This is of the many little alleys that lead off from Strand as a legacy of the times the area was first developed. This part of London was largely undeveloped until the time of King Henry VIII, who confiscated it from Westminster Abbey and sold it off for development.
It seems that Strand was then slowly built up with small houses and along the north side, and this is probably when a number of the courts and alleys appeared along the road, including Exchange Court.
The grand rather baroque building at the Strand end of the alley was built in 1907 to replace a block of tenement buildings and used to be called Walter House, although it’s recently been refurbished and renamed the Nadler Hotel.
The rest of the buildings seem to have been developed rather piecemeal over the centuries with no single significant building appearing.
However, inside the alley itself, a very interesting tenant took up residence for a while. This was the Corps of Commissionaires, founded in 1859 to provide gainful employment for ex-servicemen on return from the Crimean War.
The ex-soldiers were trained as security guards for city banks, and were given the title of Commissionaires, and later secured royal patronage.
They occupied a number of buildings in the Court, one of which is marked on maps as a barracks, which is probably to imply it was accommodation rather than a military site. Today that’s the rather incongruous looking “house” that can be found in the alley, which is today a block of flats, although the frontage was added in the 1930s as it used to be rather plainer when it was barracks.
There was also for a while a Commissionaires Club and they had offices down here as well. The organisation still exists, although today it’s called Corps Security and has around 5,000 employees. It’s considered to be the oldest security company in the world.
Halfway up Exchange Court is another small alley, Heathcock Court, which is now the bin store for the pub next to it, and used to be open along its full length to the public, if they so wished to use the dead-end, but today half of it is gated and locked.
The top end of the alley is a pub, The Porterhouse, which is famous for the interior, which is designed around a semi-industrial look but has so many layers and hidden spaces that it’s easy to get lost in there.
If visiting the alley though, do look for the gas lamp, it’s still lit the old fashioned way.
Location map and local interesting places
- 1] Exchange Court
- 2] Bull Inn Court
- 3] Lumley Court
- 4] George Court
- 5] York Place (formerly Of Alley)
- 6] Cranbourn Alley
- 7] Tower Court
- 8] Nottingham Court
- 13] Benjamin Franklin House
- 14] London Transport Museum
- 15] National Portrait Gallery
- 16] National Gallery
- 17] Courtauld Institute of Art
- 18] Somerset House
- 19] Canada House Gallery