Lazenby Court survives on one of the bits of land sold off by the fourth Earl of Bedford in 1635, although its name is of a later date. Squalor and poverty of the most terrible kind existed in the Court and the adjoining Rose Street right up to the late 19th century. Multiple families dwelt in the cellars of houses, each tiny room providing accommodation for up to twenty or more people. Illness and disease were common place and in the damp and filthy conditions child deaths occurred daily. For the few men who had work, the return for their unskilled efforts was meagre and wayside thugs usually stole what little they earned as they trudged home on pay-day. Women, on the verge of despair, nightly left their crying and frail children to earn a few pence in the brothels of Rose Street. In the mid 19th century it was reported that water was available on only four days of the week and that it was polluted and unfit for drinking. Understandably, the area was high on the list of London's cholera infested districts.
When development of the area commenced, about 1639, one of the first buildings to be erected was on the site of the Lamb and Flag public house at number 33 Rose Street. In 1688, when Lazenby Court was constructed, this house was demolished and rebuilt in such a way as to accommodate the passage beneath the first floor rooms. However, the house existed as a private residence until 1771 when it opened as a tavern under the name of the Cooper's Arms. So sordid was its reputation that it became known as the 'Bucket of Blood'. It is reputed that John Dryden, the writer, only escaped murder by the skin of his teeth when, leaving the tavern one night, he was set upon by ruffians in the dark passage. But as Dryden died in 1700 his witnesses were probably as pie-eyed as he was and mistook the location; he quite evidently must have spent the evening in some other hostelry. That old trudger of London streets, Dickens, is said to have popped in at the Lamb from time to time, but then 90% of London's pubs claim the honour and if all are to be believed, Mrs Chivery and Daniel Quilp would have remained a lost figment of his drunken imagination. The tavern was renamed the Lamb and Flag in 1833.
Lazenby Court remains today much the same as it always has; sufficiently narrow to hinder the progress of two people meeting along the way, and as for headroom, it will suffice to say that the lanky will duck or grouse. Along the passage a door opens into the saloon bar of the pub, the scene of many a bout of fisticuffs but now a most respectable place shielding the scars of bygone days beneath an ample camouflage of cheerful old-worldiness. With its close proximity to Covent Garden and St Martin's Lane the Lamb and Flag attracts a variety of clientele, ranging from actors and opera singers to market traders and market browsers. Despite the confliction of dates the management have latched onto the Dryden episode and named a room after the author.
During the life of every man and woman there comes a time when the daily chores become so weighty and tedious, sometimes leading to despair. These are the times when we need to call a halt to the incoming pressures that increase hour by hour, overloading the system with an unrelenting burden hanging around the neck like a two ton millstone. Headaches, blurred vision, acute lethargy, inattentiveness, gross misery, despondence, severe depression - Oh the pain of it all. Before the standard of life reaches such a low, intolerable level and the amber warning light turns to red it is time to call a halt and take stock. At this juncture, in the modern world, we would probably drop everything and hop on the next flight to the Seychelles or some other exotic get-away-from-it-all resort, but 200 years ago that would not have been quite so flippantly achieved. Even a short journey to the countryside could be a counter-productive, stressful experience and if the day of departure was inclement, the wind, rain and cold might have had an adverse effect resulting in pneumonia and death. In an effort to combat the problem Dr John Leake founded a sort of holiday hospital which he called the General Lying-in Hospital, where a few days could be spent in gathering ones thoughts and taking it easy while someone else got wound into a frenzy looking after the 'patients' daily needs and listening to their incessant tales of woe.
The hospital first opened on a site near to Westminster Bridge in 1767 and was transferred to a site near to Leake Street on York Road in 1828. Leake Court is a tributary that runs beneath the railway arches of Waterloo Station and emerges into Addington Street.
Much of the building work on the Duke of Bedford's estate was carried out by one family, over three generations. Richard Ryder, the elder; Richard Ryder, his son and Richard Ryder, grandson of the elder. All three were employed by the Duke's as estate surveyors. It was the last of the three Richard's who held a building lease on a plot of ground to the north of Cranbourn Street in the late 17th century. Leicester Court, which was originally named Ryder Court after him, adopted its new name as recently as 1935.
Leicester Court is only a stones throw away from bustling Leicester Square and as though to put over an image of keeping up with its touristy rigged neighbours the southern part is neatly brick paved, whilst moving somewhat away from the beaten track it seems that dull Tarmac will do. It is a plain Court with no outstanding characteristics, save that of the Crystal Amusement Rooms on the corner of Cranbourne Street.
Many years ago the Red Lion Inn stood adjacent to this Yard, and now the site is occupied by a bead and breakfast establishment of somewhat different character - the Priory Hotel. Displayed in the window of the shop fronted facade a notice reads 'rooms from £20 nightly'. It may not be the most palatial accommodation in London but would you really expect en suite and silver service for a few quid?
As the name sign on the wall tells us, Leo Yard was formerly Red Lion Yard; it was the delivery area of the inn, where empty ale casks were stacked and where the shaggy dray horses hauled the full ones for unloading. A typical feature of inn yards were the cobble stones set into the ground to prevent the horses from slipping. Whilst most of the yards which once belonged to inns and taverns now have modern paving, Leo Yard has been spared the Tarmac and still retains its cobbles.
When a thoroughfare has its name changed, we can very often assume that it has been done to avoid confusion with another place of the same name and in this case that other place was probably the yard of the Red Lion which once stood in Britton Street. However, when we consider that that tavern and its yard were demolished many years before the name change occurred, the mind gets just a little boggled. Perhaps the change was purely of an affectionate nature, or could it have been based on more learned thinking; every Latin scholar will know that 'lion' is the derivative of 'leo'.
A Court situated on the edge of Leather Lane Market, an area identified by John Stow in 1598 as being far from salubrious. Although lying a mere stride away from the jewellery mecca of Hatton Garden there is still a vaguely recognisable association with Stow's observation. Traders have been setting up their stalls here since the 16th century and while Stow probably saw the rough edge of its teething problems, it now functions as a well-organised weekday event for about two hours either side of mid-day. Right up to the early part of the 20th century the problem of unlawful hawking hovered over the market, arising out of a clause in the traders agreement. Because of the narrowness at the southern end of Leather Lane there was a strictly adhered to ruling that market stalls were not to be erected along that stretch. Nevertheless, during the busy lunchtime period traders laid out their pitches there with an ever open eye for the copper on the beat. As soon as one was spotted they were gone as though in a mind-boggling sleight of hand.
To the north and west of Leopards Court the scenery is dominated by row upon row of council owned flats. They are partly on the site of a cluster of houses built in 1590 by Richard Baldwin, gardener to Elizabeth I. In 1690 the properties were sold to a Mr Leigh whose family maintained them until the early 1900's - hence Leigh Place, almost opposite to the Court.
Try, as I have to discover the origin of Leopards Court, every turn has resulted in a vacant blank. I can only conclude that the identity of whoever or whatever instigated the naming of this Court must have submerged into the abyss of time and there it must rest.
This is a passage, which like a piercing needle leads right into the hub of Leadenhall Market - a sight not altogether expected in the centre of financial London. As it departs from Lime Street the introduction is gentle, having the air of a street market without the stalls. Sweeping round the gradual bend where unpretentious shops fit in haphazardly on either side the gentility takes a giant leap and turns to one magnanimous spectacle of ornamental iron-work, pillars and stone adornments.
Lime Street and its Passage first appeared in records in the late 12th century. A place where the building lime traders congregated.
Charles Dickens knew Southwark well and he must have walked the alleys and courts around here numerous times, for he featured many of them in his books. Only through personal knowledge could he have illustrated them in such accurate detail. Many of the landmarks of Southwark are also featured in Dickens. Not far from here is the church of St George the Martyr where his character, Little Dorrit was baptised and in later years married. 'And they were married, with the sun shining on them through the painted figure of Our Saviour on the window.' St Saviour's Dock was Dickens choice of setting when he wrote 'Oliver Twist' and The White Hart, pulled down in 1889, was the place chosen for the meeting between Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller. His inspiration for writing 'Little Dorrit', centred so much around the Marshalsea prison, must have come from the time when his own father was detained there because of bad debts. During this time Dickens was working for a boot-polish maker and lodged in Lant Street so as to be conveniently near to the prison.
The ring of the name Little Dorrit Court kicks into action all the cerebral cogs to churn out a mental picture of beautifully kept old buildings, antique nick-nacks and old gentlemen in stovepipe hats. It might have once been that sort of place but the aura of Dickensian Southwark certainly does not cast its shadow along this path any more. Spoiling the only possible escape to pleasantries is an ugly iron grill separating the Court from a small grassed area with trees and seating, all enclosed by a depressing brick wall. Supplementing the greenery are the weeds sprouting from cracks in the plain rough concrete and dull modern flagstones. Unquestionably, a court of selective appeal
If you wander around the area to the north and west of Borough Station you will find several streets commemorating the famous characters of Charles Dickens; Quilp Street, Weller Street, Pickwick Street, Copperfield Street, Doyce Street, Dorrit Street and, of course, Little Dorrit Court.
There can be few Britons who in the course of their happy wanderings about the City, browsing through the Sunday business section, or sorting out personal finances have never heard of big sister Lombard Street. And shame on the accountant who raises up hesitant doubts of immediate recognition at its mention, for Lombard Street is the alternative definition of banking. Here we are treated to a most colourful display of the decorative hanging signs representing most of the major banks.
It was all started in the 12th century by a community of Jewish traders who set up their businesses in the area as moneylenders. However, it was not all milk and honey; the Jews endured rough treatment from the public for what was seen as their profiteering methods. Successive governments had hated them, always seeking ways to put them down, and finally, in 1290, the entire community was banished from trading and expelled from the country. Over 10,000 families were sought out, their houses and possessions were all confiscated and the Crown made a handsome profit from the sale.
For the Lombards, the timing was just right; Italy was in the grip of severe problems and many countrymen fled to the shores of England, eventually settling in London. They were an enterprising lot and set up their old trades of Jewellers, gold merchants, and money lenders; all operating under 'the sign of the three balls', an emblem which has stuck with the like trade of pawnbroking until this day. They became London's first bankers and for a substantial fee would make advances to local businessmen when times were hard. But the Lombards did not restrict themselves to these basic functions - they introduced a form of insurance scheme for London merchants; in fact they would turn their hands to anything at a price. At the height of their popularity, in the early 14th century, they boasted among their clients such gentry as noble lords and even royalty. The success of the Lombards was enormous but their days in London were numbered.
In 1565 Thomas Gresham turned up an idea inherited from his father, to build a common place where the merchants of Lombard Street could meet to carry out their business. Gresham already owned a shop in Lombard Street, trading as a moneylender and jeweller at the Sign of the Grasshopper, his family crest. The design of the building was intended to be styled on the Bourse in Antwerp over which Gresham had enthused some years previous. In 1566 his plan came to fruition; the foundation stone was laid in June of that year and four years later Queen Elizabeth I inspected the new building and proclaimed amid a fanfare of trumpets that it should be called the Royal Exchange.
The new central Exchange attracted an influx of fresh traders to the area bringing about healthy competition and lower interest rates. However, the Lombards were not moved by the newcomers tactics, they persisted in charging extortionate rates, which very soon made them unpopular among clients and they were forced to depart from the scene.
It seems that the Court has no direct association with the Lombards other than, in the search for a name it was simply called Lombard. It is not even a tributary of Lombard Street, but of Gracechurch Street.
At number eight Lombard Court, slotted in between multi-floored modern offices is The Red Lion, a typical City of London pub serving a wide range of beers and an ample selection of bar snacks. As you may expect, The Red Lion is always busy; its downstairs bar offering a more informal setting and the sparse ground floor bar where the order of the day is standing. It was in this latter where I once observed a young up-start clicking his fingers to attract the attention of the barman, and calling out 'here my good man, fill this!' His actions were not in jest and his vessel was replenished with a promptness unfitting of his behaviour. The Red Lion is not usually graced with such ill-mannered characters; it is a good house and well worth a visit. There are tables in the covered Court for all weather, out door drinking.
Shortly after Great Ormond Street was constructed in 1690 this yard was laid out to accommodate the stables for residents' carriage horses. At that time it was an open-ended yard but has for many years been blocked off at the eastern end by buildings in Millman Street. The name of the Yard is simply a reflection of its original length of about 100 yards. There are no relics of great antiquity amid this mixture of residential and industrial properties. Also gone without trace are the beautiful cobbles which protruded from the earth over which the clatter of horses hooves were an every day sound.
During weekdays the atmosphere around the vicinity of the Yard is typical Bloomsbury, but at weekends the main activity comes from the two pubs in Lamb's Conduit Street. Close by is the Lamb, a splendid Victorian house full of mahogany panelling and still retaining its original snob-screens. In something of a contrasting mode is the Sun at number 63 Lamb's Conduit Street, on the corner of Great Ormond Street. This is a must for beer quaffing addicts, real ale enthusiasts, and the down to earth thirsty; the Sun is a lively freehouse where the only theme is beer, beer, beer. There is always a multiple choice of excellently conditioned ales here, an everlasting beer festival of brews from the country wide, dispensed by a couple of pulls from the forest of beer-engine handles on the counter. By prior arrangement you may even be treated to a tour of the cellar... How do you find it? Elementary, my dear friend, ask the man in the CAMRA 'T' shirt.
From the reign of Richard II the area covering the approximate site of the present Trafalgar Square was the Royal Mews where the King's hawks were kept and attended by the Master of the King's Falcons, Sir Simon Burley. In 1534, during the rule of Henry VIII, after a fire destroyed the Royal stables in Bloomsbury the King enlarged the falconry, building stables and coach houses, and transferred the Bloomsbury activity to Charing Cross. In its new expanded proportions the stable yard was leased out to the King's buddies and it so happened that at that time the Duke of Monmouth had his London billet in Hedge Lane, now Whitcomb Street, only a few yards to the west of Long's Court. For convenience the Duke took possession of a portion of the yard, now occupied by Orange Street, for his private stabling, calling it Duke of Monmouth's Mews. However, life was not so convenient for the Duke when James II ascended the throne; they did not quite see eye to eye and for his misdemeanour he was sought by the King's men. Monmouth was found hiding in a ditch, captured, and sent to the gallows where a drunken executioner missed his aim and had to try again.
It was shortly after this time, about 1690, that the Court was laid out along its present line, running around the rear of a house built on the site of the present Central Reference Library. This house was the last London residence of Isaac Newton where he lived between 1710 and 1727. It later became the home Dr Charles Burney, friend of Samuel Johnson, where he lived with his daughter, Fanny. The present name was not applied until many years later, possibly during the 19th century, and most likely reflects the name of a resident or landlord.
Long's Court is a plain alleyway departing from Orange street via a narrow passageway by the side of the Orange Street Congregational Church and turning through 90° around the rear of the Library to link with St Martin's Street. Its only features of any note are the two working gaslights strategically positioned along a path that is surfaced with modern slabs.
When Richard Blome drew his map of this area in 1686 there were six alleys leading off the Strand between Bedford Street and Southampton Street; four of them continuing through to Maiden Lane. By 1746 this number had increased to ten, but still only four connected with Maiden Lane. From shortly after this time, periodic redevelopment of the site has forced the demise until today there are but three remaining; Exchange Court, Bull Inn Court, and Lumley Court. The first two of these courts are, in their entirety, originals as they were constructed in the 1630's, i.e. they both connected the Strand with Maiden Lane. Lumley Court, although dating from the same period, was one of the cul-de-sacs that extended northwards from the Strand for about three-quarters of its present length. Presumably the way was blocked by a building restriction enforced by the Earl of Bedford whose house was only a few yards to the east. The Court was extended at roughly the same time as Maiden Lane was widened, in about 1872.
Lumley Court is little more than a crack in the wall; it is partly covered and rather spooky - certainly not the sort of place for the claustrophobic to explore in the dead of night. Approaching the northern end of the Court there are a dozen steps raising the level to emerge via a covered exit into Maiden Lane.
A little way to the east of the Court, in Maiden Lane, is the Roman Catholic church of Corpus Christi. It too was built at the same time as the Court was extended and the consecration took place prior to a High Mass in October 1874.
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