On the south side of the Strand, opposite the Law Courts and just past the east end of St Clement Danes Church standing in the middle of the road, and running alongside the George public house is to be found Devereux Court.
One of the earliest buildings ever to occupy this site was Exeter House, built by Bishop Stapledon in the early 1320’s as the London residence of the Bishops of Exeter.
Unfortunately, Stapledon happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and in 1326 was set upon by a demonstrating mob, dragged from his horse and relieved of his head by a flying butchers knife.
When Henry VIII decided to split from the Church of Rome this house became the property of the Crown and was leased to William Paget who promptly renamed it Paget House. Then came Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and bosom pal of Elizabeth I. Learning that Paget House was up for grabs he visited the Queen to test the ground, and finding her in a receptive mood – Elizabeth was not the most predictable of characters – he laid before her his longing to live in the suburbs of the Temple. What an element of surprise came to his face when the Queen granted him a life long tenancy – but it was only play-acting, Devereux knew all along that he could twist the sovereign round his little finger. So harmonious was their friendship that it must have landed on him like a tonne of bricks when he found out some years later that Elizabeth had transferred her affections and he was no longer in favour. To obtain revenge, Essex engineered a plot to overthrow the Queen, but when she heard of his pranks, took no time in issuing the order ‘off with his head’. He was escorted to the block on Tower Hill in 1601.
By 1675 the Crown had no further use for the property and along with adjoining buildings, it was sold to Nicholas Barbon. In his usual style, he demolished everything in sight and erected his own designed houses on the land. Devereux Court was described in the late 17th century as:
a large place with good houses, and by reason of its vicinity to the Temple hath a good resort, consisting of public houses and noted coffee houses
The court has a somewhat quaint atmosphere although the present buildings are mainly of mock Georgian, built in the 1950’s. The Devereux Hotel was the old Grecian Coffee House, so labelled from having been started in 1652 by a Greek named Constantine. He not only served the beverage but held classes of instruction in the art of infusing the beans.
Most of the great characters of Fleet Street, writers, poets, and plain talkers visited the Grecian Coffee House, but take the evidence from the first edition of the Tatler which gives an outline of the character of selected coffee houses: ‘all poetry from Will’s, all foreign and domestic news from St James’, and all learned articles from the Grecian.’ The Grecian coffee-house folded up in 1842.
Whilst the Devereux Hotel received a facelift in 1845 it remains elegant and has the appearance of a stately country hotel. The interior of the Devereux is well in keeping with its exterior, – oak panelling and some fine oak furniture. It is understandable that, with the Temple next door, its clientele come chiefly from the legal profession. It achieved fame many years ago as the consulting rooms of Mrs Sarah Mapp who was renowned for her bone setting techniques.
Devereux Court also boasts a second public house, the Sir Edgar Wallace, built in 1777 on the site of Essex House. Although its address is 40 Essex Street it does have a side entrance onto the Court. The house received some refurbishment a few years ago and in the process changed its name. It was originally the Essex Head wherein 1783 Dr Johnson set up a club ‘to ensure himself society in the evenings for three days a week’. On introducing Boswell to the club, Johnson declared him to be ‘a very clubbable man’.
Twinings, the tea merchants opened their first shop at number 9 Devereux Court in 1710 and the company own the building to this day.
Picture: Devereux Court by Basher Eyre (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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.