Swedeland Court is a very narrow passage that is very easy to miss, even as it sits right next to a landmark pub for the area opposite Liverpool Street station. Although relatively inconspicuous from the street, it encloses a restaurant and bar, which give it a vibrant character, in contrast with the other alleys in the area which are more often back-alleys, rich in a noisome atmosphere.
Swedeland is the Early Modern English name for Sweden, but quite why the alley would have been named after that country has eluded discovery. What helps to locate the alley though is that it sits next to the famous pub, with the sniggerific name of Dirty Dicks.
During the early 19th century, Dirty Dick’s was called The Old Jerusalem, but the then owner, William Barker, renamed the pub after an infamous resident who had owned a warehouse around the corner from the pub.
The original Dirty Dick, whose actual name was Richard Bentley, or some say Nathanial Bentley, was a city merchant living in the middle of the 18th century.
Bentley, who owned a hardware shop and warehouse, had been quite the dandy in his youth, but following the death of his fiancée, in his broken-hearted anguish, he reportedly refused to clean anything, including himself.
Bentley’s house, shop, and warehouse became so filthy that he became what you could almost call a ‘celebrity of dirt’. He became so famous for his lack of cleanliness that letters intended for him would be addressed to ‘The Dirty Warehouse, London’. Bentley eventually stopped trading in 1804 and died in 1809 and his warehouse was later demolished.
It seems that successive owners of the Bishopsgate Distillery capitalised on the legend, and the current name stuck forevermore. More refined though is the slogan on a small sign for the pub right next to the alley – reading in Latin, Intrate Communitatem, or “enter the community”, which is Young’s slogan.
Back to the alley though, which first appears on William Morgan’s Map of the City of London, Westminster and Southwark (1682).
The OS Maps of 1896 show Swedeland Court, but a much more open layout with the corner buildings now missing, but that seems to be an aberration as they were back on maps by 1914.
It used to be called Sweedland Alley, but changed name to Swedeland Court some time in the 19th century, which is an odd thing, as usually when name changes occur, they are from Court to Alley, not the other way around. That could be partly due to there being a Swedeland Court near the Tower of London at one time, now buried under the Royal Mint building.
John Stow’s Survey of London described it in 1734 as “very ordinary”.
What makes the alley more than a little ordinary today though is a restaurant down the far end, Boisdale of Bishopsgate, a well-known Scottish restaurant with a variety of whiskies, an oyster bar and live jazz.
So this narrow gap in the streetscape is both easy to overlook, but for those who seek sustenance with a Scottish flair, that small gateway is a well trodden path.
But do look up when hurrying for a whisky, for above your head amongst all the anti-pigeon spikes are some delightful old lamps, and one even works. Add in some fog and what a wonderfully atmospheric place it would be.