Those of you who came on the last walk around this area will realise that two points made on the walk need to be corrected. (1) The Corps of Commissionaires in Exchange Court is still in existence but it does not operate from that site any more. (2) Bull Inn Court was not a coaching inn.
Above: Looking south in Bull Inn Court at the roadway of the Strand.
The Strand has been — and still is — a place where everybody seems to be rushing about. They rush out of Charing Cross Station in the early morning, on their way to work. They are rushing up and down the Strand — looking for a shop, looking for a restaurant, looking for a theatre or looking out for somebody they came to meet. The workers rush back to the station in late afternoon and, in the evening, another hoard of people take over as they emerge from the station and also rush hither and thither going for a meal or ageing to watch a show. What with the crowds of people and the endless traffic in the Strand, it is a busy place and also a noisy one.
All that drops away as you turn into one of the very few alleyways that run off the Strand. One of them is Bull Inn Court, a turning off the north side of the Strand. A tenement known as the Black Bull Inn remained in existence until about 1680 when Bull Inn Court was formed on the site. The name was recorded in the 1670s as near ‘Maiden lane near Bedford House’. The name ‘Bull Inn Court’ appears on John Rocque’s large scale map of London, published in 1746.
East of this were several larger houses, but these were demolished for the formation of small courts — Raindeer Court, Boyles Head Court, Lumley Court and Olivers Alley — before 1700. From the beginning of the eighteenth century onwards, the Strand frontage was entirely occupied by small traders. Bull Inn Court and Lumley Court still remain.
Above: The ‘olde worlde’ look of today’s Nell Gwynne pub.
Although standing in the alleyway today, the layout looks as though it might have once been the yard of a coaching inn – with the tavern tucked away in the courtyard, beside an archway leading from the Strand – that is not the case. The tavern must have been added after the court was formed. The northern end of the alleyway leads through to Maiden Lane.
The site of the hostelry has become called the Nell Gwynne pub. The area of the Strand was where the mistress Nell Gwynne (long-time mistress of Charles II) lived but whether there is any real connection with her and the pub – as the signboard on the wall would have you believe – is very unlikely. The name, however, is a good one for a pub in this part of London, especially if you are trying to attract the many tourists and visitors who come to the Strand to ‘see the sights’.