'Then had ye in the high street a fair bridge called Strand bridge, and under it a lane or way down to the landing-place on the bank of Thames.' If John Stow had toddled this way a few years earlier he would not have found a lane passing beneath Strand Bridge, but a stream of sparkling water. However, by 1598 its course had been stopped up and diverted to supplement the supply at Clement's Well, so that the old channel running down to the Thames had dried out.
Until quite recently Strand Lane used to be a pleasant old walkway which lead from Temple Place on a steep gradient towards the Strand. Unfortunately both ends are now blocked off and the only access is via Surrey Steps. At the northern limit over a covered inaccessible passage is the early 19th century watch house of St Clement Danes, with its attractive overhanging wrought-iron balcony, from where it was the duty of the watchman to look out for body stealers in the graveyard. Also featured in this Lane is what is commonly known as the Roman Bath. Belief once owned that the bath was in the home of a Roman officer but now generally accepted that it is not of the Roman period at all but possibly Tudor. About 2000 gallons per day are fed to the 15ft brick built bath via a natural spring. It was in this bath, Dickens tells us, that David Copperfield regularly plunged himself into the ice cold water prior to setting out on his perambulations. The entrance is situated on the east side of the lane below the watch house balcony. A high wall hiding King's College on the west side was once the only unsightly feature but now the whole lane has taken on a drab appearance.
In the triangle bounded by Bishopsgate, Bevis Marks, and Leadenhall Street there is a whole treasure of fascinating passages. About the tiniest of these is Sugar Bakers Court, a narrow passage branching from Creechurch Lane between numbers 22 and 24. It is now a dismal place with brick paving and a single post at the entrance bearing the City of London coat of arms. This one time busy little cul-de-sac used to reek with the sweet smelling essence of the bakers craft, but now it reeks of nothing.
The Court stands on part of the site of the cloisters of Holy Trinity Priory, prematurely dissolved and given into the hands of Henry VIII in 1532. In the same year the King gave the Priory and its church to Sir Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor, who then offered the church to the parishioners, but the Prior had not been a respected man and fearful of having any association with the place, they refused it. Even when Audley offered the stone free of charge to any man that would take it down, there were no volunteers. He then hired labourers and took it down himself, replacing it with buildings annexed to the useful priory and lived there until his death in 1544.
Lord Audley's only daughter married Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and the priory, house and grounds then fell into his hands, being named the Duke's Place. He lived here in grand style, trooping around the City attended by a cavalry of 100 mounted men until he met his end on Tower Hill in 1572. The Duke of Suffolk, descendent of Thomas Howard, afterwards sold the whole estate to the City of London who flattened the site and built the street layout that is still evident today.
The whole of this triangle miraculously escaped the Fire of 1666 and so, when most of the City was suffering the aftermath, it was a much sought after area. About this time a gathering of sugar bakers appear to have set up business here and were well established by 1677 when the place first appeared as Sugar Bakers Yard. It was not until 1912 that it was changed to Court.
A sugar baker was the equivalent of a present day confectioner - a baker of sugary things. There is a story that tells of an 18th century sugar baker who once moved his business from this Court (or Yard) to a convenient location in Ludgate Hill. From there he could look out of his window and model wedding cakes on the spire of St Bride's church.
In bygone days, before sugar was granulated it was sold in conical shaped blocks. The procedure for preparing these blocks included boiling up the syrup extracted from the cane, pouring it into moulds and leaving the substance to solidify. These 'loaves' were fine for the manufacturing confectioners but a little cumbersome for household purposes, and so for convenience and ease of use those 'loaves' destined for the retail trade were usually broken into smaller size pieces; the end product was then called loaf sugar. One such refinery for handling the process occupied the site of Sugar Loaf Court; in fact there were many sugar refineries dotted about the little lanes to the south of Cannon Street. The Crown and Sugar Loaf public house, on the corner of the Court, possibly stands on the site of the refinery.
Almost directly across the road in Garlick Hill is the church of St James, Garlickhythe, so called of the garlick sellers who inhabited the area. The first church on this site dates back to 1170 and although there is little record of its early history we do know that restoration was commenced in 1326 by Richard de Rothing, a sheriff of London in that year. Unfortunately he died before the work was completed and was laid to rest in the old church. Some years later his son, John, acknowledged the unfinished task and made provision in his will for the precise purpose of completing repairs to the north side and reconstructing the bell tower.
St James's was totally destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt by Wren between 1676 and 1683 incorporating a steeple reminiscent of the one at St Stephen, Walbrook. Further devastation caused by an unexploded bomb in World War II resulted in the church being closed, awaiting renovation, for nearly ten years. But that was not the end of St James's problems. At 7.30 on the morning of the 20th September 1991 a 100-foot construction crane working on a ten storey office development collapsed and crashed through the roof causing unbelievable damage. A £75,000 crystal chandelier was released from its suspension chains and sent hurtling to the floor; many of the old pews, put in at the time of Wren's rebuilding, were ruined by the gigantic slicing boom. Damage was considered to be comparable to that caused by the 1941 bomb and the estimated cost of repairs to be in excess of one million pounds. Had the collapse occurred only an hour later numerous people could have been injured but miraculously the only casualty was the crane operator who managed to jump clear at the last minute. This disaster occurred only months after the completion of a £250,000 restoration programme. Repairs are now complete and the area of damage can only be detected by the newness of the brickwork.
Behind a cupboard door in the vestibule is the mummified body of a man, thought to be a notable medieval dignitary. His body was placed there after being retrieved from beneath the altar.
The impressive square white stone facia at the entrance to the Court surrounds the short covered way, which terminates in a cul-de-sac. Here are the offices of Donaldsons, Property Managers, and sundry other private companies.
Before the mid-19th century this was a far more socially attractive Court than it is today. Until that time one of the little pleasures of Cornhill stood here - the Sun tavern, with the Court running along side. Of course, in those days Cornhill was no different than any other main thoroughfare in the City and featured as complete a selection of taverns as could be found anywhere. But the Sun was different, it was the locals haunt, used by those who lived in the byways of Cornhill, while most of the other taverns were the wheeling and dealing venues for traders and the like. Here a man could retire from his daily toil and relax with his chums in comforts probably much butter than his own home. Very much like the out-of-town local of today.
Sun Street, of which this Passage was a tributary, originally ran west from Bishopsgate to link up with Finsbury Square. The Street was partly obliterated by the building of Liverpool Street Station in 1874 and now only the western section survives, terminating on the west side of the old Broad Street Station. For 200 years the Sun tavern which gave its name to the Street stood on Bishopsgate, about opposite to Bushfield Street but that was pulled down prior to commencement of work on the Liverpool Street Station. During this programme of redevelopment, Sun Street Passage was considerably widened into the proportions likened to a main thoroughfare. Lying along side the main line station the Passage now incorporates the stops for buses terminating at, and starting from, Liverpool Street.
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.
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:
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.
See also George Inn Yard
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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