It is a good many years since these parts were filled with the scented aroma of primroses; the only vegetation in evidence nowadays is the occasional straggly weed poking its anaemic head between the paving in search of a faint sparkle of daylight. This is a dismal place - although not as dismal as it was before the developers took hold of it - desperately in need of brightening up with a display of flower baskets dotted here and there.
Primrose Hill was once a through route providing a short cut between Tudor Street/Whitefriars Street and Salisbury Square, entering by the side of the now disappeared Salisbury Hotel. It was closed off in the 1960's when the Square was given a new image and Salisbury House replaced the Hotel. However, the passage does have its uses, even if the only way out is by the same way that you went in. Here, for the convenience of those in the know, is the back door of the Harrow public house, with its frontage at number 22 Whitefriars Street. The history behind the name of this tavern is very vague but one thing is certain; its foundations have nothing whatsoever to do with cultivating the land in these parts. But as the situation stands, the Harrow has two credits of worthy note: its rear access is the only characteristic feature of Primrose Hill; the ale is kept to perfection, and, as a bonus, the virtue of these off-the-beaten-track pubs is that you will not be ripped off.
Since Lord Grosvenor completed the lengthy project of building up his estate in the mid-18th century, Mayfair has been one of the most desirable addresses in London. It must, however, be remembered that for all the household staff employed by the aristocratic residents there were only a limited number of 'live-in' rooms available which meant that those 'off call' were lodged in billets nearby. The northern part of Mayfair, in which Providence Court is situated, grew up as a favoured location for the housing of service staff and associated working classes. In 1886 the Grosvenor Estate was party to building nine blocks of flats in the area to supplement Clarendon Flats in Balderton Street (built in 1871), in total providing accommodation for over 2000 domestics.
The wide expanse of Providence Court - it would be more appropriately designated a street - was probably originally built for stabling and carriage parking, perhaps with dwellings for attendants. Although there are no horses or carriages here today, the Court retains a character very much in the 'light' industrial mode with clean buildings of rugged red brick. Outside Providence House, at number 18, there is a fascinating, though somewhat peculiar, ornamental gas standard lamp. Of the name - we know not whether the inhabitants provided a service of providence.
This is quite literally a passage; it leads to nothing and nothing leads to it. By its narrow covered way we merely pass between Ironmonger Lane and King Street to come face to face with the Bank of Brazil. However, for this narrow alley of such apparent insignificance someone saw fit to line its walls from end to end in white glazed bricks, a seemingly unusual and extravagant embellishment for what is effectively a short cut. But perhaps there is more to this humble path than meets the eye - an occluded history lurking, or even lost, in the depths of time. Or could it be that the evidential facts are there lying mistily beneath the surface and I, through ineffective means, have totally missed the bate.
Whatever we make of it, Prudent Passage, in name, has only been with us for little over 100 years. During the mid 18th century it was known as Sun Alley, possibly from a shop sign, and it retained that name until 1875 when it first appeared as Prudent Passage... An over cautious resident?
Despite its insignificance, the Passage is very easily identified; Look for the stump on the edge of the pavement, directly opposite to the remaining tower of St Olave's church in Ironmonger Lane.
Puma Court is guarded at both ends by four black painted stumps and is illuminated by three tall gas style lamps down the centre of the walk way.
On the north side of the court are a collection of tiny almshouses built 'for the poor inhabitants of the Liberty Norton Folgate' in 1860. There used to be a number of stone urns littered around the Court but these are no longer in evidence. The entire Court is a pleasurable experience; it is not grand or lavish in any respect, but there is an air of tranquillity and modest charm about the place. Modern developers have not yet found Puma Court, leaving the hair stylists shop and neighbouring houses to survive in the abounding peace along side an old rugged stone path. But what of the big cat?
Across Commercial Street is the closed down Spitalfields Market currently being used by traders of all sorts of craft wares. In a street on the south side of the market, now demolished, Jack the Ripper committed his sixth and final murder. A little to the south, on the corner of Fournier Street and Commercial Street, is the Ten Bells public house and on the opposite corner is Christ Church, Spitalfields. It was built in 1714 by Nicholas Hawksmoor, although his structure has been somewhat altered following a fire in 1836 and further modifications of 1866. Christ Church was saved from total extinction in 1960 by a group of Hawksmoor enthusiasts who heard on the grape vine that the diocese were reluctant to finance the cost of vital repairs and planned to pull it down. This group eventually founded the Hawksmoor Committee and persuaded the diocese to financially support a team of voluntary renovators.
A wonderful labyrinth of alleys and courts used to straggle between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane, but sadly, of these dozens of minute burrows, only a handful now remain. Quality Court, as we might devise from its name, was one of the more 'classy' addresses in the district. It was built about 1700, although not specifically with the view of attracting the upper crust of society to its confines, but with its stylish houses and spacious accommodation that is just what happened. When the properties went up for sale they came in droves, but, of course, the dwellings were few and so the speculators made their offers to the highest bidders.
John Strype, writing up his survey in 1720 says this is 'a very handsome, large and airy Court, lately built, with very handsome brick houses...' It was then called New Court but resulting from the life style of the new inhabitants was commonly known as Quality Court - much in the same way as we now refer to selected roads where the supremely wealthy reside, as 'Millionaires Row'. Strype continues 'for the goodness of the houses, and the inhabitants, is by some called Quality Court.'
Quality Court is still rich in quality with its old stone flag paving and potted shrubbery dotted here and there. Situated at the far end of the Court, at number 45, is the Patent Office, from where patents are issued and where the Patent Roll, recording the patents issued in the United Kingdom within any year, is kept. There is no doubting that this is Quality Court - its name is boldly displayed in wrought iron letters over its covered access in Chancery Lane.
Only a memory of the Queen's Head now remains; the old inn had stood on this site since the early 15th century and ended its days in 1886. It was rebuilt once, owing to the savage fire of 1676, which swept with amazing speed along the Borough High Street taking everything in its path. The inn started life as the Cross Key Inn but presumably its name was changed in an effort to please Elizabeth I, who by all accounts was not of the most tolerant breading.
During the early 17th century the inn was owned by John Harvard, born the son of a butcher in 1607, baptised in St Mary Overy and attended St Saviour's Grammar School. Through the sale of the inn in 1637 he supplemented his already substantial fortune and on his death in America he endowed Massachusetts University with a significant portion of his wealth, and library. To reflect his generosity the name of the University was subsequently changed in his honour. In about 1668, after going through a succession of owners, the buildings to the rear of the inn were given over for the use of St Saviour's Grammar School and the Company of Saddlers'. A year later the inn was bought by local brewer, John Applebee, in whose charge it remained until it was pulled down.
This is one of the less tampered-with Yards of Borough High Street where some of the old cobbles stones of former days still remain, although they are now patched up with Tarmac. Interestingly, the Yard still has the old running stones laid in the ground to prevent rutting by horse pulled vehicles; they run down into the wider part of the Yard which is partly covered with a seasoned wooden structure. On a high level, just inside the Yard entrance is the remains of a wrought iron bracket which once carried a gas lamp, and just below, all that is left of the gas feed-pipe.
Nestling in the corner of Charles Street and Waverton Street we come face to face with the Red Lion tavern, heavily draped from top to bottom in luscious greenery. It stands on the site of a previous Red Lion and with its 'patio' along the front, encourages a multitude of outside drinkers on summery days. In this quiet corner, tucked away in secretive Mayfair, the Red Lion is quite at home; it is the type of house typically found in a small village - all that is missing is the green and the cricketers. Running along side is the yard, named from its location rather than its association - it was never the delivery yard of the tavern as is usually the case with many like named byways. This is one of the delights of byway saunterings; unruffled by the scurrying of crowds, narrow, cobbled Red Lion Court is permanently 'asleep'.
Nestling in the midst of a modernised block on the corner of Fetter Lane the narrow passage of Red Lion Court branches from Fleet Street undeterred by the rolling years. A little way along, the passage widens out and here, until quite recently, stood the Red Lion tavern - after which the Court was named. There has been a tavern in Red Lion Court since 1575 but unfortunately the long establishment came to an end when redevelopment encompassed the area a few years ago - alas, the Red Lion is no more. It was a friendly little place, tucked away minding its own business and hindering no one. The brown glazed brick frontage to the lower floor welcomed many an office worker and inside, the tiny bar was given a spacious effect by a proliferation of mirrors around the walls. Quietly unassuming, it boasted no great characters as past customers; Johnson never set his foot through the door and, surprisingly, neither did Dickens. The Red Lion remained to the end of its days one of the most charming relics of old London. Just past the site of the tavern a right left kink leads to Pemberton Row where an arrow on the wall points right, under an archway, to Dr Johnson's House in Gough Square.
As the Great Fire approached Red Lion Court, on its westward progression, it came up against a brick built house which gave the City fire fighters that much needed time to demolish buildings further along the way. By creating an open space over which the fire could not jump, it spread no further in this direction. But the blaze had already been roaring for three days and the total number of burnt out buildings, comprising of 13,000 houses, 84 churches, 44 company halls, and St Paul's Cathedral was not far off. A staggering fate for a blaze which began from a spark in Mr Farriner's Pudding Lane bakery.
Red Lion Court forms part of labyrinth of little passages that twist and turn behind the shops on the north side of Fleet Street. Although many of the old buildings have been replaced by modern structures these age-old byways hold a great deal of history and provide for a very satisfying stroll away from the hustle and bustle of Fleet Street.
This is an attractive but simple Court, brought into full glory in summer months by a display of hanging baskets and window boxes adorning the Rising Sun tavern. A tavern has occupied this corner of Cloth Fair for centuries and many years ago the court running alongside formed its busy yard. During the early 1970's it seemed that the Rising Sun was destined to go the same way as the dozens of other taverns which once graced the precincts of St Bartholomew's. It was boarded up with all glimmer of life extinguished from its bowels. Its signboard hung as a weather-beaten faded hue, but Samuel Smith's came on the scene and injected an overdue dose of revitalisation.
In 1573 Inigo Jones, a notable designer of stately buildings who became Surveyor to Prince Henry in 1611, lived near to this Court. He died in 1652.
Also see Cloth Court
Strolling along Chancery Lane, on the east side, it is impossible to miss the elaborate fortress like building of the Public Records Office. It was built in two stages; the Fetter Lane section between 1851 and 1866; the Chancery Lane section between 1891 and 1896. Much of the roof is constructed of iron and the whole structure is made as near fire proof as possible, for this is the principle national archives and repository for State papers and legal documents of national importance. The adjoining Passage, whilst having its roots way back in history, is entirely built of modern but tasteful structures, although the paving might have been laid of a material perhaps slightly more luxurious than Tarmac. Near to where the Court turns through 90° to join Bream's Buildings is the Blue Anchor public house.
Probably of more general interest than the Records Office itself is the adjoining Public Records Office Museum, It occupies the site of the old Chapel of the House of Converts built in 1232 by Henry III for Jews converted to Christianity. In 1307 the house and chapel were put in the charge of Adam de Osgodeby, Keeper of the Rolls, but it was not until the appointment of William Ayremyne in 1378 that the two offices were formally united. Ayremyne carried out a number of modifications to the house and made it his principle residence; from shortly after this time the chapel was known as the Rolls Chapel. Successive Keepers (or Masters) continued to hold the joint offices until the appointment of George Jessel in 1873 who was elevated to the position of Master of the Rolls but not Keeper of the House of Converts.
The house and chapel were twice rebuilt, firstly in 1372 and again, because of dilapidation, in 1717 when the house was greatly enlarged. When the decision was made to construct the present building, the house was demolished to provide extra space. Although there were vigorous protests against pulling down the chapel, it too came to the end of its days in 1896.
In the Museum are the monuments to various holders of the office of Master of the Rolls, many of them buried beneath the floor of the old chapel. Secured in the many numbered cases are document from Kings and Queens, Prime Ministers, Lords, notable dignitaries, conspirators and numerous other historic characters, but the most cherished possession is the Doomsday Book. The two volumes contain the statistics resulting from a survey of thirty-four counties in England carried out for William the Conqueror in 1086. Here also is the Doomsday Chest, the triple locking 'safe' which housed the volumes while kept in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey.
When King Street and the adjoining streets were still in their primary years and St James's lay on the verge of open fields, the Rose and Crown tavern was entering its swinging hey-day. It stood on the south side of King Street with the Yard at its side, bustling in the shadow of newly built houses already attracting some of the most affluent families in London. Since there is no early licensing record of the tavern or its owner, the Rose and Crown probably started out as one of the fashionable coffee houses which sprang up throughout this district in the 1670's. It certainly existed as a tavern in later years and most likely survived until the late 18th century.
At some time in the history of the Yard, probably following the closure of the tavern, there were a number of small dwellings here for the accommodation of the less affluent set. Properties such as these were sometimes rented or owned by the nobility for housing the lower graded servants such as those who were not required to be permanently on hand.
Rose and Crown Court starts from Foster Lane as one of those delightful covered passages so familiar in the City. Too soon the delight is partially marred by modernisation and a trace of neglect as it turns right to link up with the eastern end of Priest's Court. From here it winds through what used to be an enchanting passage of twists and turns behind St Vedast's, to emerge in Gutter Lane. There are still twists and turns along this way but the enchantment faded away years ago.
The Court is the remnant of an inn so long gone and apparently of such insignificance that nothing relating to its history now survives. It probably stood here during the 17th century but its dates are buried with the inn itself. Of more modern times the Granary Restaurant holds dominance in its adjacent position at number six Foster Lane.
By the 1590's Southwark was already established as one of the most popular places of entertainment in London. The choice was endless; bear baiting, dog fighting, cock fighting, acrobatic monkeys, and four theatres. The first of these theatres was the Rose, built on the site adjacent to this Alley as a joint venture by Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn. In 1585 this duo purchased a house on the west side of Rose Alley known as Little Rose House - so called to distinguish it from a larger property to the east also called Rose House. They subsequently pulled the house down and in its place built their circular wooden theatre, which of course could go under no name other than the Rose. It opened in 1588 and enjoyed a good few years of profitable attendance until competition from the newly constructed Globe, only yards away, resulted in a declining audience. The Rose was demolished in about 1605.
Edward Alleyn did not only rank among the finest actors of his time, he was also a shrewd businessman and went on to invest his interest in other entertainment of Bankside. After the folding of the Rose he took control of the Bear Gardens and with his partner Philip Henslowe owned a large proportion of public venues including the money spinning brothels, known as stews. Before he departed this life Alleyn founded a group of almshouses in Dulwich, collectively naming them 'The College of God's Gift' where he was buried in the chapel.
On the east side of Rose Alley is a ten storey modern office block built of orange brick and to the west is the rear of the Shakespeare Globe Museum (formerly Bear Gardens Museum), a rugged brick structure.
Towards the southern end of Rupert Street this narrow, partly covered Court reaches out to connect with Wardour Street, at one time noted for its association with a thriving British film industry. The Court was built, along with its namesake street, in 1677 and named as a tribute to the cavalier efforts of Prince Rupert in the Civil War. However, it seems that had the naming of streets been left to Samuel Pepys we would not have had Rupert Street, Court, Road, or anything else. For on the 29th September 1667 the old scribbler inscribed in his diary 'This day or yesterday, I hear, Prince Rupert is come to Court; but welcome to nobody.' Whether he liked it or not made no difference, but some years later old Sam himself was posthumously remembered in a like fashion.
Nell Gwyn was a one-time nearby resident. In 1666 she took up residence in a house just to the north of the Court, in Wardour Street. And who would you guess signed the lease? - none other than that dark horse, Charles II. We might suppose that he also had something to do with her removal to a house next to the gardens of St James's Palace in 1671, but that is the subject of another story.
Rupert Court is a pleasant welcoming place; it occasionally bustles with the to and fro of people passing between the streets, some pausing for a brief moment to glance in the little shop windows, others in too much of a hurry to notice. By night it seems to rest, which is a strange thing when we consider that this is only a stones throw from the late hour resorts of Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Shaftsbury Avenue. Lying adjacent to the Court is the shop of Wilson, Roberts and Company selling a fascinating selection of teas and coffees ranging from the plain bland to the most exotic of oriental flavours. Mingling with the variety of foliage-draped shops in the Court is the Blue Posts public house, so named from an old time practice of referring to taverns by the colour in which the door posts were painted, rather than a hanging sign board. There used to be a licensed establishment of a different kind at the opposite end of the Court, but that ceased when the pawnbroker was driven into virtual extinction some years ago.
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