Most of London’s little alleys are simply routes, from one place to another, few are destinations. But Mason’s Avenue is a destination, in capital letters.
It’s a small street lined with shops and pubs, a mock tudor decor and a curious tale of medical quackery.
The site was originally the home of one of the City’s livery companies, and it wont surprise you to learn that it was the Masons, who had their impressive Hall here. Along much of the City it burnt down in the Great Fire of London, but that fire was also to see the Mason’s wealth increased considerably.
The City authorities demanded that the post-fire buildings be built of stone or brick, so the Mason’s were in high demand, and their wealth soared. Unfortunately, the old saying about cobblers to riches to cobblers did not spare them, and with the decline in rebuilding work, their wealth plummeted.
The Worshipful Company of Masons sold up in 1865.
So while the alley is today named after the Masons, it’s a pub that it really should be named after.
This is the Old Dr Butler’s Head, and the thoughts within the head of Dr Butler were a very strange thing indeed.
The story goes that Dr Butler, a 17th century self-proclaimed specialist in nervous disorder was able to treat King James I and cure his backpain by administering large quantities of a medical brew. As this brew was almost certainly alcoholic, it seems that getting drunk was the cure.
Nonetheless, the King was impressed, promoted the Doctor, who went on to set up a chain of pubs selling his “medical” brew. He also had a habit of treating epilepsy by firing a gun beside the poor victim’s head, deafening them.
If that wasn’t enough, he treated malaria by dropping people through a trapdoor on London Bridge into the polluted River Thames below.
The pub here, opened in 1610 was one of the pubs opened by the dubious doctor, and it’s now the last one remaining. The current building is younger though, being rebuilt after the Great Fire, so a mere 350 years old.
The pub notes that whatever it was that the doctor served as his medical cureall, is no longer on the menu.
Further along this alley it’s lined with a mock-tudor frontage, which is sadly less than 100 years old — it dates from 1928. Do look up at number 12 though, there’s a quite magnificent stained glass window to be found.
It’s a packed little alley at lunchtime, and the pub (plus garish modern neighbour) spill out into the streets in the evenings keeping the area alive long after the streets around have gone to sleep.
Grammar pedants may note that the official road sign includes an apostrophe, but the sign above the lintel lacks it.
Location map and local interesting places
- 1] Mason's Avenue
- 2] Great Bell Alley, EC2
- 3] Coleman Street Buildings
- 4] St Olave's Court
- 5] Prudent Passage
- 6] Honey Lane, EC2
- 7] Guildhall Art Gallery and Roman Amphitheater
- 8] Bank of England Museum
- 9] City of London Police Museum
- 10] One Coleman Street Gardens, EC2
- 11] Bassishaw Highwalk
- 12] Aldermanbury Square, EC2
- 13] St Mary Aldermanbury, EC2
- 14] Brewers Hall Garden, EC2
- 16] Castle Tavern sign
- 17] A stone obelisk hiding a ventilation shaft
- 18] Stone Tower outside Bloomberg Building