Tag Archives: London alleys

Down Your Alley White Hart Court

White Hart Court is on the west side of Bishopsgate, just south of Liverpool Street.

‘Next unto the parish church of St Buttolph is a fair inn for the receipt of travellers’. So says John Stow in his Survey of 1598.

He probably called in at the White Hart for a swift one while taking time out to catch up on his notes before going on to the ‘hospital of St Mary Bethelem’.

[T]HIS WAS ONE of the two main London hospitals for ‘distracted people’ and occupied the site of the present Liverpool Street mainline station. It was founded by Simon Fitzmary, a sheriff of the City, in 1246 as a priory, the monks offering an open house to the Bishop of Bethlehem whenever he had business in London. Within 100 years of its foundation the priory was transformed into a hospital for lunatics and the monks, for most of their time, were engaged in begging money to support themselves and the inmates.

At that time everybody in London had heard of Bethlehem Hospital, it was the source of daily conversation and became shortened by some to Bethlem, but more in evidence was the corruption to Bedlam. This latter gives rise to the present day usage indicating a noisy disturbance. Stow would have had no difficulty in gaining access to the hospital, it was open to the public as an entertainment venue on payment of a small entrance fee. On Monday 8th May 1775 Johnson and Boswell, always eager to investigate the talk of the town, came to view the ‘mansions of Bedlam’. Referring to the visit Boswell noted in his journal ‘the general contemplation of insanity was very affecting.’ What they found at the hospital was quite obviously not a pleasing sight but to the majority, it was an amusement of great delight. Over 100 people at any time, each having paid their two pence entrance fee, could run riot up and down the wards tormenting the miserable inmates. For those who wanted an additional dose of excitement and an element of risk, on payment of an extra penny they could join the patients for dinner. Naturally, the management holds no responsibility for the frequent casualties.

The church of the original priory remained standing until the mid-16th century when it was pulled down and replaced by houses for Christ’s Hospital. As for Bethlehem Hospital, it survived on this site until 1676 when it moved a little way to the west on London Wall and then, in 1815, it was transferred to a new building in Lambeth Road providing accommodation for a thousand patients classified as mental. Bedlam building remained for few more years until the site was acquired by the Great Eastern Railway Company with plans to extend the line from the Shoreditch terminus into the heart of the City. Liverpool Street Station, occupying over ten acres of land, was opened in November 1874.

The White Hart Inn was conveniently situated first for pilgrims visiting the priory and in later years it was used as a night stay by those travelling a long distance to experience the spectacle of Bedlam. At the height of its popularity, in the 15th century, there would have been a daily turnaround of about 50 guests staying at the Inn. Not all of these were mad-house spectators; a large proportion would be travellers arriving either too late at night to enter the City, or those wishing to pass through the gate before curfew in order to make an early start the next morning. All of the City gates had the facility of accommodation outside the bounds of the wall and their landlords made rich pickings from frequently overcharging. To assess the magnitude of business passing through these establishments we only need to consider the profusion of inns in Southwark, largely established on the strength of traveller leaving and entering the City via London Bridge, which was also barred by curfew gates.

Of course, the White Hart of today is a modern pub, tarted up and brought into line with the expectations of the up-to-date fraternity of City workers. But the Inn has not forgotten its root, the very history in which its foundations lie, of priories, monks and pilgrims; of mad-houses, lunatics, and the crowds that came to revel at the expense of the unfortunate few. The history of the Inn goes back to at least the time of the foundation of Bethlehem Priory. It was then a much larger place with galleries surrounding the courtyard where during the summer months guests were treated to regular theatrical performances. All this has long gone but the Yard remains, much changed in character, but still as an accompaniment to the Inn and as a reminder of the days when over laden stage coaches rattled and rolled over its cobbles from early morning until dusk.

Featured image: White Hart Court by Baldwin Hamey (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) more information on the history of White Hart Court can be found at London Street Views.

CabbieBlog-cabMuch 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.

Down Your Alley: Herbal Hill

‘Take ginger, galingale, cinnamon, nutmeg, grains of paradise, cloves bruised, fennel seed, caraway seeds, origanum, one ounce each. Next, take sage, wild marjoram, pennyroyal, mint, red roses, thyme, pellitory, rosemary, wild thyme, chamomile, lavender, one handful of each.

Beat the spices small, bruise the herbs, put all into a limbeck with wine for twelve hours; then distil.’

[I]f taken four times daily it was claimed to cure dropsy, prolong life to eternity and probably scare evil spirits out of their wits. In our day of sophisticated medical remedies it would take the courage of a hero to contemplate swallowing such a preparation, but until less than 100 years ago it was a typical remedy, at the finger tips of every dedicated housewife.

The secret of a successful mixture was to have a goodly number of ingredients; that is, as many as necessary to convince the patient that it was going to do him good. Thus, a cure for a simple illness, such as the common cold, might have included merely two or three varieties of herb whereas the most popular cure for the plague, known as ‘plague water’, included the combination of fifty-nine varieties.

Herbal Hill

Herbs and spices have been the basis of every medicinal preparation ever since the cure of illness was first thought of. On the kitchen shelf of every household, there was a mighty tome of recipes for the treatment of all kinds of ailment; the housewife diagnosed the problem and prescribed the treatment. Only when in immediate danger did anyone think of calling in a physician, or more commonly a herbalist. Treatments varied widely and no two herbalists held alike views on remedies; they were all independent in their thinking and everyone claimed to have ‘invented’ the cure for all ills.

The demand for herbs in a large city like London was such that some gardeners dedicated their entire grounds to the cultivation of herbs; these were the main suppliers to the herbalists, but every gardener choosing to set aside a plot for the growing of herbs would be sure to sell his yield. We know that in the 16th century there was an established garden on the site of Herbal Hill wherein a variety of herb plants were grown; whether this was an expanse entirely given over to the purpose, or a section of a multi-purpose garden is not known. Also unknown is the owner or tender of the garden. There are various possibilities but three distinctly come out as clear contenders. Firstly, there was St Mary’s Nunnery which occupied the site to the east of Farringdon Road; the nuns owned numerous acres of land but their boundary is unlikely to have extended further west than the line of the present main road. Then there was the garden of the Bishops of Ely, notable throughout London for its quality orchards and a fine strawberry patch of which Shakespeare found necessity to mention in Richard III: ‘My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn I saw good strawberries in your garden there.’ The Bishop’s garden was a sizeable estate but presumably, the northern limit was on a line with that of the garden of Sir Christopher Hatton who gained his plot from the Ely estate with the help of Elizabeth I. This means that the Herbal Hill site would have been just outside the Bishop’s garden.

Coming in very strongly is John Gerard, barber-surgeon and native of Cheshire, who moved to London in 1577 and took up the position of head gardener to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Gerard bought a house in Holborn, about midway between the two gardens he was commissioned to tend; one at Lord Burghley’s mansion in the Strand and the other at Theobalds, to the north of the Ely estate. On these plots, he continued the work he had been following for many years, that of refining the art of rearing and nurturing an unrivalled array of herbs, fruits and flowers. The high degree of his dedication inspired the writing of Herbal, published in 1597, the first comprehensive catalogue of herbs, ever compiled. In 1602 Gerard’s skill was recognised by Anne of Denmark and as a reward for his commitment to the subject he was granted the lease of a two-acre plot of land on the site of the present King’s College. All evidence does seem to suggest that it was the activities of John Gerard that led to the naming of Herbal Hill.

There are no herbs or flowers here now, not even a solitary ghost of Gerard’s skilful creation desperately trying to poke its head between the cracked paving. Today, Herbal Hill gives the impression of not knowing where it is; it seems lost in its surroundings of the not quite inner city, yet not quite anything else.

Image: Looking south from its junction with Ray Street. This narrow street runs right through to Clerkenwell Roadby Dr Neil Clifton (CC BY-SA 2.0).

CabbieBlog-cabMuch 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.

Down Your Alley: Alderman’s Walk

Alderman’s Walk is one of those names that tend to spark off thoughts of summery strolls along well-kept tree-lined avenues. Indeed, if we were contemplating our walk in a suburban village or almost any place other than the City of London that is what we may very well expect to find.

However, the City of London is where we are and Alderman’s Walk is not remotely like that.

[O]N THE DOORSTEP is Liverpool Street Station, the modernised gateway to eastern England; only yards away and visible from all angles of the City, the Natwest Tower reaches skyward; a mere stone’s throw away is the Bank, the ‘old lady’ who has her thumb on the hub of financial London.

This has been a busy section of the City for centuries; carts and trucks have been rumbling around here ever since the Romans built the Bishops Gate and opened up a main thoroughfare into the City. Despite all this turmoil Frances Dashwood, an 18th-century Member of the Common Council of the City, liked it so much that he built his house here, on the south side of the Walk near to Old Broad Street. When Dashwood received a Knighthood the place became known as Dashwood’s Court until he was elected to the Court of Aldermen of the City of London and from that time the name changed to Alderman’s Walk.

Adjoining the Walk, on the south side, is the church of St Botolph, Bishopsgate, one of three surviving churches dedicated to the seventh-century patron saint of travellers. The first church on this site was built about the beginning of the 13th century and was probably twice replaced before the 17th century. On Tuesday the 4th September 1666 St Botolph’s was shaking in its foundation as the Great Fire swept across the lower reaches of Bishopsgate, moving round to Throgmorton Street where it took the Drapers’ Hall. Although there was a sigh of relief when the danger was past, St Botolph’s was not in the best of repair and sixty years after the fire (1725) the church was demolished and rebuilt by James Gold. The unusual interior has two aisles separated from the nave by enormous Corinthian columns supporting a gallery running around the north, south and west sides. Strangely, the square tower is at the east end and therefore above the chancel and sanctuary, an arrangement only occasionally encountered. The marble fluted font is a relic of the 18th century, doubly celebrated because John Keates, poet, was baptised in it in 1795. In the graveyard of the old church, Ben Jonson and his family gathered to mourn the passing of his young son, a tragic victim of the plague.

The church once controlled a charity school for fifty poor boys and girls. In 1861 the classrooms were transformed into the parish hall and it can be seen to the west of the church with two charming statues of the charity children; a boy and a girl each wearing a badge and holding a book.

Featured image: Bishopsgate Churchyard, London, EC2 by David Hallam-Jones (CC BY_SA 2.0)
With the footpath that passes through St Botolph’s-without-Bishopsgate churchyard behind them, pedestrians heading in the direction of New Broad Street find themselves passing the entrance of this former underground Turkish Bath establishment. Apparently, there had been baths of one kind or another on this site since 1817. These “new” (replacement) baths were opened as “The New Broad Street Turkish Baths” on 5 February 1895. They were situated partly underneath the original New Broad Street House (since demolished) and partly beneath Alderman’s Walk (now called Bishopsgate Churchyard). Potential bathers entered the kiosk topped by an onion-shaped cupola and decorated with a star and crescent and went down a faïence-lined (earthenware tiled) winding staircase to a vestibule where s/he bought his ticket. Although protected, it seems that they have been adapted into a restaurant.

CabbieBlog-cabMuch 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.

Down Your Alley: The Falconbergs

Since this week’s post about a falconer, I’ve been trying to find an alley which has a connection with falcons. There is plenty of mews reflecting their possibly original function to confine hawks while they moulted, but few Falcons.

After the rebuilding of this area to make way for Crossrail I’m not even sure that Falconberg Mews and Alley still as vehicles are not allowed to drive through Soho Square.

[F]ALCONBERG COURT is a few paces south from Tottenham Court Road Station on the west side of Charing Cross Road. The Court leads, by way of Falconberg Mews and Sutton Row, into Soho Square where once stood the house of Lord Falconberg, built about 1680 and demolished in 1924.

Falconberg Court leaves the main street beneath an archway and continues westerly, passing between rows of tall grubby warehouse type buildings on either side. Although the Court is open to daylight throughout most of its length, the blackness of the walls and dismal paving create an overall spooky atmosphere. At the far end is Falconberg Mews, an equally unsavoury place, and turning left here leads to Sutton Row where a right turn, along the side of St Patrick’s Roman Catholic church, opens into Soho Square – a more gratifying panorama.

CabbieBlog-cabMuch 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.

Down Your Alley: Oranges and Lemons

Down Your Alley: Orange Yard

After recently highlighting Orange Street, today we go all oranges and lemons. First off is Orange Yard: from Tottenham Court Road Station walk along the west side of Charing Cross Road. Cross Falconberg Court, Sutton Row, Goslett Yard and then turn right into Manett Street. Orange Yard is about 20 yards on the right.

[W]ILLIAM OF ORANGE could have had associations with Orange Yard. Nell Gwyn may have trudged down here on one of her excursions, although I can hardly think why; there might have been an orange warehouse here or perhaps a fruit merchant held his stall in the vicinity. On the other hand its name could even reflect the predominant colour in a coat of arms; in fact, the Yard could have been named after any one of these, or a combination maybe. More than likely we have all been led up the garden path and the place has never had any connections with oranges, lemons, fruit and vegetables, colours of the rainbow or anything else of that ilk.

One fine detail we can call up in relation to Orange Yard is that there is nothing here to attract the revelling tourist in search of London’s most exhilarate attractions. Foyles bookshop, claiming to be the largest in the world, is nearby. It was set up by the two Foyle brothers who, having failed an examination to enter the civil service, made a decision to sell their textbooks for the highest price they could get for them. The speedy sale and acceptable profit gleaned from the exercise prompted them to purchase a job lot of second-hand book and repeat the process. They soon realised that the foundation of their business was in place. Foyles moved from number 121 Charing Cross Road in 1966 to 113-119 Charing Cross Road, now as a result of CrossRail they have moved again to their present building at 107 Charing Cross Road.

For a late hour splurge, the Borderline Nightclub is on the corner of the Yard.

Down Your Alley: Church Court

For our lemons, we go to Church Court. From Monument Station continue north along the east side of King William Street and turn right into Clement’s Lane. The Court is just past the church on the right.

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 tradesmen’ 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 children’s 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:

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St Martin’s.
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.
I’m sure I don’t know,
Says the great bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!
Chop, chop, chop, chop!

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.

Signs at the entrance to St Margaret’s Close, City of London. St Margaret’s Close, formerly Church Court, is closed off by a wrought-iron gate from the street; it squeezes between the east end of St Margaret Lothbury and an adjacent Victorian office building. By Christopher Hilton (CC BY-SA 2.0)

CabbieBlog-cabMuch 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.