The court can be found just off Fleet Street and is named after a medieval inn, The Falcon that used to be roughly where the courtyard is today.
That inn and some surrounding building were owned at one point by John Fisher who in 1547 left the estate in his will to the Cordwainers’ Company. In exchange, some of the proceeds from the estate were to be given to charity, and nearly 500 years later, that bequest makes up some of the roughly £300,000 that the Cordwainers give to charity annually.
The bequest also funded an annual service at the church across the road, St Dunstan-in-the-West.
The Cordwainers still own the site and Fisher is commemorated with a service in July every year on Oath Day when the new Master’s year of office begins. In times past, children used to be given a penny for each time they ran around the church following the service.
That no longer happens, as it’s not possible to run around the church anymore. Alas.
Back to Falcon Court though, and it shows up in the Ogilby and Morgan map of 1676 as a space behind a row of houses facing Fleet Street leading to a large field that still at the time filled up the area.
The court has another significant claim to fame — as the founder of printing in England was based there. Not Caxton, but his assistant/co-worker, Wynkyn de Worde, a German immigrant to England.
Although Caxton is famous for bringing the printing press to England, his output was largely a continuation of what was already being done, just quicker and cheaper — so mainly books for the rich.
After his death, Wynkyn de Worde took over, shifted from Westminster to Fleet Street — almost certainly to Falcon Court — and started producing more affordable books for the masses. Well, affordable by the standards of the time, which means, still expensive, but available to merchants and not just noblemen.
It’s that decision that spurred the interest in buying books, made printing popular and set the fate for the area as the heart of English printing for several centuries.
Without Wynkyn de Worde, Fleet Street probably wouldn’t be synonymous with newspapers, even today long after they’ve moved out.
There’s a plaque to him on the wall of nearby Stationers’ Hall.
The front of the court is today dominated by a large office block, designed in Jacobean revival style by T. E. Knighdey and completed in 1883 on behalf of Philips, map and chart printers and stationers. Philips was a Liverpool based firm founded in 1834 and still trades today. In 1947, Philips bought the map and travel store, Stanfords and you can still buy Philips maps in Stanfords.
Back to Fleet Street though, Philips moved out of the building, and the Bradford and Bingley Building Society took over, but in the 1970s, the building was empty and looking very shabby.
Today, a small passageway leads down to Falcon Court, and do stop to notice the coat of arms on the gate by the entrance – it’s for the Cordwainers. The goats are a reference to cordwan, a type of goatskin leather from Cordova, Spain, the primary source of the best leather in medieval times.
The passageway has been recently cleaned up, and given some very nice lighting, and leads to a small quaint courtyard that’s overflowing with potplants. The building at the far end of the court is post-war, as its predecessor was totally destroyed by a direct hit from a bomb.
Today it’s a small space, but rather pleasing to look at with all the plants and bikes giving it an air of a country cottage rather than offices right in the heart of London.