When Henry VIII dissolved the Priory and hospital of Our Blessed Lady, commonly called St Mary Spital, he took their land and apportioned it at his own discretion. Seeing that the military were in need of a permanent site on which to practice defence, he offered the southern acres to their Company. John Stow, on his travels around the City in 1598 noticed that the ground 'being inclosed with a brick wall, serveth to be an artillery yard, whereunto the gunners of the Tower do weekly repair, namely, every Thursday; and there levelling certain brass pieces of the great artillery against a butt of earth, made for that purpose, they discharge them for their exercise.' Although the ground was often referred to as 'Artillery Yard' its complete name was 'Tasel Close Artillery Yard' from it being laid out on the site of a field for growing teasels which the Huguenot weavers of Spitalfield used for combing their materials.
All that, however, is long past and Artillery Passage retains none of its regimented military acquaintances. It is a most intriguing place with a colourful array of signboards hanging overhead from the rows of shops, like flags on a royal occasion. Here there are is an ample selection of purveyors of a variety of foodstuffs, predominantly of Asian origin. There are two Indian grocers, a sandwich bar, various other eating establishments, and when you have sampled and noshed to your heats content there is the convenient dentist to clean the residue from your choppers
The Artillery Company abandoned the site in 1642 when the present street layout was formed. Gun House, on the corner of Sandy's Row stands as a further memorial to the artillery practice ground and Artillery Lane leading off the Row has the tributaries of Gun Street and Fort Street.
Between about 1240 and 1538 a large site reaching from Fleet Street down to the bank of the Thames was occupied by the Monastery of the Carmelite Friars - or White Friars as they became more commonly called. Ashentree Court stands on the site of one of the cloisters of the Monastery where the Friars would spend certain times of the day in leisurely walking. The Court is now a cul-de-sac but in the time of the Monastery the area was laid out in a quadrangle, probably surrounding a fountain and lawns.
This little Court is interesting but not prettily so; it is not a place to wander, wallowing in the delights of shear exquisite scenery - on the contrary. At the northern end, about the position of the Monastery dormitory, is a tall modern building faced with glazed bricks. On the west side is a dirty old white brick building sporting all the obvious signs of abandonment, and above, trees are beginning to sprout from the brickwork of the upper floors. Ashentree Court is a neglected sorrowful sight but in its present state is closely in keeping with its similarly untended neighbours.
Without enlightenment concerning its roots, the name of Austin Friars opens up all sorts of mind-clamping explorations, but quite simply it is an ages old corruption stemming from the Augustinian Friary founded in 1253 by Humphrey Bohun, Earl of Hereford. Commonly known as the 'begging friars' their community rapidly established itself as one of the wealthiest religious houses in the City and the church was adorned with the most splendid array of monuments. Chronicler, John Stow was most impressed with the steeple: 'a most fine spired steeple, small, high, and straight, I have not seen the like.' But this was not the original steeple - that, Stow informs us, 'was overthrown by a tempest of wind in the year 1362, but was raised of new, and now it standeth, to the beautifying of the city.'
At the dissolution of the monasteries the Friary became the property of the Crown and subsequently passed into the hands of the Marquis of Winchester who demolished most of the buildings leaving the little chapel of the Friary standing alone. In 1550 the church was handed over to the Dutch community of London by Edward VI and became known simply as the Dutch Church. A few years later a Venetian glass-blower named Verrelyn, greatly envied by his counterparts for the quality of his craftsmanship, set up his workshop in a vacant chapel in the church. The Dutch church was spared in the fire of 1666 but that which the turmoil of seven centuries had left unscathed, Hitler destroyed in minutes. In 1957 rebuilding of the church was completed and depicted in the west window are Edward VI, and Princess Irene of the Netherlands who laid the foundation stone.
The line of the path which runs along the west side of the church would have been the main access to the friars church, monastic buildings, and burial ground. Adjacent to the path, in Throgmorton Street, Thomas Cromwell would have been able to look from the window of his 'large and spacious' house and watch the comings and goings of the Friars as they went about their daily chores.
Cromwell, the man set in charge of closing the monasteries, built his house on the site now occupied by the Drapers' Hall. Not being content with his already sizeable garden, he sent his henchmen to remove the fencing posts from his neighbours' gardens and to set them back twenty-two feet towards their houses, 'a line there to be drawn, a trench to be cast, a foundation laid, and a high brick wall to be built.' John Stow remembered it well - his father was a victim.
Austin Friars is really in three section. From its covered entrance in Throgmorton Street it twists round with close buildings on either side. Approaching the church it opens out into a street of particular character. Turning right by the church leads to Austin Friars Square which is most certainly on the site of one of the courts of the old monastery and still retains something of its former character. Alternatively, turning left by the church reveals such a sight as might be conjured up at the thought of its 'polished' name. Neat iron gates at both ends enclose this section of the street, which is paved with old stone flags. The buildings are mainly Victorian, some constructed in red brick and terracotta. Down the centre of the paved area are three charming gas style standard lamps - everything is pleasingly in keeping.
Set in the upper quarters of fashionable Mayfair, Avery Row runs in a north westerly direction from Grosvenor Street to Brook Street. It follows the course of the Tyburn Brook which was covered over in the early 18th century. The Row is just wide enough to take single file traffic and on each side has pavements wide enough for one person. Yates's Wine Lodge is at the southern end, and further north there is a small cafe, a design shop, a tobacconist and a newsagent. However these small traders lived in daily fear of losing their livelihoods for ever. A threat of re-development brought about by the Cooperative Insurance Society some years ago was scuppered by the local authority but new proposals are afoot.
The Tyburn marked the eastern boundary of Ebury Manor, at one time owned by the Grosvenor family through the marriage of Sir Thomas Grosvenor to Mary Davies who inherited the estate in the mid 17th century. Avery is most probably a corruption of Ebury.
How we love to use figurative terms of description; they form such a distinctive part of our daily life that we would probably experience great difficulty if they were somehow barred from our vocabulary. Nicknames applied to friends (or enemies), relating to some particular feature of their make-up or a habit is an easy method of making reference to certain persons. For generations people have used terms and names of endearment in casual conversation and the necessity for such usage was even more so in times past than it is now.
Back Alley has been here, under the same name, for centuries and was quite simply the back access passage to houses on Aldgate, and because at that time it had no name, it was figuratively referred to as the 'Back Alley'. It now runs along the rear of the General Accident Insurance Company and, although it is still fairly narrow, its dimensions have been greatly increased over the years. Whereas there would have been many gateways along here in times past, there are now no access doors at all.
There were literally hundreds, if not thousands, of 'back's' in London but nearly all have long since been renamed or demolished and only one other survivor remains in the City: Back Hill, Clerkenwell.
In all parts of the country there are still un-named alleys at the rear of houses and in some areas the term 'backs' is in use to this day. Gully, jitty, ginnel, entry, are all terms used to describe a minor thoroughfare without any formal name.
Many of London's access roads and even some of today's main roads started out as nothing more than narrow passages leading to back entrances of houses on major highways. As we walk around London, many of these are easily identifiable but others are not nearly so obvious.
Wandering down some of London's 'back alleys' can certainly be a satisfying and fascinating experience but there have always been those alleys where passage without necessity has been avoided like the dreaded plague. During the hours of darkness, narrow alleys behind old houses, where antiquated lamps give off poor lighting, or worst still, illumination is none existent, are all too frequently no-go areas. This situation not only applies to modern times, it has always been like that. Dingy black corners were the ideal lurking grounds for thieves and those intent on having a 'good time' at the terrifying expense of their victims. Beware!
Like so many of the alleys and courts in this part of London, Bakers' Hall Court has seen a great deal of change over the past years. Developers, in their unending effort to create more and more floor space within the City, have raised a jungle of multi-storey buildings and hidden the Court to all but the most penetrating seekers. However, a few yard away, in Harp Street, is the hall of one of the oldest inhabitants, the Bakers' Company, from whom the Court acquired its name.
Back in 1307 there were two fraternities for those following the trade of bakers; the Company of White Bakers and the Company of Brown Bakers. They were united under a charter granted by Henry VIII in 1509, but during the following years the Brown Bakers increasingly felt that they were the under-dogs and pleaded their case for a separate charter. This was granted in 1622 and the Company split on a sour note, remaining rivals for the next thirty years. As time passed their grievances diminished and they eventually, although perhaps reluctantly, acknowledged that their cause would be better administered under a united Company.
Traditionally, bakers had relied on the assistance of boys from poor families; wage bills were small and the boys had the benefit of learning a worthwhile trade. When the Government passed a Bill in 1779 to open up the trades of bakers and butchers to any Tom, Dick, or Harry it effectively meant that apprenticeships in these trades would become a thing of the past. The Bakers' Company threw their arms in the air and complained bitterly that the Bill would severely affect the businesses of their tradesmen. Whatever became of that Bill, the Company won the day and apprenticeships remained.
The Bakers' first Hall, built on this site in 1506, was destroyed in the Great Fire on the 3rd September 1666. Since that day, there have been three successive Halls on the site. The present one, which occupies the ground floor and first floor of a nine storey block, was erected in 1961 and is the first of the Livery Company halls to take on 20th century styling.
Like almost all of the alleys off Cornhill, Ball Court is partly covered; it is also very quaint and confuses one into the belief that one is not really in the 21st century at all. It makes no difference what your interests are or why you may come to this place; on leaving Cornhill through the narrow entrance your eyes will instantly become fixed on the charming bow windowed frontage of Simpson's Tavern. Setting aside the narrowness of the passage and its age-old walls, the 18th century tavern is undoubtedly a principal feature of this unspoilt alley. It is a genuine survivor of the old London chop houses, which became popular with City diners during the period.
The building was erected in the late 17th century after the devastation of 1666 when everything around here lay as a heap of ashes. It was originally constructed in the form of two dwelling houses and converted in 1757 when the Tavern was founded. Some alterations were carried out shortly after and an additional two-storey extension was added to the west side. The bow window is of a later date than the shop itself.
In 1808 it was the property of Mr Tom Simpson, retailer of wines and spirits. On his death, his successor, who obviously had an eye for business, opened the restaurant which exists to this day. Simpson's is not the place to come if your lunch time pleasure is to prop up a bar supping pint upon pint of ale interspersed with chomping on a Mother's Pride grated cheese sandwich. In the tiny bar, filled with antique dark oak, you may quaff with the greatest of pleasure, but at this treasure in Ball Court their vocation is to serve you with good old traditional English fare. The dining-rooms are untainted by modern decoration; the time-worn tables are arranged in stalls as was the common layout of chop houses, and the Dickensian top-hat racks are still here for the use of, if you so desire. If the drifting aroma of charcoal-grilled prime cuts of beef do not set your belly rumbling - at least go and have a look.
Just by the Tavern the passage bears to the left and becomes very narrow, emerging into Castle Court near to the George and Vulture tavern, another old house where drinking is ancillary to dining.
Until 1700, when Banbury Court was built, a house in the ownership of the Earl of Banbury stood on Long Acre, adjacent to the site of this Court. At the same time, although surviving rather longer than the Earl's house, was the Duke's Bagnio, established in 1682 as a bathing and sauna parlour which was sometimes referred to as a sweating house. Such establishments were often visited for their ancillary facilities serviced by a selection of hired prostitutes and as we might imagine, sometimes went under various unrepeatable descriptive names.
Just by the Bagnio was Leg Alley, now demolished, and adjacent to that was the first Mug House to be established in London. These houses were principally taverns where a membership fee was charged, everyone drank ale from personalised mugs and were entertained by the local dead-cart operator-cum-vocalist, and the like. Pipe smoking was a habit enjoyed by most men and through the foggy haze, mugs were raised in toasts to one and all.
Those were the days when character and characters abounded in the tiny alleys of Long Acre. Like at number 542, the entrance to long gone Phoenix Alley where John Taylor, a Thames waterman, known as the 'Water Poet', kept a tavern, and where he died in 1653. As for Banbury Court, all these qualities have now departed and left it an uninteresting place - merely a way of cutting between Long Acre and Floral Street.
Entering from Long Lane, Barley Mow Passage is covered, with Lloyd's Bank lining the west side. Its name is undoubtedly derived from a predecessor of the Barley Mow public house which stands on the east side at number 56 Long Lane. The first tavern on this site was probably built in the early 17th century but the present house is modern - although in a tasteful style. Whilst only dating back to the early years of this century it retains an atmosphere typically encountered in a hostelry of much more ancient times. The decor is solid - heavy cast-iron tables, real wooden panelling to the walls and Victorian mirrors in the servery.
Almost every corner along the length of Long Lane once sported a
tavern. John Stow, on his perambulations down the Lane, summed it up thus: 'the rest of
Smithfield from Long Lane end to the bars is enclosed with inns, brewhouses, and large
tenements.' Of these long departed taverns the Old Dick Whittington was a particular
favourite. It stood in Cloth Fair and was reputed to have been the oldest licensed
establishment in London. Its doors closed for the final time in 1916. Now, the Barley Mow
is one of the few surviving in the vicinity of St Bartholomew's.
Bartholomew Passage is one of a collection of narrow thoroughfares congregated around the precincts of St Bartholomew's church. It leaves Cloth Fair and runs along the east end of the ancient priory church before opening out into a cobble-stoned square where there are offices belonging to British Telecom. To the left of this building Middlesex Passage twists its way through to Bartholomew Close.
With the single exception of St John in the White Tower (Tower of London), St Bartholomew's is the oldest church in London. It was founded in the 12th century by Rahere, the favourite jester to Henry I, on his return from a pilgrimage to Rome. This amazing entertainer turned cleric was responsible for the building of the choir and ambulatory, which form the present church, and the Lady Chapel which was rebuilt in 1334 and extensively restored in 1897 by Sir Aston Webb. Prior Thomas of St Osyth, successor to Rahere, added the transepts in 1174, and the nave was completed almost a century later. In about 1160, while work was still in progress, the canons of the Order of St Augustin took up residence, with Rahere as their first prior. The nave occupied the site of the present churchyard and was entered through the west door, now forming the 13th century gateway. Above the gateway is a half-timbered Elizabethan house, revealed in 1915 through Zeppelin bomb damage to the facia tiles concealing its true identity - it was restored in 1932. From this house, it is said that Mary Tudor used to sit in the window watching her victims being burnt at the stake whilst she nibbled on roast chicken washed down with red wine. Kings and princes too have cheered and jeered from this window as they witnessed jousts and tournaments taking place in the courtyard below.
At the dissolution of the monasteries the nave and ancillary buildings were destroyed and the patronage of the church was given by Henry VIII to Sir Richard Rich who later handed it over to Queen Mary. It was inherited by Queen Elizabeth who in turn reinstate it into the Rich family. From that time the church ceased to be used for ecclesiastical purposes and was inhabited by a variety of organisations, businesses and trades. A blacksmith set up his forge in the north transept and the Lady Chapel became a popular venue for meetings. Benjamin Franklin is said to have been employed by a printer who had his press in the Lady Chapel. The sacristy was rented out as a warehouse and for some time a local brewery owner stored his hops there; a carpenter used it for storing his timber. Restoration of the church was begun in 1863 but had to be curtailed due to a lingering fringe maker at that time occupying the Lady Chapel. He was eventually evicted in 1886 and work resumed with Aston Webb as the principal architect.
Today the church is a mere fragment of the great priory begun by Rahere. With the great nave gone, all that remains is the Lady chapel and choir with its apse, demolished in favour of a flat wall in the 15th century but rebuilt by Webb. Of the monuments, the most interesting is that of Rahere himself on the north side of the sanctuary; he lies in his black monastic habit with a kneeling monk on either side and an angel at his feet. In the south aisle is the tomb of Sir Walter Mildmay, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the time of Elizabeth I and founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In the south transept is the 15th century font at which William Hogarth was baptised. The tower, built in 1628, contains five of the oldest bells in London, dating from 1510.
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