On the south side of Cheapside, a little way beyond Bow Church, is a narrow opening leading to Crown Court. It is said that the passageway was once the private entrance for the king to Crown Fields where “joustings and other shows” took place.(1) The open field has long since disappeared and became the busy Cheapside area, but Crown Court is still there.
Crown Court was (and still is) situated between numbers 64 and 65. In the Horwood map, the passage does not seem to be covered over, but by 1839, when John Tallis brought out his Street Views, number 64 had been extended over the passageway. Number 64 was occupied by Mary Eddels and number 65, first by Rigge, a perfumer, but by 1847 by John Bennett, the famous clock maker. In 1859, Bennett extended his business to include number 64, so that his business straddled Crown Court. Nowadays, the passage is closed at night by a fence, but in 1870, that was not the case and to allow passers-by to see the stock in the watch and jewellery shop, gratings had been inserted in the shutters. One night, the watchman in the shop heard a noise, but thought it was a drunk who had fallen against the shutter and he went to sleep again – some watchman! The thieves bent two of the bars and cut a hole in the glass of the shop window through which they reached in and pulled out some gold chains that were hanging nearby. One of the chains caught on something and fell between the glass and the shutter. That noise woke the watchman again and he rushed out to catch the thieves, but he was too late and they had disappeared. The newspaper report suggested that there were three of them; one to keep an eye out for the police, one to watch the sleeping guard and one to do the actual theft.(2) As far as I know, they were never caught.
In Crown Court itself, the Golden Fleece Hotel could be found, which later became Kennan’s Hotel (sometimes spelled Keenan’s). It was completely rebuilt in 1885 and all the furniture, beds, carpets, chimney pieces, washstands, and pianos were sold by auction on the premises on 5 March 1885.(3) In an advertisement for the Limited Company that was formed to run the hotel after the rebuilding, it was stated that the hotel “had been established for upwards of half a century”.(4) The advertisement – meant to generate interest in the new company’s shares – also said that the hotel had outgrown its original building and guests had to be turned away, especially since the closure of the Queen’s Hotel at St. Martin-le-Grand which had been bought by the government to house the Post Office. How much of that is true and how much bluff to lure the shareholders is hard to say, but Kennan’s seems to have been a popular hotel.
Many functions organised at the hotel made it into the papers and journals, such as meetings of The City of London Philatelic Club and a luncheon provided for the Annual sales of the Middle Park Yearlings by Messrs. Tattersall. In 1872, Mr. Townend, the proprietor of the hotel “who had been so long and favourably known for his excellent catering”, had “a trying time” providing the food for the yearling salesmen “owing to the intense heat of the weather”, “but he fully maintained his well-earned reputation”.(5)
In 1917, Kennan’s Hotel reached the end of its life and the freehold, along with the leasehold of the extension, was sold by Toplis and Harding. The Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality said that there “must be very few City men, or friends of City men, who have not lunched at Kennan’s Hotel, in Crown Court, Cheapside, and wide interest will be taken in the announcement that this historic freehold is to be offered under the hammer”. A few weeks before the advertisement of the sale was published, The Sunday Times had written about the hotel’s demise and in that article they noted the “calm, monastic seclusion” once you entered the Court and that is still a valid observation today. Turn from busy Cheapside into Crown Court and you could be in another place altogether; shady and still. You will no longer find a hotel at the end of the passageway, but a multi-business office building. However, with a bit of imagination, you can see the 19th-century guests arrive with their trunks, being greeted by a liveried porter. The paper reported that, although the hotel had “temporarily closed, the licence is being maintained” and they thought that it was likely that a new proprietor could easily make it into a profitable business again, although they conceded that it could also “be put to more profitable use as offices, for which purpose it is admirably adapted without any considerable alteration”.(6)
And offices it became. Nothing now reminds one of the hotel, but the passageway is still there. According to the National Recording Project, the metalwork grill above the Court’s entrance and the fencework in the passageway, were designed by the architects M.E. & O.H. Collins and added in 1992.(7) The photo I took of the grill on the outside of the building did not turn out very well, so I have borrowed one from Datwyler, but the other photos are mine.
(1) David Long, Hidden City: The Secret Alleys, Courts and Yards of London’s Square Mile (2011), pp. 56-57.
(2) The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, 1 July 1870.
(3) The Standard, 21 February 1885.
(4) The Morning Post, 11 November 1886.
(5) The Oriental Sporting Magazine, ns.v.5 (1872). Richard Hamilton Townend had been the proprietor since at least 1861 when the census found him there, along with his wife, daughter, 14 servants and 12 guests. Townend died in 1888.
(6) The Sunday Times, 16 September 1917.