lavish hospitality and it was here that he was enticed by the pretty young girl who became his wife.

During the occupancy of John of Gaunt the palace was twice looted by unlawful gangs. First in 1376 when Gaunt became the subject of outrage resulting from his threat to haul the Bishop of London from his throne in St Paul's, out to the streets by the hair of his head. Five years on, in 1381, Wat Tyler's mob could not accept that 'they be greater lords than we be' and burnt it down. As the place was set alight some of the bunch ravaged the collection of precious plate, then descended to the wine cellars, got drunk, and thirty two of them were sealed in by falling masonry as the blaze quickly took hold. As this was taking place, others of the mob found barrels, which they assumed contained jewellery and valuable stones and tossed them into the flames. They never found out that these casks held the Gaunt stock of gunpowder.

A small part of the palace was rebuilt by Henry IV but most of the site lay in ruins until Henry VII donated resources to found a hospital for the relief of one hundred poor people. The hospital was overseen by a master and four priest assistants who each took turns to stand at the gate and invite all destitute wanderers to partake of food and drink. Any who were travelling between towns were offered a bed for the night and sent on their way by morning with adequate money to reach the next institute for the poor. But some took advantage of the good natured spirit of the Savoy Hospital staff and instead of being allowed to continue their work for the genuine needy the place became a resort of beggars, loiterers, vagabonds, and unvirtuous women. The unhappy end to the hospital came in 1702 when Queen Anne thought it a disgrace and closed it forever. Most of the building remaind standing until 1810 when it was all cleared away in preparation for the new approach road to Waterloo Bridge. Nothing now remains of the ancient hospital but for a flight of steps, known as Savoy Steps, to the east of the Hotel.

Above the glittering portico of the Savoy Hotel is one other reminder of those bygone days - the armoured figure of the Count of Savoy who was responsible for this courtly site.

 

Scott's Yard EC4
UG: Cannon Street
Bus: 15 to Cannon Street Station
11 17 23 26 76 149 521 to Mansion House Station
On the east side of Cannon Street ML Station walk down Bush Lane for about 30 yds and turn right. Scott's Yard is an archway beneath Cannon Street Station.

On the west side of Bush Lane, tunnelling beneath the platforms of Cannon Street Station is Scott's Yard, a passageway existing from at least the early 15th century. Of course, until the building of Cannon Street Station the passage was open to daylight and was lined on both sides with a range of tall warehouses for the storage of coffee, cotton and tobacco. According to Stow, it was once called Carter Lane,'of carts and car[t]men having stables there' but at the time he compiled his Survey of London he says that the name had changed to Chequer Lane, or Alley, 'of an inn called the Chequer'. The inn was here as early as 1480 when it was listed as a brewhouse and other buildings, but all were reduced to ashes in the Great Fire. In about 1670 the inn was once again established in the Yard and is described as having a passageway with a gate leading onto Dowgate Hill. It was apparently an insignificant inn used mainly by local traders who stabled their horses in the yard. By 1754 it had disappeared beyond all mention and was probably demolished in the 1730's.

Here also, on the north side of the Yard, stood the Plumbers Hall. Their old Hall had been completely destroyed in the Great Fire and the new site offered the opportunity to erect a spacious building of grand styling. It was pulled down in 1800 and replaced by a block of warehouses called Plumbers Buildings, named after the Company, who moved round the corner to a new site in Bush Lane. This, their third Hall, was demolished in 1865 when the railway company took possession of the land for the construction of Cannon Street Station. They are currently without a company hall

Since the most recent redevelopment of this locality Scott's Yard offers no right-of-way between Bush Lane and Dowgate Hill. It is privately owned and protected by a roller shutter.  

No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without the written permission of the author  

 

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