This dead-end of a rather posh looking alley is claimed to have royal connections in medieval times.
It shows up initially in medieval London maps as a gap in the row of houses off Cheapside leading to a field behind, called the Crowned Seld. The claim is that the field was used for jousting and that this passage was the private path for the King to use when visiting.
John Stow says that it was created by King Edward III so he could watch jousting from an elevated space.
It doesn’t really pass the taste test — the field isn’t that large, and the idea that a plot of land wide enough for a decent-sized building would be reserved for the occasional visit every few years by the King is, even then, fairly unlikely.
The hint also comes from the name – Crowned Seld, also known as “the seld called Ie Crowne”. A seld can mean a number of things, often a space we might today consider to be a covered market, but also a vacant plot of land — so what we might have here is a field that was used for a market on some days, and as organised markets often needed royal approval in those times — Crowned Seld.
As the area developed, its use as a seld ceased around 1500 and the field — or whatever it was there — slowly filled in with more buildings.
Initially, the alley was open to the skies, but by the 1830s, the front-facing Cheapside had been covered over as the buildings on either side formed a bridge across the alley. The buildings have changed several times, but it’s had that layout ever since.
Several traders are known to have occupied the shops on either side, such as the clockmaker, John Bennett, who apart from selling lots of clocks, also erected a large clock on the front of his shop which was to become a bit of a local landmark. At one time, the alley was also home to Kennan’s Hotel, which advertised itself as offering “refined accommodation for business men.”, but closed down in 1917 — after which Crown Court was dominated by offices.
The buildings that front the alley today date from the turn of the 1990s, and are a rebuild behind the older stone facade, with the buildings inside the alley being rebuilt a couple of years later.
What we have today is a modern alley with what looks like old ironwork that was salvaged from the previous buildings, but is in fact, modern, being commissioned at the same time as the office refurbishments took place. They do add a certain character to the alley though and lift it up from being a rather dull modern office block. A false bridge at the far end leaping over the basement void is a nice touch.
Also look on the western facade, for a narrow brick building, a side entrance to Cheyne House, with its ornate brickwork thistle decoration.