Without any shadow of a doubt, Carter Lane is very old and probably dates from the 12th century, at that time being known as Shoemakers’ Row.
Its present name did not appear until the beginning of the 13th century when the Lane was divided into Great and Little Carter Lane.
This name probably originated from an old bypass route used by the carriers of the day.
With the parallel Ludgate Hill being so congested with cattle and traders, the carters moving their consignments between Fleet Street and the City found it easier to use the more convenient parallel route to the south (Carter Lane). Thus, the name evolved. It is a satisfying place, narrow and not unlike a typical village street with the occasional corner shop. As though isolated and far from the City hustle and bustle, Carter Lane has a tranquil air – just a gentle but purposeful movement to and fro.
More curious than Carter Lane itself are the many adjoining byways of Church Entry, Cobb’s Court, Friar Street, Burgon Street, Wardrobe Place, Addle Hill, and Dean’s Court. On the corner of Dean’s Court is the old St Paul’s Choir School dating from 1875, with its playground on the roof, now in the hands of the Youth Hostel Association. Still almost as fresh as the day it was stencilled is the Latin inscription on the frontage to the building.
In the clean up, after the Great Fire had taken its toll and left Carter Lane and its tributaries a pathetic ruin, Cobbs Court rose from the ashes like a phoenix, built up of tall red brick houses. It was not here before that devastating day in September 1666; the site was occupied by the vestry and rectory adjoining the church of St Anne, Blackfriars (see Church Entry).
The only Cobb of any notable prominence around at that time was Paul Cobb, Mayor of Bedford, who, during a prolonged visit to London, came into the confidence of speculative builder, Nicholas Barbon. His wheeling and dealing with Barbon aroused public suspicion and it was later revealed that he had spent the outrageous sum of twenty pounds of Corporation money in entertaining his guests. After the Fire, Nicholas Barbon presented his plans for rebuilding the City and although his scheme was not adopted, his unorthodox style was seen springing up all over the place, including a plot to the south of Ludgate Hill. The association between Paul Cobb and Cobb’s Court remains a possibility.
Today it is a modernised Court with ornamental gates at both ends. It leaves Ludgate Broadway through a narrow covered passage, which widens as it opens to daylight. Here there is a secluded paved courtyard with a central fountain and seating. All the buildings are of recent construction. Turning to the right through almost 90° it emerges into Carter Lane opposite to Church Entry. Everything in this quiet corner is very pleasant indeed.
Carter Court is of such quaint appearance that one would not be unduly taken aback if the bulky figure of Dr Johnson were to suddenly emerge from a doorway, followed hot on his heels by his long suffering biographer, James Boswell. Surrounding the square covered entrance to this ancient alley is an encasement of worn old English oak, painted in black, having the appearance of being in situ when Johnson was a lad. Inside the narrow passage one side is panelled with oak whilst the other is plain, both sides being coated with white wash. Towards the end of the short passage the Court opens out and terminates in a cul-de-sac. The current purpose of the Court is mysterious, for it appears to have not a single access.
The little passage known as Church Entry follows the approximate line of the north-south between the nave and the chancel of the Dominican Friary. After dissolution it was used as a churchyard for the parish of St. Ann Blackfriar
Two churches are remembered in the name of Church Entry: they are the Priory church of the Dominican Friars, commonly known as the Black Friars, and the church of St Anne, Blackfriars.
After the dissolution of the monasteries the Black Friars church and domestic quarters were left to deteriorate and by 1596 the stones of its vast walls were strewn about the site like rubble. At this time the grounds were sold off as individual plots and the actor Richard Burbage took possession of a small part lying to the south-west of Church Entry, on which he built his Blackfriars Theatre. While Burbage was preparing his plans, the adjacent plot was donated by the crown for the building of a new church, to be dedicated to St Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin. It was consecrated in 1597 and sixteen years later it was enlarged by having a chapel added to the south side.
No other London church has had so short a life as St Anne’s. On Tuesday 4th September 1666 the raging furnace took it while still in its prime. Although the Great Fire left this area a devastated ruin, there was one tiny row of houses that remained almost untouched. To the west of the church, separated by Church Entry, was Fleur-de-Lys Court, and whilst the hungry flames roared about the walls of St Anne’s they were prevented from leaping across to the Court by the intervening open space.
The church of St Anne was never rebuilt; its parish was amalgamated with that of St Andrew by the Wardrobe. Its graveyard, however, remains to this day; protected behind iron railings with a central gateway it is laid out with shrubbery and seating.
A notice on the sturdy iron railings proclaims that ‘On this plot of land stood, in the middle ages, part of the preaching nave of the church of the great Dominican Priory of Blackfriars. The choir lay the other side of the church entry and the name Church Entry indicates the usual passage between the nave and the chancel, passing north and south between the steeple in the planning of the priors church. The nave had seven bays and measured 114 feet by 60 feet. The priory, founded in 1278, was dissolved in 1538 and subsequently this plot was used as a churchyard for the parish of St Ann Blackfriars. It was closed for burials in 1848.’
Much of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no longer with us. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.