The first of May was a joyful time in many parts, but Shafts Court and its neighbouring byways enjoyed a lions share of the jovial celebrations which took part on that day. Early in the morning, the largest may-pole, or shaft, ever seen was taken from the iron hooks beneath the eaves of a row of houses either side of the Court, and erected outside St Andrew's Church. So tall was the shaft that, in its upright position, it extended beyond the highest pinnacle on the church tower and from that time St Andrew's became known as 'under-the-shaft'. Children skipped and played, with garlands around their heads, each one having the honourable pleasure of taking hold of a ribbon and dancing round the towering pole until its entire length was a show of neatly ordered colours.
Everyone looked forward to the big welcome offered to the month of May - drink flowed plentifully but there was seldom any significant trouble; that was, until 1517. In that year an almighty scuffle broke out between a band of local youths and foreigners living in the parish; it quickly escalated into an uncontrollable riot and was remembered for years as Evil May-day. The festivities were abruptly brought to an end, the shaft was taken down and returned to its hooks beneath the eaves, never to be erected again.
Thirty two years after the episode, a renowned pulpit-thumping protestant curate of St Katherine Cree held a spell-bound audience at the open-air preaching venue of Paul's Cross. His theme was idolatry, and in the course of his sermon he enforced that by calling the church of St Andrew, 'under-the-shaft', was to say that the church was diminished and that the shaft was made an idol. The cleric persuaded the open-mouthed crowd that for the good of their souls they should return and destroy this confounded pole. 'Alleluia!' they all shouted and scurried off to Sunday lunch. That same afternoon, armed with saws and axes, the crowd gathered on the corner of St Mary Axe to begin their act. The shaft was lowered from its hooks and with mighty determination, each one applied his hand. John Stow was there to witness the ceremony and he concludes his account: 'Thus was this idol mangled, and after burned.'
It is no great coincidence that Stow was on hand at the time; he lived close by, within the parish of St Andrew, and was buried there in 1605. His memorial, paid for by his widow, can be seen at the east end of the north aisle; it depicts the great man seated, as though in a highly decorative hut, at his labours busy inscribing some detail of bygone London. In his hand is a quill, ceremonially replaced by the Lord Mayor at a service held in March or April of each year.
According to Stow the present church was built in 1520 by the parishioners at the expense of Stephen Jennings, Merchant Tailor, and Lord Mayor in 1508. It replaced an earlier church, the first on this site, of about 1300. St Andrew's was one of the lucky City churches to escaped the clutches of the Great Fire, partly due to a vacant plot of land over which the fire could not leap. The open space proved to be a saving grace - the greedy furnace turned on another course to satisfy its ravenous hunger.
In the course of its long history, St Andrew's has been administered by a number of notable parish priests later to become bishops: John Russell (died 1494) went on to become bishop of Rochester, John Pricket who took over the diocese of Gloucester in the 16th century, Robert Grove (died 1696) became bishop of Chichester, and William Walsham How (1823-1897) was bishop of Bedford. More recently, Graham Leonard, as Archdeacon of Hampstead was parish priest here between 1962 and 1964. He was consecrated bishop in 1964 and in the same year was appointed suffragan bishop of Willesden. In 1973 he was enthroned as bishop of Truro and in 1981 returned to London as diocesan bishop. He retired in May 1991.
Shafts Court of today is not so easily identifiable as it was in those maypole days. There are no houses here now, and to add to the confusion there is no nameplate either. In fact there is only a vague impression of a court at all, it consists of nothing more than a flight of steps running up at the side of the P&O building. Perhaps the best means of identification is the Ship and Turtle public house, built into the base of the office building on the corner of the Court.
City workers will speak of Sherbourne Lane merely as a cut-through between King William Street and Cannon Street. Even their grandfathers would scarcely remember the days when little houses and shops lined its length, for the City financiers took a shine to the area well before the beginning of the 20th century. Now, tall buildings dominate the narrow little lane, dwarfing its very existence, and looking up, these skyward monsters seem to almost bow to each other in a superior grace. It does, however, remain a 'channel' and, thank goodness, no attempt has been made to turn it into a main thoroughfare or even a way for vehicles.
John Stow recalls the Lane and says that it originated out of a tributary of Langbourn Water, a stream that at some time emerged in, and ran along the length of Fenchurch Street. In his day, he tells us, the name was Shareboune from a 'share' of the main watercourse. Stow also says that in previous years he had seen it as Southbourne Lane, 'because it ran south to the river Thames.'
Other delvers into the history of London's street names seem to opt for the somewhat crude, but perhaps more authenticated, derivation of Shiteburn Lane; the place of an open-air convenience. As will be seen in other areas of these pages, the naming of London byways after their common usage was not unknown, and this sometimes stretched to the darn right vulgar. Stinking Lane (now King Edward Street) must have been a filthy old place, and there were Pissing Alley's by the score. But in a large city, literally crammed with inns and taverns, where else would a man go to relieve himself?
There used to be a narrow passageway near the north end of the Lane known as Plough Alley, it led into St Swithin's Lane and formed the rear access to the General Post Office. The General Postmaster, who had his house in Sherbourne Lane, would most certainly have used the Alley for passage between home and his office. Thomas Maiden, a printer, lived in a house near to St Mary Abchurch. He was a fervent campaigner and in 1798 he protested to the parish officers of St Swithin's church concerning their decision to remove the historic London Stone 'because it was a nuisance'. His claim was that it should be preserved and returned to its place against the church wall. Maiden won his case and the Stone was replaced in the south wall of the church, but St Swithin's was destroyed by bombs in 1940 and the Stone was rehoused in the Guildhall Museum. The Bank of China now occupies the site of the church and the Stone has since been returned to near its original spot, set into the wall of the bank.
Ever since Dickens roamed the streets of London there has been a Ship Tavern on Lime Street. He doubtless was a frequent caller - or so the management would probably claim; but then we all know that Dickens policy was nightly to visit every tavern in the City of London. Here at the Ship they don't see many tourists - a constant flow of white collar workers keep the wheels grinding - and so they keep such attractions under their hats.
Ship Tavern Passage, like its name sake pub, is not really a sparkling gem in this corner of the Metropolis, so abundantly rich in treasured byways. In fact, entering the Passage from Lime Street is something of gross turn-off, sending out all the encouragement to retrace ones steps and seek consolation elsewhere. Its covered opening, only yards from Leadenhall Market, is no great monument to either antiquity or beauty, and where the Passage becomes exposed to the elements, the rays of sunlight do little to brighten the way.
Without entering into the realms of fantasy it is easy to imagine that at one time this was a bustling place. With lunchtime shoppers overspilling from the market, only strides away, we must wonder, how could it fail? - But it did. The little shops have long since closed and all are boarded up; a sight closely reminiscent of poverty stricken dilapidation. City workers pass by with heads down, scurrying to and from offices around Gracechurch Street - there is nothing to detain them.
Approaching Gracechurch Street the Passage once again becomes covered and here, on the north side, is one of the City's minute gems - the tiny Swan Tavern. With barely room to stand it must be a contender for the smallest bar in London. There are no plush wall to wall carpets here, nothing but bare stone flag floors and behind the bar the wall is of rough brick. For the customer, a princely four feet between counter and outside wall. In this place there is no pushing and jostling to get to the bar - if you are inside, you are standing at it. Tables are out of the question, there is just no available space. The Swan is a pub that must be seen to be believed, but be warned, it is no use requesting a gin and tonic or a whisky and soda, the ground floor bar dispenses ale only. However, a full service is available in the rather more swish upstairs bar.
At the Lime Street end of the Passage there stood, until 1878, the church of St Dionis Backchurch, so appended because it was at the back of Fenchurch Street. Probably first established in the early 13th century and rebuilt during the mid-15th century, St Dionis was burnt down on Monday 3rd September 1666. It was rebuilt in 1674 by Sir Christopher Wren and demolished just over 200 years later, in 1878, when the parish was amalgamated with that of Allhallows, Lombard Street. Part of the proceeds from the sale of the site were donated to the building of a new church of St Dionis in 1885 at Parsons Green.
Ship building on the Thames has never been one of London's major industries and what small-scale works there were usually occupied locations down stream of Tower Bridge. Small private companies such as W N Sparks and Son of Wapping who built and repaired wooden barges, and the firm of Etheredge's, barge repairers, also of Wapping. Further down stream at Felstead Wharf were the ship joiners, J Gregson and Company, but these and a handful of other small-time repairers made up the entire compliment of London's ship building concerns.
No evidence exists of a ship builders occupying the location of Shipwright Yard, but in times gone by, before the long line of wharfs sprung up and segregated the water side from St Olave's Street (corrupted to Tooley Street), it is possible that ships were turned out here.
The Shipwright Arms, at number 88 Tooley Street stands hard by the Yard, a cul-de-sac which in its short length leads up to the railway arches supporting the tracks into London Bridge Station. On the west side of the Yard is the dirty black building bearing the name 'South-east Railway Offices' but, of course, they too have long gone.
Nothing is really known of Mr Smith who apparently once owned houses here. They say he was a recluse and it is not really surprising that he preferred to remain in obscurity when we note the proliferation of revue bars, peep shows and sex shops around his Court. In fact this entire area is swamped with them - hidden away from the prudish main thoroughfares, narrow byways are ideal locations for siting this type of 'entertainment'. Only a stones throw away, Walker's Court, Green's Court and Tisbury Court are tingling with the tramping of male feet eager to step over the threshold. A lonesome gent sauntering about these courts can only be about one form of business - and it aint selling walking sticks to old ladies.
Despite all this frolicking amusement around and about, Smith's Court is not a happy place. Its drab appearance and uneven paving make it one of the less attractive courts in the Soho collection - but then it all depends how we as individuals define attractive.
The dozens of street names in London prefixed with the four main points of the compass commonly denote that they were, or still are, located north, south, east or west of some dominant or principal site. Although they are mostly the result of an unimaginative period of street naming they were chosen for informative purposes rather than their novelty value.
South Yard has been here since at least the mid 16th century and originally formed an open space for stabling and carriage parking for the occupants of buildings lining the south side of Chiswell Street. It would probably have been gated and inaccessible in those days and this situation remains the same in our own time. At its entrance, the short passageway giving access to the Yard has at its entrance a modern brick archway and beneath, the upwardly sloping cobbled path leads to a permanently locked wrought-iron gate, If allowed to proceed beyond this barrier the way would bring you into the yard of Whitbread Brewery. The brewery is now an administrative centre - brewing ceased on this site many years ago.
All was quiet and peaceful in this out of town repose with its luscious green fields, providing ideal recreation grounds for the City dwellers. But things started to change when Walter Brune and his wife Rosia appeared on the scene in 1197 and decided to build a church and hospital on the treasured site for the convenience of poor people. It was named St Mary's and by all accounts was a large place for the time, providing well furnished facilities and beds for 180 and possibly more. The hospital was administered by the Canons Regular of the Order of St Augustin and a supply of helpers brought in to carry out nursing duties and other tasks.
St Mary's continued to supply a service for the needy of the district until Henry VIII had his barney with the Pope, drove out the Canons and closed the place. At some time during the second half of the 16th century the building was pulled down and the site saturated with 'many fair houses built for receipt and lodging of worshipful persons.' (Stow). Adjoining the hospital was a burial ground, now forming Spital Square, and in the north east corner was the open air pulpit known as Spital Cross. By an age old tradition, in the afternoon of Good Friday each year, appointed clerics would preach in violet robes at Paul's Cross and in the mornings of the three days following Easter Day, in scarlet robes at Spital Cross. These events were not of the Sunday morning Hyde Park gatherings; free and easy, shout as loud as you can type, but rather more formal meetings attended by the bishop, the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and orderly citizens. After many years the weather beaten old pulpit was replaced and the sermons continued to take place well after the area was built up with houses. Delivery of the 'Spital Sermon' is continued to this day, but the venue now is St Mary Woolnoth.
Today, when we hear mention of Spitalfields there is one thing that springs to mind - the Market. As long ago as the 16th century the roads around the 'fields' were alive with traders shouting the most recent bargains of fruit, vegetables, and poultry from their stalls. Businesses thrived but the effects of the Great Fire compelled the City officials to adopt new policies on fire prevention and street markets were threatened with extinction. They were seen as presenting too much of a risk and their very presence was thought of as a hindrance to fire fighting. A number of fruitless attempts were made to abolish street trading until it was made illegal by an Act of Parliament in 1674. However, vigorous protesting from traders forced the authorities to review their decision. It quickly became apparent that the solution lay in the building of brick or stone enclosures and by 1680 a number of indoor markets were already up and running. Spitalfields Market was established under a charter granted by Charles II in 1682 - it was open for business on Thursdays and Saturdays of each week and very soon cultivated a reputation for fresh meat and poultry.
During the early 18th century the market building was destroyed by fire and for almost 200 years the Spitalfields traders functioned from temporary stalls and wooden huts. It was not until December 1928 that a new permanent hall was ceremonially opened by Queen Mary and named the London Fruit Exchange. The combined buildings of the fruit and vegetable market and the flower market covered seven acres and formed the largest wholesale outlet of its kind in the world. Spitalfields enjoyed an unrivalled reputation for its amazing selection of exotic foods, brought in fresh every day by lorries from various continental locations. By one o'clock in the morning the market was in full swing with the hustle and bustle of traders, restaurateurs, hoteliers, and greengrocers among the nightly customers. It handled over one and a half thousand tons of produce every day and with an annual turnover in excess of 300 million pounds was second only to Covent Garden.
The area of Spitalfields has been under the threat of redevelopment for a good number of years, and now that threat has become reality. On the 10th May 1991 the stall holders of Spitalfilds pulled down the shutters of the old market for the last time and the end of an era spanning over 300 years came to an end. Some of the old hands, unable or unwilling to accept change, have called it a day and gracefully gone into retirement, others, some reluctantly, have transferred business to the brand new market hall at Temple Mills in north-east London. In the meantime the old market building is being used by stall holders, in all making up an extensive craft fare.
Here, at the end of Spital Yard, the mother of John Wesley, Suzanna Annesley, was born on the 20th January 1669. She was the daughter of Dr Annesley, vicar of St Giles, Cripplegate in the 1650's - he was dismissed from the living for misconduct and retired to Spital Square. Suzanna was the youngest of 25 children born to Mrs Annesley and herself was the mother of 19. It seems that in most ways she was a tolerant women but one of the things she could not stand was crying children. She would regularly beat the little mites in an effort to teach them to cry without making a sound. All of her children could, without faltering, recite the alphabet from a very early age; in turn she gave each of them one day only to learn it to perfection.
Until very recently there used to be a Post Office on the site between the Yard and Bishopsgate but this has been demolished and at the time of writing it has been replaced by a building contractors portable office. Only the south and west sides of the Yard are currently standing and, as yet, the cobblestone paving is untouched.
As an abbreviation of hospital, spital was in regular use in medieval times and the term continued to have its place in the common vocabulary certainly until the end of the 18th century. In his dictionary, Johnson defines spittal as a charitable foundation.
See also Nantes Passage.
The buildings here, believed to have been built by Nicholas Hawkesmoor in the early 18th century, are of red and yellow brick.
This is a private road, which is open to pedestrians only. It leads to the main entrance of Clarence House, the home of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother - now the official residence of Prince Charles. It is also the access road to Lancaster House, built by Benjamin Wyatt for the Grand Old Duke of York, although the Duke died before its completion. The house is only occasionally open to the public, when not in use.
Originally forming an open space by the side of the Bishop of Chichester's house, this Yard was directly connected to Bell Yard, before Carey Street was formerly laid out across Little Lincoln's Inn Fields in about 1660. At that time it was nameless and only came to be known as Star Yard in about 1750 through the presence of the Starr Tavern which stood in Bell Yard. Its only possession in the way of antiquated relics is an old decorative iron structure, situated a little way up on the western side, which was once a gentlemen's toilet. Similar designs were a common sight in London's streets during the last century - this specimen has been out of use for many years and is now padlocked.
About half way along the passage, on the east side, near to the work room of Ede and Ravenscroft, academic, clerical, and legal robe makers, is Chichester Rents, a redeveloped paved thoroughfare incorporating a variety of neat shops. There is a Bistro with tables out in the court, a hairdresser, a florist, a key cutting specialist, a supplier of leather goods and a dedicated pen shop.
At the northern end of Star Yard is Bishop's Court where a wooden gate in the west wall gives access to a little garden. Fixed to the gate is a notice which reads: 'This is a private path. Members of the public use it only with the consent of the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn.' The garden too is private and has no seating, but together with the old houses along the path it is nevertheless very pleasant. High on a wall of adjacent Hardwick Buildings is an ancient warning: 'This wall is built upon the ground of Lincoln's Inn. No windorers are to be broken out Without 1693 Leave.'
A high ornamental gateway leads from the garden out into New Square, a large quadrangle with a central grassed area, trees, and surrounding houses. It was completed by Henry Serle in 1697 for his private use. He eventually let the houses to law students and later the whole complex was taken over by the Society of Lincoln's Inn - they are now the chambers of barristers. On the south side of the Square an arched gateway gives access to Carey Street.
Astronomical emblems have been the selected pickings for inn signs ever since pub names came into existence. Of all these, the 'star' has probably been the most popular, commemorating the ancient days when three wise men trekked across the desert in search of the incarnate Son of God. There was undoubtedly a Star tavern near to this site many years ago but it had disappeared by the 18th century. It may have been replaced by the Horseshoe and Magpie which appeared here about the mid-18th century but that too was removed from the scene in 1840.
By far, the most notable contender for fame on this site was the King's Head. It was to this tavern, on the 10th May 1554, that Princess Elizabeth soberly walked after first attending the church of All Hallows Staining to give thanks for her release from the Tower. On the menu that day there would probably have been roasts of various kinds, boiled chicken or duck, and a selection of pies, but the Queen chose a hearty helping of pork and peas. The platter from which she feasted used to be on display at the tavern but was removed some years ago for safe keeping. When Elizabeth was crowned in 1558, the tavern was renamed the Queen's Head to mark the honourable occasion of her visit, but on being rebuilt in 1878 someone saw fit to change it to the London Tavern. It may still have been here today, serving perhaps a somewhat changed menu, but bombs in 1942 put an end to all that.
Attractions in Star Alley today, save that of its antiquated associations, are few. Alongside is still the church of St Olave, Hart Street, and in the churchyard a solitary gravestone remains, protected by iron railings. The Alley still retains a degree of quaintness in its narrow passage and covered opening into Fenchurch Street.
Branching from Ludgate Hill, a short passageway soon opens out into a sizeable square where on the left is Stationers' Hall, the home of the Stationers' Company, founded in 1403. In 1556 they were incorporated with the Society of Textwriters, with their first hall established in Milk Street, off Cheapside and in 1563 they moved to St Peter's College in Dean's Court, on the west side of St Paul's Cathedral. Their first purpose built hall materialised in 1606 when they purchased the London home of Lord Abergavenny, which stood on the site of the present Hall. The Stationers' demolished his Lordship's house and in its place erected a wooden structure which sixty years later was completely destroyed in the Great Fire. It is estimated that the value of the books lost in the burning of the Hall was in the region of £200,000. In 1670 Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design the replacement hall which still occupies the site, although the Portland stone facing was added by the Company's architect, Robert Mylne in 1805. World War II left the roof of the Stationers' Hall severely damaged and the decorative ceiling devastated, but skilful craftsmanship has since restored it to the original design.
The Stationers' Company was originally established to oversee the stationery, printing and publishing and bookbinding trades and until quite recently it was the tradition for liverymen of the Company to carry on the business of publishing at Stationers' Hall. A proportion of the profits realised were usually distributed annually between colleagues who had fallen on hard times, and sundry expenses incurred by the Company.
Copyright registration was established by the Company in 1557 and primarily concerned the printing of copies following the death of an author. It was not until 1662 that a committee of the House of Commons passed a bill requiring all works printed in Britain to be registered at Stationers' Hall. This Act expired in 1681 and was superseded by a bill of 1710 stating that all works must be registered prior to their publication. An amendment to the bill in 1842 introduced the right of authors to protect their work from infringement by legal action. That Act remained in force until the passing of the Copyright Act of 1911 when it became unnecessary to register a work for protection against infringement.
On the east side of the Court there is an access into Ave Maria Lane.
At number 136 Bishopsgate is the office block named 'Stone House', built in 1927. It stands on the site of a 13th century stone building owned by the Augustinian Friars who had become established at Holy Trinity, Aldgate (St Katherine Cree), St Bartholomew at Smithfield, St John of Jerusalem (Clerkenwell), and various other location around London. This building was known in the locality as 'the stone house'.
Right up to the time of the Great Fire the common material for house building was wood, which formed the main framework. Woven twigs or laths were fixed between the sturdy timbers and slapped over with wattle and daub, a mixture of dung and clay bound together with water. With the problems of transportation, stone was not readily available to the average working man and when it was, the cost was astronomically high so that only the very wealthy could afford it. The most frequent sources in London were fallen down parts of the Roman wall or remnants from City gate repairs. In 1608 the Earl of Salisbury imported stone from a demolished gate of the City of Canterbury for alterations to his house.
Because houses built of stone were so uncommon it was quite the normal means of identification to individually refer to them as 'the stone house'. There would usually be no more than a single stone built house in any one locality so the question of confused identity did not arise. John Stow came across a selection of stone houses on his travels around London and recorded their locations in his survey.
Naturally, fire was a real concern for the authorities and residents alike. Minor fires, destroying the odd house here and there, were every day occurrences. They were no crowd-drawing spectacles of entertainment, people glanced and passed on their way. Samuel Pepys tells of his own, but typical response on seeing a fire. When one of his maids aroused him on the morning of 2nd September 1666 to see a great fire burning a few streets away, he looked out of his window, shrugged his shoulders and went back to bed. Only when his maid informed him, four hours later that she had heard that over 300 houses had been burnt down did he put on his coat and go and have a look.
Governments down the centuries had been trying to enforce regulations to build of stone in an effort to reduce the risk of fire, but the cost was beyond the means of most people. Following a series of widespread fires in the early 12th century and in particular of 1132, 1135 and 1136 the City authorities increased pressure on the citizens to build their houses of fire-safe materials. However, it was not until London's first Mayor, Henry Fitzaylwin, drew up the first set of comprehensive regulations in about 1200 that the City of London saw an increase in stone built houses. Even so, it took the Great Fire to turn the minds of people towards real fire prevention.
Stonehouse Court remains as a memorial to the rugged fortress that dominated the skyline round here in those bygone days, but standing on the corner of the Court in Houndsditch now is another fortress, that of Barkers, the jewellers, complete with the three-ball hanging sign of the pawnbroker. Just outside this shop and spanning the entrance to the Court a large overhead sign leaves no one in any shadow of doubt regarding its name - it is not difficult to miss. Just beyond the sign, a little way into the Court, the Stamp Bureaux occupies an almost quaint little spot, and then rounding a bend we find ourselves in Cavendish Court.
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