As everyone is rushing to do their Christmas Shopping, the little alley of Adam and Eve Court, about 320 yards east of Oxford Circus, on the north side of Oxford Street, is often passed by unnoticed. The Adam and Eve tavern stood here, from about the 17th century, occupying a rural setting just to the north of the ‘Tyburn Way’ or ‘the way to Uxbridge’ which we now know as Oxford Street.
[I]ts actual location was about 50 yards north of the main road which on today’s layout would be about two-thirds of the way into the Court. At that time, the Court itself was a rough track forming the only convenient access to the tavern. This was, of course, before Edward Harley, William Berners, and sundry small-time land owners commenced developments in the 1720’s. The Adam and Eve tavern survived until about 1746 when the new competitive environment overtook it and survival became impossible. In the same year, houses began to spring up along the dusty access road, heralding the transformation from rural to urban, and Adam and Eve Court was hatched into life.
Adam and Eve Court
Nearby, on the north side of the tavern, was the ‘Boarded House’, an amphitheatre style building run by a celebrated swordsman, James Figg. At this venue, he staged contests between a variety of local masters of the art, among whom he was the central and most popular attraction. Along with cockfighting, fencing and bare-fist boxing were the most popular crowd-drawing sporting event of the period and the Oxford Street area had some of the top ranking venues.
In 1725 Figg had a dispute with his landlord; it happened late one night when, against all odds, Figg had beaten off the unquestionable favourite. Seats were thrown into the arena and the riotous crowd lurched forward as Figg waved his sword in triumph; he could have decapitated his opponent but left that to the mob. As the victor made his exit, the stillness of the outside air became alive with uncontrollable brawling.
By the time James Figg was back in his billet, a matter of yards away, the noise had reached a deafening rate of decibels and as he sipped the dregs of his cocoa, a thundering rap caused him to nervously pitch the cup in the air and jump to his feet. Thinking it to be a gang of rioters he took up his sword and poised himself as he flung open the door. To his astonishment, he was confronted by his landlord, clad in winceyette shirt and night-cap. At the risk of being lynched, the man hailed forth his command to quit the ‘Boarded House’ without further ado. ‘Enough is enough’, he raged, tightly clenching his fists.
Of course, this was no hardship to Figg; he had already been contemplating opening a hall at the rear of his house, just to the east of the Adam and Eve tavern. Within weeks the new venue was in operation and from these premises, James Figg boldly advertised himself as ‘Master of ye Noble Science of Defence’ and taught the skills of swordsmanship to wealthy clients.
Those wealthy clients no longer come for instruction in sabre rattling, although – perhaps not quite so well endowed – they still pass across the entrance to Adam and Eve Court in daily droves; the shopkeepers of Oxford Street certainly prosper from the seemingly endless queues eager to dispense with the contents of their wallets. Adam and Eve Court share none of these generous contributions although it is one of the Oxford Street courts that has everything going for it; there is the potential here for creating another Gee’s Court or even St Christopher’s Place. Beyond this, a narrow covered entrance leads onward, where the back-drop is a scene of – not exactly neglect, but rather of being over-looked. Whilst the summer hanging baskets suspended from the gas-style standard lamps are a step in the right direction, it is like adding the seasoning before the meat. At the northern end of the Court, as though strictly for the use of those who pass along Eastcastle Street, are four telephone kiosks.
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.