With wedding fever in the air this month, we turn our attention to where the wedding cake originated.
To find this inconsequential street, walk along Aldgate High Street, cross Houndsditch and then turn right into Mitre Street. Continue to the end of Mitre Street and turn right into Creechurch Lane. Sugar Baker Court is to be found on the right.
IN THE TRIANGLE bounded by Bishopsgate, Bevis Marks, and Leadenhall Street there is a whole treasure of fascinating passages. About the tiniest of these is Sugar Bakers Court, a narrow passage branching from Creechurch Lane between numbers 22 and 24. It is now a dismal place with brick paving and a single post at the entrance bearing the City of London coat of arms. This one-time busy little cul-de-sac used to reek with the sweet smelling essence of the baker’s craft, but now it reeks of nothing.
Sugar Bakers Court
The Court stands on part of the site of the cloisters of Holy Trinity Priory, prematurely dissolved and given into the hands of Henry VIII in 1532. In the same year the King gave the Priory and its church to Sir Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor, who then offered the church to the parishioners, but the Prior had not been a respected man and fearful of having any association with the place, they refused it. Even when Audley offered the stone free of charge to any man that would take it down, there were no volunteers. He then hired labourers and took it down himself, replacing it with buildings annexed to the useful priory and lived there until his death in 1544.
Lord Audley’s only daughter married Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and the priory, house, and grounds then fell into his hands, being named the Duke’s Place. He lived here in grand style, trooping around the City attended by a cavalry of 100 mounted men until he met his end on Tower Hill in 1572. The Duke of Suffolk, a descendant of Thomas Howard, afterward sold the whole estate to the City of London who flattened the site and built the street layout that is still evident today.
The whole of this triangle miraculously escaped the Fire of 1666 and so, when most of the City was suffering the aftermath, it was a much sought after area. About this time a gathering of sugar bakers appear to have set up business here and was well established by 1677 when the place first appeared as Sugar Bakers Yard. It was not until 1912 that it was changed to Court.
A sugar baker was the equivalent of a present-day confectioner – a baker of sugary things. There is a story that tells of an 18th-century sugar baker who once moved his business from this Court (or Yard) to a convenient location in Ludgate Hill. From there he could look out of his window and model wedding cakes on the spire of St Bride’s church.
Featured image: Sugar Bakers Court by Christopher Hilton (CC BY-SA 2.0). This is a collection of various passages, courts, alleys, paths, pedestrian tunnels and pavements in the City of London. Many of these date from the medieval street plan and have survived the redevelopment of recent years, some of which travel under buildings. The term ‘footway’ is used in a fairly wide sense to describe any path or track for pedestrians, where motor vehicles are not normally allowed.
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 more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.