All three 'Botolph's' - Alley, Lane and Row - are memorials to St Botolph, Billingsgate which was destroyed by fire in 1666 and never rebuilt. Of the four City churches originally dedicated to St Botolph, three survive to this day; they are at Aldersgate, Aldgate and Bishopsgate. Whilst not occupying a place in the list of ten best known saints, it may be surprising to learn that the dedication of over seventy churches throughout England were inspired by St Botolph. He was a 7th century saint of Saxon parentage who became a mobile Benedictine monk and fulfilled his vocation by travelling around the country, preaching wherever he could draw a crowd. Thus he was thus adopted as the patron saint of travellers which prompted the architects of the time to appropriately site all four churches at ancient gates to the City.
Botolph Lane lies in a particularly ancient area of the City that once sported churches on almost every corner. St Botolph's, built in the mid 12th century and repaired in 1624, stood at the southern end of Botolph Lane, adjacent to the bridge gate of the first London Bridge. When the Great Fire saw it off, the parish was amalgamated with that of St George's, a small church rebuilt by Wren which stood opposite to Botolph Alley, on the west side of Botolph Lane. In 1895 the structure of St George's was reported to be in an unstable condition and it was closed, with demolition following ten years later.
At its western end the Alley begins as a covered passage and runs through to Lovat Lane where it emerges opposite the church of St Mary at Hill. Here, on the corner of the Alley, is a bracketed gas light now converted to electricity, a feature that is repeated at intervals along the Lane. The old cobblestones of Lovat Lane and central drainage channel assist in raising its status to one of the most enchanting lanes in the City, and whilst most of the old buildings have now gone, their replacements are in tasteful keeping with antiquity.
Bushes and a large old tree fill the quadrangle in the centre of the secluded churchyard which is overseen by a bronze statue of Captain John Smith, citizen and cordwainer (died 1631). There have been churches on this site since the 11th century and each one seems to have been plagued with disaster. In 1091 the wooden roof to the church along with its rafters was caught by storm force winds and hurled into the street below, demolishing whole rows of houses. In 1196 a man by the name of William Fitzosbert, a renowned public nuisance, confined himself in the steeple but attempts to evict him failed until someone had a crazy brainstorm to light fires on the floor below and smoke the man out. At a time when parts of the City were being burned down daily it is surprising that this dotty bunch saw no apparent danger in deliberately lighting a fire in a room of tinder-dry wood. Amazingly the event passed off with no major catastrophe but the effects of the fire are thought to have caused a weakness in the structure which led to more than twenty people being killed in 1271 when the tower collapsed. Another incident concerning St Mary's made front page headlines in 1284 when Lawrence Dubet, a City draper, sought sanctuary in the building after committing a murder. His friends, finding him there, saw to his execution so that it might appear that he had taken his own life. When the true story was revealed by a witness the church was considered unworthy of a place of worship and the doors and windows were bared with thorns, pending reconsecration. On Tuesday the 4th September 1666 Cheapside was ablaze from one end to the other; flames shot from the roof of St Mary's, fuelled by its rich woodwork, and when the church wardens examined it a day or two later, all they found was a shaky shell. Wren began rebuilding in 1671 and when he completed the work in 1680 the total cost by far exceeded that of any other rebuilt church. During the Second World War the church was gutted, but rebuilding to Wren's original plan was completed by Lawrence King in 1964.
In the early years, probably prior to the 15th century, the Churchyard of St Mary le Bow was ' by mean of incroachment and building of houses' so much reduced in size as to make it unusable for burials. In the knowledge of this predicament, one John Rotham, tailor of the City of London, came to the rescue with an offer of his garden, on the east side of the church 'to be a churchyard'. Someone obviously had it in for St Mary's, for less than one hundred years later that too was built upon 'and is a private man's house.' The present Churchyard exists from post 1666.
Prior to the 16th century Bow Lane, in name, did not exist, although there has been a thoroughfare here since at least the 13th century. It was made up from the combination of two old-time lanes going under the descriptive names of Hosier Lane and Cordwainers Street. The first of these, Hosier Lane, began on the south side of Watling Street and extended across the present Cannon Street, taking in the upper part of Garlick Hill. There were not many joys here; row upon row of restrictive hovels lined the street where women worked their fingers to the bone making up underclothes for a meagre pittance that would scarcely buy a crust of bread. On the north side of Watling Street, extending as far as Cheapside was Cordwainers' Street, where the leather workers turned out beautifully crafted boots and shoes for rather more than the price of a lonely crust.
About the time of the mid-16th century somebody discovered that there had been a church around the corner for the past 500 years and in a flurry of wisdom named the lane after it. But how does the church of St Mary, in Cheapside, come to take on the appendage of 'le Bow'? It all stems from the time when the surveyors were inspecting the site with proposals to build a new church in the early 11th century. As they wallowed knee deep in mud, the poor chaps must have been totally bewildered that anyone should contemplate building anything on such a sodden piece of land. In Roman times the grounds lying about the area of Bow Lane were notoriously riddled with underground streams erupting in springs all over the place. Well Court, on the east side of the Lane, is surviving evidence of a collection of water holes dug in those early days. As far as building a church was concerned, they devised that the only solution would be to erect the structure on a series of brick arches sunk into the marshy ground. The church which grew above these arches came to be known as St Mary de Arcubus (St Mary of the Arches) which, reflecting the curvature of the brick supports, eventually became 'of the Bows'.
Hosiery-ware was still being produced in Bow Lane at the beginning of the 20th century although the tiny hovels had long gone and the Lane was transformed into the shape we see to this day. In the old Cordwainers' Street the shoe-makers had worn out or packed away their lasts and moved to other parts of London. The shop on the north-east corner of Bow Lane and Watling Street, which once echoed with the pounding hammers of leather workers, had been taken over by Hopkins Butchers. Earlier this century it was retrieved by a company of leather workers and is now a retail outlet of Jones and Company, bootmakers since 1857.
Also on the corner of Bow Lane and the oldest street in London, Watling Street, is one of London's oldest pubs, Ye Old Watling, a superb tavern with a spacious bar and not a single table or chair in sight; it caters primarily for the business fraternity of the City. The Watling was badly damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 and Wren was supposed to have assisted in its rebuilding, presumably in an effort to keep his workers happy whilst they were employed in the construction of St Paul's Cathedral.
For want of a more appropriate word, Bow Lane is nice. The shops and cafes with their picturesque frontages have all survived the developers boot and the intimate atmosphere which was once a common feature of all London's narrow byways is retained - at least so far. A few minutes lingering down Bow Lane, with detours into Groveland Court and through Well Court, is a tranquil reward after trekking around the contrasting byways to the north of Cheapside or to the south of Cannon street.
Bowl Court has effectively been turned into a cul-de-sac; the southern access to the Court is now sealed off from Shoreditch High Street by a permanently closed gate. This is not an attractive place but the bleak high railway embankment wall along the length of the western side offers little scope for beautification. However, there are still the fragmented remains of the cobble stoned paving extending from adjoining Plough Yard.
The Court stands on the site of a bowling alley attached to the Plough Inn which used to occupy the site at the end of Plough Yard. It was demolished about the mid-18th century when both sites were built over with houses. Although of somewhat smaller proportions than the old inn, there is still a hostelry nearby under the peculiar combination sign of The Crown and Shuttle. It faces onto the High Street and with its back to the Court.
The brewing industry south of the Thames was already under way by the 16th century. An easily transported supply of hops from Kent and the convenience of water supplies from the Thames made it an ideal location. Another explanation for choosing the area south of London Bridge as the centre for brewing were the numerous inns of Southwark, all putting heavy demands on suppliers of ale. With poor quality roads it was a matter of necessity to have brewery and inn within easy reach. However, north of the Thames, inns and taverns were still brewing their own ale in sheds or outbuildings in their yards. If the supply ran out, they closed until a fresh supply was ready.
Developments in commercial brewing began to take off in 1730 when the landlord of a tavern on this site took on the services of a full time brewer and commenced brewing sufficient ale to satisfy the needs of several taverns in the Clerkenwell area. Before the days of horse-pulled drays the casks were rolled out of the Yard by hefty men, along the streets to their destinations. Since that first day the Yard has always kept an association with the brewing industry, the aroma of malting and mashing has never been too far away. Change as things will, it now seems that with the closing down of the Allied Brewery offices, the last occupier, the end of an era has finally arrived. The building is still there, looking in a very sorry state, its windows broken, its frontage adorned with scaffolding. But what of Brewhouse Yard? It used to be the car park for the last company and now lies forlorn and inaccessible behind sturdy iron gates... There is nothing more to say.
Short but fairly wide, Bride Court is a covered arcade of shops between New Bridge Street and Bride Lane. At the western end on the right, just before emerging into Bride Lane, is the antiquarian book shop of Clarke Hall. Facing this end of the Court is the church of St Bride, Fleet Street, built by Christopher Wren in 1703 to replace a previous building burnt down on the 4th September 1666. The present church is in fact the eighth to be built on the site, the first is believed to have been built here in the 6th century. Its dedication is actually to St Bridget, a 6th century Irish saint who is supposed to have hung her cloak on the tip of a sunbeam and so prevented the sun from setting until she removed it. However, she was unable to prevent lightening causing so much damage to the spire in 1764 that it had to be taken down. This spire was regarded as one of Wren's most noble achievements; a height of 234 feet which when rebuilt was shortened by eight feet. St Bride's was burnt out in an air raid in 1940 although the 'madrigal in stone' (W E Henley referring to the magnificent spire) was spared. Rebuilding to a design closely following that of Wren's was completed in 1957.
By rights this obscured cranny should be high on the list of treasures of London; its name should feature in every guide to London, in multifarious languages from English to Swahili. Of course, it never will, at least as long as it remains the forsaken hovel that presently greets us.
Its untapped fame was discovered after many years in oblivion in 1867 but the value of the find was only revealed in 1895 when Mr Hurrell engaged the services of Henry Lumley to sell his property at number 4. The successive generations of Hurrell's had lived in this house for near on 100 years, apparently without undertaking much in the way of maintenance. During his survey of the property Henry Lumley found himself descending a flight of cobwebby stone steps into what appeared to be a coal storage cellar, which over the years had become the repository for every kind of rubbish under the sun. Closer examination, and no doubt a modicum of research, revealed that this dingy hole was actually the sole surviving relic of the Carmelite Priory which occupied this site between 1241 and its dissolution in 1538.
It appears, from examination of ancient plans and records, that the room was not actually part of the monastic buildings themselves - it is too far south for that to be feasible - but there is a strong possibility that it formed the cellar to the Priors house. The twelve feet square crypt is constructed mainly of chalk blocks with a ribbed stone ceiling rising to a dome which lies a little more than two feet below the paving of the Court. In the west wall there still exists a small doorway, possibly the opening to a secret passage leading to a concealed exit outside the monastery grounds.
At the beginning of this century the proprietors of the News of the World purchased this site and built their offices fronting onto Bouverie Street with the rear overlooking Britton's Court. It might have been expected that the tiny vault would have been disregarded by a major newspaper company and swallowed up in the development. But quite surprisingly they acted in just the opposite way and restored it. At the same time they inserted stone markers into the marble tiling of their reception hall identifying the position of the wall of the north aisle in the Priory church. Until the Company vacated their Bouverie Street offices in 1986 to take up modern premises in Wapping, they would, by prior arrangement, gladly allow the public the view the old vault. These offices are currently vacant and the future of the room beneath Britton's Court hangs in the suspense of time - but surely it cannot be left to decay.
The Court first appeared in records in 1720 when it was listed as Britton's Alley, but 80 years later, at the turn of the century, it had become Britton's Court. In those days it seems to have been somewhat removed from its ruffian-infested neighbours and we are told that it was a neat alley with newly built houses. Mr Britton, we can assume, must have been either its builder or a resident.
From Covent Garden Station walk north east along Long Acre and turn right into Bow Street. Broad Court is on the left just by Bow Street Police Station.
On entering Broad Court it will imediately become apparent that this is not exactly an alley but can, in every sense of the word, only be described as wide. However, the Court as we see it today is a creation of the 20th century and a very much wider thoroughfare than the six or seven feet passage provided in 1747 when the Court was constructed. Nevertheless, it was by the standards of the day, a wide thoroughfare and certainly the broadest in this area.
The present Court, and that of its predecessor were constructed on the site of a previous thoroughfare known as Red Lion Court, dating from about 1600, which originally formed the yard of a tavern. It was a narrow, cramped passage and just prior to the time of the rebuilding in 1747, Red Lion Court was in a pretty shabby state, with rows of tightly packed tumbledown houses.
Today - shabby or tumbledown, it most certainly is not. Broad Court is now a refined place; an avenue of stone flag paving and an assortment of potted bushes set out along the length of the Court. Standing like proud old soldiers on sentry duty are three working gas standard gas lamps from which the glimmer of illumination expands over the Court on dark nights. Completing the scene is the Fielding Hotel, named in honour of the famous novelist (see below), with its frontage draped in foliage and bracketed gas lamp.
In a narrow tributary off the Court, still termed Broad Court, is the Sun Tavern, a pleasant little haunt with tables set out in the passage, just before the passage emerges through an archway into Long Acre.
Bow Street has had a long and famous association with the law and adjacent to Broad Court is Bow Street Police Station and Magistrates Court. It all started when Thomas de Veil, a magistrate for the County of Middlesex, bought a house and set up his administration at number 4 Bow Street. After various modifications to the property and the later purchase of number 3, a single room of the house was used for court proceedings. On the death of Thomas de Veil in 1747 novelist Henry Fielding was appointed as his successor. Irritated by the rising crime rate, Fielding was determined to see the establishment of an effective policing system for the streets of London. His idea was not readily welcomed by the citizens but once he had organised his team of 'thief takers', which became known as the Bow Street Runners, respect for the system was assured. Enthusiasm for his noble idea increased when Fielding launched a campaign for the victims of robbery to attend his office with a description, as accurate as possible, of the offenders, items stolen, and the circumstances surrounding the event. About this time Henry Fielding was joined at the magistrates office by his younger step-brother John who succeeded to the position of Principal Magistrate when Henry died in 1753. The formal constabulary was instigated by Sir Robert Peel, whose 1829 Act brought in the establishment of the Metropolitan Police Force and the 'Peelers' affectionately known as 'Bobbies'. Their first station, which immediately proved unsatisfactory, was in the Round House next to St Paul's church. The cramped conditions and lack of space for the confinement of prisoners resulted in their removal in 1832 to spacious new premises at the southern end of Bow Street. Forty eight years later they were on the move again, this time to their present location - adjacent to Broad Court.
Meanwhile the ever increasing numbers of law breakers brought to court by the newly establish 'Bobbies' proved too much for the small room at numbers 3 and 4 and in 1811 an extension was approved to the rear of the house. The Court remained at the same address until it moved to the present site, next to the Police Station, in 1881.
In pursuit of London, the explorer will come across a number of thoroughfares, by their name designated as 'broad'. Compared with the main roads of our own time they may appear little more than passages of slightly enlarged proportions, but in their own right and in their heyday they held the distinguished position of being wider than any other in the immediate locality. However, what we now see at Broad Yard is the result of restructuring to serve modern business; it is most definitely wide. Presently serving as a company car park the Yard opens out into what we today would truly conceive as a yard - a large open space.
According to 19th century writers Broad Yard was once a grubby old place; there was scarcely enough room to pass by the piles of rubbish thrown out by local residents. The squalid houses were a disgraceful sight even compared with the standards of the time and the inhabitants with their filthy habits were a fitting bunch for the neighbourhood.
About here would have been the three water mills after which Turnmill Street was named; they stood on the banks of the Fleet River. When the River became so narrow and eventually dried up the bed was used as a footpath and was subsequently made into a road, then called Trimillstrete (see Faulkner's Alley).
Do not expect to stroll along Broad Yard; it is private and gated.
Brooke's Court is one of those places you go to merely because it's there. It has no historic monuments and, by any stretch of the imagination, it is not charming. Strategically built modern brick council houses, conforming in dimensions to large boxes, make up part of the Court, Discretely tucked away in a recess is the Dorothy Niblett Day Centre of Elderly People. I say that there are no historic monuments, but here at the north eastern end of the Court is a side door to Holborn's shrine of Anglo Catholicism - the church of St Alban, Holborn.
The church was designed by William Butterfield and completed in 1862 although only the saddle-back tower now remains in its original form. Its nave and chancel were completely destroyed in World War II and were rebuilt to a more modern design. In Victorian times the whole of this area was a scene of squalor and deprivation, muggers and pickpockets were thick on the ground. Above a fish shop, on the site of the church was a cafe commonly known as the Thieves Kitchen, frequented by the scoundrels and law-breakers who roamed the vicinity. St Alban's too has had something of a chequered past; it was the talk of the town in the late 19th century when its priests were taken to court for declaring their undivided allegiance to Rome. Another of its Parish Priests, Father Mackonochie was subjected to a series of law suits lasting for sixteen years. He was charged with using the Roman rite for celebrating Holy Communion, excessive kneeling during the consecration, using incense, and having a profusion of candles about the altar. Grieved by constant criticisms from the press and rejected by his Bishop he left the presbytery one day, deeply depressed and disheartened, and never returned. He found refuge in his native Scotland and there, while out walking one day he was overcome by drifting snow. Days later a search party found him dead, his dogs still lying by his side. They brought him back to the church he loved, and laid him to rest in a chapel at the west end which was then dedicated to his name.
Brooke Street, near to here, runs through the site of the estate that Lord Brooke purchased in 1618. Brooke's Court formed an access to the gardens of the estate which occupied the site of Dorrington Street and Beauchamp Street, a few yards to the east. It also provided parking space for carriages belonging to the Lord and his guests.
Brooke Street also has had its fair share of tragedy. One such episode concerns Thomas Chatterton, the poet, who came to London expecting to make his fortune but fell victim to an unsympathetic publisher who rejected his work. Destitute and famished he remained without food for days on end. When a friend offered him a hot dinner his pride would not allow him to accept it. At his wits end he took himself into the attic of number 39 and there ended his life by poisoning.
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