A short alley near Charing Cross that is today probably more famous for its sole commercial occupant, the Retro Pub.

It sits on the site of the former York House, a grand mansion, and as with the whole area between Strand and the Embankment, the alley’s existence is a consequence of a decision to chop up York House and its gardens into streets and alleys.

George Court is named after George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, the 17th century courtier, who acquired York House. He was a favourite and possibly also a lover of King James I of England. Despite a patchy political and military record, Buckingham remained at the height of royal favour for the first three years of the reign of King Charles I, until a disgruntled army officer assassinated him.

His son later sold the area to the famous property developer, Nicholas Barbon on condition that his father and titles were commemorated on the new streets.

George Court was completed around 1680, but first appears on Horwood’s map of 1799, and while the layout hasn’t changed since then, all the buildings that front onto it are modern.

There’s been a pub in the alley ever since it was laid out, although it was originally known as The George, and was renamed as Retro Pub in 2000.

There used to be a lot of trade down this little alley, with a greengrocers next to the pub, and a Lyons tea shop opposite it.

There was a tailor here as well, and pub once served a rather macabre task though as the tailor committed suicide in 1844, and the pub served as the court house for his inquest.

The tailor, Joseph Marshman killed himself after suffering a cascade of disasters. His wife had died the previous year in an industrial accident. One son died on a sailing ship the very next day, and the following week, another was killed in a road accident. A third son died after falling down the steps that still exist (in modern form) at the end of George Court.

The Jury sitting in the pub returned a verdict of insanity — caused by despair.

The big block on Strand to the west, known as 40 Strand swallowed up a huge number of smaller properties when it was built in 1957, and substantially refurbished in 1995.

Today the pub is still there, but all the little shops have long since vanished. Do look at the lamps on the modern building though – they are the originals that used to line the alley in the 19th century — a subtle reminder of its heritage.


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