Brunswick Court used to be one of the longest Courts in London, running between Druid Street and Tanner Street, but now it is severely truncated. It has a sign at the entrance indicating that it leads nowhere. At its northern end it is the spookiest of places, constructed in the form of a large arch of deeply blackened bricks supporting the railway tracks running into London Bridge Station. There are many arches tunnelling under the railway along here, one or two as roads burrowing into the blackness, but mostly they were workshops, all now boarded up with sturdy old gates. Fifty or so yards into the 'hole', if you were allowed to proceed that far, the Court emerges into overwhelming daylight but redevelopment is slowly swallowing up the entire length.
As we view this place in today's environment it is almost impossible to imagine that there was ever a tavern thriving on this spot, but there were in fact two - or maybe three. Too many years ago to contemplate, the Brunswick served the tanners of the Bermondsey Leather Market in Five Foot Lane, now Tanner Street. At a later date Henry Hepworth, 'beer retailer', ruled the roost at his Druids tavern, which inspired the naming of Druid Street.
Don't come with expectations of swilling back a liquid lunch while leaning on the woodworm-riddled bar and drivelling on about the old times - the nearest pub is now some distance away.
Just on the south side of the Coliseum Theatre is one of the narrowest openings to an alley in the whole of London. However, it is most certainly not one of the prettiest. The passage extends between St Martin's Lane and the corner of Bedfordbury and Chandos Place, with an outlet half way along to William IV Street. To get the full effect of the narrowness, walk from the east end towards St Martin's Lane. Towering walls on either side give one a feeling of being squeezed.
The access from St Martin's Lane would not originally have been built so narrow. Through demolition and rebuilding over the years in an already congested district, available land was at a premium. This meant that every opportunity to snatch a little extra was seized upon, leaving the access to Brydges Place as little more than a crack in the wall. Although the passage has been here since the early 17th century it started life under the name of Dawson's Alley. At the beginning of the 19th century it appears to have been known as Taylor's Yard - indicating an area of rather larger proportions - and by 1875 the name had changed to the present Brydges Place. The reference is to George Brydges, Lord Chandos, who was the forces Paymaster and an ancestor of the Duke of Chandos.
When horses scuttled along the Strand and market barrow boys trundled their heavy loads the one time popular Black Bull Inn occupied this site. It was here on the Strand in the early 16th century and stood for a good 150 years. Alas, the landlord was finally forced to shut up shop and it was eventually pulled down in about 1685.
Until two or three years ago the walls just inside the passage used to be clad with three old signs made up in glazed tiles. On the left an arrow indicating the direction to the rear entrance of the Adelphi Theatre, and on both sides signs for the Nell Gwynne Tavern. The Nell Gwynne is still here, standing on the west side only a few feet into the Court - it was recently closed for refurbishment and reopened in December 1994. As one of the smallest and oldest pubs in the West End, the Nell Gwynne stands as a monument to charm, with its outside walls heavily draped in greenery. While still relatively unknown to the tourist fraternity it is one of the more cosy drinking establishments of central London.
In the late 17th century a butchers shop occupied the site adjacent to this passage. Only a few years into the next century it seems that the owner had fled and the site was taken over by the Bulls Head tavern. It was quite common practice in those days to advertise ones business by hanging the product outside. The head of a bull or cow over a butchers shop would have been an every day sight. Although many will say that Bull's Head Passage commemorates the tavern it is quite beyond refute that it is actually a memorial to a butcher.
In absolute contrast to neighbouring Ship Tavern Passage where all the shops have been boarded up, the businesses along here are thriving examples. Wrap's Bar, a pleasant little cafe is here, and at the Gracechurch Street entrance the shoe shop of Cable and Company. Before these shops were opened Bull's Head Passage used to be lined with free standing stalls - rather like an annex to nearby Leadenhall Market.
'Then next to one great house, large of rooms, fair courts, and garden plots'. When John Stow wrote this, he had only minutes before left the church which now bears his memorial, and sauntered along St Mary Axe, when, stepping back in amazement, mouth wide open, he was mesmerised by the largest house he had ever seen... It was all play-acting - Stow only lived round the corner and came along this way every day.
He was gazing on the house inherited by the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds for use as his London residence, and on part of which site this Court was built. At the Reformation the house and its grounds became Crown property and later passed into the hands of the Thomas Heneage. Hence Heneage Lane and Heneage Place just east of here.
Bury Court is a mixture of old and semi-modern, although at the time of writing most of the buildings along here are undergoing redevelopment or renovation and scarcely any are presently occupied. At the eastern end the Court descends by two short flights of four steps each beneath a brown and white glazed brick tunnel to emerge into Bury Street.
Capel Court has little to offer unless, of course, you happen to be involved in the lucrative profession of stockbroking. This short walkway, leading up to the entrance of the Stock Exchange is lined with modern offices; quite a different scene from that viewed by Sir William Capel as he looked out from his drapers shop around the turn of the 15th century. He was elected Lord Mayor in 1509 and during that year financed the building of a chapel adjoining the south side of St Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange. Six years later the members of his Company carried him out of his shop in a coffin and laid him to rest in his chapel.
Exchanging of stocks and shares saw its beginning in 1773 with a gathering of Stock Market brokers who met daily in Jonathon's Coffee House, Change Alley. When City business men became hooked onto the idea of buying and selling stocks, and Jonathon got tired of his shop being used as an office, the brokers sought permanent premises. They settled for a central site near to St Bartholomew's church and the first purpose built Stock Exchange opened its doors in 1802. Over 160 years later the old building came to the end of its days and was replaced by a twenty-six storey block, trading floor, and visitors gallery, completed in 1973. Until the time of the 'Big Bang' in October 1986 the trading floor of the Stock Exchange could be likened to a market place on a Saturday morning. Now that dealing has been computerised and the procedure of buying and selling brought into line with modern day methods the trading floor is almost deserted.
St Bartholomew's, originally known as Little St Bartholomew's to distinguish it from the 'Great' at Smithfield, stood on the south east corner of Bartholomew Lane, a few strides from the Court. The date of its original foundation is unknown but the last church on the site was built about 1435 by Alderman Thomas Pike and Nicholas Yoo, a Sheriff of the City. It was demolished in 1840 and the site sold to the Bank of England.
Until the time of the reformation the Abbot of St Mary Overy, which is now Southwark Cathedral, owned a large part of the area of Southwark, and Cardinal Cap Alley undoubtedly had connections with the Abbey. At some point way back in history, certainly long before 1533, the Abbot built a house on the site of the Alley, which, at the dissolution of the monasteries was seized by the Crown. It is not known whether this house remained standing or a new building was erected but shortly after Henry VIII had rid himself of Papal connections the site was taken over by an inn known as the Cardinal's Hat. When the wardens of St Saviour's dined at this inn in 1579 Thomas Mansfield was in occupation of the tenancy and a few years later Thomas Browker was the owner. The Alley may have formed an access to the inn.
Once a maze of Thames-side warehouses, the area around Cardinal Cap Alley has for a number of years now been under redevelopment. The Alley itself still remains, shadowed in the disused Bankside Power Station, and just to the east is the International Shakespeare Globe Centre containing a full size reproduction of the Globe Theatre. A path joining the Thames-side a little to the east of Blackfriars Bridge leads past the power station to link up with Bankside. From here there is a most advantageous view of the north bank and St Paul's Cathedral. During the building of the Cathedral it is thought that Sir Christopher Wren paced this stretch viewing the progression of his masterpiece. Then it was a forest of spires, now it is a jungle of concrete and glass.
Carter Court is of such quaint appearance that one would not be unduly taken aback if the bulky figure of Dr Johnson were to suddenly emerge from a doorway, followed hot on his heels by his long suffering biographer, James Boswell. Surrounding the square covered entrance to this ancient alley is an encasement of worn old English oak, painted in black, having the appearance of being in situ when Johnson was a lad. Inside the narrow passage one side is panelled with oak whilst the other is plain, both sides being coated with white wash. Towards the end of the short passage the Court opens out and terminates in a cul-de-sac. The current purpose of the Court is mysterious, for it appears to have not a single access.
Without any shadow of a doubt, Carter Lane is very old and probably dates from the 12th century, at that time being known as Shoemakers' Row. Its present name did not appear until the beginning of the 13th century when the Lane was divided into Great and Little Carter Lane. This name probably originated from an old bypass route used by the carriers of the day. With the parallel Ludgate Hill being so congested with cattle and traders, the carters moving their consignments between Fleet Street and the City found it easier to use the more convenient parallel route to the south (Carter Lane). Thus, the name evolved. It is a satisfying place, narrow and not unlike a typical village street with the occasional corner shop. As though isolated and far from the City hustle and bustle, Carter Lane has a tranquil air - just a gentle but purposeful movement to and fro.
More curious than Carter Lane itself are the many adjoining byways of Church Entry, Cobb's Court, Friar Street, Burgon Street, Wardrobe Place, Addle Hill, and Dean's Court. On the corner of Dean's Court is the old St Paul's Choir School dating from 1875, with its playground on the roof, now in the hands of the Youth Hostel Association. Still almost as fresh as the day it was stencilled is the Latin inscription on the frontage to the building.
Inns and Taverns were at one time plentiful in Carter Lane. There was the Rising Sun, Saracen's Head, White Horse, the Bell, and others, in fact one on almost every corner. Of these, the Rising Sun was the last to disappear. Occupying the west corner of Burgon Street, it was about the most homely of the Carter Lane set; a tavern where the telephone operators of Faraday House mingled with the printers of Royle's, next door. Its bar was a treasure of wooden panelling, etched mirrors, and varnished Lincrusta extending part way up the walls. From the upstairs restaurant a small, cosy, informal chop bar, drifted the enticing aroma of simple, home cooking.
Turning to the eastern end of Carter Lane, just past Dean's Court, is Bell Yard, at one time the alleyway leading to the Bell Inn. It was from this hostelry in 1598 that Richard Quyney sat down with quill in his hand and wrote to his 'loving good ffrend and contreyman Mr Willm Shackespere'. This is the only known surviving letter written to England's most famous playwright; it is now preserved at Stratford-on-Avon. The inn has long gone but Bell Yard is still there, complete with its fading painted sign. However, a high wooden gate bars access.
A large house situated just north of here came to be known by locals as the Castle because of its turreted walls. Its use is uncertain but it is quite likely that it had associations with the organisers of the various animal fighting spectacles which were popular in the area. Bear and Bull bating, cock and dog fighting all took their turn as top-of-the-bill entertainment.
Preparation for the building of the first Blackfriars Bridge commenced in 1762. Although the house did not obstruct the work, the large area required for the storing of construction material meant that the house needed to be demolished.
The Castle Inn also stood on the site of the Yard in the mid-17th century. At that time it was in the hands of John Eierby who operated one of the Southwark 'Stewhouses', more commonly known to us as a brothel. John Stow is quite informative on these establishments and says that 'These allowed stew-houses had signs on their fronts, towards the Thames, not hanged out, but painted on the walls'. This would seem to indicate that the usual access was by ferry. Running a 'stew' was no casual affair; as early as 1162 a list of rigorous rules were laid down by an act of parliament:
Anyone caught flaunting these rules was severely dealt with by 'great pain and punishment'.
The Castle went through a series of ownerships and in 1764 Henry Thrale, who the previous year had taken over the Anchor Brewery, purchased the property. By this time a great many buildings had sprung up in the vicinity and the inn had been transformed from a place of ill repute to a plain and simple ale house. What Henry Thrale did with the inn is unclear but six years after his purchase it was reported to be in a ruinous condition and the building was pulled down. The lease of the land was offered to William Allen on the condition that he put it to sober use and erect substantial houses or similar buildings on the site. On the death of Henry Thrale in 1781 the Anchor Brewery and associated buildings, of which the Castle site was part, were sold by auction to David Barclay and his partner John Perkins for £135,000.
Tucked away between Cornhill and Lombard Street, this Court is one of an incredible maze of little alleys. It probably gets its name from the Castle Inn, which at one time stood at its entrance in Birchin Lane.
Here, at number 3 Castle Court is the George and Vulture, a fine old inn frequented by city workers and virtually unknown to tourists. The Tavern boasts a history dating back in time to the 12th century. Chaucer is said to have frequented the place and Dick Whittington used to call in for a vessel when he got cheesed off with council meetings. In fact celebrities from all walks of early London life are supposed to have popped in for a swift one, but if we believe the claims of most of the City of London public houses then Johnson was rarely sober and Dickens never had time to go home. However, the George and Vulture can in all honesty claim to have played host to Dickens for he referred to it in 'Pickwick Papers' when Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller dined there.
Fixed to a wall inside the tavern are two boundary markers defining the dividing line between the parishes of St Michael's, Cornhill and St Edmund the King, Lombard Street. They originate from pre-Great fire days when City churches were so close together that there needed to be some physical means of ascertaining the limits of each parish. The boundary of the two parishes runs right through the bar of the George and Vulture.
Originally, the tavern was merely named the George but when the big blaze of 1666 swept through these alleys it devoured everything in its path and left the George as a shell of charred embers. A wine merchant of George Yard, whose sign was a tethered live vulture, lost his home and his livelihood, and after the tavern was rebuilt he negotiated with the landlord for part use of the George. Unhappy with the idea of having a live bird squawking around the door he agreed to change the name of his house to the George and Vulture.
The rear of Simpson's Tavern is opposite to the George and Vulture on the north side of the Court.
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