(Alley number 150 of this long running series)
This is another of those ancient alleys that seems to have existed since forever, and somehow is still here.
It shows up early on medieval maps of London when the main road, Cornhill, was still called Cornhulle, and at the time probably lead to fields behind the houses fronting the streets. The fields behind were later in with the grand Merchant Taylors’ livery hall in 1347, and apart from the buildings being progressively torn down and rebuilt, the layout of the alley hasn’t changed since then.
The name changed a few times though, it shows up as Start Court in John Strype’s 1720 survey and later seems to have been renamed as White Lyon Court after a pub of the same name that backed onto the alley.
However, the layout of the alley, although little changed since it first appeared nearly did change, because on Thursday 7th November 1765, a fire starting in a periwig maker on Bishopsgate destroyed much of the area. The pub had been sold just the day before, for £3,000.
Given the chance for major rebuilding, the City decided to rebuild as before, with some of the smaller properties merging, but the alley being untouched. By around the 1790s, Cornhill was rebuilt with narrow buildings, and White Lion Court slipped between them to a courtyard space at the rear, with the back of the enlarged and renamed London Tavern on one side, and a passage to the courtyard of the Merchant Taylors Hall on the other.
The passage to the Hall was later filled in, and by the 19th century, Goad’s insurance maps shows that the area was mostly filled with banks and legal chambers.
The bank on the corner of Cornhill and Bishopsgate was hit during WW2, and the current building dates from the 1970s.
Today the alley is a small gap between two buildings, with a grand sign hanging over the entrance, and down the far end, on my visit covered in scaffolding, is the listed 2 White Lion Court, a red brick building said to date from around the 1760s, with two lions on the outside.
Around the corner is a short stump that leads to the back of the Merchant Taylors’ Hall.
Just above the rather bland service entrance is the crest of the livery company, with the Lion of England, and below a pavilion and two mantles, showing off the tailoring aspect of the company.
Article last updated on May 25th, 2020 at 03:52 pm