This narrow lane in the City of London is famous for being lined with shops and cafes and is also one of the oldest surviving lanes in the City on its original layout.
Bisected by the equally ancient Watling Street, Bow Lane was originally two roads, the southern half being Cordwanerstrete, and the northern half being Hosyerlane. Although today it’s named after St Mary-le-bow church on the northern corner, the church existed long before the name changed, but was originally called St Mary de Arcubus, but had become St. Mary-le-Bow by around 1270.
The chronicler of London’s streets, John Stow published his Survey of London in 1598, where he wrote:
“[T]his street beginneth by West Cheape, and Saint Marie Bow church is the head thereof on the west side, and it runneth downe south through that part which of later time was called Hosier Lane, now Bow Lane, and then by the west end of Aldmary Chruch, to the new builded houses, in place of Ormond house, and so to Garlicke hill, or hith, to Saint Iames Church. The upper part of this street towards Cheape was called Hosiar lane of hosiars dwelling there in place of Shoomakers: but now those hosiers being worne out by men of other trades (as the Hosiars had worne out the Shoomakers) the same is called Bow lane of Bow Church.”
At this time, the name doesn’t seem fixed and different writers, including Stow himself swapped between the old and new name, but by the time of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of London in 1666, the name is firmly fixed as Bow Lane.
It’s been largely untouched since then and was baring the odd unlucky building, it was remarkably little touched by bomb damage during WW2, as just one street to the west most of the area had been utterly flattened.
Today, Bow Lane is still an important shopping street, although long since pedestrianised.
The southern end features the Guild Church of St Mary Aldermary, which is open most days and now includes a good cafe inside. As with the whole area, it was badly damaged during the Great Fire, so what you see today is a Sir Christopher Wren rebuild, although unusually for him, it’s in the gothic style.
Passing up to the junction with Watling Street is Ye Olde Watling, a pub that was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1668 to house his workers and, most importantly, provide somewhere for them to drink. The plans for St Paul’s Cathedral were drawn up in the upstairs rooms – now the pub’s dining room. Be warned that the pub, as old as it looks, was extensively rebuilt in 1901, so it looks old, but aint – fact, it’s quite different from how it looked in the past.
On the opposite corner is Porterford Butchers which used to be on Bow Lane, but moved to Watling Street in 2003, and is famous for its long lunchtime queues of people buying their baguettes and burgers
Further up is the side entrance to Groveland Court, as the area moves slightly away from food shops to clothing and services. There are even a couple of shoe shops, a memory of when this was the shoemaking heart of London.
Finally, at the top is St Mary-le-Bow church, and the alley widens into a small courtyard before joining Cheapside fronted by two rather ordinary 1970s office blocks.
As an alley, it’s one that rewards a lot of looking up though, above the ground floor shops to study the many different buildings that have been erected over the past couple of centuries. The southern end is fairly modern, but baring a few post-war inserts, the northern end is still mostly late Victorian in nature.