You’re going to hear a lot about The Great Fire of London in the next few weeks, seeing its 350 years since the conflagration took place.
Christopher Wren wanted to rebuild London with wide boulevards (not that he called them that), but pragmatic Londoners just laid claim to their little piece of land they occupied prior to the fire and rebuilt their city much the same layout as before.
[T]hese lanes must have been some of the first to go on Sunday 2nd September 1666, but today they remain much as they did prior to London’s greatest disaster.
The residents and visitors to Lovat Lane must have called to a halt early their activities on that Sunday night. Lovat Lane runs parallel to Pudding Lane and the seat of the fire.
Lying slightly to the east and with the fire moving remorsefully west they must have had time to vacate these houses for Lovat Lane used to be called Love Lane, not that love (apart from the love of money) had anything to do with this passageway, prostitutes worked in this little alley.
To save the embarrassment of fishmongers, who it must be said are rather tender souls, the name was changed in 1939 – their excuse was that confusion was caused by having two Love Lanes.
All three ‘Botolph’s’ – Botolph Alley, Botolph Lane and Botolph Row – are memorials to St Botolph, Billingsgate which was destroyed by fire in 1666 and never rebuilt. Of the four City churches originally dedicated to St Botolph, three survive to this day; they are at Aldersgate, Aldgate and Bishopsgate. Whilst not occupying a place in the list of ten best known saints, it may be surprising to learn that the dedication of over seventy churches throughout England were inspired by St Botolph. He was a 7th century saint of Saxon parentage who became a mobile Benedictine monk and fulfilled his vocation by travelling around the country, preaching wherever he could draw a crowd. Thus he was thus adopted as the patron saint of travellers which prompted the architects of the time to appropriately site all four churches at ancient gates to the City.
Botolph Lane lies in a particularly ancient area of the City that once sported churches on almost every corner. St Botolph’s, built in the mid 12th century and repaired in 1624, stood at the southern end of Botolph Lane, adjacent to the bridge gate of the first London Bridge. When the Great Fire saw it off, the parish was amalgamated with that of St George’s, a small church rebuilt by Wren which stood opposite to Botolph Alley, on the west side of Botolph Lane. In 1895 the structure of St George’s was reported to be in an unstable condition and it was closed, with demolition following ten years later.
At its western end the Alley begins as a covered passage and runs through to Lovat Lane where it emerges opposite the church of St Mary at Hill. Here, on the corner of the Alley, is a bracketed gas light now converted to electricity, a feature that is repeated at intervals along the Lane. The old cobblestones of Lovat Lane and central drainage channel assist in raising its status to one of the most enchanting lanes in the City, and whilst most of the old buildings have now gone, their replacements are in tasteful keeping with antiquity.
It is many years since a ‘talbot’ was sighted stalking the bounds of Gracechurch Street. No doubt they were once a regular sight but that would have been a good few centuries ago, perhaps even before the time of the herb, or grass, market which lent itself to the naming of the street. This long extinct large breed of hound was usually white with long drooping ears and massive jaws; a favoured animal for tracking and hunting.
It could have been this beast that was responsible for the naming of the inn which occupied the site adjacent to Talbot Court until 1666 when the Great Fire swallowed it and left nothing but a heap of ashes. On the other hand it may have been a similar corruption suffered by Chaucer’s celebrated Tabard in Southwark, changed to the ‘Talbot’ after it was rebuilt in the early 17th century. There is no conclusive evidence to the origin of its name but the Talbot as it stood in Gracechurch Street was one of a whole array of inns and taverns, about ten in all, between here to Threadneedle Street.
Talbot Court is cobbled as it leaves Gracechurch Street through a modern square archway, turning southwards through 90° to link with Eastcheap. The Ship public house has now taken over dominance in the Court, a very popular resort on summery evenings when crowds of ale-swilling workers congregate and block the way.
Much of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.