In the heart of the City of London (the historic ‘square mile’) is a labyrinth of hidden alleyways connecting coffee houses, wine lodges, restaurants and churches. If you’re visiting London, it’s a must-see.
This short guide will direct you through the area. You might lose your bearings, but it’s compact and completely safe.
From Bank Underground station head east along Cornhill. Enter the second alleyway on the right; ‘Change Alley’. This alleyway takes its name from the formation and early dealings of the stock exchange at two coffee houses near here. Look out for the plaques recording ‘Jonathan’s Coffee House’ and ‘Garraway’s Coffee House’ – among the earliest and most eminent. Coffee houses were favoured over taverns since you kept sharper for the deal! In these coffee houses, brokers would leave a TIP (to insure promptness) for good service!
Follow Change Alley round to the left (east) and exit at Birchin Lane, turn left and then right into Castle Court. Ahead is the George and Vulture restaurant, a favourite venue of Charles Dickens (see main picture). Dickens set at least three of his novels in this area; The Pickwick Papers, Scrooge and Our Mutual Friend. The Dickens Pickwick Club still meets at the restaurant.
Nearby is Ball Court. You need little imagination to cast yourself back two hundred years facing Simpson’s Tavern. Return to Castle Court and continue along St Michael’s Alley. The Jamaica Wine House is a Victorian building on the site of the first coffee house in London in 1652. (Brits were later ‘weaned’ off coffee to create a market for tea from British plantations in Asia).
The church towering over St Michael’s Alley is St Michael’s Cornhill. It also features in Scrooge; where Dickens wrote ‘the ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall’ of the view from Scrooge’s counting house.
Continue round St Michael’s Alley up and down some steps and into Corbet Court. Take the first left into St Peter’s Alley and at the end is the churchyard of St Peter’s Cornhill – that featured in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. This amazing church is the site of the oldest Christian worship in the United Kingdom – owing to the adjacent road being a main Roman thoroughfare and directly opposite the Roman Forum.
You might want to visit a former counting house turned into a pub, conveniently its rear entrance is located just off the churchyard. Follow the link below:
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