Having reached Ludgate Circus last month we turn to climb up Fleet Street and explore the alleys stretching down towards the Thames. The first landmark is unmistakable, that of the spiritual home of the newspaper industry that once flourished here. Most printers have now left only to return to honour a deceased member of their trade here at St. Brides Church from which our first alley takes its name.
[T]he narrow lane of St. Bride’s Avenue which leaves Fleet Street almost opposite Shoe Lane and turns eastward to pass between St Bride’s Church and the rear of the Old Bell Inn, with an additional branch leading by way of a wide covered path into Salisbury Court. It was once a significant passageway, arched over at the Fleet Street entrance, but is now open to the elements and serves merely as a short cut, for those in the know, between New Bridge Street, Fleet Street and the Bishop of Salisbury’s Court.
St. Bride’s Avenue
The rear entrance to the Old Bell, by which most of the regulars arrive, is really quite unobtrusive; a plain door devoid of any accompanying signs leaping out to declare the facilities on offer. Inside, there are no plush carpets or secluded lighting, no gimmicky themes – the Bell is a solid pub and exists for the solid City drinker as it was originally intended. It stands on the site of the Swan tavern, where Wynkin de Worde, assistant to William Caxton, is supposed to have used a room as his workshop. When Sir Christopher Wren drew up his plans for rebuilding St Bride’s church in 1671 he constructed the Bell as accommodation for his men working on the site.
Continue past Salisbury Court and Hood Court is a tiny opening on the left and leaves Fleet Street by way of a quaint narrow covered passage and leads up two shallow steps into a secluded little courtyard to the south, where a mixture of modern and older buildings surround. A connecting path in the southeast corner links with Salisbury Square. The name of the Court is probably taken from a previous inhabitant although it has been suggested that there may have been a connection with Thomas Hood who founded a paper called Hood’s Magazine. If you had lived in the 16th century and been making a visit to the Temple Church then your access would probably have been through Mr Davis’s tailors shop, here in the Court. In those days all churches, their graveyards and cemeteries were places of sanctuary where law breakers could deposit themselves in full assurance that they were out of reach by the hand of justice. The Temple Church was one of the most popular resorts for such criminals and Mr Davis must have been sick to the high teeth with the constant procession through his premises. Henry Styrrell, a barrister of the Middle Temple, too was at the end of his tether with the annoyance caused by the disorderly gathering. In 1610 he petitioned the societies of the Inner and Middle Temple to take action and withdraw the right of way through the tailors shop. Three months after the petition Davis was forced to leave and the building was pulled down. To avoid any future nuisance it was also decided to wall up the gateway between the churchyard and Fleet Street.
Pleydell Court is the next alley your encounter walking west. Named after the Peydell-Bouveries, the Earls of Radnor who were Huguenots from Spanish Netherlands silk merchants who set up business in Threadneedle Street.
The small alley of Hare Place leads to Hare Court was built by Sir Nicholas Hare, who modestly gave it his name. This notable silk created the Master of the Rolls (probably awarding himself the honour) in 1553. During Elizabeth I’s reign he sat on the commission which tried Sir Nicholas Throgmorton for ‘imagining the Queen’s death’. Sir Nick was lucky to escape the executioner’s axe.
Falcon Court also features in the very early history of London printing. Wynkyn de Worde, London’s second printer, owned a house here. After his apprenticeship to William Caxton he set up in business in 1502 and remained the predominant printer in London until his death in 1534. It is amazing to learn that on his primitive hand press, laboriously printing one page at a time, he succeeded in the production of over 600 books. He was also the pioneer of music printing in England, a technique developed by wearisome trials. In his will he left a sufficient sum of money to supply a pension for the printing apprentices of Fleet Street and a legacy for St Bride’s church. He was buried in the previous church of St Bride, which was destroyed in the Great Fire.
Pictures: St. Bride’s Avenue Paul Farmer (CC BY-SA 2.0 UK)
Falcon Court. @Tony Grant
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 longer with us. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.