This rather modern looking and uninspiring alley near Fleet Street is however steeped in history, science and political intrigue.
Until recently it was a long narrow alley, home to printers and journalists, but also for some years, home to the illustrious Royal Society. The Royal Society used to be based near Holborn in Gresham College, but Sir Issac Newton had the idea to move the Society, and he pushed his plans through, despite significant opposition, and in 1710, they bought a Wren built-house in Crane Court for their new home.
The former owner of the building was Nicholas Barbon, who we talked about a couple of weeks ago, and it seems that he sold it in a rather run-down condition.
It seems to have been thought at the time that Newton was somewhat despotic in his announcement of the move, and the members in council grumbled at the new house, and complained of it as small, inconvenient, and dilapidated. Nevertheless, Sir Isaac, unaccustomed to the opposition, overruled all these objections, and the society flourished in this Fleet Street “close” seventy-two years.
The alley was also home to a number of printers, and at the time it was illegal to print newspapers without government approval, so often many printers would smuggle their more controversial pamphlets out of back doors to avoid government inspectors on Fleet Street.
The alley was also at the time a dead-end with the Royal Society occupying the far end. Today a 1970s office block occupies post war cleared land behind Crane Court and the alley curves around a corner to tie up with Fetter Lane.
The buildings are a curious mix of brutal concrete on one side and modern facades of Georgian style buildings on the other.
If going in via Fleet Street, do look down though, as there’s a fine engraved stone plaque in the floor.
It’s mostly quiet now, being a side-passage more for providing daylight into the expensive serviced flats and offices overlooking it, and a long-standing Indian restaurant.