This is one of those alleys that’s been around for centuries, yet managed to leave hardly a trace of its existence in history.
It seems to have been built around the time that Cornhill was first developed as part of the City, and there used to be a road running behind the tall buildings, but this has slowly been built over, leaving just this corner turn alley that follows part of the alignment of the lost road.
The alley first decently shows up on John Rocque’s map of 1746 as Fleece Lane, but on some other maps of the time as Fleece Passage. The naming almost certainly comes from the Golden Fleece tavern, which was probably of some considerable size as in the hearth tax lists of 1662 as having 16 fireplaces to be taxed.
However, the most famous occupant of the passage, was the Jerusalem Coffee-house, a well known meeting point for ship-owners and traders, and almost a rival to Lloyds of London for providing early shipping intelligence and insurance.
Just two years later though, the whole block of buildings, including Cowper’s Court was burnt down in March 1748, in the worst fire London saw between the Great Fire and WW2.
When being rebuilt the name was changed to Cowper’s Court, after Sir William Cowper, the first Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain who used to have a large house in the alley. Incidentally, the job still exists, and technically, in our wonderful British constitution the holder outranks the Prime Minister.
Most of the buildings that surround the alley today are modern, behind facades — and one notable doorway — but as is common with municipal alleys, it’s lined with white tiles to help reflect light into the office windows over looking the space.
An oddity to find down here though is a much older and smaller building that has somehow survived, although now just a back entrance to the grander building it sits alongside.
Also look for the back of the former Scottish Widows offices, which front onto Cornwall — as their logo is seen above the fire escape.
Otherwise, it’s a back alley of little note. Sadly.
Article last updated on May 25th, 2020 at 03:52 pm