A narrow lane near Cannon Street that’s the site of a church destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
In medieval times, this passage and its neighbour Cloak Lane were known as Knightrider Street, with the church of St Thomas Apostle in the middle and next to it the large Ipres Inn.
John Stow suggests that the Inn was named after William Ipres, a Fleming, who was the first builder. He came out of Flanders with other Flemings to the aid of King Stephen against Queen Matilda in 1138, and gained royal favour for his support. Another sugestion is that it’s named after the much later John de Ipres, Edward Ill’s Controller of the Household. Not much else is known about it.
The church though is known to have existed by the late 12th-century, was rebuilt in the late 14th-century, and burnt down and never replaced in the Great Fire of London. The modern Queen Street that runs north-south occupies much of the former church.
The church wasn’t particularly notable, save one period in the lead up to the English Civil War, when in a city that was largely Parliamentarian, the church remained Royalist. In 1642 the rector, named Cooper, was imprisoned in Leeds Castle for his loyalty to the King.
When the area was rebuilt after the fire, the new road was lined with houses, of which just one set of Georgian houses remain. The churchyard was on the other side of the new street, and survived until Victorian times, and which at time of writing is now occupied by a branch of Pret – eating in meals on a graveyard.
The Georgian houses are now rented out as offices. There’s been some work done to the frontage, as the steps on the corner are a recent addition — as the houses had more conventional entrances in 1939, but the corner had been rebuilt by 1980 at least.
Although originally called Knightrider Street, the passageway probably changed its name due to there being another Knightrider Street nearby. Initially, it was plain St Thomas Apostle, and to the north, before the clearing of the old medieval lanes to create the modern Cannon Street, was the smaller passageway of Little St Thomas Apostle.
Our passage then became Great St Thomas Apostle, but was also shorter than it had been before as a chunk of the eastern end was lost to the neighbouring Cloak Lane.
So it may be Great in name, but it’s very much Lesser in stature.
The area was little damaged during WW2 – just two buildings on the north-west end of the alley were hit and destroyed.
Today though, most of the north side is relatively new buildings, being mostly the back of buildings fronting onto Cannon Street which have been redeveloped in the 1990s. One small detail on the middle row of buildings is called Mark House, and there is a monogram of the initials just above the ground floor.
The south side looks older, but is a mix of replica Victorian frontages also dating from the late 1990s when the whole block was demolished to create housing.
As the tube line runs right underneath the buildings, to reduce vibration, the building is engineered so that it doesn’t sit on the ground floor, but starts on the first floor, and then the ground floor shops are suspended off the first floor. So what looks like a normal building sitting on the ground is, in engineering effect, upside down.
In fact, apart from the Georgian houses, there’s not much left here that’s more than 20 years old, apart from the layout.
Even the Thai restaurant’s rather fancy wooden inset windows, look like they might be a relic from an older building on the site, but no, they’re modern as well.
Location map and local interesting places
- 1] Great St Thomas Apostle
- 2] Newcastle Court, EC4
- 3] Doby Court, EC4
- 4] Groveland Court, EC4
- 5] St Stephen's Row
- 6] Crown Court
- 7] Fruiterers Passage
- 8] Honey Lane, EC2
- 17] 30 Cannon Street
- 18] London Mithraeum