Compared with St Christopher's Place on the opposite side of Wigmore Street, Jason Court is quite simply - dull; it is about as appealing as a January dip in the Thames. It has no tales to tell in contribution to the historic foundations of this area, and neither can we revel in a beautifully preserved old footway - it is plain modern slabs. However, this was part of the ancient village of Marylebone, and Marylebone Lane, into which this Court runs, is quite a different matter. A stroll along its twisting course will at once reveal a complete contrast with to the symmetrical layout of the surrounding streets. This very distinctly indicates that it was once nothing more than a pathway along the side of the Tyburn Brook providing an access route to the village, clustered around the parish church of St Mary. Indeed it is the Tyburn which gives the area part of its name.
In the middle ages when this was a suburb village, surrounded by fields and well outside the commercial city, a small church, dedicated to St John, was built on the site where Marble Arch now stands. Almost on its doorstep stood the gallows - a most inappropriate symbol of advertising if ever there was one. Served by the main road of Tyburn Way (Oxford Street) it was an easy location to reach and on execusion days the area became choked with spectators, all straining to catch a glimps of the noosed victims. As the crowds gathered, so did the thieves; there were rich pickings to be made from the densly packed throng precoccupied by the gorey detail. By the early 15th century the villagers were at the end of their tether and decided to quit St John's and establish themselves about half a mile up stream where they built a new church. To completely rid themselves of all association with Tyburn gallows they abandoned the title of St John and dedicated the new church to St Mary.
In those days, when outlying areas were small and local populations were insignificant, places were often identified by the title of the parish church. This area, therefore, came to be known as St Mary by the Bourne. Over the years 'Saint' has been dropped and 'Mary by the Bourne' has been corrupted to the present day Marylebone.
There are a number of little byways in the vicinity of Marylebone Lane: Hind Mews, just north of Jason's Court on the west side of the lane, and between Benting Street and Bulstrode Street on the east side is Benting Mews. Still further north on the east side of the lane is Bulstrode Place and a little further on is Cross Keys Close. To the east of Marylebone Lane on the north side of Wigmore Street is Easleys Mews. All are cul-de-sac walkways and provide additional evidence of the ancient origin of this locality.
A Passage formed from the walkway that led from Clerkenwell Green, through the 'Little Gate of St John' at the southern end and into the courtyard of the Priory church of St John. This 'little' gate was probably much older than the main gateway on the southern side of Clerkenwell Road and remained in use until about 1780 when it was pulled down. On the north east corner of the Passage stood the St John of Jerusalem tavern, pulled down in 1758 to provide a site for Clerkenwell Parish Schools. The schools survived until 1830 when they were relocated and the ground floor rooms were transformed into shops.
Thomas Britton, a countryman from Higham Ferrers and a notable chemist, came to London in the late 17th century and taught himself the trade of a coal dealer. From his house here in the Passage he set out daily, trudging the streets on his rounds and when he had finished, he went round the book stalls in search of second hand bargains. As well as being an antiquarian book collector, Britton was an excellent musician and in the corner of the Passage, above an old barn accessed by a ladder, he had turned a hay loft into a little music room. Here the noble, the talented, and the distinguished gathered every Thursday night to listen and to take part in musical concerts of the highest standard. At one of these events the small assembled group were treated to a performance by the celebrated George Frederick Handel, who turned up to play the single manual organ. Thomas Britton died in 1714 and was buried in Clerkenwell churchyard.
At the southern end of the passage is St John's Square, dissected by Clerkenwell Road, and here on the left is the Church of St John, built in 1723 on the site of the Priory Church of St John of Jerusalem, consecrated in 1185. The Priory of St John was founded in the 1140's on ten acres of lend presented by Jordan de Briset, and Anglo-Norman knight and his wife Muriel who had already founded St Mary's nunnery nearby. Each of the brothers of the foundation took the vows of chastity, obedience and poverty, with a right ot own nothing but the clothes they stood up in. On five days of the week they begged food and on Wednesday's and Friday's they fasted. Their services throughout day and night were given over to the sick and poor. To their vows of chastity and obedience the brothers may have been slaves, but to poverty they certainly were not; within 200 years of their establishment, the Order became abundantly rich.
In 1381 the church was almost completely destroyed through a malicious act triggered off by the Prior himself. Robert Hales, Prior of the Order, also held the office of Chancellor of the Realm and unluckily it was his responsibility to administer the collection of the poll tax - which by all accounts was about as popular as the system introduced in more recent years. Through his connection with the Order, Wat Tyler and John Ball made a beeline for the Knights' property in Essex; they emptied the wine stores, took all the food, and burnt the place down. From Essex they moved on to Highbury, there destroying a manor house, and then turned their sights on Clerkenwell where they broke into the Priory, set it alight, seized the Grand Prior and beheaded him on Tower Hill.
Within a short period the church was rebuilt and the monastic buildings were refurbished with greater splendour than before. At the beginning of the 16th century Thomas Docwra, Prior between 1501 and 1527, completely refitted the Priory but soon after, Henry VIII wielded his big stick, cleared all the buildings and used them for the storage of his personal effects. Although he ordered the church to be pulled down, by some quirk it remained standing until 1550 when it was blown up and the stone was conveyed to the Strand to be used in the building of Somerset House.
During the following years the Priory passed through a succession of hands, one owner being Lord Burleigh, whose lady wife commissioned a complete renovation to the derelict church. It remained with the Lord's Burleigh for most of the 17th century and was bought by Simon Michell, a lawyer, in 1721 who rebuilt the west wall of the church, made several other alterations, and in 1723 it was given over to to the Diocese of London and reconsecrated as St John, Clerkenwell.
St John's Church was returned to the Order of St John in 1931 but was subjected to substantial damage in the last World War. The rebuilding of the church was completed in 1958 to a design by Lord Mottistone who also designed the pulpit in St Paul's Cathedral.
Ask anyone 'in the know', who inspired the naming of this Court, and as sure as night follows day the answer will come back - Dr Johnson. It is true that Samuel Johnson did spend ten years of his life in Johnson's Court, but he had nothing whatsoever to do with its naming; That honour goes to Thomas Johnson, a City tailor, who lived here during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Little else is known of Thomas, but of Samuel there are volumes and his name is as alive today as it was in the 18th century. Samuel Johnson moved into number eight Johnson's Court in January of 1776 after leaving his lodging at number one Inner Temple Lane. With him came Mrs Anna Williams, a Welsh lady who came to London seeking a cure for cataracts but after undergoing an operation totally lost her sight. Johnson took pity on her and after the death of her husband, Zachariah, gave her a room in his house. Boswell described her as 'very peevish; and I wondered at Johnson's patience with her... She was as active as bad health and blindness permitted; though sometimes impatient, for her temper was "marked with Welsh fire."'. Also to Johnson's Court came Robert Levett, 'an obscure practiser in physic among the lower people', who came into Johnson's acquaintance in 1746 and although he was without formal training in medicine, Johnson admired his skill and dedication.
Of the small group that moved across Fleet Street, there was one who in times of depression had made Johnson's life rather more tollerable than it would otherwise have been. He was Francis Barber, 'his faithful negro servant', who had been in Johnson's employment since about two weeks after the death of Tetty (Elizabeth), his wife, while still a young lad of nine or ten. Frank was born in Jamaica, the son of a slave, and was brought to England in 1750 by Colonal Bathurst, father of Dr Richard Bathurst, one of Johnson's intimate friends. When the Colonal became too ill to look after the boy, custody was given to Richard who found the expense of upkeep too great a burden and agreed that Johnson should take him on. When Samuel Johnson took his leave of the 'court which bore his name' in 1776 Francis Barber accompanied him in the short walk round to Bolt Court and remained in his service until the final hour. A blue plaque on the wall records for posterity, the site of number seven, the house where he edited his edition of Shakespeare. Also in the Court, the first edition of 'John Bull' magazine rolled off the press in 1820 under its founder and first editor, Theodore Hook.
The twisting path of Johnson's Court has seen a degree of modern development in recent years but the contours have been left unchanged. Throughout much of its length it is still a narrow covered way as in the days when the lumbering figure of Dr Johnson trudged along the dark passage. He must have trodden this route hundreds of time, for not only did it lead to number seven, but also his house in Gough Square where he lived between 1748 and 1759.
A Court situated right in the heart of Berwick Street Market where a seemingly endless line of stalls stretch down both sides of the road. All varieties of fruits and vegetables are available and the market has a tradition of specialising in the most exotic species. The street markets of London have been a feature of the City for many years and the market in Berwick Street has been here since 1840 - not the oldest by far but certainly one of the most popular. Trading is at its peak around lunchtime when the street turns into a bustling hive of brisk activity, and at the close of business many of the items can be had for little more than a song. The present panorama is a scene quite in contrast to the salubrious sounding description of Berwick Street outlined by Edward Hatton (New View of London) in 1708: 'a kind of row like a small piazza, the fronts of the houses resting on columns.' Number 83 was the studio of John Hall, engraver; it was here in 1791 that he meticulously worked from the portrait of Sheridan by Sir Joshua Reynolds
The modern King of Corsica public house is on the corner of the Court. If you visit Kemp's Court out of market hours when the cabbage leaves and the squashed apples have been washed away, you will find two or three barrows 'resting' by the northern wall.
Market hours are nine to five, Monday to Saturday. The best time to browse around the street and its byways is definitely outside of these times.
Lying bang up against the railway embankment, King John Court is really what we would expect it to be; a narrow road where arches supporting the tracks are utilised to their utmost capacity. It is a lively place; every arch in their individual ways are hives of activity overseen by masters of small business. Motor mechanics and associated trades are much in evidence but here you can employ the services of a freight exporting agent or dispose of your defunct refrigerator or washing machine; a sign fixed to the wall declares 'Scrap urgently wanted'.
King John Court was built about the mid-16th century on part of the site occupied by the Fraternity of St John the Baptist - Holywell Nunnery. It was founded towards the end of the 13th century by the Bishop of London with further buildings being added by Sir Thomas Lovell in about 1500. Compared with some of the religious houses in the City of London, Holywell rated among the smallest and covered the site between here (Holywell Lane) and Bateman's Row to the north.
During Henry VIII's mass closure of the religious houses the nuns were given orders to quit and their church and domestic quarters were surrendered to the Crown in 1539. All the buildings were subsequently demolished and the land sold off for building development. During the following years a number of houses of very adequately dimensions were erected on the site, along with two playhouses and the area became fashionable with the middle classes.
The inclusion of King in the name of the Court is something of a mystery but the likely answer is that this was a mis-transcription of Saint John. King John reigned between 1199 and 1216 and so would not have been around at the time.
When the borough of Southwark was a haven for ale swillers, centuries before the stuff was dispensed from an illuminated box on the counter, and when 'amber nectar' was the staple diet of bees, the Pope's Head, built in 1530, held prominence on this strip of land. Just about this time Henry VIII was having his tussle with the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope was not high on his list of commendable persons. To avoid any annoyance to the King and a possible stretch in the Tower, it seemed a wise move to change its name to the King's Head. In 1560 the inn was part of the estate of Thomas Cure, Master of the Queen's Horse and founder of Cure College. When Cure died in 1588 a Mr Humble took possession of the inn and it seems to have remained in his family at least until 1676.
In that year catastrophe struck; along with the other old inns lining Borough High Street, the King's Head was largely destroyed in a fire believed to have started near to the George Inn (see George Inn Yard and White Hart Yard). As though they had divine knowledge concerning the future of the inn, the Humbles got out just in time - no insurance, a quick sale, and the new owner picked up the bill. It was reconstructed shortly after to a design closely resembling the original. The Inn later became the property of St Thomas's Hospital who, in about 1760, leased it to Henry Thrale, brewer and owner of the Anchor Brewery, Bankside.
A decorative round archway with an overhanging sign depicting Henry VIII gives access to this impressive passage. It is still cobbled as it was in the days when dray horses clattered down here, although the modern uniformly positioned type now covering the ground are rather more kind to the feet. Almost all the buildings in King's Head Yard have either been replaced or modernised but the character of the place has largely been retained and merely brought into present times.
Formerly Bedford Place and York Place.
The name refers to the King's Scholars of Westminster School, founded by Elizabeth I out of the ancient monastic school run by the monks of Westminster Abbey. Following the Reformation, when the Abbey became a cathedral, the school was renamed the King's Grammar School and initially had provision for educating forty boys. The school never had any direct relationship with the Passage or even the land on which it is built but the honour rests in a distant association.
To the west of the Collegiate Church of St Peter (Westminster Abbey), Tothill Fields stretched out as far as what is now Victoria Station. Development of the northern part of these fields began in the early 1600's to meet the demands of the middle classes who were hell bent on defying the King in owning their own houses. Further south, however, it remained a soggy marsh only saved from becoming a swamp by drainage assisted by the Tyburn Brook. As building land it was pretty much a lost cause - that was, until a successful attempt at complete drainage was achieved in 1810 and development was commenced by first of all constructing a playground for Westminster School on the site now called Vincent Square.
In the course of its long twisting journey from the upper reaches north of Oxford Street, the Tyburn flowed to a point just south of Buckingham Palace where it split into two separate streams. The wider of these two branches continued eastward to flow into the Thames near Westminster Bridge whilst the other, which was then called King's Scholar Brook, continued southerly, roughly in the direction of the north-south line of Stag Place and Tachbrook Street, entering the Thames east of Vauxhall Bridge. About the time when Vauxhall Bridge Road was laid out, in 1815, this section of the Tyburn was channelled through an underground conduit. King's Scholar Passage was thus formed from the water course which still runs beneath its paving.
The Passage today has little use; it serves as neither a short cut nor an access and merely provides a rear entry to buildings fronting onto Vauxhall Bridge Road and Carlisle Place. Leaving Carlisle Place the line quickly turns through 90° to continue its long length in a southeasterly direction. Here, beneath a round cover in the middle of the road is a man-hole giving access to the Tyburn flowing below.
Branching from Beak Street through a square whitewashed tunnel, Kingley Court is an attractive place. Beyond the entrance it opens out into a yard where well maintained old warehouses now serve as premises for modern businesses. At the northern end of the yard a large sign forming the name 'Kingly Court' surrounds an arched tunnel which used to lead onto Ganton Street, but this exit was blocked off many years ago by the building of shops.
This is an old Court, rebuilt at some time in the last century and still retaining a pleasing quality. It was built shortly after 1686 along-side the line of a track cutting through Six Acre Fields, a plot of land once owned by the abbot of Westminster and snatched by Henry VIII when he dissolved the monastery in 1536. Henry held on to the land throughout his reign and it passed down through successive monarchs until the present time when much of this area remains Crown property. Until the beginning of the 20th century the Court and adjacent street were simply called 'King' but in 1906 'ly' was added to avoid confusion with other 'king's.
A few strides to the east of Kingly Court is Carnaby Street that world-wide known mecca of shops catering for the clothing needs of the young at heart. It sprang from the existence of Richard Tyler's 17th century squat, Karnaby House, built in 1683 and demolished in the 1720's. Carnaby Street was tossed into the limelight in the swinging 60's when the name was on tip of the tongues of every trendy bopper but it now survives as a mere relic of those former days.
In the calmness of the morning air on the 5th September 1666 the smoke was still rising from the cremated remains of the old King's Head Tavern in Coleman Street. Its yard, so narrow that scarcely two people could pass, was blocked by a heap of charred wood. If notable for no other feature, the narrow alleys of Coleman Street would have tried the patience of a saint. During the Great Plague, the restrictive width of these alleys presented John Hayward, the assistant sexton, with a most inconvenient obstacle he could well have done without. His busy day was made all the more tedious through having to leave his dead cart in the main street while he man-handled the plague stricken bodies from their homes onto a wheel-less truck to convey them along the confined passages. It was something of a fair miracle that he never fell victim but lived for a further twenty years after the epidemic was past.
Within the ten years following the Great Fire the tavern was rebuilt and at this time, whether by intention or error, the name was changed to the King's Arms. While work on the tavern was taking place, additional buildings were erected along the full length of the Yard, which in those days continued without a break between Coleman Street and Tokenhouse Yard. When the Moorfields gateway was taken down in the 1760's a new road was planned to link City Road and Islington with the Bank, but the proposal aroused fierce hostility and the project was dropped. By the time the planners tried again there were more vehicles on the road, more hold-up's, and opinion in the City had changed - Coleman Street was by then a constantly congested route with no alternative. The construction of Moorgate in 1840 was a vital improvement connecting the roads from the northern suburbs with newly built King William Street and so provided a direct route to London Bridge, but it drastically affected the Coleman Street alleys. Although the move involved the demolition of dozens of houses in Great Swan Alley, Great Bell Alley, and King's Arms Yard it did go some way towards the clearance of dilapidated slums, intolerably close to the Bank.
When I first included 'Kinnerton' in the list of place names it was headed as Kinnerton Yard, but whilst the Yard is a worthy place in itself it is only a part of a whole string of charming byways branching from this unusual street - eight of them in all. Illustration by words of such a wondrous setting, no matter how exuberant, can only show the black and white outlines of these romantic picture book mews where coloured tints are the vital ingredient.
Beginning in the north, right at the very end, is Duplex Ride, its origin unknown but possibly from a house split between two owners. Next is Studio Place, named from an artists' work room which occupied the yard until about 1940. The two inlets of Kinnerton Place North and Kinnerton Place South come next, followed by Frederic Mews, recalling a previous resident; then comes Ann's Close, from Ann... who lived here at one time. Then to the yard of a carpenter and undertaker, Capener's Close, where John Capener built up his business making coffins; and so to Kinnerton Yard, a recently refurbished residential mews where neatly pointed red brick buildings are the prominent feature.
Along Kinnerton Street, between these fine mews, every single one of the tiny residential houses is a representation of elegance with their narrow doorways and shiny knobs. At number 71 the row is gently interrupted by the Wilton Arm with an abundance of plants about its frontage - but not content with one hostelry, this short secluded street boast yet another - the Nags Head, at number 53. If there is one pub in the entire expanse of central London where the country yokel would feel at home, this is surely it. Along with a multitude of other establishments, the Nags Head claims the prize for being the smallest pub in the capitol. Whether it can uphold its claim against competition or not, it is certainly small. There are three bars here, all situated on different levels, but with the feet firmly on the ground, at street level is the place to be. In this room there is a beautiful black-leaded grate and accompanying wood burner, surrounded by an ample compliment of nick-nacks. Slouching on the bar in the Nags Head is totally out of the question - it stands about two feet high and the compulsion to sit down on the squat bar-stools is almost overpowering. Standing proud on the low bar are the four Chelsea China beer-pull handles which won outstanding merit at a Brewers' Exhibition about 150 years ago. The service here is personal and welcoming. They offer a comprehensive menu of snacks and more hearty fare, but don't be put off by the spelling. When I last visited this house a certain notable dish was advertised as cronkin-van, and until it was corrected caused roars of uncontrolable taughter. In its picturesque location the Nags Head would fit just as snugly on the corner of the green in a quiet village.
Not wishing to be out done by nearby Groom Place, Kinnerton Street owns its personal corner shop, an asset fast becoming extinct even in places where the community have no alternative retail outlet, let alone the West End on their doorsteps. Kinnerton Street is most certainly a place to visit - but do come during opening hours.
Lamb's Passage owes its origin - or rather its present name - to Thomas Lamb, who chose to earn his daily crust by the process of applying specially formulated gum to course linen material and was thus he was called a buckram maker. He took up residence here in the late 18th century when it went under the name of Great Swordbearers Alley - presumably identifying the home of some military gentleman - and moved on to pastures new (heavenly or earthly, I know not) in 1813, the year his name was applied to the Passage. It is beyond the limits of on-hand information to look up the financial rewards a buckram maker would expect to reap for his services but whilst he was in this quarter he was charged with an enthusiastic inspiration to assist the poor of the neighbourhood. By some means he raised sufficient funds to build a block of tenements on adjacent ground for their well being and comfort; they subsequently came to be known as Lamb's Buildings.
Over the years Mr Lamb's old stomping ground has descended a good few rungs on the pleasant places ladder and now rests somewhere between semi-neglected and dog-eared-with-potential. The dominating, characterless City and Islington College adds nothing to enhance the graces of the Passage but if its dismal walls were not here they would be casting a dark shadow on some otherwise cheerful little spot. Offering a somewhat more acceptable credential is the small office building of the Catholic Herald and adjacent to this, Priest's House, the presbytery to St Joseph's Roman Catholic church which lies to the rear of the house.
In 1577 William Lamb, a clothworker by trade but musician by profession, repaired at his own expense of £1500 the old conduit, or water duct, which fed water to Smithfield, from a spring at Holborn. His generous deed is commemorated not only in the Passage but also in Lamb's Conduit Street to the north of here.
On the corner of the Passage the foliage draped Dolphin Tavern provides outside tables for the clientele on those sweltering summery days. However, you must not expect the panoramic view to equal that of a quaint old village inn - this is after all only a few steps from the main thoroughfare of Theobald's Road. Further along the Passage the British Humanist Association have their base and on the south-west corner is Conway Hall, home of the South Place Ethical Society, a liberal religious organisation formed in 1793.
From Conway Hall the Passage opens out into the long and narrow Red Lion Square, laid out in about 1684 by Nicholas Barbon. It took its name from the Red Lion Inn, a large thriving hostelry that occupied a site near to the Pearl Assurance Building in Holborn. In 1661 the bodies of Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw were exhumed from Westminster Abbey and carried to the Red Lion where they waited over night. The next day they were dragged on sledges to Tyburn, beheaded and burnt near to the gallows. At some stage this small piece of history was corrupted into the belief that Cromwell was buried in Red Lion Square - its only foundation is in the minds of those who were swayed by the tale.
It comes as something of a surprise when you find this little cluster of shops hiding behind the great jewellery houses of New Bond Street. On the right is the Little Mayfair Sandwich Bar and Bond Street Print and Graphics. The Court opens out into a small yard recently formed from a stretch of Avery Row. Here is the Chick Chack Café serving all day breakfasts and the Mayfair Hairdressing Salon. The origin of the name, Lancashire, is obscure but possibly originates from a trader having connections with that county.
Although short in length and totally devoid of ornamental buildings to
show off, Lancashire Court is a pleasant place. It provides a temporary escape from the
perhaps overpowering sparkle of New Bond Street. Here there are a couple of recently
renovated gas lamps, now converted to electricity. There are also telephone kiosks in the
Long Acre marks the northern boundary of the 40 acre convent garden of the Abbey of Westminster, acquired by the first Earl of Bedford in 1552. The Court, originally constructed about 1615 on land leased from the Earl, was first known as Blackamoor Alley and only a few years later it was recorded as Leg Alley. When Sir Roger Langley, a barrister of the Inner Temple, acquired the lease on a piece of land crossing Long Acre in 1715 he built his house on the site of Langley Street, on the opposite side of Long Acre. To the south of his house he built new properties and renovated old ones; Leg Alley was subsequently changed to Langley Court.
Although there are no relics of bygone days down Langley Court it is a moderately satisfying passage; not too narrow, yet not too wide. There ia a variety of about half a dozen shops along the way, as the Court passes unhindered by twist or turn towards Floral Street.
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