Tag Archives: London alleys

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 Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.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.

Down Your Alley: The Elys

Entering Ely Place through the imposing iron gateway with its beadle’s lodge, with its chimney perched above a window (and not through the secret door featured in the last post), at once tells you that this is a private road. It is a cul-de-sac that is still administered by appointed commissioners of the Crown.

The houses are of the Georgian period (18th century) and feature Robert Adam style doorways.
[U]NTIL AS RECENTLY as 1948 the beadle would nightly call the hour between 10 pm and 5 am with the one time familiar ‘past ten o’clock, all’s well’. Another ancient curiosity of Ely Place was that criminals could claim sanctuary from the police, but that is all history and those who commit crimes today are just as likely to be arrested in Ely Place as anywhere else.

The entrance to Ely Place

Strange as it may seem, this small plot of land, until quite recently, was not part of London at all but Cambridgeshire. The history begins in 1251 when a church was built on the site of the present church of St Etheldreda, on the west side of Ely Place. Some years later the property was purchased by John Kirkby just prior to him being consecrated Bishop of Ely in 1286. When he died in 1290 he left the building and surrounding grounds to the diocese of Ely (in Cambridgeshire). In those days it was the duty of bishops to sit regularly in Parliament and this meant that it was necessary to have accommodation nearby. The magnitude of their London houses usually depended on the personal wealth of the bishop and we must assume that the Bishops of Ely were fairly well endowed. William de Luda succeeded John Kirkby and it was he who built the present church. Later, in 1336, a vineyard and orchard covering seven acres were added. Towards the end of the 14th century, Bishop Arundell rebuilt part of the palace adding a gatehouse and a high wall to enclose the grounds. ‘In this house, for the large and commodious rooms thereof, divers great and solemn feasts have been kept, especially by the serjeants-at-the-law’. All that now remains of the Bishops’ Palace is the medieval chapel of St Etheldreda.

St Ethelreda’s Church

The church of St Etheldreda displays some of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the whole of Western Europe. With the exception of Westminster Abbey, it is London’s only surviving building from the period of Edward I. The west window, when compared with the size of the building, is enormous; it was completed in 1964 and commemorates the English martyrs of the Tudor period. Scenes from the Old Testament are depicted in the windows on the south side and scenes from the New Testament in those on the north side. Also notable are the carved gorbels between these windows. A number of large statues are of local men and women who were martyred for their faith. The original doorway that separated the Chapel from the Bishops’ Palace is on the south-west side.

St Etheldreda’s suffered a great deal of damage and decay over the years but thankfully escaped the ravages of the Great Fire with minutes to spare. St Andrew’s, only yards away, was completely destroyed but a change of wind spelt reprieve for the Bishops’ old chapel.

During the Civil War of 1642, the buildings of Ely Place were used as a prison. It was finally sold to the Crown in 1772 when the London residence of the Bishops of Ely was transferred to the newly built Ely House at 37 Dover Street; this remained their official London residence until 1909.

Between numbers nine and ten, the narrow Ely Court leads to Ye Old Mitre Tavern. Notice the iron bar down the centre of the opening – it was placed there to prevent horse riders from entering the narrow passage.

To the multitudes, Ely Court is a quaint and narrow passageway, linking Hatton Garden with Ely Place has one main attraction – the enchanting Old Mitre Tavern. The first tavern on this site was built in 1546 by Bishop Goodrich, Bishop of Ely, for the enjoyment of his Palace servants. The present building is of the 18th century.

Ely Court, Ye Olde Mitre

Apart from the Bishops of Ely, there was another character featured prominently in the history of this area – he was Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth I. At the time of the Queen’s first acquaintance with Christopher Hatton, he held the position of Master of the Game at the Inner Temple. They met at a theatrical performance staged at Whitehall in which Hatton played a leading part, attracting the Queen’s attention by his graceful dancing. From that time he became a great favourite of her majesty and in 1577 was appointed Vice-Chamberlain, and in 1587 Lord Keeper of the Great Seal – called by Elizabeth, her ‘dancing Chancellor’. They engaged in frequent meetings, and in the House of Commons, he was the Queen’s spokesman, expressing her approvals and dissension’s.

When it occurred to Sir Christopher Hatton that he should reside in a mansion fitting of his position, he set his sights on the magnificent Ely House, London home of the Bishop of Ely. At the Queen’s insistence, Bishop Cox was persuaded to lease his gatehouse and fourteen acres of land to Hatton. To please her the Bishop, without question, agreed to a lease of twenty-one years at a yearly rent of £10 plus ten loads of hay and one red rose.

Once established in his ill-gotten gain, Hatton spent a great deal of money on additions and renovations to the property and land – money borrowed from his royal mistress. Both parties had use of the gardens but after a disagreement concerning the actual boundary of the part included in the lease, a cherry tree was planted to mark the division. It is said that Queen Elizabeth once danced the maypole around the tree during one of her many visits to Hatton. If you look in the corner of the bar-parlour of the Mitre Tavern you will see, what is reputed to be, a preserved chunk of that very tree.

As time passed, the Queen put so much pressure on Hatton to repay the money that he suffered sleepless nights and became ill. She later visited him and quite evidently her dominance caused a worsening of his condition. He died still owing £40,000, a debt that the Queen never forgot. Bishop Cox was obliged to inherit the liability but when he died his successor, Bishop Heton, refused to honour the agreement. He was ordered to comply or he would be dismissed from his position and defrocked. The characteristic letter from Elizabeth laid firmly before him the terms of her demand: ‘Proud Prelate! I understand you are backward in complying with your agreement: but I would have you know that I, who made you what you are, can unmake you; and if you do not forthwith fulfil your engagement, by God I will immediately unfrock you.’ – He presumably paid up.

The Mitre is a charming old pub with an atmosphere reminiscent of a country inn. The walls, covered in oak panelling, are adorned with pictures associated with Ely Court and Place. There are two small rooms and a smaller ante-room called The Closet and, be warned, it gets very busy, particularly at lunchtime and early evening.

One point to ponder on when visiting the Mitre is – How on earth did the large table get there since it is too large to pass through the door? Some say the pub was built around it. But there remains the riddle.

Featured images:
Ye Olde Mitre by Mike Quinn (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The entrance to Ely Place by Marathon (CC BY-SA 2.0)
St Ethelreda’s Church by Neil Theasby (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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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.