Little St James's Street and its immediate locality became a very desirable place to live during the reign of King James II. Fashionable clubs opened and a profusion of coffee houses set up business for the pleasure of the noble residents.
Catherine Wheel Yard now has only the vaguest memory of the Catherine Wheel tavern, which from about 1600 used to stand along-side in Little St James's Street. It was one of the earliest taverns of St James's, carrying on a bustling trade in those prime years, but when the aristocracy began to infiltrate the area and coffee houses were the places to be seen. The Catherine Wheel was given the cold shoulder. During the mid to late 19th century it was hanging on with a mere trickle of business but competition had the final say and the terminal hour was called for the last time in 1908.
Now in private ownership, the Yard remains pretty much as it was in those hard times, still wide enough to turn a dray cart, and still sporting its shiny cobbles.
The opening to Catherine Wheel Alley is not difficult to find. It departs from Bishopsgate via a very narrow archway between the bookmakers office of William Hill and Reed Employment Bureau. From there it twists along its course, almost squeezed to extinction by high walls, before emerging into the thick of Petticoat Lane Market.
Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder but if you hanker after spectacular scenery or medieval monuments then Catherine Wheel Alley is not going to bring a life long search to a rapturous close. It has, however, been here for a long time and apart from any historical values, provides a little known access to the market, or perhaps more to the point, a convenient exit; a bypass to avoiding the crowds.
For over 300 years the galleried Catherine Wheel Inn stood here until it was destroyed by fire in 1895. Although a large part of the structure remained standing after the fire, the Inn was never rebuilt and the site was cleared of the empty shell some years later. At some point in its long history the name was changed to the Cat and Wheel in order to satisfy the whims of the Puritans who demonstrated their objection to its association with the 9th century saint.
During the early part of the 18th century the Catherine Wheel was one of the many secretive haunts of Dick Turpin. He and his associate bunch of thieves used to meet here to plan their next hold-up of some well-to-do personality being escorted through Epping Forest.
A couple of yards away at number 202 Bishopsgate, another 'Dick' is remembered, this time Nathaniel 'Dick' Bentley commemorated in the establishment of Dirty Dick's public house. Cobwebs, bats, dead cats, creepy-crawlies, and dust galore, they are all here to satisfy the desires of the wallowing filthy pub goer. As grubby as this place might appear, if it were all genuine muck the Public Health Inspector would have had a field day and the place would have been closed and fumigated years ago, but they are all imitation, strategically placed to attract the entertainment-thirsty tourist trade.
Nathaniel Bentley of Leadenhall Street was a fashionable man about town. His dandy antics were a familiar sight, tripping along in his top hat and twizzling his silver topped cane. But things changed as he was about to launch into his stag night celebration. The room was prepared, tables were lavishly decorated and the savory aroma of the sizzling roast was already drifting from the bustling kitchen. Bentley was in high spirits ready to receive his guests when a messenger arrived, not bearing good wishes for his future happiness, but with news of the tragic death of his wife-to-be. He instantly dismissed the chefs and locked up the room, never to be entered again by anyone in his lifetime. He became a recluse living in absolute basic conditions, wearing patched up clothing and allowing himself only the minimum expense for daily needs. Personal hygiene was non-existent; he once told an enquirer, 'If I wash my hands today, they will be dirty again tomorrow', and so they remained grubby. It was at this time in his life that Bentley was branded with the name of Dirty Dick.
At his death in 1809 the contents of the house were purchased by a speculative tavern keeper and transferred to his premises at Bishopsgate where he recouped the outlay in a matter of days. The curious display has attracted inquisitive visitors for nearly 200 years and may it long continue.
Just to the north of Cavendish Court is Devonshire Row, the main carriage drive leading to Devonshire House which used to stand on this site until Nicholas Barbon pulled it down in 1677. Cavendish Court was most probably constructed as an auxiliary footway for the use of lesser mortals, such as servants and maintenance staff. At the northern end the Court remains very much as it did in those times, with its white-washed square tunnel giving access to the opened out exit in Houndsditch. Of course, in the days when the Duke ruled the roost round here, the adjacent sandwich bar - The Bunker - was not on hand to serve him with a light lunch - that, of course, is of more recent times.
The southern end of the Court, along with adjacent Stonehouse Court, was shortened in length by a few feet at the beginning of the 20th century to accommodate the widening of Houndsditch. All of the buildings surrounding the Court at this end are consequently of that period.
This is a most fascinating passageway where the predominant theme is rare books, prints and memorabilia. If you are looking for second hand books then this is the place to come. The Court is wide and literally lined from one end to the other with antiquarian and plain, down to earth, second hand bookshops. There is also a dealer of old prints, a poster shop and a philatelist (stamp dealer). For refreshment there is the Piazza Pasta and Salad Bar. Down the centre line the Court is graced by two gas lamp standards.
During the reign of James I when residential property in the Strand was much sought after by the noble and well-to-do of the time, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, built a large house on a site near to the present Lyceum in the Strand. Lord Burghley had two sons, Thomas who became Earl of Exeter and on his father's death inherited the house; and Robert who became Earl of Salisbury. In 1609 the King, who had always looked on Robert as a favourite, granted him a piece of land stretching from the east side of Leicester Square to St Martin's Lane. On part of the land, facing St Martin's Lane he built a block of residential property for the use of servants. The remainder of the land was developed by a later Earl of Salisbury at the end of the 17th century.
One of the most notable celebrities to have taken up residence in Cecil Court was Mozart who temporarily occupied rooms here in 1764.
Sauntering around this rambling thoroughfare, looking up at its shiny high walls and down at its neatly paved walkway, will scarcely reveal a single clue to the real identity of Change Alley. Its claim to a rightful place in the modern City environment stems from deep-rooted associations with that old-time popular London institution which began to lure the Capital's population in the 17th century - the coffee house.
In many ways these social haunts formed the central hub of daily life; they were where the news was gathered and distributed; they were the main places for the exchange of gossip. Here a business man could meet his client and discuss a deal in relative comfort and warmth over a dish of coffee and perhaps a hearty meal. As popular as the coffee houses became, they were not without their enemies and slanderers. In 1674 a congregation of ladies formed the 'Women's Petition against Coffee', circulating notices about London in which they complained that by indulging in the beverage men were made as 'unfruitful as the dessert where that unhappy berry is said to be bought'. Despite their efforts, by the 18th century it was estimated that there were over 3000 coffee houses in London.
Almost from the very outset of the new craze Change Alley was on the map of regularly frequented byways, with the establishment of Robin's Coffee House attracting the 'quality' business fraternity. Very soon after, Garraway's and Jonathon's coffee houses opened in the Alley taking their share of the plentiful City trade. It was in an upstairs room at Garraway's that the wine merchants met for the twice weekly auctions of vintage imports 'by candle'. At the start of each lot a short candle, placed in full view of the assembled crowd, was lit and as it burnt down, the various bidders called out their price. When the candle extinguished, the last man to call paid his figure and took the prize. But what did these traders drink as they waived their silk handkerchieves and shouted themselves hoarse? It was not coffee and it was certainly not the contents of tbose precious gains - it was tea. Thomas Garraway was no fool; he saw the opening, took the plunge, and thereby established himself as the first retailer of tea in the City of London.
Jonathon, on the other hand, was an entrepreneur of a different breed; he made his fortune by offering a welcome to the dealers who bought and sold stock when they were snubbed by the Royal Exchange in 1698. From this cosy beginning - a meeting of buyers and sellers huddled around a roaring fire - the Stock exchange was born. It was in Jonathon's coffee house that the scheme known as the South Sea Bubble was thought up, a plan to develop trading in the southern hemisphere to repay the British national debt. This was not one of the most celebrated of ideas cooked up in Change Alley - the bubble burst while still a soap-sud in the eye of its instigator.
All three of the Alley's coffee houses, along with 100 residential houses, were destroyed in the Cornhill fire of 1748. Garraway's and Jonathon's were rebuilt and the stockbrokers and jobbers resumed trading until business became too swift for the restricted accommodation and they acquired purpose built premises at Capel Court in 1802.
Today, Change Alley, originally Exchange Alley, has changed beyond all recognition from those coffee house days. Towering walls faced with white glazed tiles give it a cold and uninhabited eerie atmosphere. It is now lined with the rear of premises owned by the financial breed of companies who have their frontages on the surrounding streets.
One striking feature of Change Alley is, as you wander around the bordering streets of the triangle, you keep seeing it. There are five access points. Two off Cornhill, two off Lombard Street and one leading out of Birchin Lane.
On the corner of Chapel Court stands the Blue Eyed Maid. But hang on- before my gentlemen readers go rushing out in expectation of a night in the long grass and a bit of how's-y-father, the 'Maid' is actually a very pleasant pub with tables and chairs set out in the Court. It stands as a conspicuous marker alongside the passageway which once led to the Borough Baptist Chapel - such an establishment encouraging the quaffing of evil intoxicating liquor would never have been tolerated in the days when staunch worshippers filed past here in their droves.
This is a pleasant Court; a cul-de-sac where the buildings are an agreeable blend of gracefully old and modern. Trinity House, an office block with a cobbled forecourt, occupies a far end position adjacent to the site of the old chapel.
Covered Cheshire Court adjoins the Old Cheshire Cheese and provides access to a new bar opened in 1992. Previously it led nowhere but to the cellar drop. It is adjacent to the somewhat more historical Wine Office Court.
Tucked away from view, as though hiding from the thousands who daily tramp the pavements of King William Street and Gracechurch Street, only feet away, is narrow Church Court. It gracefully rises from Clement's Lane up three steps. In the midst of these great streets, rarely resting from the scramble of City traffic, it lies in tranquil obedience like a dog at the feet of his master. It is one of the City courts responsible for a great deal of confusion in years gone by, resulting from the multiple church-side paths simply called 'church court'. For clearer identification it was more frequently referred to as St Clement's Court, leading to St Clement's churchyard - now almost completely disappeared, and subsequently the name was officially changed to reflect its public pseudonym. Now that all, with the exception of Church Court in the Temple, have been renamed and the case of mis-identity no longer exists, the path around St Clement's has very recently reverted to its original title.
This was not always the throttled down backwater of today; prior to 1831, when King William Street was built, Clement's Lane was a bustling thoroughfare. In those days it was the main connecting road between Candlewick Street (Cannon Street) and Lombard Street with tradesmens' houses lining the route. As far back as 1370 the residents of Clement's Lane joined with those of Candlewick Street in a protest against an assemblage of plumbers who had set up a lead smelting plant nearby. They claimed that the chimney of the furnace was not high enough and that the noxious fumes emitted forth were causing untold ill-health. In consequence the Mayor declared that the plumbers would be allowed to continue with their work providing the height of the chimney was raised.
The church of St Clement's, Eastcheap, after which the Lane (and previously the Court) are named, was built by Wren in 1687 to replace an earlier building destroyed in the Great Fire. By comparison with many of Wren's creations it is a plain structure of almost entirely stuccoed brickwork. It has undergone many internal changes since Wren left the scene; firstly by Butterfield in 1870 and again in 1933 when some of the woodwork was embellished by Ninian Comper. The fine Harris organ of 1695, originally installed in the gallery, was relocated in one of the aisles by Butterfield but in 1936 it was returned to the gallery. Among the memorials is one to Brian Walton, compiler of the Polyglot Bible who later became Bishop of Chester and died in 1661.
There are some who claim that the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons rightly belongs to St Clement's Eastcheap and not to St Clement Danes. But the truth we shall never know, since the author died some five centuries ago and the ditty would have gone the same way had Wynkyn de Worde not included it in his Demaundes Joyous childrens book in 1510. I include the rhyme here to sway on the side of the Eastcheap church, not merely to be contradictory to popular belief, but because all of the other churches mentioned are within 'cockney' London; St Clement Danes is not:
The ringing of the bells might be a most pleasant experience but the chopper remains as doubtful as the rhyme's origin.
On the wall of St Clement's House, by the side of the church, is a small plaque telling us that Dositey Obradovich, a scholarly writer of his time, lived in a house on this site. We may never have heard of him but someone thought him worthy of recognition.
Two churches are remembered in the name of Church entry: they are the Priory church of the Dominican Friars, commonly known as the Black Friars, and the church of St Anne ,Blackfriars.
After the dissolution of the monasteries the Black Friars church and domestic quarters were left to deteriorate and by 1596 the stones of its vast walls were strewn about the site like rubble. At this time the grounds were sold off as individual plots and the actor Richard Burbage took possession of a small part lying to the south-west of Church Entry, on which he built his Blackfriars Theatre. While Burbage was preparing his plans, the adjacent plot was donated by the crown for the building of a new church, to be dedicated to St Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin. It was consecrated in 1597 and sixteen years later it was enlarged by having a chapel added to the south side.
No other London church has had so short a life as St Anne's. On Tuesday 4th September 1666 the raging furnace took it while still in its prime. Although the Great Fire left this area a devastated ruin, there was one tiny row of houses that remained almost untouched. To the west of the church, separated by Church Entry, was Fleur-de-Lys Court, and whilst the hungry flames roared about the walls of St Anne's they were prevented from leaping across to the Court by the intervening open space.
The church of St Anne was never rebuilt; its parish was amalgamated with that of St Andrew by the Wardrobe. Its graveyard, however, remains to this day; protected behind iron railings with a central gateway it is laid out with shrubbery and seating.
A notice on the sturdy iron railings proclaims that 'On this plot of land stood, in the middle ages, part of the preaching nave of the church of the great Dominican Priory of Blackfriars. The choir lay the other side of the church entry and the name Church Entry indicates the usual passage between the nave and the chancel, passing north and south between the steeple in the planning of the priors church. The nave had seven bays and measured 114 feet by 60 feet. The priory, founded in 1278, was dissolved in 1538 and subsequently this plot was used as a churchyard for the parish of St Ann Blackfriars. It was closed for burials in 1848.'
On the west side of the Royal Courts of Justice, opposite St Clement Danes Church, turn into the gateway and follow the walkway round by the side of the offices. Walk up the steps and Clements Inn Passage is straight ahead.
Standing hard by the Royal Courts of Justice, Clements Inn Passage was so named because of its close proximity with Clement's Inn, one of the Inns of Chancery, now surviving in name only. This inn, according to John Stow, was so called 'because it standeth near to St Clement's church, but nearer to the fair fountain called Clement's well'. Of this well, Stow informs us that it stood 'north from the parish church of St Clement's and near unto an inn of Chancerie called Clement's Inn, is fair curbed square with hard stone, kept clean for common use, and is always full.'
The Inns of Chancery were formed out of a cluster of hostels used as preparatory schools for 'young men learning the first elements of the law'. As early as 1486 the houses of Clement's Inn were leased for a period of eight years to William Elyot and John Elyot in trust for the young students of law. In the early 18th century the Inn was describes as consisting of three small courts with a well proportioned hall of genuine Queen Anne style, in which hung a portrait of Sir Matthew Hale, Chief Justice from Lincoln's Inn, now in the hall of the Inner Temple. In the garden was a statue of a kneeling black boy supporting a sundial, presented to Clement's Inn by Lord Clare, who brought it from Italy in about 1700 - this too is now in the Inner Temple. Of the ancient buildings none now survive; as long ago as 1800 Sir Edward Herbert noted that many had been demolished and that those still remaining had been turned into palatial offices. By 1884 all the buildings of Clement's Inn had been demolished and replaced by more up-to-date structures.
Turning to the church of St Clement Danes; it was said by Stow to be 'so called because Harold, a Danish king, and other Danes, were buried there.' First built in the early 12th century, St Clement's was out of reach of the Great Fire but about the same time as the City churches were receiving the heat treatment, surveyors discovered that it was suffering from advanced decay and gave the word to pull it down. Rebuilding was completed in 1682 to plans drawn up by Sir Christopher Wren and the steeple, by James Gibbs, was added in 1719.
Originally, the church stood on the north side of the Strand but when the Aldwych was laid out in the early 20th century the roadway severed its attachment and thus rendered it an island church along with its neighbour, St Mary le Strand. To passers by the bells of St Clement's have been its most notable feature; for years they have attracted visitors and locals alike for the hourly tuneful peal of the famous nursery rhyme, Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St Clement's - they are now silent.
This was Dr Johnson's church, and here in the gallery, on the front row, is his pew, identified by a plaque. It was from this very spot that James Boswell observed the good doctor at prayer: 'I never shall forget the tremulous earnestness with which he pronounced the awful petition in the Litany 'In the hour of death, and at the day of judgement, good Lord deliver us.' In recognition of his association with St Clement Danes, the squat statue of Dr Johnson stands outside the east end, looking down his favourite Fleet Street.
Back in St Clement's Passage, at the Strand entrance, vehicle access to the Passage is controlled by an electronic card reader and automatic gates, and a side gate for the use of pedestrians which is locked out of business hours. The Passage winds round past modern offices on the west side and the grounds of the Royal Courts of Justice on the east. The Womens' Social Union, better known as the Suffragettes, founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, had their headquarters at number 3.
At the northern end there are twelve steps climbing up to, on the right, Grange Court, while Clement's Inn Passage continues straight ahead for a few yards. It emerges into Portugal Street near to the Old Curiosity Shop, of Dickens fame.
In 1307 Robert Clifford was granted the lease on a substantial house and a plot of land towards the northern end of the passage. At that time lawyers had not settled into any particular area of London and it was completely by chance that when Clifford died in 1343 his widow leased the house to a number of law students. Clifford's Inn, or Clifford's House as it was called, was the first established Inn of Chancery and from this beginning the long history of legal London started. The house remained in the ownership of the Clifford family until the mid-17th century when it was sold to a group of lawyers as residential apartments.
Clifford's Inn ceased to function as a legal establishment in 1802 and one by one the buildings were demolished until the last survivor went under the demolition contractor's hammer in 1935.
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