Day 37 – Fleet Street – Middle Temple – Inner Temple

Another compact itinerary today; starting out at St Clement Danes Church on the Strand, dropping down to visit Two Temple Place  and then meandering through the labyrinth of courts and squares that comprise the two Inns of Court, Middle Temple and Inner Temple.

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St Clement Danes Church sits on its on island in the middle of the eastern end of the Strand just across from the Royal Courts of Justice. Approaching from the rear end we first make the reacquaintance of Dr Samuel Johnson (see last post) and then moving round to the front entrance find statues to two of Britain’s wartime RAF leaders, Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris (1892 – 1984) and Sir Hugh Dowding (1882 – 1970) along with a memorial to Prime Minister W.E Gladstone (1809 – 1898) erected in 1905.

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The church traces its origins back to the 9th century when Danish settlers (converted to Christianity) took over an Anglo-Saxon church dedicated to St Clement which then became known as St Clement-of-the-Danes. It was first rebuilt in the time of William the Conqueror, again in the 14th century and then after the Great Fire by Sir Christopher Wren (the fire didn’t reach this far but the church was in such poor condition that it was decided to knock it down anyway). The new church was completed in 1681 but the steeple, designed by James Gibbs, was only added in 1719. It had to be reconstructed again after WW2 when German bombs spared only the steeple and part of the walls. That work was instigated in 1956 by the RAF and two years later St Clement Danes was reconsecrated as its official church.

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We head south from the church down Arundel Street (for a second time) and at the bottom cross over into the Temple (and final) section of Victoria Embankment Gardens. Here stands a statue to John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) the great philosopher and liberal thinker. Mill was one of the foremost proponents of utilitarianism (along with Jeremy Bentham) – simplistically “the greatest good of the greatest number”. He was also the first member of Parliament to advocate women’s suffrage.

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The other eminent Liberal commemorated in the gardens is William Edward Forster (1818 – 1886). He was the guiding force behind the Elementary Education Act of 1870 which established for the first time a framework for primary education of all children from the age of 5 through to 12.

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Exit the garden into Temple Place opposite Globe House, the HQ of British American Tobacco (BAT), owners of the Dunhill and Lucky Strike cigarette brands (inter alia). BAT had turnover of around £14bn in 2016 and is the sixth largest company by capitalisation in the FTSE 100 (yes there’s still plenty of money to be made out of fags people).

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A few steps further along and we arrive at Two Temple Place. This was built, entirely of Portland stone, between 1892 and 1895 for William Waldorf Astor, the man behind the Waldorf hotels and one of the richest people in the world at the time (as mentioned a couple of posts back). Incredibly, this faux Elizabethan/neo-Gothic creation of architect John Loughborough Pearson with its opulent interior, was originally primarily  intended to serve as Astor’s estate office – though he did eventually use it as his London residence. The man responsible for the interior decoration, after the French Renaissance style, was John Dibblee Crace, who also decorated Cliveden for Astor.

The building is now looked after by registered charity, the Bulldog Trust and, in addition to its use as a venue for corporate and private entertaining, hosts regular high-profile exhibitions. The latest of these, Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion runs to 23 April 2017 and well worth a visit.

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The main staircase is embellished with seven mahogany carvings by Thomas Nicholls representing characters from The Three Musketeers and Nicholls continues the literary theme with a frieze around the first floor gallery depicting 82 of Shakespeare’s dramatis personae and another in the main hall incorporating characters from Rip Van Winkle, The Scarlet Letter and The Last of the Mohicans. The entrance door to the Great Hall is made of mahogany, has a beautifully carved head and nine decorative panels in silver gilt by Sir George James Frampton which portray the nine heroines of the Arthurian Legend according to the version by  Thomas Malory. Guinevere is depicted in the central panel.

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After leaving Two Temple Place head round the back of the building and up Milford Lane before swinging right into Little Essex Street and then turning south again down Essex Street. This is the western edge of Middle Temple, the third of the three Inns of Court established in the 14th century we have visited (Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn being the first two).  The Inn’s name derives from the Knights Templar who were granted this site in the latter part of the 12th century. After the fall of the Crusading Orders’ strongholds in the Holy Land in 1291 the Knights Templar retreated to Cyprus and their fortunes continued to wane thereafter. The lands south of Fleet Street then passed for a time to the Order of the Hospitallers (aka The Order of St John) whom we have encountered previously. Come the Reformation the land was seized by the Crown and divided between the newly formed Inns of Middle Temple and Inner Temple.

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Down the steps back into Temple Place and then along the Embankment, skirting Middle Temple Gardens, before entering into the heart of the Inn via Middle Temple Lane.

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Middle Temple Hall is probably the finest example of an Elizabethan Hall in London. It is 101 feet long and 41 feet wide, and spanned by a magnificent double hammer-beam roof. Begun in 1562 when Edmund Plowden, the famous law reporter, was Treasurer of the Inn, it has remained little altered up to the present day. The High Table, believed to be a gift from Elizabeth I., is 29 feet long and made from a single oak tree which was floated down the Thames from Windsor Forest. The first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place in the Hall on 2nd February 1602 and you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s in constant demand as a film location – everything from Bridget Jones II to Shakespeare in Love. If you’re not short of a bob or two you can also hold your wedding reception here.

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Wend our way through Fountain Court then south past the various Chambers before emerging back onto Essex Street and heading back up to the Strand. On the way we pass the Edgar Wallace pub which in its original guise of the Essex Head, dating back to 1777, was another of Samuel Johnson’s haunts. It was renamed in 1975 in honour of the centenary of the eponymous crime-writer’s birth. Wallace was also a prolific screenwriter, principally for RKO. He penned the first draft of the script for King Kong but never got to see his efforts on the screen; dying of a combination of diabetes and double pneumonia a year before the film (based on a reworked script) was released.

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Just around the corner where the Strand morphs into Fleet Street is another historic pub, the George. Originally founded as a Coffee House in 1723 the George became a public house early in the 19th century. One regular visitor back then, along with the ubiquitous Dr Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and Horace Walpole, was the con-man Henry Perfect who had a propensity for impersonating vicars. The building was reconstructed in the late Victorian era (that exterior is only mock-Tudor). Reputedly there is a carving depicting a naked man chasing pigs somewhere on or inside the pub but this eluded me.

Turn right almost immediately down Devereux Court which is where the Instituto Cervantes, the Spanish cultural centre, is tucked away.

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Wend our way back through the heart of Middle Temple then escape back up to Fleet Street through an archway and up a set of steps which lead to the building known as Outer Temple. This was erected as an office building in Victorian times and although it is thought there may have been an Inn of Chancery called Outer Temple prior to the 16th century it had nothing to do with this location, so the name was purely taking advantage of the proximity to the Temple Inns. The building is now used as a branch of Lloyds Bank, almost certainly the most extravagantly decorated one in the country. I definitely doubt you’ll come across ATM’s with more luxuriant surroundings than the two in the entrance here.

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A short way further east on Fleet Street is the Temple Bar memorial. The memorial marks the spot where Wren’s Temple Bar (more on that to come in a later post) used to stand, as the ceremonial entrance to the City of London from Westminster . The bronze free-standing statues of Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales, facing the road on each side, are by Sir Joseph Boehm. They are celebrated here because in 1872 they were the last royals to pass through the old gate, in order to attend a thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral for the Prince’s recovery from typhoid. The rampant “griffin” (as it is traditionally known) crowning the Temple Bar Memorial is really a dragon, the symbol of the City of London.

On the south side of Fleet Street adjacent to the memorial is a plaque commemorating the site of the Devil Tavern which was demolished in 1787. This was renowned as the home of the Apollo Club, a literary dining society founded by the Elizabethan playwright Ben Johnson .  Members of the club are said to have included Shakespeare, Swift, Pope and (yet again) Dr Johnson (no relation) – he did get about.

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Head south towards the river down Middle Temple Lane once more and after a circuit of Essex Court on the west side switch to the east side and Pump Court which takes us in to Inner Temple territory.  Inner Temple suffered the ravages of the Great Fire far worse than Middle Temple and many of the few original buildings that survived were lost to subsequent fires and 20th century war damage. Consequently, the Hall, Treasury Office, Benchers’ Rooms and Library were all reconstructed after World War II.

After a tour of Hare Court, Elm Court and Crown Office Court we arrive at the Temple Church itself. The church, founded by the Knights Templar as already noted, is in two parts: the Round and the Chancel. The Round Church was consecrated in 1185 by the patriarch of Jerusalem. It was designed to recall the holiest place in the Crusaders’ world: the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Chancel dates from the 1230’s. The Temple served as the London headquarters of King John and it was here in January 1215 that the barons confronted him for the first time with the demand that he subject himself to the rule of a charter, which ultimately lead to the signing of the Magna Carta later that same year. Although the church survived the Great Fire unscathed it was refurbished by Sir Christopher Wren shortly thereafter. A couple of centuries later the Victorians carried out work to try and restore the church to its original appearance but most of that was destroyed in the Blitz. Post-war restoration wasn’t completed until the second half of the 1950’s. By a stroke of good fortune the architects, Walter and Emil Godfrey, were able to use the reredos designed by Wren for his 17th-century restoration. Removed in 1841, it had spent over a century in the Bowes Museum, County Durham.

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Return to Fleet Street via Inner Temple Lane then head east as far as Old Mitre Court which takes us back into the heart of the Inner Temple and segues into King’s Bench Walk, named after the King’s Bench Office which was based there until the 19th century.  This row which contains the Inner Temple’s best preserved chambers buildings, which date from the 17th century.

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And that’s where we end things for today before shuffling back to Fleet Street for a couple of glasses of the old fermented grape juice in El Vino’s.

 

 

 

 

 

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 !

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Anyway back to today’s route..

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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 http://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1930/dailyexpress.html.)

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.

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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.

 

 

Day 30 Pt2 – Drury Lane – Covent Garden

Bit of a summer recess but finally we’re back with the second leg of the tour of Covent Garden and its environs. Picking up where we left off at the upper end of Drury Lane we circle east and back through the densest concentration of theatreland then loop round the Royal Opera House and into the piazza itself.

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To start we head down Drury Lane then turn left along Kemble Street back up Wild Street and cut through to Kingsway via Keeley Street. Double back down Kemble Street then take Kean Street to return to the bottom stretch of Drury Lane. Move straight on down Tavistock Street and into Catherine Street where there are theatres every way you look . The Duchess Theatre  dates from 1929 and has the dubious honour of playing host to the world’s shortest theatrical run. On the 11th March 1930 a show called The Intimate Review opened and closed on the same night. Current production is The Play That Goes Wrong whose popularity completely eludes me – the concept is lame enough but the fact that they had to fully disclose it in the title speaks volumes about the deemed intelligence of the average West End theatregoer. It’s as if Shakespeare had called Hamlet the Play In Which Everyone Dies.

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Turning westward along Exeter Street and into Wellington Street we reach the Lyceum Theatre. The Lyceum has a long and interesting history going back to the 18th century. The grand portico you see below survives from the 1834 designs of Samuel Beazley but the rest of the building was fully reconstructed in 1904. In 1939 the building was bought by the London County Council who planned to demolish it but that was put on ice due to the onset of war and in 1945 it was acquired by Matthews and Sons who converted it into the Lyceum Ballroom. During its years as a dancehall it also played host to the Miss World Contest (from 1951 to 1968) then from the late sixties onward it became one of London’s foremost pop and rock concert venues. Bob Marley and the Wailers recorded a 1975 live album at the Lyceum and during the heyday of punk all of the most successful bands played there. By 1986 however it had run its course as a live music venue and the building fell dark for ten years before being reconverted for theatrical use. In 1999 The Lion King opened and looks like it will stay here until every single living soul has succumbed to see it (may I be the last).

 

Keep going west on Exeter Street then turn right up Burleigh Street and head back east on Tavistock Street to Catherine Street again and switching northward pass the front entrance to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Four theatres have been built on this site, the first of these by the dramatist Thomas Killigrew under charter granted by Charles II in 1663. The present theatre was built in 1812 to a design of Benjamin Wyatt. In its early years it became synonymous with the success of the Shakespearean actor, Edmund Kean (after whom the nearby street is named of course). During WWII the theatre was used as the headquarters of ENSA. In the post-war period Drury Lane’s notable successes have included a five year run of My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews and Miss Saigon which ran for ten years. The Monty Python team recorded a live album here in 1974. The bust outside the theatre is of Augustus Harris who was its manager in the latter part of the 19th century and known as “the father of modern pantomime”.

Just around the corner on Russell Street is the somewhat more understated Fortune Theatre, built in 1922-24 in the Italianate style. It was the first theatre to be built in London after the end of the WW1 and since the demolition of the original Wembley Stadium is now the oldest remaining public building designed wholly using concrete as a textured and exposed façade. The theatre’s famous figurine, Terpsichore, overlooking the entrance, was sculpted by M. H. Crichton of the Bromsgrove Guild, a noted company of artisans from Worcestershire. The supernatural thriller, The Woman in Black, has been playing here since 1989 which means it must have been seen by over half a million people even though this is the second smallest theatre in the West End.

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As you can see in the picture above, the theatre, rather incongruously, incorporates an entrance to the next door Crown Court Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland has been active in London since time of James I (originally James VI of Scotland of course). It took up residence here in Covent Garden from 1719 though the present building only dates back to 1909. Rather confusingly the name of the church implies no kind of legal jurisdiction but simply references the thoroughfare on which it sits, Crown Court, which is where we turn next.

At the top of Crown Court we turn left into Broad Court which brings us out on to Bow Street right by the eponymous magistrates’ court. The original Bow Street court was established in 1740 across the road on what is now the site of the Royal Opera House. A few years later the author Henry Fielding took charge of the court in his capacity as London’s Chief Magistrate. The extant building was completed in 1881 and among the famous and infamous names to have occupied its dock are such as Oscar Wilde, Dr Crippen, the Kray twins, the Pankhurst sisters, Jeffrey Archer and General Pinochet (some dinner party that would be). However the final session at what had become the most well-known magistrates’ court in Britain (if not the world) took place in 2006. The Grade II listed building, put up for sale by its joint owners, the Greater London Magistrates’ Courts Authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority, was originally acquired by a property developer, Gerry Barrett, who had intended to turn it into a boutique hotel. His plans never came to fruition and in 2008 it was sold on to Austrian developers, the Ploberger brothers, who hoped to retain the police cells and create a World Police Museum (alongside a boutique hotel). However, having finally obtained planning permission in 2014, the brothers in turn decided to sell on just a year later – at a price tag of £75m.

That brings us on to the Royal Opera House which as already noted is across the road, occupying the whole of the north-east section of Covent Garden. This site has been occupied by three theatre buildings and has witnessed opera and ballet performances since the 1730’s. The current building (the first two were both destroyed by fire) was opened in 1858 having been built by the Lucas Brothers Company (who were also responsible for the Royal Albert Hall). At that time it was known as the Covent Garden Opera House. It was only after WW2, during which it had been used as a dancehall, that the building became the permanent home of the companies now called the The Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet. In 1997 the building closed for a thirty month major redevelopment at a cost of over £200m. The Royal Opera Company curently performs an annual repertoire of around twenty operas here amounting to 150 separate shows.

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We finally head towards the piazza itself along the western stretch of Russell Street which bears a plaque commemorating the first meeting of Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell in 1763.

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As anyone born in the 20th century should know, Covent Garden was originally London’s main fruit and vegetable market. The earliest recorded market on the site dates back to 1654, a time when the land was part of the estate of the Russell family a.k.a the Earls and then the Dukes of Bedford. It wasn’t long (1670) before the incumbent Earl of Bedford acquired a private charter from Charles II  for a permanent fruit and vegetable market, permitting him and his heirs to hold a market every day except Sundays and Christmas Day.  Unfortunately, the presence of the market led to the area becoming increasingly insalubrious and by the 18th century it had descended into a fully-fledged red light district attracting such notable prostitutes as (the brilliantly-named) Betty Careless. Descriptions of the prostitutes and where to find them were provided by Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, the “essential guide and accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure”. In 1830, in an attempt to improve the image of the area, the 6th Earl commissioned Charles Fowler to design the neo-classical market building that remains at the heart of Covent Garden today. The Floral hall and the Charter Market were added later and in 1904 the Jubilee Market for foreign flowers was created. The Covent Garden Estate passed out of the hands of the Bedfords in 1913 when the 11th Duke sold out to the first in a series of property investors. Then in 1962 the bulk of the remaining properties in the area, including the market, were sold to the newly established government-owned Covent Garden Authority for £3,925,000. By the end of the 1960s however, traffic congestion had reached such a level that the use of the square as a modern wholesale distribution market had become untenable, and significant redevelopment was planned. Following a public outcry, buildings around the square were protected in 1973, preventing redevelopment. The following year the market moved to a new site in south-west London while the square lay idle until its central building was eventually rejuvenated in 1980 as a retail mall with a bias toward independent traders and artisans. In the picture below you can just about still make out the inscription commemorating the building’s origin.

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These days of course, Covent Garden is a serious tourist magnet fueled by the presence of myriad street performers and artists as well as the ubiquitous “living statues”.

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In the background of a couple of the above slides you can see St Paul’s Church which was completed in 1633 having been designed by Inigo Jones. It was the first entirely new church to be built in England since the Reformation. It is also commonly referred to as “The Actors’ Church” due to its associations with the theatrical community. Since 2007 it has been home to its own in-house professional theatre company, Iris Theatre – currently staging a production of Treasure Island. Opposite the church is the Punch and Judy pub – default reunion destination for generations of students since the 1980s.

As we circle back round the north side of the square we pass the new flagship store for Brazilian footwear brand Melissa which occupies 43 King Street a.k.a Russell House, a Grade II listed building from 1716, making it the oldest survivor in the piazza. It was designed by the Baroque architect Thomas Archer as a townhouse for Lord Russell, First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. Between 1891 and 1929 it was also home to the National Sporting Club, the organisation responsible for the creation of the sport of glove boxing, under its president Hugh Cecil Lowther, the fifth earl of Lonsdale (after whom the Lonsdale belt is named). This is testified by the green plaque outside the building.

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Just round the corner from here is a shrine to the modern-day religion of techno-worship in the form of the Apple Store. Been a while since I was last in here and I had forgotten just how massive it is inside.

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Head away from the square up James Street, which is where the “living statues” ply their trade (see slideshow above), then veer right down Floral Street which flanks the north side of the ROH. In doing so we pass beneath the “Bridge of Aspiration” which links the Royal Ballet School to the ROH.

Emerge out onto Bow Street again and turn north to reach Long Acre where we head west past the tube station. Covent Garden station is notorious for two things – firstly for being party to the shortest distance between any two adjacent stations on the London underground network, Leicester Square is a mere 20 second journey, and secondly for the overcrowding (if you eschew the wait for a lift it’s 193 steps up the stairs to reach the surface). For both these reasons TFL go to great lengths to try to discourage anyone from using the station at all.

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This is the view from James Street which was a better shot 

Moving swiftly on we duck down Langley Court on to another section of Floral Street and continue west. Loop round Rose Street, Long Acre again and Garrick Street to get back to Floral Street. At no.15 Garrick Street is the Garrick Club, founded in 1831 by a group of literary gentlemen under the patronage of the Duke of Sussex, brother of King William IV, and named after the 18th century actor, David Garrick. Today this private members’ club has around 1,300 members and anyone wishing to join has to overcome the credo “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”.

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I can only assume that the Garrick Club has some kind of status in the Far East that has escaped me up until now.

Lazenby Court and the southern dog-leg of Rose Street surround the Lamb and Flag pub, one of the most historic and well-known hostelries in London. The very first mention of a pub on this site dates from 1772, when it was known as The Coopers Arms (the name changed to The Lamb & Flag in 1833). The pub acquired a reputation in the early nineteenth century for staging bare-knuckle prize fights earning it the nickname ‘The Bucket of Blood,’ and the alleyway beside the pub (see below) was the scene of an attack on the poet John Dryden in 1679 by thugs hired by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, with whom he had a long-standing conflict.

We return to the square along King Street then go back past the church and along the southern side of the arcade. On the building at the south-west corner you can still just about make out the lettering advertising this as the one-time premises of Butler’s Medicinal Herb warehouse.

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The south-east corner of the square is occupied by the London Transport Museum (which I may or may not return to but with an hour until closing was reluctant to part with £17 on this occasion). Doubling back along Henrietta Street we pass the modern incarnation of the Jubilee Hall where general tat has now replaced the foreign flowers of yesteryear.

Arrive back at Garrick Street and complete the circle bringing today’s epic to a close. If you made it all the way here I salute you.