When John Greenhill bought the Castle Tavern at number 34 Cowcross Street he already owned many of the houses in the area. He was a notable businessman with an ever-open eye for speculative opportunity. In 1737 he purchased a newly built row of houses on this site and let them out at attractive rents, hence the appendage to his name. However, his subsequent profit-making plans to erect market stalls met with violent demonstrations and as a result, his application to the City Council was flatly turned down.
There is also a more entertaining story concerning the Castle Tavern; it goes like this: George IV, feeling lucky one day, called in to try his hand at the local cock-fighting venue. Fortune was with him and on the first four or five bouts he made a reasonable killing. Chuckling and stamping his feet he thought he would go the whole hog on the next fight and increased his stakes multifold, leaving only his taxi fare home. Waiting for the fight to begin he heard on the grapevine that the opposition had been doped. Naturally he wanted to be in on a good thing and reached into his pocket for his last few coins. As fate had it, the information was wrong and his bird lost. Fearful of returning home penniless he scurried round the corner to the Castle, where the landlord was just calling time. 'Y'll have to be quick', he shouted as the King breathlessly scrambled through the door. 'Look', he said, 'I'm a bit short of the readies, how about lending me a few quid till next week'. On this the landlord grabbed him by the throat and threatened to throw him through the window. 'Hang on', the King screeched, 'you know me, I'm the King'. 'Yeh, and I'm Oliver Cromwell', laughed the landlord. The King pulled out his watch and chain, a fine specimen handed down through the family. 'What about this as security?' Closely examining it the landlord agreed. 'Three quid', he announced, 'and not a penny more.' George IV was so overjoyed that he took the cash and granted him a pawnbrokers licence on the spot.
The three brass balls of the pawnbroker still hang in the bar today but it is inadvisable to turn up at the Castle on the expectation that you will be fed and watered in return for your all-singing-all-dancing quartz watch.
See also Faulkner's Alley.
Squeezed beneath the railway tracks into London Bridge Station, this Court is a memorial to the Green Dragon Tavern, known in the 14th century as Cobham's Inn, after its owner, Lady Cobham. On her death the inn was left to the Priory of St Mary Overy and in 1560 a lease was granted on the property to the wardens of St Saviour's church. A condition of the lease was that a school was to be built on the site, and within two years the establishment, named St Saviour's Grammar School, was opened with places for 100 pupils. In 1676 a fire, believed to have started near to the George Inn on Borough High Street, destroyed a great many buildings and the school fell victim. Rebuilding was quickly begun and the school continued on the site until 1835 when it moved to Sumner Street.
Throughout most of its length, Green Dragon Court is formed from a blackened arch running beneath the tracks into London Bridge Station. It might be regarded by some as a grubby old place but in all truthfulness there is plenty of character here. Where the Court opens out into Bedale Street is the Globe Tavern, a pub of sufficiently antique appearance to compliment the Court.
Near to here, in Stoney Street, is the thriving Borough Fruit and Vegetable Market, which is said to have been established in the 13th century. It started out as the London Bridge market and moved to this site in 1756. The market was a popular stopping off place for travellers and when the brothels and bear-baiting venues attracted thousands to Southwark, the market had its hey-day
The Court was named after Thomas Green, a builder, who was contracting for Edward Wardour in the 1680's.
Together with neighbouring Walker's Court this small area of Soho is
quietly teeming with titillating amusement for the tempted male. Outside the 'Naughty Live
Bed Show' a dimly illuminated red light signifies that the presentation is up and running.
La Rosa Italian Restaurant is a few doors away, and seemingly quite out of place, a shoe
repairers help to make up the short row of commercial premises.
Here on the very site of the priory church of the Franciscans, or Greyfriars, is Greyfriars Passage; it is one of the many thoroughfares in the City of London that has its foundation in the monastic life. The Passage actually marks the divide between the chancel and the nave of the monks' church and has been a public right of way since before the community settled here.
The Franciscans first arrived in England about the year 1200. There were nine of them, one priest and eight brothers, when they landed at Dover and took the north road towards Canterbury. Five of them went no further than Canterbury and there they set up a community, whilst the remaining four continued the journey to London. Until suitable premises could be found they were accommodated by the already established community of Blackfriars. The Franciscan's were a simple order; they relied on the generosity of others for their daily necessities. London welcomed their arrival and within weeks a sheriff of the City offered his house in Cornhill for their use. So devoted were the citizens to the work of the Friars that the community grew beyond all expectation that when one John Ewin presented them with a large site near to Newgate in 1225 they were ready to move. Their vast Priory, when it was finally completed in 1337, consisting of church, chapter house, dormitory, library, cloisters, and domestic quarters, covering the site of the Post Office building to the north of here. The church itself measured 300 feet in length and its width was 89 feet, a massive church by any standards. Many notable celebrities of the time were buried here, among them, Queen Margaret, second wife of Edward I, who provided the money for building the chancel, and Queen Isabel, wife of Edward II, who financed embellishments to the nave.
When Henry VIII fell out with the Pope and in a fury decided to rid the country of monasteries he flung the Friars out, closed their church, smashed the memorials and took all their possessions for his own use. Eight years later, in 1546, the King made a gift of the church and monastic buildings to the City. Three parish churches lay in close proximity to the Friars church, St Ewin's, St Nicholas, and St Sepulchre. St Nicholas's was demolished and its parish together with the whole of St Ewin's and part of St Sepulchre's were amalgamated to form the new parish of Christ Church with the renamed Friars church as the central place of worship.
At this time the Lord Mayor, Sir Richard Dobbs together with other City dignitaries and the Bishop of London were drawing up plans to take into care all children of fatherless and poor families. In 1553 work was commenced on the renovation and conversion to a hospital of the now somewhat derelict monastery. It was named Christ's Hospital and towards the end of that year almost 400 children were removed from the streets and provided with accommodation, food, clothing, and education. So that the children would easily be recognised should they abscond, they each wore a long blue coat fastened with a leather belt, and yellow stockings.
On Tuesday the 4th September 1666, the day the Great Fire took its toll on this area, the children had been taken out of town for the day. It proved to be a fortunate treat, for by the afternoon there was only the cloister still standing. The children were offered temporary accommodation north of the City and as rebuilding steadily progressed they gradually returned. However, it was not until 1681 that the full compliment of dormitories and the school were restored to use.
In 1902 Christ's Hospital School was transferred to Horsham in Surrey where it still flourishes and is commonly known as the 'Blue Coat School'. The London site is now occupied by the large Post Office building and part of St Bartholomew's Hospital.
After the Great Fire, Christ Church was rebuilt by Wren in 1704 on the site of the chancel of the Friar's church, to the east of Greyfriars Passage. Devastation once again came the way of Christ Church when all but the tower was completely gutted in December 1940. Slight structural damage to the tower caused it to be demolished but in 1960 it was re-erected using the original masonry. The body of the church was never rebuilt but the original floor plan of Wren's church still exists to the east of the tower, beautifully laid out in a garden of roses. To the west of the Passage is the graveyard to Wren's church and the site of the nave of the Friar's church. Surrounded by trees and lawns, it provides a wonderful place to sit and reflect on the 800 years of historical association.
This Court, which derives its name from the Greyhound Tavern, standing here throughout the 18th century, used to be a squalid, undesirable place housing brothels and attracting a variety of lawbreakers. There were numerous taverns around this area, all of similar repute where the trade in stolen goods was often more swift than that of alcohol. There was naturally a cagey atmosphere in these old haunts; strangers wandering in for a quick gargle were viewed with grave suspicion and if their faces did not fit the eviction gang would swiftly be brought into play. In 1622 an order was passed concerning the intolerable situation in the taverns of Milford Lane: 'Whereas credible informacion hath bene given to this court that divers persons accused of murthers and other heynous and outrageous offences hath goten harbour and as it were taken sanctuarye in the Alehouses and Victualling houses in Milford Lane... It is therefore ordered that the Constable of the said pariche doe forthwith signifie unto all and every of them are suppressed and doe stand dismissed from keepinge of Ale and Beere within theire said houses or without...' The order went further, giving the constable powers to arrest any landlord who did not comply.
The Old Cheshire Cheese, on the east side of Milford Lane, is the only survivor of these seedy dives, now transformed beyond all recognition from the days of gross corruption. It now plays host to a multitude of office workers who cram into its cosy bar to talk of legal matters and oil.
In the 17th century this Court was known as Conyhope Lane, so called from the sign over a poulterer's shop on the corner displaying three conies, or rabbits. The name was changed at some time in the late 1700's to Grocers' Alley and remained so until the early 20th century when it was changed once again - this time to Grocers' Hall Court.
During the 18th century the Court, or Lane as it was then, consisted mainly of a row of houses used as an annex to the Poultry Comptor, a debtors prison. Those found guilty were held in these houses in the hope that they might eventually reach an amicable understanding with their creditors and avoid the prison cells.
At the end of the Court is the Hall of the Grocers' Company, formed about 1180 as the Guild of Pepperers of Soper's Lane, but the fraternity fell into obscurity at the beginning of the 14th century. They were next heard of in 1345 under their new title, The Company of Grocers' and held their meetings for the next three years in the house of the Abbot of Bury (corrupted to Bevis, ie Bevis Marks). From there they took up residence in Rynged Hall in Great St Thomas Apostle where, on gaining permission to set up a chapel in St Anthony's church, started calling themselves the Fraternity of St Anthony. Their establishment here in 'Conyhope Lane' goes back to 1411 when the Company purchased the house and chapel of Lord Fitzwalter and on the site built their first Hall. The foundation stone was ceremonially laid in 1427 and in little more than twelve months the brethren were installed. In the same year the Company was granted its first charter of incorporation by Henry VI. Through the generosity of John Churchman, grocer, and in 1385 a Sheriff of the City, the Company gained control of the first public weighing scales in London. At his own expense, Churchman had set up the weighing office at Woolwharf Quay, Port of London, and requested the assistance of the Company in its running. From that time the Grocers' were responsible for the election operating clerks and this arrangement continued until a series of disputes at the weighing office resulted in the termination of their control in 1797.
In 1666 the Great Fire totally destroyed the Hall when all the silver ware was melted in the immense heat. Three years after the Fire, the Company requested Parliament to set up a fund to finance the cost of a replacement hall but their attempt was shot down before it came to debate. An effort was then made to raise rebuilding funds, estimated to be in the region of £20,000, between members but when the last penny was counted, all they could muster was £6,000. Eventually, on borrowed money, the replacement hall was completed in 1684 and stood until 1889 when it was succeeded by the third on the site four years later. Unfortunately the ravages of fire struck once again and in 1965 the Hall was almost totally burnt out with only the wall of the north wing escaping. The new Hall was completed in 1970 and contains a fine wrought iron screen retained from the 1684 building.
Had the damage caused by the 1666 Fire not been so devastating, this Hall would have been treasured not only for its great antiquity but also as the place where the Commons and the Lords took refuge in the Civil War after an attempt to apprehend four members.
In modern times we tend to hear of grottos only at Christmas time; secluded corners of departmental stores and large toy shops where white bearded gentlemen in long red cloaks hide away to enchant children of every age. But that nature of event is more generally found about the streets a little to the south of here; Rudolph never pranced in the gardens of Grotto Passage and it is unlikely that Father Christmas ever knew of its existence.
The Passage has its foundations in less seasonal entertainment and owes its origin to one John Castle, creative artist and entrepreneur. After a Royal acknowledgement of his superior skill when he presented the King with an intricate replica of his Arms in shells, Castle was invited by Sir Robert Walpole to construct a grotto in the Royal Hospital garden at Chelsea. Newspapers published glowing reports on his achievements raising him over night to the status of famous. One day in 1738 he was aroused by a vision of thousands of people queuing to view his work and it became apparent that his rise to celebrated heights could be used to advantage by opening a gallery and charging the public to view his creations. His dream came to fruition when he leased a one acre site of pasture land on the west side of Marylebone High Street where he erected wooden sheds and tents for the exhibition of the numerous elaborate displays of shell-work. At a few pence entrance fee Mr Castle's Grotto took off with immediate success. The show received a boost in popularity after a spontaneous visit by members of the Royal Family, which also provided an ideal opportunity to double the entrance fee.
As John Castle was getting on in years when he rose to celebrity status, he enjoyed only a few years of fame before extinguishing this life in 1757. The Grotto continued to attract a diminishing crowd but without the leadership of its creative master the sparkle behind the attraction had gone. It soon became unviable and closed in 1759.
That sparkle never returned to Grotto Passage and today it lies as a cramped corridor where the only creations on view are Kathleen House at numbers 1-4 and the plain fronted and rather insignificant building of the Royal British Legion Club. Despite its lacklustre it is not an unattractive Passage, but on the other hand it is not really attractive. Branching from Paddington Street through a hole in the wall, the Passage continues on an undeviating path to Garbutt Place, named after William Garbutt, the first Town Clerk of Marylebone when it was made a Borough in 1900.
A pretty and well maintained court where the sole inhabitant is Williamson's Tavern, a fine old inn with wrought iron gates at its entrance. The tavern dates from the 17th century and is said to hold the oldest excise licence in the City. Until 1735 the building was the official residence of the Lord Mayors of London and as a reminder one of the rooms still goes under the name of Mansion House Lounge. It was in this room that William III and Mary were said to have dined as guests of the Lord Mayor, and in gratitude of a hospitable reception presented the wrought iron gates at the entrance. Having ceremoniously received the said gates his worship ordered that they be erected at some distant location, and so infuriated Her Majesty who commanded, with pointed finger, that they stay put.
At the end of its civic function the building was acquired by Robert Williamson who, with an eye for making a bob or two, turned it into a hotel. At that time the Court was known as New Court and was only changed to its present name earlier this century.
From Williamson's Tavern it is an equal distance to all outer limits of the City. And how, you may ask, does one arrive at this momentous fragment of knowledge? Simply, on the strength of the inscription on the stone in the parlour, which tells us so. Another interesting feature of the tavern is the fireplace, which is constructed of Roman tiles excavated from ten feet below the present ground level.
There are no treats in store around any of the corners leading to Guinness Court; just gloomy brick built flats of several storeys. In the true sense of the meaning, as far as this guide is concerned, it is not a court(yard) at all, but a collection of dismal dwellings with adjoining Tarmaced areas laid out for private car parking. Only after trudging around the 'complex' does it become evident that there is any way of penetrating the seemingly never ending high wall which provides the apparently necessary protection for these daunting buildings.
Any thoughts of finding cherished memorials to that famous Irish brewing family amid these 1960's creations will, as sure as night follows day, culminate a most acute attack of reactive depression. In event of this eventual circumstance the most appropriate advice is probably to cross Lever Street and partake of a pint of the black stuff in the Lord Nelson public house on the corner of Mora Street.
This little patch squeezed between Aldersgate Street and St Bartholomew's church is a real treasure of intrigue. Halfmoon Court is the southern most of five passages leading eastward from Kinghorn Street. Its route used to continue round a curious dog-leg bend before emerging through a narrow covered passage into Aldersgate Street, but the path was truncated earlier this century and is now only half its original length. Many of the neighbouring byways, tiny openings dotted here and there, have gone the same way as in other parts of London - sunken from view, forgotten and erased from the scene. There used to be an array of short connecting passages around here, some can still be found but most have either been sealed off or building developments have obliterated their very existence.
Here, as though you had not guessed, was the Half Moon Tavern. It stood on the corner of Aldersgate Street, an enchanting little place favoured in the 16th century by artists, writers, critics, or anyone feeling the need to engage in literary conversation. In 1866 one of these faithful clients wrote in a local paper that the Half Moon 'is filled with carved woodwork of the most elaborate kind and the walls are curiously panelled'. The old tavern, with its projecting gables and quaint bow windows was certainly a striking feature in a street at that time largely deprived of character. Taking time out from writing Bartholomew Fair, Ben Jonson sauntered round the corner one morning for his daily tipple and found the door firmly locked. He rattled and banged for a while but unknown to him, the landlord had had a heavy night and was still in bed. With the occasional shake of the head and exaggerated tut he shuffled off to the Sun, another celebrated old haunt in Long Lane. There, he settled in a corner, drew out his quill and recorded for posterity the inconvenient occasion:
Tasting the ale, he couldn't resist scribbling down:
Two hundred and fifty years after the death of Ben Jonson in 1637, the Half Moon was hanging on by the skin of its teeth. One by one the taverns around St Bartholomew's were shutting up shop and the Half Moon echoed the call of 'last orders' for the final time in 1881. The Court is still here, much changed over the years, but it remains as a memorial to a dearly loved tavern.
There is still a goodly selection of pubs in the confines of St Bartholomew's but reflecting on the area around the turn of the last century when literally every corner was a tavern door, it is now an ocean turned to desert.
Ham Yard, or at least its site, has seen more appealing times than it can now boast. It was once the luscious open space that from the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I took on the name of Windmill Fields - from an impressive brick windmill built at that time. It occupied the exact site of this Yard and stood, apparently in working condition, until about 1780 when the line of the main street was first laid out. The Lyric tavern which stands on the corner of Ham Yard is the successor to a tavern built about 1730 and at that time called the Ham and Windmill from which the Yard gets its name. The name of the tavern was changed at the end of the 19th century when the building was replaced.
The most interesting feature of this spacious Yard is the market barrows stored here when not laden with fruit and vegetables in the Rupert Street extension of Berwick Street market.
A partly covered passage between the Bung Hole public house and Lloyd's Bank. In the Court are the bookmakers William Hill and, at number 23, the Emile Woolf College of Accountancy.
Hand Court probably takes its name from a trade sign hanging outside the business premises of a previous occupant. In the days when illiteracy was common place and few people could read and write, it was usual to display a familiar sign outside shops to illustrate the style of business being carried on. A well known tradesman would sometimes have his personal sign hanging outside his place of business. Although not nearly as familiar as they were, we still occasionally come across old trade signs in use today, like the barbers pole and the tree balls of the pawnbroker. The sign of the hand would signify a manufacturing trade and would usually incorporate the article being made. What particular trade was carried on in Hand Court is not known but it is quite certain that this was the origin of its name.
At the time of writing, the whole length of the north side of this Alley is adorned with scaffolding against a new stone faced construction of some six or seven storeys. At the western end of the Alley a dozen stone steps raise the level to its opening in St Bride's Street.
Prior to 1868 Harp Alley was about twice the length it is today and emerged at its western end into Shoe Lane. With the building of the new St Bride's Street in that year the Alley suffered in much the same way as the byways on the east side of Farringdon Street; it was severely truncated to accommodate the new layout. During the 17th century the Harp Tavern occupied the adjacent site facing onto Farringdon Street.
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