Last month commemorating anniversary of The Great Fire of London we visited Pudding Lane where the fire originated in a bakers.
The Bakers’ Company can be traced back more than 850 years and received its royal charter in 1486, although it would be nearly another century before the bakers of brown bread would be admitted to the exclusive white bread makers company.
Adjacent Harp Street was the Company’s first home in a converted 15th century mansion; rebuilt after The Great Fire of London and built again in 1715 after a second fire. It was destroyed by enemy action in 1940. The 1963 incarnation resides in Bakers’ Hall Court.
Like so many of the alleys and courts in this part of London, Bakers’ Hall Court has seen a great deal of change over the past years. Developers, in their unending effort to create more and more floor space within the City, have raised a jungle of multi-storey buildings and hidden the Court to all but the most penetrating seekers. However, a few yards away, in Harp Street, is the hall of one of the oldest inhabitants, the Bakers’ Company, from whom the Court acquired its name.
Bakers’ Hall Court
Back in 1307 there were two fraternities for those following the trade of bakers; the Company of White Bakers and the Company of Brown Bakers. They were united under a charter granted by Henry VIII in 1509, but during the following years the Brown Bakers increasingly felt that they were the under-dogs and pleaded their case for a separate charter. This was granted in 1622 and the Company split on a sour note, remaining rivals for the next thirty years. As time passed their grievances diminished and they eventually, although perhaps reluctantly, acknowledged that their cause would be better administered under a united Company.
Traditionally, bakers had relied on the assistance of boys from poor families; wage bills were small and the boys had the benefit of learning a worthwhile trade. When the Government passed a Bill in 1779 to open up the trades of bakers and butchers to any Tom, Dick, or Harry it effectively meant that apprenticeships in these trades would become a thing of the past. The Bakers’ Company threw their arms in the air and complained bitterly that the Bill would severely affect the businesses of their tradesmen. Whatever became of that Bill, the Company won the day and apprenticeships remained.
The Bakers’ first Hall, built on this site in 1506, was destroyed in the Great Fire on the 3rd September 1666. Since that day, there have been three successive Halls on the site. The present one, which occupies the ground floor and first floor of a nine storey block, was erected in 1961 and is the first of the Livery Company halls to take on 20th century styling.
St. Dunstan’s Alley
Nearby St Dunstan’s Alley, at the bottom of Idol Lane, is the tower and remaining shell of St Dunstan in the East. The church has had its fair number of travails. Built around 1100 its south aisle which was added in 1931 had only just been repaired when the church was severely damaged by The Great Fire of London. Rebuilding of the tower was by Wren in 1671 but the spire was not added until 1699. The whole creation is of spectacular proportion. Four pinnacles are set at each corner of the square tower and the crowning spire is supported on four flying buttresses.
World War II brought an end to the life of St Dunstan’s with the nave and chancel being destroyed in 1941. Wren’s tower and steeple were also badly damaged but were later repaired. The shell of the church still remains – with trees and foliage growing out of its windows – and the whole of the area has been laid out as a garden by the Worshipful Company of Gardeners. It is an idyllic spot to relax for a while or enjoy a packed lunch away from the noisy traffic, but it naturally gets very busy during summer lunch times.
Close by Idol Lane, although many Roman idols have been found in the vicinity the name is thought to be a variation of idle suggesting a place to loiter. During the 16th century the name of this narrow cobbled lane was known as St Dunstan’s Hill, being a ‘hairpin’ continuation of the neighbouring lane to the east. ‘they meeting on the south side of this church [St Dunstan’s] and churchyard, do join in one, and running down to the Thames street, the same is called St Dunstan’s hill’ By the mid 17th century the two lanes had parted their intimate relationship and the name appeared as Idle Lane. This may be a reflection on the social inclinations of those who dallied here, implying that the area was frequented by layabouts, content to idle their time away without either trade or other constructive occupation. On the other hand, this theory may be totally out of order and ‘Idle’ could after all be the result of a lack of standardisation in spelling which was common before Johnson published his dictionary in 1755. In the 17th century there was a common belief among Protestants that the Mass was a practice of idolatry and this was after all the precinct of St Dunstan in the East which shadily supported a number of Roman Catholic organisations and where the Fraternity of Our Lady was founded fifteen years after the Reformation. It is also understood that in the years following, successive parish priests of St Dunstan’s continued to say secret Masses at the Altar of Our Lady.
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.