This very shabby dirt ridden little alley near London Bridge is a legacy of judicial power, being named after an early prison on the same location.
The prison was called the Borough Compter, a small prison controlled by a sheriff, mainly used to house debtors and religious dissenters. The name of the alley, Counter Court is a variation on Compter Court.
The first court was built from the converted St Margaret’s church that stood on the site, with the ground floor converted into the holding space and a floor inserted above for the court. This makeshift prison was destroyed in the Great Fire of Southwark in 1676, and a replacement was built on the same site a few years later.
This was a dual purpose building with the court on the first floor, the Kings Arms pub on the ground floor. Being a judge is thirsty work after all. The Compter moved out not much later though, to nearby Tooley Street in 1717. The building was reused as Southwark Town Hall, but the eastern half of the building was demolished when Borough High Street was widened in the 1820s.
Today we think of the area as two southern roads joining up with Borough High Street, but originally the join we see was the other way round, with one main road to the south, splitting into two as it approached the river
The current layout of the streets at this junction was created in 1864 when Southwark Street was created to link London Bridge with Southwark and Blackfriars Bridges.
The block the alley runs through was rebuilt with the current building to the south of the alley, which dates from 1862-3, to a design by Frederic Chancellor and was built for the London and County Bank. Although now called Town Hall Chambers, you can still see the LBC monogram above the side doors. While the Compter had a pub on the ground floor, this building being an ex-bank, also now has a pub, The Bridge Tap on the ground floor. So the circle turns.
To the north of the alley is yet another bank in a building that also dates to the late 19th-century.
With such a financially well-connected history, the alley is a curious left-over that is these days mainly a place to store large waste bins. A large puddle, hopefully of water as opposed to bodily fluid floods the floor and a rank smell rises from the alley. It’s a dank dark crack in the grand Victorian frontages that it slices between.