Day 49 – Piccadilly – St James’s Square – Pall Mall

First excursion of the year and not a long one but this small area between Piccadilly and Pall Mall (yellow to pink on the Monopoly board) is rich in historical and social significance. From Fortnum and Mason to the Royal Automobile Club, St James’s (where nearly 50% of the property is owned by the Crown Estate) still clings to an aura of privilege and old money. It also contains the former residences of two women who, in very different ways, have played an important role in shaping the evolution of this country – Ada Lovelace and Nancy Astor.

Day 49 Route

Starting point today is St James’s Church on Piccadilly. This was consecrated in 1684 having been built to the order of Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans to the serve the new residential development of St James’s Square. And wouldn’t you know it but the architect was the ubiquitous Christopher Wren accepting a rare gig outside of the City of London. The reredos and the marble font were created by master carver of the age, Grinling Gibbons (there’s a forename that’s ripe for revival surely). And that font was where William Blake was baptised in December 1757. St James’s is well known as a classical music venue and I was fortunate enough that my visit coincided with a lunchtime recital by the prizewinning Greek pianist, Konstantinos Destounis. The church is also very actively involved in highlighting social and political issues and is currently host to Suspended, an installation by artist Arabella Dorman which highlights the plight of refugees attempting to flee from persecution and famine to the safety of European shores.

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We exit the church onto Jermyn Street, turn left and then return to Piccadilly via Church Place. Heading east towards Piccadilly Circus we pass Waterstones flagship store which occupies the Grade I listed building that came into being in 1936 as Simpsons of Piccadilly, at the time the largest menswear store in Britain. The building was designed by the modernist architect, Joseph Pemberton (1889 – 1956) and much of the interior was the work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895 – 1946), one of the most influential professors at the Bauhaus school of art in 1920’s Berlin.


A right turn down Eagle Place takes us back onto Jermyn Street where we continue east onto Regent Street St James’s (or Regent Street South if you’re pushed for time). The Lumiere London art festival had taken place the previous weekend and the area around Piccadilly had featured several of the installations, including this light projection onto the old Swan & Edgar building.

We drop down to the end of Regent Street St James’s where no. 1 with its ornate carved frontage, home of the Greek restaurant Estiatorio Milos, stands on the corner with Charles II Street.


Charles II Street runs west into St James’s Square.  As already mentioned the square was laid out in the late 17th century by Henry Jermyn, the 1st Earl of St Albans one of the most influential courtiers of the Restoration period. The houses on the square quickly became some of the most desirable properties in London and by the 1720’s seven dukes and seven earls were among the residents. A century or so later the clubhouses arrived and the square lost a bit (but only a bit) of its cachet. Turning right to proceed anticlockwise around the square we pass the BP head office at no. 1, a turn of the 21st century building they acquired in 2001. The original house at no.3 next door was owned by at least three separate dukes at different times but was replaced in the 1930’s by this office block.


Then at no.4 we have an original Georgian House built 1726-28 by Edward Shepherd and the only one on the square to retain its garden and mews house at the rear. It is now the Naval and Military Club but was once one of the homes of Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor (1879 – 1964) the first woman to sit as an MP in the House of Commons. Nancy Witcher Langthorne Astor, to give her her full name, was an American citizen who moved to Britain at the age of 26 when she married, for the second time, to Waldorf Astor heir to the massive fortune of the Astor family with its origins in the 18th century US fur trade and New York real estate. Their primary home was the 375 acre Cliveden Estate in Buckinghamshire, a wedding gift from Waldorf’s father. Waldorf had enjoyed a promising political career prior to WW1 but when he succeeded his father’s peerage to become the 2nd Viscount Astor he was automatically shunted off to the House of Lords. This left the way open for Nancy to contest the vacant seat and she duly won the November 1919 by-election. She was in actual fact not the first woman to be elected to parliament, that milestone was achieved by Constance Markievicz in 1918 but as she was an Irish Republican she was barred from taking her seat. I think it’s fair to say that Lady Astor’s success is now viewed as purely a symbolic one. Her political accomplishments were largely negligible although she remained an MP until 1945.  Her personal ideology was also pretty suspect in many ways – she had not been a strong advocate of women’s suffrage and held strong anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views. However, while she and many of her circle were in favour of appeasement suggestions that the “Cliveden set” were pro-fascist appear to be exaggerated.

Across the road from no.4, just outside the gardens, is a memorial to WPC Yvonne Fletcher who on 17 April 1984, at the age of 25, was killed by a shot from the Libyan People’s Bureau (Embassy) which at the time occupied no.5. WPC Fletcher was on duty monitoring a demonstration against the Gaddafi regime, eleven of the participations in which were also wounded. Although diplomatic relations between the UK and Libya were severed no-one was ever brought to account for the murder. Two years later US fighter planes conducted bombing raids on Libya having taken off from UK air bases with the acquiescence of Margaret Thatcher.


We leave the square temporarily via Duke of York Street off to the right of which is the now (thanks to the eponymous book and TV series) infamous Apple Tree Yard. You’d be hard pushed to find anywhere quite so unappealing as a venue for a spot of alfresco hanky-panky but then that’s probably the point. Though I’m pretty certain the scenes in the TV series weren’t actually filmed here anyway. The yard’s other claim to fame is that it was home to the office where Sir Edwin Lutyens designed the enclave of New Delhi (within the metropolis of Delhi) to replace Calcutta as the seat of the British Colonial Government in 1912. This was marked in 2015 by the installation of a sculptural work in granite by the artist Stephen Cox.

Back on Duke of York Street it’s a short hop up to Jermyn Street again for a quick eastward foray to tick off Babmaes Street before retracing our steps to Ormond Yard which is opposite Apple Tree Yard and ends in a small passage that cuts through To Mason’s Yard. Bang in the middle of Mason’s Yard is the White Cube Gallery which was constructed here on the site of an old electricity subs-station (and is the first free-standing structure to be built in the historic St James’s area for more than 30 years). In its architectural style the White Cube aims for a spot of nominative determinism though White Orthotope would be nearer the mark (this is also true of its sister gallery, White Cube Bermondsey). It’s a good old space inside and usually showcasing something worth a visit. Current exhibition by Korean artist, Minjung Kim, which just opened today is a case in point.

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To the west Mason’s Yard leads out onto Duke Street St James’s where we head south as far as King Street which takes us east back to St James’s Square. This time we go clockwise round the square (if you see what I mean). First stop is no. 16 which was formerly the East India Club and displays a black plaque commemorating the official dispatch of the news of the victory at Waterloo carried by Major Henry Percy. After initial delivery to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for War at Grosvenor Square, Major Percy continued on to this address to lay two captured French Imperial Eagles before the Prince Regent who was attending a soirée here.


At no. 14 is the London Library the world’s largest independent library created at the instigation of Thomas Carlyle (who objected to some of the policies of the British Museum Library). It opened in 1841 and moved to St James’s Square four years later. Alfred Lord Tennyson served as President, from 1855 to 1892, as did T.S. Eliot who, on his appointment in 1952, declared  “whatever social changes come about, the disappearance of the London Library would be a disaster to civilisation”. Today the library is home to over a million books covering more than 2,000 subjects and stored on 17 miles of shelves. Membership costs £525 a year.

Next door at no.13. is the only Embassy on the square – the High Commission of Cyprus.


Turning the corner onto the north side we reach, at no.12, the former residence of the other woman I mentioned in the preamble, Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (1815 – 1852) better known, simply, as Ada Lovelace. Part of Ada’s fame rests upon the fact that she was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron – by his wife Annabella Milbanke, Lady Wentworth. But far more important than that is her contribution to the fields of mathematics and science. As a teenager, Ada’s mathematical prowess, led her to form what came to be a long working relationship and friendship with Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871) the man who first came up with the concept of the computer, or Analytical Engine as he called it. However it was Ada who recognized that such a machine could have potential applications beyond pure calculation and published the first program intended to be carried out by the “computing machine”. For this she is regarded by many as effectively the world’s first computer programmer. Her personal life though was not a happy one; her relationships with men were fraught and complicated and she took to gambling with disastrous results – losing more than £3,000 on the horses in her early thirties. And she was always haunted by her father who had to all intents and purposes abandoned her at birth. In any event she never saw him again during his eight remaining years of life. But when Ada died of uterine cancer at the age of 36, the same age Byron had been, she was buried, at her request, next to him at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.

Two doors further along at no.10 is Chatham House aka the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the world-famous independent policy institute. In 1919 British and American delegates to the Paris Peace Conference, under the leadership of Lionel Curtis, conceived the idea of an Anglo-American Institute of foreign affairs to study international problems with a view to preventing future wars. In the event, the British went ahead on their own, founding the British Institute of International Affairs in July 1920. Chatham House is immortalised for originating the Chatham House Rule – When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. Or, more succinctly, “what’s said in the room stays in the room”. No.10 (appropriately enough) is also celebrated for being the home at various times of three separate British Prime Ministers – William Pitt the Elder (PM from 1766-68), Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby (PM for just 299 days in 1852 and 1 year and 243 days between 1866 and 1868) and William Ewart Gladstone (PM for most of the 2nd half of the 19th century).

See what I mean, just this one corner of the square has elicited the best part of 1,000 words. Anyway, once past no.10, we turn south through the middle of the gardens. In the centre is an equestrian statue of William III erected in 1808 and at the southern end is a small pavilion with a memorial to architect John Nash (we’ve met him more than once on previous journeys) who supervised the design and layout of the gardens.

Back on the east side of the square is no.31, Norfolk House, which was U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters during World War II, and where Operation Torch and Operation Overlord were planned.

We leave the square again briefly, exiting onto Pall Mall from the south-east corner. Across the road is the Royal Automobile Club, founded in 1897 by Frederick Richard Simms with the primary purpose of promoting the motor car and its place in society. The Royal part of the monicker was granted by King Edward VII in 1907 (Victoria would have had no truck with these new-fangled automobile things). Today it’s a glorified private members’ (including women) club with Edwardian Turkish baths that were renovated in 2003–4, an Italian marble swimming pool, squash courts (including a doubles court), a snooker room, three restaurants, two bars, and a fully equipped business centre. It is now completely divorced from the motoring services group, the RAC, which it once owned.


We head back into the square for a final time past another bastion of London clubland (of the cigars and brandy rather than ecstasy and glo-stick variety), the Army and Navy Club. This one has been around since 1837 and its first patron was the Duke of Wellington and the current one is the Queen – nuff said. The club is colloquially known as ‘the Rag’ – if you want to know why check out the link. I think I need to move swiftly on before I go all champagne socialist.


We leave the square for the final time back along King Street heading west. On the north side is the global HQ of fine art auctioneers, Christie’s, where they have been since 1823.


On the south side we pass Cleveland Place and Rose & Crown Yard before taking the next turning, Angel Court. The following picture is of the middle of those three and I took it and flipped it to b&w purely on account of the striking quality of the mannequin figure in the window.


On the corner of Angel Court and King Street, the Golden Lion pub occupies the site where the St James’s Theatre, which staged the first performances of Oscar Wilde’s two best known plays, once stood. Further down Angel Court is a set of, now rather forlorn looking, commemorative reliefs by E. Bainbridge Copnall. The reliefs were commissioned for the office block that replaced the theatre, which was demolished itself in 1986.

Back on Pall Mall we head east initially along the north side then double back west on the south side. Pall Mall was constructed in 1661 and takes it’s name from the game of pall-mall which was a bit similar to croquet and was introduced to England by James I. London’s first pall-mall court was built in St James’s Field where St James’s Square now stands. As we return along the south side we pass no.82 which is adorned with a blue plaque marking this as a former residence of the artist Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) and no.80 which has one noting that Nell Gwynne (1650 – 1687) once lived in a house on the site. And at no.71 is the Oxford and Cambridge Club where. I imagine, the real metropolitan elite meet and greet.

We switch back northwards up Crown Passage which, if you ignore the rubbish bags, has a charming touch of the olde-worlde about it…


…there’s even a Milliner’s for goodness’ sake (that’s someone who makes hats in case there happens to be anyone under the age of forty reading)


So now we’re back on King Street from where a quick right then left takes us into Bury Street. The area of St James’s is particularly known for its galleries. Not the sort I tend to frequent that show contemporary art (though as we’ve seen there are a couple of those) but the ones that specialise in just about every niche in the fine arts and antiques firmament – from old masters to maps to Japanese art and armour and weaponry as you can see below.



We turn east off Bury Street along Ryder Street back to Duke Street St James’s where we continue north and then turn the corner into Jermyn Street past the Cavendish Hotel. In its present form The Cavendish is a particularly unlovable example of 1960’s concrete pragmatism. Its predecessor was built in the early 1800’s, taking on the Cavendish name in 1836. In 1902 the Cavendish was bought by one Rosa Lewis (1867 -1952), who had worked her way up from kitchen maid (aged 12) to be head chef of the Duc d’orleans at Sandhurst. She was also engaged as a dinner-party cook by Lady Randolph Churchill, the Asquiths and many of the hostesses who entertained Edward VII. Rosa originally put her husband, the grandly named ex-butler Excelsior Tyrel Chiney Lewis, and his sister Laura in charge of the hotel. But within two years their spending and his drinking were out of control so Rosa divorced him and threw the pair of them out. Once she was in charge the hotel flourished and expanded. She was known for her generous spirit – allowing impoverished WW1 military officers to stay for free at the hotel for example – and Evelyn Waugh described her as warm hearted, comic and a totally original woman. She continued to dress in Edwardian style and enjoyed a grandiose and majestic decline from 1918 to 1952. Her life was the inspiration for the 1970’s TV series, “The Duchess of Duke Street” (with Gemma Jones in the title role) as is recognized by a Westminster Council commemorative plaque.

After a couple of blocks we make our way back to Piccadilly up Princes Arcade which continues the area’s general theme of old fashioned luxury. Opposite the entrance to the arcade at no.87 Jermyn Street is another of those old London County Council blue plaques marking this as the home of Sir Isaac Newton. Newton actually lived in the building that was knocked down in 1915 but the plaque had been installed seven years prior to that and so was taken down a re-fixed to the new building.

On reaching Piccadilly again we turn left to get to Hatchards the UK’s oldest bookshop. John Hatchard opened the store at 173 Piccadilly in 1797 and moved it to (what is now) 187 in 1801. The store has three Royal Warrants and is now owned by Waterstone’s.


Since that move in 1801, Hatchards has been neighbour to Fortnum & Mason which preceded it in opening on Piccadilly by nearly a hundred years. It was 1707, to be exact, when Hugh Mason and William Fortnum set up shop at no.181 and it all began with them selling off Queen Anne’s half-used candle wax. In 1738, by which time it was established as one of the most prominent grocery stores on the capital, Fortnum and Mason’s invented the Scotch Egg while brainstorming ideas for food that travellers could eat on the go. In 1851 Fortnum’s won first prize as importers of dried fruits and dessert goods at London’s Great Exhibition and in 1886 became the first grocer’s in Britain to stock Heinz baked beans. In 1911 they sent hampers to the suffragettes who had been imprisoned for breaking their windows and they provided the 1922 Everest expedition with, amongst other things, 60 tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne (amazing that they didn’t reach the summit with that to fortify them). The famous clock on the storefront was installed in 1964 and its bells come from the same foundry that produced Big Ben. The only record that F&M have ever sold is Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas ?” These days Fortnum’s is more of a tourist destination than anything. There are no doubt still a few members of the landed gentry that pop up to town to stock up on comestibles and haberdashery but I didn’t see very many while doing the rounds. Since I mentioned it earlier I should also note that the selling of foie-gras was the subject of a PETA campaign in 2010 that was supported by a number of high-profile celebrities.

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We exit the store (purchase-free) onto Duke Street and at the end of the block turn west for a final visit to Jermyn Street. Outside the Piccadilly Arcade is a statue to the Georgian “dandy” Beau Brummel (1778 – 1840). Poor old Beau’s not looking quite so dandy-ish at the moment having been boxed in by the workmen repairing the street.

Jermyn Street has historically been second only to Savile Row in term of catering to the sartorial needs of the discerning London gentleman-about-town but these days it seems to consist mainly of branches of T.M Lewin. So I was pleased to finally encounter one of the few remaining proper old-style independent outfitters on the corner with the top of Bury Street.


And that’s just about it. From Bury Street we turn right to make the western section of Ryder Street our last call of the day and I’ll leave you wondering, like me, what story lies behind this intriguing shot.

























Day 38 – Fleet Street – Victoria Embankment – St Bride’s

So this walk takes place just a few days after the visit to Middle and Inner Temple and, beginning on the eastern side of the latter, completes the area between Fleet Street and the river.

Day 38 Route

As noted, we start out today from the eastern entrance to the grounds of the Temple Inns, heading south down Temple Avenue. On the way we pass the Temple Chambers building c.1887 with its two splendid warrior king sculptures (artist unknown). Technically these kind of sculptures, in the form of a man and acting as a column or support, are known as atlantes or atlases (after Atlas the Titan responsible for holding up the sky in Greek mythology). The female equivalent are called caryatids (see Day 7 post).


At the junction with the Embankment stands Hamilton House a.k.a no.1 Temple Avenue. A listed building dating from 1880 this was once home to the Callender Cable and Construction Company.


Continuing east along the Embankment we arrive next at Sion Hall, an 1886 tour-de-force of the Gothic perpendicular style designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield. This was built as new premises for Sion College, founded by Royal Charter in 1630 as a college, guild of parochial clergy and almshouse, under the will of Thomas White, vicar of St Dunstan’s in the West. In the mid nineties it was sold for redevelopment as offices and is now occupied by a subsidiary of the German insurance behemoth, Allianz.


Sion Hall sits on the corner of John Carpenter Street, sadly not named after the director of such cinematic classics as Assault on Precinct 13 but after the man tenuously responsible for the next building along to the east, the City of London School (CLS). John Carpenter the younger (about 1372 – 1442), was  elected as Town Clerk to the City of London during the reigns of Henry V and Henry VI. He was also the author of the first book of English common law, known as Liber Albus (the White Book). In his will Carpenter bequeathed a plot of land (not here) “for the finding and bringing up of four poor men’s children with meat, drink, apparel, learning at the schools, in the universities, etc., until they be preferred, and then others in their places for ever.”To cut a very long story short this ultimately led, in 1834, to the founding of the City of London School, which still exists today as an Independent School for Boys. In 1883 the CLS moved into the Victoria Embankment building, designed in a high Victorian style with a steep pitched roof resembling that of a French chateau, by Davis and Emanuel and constructed by John Mowlem & Co at a cost exceeding £100,000. On the front of the building are statues of Shakespeare, Milton, Bacon, Newton and Sir Thomas More. After a hundred years give or take the school moved to a new home in 1987. Investment bank, JP Morgan, are now in residency here.

As we reach the end of Victoria Embankment, joining with the north side of Blackfriars Bridge and the southern end of New Bridge Street we find ourselves in front of no.100, the impressive Unilever House. This was built between 1929 and 1933 in the hybrid Neoclassical Art Deco style and the design was a collaboration between James Lomax-Simpson ( a member of the Unilever board) and architects John James Burnet and Thomas Tait; though the precise apportionment of credit has been somewhat contested. The corners of the building are marked by entrances surmounted by large plinths on which are placed sculptures by Sir William Reid Dick of human figures restraining horses (entitled Controlled Energy) . The merman and mermaid figures elsewhere on the exterior are by Gilbert Ledward. There have been two major refurbishments of the interior, one in 1977-83 and the other from 2004 to 2007 which won an RIBA Award for architects KPF.

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Just around the corner on New Bridge Street is Blackfriars House built 1916 architect F.W Troup. Ten years or so ago this was converted from offices into the Crowne Plaza Hotel which somewhat wince-inducingly boasts a restaurant called the Chinese Cricket Club.


Skirt round the back of the hotel via Watergate and Kingscote Street and emerge onto Tudor Street. Turning left back down John Carpenter Street we come across the first permanent home of the Guildhall School of Music, opened just seven years after the school was founded in 1880.   Designed by architect Sir Horace Jones, the new building incorporated a Common Room for Professors and 45 studios, each surrounded by a one foot thick layer of concrete to ‘deaden the sound’ and each containing both a grand piano and an upright piano. As you can see in the photo below the facade of the building includes a series of round windows memorialising renowned British composers.

Initially, all tuition was on a part-time basis, but full-time courses were introduced by public request in 1920. Departments of Speech, Voice and Acting were added and by 1935 the School had added “and Drama” to its title. In 1977, as you may recall from one of our earlier posts, the school moved into the Barbican complex.



Complete a circuit of Tallis Street (named after  one of those composers), Carmelite Street and Temple Avenue again before returning down Tudor Street and then continuing further up New Bridge Street. Next left, Bridewell Place, takes us unremarkably back onto Tudor Street from where we head north next up Dorset Rise. Having dipped very briefly into Dorset Buildings we take the next right down St Bride’s Passage. At the end of this we find the St Bride Institute (as it says on the building) though Foundation is the preferred title nowadays. This was established in 1891 to provide a social, cultural and recreational centre for London’s Fleet Street and its burgeoning print and publishing trade. Today it still acts as a hub for local community events and projects.


Head down the steps to the left of the entrance and descend on to Bride Lane, the location of the Foundation-supported Bridewell Theatre which, in addition to an evening programme,  puts on 45-minute lunchtime plays for the edification of local office workers.

Loop up round the intersection of New Bridge Street and Ludgate Circus into Fleet Street again, pausing at no.99, the Punch Tavern. This was originally called the Crown and Sugar Loaf but around the middle of the 19th century the landlord changed it in honour of the sadly-departed satirical magazine, founded in 1841, whose staff had begun to frequent the tavern. At the end of the 19th c. it was refitted as a so-called Gin Palace with a requisitely ornate tiled entrance and interior.


Next turning on the left is Bride Lane which takes us to St Bride’s Church. It is believed that the current church is the eighth to have stood on this site. The seventh rose from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1666 under the guiding hand of Sir Christopher Wren taking nine years to complete. The famous spire was added later in 1701 and it is popularly believed that it inspired (sorry) the apprentice to a local baker, one William Rich, to create the tradition of the tiered wedding cake for the celebration of his marriage to the baker’s daughter. It took nearly twice as long to rebuild again after German bombs had reduced the main building to a burnt-out shell in WW2 though the “wedding cake” steeple survived.  During this period a series of  excavations led by the medieval archaeologist Professor W. F. Grimes uncovered the foundations of all six previous churches on the site together with part of a Roman Road; which if you venture down into the crypt you can see elements of as part of a standing exhibition.


The church became indelibly associated with  the printing and press industries that took over the surrounding area from the 18th century on – earning such soubriquets as “the Printers’ Cathedral” and “the Journalists’ Church”- but the links went even further back. England’s first printing press was brought to the pre-fire church, in 1500, nine years after the death of William Caxton by his assistant Wynand “Wynkyn” de Worde (how brilliantly apposite a name is that !). In 1702 London’s first regular newspaper, the Daily Courant, began publication nearby. The Guild of St Bride reputedly dates back to 1375 and since its reconstitution in 1953 has comprised one hundred Liverymen representing a cross-section of Fleet Street interests and activities. On the morning of my visit they were out in force in their orange robes officiating at the funeral of one of the old school Fleet Street press photographers.

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Adjacent to the church at no.85 Fleet Street is the 1939 building designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to be the new home of the Reuters news agency. The building was also the headquarters of the Press Association up until 1995. A decade later Reuters themselves jumped ship.


As we venture down Salisbury Court we pass a plaque marking no.4 as the place where the first issue of the Sunday Times was produced, on 20 October 1822.


After a circuit of Salisbury Square we return down Dorset Rise, cut through Hutton Street, do a quick up-and-down of Primrose Hill (not that one obviously) and then find ourselves in Whitefriars Street. Whitefriars Street itself has little to commend it and we quickly find ourselves back on Fleet Street before turning southward again on Bouverie Street. Quickly veer off down Pleydell Street, which turns into Lombard Lane and then joins with Temple Lane which runs down to Tudor Street. Head back up Bouverie Street as far as the Polish Embassy – which is no doubt pretty busy these days.


Then cross over the road into Magpie Alley which runs round the back of the offices of lawyers, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer at no.65 Fleet Street. As you can see the alley is adorned with tiles illustrating the history of Fleet Street.


At the end of the alleyway though is something more interesting. Descending some steps you come across the screened off remains of a crypt which is the last surviving vestige of the medieval priory that was home to the Carmelite order known as the White Friars. The order was founded on Mount Carmel (in present day Israel) in 1150 but driven from the Holy Land by the Saracens in 1238. The crypt was unearthed during building works in 1895 and then cleared and restored in the 1920’s when the site was taken over by the News of the World. The NOTW and its sister paper, the Sun, occupied the Whitefriars Building until 1986 and the Wapping exodus. Northcliffe House next door, named after Lord Northcliffe (born Alfred Harmsworth) the creator of the Daily Mail along with his brother Harold (Lord Rothermere), saw a hundred years of publication of the dreaded Mail, up until 1988 when the printing operations moved to Surrey Quays. Northcliffe and Whitefriars are currently both leased to Freshfields

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Continuing onto Ashentree Court we come back to Whitefriars Street and trudge back up to Fleet Street. As this is the final visit to the former “Street of Shame” I guess we can’t leave without a couple of words on its other iniquitous association – that with Sweeney Todd the “Demon Barber”. Sweeney Todd is a fictional character who first appeared as the villain of the Victorian penny dreadful The String of Pearls (1846–47). Numerous claims have been made that he was based on an actual living person but none of these have gained any serious traction. Fascination with the character is enduring however; he has inspired at least five feature films, up to and including Tim Burton’s 2007 effort, plus the Sondheim musical, a 1959 Ballet and several television adaptations (not counting The Sweeney though that of course did get its name from the rhyming slang Sweeney Todd – Flying Squad).








Day 36 – Chancery Lane – Fetter Lane – Fleet Street

“If you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this great City you must not satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts..” These words, which could stand as a mission statement for this blog, were spoken by Dr Samuel Johnson, creator of the first proper dictionary of the English language and the man who also coined the immortal aphorism “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life”. We visit Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square towards the end of today’s itinerary but before we get there we have to wend our way through the labyrinth of streets and squares and courts that huddle in between Chancery Lane and Farringdon Street as well as picking out the major points of interest along the north side of Fleet Street.

Before all that though here’s a quick update on how much of the designated target area we’ve now covered overall since beginning this a year and a half ago..And I thought I’d be done in six months !


Anyway back to today’s route..


Starting point is on Chancery Lane by the eastern gate of Lincoln’s Inn. From here we head north and take a right into Southampton Buildings where we find the former home of the Patent Office, purpose built at the turn of the last century some fifty years after the founding of the Patent Office in 1852. In 1991, having outgrown these premises, the Patent Office (now called the Intellectual Property Office) was relocated to Newport in South Wales.


Just around the corner is Staple Inn which is the last of the so-called Inns of Chancery to survive largely intact. The building dates from the the second half of the 16th century and the original half-timbered Tudor frontage still adorns High Holborn in incongruous fashion. The rest of the building behind this was pretty much fully reconstructed in 1937 though the courtyard and garden at the rear retain their original structure. Since 1887 it has been the London home of the Institute of Actuaries and was Grade I listed in 1974.

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Once out onto High Holborn by Chancery Lane tube station we turn right briefly then venture south down Furnival Street. Next turn is into the dog-leg that is Took’s Court where the early 18th century property at no.15 has been renamed Dickens House, not because this was another of the writer’s residences but because this building featured in Bleak House (under the guise of Cook’s Court).


Took’s Court emerges onto Cursitor Street where we turn right and come out onto Chancery Lane again; opposite a blue plaque installed by the Cromwell Association in commemoration of John Thurloe (1616 – 1668). Thurloe joined Cromwell’s government after he seized power, first as Secretary of State then as Head of Intelligence and finally as Postmaster General. In 1660 following the Restoration he was arrested for high treason but never tried (he was released on condition that he assist the new government on request). He died at Lincoln’s Inn in 1668 and was buried in the chapel there.


After a quick detour to Quality Court (which doesn’t really live up to its name) we double back down Cursitor Street, nip back up Furnival Street and then swing right into Norwich Street. This takes us into Fetter Lane where we head north to Holborn Circus then switch south again down New Fetter Lane. Cut back westward along Plough Place then continue on Greystoke Place before Mac’s Place takes us through to Breams Buildings. (This area was hit particularly hard in the Blitz so there was a lot of post-war rebuilding which has been undergoing redevelopment in recent years). Anyway just here on Breams Buildings is what remains of the overflow burial ground for St Dunstan-in-the-West Church (which we shall come to later) dating back to at least the 17th century.


Turning right on Breams Buildings returns us to Chancery Lane where to south you have the Law Society’s Hall on the west side and King’s College Maughan Library to the east. The Law Society is the professional association representing the interests of the UK’s solicitors (barristers have the Bar Council). It was founded in 1825 then acquired its first Royal Charter six years later as “The Society of Attorneys, Solicitors, Proctors and others not being Barristers, practising in the Courts of Law and Equity of the United Kingdom”.   No doubt to everyone’s relief, a further Royal Charter in 1903 changed this to simply “The Law Society”. Women members were first admitted in 1922. It’s not entirely obvious from the pictures below but today the building is also home to the swanky 113 Restaurant.

The neo-Gothic Maughan Library building was originally built between 1851 and 1858, to a design of architect Sir James Pennethorne, in order to house the Public Record Office. The PRO had been formed in 1838 to streamline the maintenance of government and court records. The Domesday Book was one of the records transferred here, in 1859 from Westminster Abbey. It now resides at the National Archives in Kew, the successor to the PRO, formed in 2003 when that merged with the Historical Manuscripts Commission. King’s College took over the building in 2001 to create the largest new university library in Britain since WW2 with a £35m renovation. The library is named after, Sir Deryck Maughan, an alumnus and major benefactor of King’s College.

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The library contains a dodecagonal reading room which features in The Da Vinci Code (I’m sure the University is delighted with that !). The bronze statue of Confucius in the garden was donated in 2010 by the Confucian Academy to mark the official launch of the Lau China Institute.


Entering Fleet Street from Chancery Lane and turning east we reach the aforementioned St Dunstan-in-the West church. There has been a church on this site since around the turn of the first millennium, named in honour of St Dunstan who was elected as Archbishop of Canterbury in 960 and was instrumental in bringing about peace with the Danes. That original church lasted right up until the early 19th century when it was rebuilt in 1831. The most well known feature of the church is its clock, which dates from 1671, and was the first public clock in London to have a minute hand. Figures of two giants strike the hours and quarters, and turn their heads. The courtyard also contains statues of King Lud, the possibly mythical ruler of pre-Roman times, and his sons. Lud gave his name to Ludgate, one of the original gateways to the City of London, where these statues stood before they were moved to the church.  Above the porch where they hide away is a statue of Queen Elizabeth I from 1586, the only one known to have been carved during her reign.

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As well as being an Anglican church, St Dunstan’s is home to the Romanian Orthodox Church in London. The beautiful iconostasis (altar screen) was brought here from a monastery in Bucharest in 1966. The high altar and reredos are Flemish woodwork dating from the seventeenth century. The church hosts classical music recitals on Wednesday lunchtimes so I was fortunate enough (along, sadly, with only about half a dozen other people) to hear a young pianist from the Guildhall giving the ivories a proper working over.

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Fleet Street is of course synonymous with the newspaper and magazine publishing industry even though the actual printing presses and the businesses that ran them have long since departed. In the pictures of the exterior of the church you will have seen glimpses of its next door neighbour, the London office of Dundee-based D.C Thomson, best known  as the publisher of the Beano and the Dandy. Thomson also print a number of Scottish regional newspapers and when in 2016 they relocated the two London-based correspondents for their Sunday Post paper its was perceived as being the very final end of newspaper journalism on Fleet Street.


Heading back up Fetter Lane we pass, on the corner with Rolls Buildings, a statue to the radical English parliamentarian John Wilkes (1725 – 1797). Wilkes was expelled from Parliament on several occasions for his outspoken views but he was far from your typical social reformer. As well as being a member of the Hell-Fire Club, infamous for its debauched gatherings and Black Mass rituals he was also not beyond voter bribery in his efforts to get elected to the Commons. In 1754 he stood for election in the constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed and was unsuccessful despite bribing a ship’s captain to land a boatload of opposition voters coming from London in Norway instead of Berwick.


Forking right into New Fetter Lane and following this to its northern end we then turn tight into the heart of the modern developments I referenced previously. So we can move rapidly through Bartlett Court, Thavies Inn, St Andrew Street, the upper part of Shoe LaneNew Square, Great New Street, Nevil Lane, West Harding Street and Red Lion Court with nothing to detain us apart from this, frankly quite unexciting, water feature in New Square.


So now we’re back on Fleet Street and the next little alleyway to the east, Johnson’s Court, will via a rather torturous route take us appropriately up to Gough Square where we finally encounter the house occupied by Dr Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) while he was compiling his dictionary. That was during the years from 1747 until 1755 when the dictionary was published. It wasn’t the first dictionary of the English language produced but it was far greater in scope and erudition than any of its predecessors. Its pages were nearly 18 inches (46 cm) tall, and the book was 20 inches (51 cm) wide when opened; it contained 42,773 entries and it sold for the (then) extravagant price of £4 10s. Not surprisingly therefore it didn’t sell terribly well and Johnson and his publishers were forced to rely on subsequent abridged versions to make any money from it. Johnson had married Elizabeth Porter, who was 20 years his senior, in 1735 and when she died in 1752, Francis Barber, a former slave from Jamaica, joined his  household as a servant along with his wife and children.. He lived with Johnson for more than 30 years and was ultimately named as his heir.

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On the opposite side of Gough Square is a statue of Dr Johnson’s favourite cat, Hodge, unveiled in 1997 by the Lord Mayor. The statue shows Hodge sitting next to a pair of empty oyster shells on top of a copy of Johnson’s dictionary, with the inscription “a very fine cat indeed”. Unlike today, in Johnson’s time oysters were plentiful around the coasts of England and so cheap that they were a staple food of the poor (and cats).


Moving on we wind our way through Pemberton Row, East Harding Street, Gunpowder Square, Hind Court, St Dunstan’s Court and Bolt Court dipping in and out of Fleet Street until we reach the Grade II listed Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub at no.145. Reportedly there has been a pub here since 1538 and according to the sign outside the current hostelry dates from 1667 when it was rebuilt after the Great Fire. Inside the pub is a warren of numerous wood-panelled rooms all deprived of natural lighting which lends a sombre, conspiratorial air even when the several open fireplaces are lit in the winter. Past patrons of the pub are said to include the ubiquitous Charles Dickens along with Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, P.G Wodehouse and G.K Chesterton. Dr Johnson must also have been a regular though his writings coyly neglect to mention it by name.


Running up the side of the pub is Wine Office Court at the entrance to which is affixed this handy resumé of its history (from where you will see I nicked the opening to this post).


We follow Wine Office Court up to Printer Street and then return to Fleet Street via Little New Street and the lower section of Shoe Lane (shown below).


Now we’re right in the epicentre of Fleet Street‘s historic association with the Fourth Estate as we emerge in between Peterborough Court, the former home of the Daily Telegraph at nos. 141-135 and the Daily Express building at 128-121. These two very different looking buildings are both icons of the Art Deco age and both Grade II listed. Peterborough Court, with its “monumental facade” and Egyptian themed decoration, was built in 1927-8 and designed by architect Thomas Smith Tait. The Telegraph group decamped in the 1980’s post-Wapping and this is now the European HQ of mega-Investment bank Goldmans Sachs (who reputedly pay rent of £18m a year to the Qatari owners of the building).


The slightly younger Daily Express building with its striking black vitrolite panelling was built in 1931-2 and designed by architects Ellis and Clarke with the assistance of Sir Owen Williams. The flamboyant lobby, designed by Robert Atkinson, includes plaster reliefs by Eric Aumonier, silver and gilt decorations, a magnificent silvered pendant lamp and an oval staircase. The drawn curtains on the ground floor ensure that this, one of the very finest masterpieces of British Art-Deco, is invisible to the public except on Open House weekend. If you’ve never seen it I would urge you to seek out that opportunity (as I did many years ago though I couldn’t locate the photographs I took at the time so the one below is courtesy of

The Express Group left the building in 1989 and following a major redevelopment of the site in the nineties it was also let to Goldman Sachs in 2000.


Beyond the Daily Express Building we turn north again up Poppin’s Court into St Bride Street from where we criss-cross into Farringdon Street via Harp Alley, Stonecutter Court and Plumtree Court before finishing up under the Holborn Viaduct whence we shall return in the not-too-distant future.