Until the mid-18th century the church of St Benet occupied the north west corner of Finch Lane. It was first built in the 13th century under the patronage of the Nevil family who, in 1474, passed it on to the Hospital of St Anthony, which stood across from Finch Lane, on Threadneedle Street. Although the official dedication was to the unbeatified blessed Benet, the original honour went to the sixth century monk, St Benedict - a corruption brought by the passage of years. At some time in the early 16th century the church was taken down, presumably through instability, and rebuilt at the expense of Robert Finke who owned a house to the west of the Lane, 'wherein the said Finke dwelt'.
On the 4th September 1666 as the 'imperilous element did rage' about the Stocks Market, the dry timbers of St Benets were swallowed up almost as quickly as the dreaded Lord Mayor's stocks. Sir Christopher Wren's replacement was completed in 1673 in the style of Italian Baroque with a square tower and cupola crowned with a squat steeple. It lasted for almost 170 years but as the population of the City dwindled, so did the congregation. The parish was then amalgamated with St Peter le Poor and the church was demolished in 1842.
At number 6 Finch Lane, between two hanging gaslight style lamps, is the charming little Cock and Woolpack public house. Its presence is known to few others than those who daily toil around here, but the place is so small that it would hardly be hankering for a slot on the tourist circuit. During lunch time and early evening hours the long and narrow bar is bulging to capacity with local office staff. A true City tavern deserving of its place in this age-old lane.
During the last century three Roman mosaic pavements were discovered in this Lane.
The Court took its name from Henry Fitzroy who in 1780 became Lord Southampton. Fitzroy was of Tottenham Manor, which he had leased from the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral.
Originally built about 1790 Fitzroy Court is now modernized into a light and airy walkway, paved in red brick and features globe-style lighting fixtures hanging from ornamental arched brackets. Both east and west entrances are covered and at the Tottenham Court Road end the Tie-Rack occupies the north corner.
As true as John Flaxman created statues in commemoration of great personalities and placed them about the metropolis, this Court stands as a memorial to the artist himself. He was born in 1755, and as a young disabled boy he mixed plaster in the workshop where his father moulded ornamental figures. Under guidance he was later allowed to file down rough edges and raised seams on the hardened mouldings, and at his father's side learnt the basic skills of sculpting. In his early twenties his artistic flair and practical dexterity helped in securing positions firstly as a designer at the Wedgwood porcelain factory and then as a sculptor. At the age of twenty-seven, while still employed at the factory, he married and moved into a small terraced house near to this Court, in Wardour Street. Timely congratulations from Sir Joshua Reynolds knocked him for a six: 'I hear you are married - then you are finished as an artist.'
Flaxman never made it to the upper echelons of artistry although in the latter years of his life produced a number of classic figures for public display. A great deal of his work can be seen in the Flaxman Gallery in University College and notable among his other creations are: Sir Joshua Reynolds and Admiral Earl Howe (St Paul's Cathedral), John Bellamy and Edward Hall (St Paul's Covent Garden), Lord Mansfield (Westminster Abbey) and the frieze on the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. John Flaxman died at number seven Greenwell Street, Regent's Park, in 1826 and was buried in the churchyard of St Pancras old church. In the church of St Giles in the Fields there is a monument to John Flaxman erected in 1930.
Paved Flaxman Court is narrow and unlike its patron offers little of interest. Lining the east side of the passage is the rear side of a building faced in red glazed bricks. Turning through 90° the Court opens out into a yard before emerging into Wardour Street. Here is the entrance to a National Car Park and on the corner of Wardour Street is the Ship public house.
Fleet Lane is one of London's surviving relics of medieval times. It has been here since at least the 13th century, and in times past used to descend the hill from Old Bailey, down to the bank of the Fleet river where it crossed to the west side via a little wooden bridge. It sounds idyllic, but nothing could be further from reality. The Fleet had always been a noted receptacle for filth and in 1589 it was in such an unhealthy state that the Common Council granted money for its cleansing. The idea was to improve the quality of the water so that the City could enjoy the luxury of a fresh supply. However, the venture failed and people continued to throw their rubbish into the ever-reducing stream that it became more choked up than ever before. By 1754 the River had once again deteriorated beyond belief and was a common source of disease that recommendations were put forward to fill it in. A rival scheme for the widening of London Bridge delayed the operation but in 1765 the southern section of the narrow channel was directed through pipes and covered over when New Bridge Street was constructed as an approach to Blackfriars Bridge. By 1841 the remaining section, to the north of Ludgate Circus, was proving to be such a hazard to public health that the entire central stretch was arched over. After this, Farringdon Street, which for many years had existed as a track along-side the Fleet was widened and Fleet Lane, once a main thoroughfare itself, became a tributary of the new street. Further, more drastic changes came along in 1874 when the railway tracks were laid for the new Holborn Viaduct Station. Fleet Lane lay in the path and so necessity caused the way to be truncated into nothing more than a cul-de-sac yard.
Nearby is the Congregational Memorial Hall, built in 1872 to commemorate the Fidelity of Conscience displayed by some two thousand ministers ejected from the Church of England in 1662. The Hall stands on the site of the old Fleet Prison, from 1641 a gaol for debtors. It was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 when the prisoners were temporarily housed in Caron House, Lambeth. Fire again destroyed the building in 1780 when rioters set light to it and set the prisoners free. It was quickly rebuilt but half a century later, in 1846, it closed for good, and was demolished.
From the Lane is a superb view of a giant meccano set style building recently erected at number 10 Fleet Place and towering high beyond the east end of the Lane.
Commemoration here is to the Livery Company of Founders. The history of the formation of the Company goes back to 1389 when a group of metal founders made a formal complaint to the Mayor concerning the poor workmanship appertaining to certain items of metal ware. They put forward recommendations for improved standards of quality to be maintained by workers. These recommendations were put before a committee consisting of The Mayor and a number of Aldermen who considered and accepted the suggestions, instituting three gentlemen to investigate and oversee the trade. Although at that time they had no enforcement powers, their presence was an incentive for the tradesmen to pay more attention to detail. The Company was officially set up in 1614 and the brethren built their Hall and a foundry workshop on the site of this Court. Unfortunately, little more than half a century later the Great Fire swept along Lothbury swallowing first the old church of St Margaret followed by the Founders Hall.
After the Fire the Company of Founders, along with the Stationers, Watermen, Fishmongers, Coopers and Tallow Chandlers, were among the first companies to rebuild their halls. By 1669 Founders Hall was completed and the Company reinstalled.
At the beginning of the 19th century the Founders Company arrived at a decision to lease off part of their Hall and bit by bit it was apportioned off until by 1853 the entire Hall was let and occupied by a variety of businesses. In the same year the Company purchased an old house in St Swithin's Lane and on its site they built the Hall which they currently occupy.
At the end of this neatly paved cul-de-sac are the premises originally built by J A Hunt in 1847 for the Central Electric Telegraph Station. They are now the offices of Brown, Shipley and Company.
In a tunnel-like passage, French Ordinary Court burrows its way beneath the platforms of Fenchurch Street Station. Along the way the glimmer of illumination barely exceeds the light emitted from a single candle. Indeed it is sufficiently dim to cause the eyelids to hesitantly blink as we emerge into the glaring daylight of St Katherine's Row on the north side of the station. Over the centuries, the only changes to have taken place in this old tunnel, for that is what it really is, have been in the shape of its inhabitants - there are none, but its walls are still whitewashed, as they always have been. A few years ago, ladies might have been tempted to linger here a while to inhale the extravagant aromas leaking from the warehouses of sweet-smelling oil and spice importers. Still further back, perhaps in the 17th century, we would have savoured a very different, but nonetheless tempting, aroma along this cobbled way. Drifting from the kitchen of an inn came the palate-tickling savoury smells cooked up by a French chef who excelled in the culinary art of preparing his native dishes.
But what of the 'ordinary'? Well, it is pretty certain that there was nothing ordinary concerning the quality of the food but ordinarily everything on the menu would have been at the same price. Or to put it in language of our own time, a table d'hote menu. Dr Johnson provides us with the relevant definition of ordinary: A place of eating, established at a certain price. 'Ordinaries' were fairly common in the City of London during the 17th and 18th centuries, as quoted in Journey throughout England of 1714, 'not so common here as abroad, yet the French have set up two or three good ones for the convenience of foreigners, where one is tolerably well served.'
Samuel Pepys might have called in on the odd occasion for a mid-day snack while he was Secretary of the Admiralty at the Navy Office, then on Crutched Friars. It was on the site of this office, in the early 13th century, that the Friars of the Holy Cross built their Priory, one of the smallest religious houses in London. It occupied the grounds that lie to the south and west of St Olave's church in Hart Street. As a symbol of dedication to their order the friars always carried an iron cross and on the back of their habit wore a large cross of red material. They became known as the Crossed Friars which from the Latin 'crux' came to be pronounced 'crutch' and from there, followed the natural progression to 'crutched'. Any theory that the priory was founded for the benefit of decrepit religious gentlemen has no foundation whatsoever.
After the Reformation the Priory was granted to Sir Thomas Wyatt who used part of the site to build his town house, but only fifteen years later, in 1554, he was executed and the house was pulled down. John Stow, writing at the end of the century, says 'this church is now a carpenters' yard, a tennis court, and such like; the friars hall was made a glass-house, or house wherein was made glass of divers sorts to drink in'. He further went on to say that the whole was destroyed in a terrible fire on 4th September 1575 'where being practised all means possible to quench...' - all to no avail. Within a couple of years the Navy Office had sprung up on the site and in 1660 Pepys was installed in his new position... And so to bed.
There can be no other street name within the whole of London that sets the bells of the mind tingling with fascination as loudly as Frying Pan Alley. At the mere thought we can almost smell the savory aroma of bacon, eggs, black-pudding, mushrooms and all the unhealthy favourites that go to make up the good old English fry-up. Well, we can have no doubts that the product on offer was closely associated with the culinary arts but it was not fry-up's, omlettes, pancakes or anything else that would set the belly rumbling with voracious hunger. No, nothing so appetizing as that - but the means by which such dishes may be prepared; in this Alley was a shop once renowned throughout London for its speciality in pots and pans of every shape and size. Suspended from chains high above on the shop front was the sign by which the business was identified, - an enormous cast iron frying pan.
An old story tells of an unfortunate incident when a casual wanderer was sauntering down the Alley amusing himself in a bit of window shopping when, stone the crows, the blessed pan released itself from its anchorage and nearly flattened the poor fellow. From that time everyone walked by the shop on the opposite side of the Alley in an effort to reduce the risk of a further misadventure if the mighty pan should release itself once more. Wary locals thereafter referred to the place as 'Frying Pan Alley'.
Alas, the Alley is not what is used to be and any expectation of enchanting grottos are instantly dashed when faced with the high modern office buildings incorporating ABS House at number 1. The Alley is, however, still narrow and perhaps with the assistance of a chronic hallucinatory fit, it is just possible to imagine the Alley with its shop, and brown aproned dealer leaning by the door.
Garrick Yard, together with the more familiar Garrick Street to the northeast of here, both took their names from the Garrick Club which, of course, commemorates the famous 18th century actor, David Garrick. As a young man of 18 years of age, David Garrick left his native town of Lichfield on the 2 March 1737 and set out for London sharing a horse with his tutor, Samuel Johnson. Whilst Johnson had high hopes of winning fame in the world of literature, Garrick came to complete his education in law, a profession he was very soon diverted from in preference for the stage. The two arrived in the Capital with only four pence (2p) between them and were forced into pleading with a bookseller friend of the Garrick family to lend them five pounds. After spending a short period at a college in Rochester, David Garrick's sentiment for the theatre compelled him to terminate his studies, and with his elder brother, Peter, went into the business of selling wine as a stop-gap while awaiting the opportunity to present himself as an actor.
It was in March 1941 when Garrick got his big break and until his death on 20 January 1779 he enjoyed the fame and popularity attributed to the greatest of actors in his time. Boswell said of him: 'the undisputed monarch of the British stage; is probably in fact the greatest actor who has ever lived.' He further went on in praise of his achievements: 'A clever playwright, occasional poet, and adapter; manager of Drury Lane Theatre. Has accumulated a fortune; owns a splendid house with a fine library.' In applause of his artistry Boswell enthused in these words: 'A small man whose behaviour on the stage is so natural that one forgets that he is acting'. Samuel Johnson, who had remained a friend of Garrick throughout his life, commented on the death of the actor: 'Garrick's death is a striking event; not that we should be surprised with the death of any man who has lived sixty-two years; but because there was a vivacity in our late celebrated friend, which drove away the thoughts of death from any association with him. I am sure you [Boswell] will be tenderly affected with his departure...' Johnson would not hear the name of Garrick slandered and neither would he let it be implied that Garrick was infected with airs and graces or was mean. When Mrs Burney, wife of his friend Dr Charles Burney, suggested that Garrick's funeral was an 'extravagantly expensive' occasion with accusations that there were six horses to each coach, he swiftly jumped to the defence: 'Madam, there were no more six horses than six phoenixes.'
It is quite fitting and proper that this great performer should be commemorated in the area where he lived and so often tramped the boards, but it is such a great pity that the Yard associated with his name is now an ignoble grubby monument. If the dirty iron gates were not baring your way you would no more relish the experience of venturing within its walls than a swim in the Fleet Sewer at high tide.
Gee's Court departs from the busy Oxford Street through a tiny archway and is identified on the edge of the pavement by an ornate clock bearing the words 'St Christopher's Place' across its face. On the blue painted clock standard a sign points to Gee's Court and St Christopher's Place. If you are still confused, look down to the pavement and see the inset brass plaque.
Gee's Court is paved with aged, well trodden, stone flags giving it an instant air of old London - a charming little cranny, unknown as yet to many tourists. Tastefully modernised Victorian shops adorned with flowing hanging baskets line both side of the narrow passage. Authentic gas lamp style lights bracketed to the walls complete the picture for this exceptional experience. Dillon's, the booksellers have a shop here, there is a selection of boutiques and for refreshment, Cranks Restaurant and Takeaway.
At the northern end of the Court is Barret Street, looking as though it has been blocked off in mid stream. It was originally intended as an extension to Henrietta Street, but the buildings in Stratford Place, the result of a sly plot, prevented the connection (see Gray's Yard). In the last few years this section of the street has been paved and pedestrianised resulting in a charming little square. Three trees, with all the appearance of having been there for years, have seating arranged around them and six period lamp standards are arranged around the square, each with overflowing hanging baskets suspend from their cross arms. There are toilets too - down a flight of steps surrounded by ornate iron railings. Rounding off the scene, is a water feature created at the eastern end.
Directly opposite to Gee's Court, on the north side of Barret Street is St Christopher's Place - not exactly a bargain basement, but a very pleasant arcade of shops and restaurants.
Many of the streets to the south of the western end of the Strand occupy the site of the Duke of Buckingham's London estate and it is fascinating to note the origin of their names, although some have now been changed. George Court commemorates the head of the family, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.
York House had passed through various ownerships before it was presented by the Crown, in 1557, to the Archbishop of York in payment for Whitehall Place (then York Place) which had been seized by King Henry from Cardinal Wolsey. However, successive Archbishop's chose not to use the house, arranging alternative accommodation in London, and the house was leased to Nicholas Bacon, as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Bacon immediately took possession of the house and remained there through the birth of his second son, Francis, until his death in 1579. For almost 70 years York House continued as the residence of the Lord Keeper and in 1617 Francis Bacon returned to his birthplace when he succeeded Thomas Egerton to the office. Three years later, Bacon was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to several years imprisonment. A request from the King for him to relinquish his right to York House was initially rejected but Bacon eventually climbed down and the house was offered to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. The Duke, however, was delayed from taking up occupancy until a satisfactory deal was struck between the Crown and the see of York. Agreement was finally reached in 1624 and York House was passed back to the Crown in exchange for an assortment of smaller estates.
In the same year, George Villiers took possession of the house and began carrying out extensive modification, but unfortunately someone with a grievance decided the premature end of his life and the work ceased. Although his wife, Katherine, continued to reside at the house she had little enthusiasm for continuing the modifications and when she died in 1649 the estate passed to the second Duke, George. In about 1672 she sold the house for £30,000 to Nicholas Barbon, a property developer, who lived in Crane Court, a move necessitated by heavy debt. The conditions of the sale were that any streets which Barbon laid out were to be named after the Duke. Hence the names originally given to the streets: George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street, Of Alley and Buckingham Street (George Villiers Duke of Buckingham). George Street has now been renamed York Buildings and Of Alley (leading off Villiers Street) has been renamed York Place. George Court, however, still completes the sequence, with Of Alley the only exclusion.
George Court today serves three purposes; one, as a cut-through between the Strand and John Adam Street; two, to replenish your stock of wine from the Australian Wine Centre, advertising the largest stock of Australian wines in the UK (open 10 am until 7 pm); three, to join the jostling crowds at the George public house which has stood on the site since Nicholas Barbon completed his development of the area in about 1680.
This is a wide Yard of no mean proportions, named in commemoration of John George, for some time an employee of Lord Grosvenor. The exact nature of his position is not clear but it is likely that he was involved in the building of the Estate.
Mayfair's northern reaches used to be the favoured spot for housing servants employed by the aristocracy of Grosvenor Square and beyond. Now that most of their houses have been turned into offices it is surprising to find that there are still flats for the working classes here. On the north side of the wide Yard is the red brick building housing the Peabody Trust Chesham Flats, offering low cost accommodation in a district deemed to be one of the most desirable address in London. Adjacent, on the corner of Duke Street, is the attractive Barley Mow public house where a good night out could easily cost a weeks rent next door.
George Yard was once a graceful little corner housing a variety of attractive buildings, but now it is dominated by high banking premises facing onto Lombard Street and Gracechurch Street. To add to the pain, at the time of writing contractors are working on some lengthy redevelopment project and who knows what will emerge.
From the 16th century a wine merchants shop stood on the corner of the Yard with a tethered live vulture as its trade sign. Early in the morning of the 3rd September 1666 the merchant was doing pretty brisk business and rubbing his hands with glee, but by mid afternoon his shop and entire stock had gone the same way as everything else in the neighbourhood - devoured by the mighty furnace. In the aftermath, he struck a deal with the landlord of the George tavern - also burnt down - to use part of the newly built hostelry for the continuance of his business (see Castle Court).
The church of St Edmund, once known as St Edmund Grass church 'because the said grass market came down so low', dates from the 12th century. It was rebuilt by Wren in 1679 after total destruction in the Great Fire, restored in 1864 and 1880, then again in 1917 after First World War damage. Its noteworthy steeple with carvings, stone urns, and projecting clock, were added in 1708. The interior, too, is an exhibition of intricately carved 17th century woodwork; sanctuary screen, pulpit and font are particularly exquisite.
At one time no other part of London was richer in historic inns and taverns than Southwark. Indeed, it was almost littered with galleried inns. Among them were the George, White Hart, Queen's Head, King's Head, The Bell, The Catherine Wheel, and probably the most famous of them all, The Tabard, selected by Chaucer for the start of his pilgrimage to the shrine of St Thomas of Canterbury. It was pulled down in 1874 to make way for modern developments. Pilgrims provide one reason for Southwark having this profusion of inns and taverns. At the sounding of the curfew bell the gates of London Bridge were locked and travellers arriving after this time had to find accommodation for the night. Those travelling south from the city, wishing to make an early start needed to cross the bridge before curfew and stay the night in Southwark. Records show that in 1619 the population of Southwark consisted mainly of innkeepers.
It is sad to think that of the many galleried inns of old Southwark only the George now remains, and of that, only a small part is still standing. All the others are gone and on their graves are now shops and commercial premises.
The George, which is one of London's most famous tourist attractions, was first recorded in 1552. In the reign of Edward VI it was in the hands of Humphrey Collet who was Member of Parliament for Southwark between 1511 and 1513. In his will he left the inn to his son Thomas and in the tenure of Nicholas Marten. William Grubb was in possession of the property from 1596 until his death in 1621, when his widow, Elizabeth, took over the tenancy until William Blundell purchased the inn in 1626. In his early years as owner, he was reported for committing the unforgivable crime of selling intoxicating liquor during the hours of divine service. Blundell was in residence until the George passed into joint ownership between John Sawyer and Thomas Stow in 1635, when it was listed as '2 buildings parte timber and parte brick'. In 1668 Mr Sawyer leased the inn to Nicholas Andrews who then sub-let it to Thomas Underwood at a rent of £150 per year. Underwood died the following year leaving the property to his widow, Mary, who, without sheading a tear, promptly married the lodger, Mark Weyland, and handed the tenancy over to his name.
In 1670 a fire, thought to have started in a hop store, which was situated on the left just inside the gate, destroyed most of the inn and outbuildings. Weyland rebuilt the inn and as compensation for his labours his lease was substantially extended. Six years later disaster struck once again; a fire, believed to have started at the house of a Mr Walsh, situated between the George and the Talbot, swept down the Borough High Street destroying all the buildings along the way. The George fell victim and was reduced to a shell of charred wood. In 1678 the inn was again rebuilt and sold by John Sawyer's son to John Sweetapple of Lombard Street, who then sold it to Daniel Wight for the sum of £1600. Philip Aynscombe married Valentia White, the grand daughter of Daniel, and after being held in trust it was transferred to Valentia. In 1785 the inn was sold to Lillie Smith, a city merchant who sold it to Westerman Schofield in 1809. When Schofield died it was transferred to his widow and it remained in her possession until she died in 1859. At this point the Governors of Guy's Hospital purchased the inn for £9100 and granted a lease to George Greenslade.
During the mid 19th century, part of the yard was used by the Great Eastern Railway Company as a depot for goods vehicles. In 1874 the Hospital Governors were persuaded to sell the property and part of the yard to the Railway Company for an agreed figure of £10,000. A large section of the yard to the east was partitioned off and retained for the use of the Hospital. A year or two later the whole of the north side of the galleried buildings were demolished, leaving the George, in outward appearance, as we see it today.
A Mrs Murray became the proprietor from 1878 and retained the property until her death in 1903 when she was succeeded by her unmarried daughter. When this daughter died in 1935 Harold and Leslie Staples became the new hosts. With an eye for business the two brothers carried out some internal refurbishment in an effort to create a more comfortable and attractive atmosphere. As a gift, the inn was presented to the National Trust in 1937.
Ever since tourism began, the George has been on the list of every foreign visitor to London. Coach operators have it on their organised points of call and guide books never fail to mention it. Stand in the bar on a summer evening and it is possible to hear every language and tongue under the sun; a steady hum of undecipherable conversation mixed with the clicking of cameras and the flood lighting from dozens of flash lights. The organised tourist never seems to stay long though, barely enough time to order a half of English beer, never mind drink it; the tight schedule of the tour operator allows nothing more than a fleeting glimpse.
The entrance to the 'old bar' is the first door on the right leading from the yard. Until a few years ago, when major alterations took place, this was the only drinking bar. A plain room with about as many comforts as Shakespeare would have been used to. Hard oak seating, bare boards on the floor, scrubbed tables, the sagging ceiling and heavily sashed windows, - some of the window glass is still of the original.
On the wall facing the servery is what came to be known as a parliamentary clock. They were introduced in 1797 when a tax was imposed upon private clocks and many people gave up their own timepieces. Some innkeepers then provided public clocks as a service to their patrons.
In the area of the servery itself is another old relic of the past. On the right, as viewed from the bar, is a bank of old beer engines which closely resemble a cash register. They are well over 100 years old and until a few years ago they were the only method of serving the draught beer. After long service they are now in retirement.
The George is a superb example of antiquity, not only in the building and furnishings but, until a dozen or so years ago, in the staff as well. Until the George received its face-lift, the one and only bar person was a small old lady of somewhat Dickensian appearance. She had been there for many years and it was intriguing in the way she managed to understand the orders given in so many different languages, without so much as the batting of an eye-lid. There could have been no person more fitting than her. When she retired it was as though the old inn had lost something of its tradition.
In the restaurant too, the waitresses where turned out in fitting attire of long black dresses with white frilly aprons and caps, flitting among the pews and scrubbed tables (where the long modernised bar is now). The only form of lighting were the flickering candles on the tables.
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