Ian’s note – this is the 100th edition of the London Alleys series.
This short narrow alley off Fleet Street has seen some of the most famous names in history walk down it’s narrow path, for there’s a pub door down here that’s legendary.
What is today called Cheshire Court first appears on maps in 1676 with the Ogilby and Morgan, but appears to fade in and out of subsequent maps. It’s likely that a mix of old map inaccuracies and rebuilding saw the alley shift around a bit until it attained its current layout.
It’s a narrow dark alley, lined with tiles for about half it’s length before it emerges into a small courtyard used as back access to the surrounding buildings.
The alley is modest, but it’s fame comes from its neighbour, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – a pub which has been recorded on this location since at least 1538, although it’s original name was probably the Horn Tavern.
Rebuilt after the great fire of London, the pub sitting in the heart of Fleet Street has a very long history of literary associations. It’s a veritable name dropping location, with Oliver Goldsmith, Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton, P. G. Wodehouse and Samuel Johnson all said to have been ‘regulars’.
Its fame was international, and in the late 19th century, early tourists from America and Australia were said to make special visits to the pub to sit in the same chairs occupied by their heroes. Considering that tourists at the time would have been the upper classes, it must have been a shock to their senses to see so rough a location — not to mention was the drinkers thought of these rich people turning up.
Such was its connection with local journalists, that matters that would barely get coverage in a local paper were reported in the nationals. The death of a former landlady, Sarah Moore who died in 1903 aged 83 was so honoured.
For around 40 years, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was associated with a grey parrot named Polly. On its death in 1926, newspapers across the world wrote obituaries.
The pub may also have once had a brothel in its upper floors, as a number of sexually explicit tiles were uncovered in the 1960s, and later donated to the Museum of London.