St Clement Danes: The law courts

Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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Walter Thornbury, 'St Clement Danes: The law courts', in Old and New London: Volume 3, (London, 1878) pp. 15-25. British History Online [accessed 30 May 2024].

Walter Thornbury. "St Clement Danes: The law courts", in Old and New London: Volume 3, (London, 1878) 15-25. British History Online, accessed May 30, 2024,

Thornbury, Walter. "St Clement Danes: The law courts", Old and New London: Volume 3, (London, 1878). 15-25. British History Online. Web. 30 May 2024,

In this section



"Where do stand forth the laws of state sublime."—Sophocles.

Early Courts of Law—Inns of Court—Want of a Central Building—New Law Courts Projected—Selection of Architect—Discussion about the Site—Plan and Design of the New Building—Old Buildings Swept Away—The Old Fish Shop—Holloway's—Shire Lane and its Inhabitants—Sir C. Sedley—The Well of St. Clement's—Bell Yard—Plough Alley—Boswell Court: a Relic of Old Times—Clement's Lane: its Decline and Fall—A Grand Clearance.

It is scarcely necessary to remind our readers that in theory it is the sovereign who sits in his (or her) right in England to administer justice to all, and hence the place in which the law is administered in this country has always been styled a "Court." And, as in early times, when law was rude and simple, the king used often to sit in his own court to administer justice, it was the custom for the seat of law to be within the palace of royalty. Hence, very naturally, when, in the Saxon and Norman times, the king's palace was at Westminster, it was a matter of course that the courts of law should grow up around the very person of the sovereign, though occasionally they were moved wherever the king travelled and took up his abode; in this case they were said to be held in banco regis, that is, in the presence of the king himself.

A great impetus to the concentration of the courts of law in the metropolis was doubtless given by Henry VIII.; for, whereas down to his day courts of arbitration had been held from time immemorial to decide cheaply and simply small matters in dispute in the several baronies, such as questions between landlord and tenant, between master and man, he ordered these and other like cases to be brought up to London, and, as Mr. Froude tells us in his "History of England," "country people found themselves compelled to take journeys to the metropolis, and to sue or be sued at his Courts at Westminster."

Gradually, however, as the English law shaped itself into a system and a science, which demanded a legal education in those who actually followed it as a profession, other "courts" of law arose nearer to the Inns of Court and the abodes of the gentlemen of the long robe; and down to the present day, one portion of both law and equity has been administered in the rooms adjoining Westminster Hall, and another in other courts at Lincoln's Inn. But this division and distribution of the headquarters and fountains of English justice between two localities, a mile at least apart, has long been a matter of complaint among most practical Englishmen; and from time to time, especially during the present century, there have arisen murmurs "not loud, but deep," on account of the loss of time involved to both judges and counsel by this unhappy local severance. And it can be no matter of surprise that, from time to time, various proposals have been made to concentrate in a single spot the scattered forces of the law. With a view to carrying out this national undertaking—as far back as the year 1841, as we learn from the evidence printed by order of the House of Commons—the late Sir Charles Barry designed a large building of Grecian architecture, which he intended to have placed in Lincoln's Inn Fields. It was to have contained a great Central Hall, about equal to Westminster Hall in size, around which twelve smaller courts should cluster; the entire group of buildings, if it had been carried into effect at that time, would have covered a third of the area within the rails of Lincoln's Inn Fields, and have been surrounded by a belt of plantations, in order to keep up the delusion of rurality. Funds, however, were most fortunately wanting; and great objections were made to the plan of blocking up so large an open space, where open spaces were so rare; in fact, persons who lived about Fleet Street, the Strand, and Holborn, had long considered this open area, though enclosed, as their "country walk," and seriously asserted that to all intents and purposes, they had been in the country when they had completed their early morning tour round "the Fields."

At length, when the patience of the lawyers, and of the rest of the public, had been nearly worn out, and when attention had been frequently called to the subject in Parliament, Her Majesty was pleased in 1858, to order a Royal Commission to be issued, "for the purpose of inquiring into and reporting on the expediency of bringing into one place, or at all events into one neighbourhood, all the superior Courts of Law and Equity, the Divorce and Probate Court, and those of the Admiralty, Bankruptcy, &c., as well as of suggesting means for providing a fit site, and erecting a building suited to the purpose in hand." The Commission accordingly recommended the selection of the site on the northern side of the Strand, between Temple Bar and St. Clement's Church. In 1861 a Bill was introduced in order to carry this recommendation into effect; but it was thrown out by a narrow majority, and the question slumbered until 1865, when the urgency of some such provision for the due administration of the law had again made itself practically felt. Two Acts of Parliament were passed in consequence, to carry out the recommendations already mentioned. The one Act empowered the Commissioners of Works and Public Buildings to acquire the site which had been recommended, and the other provided the funds necessary for the cost of the building itself, partly by a contribution of £1,000,000 of unclaimed interest on stock standing to the credit of suitors in the Court of Chancery, and partly by a small tax to be imposed on litigants in the other courts.

Another body of Commissioners was next appointed, consisting of forty eminent members of the legal profession, including Lords Cranworth, Hatherley, Cairns, and Penzance, Vice-Chancellors Stuart, Malins, and others, in order to advise the Treasury in its choice of an architect and plans for the new "Palace of Justice." The next step was to nominate a smaller body, consisting of five individuals of high standing—Mr. Gladstone, Sir W. Stirling-Maxwell, the Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, Sir Roundell Palmer (now Lord Selborne), and the Right Hon. W. Cowper-Temple, along with two professional architects—Mr. John Shaw and Mr. George Pownall, who were to act as "Judges of Designs;" and a limited competition among the best architects of the day was invited. Eleven designs were sent in, and these were exhibited to the public, in 1868, in a temporary building put up in New Square, Lincoln's Inn; and in the end the design of Mr. G. E. Street, R.A., was accepted—not, however, until after a very strong feeling had been shown in favour of that of Mr. E. M. Barry, a son of the architect of the Houses of Parliament.

Even after the architect, however, had been chosen, a further delay arose, as a large number of the public, and some of the competitors—Mr. Street himself among the rest—expressed an opinion that a space between the Strand and the Thames Embankment, to the east of Somerset House, would be a preferable site to that already chosen, and which had been prepared and cleared by the removal, in 1866–8, of no less than thirty close, foul, and filthy courts, yards, lanes, and alleys. And at last, after all the above-mentioned delays had come to an end, the first brick of the "Law Courts of the future"—the great central National Palace of Justice—was actually laid, on the last day of April, 1874, at the north-east corner of the chosen ground, at the junction of Bell Yard and Carey Street. The site, which had then been cleared for several years, comprised the surface of nearly eight acres, which had previously been covered by about thirty small streets, courts, and alleys, such as those which we shall presently endeavour to picture to our readers' eyes. The substratum of solid concrete, which had been laid two or three years previously, covered about six acres and a half of this space, the rest being destined to be left open, with the idea of being laid out as a garden, in case it should not be required, in course of time, for building purposes.

The buildings themselves are thus minutely described in the Times of May 19th, 1874:—

"They are of Gothic design, and, viewed by nonprofessional eyes, might be set down as somewhat irregular examples of the Decorated or Second Pointed style. But their architect has embodied in his designs so much of modern improvements, and has so thoroughly studied the adaptation of the architecture of the Edwardian period to the requirements of our age, that we fancy he would prefer to call the structure a specimen of the 'Victorian style.' The whole building forms, approximately at least, a somewhat irregular square, the Strand front being 483 feet in length, while the depth from the Strand to Carey Street is about 460 feet. The southern, northern, and western fronts will be of Portland stone, while the eastern front will present a combination of Portland stone interspersed with red bricks, as will be the case with the interior courts and quadrangles. The entire pile of buildings will be divided into two blocks—the eastern and lesser one, which will be erected, under the contract, in three years; and the larger block to the west, which it will take six or seven years to complete Each front is to be relieved by dwarf towers, arches, and other features; and there will be two high towers, one at the south-east angle, and one at the eastern end of Carey Street. The former will be 170 feet in height, or nearly four times the height of Temple Bar.

"The whole edifice will be three, four, and five storeys in height in different parts; and its lofty pitched roofs will be relieved by the insertion of gables, dormers, and pinnacles, in great variety. The general height of the building up to the ridge of the roof will be about 90 or 95 feet; and over the rest will rise the Central Hall, in the main or western block, to which the rest of the building will be subordinate. This Central Hall will be about 140 feet to the top of its roof, or 90 feet measured inside up to the crown of the stone-vaulted ceiling. Underneath it will be a large lower chamber, which, if it were underground, might be termed a crypt.

"The ground plan, as it stands at present, shows that the architect has given accommodation to no less than 18 distinct courts, each with its own entrance and staircase, with separate approaches and doors for the judges, the jury, the witnesses, the Bar, and the public, together with rooms for clerks, secretaries, and registrars, and also waiting-rooms.

"On the western side, towards Clement's Inn, there will be left a large, open space. This will probably be used as gardens, and there will be a flight of broad stone steps, leading up into the western end of Carey Street. It will be possible, if required, to erect here a western block of buildings, corresponding with that on the eastern side.

"The cost of the building, if the estimates allowed by the Commissioners should not be exceeded, will be three-quarters of a million. The structure will absorb no less than 62,000 tons of Portland and 18,000 tons of other stone, and also about 35,000,000 of red and white bricks. It will be remembered, in conclusion, that, about two years ago, Mr. Street proposed the removal of St. Clement's Church to a site on the vacant space on the west side of the new building—a proposal which met with the approval not only of Mr. Lowe, but also of the then Lord Chancellor. The Metropolitan Board of Works, however, declined to entertain the idea, although the Government offered to provide the site free of cost."

Mr. Street, in a printed minute, dated May, 1869, thus sums up the chief "æsthetical advantages," of the Carey Street site:—

"The elevation above the river is considerable. The entrances to the Central Hall will be exactly on the same level as the courtyard in front of the western entrance of St. Paul's Cathedral, and the floor of the Central Hall will be 22 feet higher here than it would be on the Embankment. To this extent, therefore, it will in all distant views rise higher and be better seen than on the lower site. And I think that the position will be an important one, crowning the hill opposite St. Paul's, and supplying what the views of London at present much want,—namely, some very marked architectural feature in the long expanse of building between St. Paul's and Westminster."


With such a plan before us, the imagination can easily paint, in vivid colours, the rise of a stately pile, wherein the majesty of the law shall be fitly represented.

It is unquestionably true that any great public good can only be achieved at the cost of much private inconvenience; and the New Law Courts cannot claim to be any exception to this general rule. No sensible man can doubt that the destruction of so many filthy slums must ultimately prove a gain to the community at large; yet it is also undeniable that the present effect of the work of demolition has been, firstly, to render 4,000 persons homeless, and subsequently to drive threefourths of them into other courts and alleys in the immediate vicinity, which, being previously well filled, must speedily, from the overcrowding consequent upon so enormous an influx, be rendered as unhealthy as the squalid dens from which the immigrants have been routed. It is also true that a liberal compensation was awarded by Government, even in cases where no legal claim could have been made, and that the utmost kindness and forbearance was shown by the Commissioners and officials entrusted to administer that compensation; but it may be doubted whether, in the case of this class, who live from hand to mouth, the unwonted possession of so large a sum was not rather the reverse of a benefit. We are told that about £20 was paid to each weekly tenant, and this being in many instances squandered in the course of a few days, the recipient appeared, with drunken imprecations, before the distributors to demand more.

SERLE'S PLACE. (From a Drawing taken shortly before its Demolition.)

Many ingenious plans have been mooted, by philosophers and philanthropists of all ages, for the effectual cleansing of certain Augean stables; but the summary one of pulling down the building, and turning its 4,000 denizens adrift to seek shelter where best they may, is a bold stroke, which has at least the advantage of novelty, if even it savour a little of the line of policy familiarly known as "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

And now, having gained some slight idea of the appearance which these eight acres—now only suggestive of "the abomination of desolation"—may be expected to present in the future, let us take a brief retrospective view of them as they were not only in their last stage of decay, but in their palmy days, when St. Clement Danes was a favourite abode of "the quality."

The truth of the old proverb, "Threatened folks live long," has been proved by our time-honoured, if somewhat cumbersome, old acquaintance, Temple Bar, which still remains in statu quo, (fn. 1) frowning defiance on the menaces of destruction, with which it has been periodically assailed for more than a century. Of this relic of the past Mr. Thornbury having already given, in a previous volume, a full and exhaustive history, which leaves nothing to be added or desired, we will leave it still blocking up the thoroughfare, and pass on at once to our task of rebuilding and peopling, in fancy, the large waste space which lies on our right hand.

It would be equally tedious and unnecessary to give a minute description of all the lanes, courts, and alleys which have been swept away in the process of clearing these eight acres, many of them being remarkable only for the generally unwholesome atmosphere, both moral and physical, which pervaded them; we must, therefore, be contented to particularise such among them as are sufficiently interesting, from historical associations, to make their memories and names worth preserving.

On the north side of the old gateway stood, a few years ago, a quaint, narrow wooden house with projecting gables, and a physiognomy all its own. Here generations of fishmongers had plied their scaly trade, and here a certain Mr. Crockford, erst dealer in shell-fish, and subsequently gamblinghouse keeper and millionaire, laid the foundation of his fortune. During his lifetime he refused to allow the old house in the Strand to be altered; but after his death, which occurred in 1844, the gable roof and pent-house were removed. The fishmonger's shop afterwards became that of a hairdresser, and finally, reversing the old saying about "coming to vile uses at last," it passed—as we have stated—into the hands of the wellknown second-hand booksellers, Messrs. Reeves and Turner, who owned it when it was doomed to come down to make room for the New Law Courts, in 1865.

A few steps further on, between Temple Bar and the entrance of St. Clement's Lane, nearly opposite to Messrs. Twining's bank, stood the house of Messrs. Holloway, the great wholesale manufacturers of the pills which bear their name. It is said that for many years the firm spent upwards of ten thousand pounds a year for advertisements in the town, country, and foreign newspapers.

As near as possible on the site of the shop of Messrs. Holloway stood, formerly, an old house with gable roof and an ornamental front, engraved in Smith's "Antiquities of Westminster." It was famous as being the reputed residence of the Duc de Sully, when ambassador here, before he could be accommodated at Arundel House. (fn. 2) At that time it is said to have been inhabited by Christopher Harley, Count de Beaumont, ambassador from France in 1605. In another house, a few steps still further westward, the Daily Telegraph (the first of the penny daily papers) was originally published, by its founder, Colonel Sleigh.

Returning to Temple Bar, we now make our way northwards, following the eastern side of the new block of buildings, and—with some latent suspicion that we may even meet with foul play from the ghosts of its former inhabitants—up Shire or Shere Lane, from which many of Addison's and other papers in the Advertiser are dated.

The western side of Shire Lane was in the parish of St. Clement Danes; and therefore the meetings of the "Kit Cat" Club at the "Trumpet," which were noticed in the early part of this work, belong properly, and strictly speaking, to this place; but it will be sufficient here to note the fact, and to refer our readers to the description previously given for fuller details on the subject. We may mention, however, that it was a thoroughfare for foot-passengers only, very narrow and filthy, and well deserving the character given of it in the Quarterly Review (No. 143), as "a vile, squalid place, noisy and noxious, nearly inaccessible to both light and air, and swarming with a population of a most disreputable character." On the left side especially the houses were of "bad repute," and Mr. Diprose, in his "Walk round St. Clement Danes," informs us that many years ago there existed a communication from one of them with a house on the north side of the Strand, a few doors from Temple Bar, through which thieves used to escape after ill-using their victims. Higher up on the same side were three houses which were made into one by connecting passages, almost like a rabbit warren; this was known by the name of "Cadgers' Hall," being the rendezvous of beggars. A few doors higher up still was another double house, called the "Retreat," through which, we are told, there was a way for thieves to pass through into Crown Court, and so into the Strand. It is worthy of record that this lane retained its old character to the last, a man being prosecuted for a robbery committed in it as late as the year 1865.

Shire Lane must have achieved an undesirable reputation at an early stage of its existence, as even in the reign of James I. it was called "Rogues' Lane," and in our own day the very name of Shire Lane had, in 1845, become such an abomination that it was ordered to be henceforth known as Upper, Middle, and Lower Serle's Place. This change of name appears to have had, to some extent, a salutary effect, as we are told by Mr. Diprose that "portions of this lane have of late years much improved in character, particularly the upper end, where Isaac Bickerstaff lived."

In Shire Lane, in the year 1639, the delightful song writer, and oracle of the licentious wits of his day, Sir Charles Sedley, first saw the light. He was baptised in the old church of St. Clement's.

Ship Yard adjoined Shire Lane on the left. "The houses in it," says Mr. Diprose, "were built very high and close together, the upper part projecting over the lower, thus admitting very little air or light." Some of them also were of great age and unhealthy, the entire locality being made up of such "courts" without any roadway. This locality was a colony of thieves; and Mr. Diprose tells us, on the authority of a "very old inhabitant" of it, that the latter remembered a time when capital punishment was constantly inflicted for robbery, and when an execution at Newgate seldom took place without someone from this spot being amongst the number. "At the back of this court," adds the same writer, "there stood formerly a block of houses, from four to five storeys in height, which were let out to vagrants, thieves, sharpers, smashers, and other abandoned characters. Throughout the vaults of this rookery there existed a continuous communication or passage, so that easy access could be obtained from one to the other, facilitating escape or concealment in the event of pursuit, which, from the nature of the nefarious traffic in practice, very often occurred. The end house of this block of buildings was selected for the manufactory of counterfeit coin, and passed by the name of the 'Smashing Lumber.' The ingenuity employed in the construction of the apartments may be mentioned. In the first place, every room had its secret trap or panel, that a free entrance or exit might be quickly effected from one place to the other; and from the upper storey, which was the workshop or factory, there was a shaft or well constructed, in direct communication with the cellar before noticed. The whole of the coining apparatus and the employés could be conveyed away as by a touch of magic, being lowered in a basket by means of a pulley. This secret gang must have had a prosperous run for many years, and the master of it, after amassing a large sum, wisely disappeared at the right moment; for not long after the introduction of the new police, and the appointment of detectives, this den was discovered and abolished."

We are told, in the "Life and Times of Sir Christopher Hatton," by Nicholas, that "an inn near Temple Bar, called 'The Ship,'" was granted to him; and Chambers tells us, in his "Book of Days," that "Ship Yard denotes the sign of the 'Ship,' a house established in honour of Sir Francis Drake, and having for its sign the bark in which he circumnavigated the world."

It is difficult to associate the neighbourhood of Shire Lane with pilgrims, clear springs, and running brooks, but we read in the Times of May 1st., 1874:—"Another relic of old London has lately passed away; the holy well of St. Clement, on the north of St. Clement Danes Church, has been filled in and covered over with earth and rubble, in order to form part of the foundation of the Law Courts of the future. It is said that penitents and pilgrims used to visit this well as early as the reign of Ethelred, and it was known from time immemorial as 'St. Clement's Well.' Charles Knight, in his 'London,' published in 1841, mentions the well as 'now covered over with a pump,' and he adds that 'the well still remains flowing as steadily and as freshly as ever.' It has often been supposed that this well supplied the old Roman bath in Strand Lane, but this is a mistake, the water which feeds that bath springing up out of the London clay below on the spot with perfect regularity."

Round this holy well, in the early Christian era, newly-baptised converts clad in white robes were wont to assemble to commemorate Ascension Day and Whitsuntide; and in later times, after the murder of Thomas à Becket had made Canterbury the constant resort of pilgrims from all parts of England, the holy well of St. Clement was a favourite halting-place of the pious cavalcades for rest and refreshment.

In the "Beauties of England and Wales" (Middlesex, vol. x., published in 1815), Mr. Nightingale says, "A pump now covers St. Clement's Well. Fitzstephen, in his description of London, in the reign of Henry II., informs us that "round the City again, and towards the north, arise certain excellent springs at a small distance, whose waters are sweet, salubrious, and clear, and whose runnels murmur o'er the shining stones. Among these, Holywell, Clerkenwell, and St. Clement's Well may be esteemed the principal, as being much the most frequented, both by the scholars from the school (Westminster), and the youth from the City, when in a summer's evening they are disposed to take an airing. This well was also much resorted to on account of its being supposed of peculiar efficacy in the cure of cutaneous and other disorders, and was consequently a place of importance to devotees. The estimation of its efficacy and sanctity have long ceased."

Bell Yard, occupied principally by law publishers at the northern extremity, and towards the Strand by a medley of small, uninviting-looking shops, was more than a century ago the abode of Fortescue, who lived in a house at the upper end of the yard, which is further honoured by being described by Fortescue's friend, Pope, as "that filthy old place, Bell Yard." Several of the small passages in this vicinity are worthy of no more particular mention than is contained in Seymour's "History of the Parishes of London and Westminster," written in 1734.

"A little above St. Clement's Well, of note for its excellent spring water, is Plough Alley, which, with three turnings, goes into a street by the Plough stables, which fronts the playhouse by Lincoln's Inn Grange, in Little Lincoln's Inn Fields. More towards Clare Market is Horseshoe Court, a pretty handsome place, with a freestone pavement, having a prospect into St. Clement's Inn Gardens. And opposite to this court is Yates' Court, not over good nor large. Between Temple Bar and the turning into St. Clement's Inn, on the north side of the Butcher's Row, are several courts, most of which are but small. The first is Ship Yard, a thoroughfare into Little Shear Lane, with a pretty broad passage; on the east side is an open place going into a small court called Chair Court, with a fair freestone pavement. Next to Ship Yard are these courts: Swan Court, very small; Star Court, indifferent, good, and large, with an open air; White Hart Court, long but narrow; Lock Alley, long, but small; Windmill Court very small and inconsiderable: Crown Court hath an open air about the midst, and leadeth into Little Shear Lane. Bear and Harrow Court is so called from such a sign, belonging to a noted eating-house, at the entrance into it. This court (or rather alley, from its length and narrowness) runs into Boswell Court."

It is a common mistake to suppose that Boswell Court owed its name to the biographer of Dr. Johnson. Its age and its name are at least as old as the times of the Tudors, in whose day, and in those of the Stuarts, as we are told, it was the abode of "the quality." "Here lived," says Mr. Diprose, "Lady Raleigh, the widow of the unfortunate Sir Walter." Another distinguished resident was Sir Edward Lyttleton, successively Solicitor-General, and Lord Chief Justice of England, in 1639. From Boswell House, Gilbert Talbot wrote a letter of "London gossip" to his father, the Earl of Shrewsbury, in the reign of Elizabeth, a letter which is printed in Lodge's "Illustrations." Among the other eminent inhabitants of this court was Lady Fanshawe, as we learn from her "Memoirs," where she says, "In his" (her husband's) "absence, I took house in Boswell Court, near Temple Bar, for two years, immediately moving all my goods thereto."

Ascending northwards towards Carey Street was a flight of steps which led into New Boswell Court, a dreary-looking enclosure, although described by Hatton in 1708 as "a pleasant place." At the side of these steps might be seen to the very last a curious relic of other days, a watchman's box, the last box of the old "Charlies," which was drawn up from the pavement during the day-time.

This ancient order of watchmen was instituted about the middle of the thirteenth century, and carried on its functions, growing yearly more feeble and inefficient, until, in 1829, the "Charlies," as they were termed in the slang of the day, found themselves superseded by the new police, organised by Sir Robert Peel. These midnight guardians of the peace—and it may be observed en passant that the only qualifications necessary for the post would appear to have been extreme old age, and general incapacity—suffered many things at the hands of the young "bucks" and "bloods" of the Regency. A watchman found dozing in his box in the intervals of going his rounds to utter his monotonous cry, was apt to be overturned, box and all, and left to kick and struggle helplessly, like a turtle on its back, until assistance arrived. Or he would be kindly offered a dram to keep him awake, and this dram being drugged, quickly sank him in deeper sleep than before, in which state "Charley" and his box, being transferred to a truck, were forthwith trundled into another quarter of the town, and left to awake at leisure.

Old Boswell Court, from having been the chief abode of the "quality," gradually came to be let out in chambers and apartments. The houses were mostly of red brick with carved doorways. The house at the southern end was, for the last twenty years prior to its demolition, the printing and publishing office of Messrs. Kelly's "Post Office Directories" of London and of the several counties of England.

The old entrance to St. Clement's Lane from the Strand was through an open gateway flanked by massive pillars of stone. This archway was erected by the Corporation of London, as a tribute of respect for Alderman Pickett, through whose exertions the thoroughfare of the Strand was widened, at an expense of more than a quarter of a million sterling. The new thoroughfare was named Pickett Street, after the public benefactor, but the name never became popular, and soon passed away, the houses being reckoned as part of the Strand. A little beyond the gateway the lane bore off to the left, and led to the back of King's College Hospital, merging in Gilbert Street and Gilbert Passage, which opens through Portsmouth Street, into the south-west corner of Lincoln's Inn Fields. The line of this lane flanks the western extremity of the site now laid level for the erection of the New Law Courts, and it is to be hoped that it will soon be superseded by a wider thoroughfare, the dark and obscure outlets by which it still communicates with Clare Market and New Inn being swept away.

Among the other residents in this lane was Sir John Trevor (a cousin of the infamous Judge Jeffreys), at one time Speaker of the House of Commons, and twice Master of the Rolls; the same who was expelled from the House for bribery, though he had the good sense to warn James II. against his arbitrary conduct. He died here in May, 1717, and was buried in the Rolls Chapel on the east side of Chancery Lane. Another distinguished inhabitant was Oliver Cromwell, in his early days. The Lords Paget also had their town mansion here, as appears by the parish registers.

In the course of time, however, the lane, "from being the polished abode of wit, genius, and fashion, was converted by the ruthless hand of Time into a huge overcrowded den, where blasphemy, rags, gin hollow-eyed poverty, and stinted industry, were all fearfully huddled together. Where noble dames once moved with costly and flowing trains, a short time since women in rags rocked to sleep the children of misery, to whom hunger gave a fearful vitality; and where courtiers used to exchange the bow of recognition, fearful and brutal collisions between man and man took place. Upon the once polished floor, now broken and filthy, where stately revelry held its court, human beings lay stretched in that association which extreme misery only knows; and the once elegant boudoir of some dead duchess was inhabited by seven or eight wretched human beings. Doors stood ajar with the gaping look of poverty and desolation, where the loud resounding knocks of some tall, gold-laced menial were once heard; and where the flaxen-haired children of wealth once sported, neglected children in filth and rags dozed out their wretched existence.

"In this sun-forsaken, dreary region lived, among the rest, a very large colony of the poorest and wildest of the Irish, attracted in the first instance, no doubt, by its nearness to the Catholic chapel in Lincoln's Inn Fields; but these, though equally poor, dirty, and drunken with the tenants of the adjoining courts, were never actually absorbed by their English neighbours. To the last they remained ipsis Hibernis Hiberniores, and when the rookery was broken up they migrated, if we are rightly informed, to Drury Lane and the Seven Dials.

"As a proof that the locality was as demoralised as it was poor, we may add that when wholesale executions occurred at Newgate or Tyburn, as they did occasionally occur 'when George III. was king,' it was rare indeed for this locality not to have its representative amongst those unhappy wretches who paid the last penalty of the law."

It has been very appositely observed that "Charles Dickens might well have placed the scenes of his quaintest stories of low Cockney life in the midst of this doomed quarter of London, which was the haunt of gaiety and pleasure in the reign of Charles II., and is associated with the memories of the 'bloods' and the 'bucks' of the Restoration, and the wits of the days of Queen Anne."

Mr. Diprose—who, as an old inhabitant of the parish, is well qualified to speak on the subject—gives a list of the courts, alleys, and streets which have been quietly removed and effaced, in order to form the site of the new Palace of Justice. They are as follows, nearly thirty in all:—Bailey's Court, Bear and Harrow Court, Bell Yard, Old and New Boswell Courts, Boswell Yard, Brick Court, Chair Court, Clement's Court, Clement's Inn Foregate, Clement's Lane, Cromwell Place, Crown Court, Crown Place, Hemlock Court, Great and Little Horseshoe Courts, New Court, Pickett Place, Plough Court, Robin Hood Court, Upper, Lower, and Middle Serle's Place, Ship Yard, Ship and Anchor Court, Shire Lane, and Star Court, all of them more or less dirty and overcrowded.

BOSWELL COURT. (From a Sketch taken shortly before its Demolition.)

Besides these, however, there have disappeared a considerable part of the Strand (Pickett Street), Carey Street, Yates' Court, and St. Clement's Lane, nearly all of which have histories still attaching to them, although all traces of them have disappeared, and their place knows them no more.

The demolition of so many small tenements, in order to make a site for the New Law Courts, has not had so great an influence as might be supposed upon the people living in the parish of St. Clement's, which still swarms with a poor population. Previously it stood at about 16,000, and now, after all this clearance, it is about 15,000, a great number of the inhabitants of the old lanes and alleys having removed only into the neighbourhood of Clare Market, which, it is to be feared, are almost equally close and filthy, and sadly overcrowded.

In the reign of Charles II. Clement's Lane was the Bond Street of London, and several of its houses were the haunts of those royal and noble intrigues which figure so largely in the anecdotememoirs of the time. "Here," says Mr. Diprose, "Steele used to show his gaudy attire, Bolingbroke his stately presence, and Pope that decrepit form which was yet the tabernacle of a noble soul within. Here Swift, with downcast head and scowling visage, used to growl to himself as the mighty satirist made and unmade cabinets; and the gentle Addison here turned some of those polished periods which have called forth the envy and admiration of after ages."


We will conclude this chapter with a few words quoted from an article in Cassell's Magazine in 1870, styled, "A Walk Round St. Clement Danes":—

"Gone now are the glories of St. Clement Danes. Gone are the sedan chairs and coaches that once had here their favourite and (it is said) their earliest stands. Gone are the 'Thames watermen,' whom our fathers and grandfathers knew so well, resplendent in their scarlet coats and badges, but who were driven out by the penny steamers. Gone, too, are the 'smashers,' and the 'Charlies;' gone, too, is that little court to the north of St. Clement's Church, of which we have already seen what Winter had to say with reference to the concoction of the fiendish Gunpowder Plot. Gone, too, now are the once fair gardens of Essex House and Norfolk House; gone are the wild beasts which once were kept in Holywell Street; gone is the last of those stocks which once held in awe the roguish apprentices and youthful roughs of the parish; gone is the 'Denzil Street gang,' and the 'Alphabet' public-house, whilom so well known to the theatrical profession; gone is the farfamed Norfolk Giant, who once kept the 'Craven Head' in wretched Drury Lane; and gone is 'Joe Miller;' gone, too, are his 'jests,' and possibly his grave.

"But in the place of these and other relics of past ages shortly we shall see rising on the now bare site a stately building, the like of which Londoners have not seen reared in modern days, save only at the river-side at Westminster—a palace in which it is our earnest prayer, as Englishmen, that Justice may long sit to hold evenly the scales of law."


  • 1. Since the above was written, the condition of Temple Bar has created considerable alarm, from the fact that, owing to the removal of the houses on the north side, and the excavations that have been carried on close to it for the foundations of the New Law Courts, the ground beneath had given way to such an extent as to cause great fear of the structure falling. In August, 1874, the arch was therefore immediately shored up with beams, and other means taken to ensure the safety of passengers through the Bar.
  • 2. With reference to this assertion, Malcolm states that such a report arose from the fact of one of the houses in that narrow street bearing on its front the fleur-de-lys of France, and suggests that this was put there, not to commemorate Sully's arrival, but in compliment to our Henry V., the conqueror of France.