What looks like a short gap under some shops is an alley that used to be so much longer than it is today. Hare Place today passes under the Fleet Street shops and terminates just behind in Old Mitre Court, but it once passed much further south into the heart of the legal buildings that fill the area.
What was originally called Hare Alley followed the boundary between Serjeants’ Inn to the east and unmarked buildings to the west. Serjeants’ Inn on Fleet Street was one of the two inns of the Serjeant-at-law, an elite group of Barristers which started to fade with the creation of the Queen’s Council, and effectively ceased to exist in 1959 with the death of “The Last Serjeant”, A. M. Sullivan. To the south was land owned by the Knights of St John, which was later to become the heart of the legal quarter.
The truncation of Hare Place’s former length can be put down to post-war rebuilding. Many of the buildings that lined the old Hare Place were hit by bombs in WW2 and remained in ruins for a couple of decades.
At the same time as the rebuilding of the area, Mitre Court next door was opened up and became a road rather than an alley, and it effectively took over as the dominant feature here.
What’s left is a small gap that runs under the offices of the former London News Agency, and is now occupied on the ground floor by a purveyor of doughnuts. That shop used to be a much nicer French Patisserie, Le Montmartre, and there’s still a French street sign on the side of the shop just inside the alley.
More interesting is the other side of the alley with a rather fine looking Victorian shop frontage, which has been occupied by a wine merchant since the 19th century.
The wine merchant was founded by Alfred Bower, and called Bower & Co, but changed its name to El Vino when Alfred Bower stood for election as Lord Mayor of London, and was discreetly informed that for his ambition to be fulfilled, he would have to cease trading in the City under his own name. He was subsequently elected as Lord Mayor in 1924.
Today the alley beside the former Lord Mayor’s wine merchant has little to say for it – a short gap leading to a post war courtyard surrounded by fairly bland offices and is mainly used today as a bike-park for motorcyclists.