During the late 16th century, when pints of wine flowed freely in the nearby Cardinals Hat and Pope's Head taverns, John Cowper bought a house on this site. It was not that he had a drink problem and needed to be within a stride of the local hostelry, but for the necessity to have a base close to the Council debating chamber. He was an Alderman of the City of London but is more notably remembered for the long line of celebrated descendants he headed. John Cowper died in 1609 and was buried in nearby St Michael's Cornhill where there are a number of memorials to the Cowper family. Excavations carried out earlier this century uncovered some large vaults, believed to have been the cellars beneath his house.
Most prominent among John cowper's descendants was poet, William Cowper, born to the family in 1731. He was educated at Westminster School and went on to study law under Mr Chapman, an eminent solicitor of Lincoln's Inn. With his friend Edward Thurlow, later Lord Chancellor, William, at the age of twenty-three, was called to the Bar in 1754. Cowper at first took up chambers in Pump Court, Middle Temple, but in 1759 he purchased a suite of rooms in the Inner Temple for £250. Shortly after this time, while reading a newspaper article in Dick's Coffee House, Hare Court, he had a brain storm and was moved to instantly retire to his lodging and hang himself, but failed. A contributing factor to his unstable frame of mind was the anxiety caused by an imminent examination to test his suitability for the post of Clerk of the journals of the House of Lords, which he had set his sights on. But on top of this he was suffering immense torment of mind brought on by his failing love affair with his cousin, Theodora. After a further bungled attempt to hang himself from a beam over a doorway in his chambers he bought a bottle of laudanum but short of courage to take it he went to throw himself into the river. Again his attempt was thwarted at the sight of a man observing his movements from the bank. The following day, at his lowest ebb, he made a more determined effort by placing a garter round his neck and fixing it to a hook in the ceiling; if the garter had not broken, William Cowper would not have lived to tell the tale.
The Court today is surrounded by high buildings covered in white glazed tiles. It is interesting if only for its past associations.
Cox's Court used to be a pretty place but since the developers got their hands on it the scenery has been brought into line with modern-day thinking. Mr Cox, who lived here at the end of the 17th century, would not have been pleased.
However, across the road, on the west side of Little Britain, is a building that has remained unchanged in design for over 250 years, - St Bartholomew's Hospital. It was established on the site by Rahere, a court jester turned monk, in 1123 (see Cloth Court) and although it escaped damage by the Great Fire in 1666 the structure became unstable and rebuilding took place between 1730 and 1759. As the hospital was directly associated with the Augustinian Priory of St Bartholomew, Henry VIII saw it as an intolerable establishment and along with the monasteries he closed it down in 1533. Its loss was seen as a disaster, the effects felt mainly by the poor people of London, so the Lord Mayor of the time made a plea to the King and out of the goodness of his heart Henry granted a new charter. To commemorate this noble move a statue was erected over the main gateway in 1702.
Just inside the gateway is the medieval church of St Bartholomew the Less, originally built to serve as the Hospital chapel but afterwards it became a parish church for the convenience of those living in the vicinity of the hospital grounds. The interior of the little church received some restyling at the hands of George Dance in 1789 but only 34 years later it was largely rebuilt by Thomas Hardwick. Preserved from the original church are memorials to William Markeley (1439); Sir Ralph Winwood, Secretary of State to James I; Anne Bodley, wife of Thomas Bodley and founder of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Inigo Jones was baptised in the church in 1573.
At the east end of Cox's Court a right turn leads into the narrow passage known as Cross Keys Square. On the left, where the passage emerges into Little Britain, is the White Horse public house with its name depicted in tiles on both sides of the passage entrance. The house was built about 1890 and the exterior reflects the period but unfortunately the interior has suffered from the treatment brought about by modernist thinking.
When John Stow trundled down the Strand clutching his parchment and quill he stopped at the Eleanor Cross, squinted at the panorama, shook his head, and recalled the good old days, which inspired him to write: 'Then was there an hospital of St Marie Rouncivall by Charing Cross (a cell to the priory and covent of Rouncivall in Navar, in Pampelion diocese)... Near unto this hospital was a hermitage a chapel of St Katherine, over against Charing Cross'.
This hermitage and chapel had been formed about 1255 but in his determination to rid England of Papal authority nothing escaped the searching eye of Henry VIII and it lost out after the Reformation. For many years the site remained bare until Joseph Craig took a shine to it in 1674 and built a substantial house here together with a courtyard and carriage driveway. His family is believed to have lived there until the early 1800's when one of his descendants left it in his will to the Earl of Harrington who, without further ado, applied his name to the house.
In 1748 this Court was the home of Teresa Constantia Phillips. She was a truly scandalous character who had just published a rather spiky version her memoirs. So outrageous were the contents of her publication that the police were provoked into seeing her answer to charges in court. It is said that early one morning no fewer than 13 constables surrounded her house in an effort to bring about an arrest. Mrs Phillips took advantage of the situation and from the bedroom window promoted her book to the officers and assembled spectators. It appears that she managed to resist arrest and later fled the country to take up residence in foreign parts.
For many years the house and adjoining building has been occupied by the Telephone Exchange. On the west side the rear of the Old Shades, a characterful but expensive public house, looks onto the Court. There is metre parking in the courtyard although the probability of finding a vacant slot in daylight hours is almost nil. Walkers of Whitehall Wine and Ale Bars are at the entrance to the Court.
The Alley is built on land acquired in 1609 by Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury. Cecil also held the title of Viscount Cranbourn which accounts for the name of the Street and Alley. But Cranbourn Alley of today is really a token replacement for the original alley which in later years became a street. Before the developers got to work in 1845 Robert Cecil's alley was a passageway measuring a mere six feet across at its widest section; when they had finished their transformation it measured fifty feet across and was renamed Cranbourn Street.
Here at Gamble's silversmith shop William Hogarth learnt the art of engraving on silver and copper plate, an apprenticeship which in later life brought him pleasure and a fortune. It was in Cranbourn Alley that Jane Austen came upon the little haberdashers shop and treated herself to a length of 'sattin ribbon with propre perl edge'.
Food of every nature is available in this area of London and there are two choices adjacent to Cranbourn Alley itself. On the corner of Bear Street there is a twenty-four hour cafe and on the corner of Cranbourn Street there is a fish and chip shop.
See also Cecil Court.
Leaving Fleet Street through a narrow covered opening, Crane Court quickly takes on wider dimensions to reveal the grace of rehabilitated antiquity. It was in rooms at number nine that the first edition of the magazine 'Punch' was published and 'The Illustrated London News' started its long life at number ten. Under the presidency of Isaac Newton, the Royal Society established their headquarters at the far end of the Court in 1710. They stayed for seventy years and sold the property for £1000 in 1780.
In the late 17th century a house lying adjacent to Crane Court named the Lock and Key was the home of the eccentrically named 'If-God-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Had-Been-Damned' Barbon, commonly known to his fraternity as 'Praisegod' or 'Damned'. He was a Member of Parliament, leatherseller, renowned anti-Royalist, mob-raiser and considered by some to be a general pain-in-the-neck. His son Nicholas, who was of similar character to his father, went to study medicine at Leyden in Holland, staying for only four months. However, this short session was apparently long enough, for he emerged as a Doctor of Medicine and on his return to England became an Honorary Fellow of the College of Surgeons. He probably never actually entered the profession as a practising doctor, realising the rewards of more lucrative openings in life, and set himself up as a property developer. In about 1680 he rebuilt his fathers fire-gutted house, moving its site from the Fleet Street end to the far end of the court, in the position of numbers five and six. This was by necessity rather than choice for the widening of Fleet Street had incorporated the original site. Since the fire had forced his removal, the old man moved into rented property, first in Fetter Lane and then in Shoe Lane, while Nicholas stayed on in Crane Court living in stately luxury. The cheery barrister, Roger North probably knew Nicholas Barbon as well as anyone and gives this account in his autobiography: 'He was the inventor of this new method of building by casting of ground into streets and small houses, and to augment their number with as little front as possible, and selling the ground to workmen by so much per foot front and what he could not sell, build himself'.
Unfortunately, numbers five and six fell victim to a fire in 1971 and were badly damaged; they were the earliest known survivors of post-Fire houses in London and the oldest examples of Nicholas Barbon's work.
Nicholas Barbon was a man of considerable persuasive powers and managed to secure contracts for the building of a number of structures in London. The trouble was, he took on too many contracts at one time, ran out of money and couldn't pay his men. His suppliers were often forced to accept houses in payment for materials. Towards the end of his life he was elected Member of Parliament for Bramber in Sussex and served through two sessions. He died in 1698 owing a considerable amount of money. There are few examples of his work still remaining in London but one of his structures can be seen in the Middle Temple; a building with seven bays in New Court.
Although major redevelopment has taken place in this area over recent years, Crane Court in modern day London still radiates a pleasing character; brightly painted doors adorned with shiny knockers, knobs and name-plates are plentifully in evidence. There are now new buildings on the west side and revitalised frontages to the old buildings on east which are occupied mainly by associates of the legal profession. When the scaffolding was removed, the old stone paving flags, by this time cracked and uneven, were relayed and given a new lease of life.
At its northern end the walkway rises in two or three steps as it turns through 90° to emerge beneath modern buildings in Fetter Lane.
A passage that rose from the dust through the property inheritance of William, Earl Craven. He is best remembered for his noble deeds towards the victims of the 1665 Great Plague when he assisted in the arrangements for daily street cleaning and removal of household filth. He made a tour of the pest-houses, advising the authorities that their size was inadequate to meet the demands for isolation. When there was no response to his recommendations he acquired a piece of land, now occupied by Carnaby Street in Soho, and built an annex to the overcrowded lazaretto (an isolation hospital) already established there, commenting that this pest-house contains 'but 90 persons which now serve for St Martins, St Clements, St Pauls Covent Garden and St Mary Savoy'. At the end of the epidemic Craven donated this annex to the local people 'in case it should please God that the plague brake out againe.'
Legend has it that sly old William was secretly married to Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia and daughter of James I, with whom he had been carrying on a love affair for most of his life. By the time he got round to proposing, Charles II was on the throne and it seems that when Earl Craven knocked on the King's door to ask his consent to the marriage it was promptly slammed in his face. The bargaining then started and the King drove a hard one, consenting to the marriage between his aunt and William Craven upon payment of £50,000. In 1673 Craven applied for permission to partly rebuild Drury House; he proposed to make vast improvements and install all the labour saving devices which he stated would be both 'ornamental and useful'. As for these ornamental adornments there is no comment but its usefulness was assured, for his only intention for the refurbished house was to install his wife there.
Turning right from Craven Street will bring you to Northumberland Street and on the corner, the popular Sherlock Holmes public house. The pub was previously called the Northumberland Arms, mentioned in the Hound of the Baskervilles, but in 1957 it took on the 'Holmes' theme and changed its name. Now a licensed museum of the fictional detective, it is absolutely filled with relics of the Arthur Conan Doyle character. The collection was originally gathered together for an exhibition in New York and afterwards brought here by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.
Turning left (north-east) from Craven Street leads in a very short distance to the arches burrowing beneath the platforms of Charing Cross Station and on towards Villiers Street. Extensive redevelopment has recently taken place in the surrounding area and some of the latter year's character of this old passage has disappeared. Until a few years ago a fine old pub, The Ship and Shovel, reputed to date back to the 16th century, occupied the site of number two. Its name is said to originate from the workers employed in constructing Victoria Embankment who used to leave their shovels outside the pub. A flight of steps take the passage beneath the station where, until very recently, coins of all periods and realms could be purchased from the market which occupied the site here. The Players Theatre has now returned to this 'tunnel' after temporarily being re-sited at the Duchess Theatre. Near to the Theatre, in a line of newly opened lock-up's, is a shop that will provide easy ways of tanning your skin - at a price. Close to the Villiers Street end is the newly established Champagne Charlie's pub. This transformation from dingy to very acceptable has been tastefully accomplished and thankfully, the developers have thought fit to retain the old stone flag paving and the rough brick walls.
The Passage emerges into Villiers Street under a psychedelic clock, part of the recently erected modern complex.
Every time you hear a curious and seemingly unbelievable tale, don't dismiss it with a jocular laugh and conclude that the story teller is completely devoid of his marbles; there is a remote chance that the words of wisdom may carry some measure of the truth. The story behind Crawford Passage is one such tale; it goes something like this:
One day when Charles II found himself at a loose end, bored and pacing up and down his palace room, it struck him that he hadn't been fishing for a long time. Without further ado he gathered up his tackle and set out to see if Nell Gwynne wanted to join him. Knocking on her door in Maypole Alley, a tiny turning off Drury Lane, he already had his invitation rehearsed: 'Come dear Nell, accompany me in a flutter of sport in the long grass down by the river'. She could have failed to grasp his intention but flatly turned him down that morning because she was washing her hair on account of the residue of an exploding orange getting stuck in it. A trifle dispirited he wished the wench good day and set out on his lonesome. In the gentle breeze of that summery morning the Thames-side was likely to be busy and he couldn't be bothered with the hordes clambering for autographs so the King made off for the more secluded upper reaches of the River Fleet. He'd heard from one of his chums that the fish are more active in the shade, so settling himself down under a tree, not far from St John's Priory, he cast his line and waited for the first bite. Enjoyment? he was bubbling over; the fish were almost jumping into his lap and the big one would have been nice for dinner but in the interest of conservancy he threw it back. As the morning went by, a rumbling stomach was telling him it was time for lunch, but low-and-behold, - he'd forgotten to pack his sandwiches. 'Stuck out here, miles from anywhere; where on earth is a guy going to get a bite to eat?' Then he remembered, his old dominoes partner had told him of a nice little inn not far away. He would have pulled out his 'Good Pub Guide' but it was not due to be published for the next 300 years.
At the inn the landlord welcomed the King with open arms. 'Well stone the crows, look who it is' he yelled across the bar; 'what can I get y'.' The King ordered a pint of best and, spying a jar of pickled eggs, he called for half a dozen. Having not sold a pickled egg in the past three weeks, the landlord threw his entire stock in at half price, and the King scoffed the lot. So honoured was he by the King's visit that in a fit of jocularity he skipped outside, ripped down the sign board and changed the name to the Pickled Egg. Naturally, the lane came to be known likewise. However, the next landlord, John Crawford, could not stand the sight of pickled eggs and he renamed the inn Crawford's Tavern (in Crawford('s) Passage).
A likely story you might think - believe it or not.
Crawford Passage may have been a pleasant place to live in those days. Certainly the Pickled Egg tavern seemed a welcoming enough place but things have definitely changed since then. It is now a grimy place and perhaps the last venue you would choose to enjoy a quiet drink on a summer evening, but whatever your inclination don't come with expectations, - the tavern is long gone.
There was one prominent Crosby who had associations with Southwark, and was Lord Mayor of London in 1770. He was Brass Crosby, sent to the Tower for his firm refusal to sentence a printer for the unlawful deed of publishing Parliamentary debates. As fortune had it, the people rebuffed the harsh treatment and held rallies in support of Crosby and his stand. On his release from the Tower a jubilant procession accompanied him to the Mansion House and the result of the showdown was that debates in Parliament have been open to lawful publication ever since.
A memorial to Brass Crosby and his daring deed used to stand in the middle of the road at St George's Circus, it was erected there in 1771 and removed to the Imperial War Museum in 1907. Around three faces of the base are recorded the distance to Fleet Street, London Bridge and Westminster City Hall although these measurements, being recorded from St George's Circus, are now slightly out of true.
In Crosby Court there is nothing but offices, although these are given a certain charm and elegance by foliage draped from balconies on the three sides of the cul-de-sac.
Approaching the Court, Crosby Row has some picturesque houses with fine shop fronts.
The route from Bond Street Station via Gees Court, St Christopher's Place, Jason Court, and Marylebone Lane makes the rather disappointing culmination all worth while. This little tour, for that is what it is, takes in two of the prettiest byways in the whole of London's West End; they are Gees Court and St Christopher's Place. Historic, twisting Marylebone Lane, once the footpath along side the old Tyburn brook, is an antiquity not to be missed.
But then we come to Cross Keys Close, a wide cobble stoned cul-de-sac which takes its name from the builder, Philip Keys. The whole of this corner of Marylebone was of his creation as was the Cross Keys Tavern at one time standing at the entrance to the Close; a predecessor of the present Prince Alfred public house. He bought the plot of land here in 1773 when green fields dominated the scenery, and development was extending northwards along Marylebone Lane.
The Close is of selective interest and all the properties here are commercial.
The abundance of 'Crown' courts, passages, streets, and lanes once liberally scattered about the Metropolis was largely due to the influence of the Monarch. There still remain within the bounds of Central London alone some half dozen thoroughfares so named. Others have either fallen in the turmoil of the years or been renamed to avoid confusion. All but a handful acquired their names from inns or taverns which once stood on their various sites, but Crown Court on the south side of Cheapside boasts more direct royal connection.
Jousting tournaments have been a favourite sport of kings for centuries; they jeered and cheered the mounted armour-clad knights as they rode in fearless battle, each with determination to toss their opponents to the ground. His Royal Highness and selected company were always seated at the contest side vantage point while the Queen and her chosen gathering viewed from a raised wooden scaffold. Crown Fields, which lay to the east of Bow Church was a favourite jousting ground with Edward III and in the autumn of 1313 the King and his guests were assembled awaiting the start of the tournament. Queen Philippa and her ladies in all their finery were in position when, as the knights made their entrance, the whole structure collapsed causing the Queen to suffer considerable embarrassment, and no doubt a sore bottom. Immediately, the King sprung into action, calling for the head of the responsible carpenter, but Philippa pleaded on bended knee that the man should be spared. Edward was receptive to the Queen's request but never again did that guilty carpenter erect another scaffold - for the King or anyone else.
To ensure against a reoccurrence the King ordered the building of a stone 'shed' where he, the Queen, and all their guests could stand, 'there to behold the joustings and other shows at their pleasure.' (Stow). This structure was certainly some 'shed'; it stood on the west side of the field, backing onto the church of St Mary le Bow and for that reason, John Stow says, all the windows and doors on that side of the church were blocked up - 'which greatly darkeneth the said church'.
By the early 13th century Cheapside (West Chepe) was already well established as a street of stalls with shops on both sides. At first the stalls were nothing more than planks of wood supported at each end by just about anything that was available, but by the 13th century large permanent structures to house the stalls began to spring up. These were known as 'selds' having a roof supported on pillars, similar in design to the Market at Covent Garden. Towards the end of the 14th century the 'shed' in Crown Fields was transformed into a seld and in 1410 Henry IV sold the building, recorded as having shops and cellars, to a partnership of three silk traders. However, it continued to be used by the reigning monarch and his party for viewing tournaments and other festive shows, for which Cheapside was famous, until after the reign of Henry VIII.
Crown Court is built on the approximate site of the King's entrance gate into Crown Fields.
Before the Aldwych was opened in 1905 the area to the south of Drury Lane used to contain literally dozens of alleys and passages, most of them with low class taverns. When Russell Street was constructed in 1631 the Crown Tavern followed shortly after, and leading off from the street down by the side of the tavern, a narrow path then known as Crown Passage. Along with the neighbouring taverns the Crown quickly turned into a notable riotous drinking den attracting the most impoverished of London's population. Gin was drunk profusely and unbelievable squalor and poverty abounded. Children could be found playing in the gutters while their mothers swilled gin in the grotty taverns. Like the Crown, most of these taverns appeared from their exterior as grand buildings but inside they were full of the most awful sights; women sprawled out on the floor and men staggering about or fighting - Hogarth's Gin Lane is no exaggerated portrayal.
Although riddled with poverty all around, Crown Court was one of the least deprived in the area. Most of its inhabitants were engaged in some form of employment, be it only temporary or part time. Some worked as musicians at the local theatres, but these were very poorly paid and were only compensated for the hours they were actually required. Other occupations were perhaps police constables stationed at Bow Street, and traders at the Strand markets.
The Crown closed its doors for the final time just prior to 1870 but it was not until the Aldwych and Kingsway were planned that the large majority of taverns and alleys around Drury Lane were cleared away. At the same time, as part of the redevelopment of the area and general clean-up, Crown Court was extended westward to link up with Cross Court which was later renamed under the single title of Crown Court.
Walking in Crown Court today is an experience very much different from that of a hundred years ago when we would have been molested at every step by begging children. Along the way little ones can still be found playing around the flats here - high red-brick structures with metal balconies - but today's youngsters seem quite contented in their inner-city environment. The neo-Elizabethan styled National Church of Scotland, built in 1909, is in the southern section of the Court.
Where, in the run of a single thoroughfare, could you have engaged the services of a chimney sweep, purchased the week's groceries, be measured for a suit, have a pair of shoes made, called in for a hair cut, bought a daily paper, left the week's washing at the laundry, and called in at the tavern for a swift one before scurrying off home to put your feet up? The answer is, in Crown Passage. For years Crown Passage has been noted for its little 'market' of shops and today the scene is little changed. The selection of services on offer is perhaps not so widely varied as of late; you will no longer find a chimney sweep here but there is an estate agents office, a shoe repairer, a sandwich bar, and a choice of eating establishments. The small comfortable rooms of The Red Lion, claiming to hold the second oldest licence in the West End, offer relief to the weary or just plain thirsty. Here you can well recline into oblivion and imagine yourself in some place far from central London. Indeed, Crown Passage would fit just as snugly into a quaint old village as it does here in the middle of St James's.
The Passage, which opens into Pall Mall through a square stone surrounded entrance by the side of Quebec House at number 59, was built in 1673. Since that time it has shared the neighbourhood with the royal palace behind the Tudor gateway, almost opposite. This is St James's Palace, built by Henry VIII after he acquired a 12th century leper hospital on the site. Mary I made it her principal private residence, and here she died in 1558. In this Palace Charles I was present to witness the birth of most of his children and here he spent the final days leading up to his execution in Whitehall in 1649. About the time that the Great Plague and Great Fire were causing devastation in the City of London, Christopher Wren was commissioned to build additional state apartments at St James's. However, it was not until the Palace of Whitehall was destroyed by fire in 1698 that St James's became the official residence of the sovereign. It remained that way until the crowning of Victoria. On a cold morning in 1837, when the young Princess received the news at Kensington Palace that she was Queen of England, she packed her bags and set off not to 'dusty' St James's, but to Buckingham Palace.
Directly opposite to Crown Passage, on the south side of Pall Mall, is the unpretentious entrance to Marlborough House, created on the site of St James's pheasantry by Wren in 1710. It was built for John, Duke of Marlborough and his Duchess, the controversial Sarah, who, when lying on her death bed, overheard her physician whispering to her maid, 'She must be blistered or she will die', and exclaimed in no uncertain terms, 'I will not be blistered and I will not die.' She proved her point and battled on for nearly twelve months after. Various royal's have used the house from time to time: Leopold I stayed here until his crowning in 1831, and the widowed Queen Adelaid took up residence in 1837. In 1850 Marlborough House became the residence of the Prince of Wales and in 1910 Queen Alexandra, widow of Edward VII, made it her home. The house has lately been modified and is now used to accommodate visiting Commonwealth dignitaries.
Just by Marlborough House is the Queen's Chapel or Chapel Royal, originally proposed as a private chapel for Maria of Spain, the intended wife of Prince Charles (later Charles I). As it happened, Charles had other plans and married Henrietta Maria who added the final touches to the Chapel. Although now permanently housed at St James's the 'Chapel Royal' refers to the body of people engaged to perform divine service for members of the royal family rather than to the building in which they perform. Until the late 16th century, the 'Chapel' accompanied the sovereign on official business and held services for the royal household wherever they happened to be. In 1702, being discharged from duty while the King was away from London, it became temporarily established in Kensington Palace before taking up permanent residence at St James's. The choir school was closed down in 1923 and its choristers are now drawn from the City of London Boys School together with a complement of six men and an organist.
Visitors are allowed to attend the services held at 9.15 and 11.00. The Chapel is closed during August.
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