This is a small alley and courtyard off Fleet Street probably more noticed today for the game of Space Invaders in the pavement.
The alley probably first shows up in the 1600s as the previous row of Tudor houses facing Fleet Street with fields behind started to be developed. A cluster of unnamed alleys shows up in the area on the Ogilby and Morgan map of 1676.
The alley shows up as Swan Yard in the William Morgan map of 1682, and may have acquired the name of Dunstans Court by the time it shows up on the John Rocque map of 1746, but St Dunstan’s Court is clearly shown on the R Horwood map of 1799.
In the 19th century, the alley was notable for two things that no longer exist there. The western side was dominated by the Anderton’s Hotel, which had been on the site since at least the 17th-century, but was rebuilt in 1880 with a grand building. Like many hotels of the time, it included its own Masonic Lodge, and less obviously, is where 12 smaller unions gathered in August 1920 to form the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers’ Union (ATGWU), at one time the largest trade union in the world. The hotel however was demolished in 1939 to be replaced with offices.
The other thing down here is a former school, which is remembered with a plaque on a building on the site. This was the Stationers’ School, which had its entrance in another alley in pre-rebuilding times, but here members of the Worshipful Company of Stationers could send their children for a private grammar education in the times before free state education. The school moved to Hornsey in 1891 and was converted into a comprehensive boys’ school in 1967, closing in 1983. The old school building in the City became for a while the School of Photo-engraving and Lithography, which opened in 1894 as the London College of Printing, and came under the control of the London County Council in 1922 and was renamed the London School of Printing and Kindred Trades.
Although long since moved out of the courtyard, the school still exists, as the London College of Communication.
Today the alley is a small gap between the modern Bouverie House office block and an Edwardian office block with a bank on the ground floor. A small decorative stone lintel with the alley’s name gives it a bit of prominence.
But look on the floor before going inside. Some years back, the City of London decided to remember the heritage of the area’s long printing industry with plaques in the pavement of alleys along Fleet Street telling the story of the area. This one tells the story of how printing switched from hot metal typesetting to computerised newsprint and is illustrated with a game of Space Invaders.
The rest of the alley is less interesting, being a fairly bland corridor between buildings with fire escapes and light wells. A nice modest touch is the row of floor uplighters in the covered section of the alley, but it’s really an alley to look at the Space Invaders game alone.