The whole essence of London Shoes is to track down and highlight some of the more unusual and lesser known aspects of London’s wonderful history – and this week’s subject matter certainly falls into the ‘lesser known’ category.
Near the top of ‘Whitehall’, just a 100yrds or so from Nelson’s Column – there is a tiny narrow little alley way called “Craig’s Court”.
The alley way of Craig’s Court is very deceptive, as it leads into a large square area, where there is situated a building known as ‘Harrington House’.
Unless you knew beforehand, you wouldn’t have a clue that this building was there.
Harrington House was built bin 1702 for the ‘Earl of Harrington’ – and although it’s obviously had a few bits of work done to it throughout the past 300 years, it is pretty much today as it was back then.
Between the years 1530 to 1698 the ‘Palace of Whitehall’ (located down Whitehall, obviously) was the main residence of England’s Monarch’s – and it was the largest Palace in Europe.
During that time the reigning Monarchs were:- Henry VIII / Edward VI / Elizabeth I / James I / Charles I / Charles II / James II / William III – all of whom resided in the Palace of Whitehall.
However – in 1698 there was a massive fire there and the Palace and the building was more or less ruined – leaving it totally unsuitable for a King/Queen to live in.
The plan was for the Palace of Whitehall to be rebuilt promptly – so that the reigning Monarch could move back in.
So – what the Earl of Harrington did was to build his Harrington House so that it was situated as close as possible to, the proposed ‘new’ Palace of Whitehall – and the reason he did this was for purely selfish purposes……simply to seek ‘Patronage’.
Being on the King/Queen’s doorstep meant that it was very likely you would be a regular, probably daily visitor to the Palace, and thus be one of the Monarchs ‘inner-circle’. As a result you would quite probably gain ‘Patronage’, which meant that a Monarch would likely ‘see you alright’ with ‘gifts’ and ‘freebies’ – luxuries and favours which you wouldn’t have to work hard for.
You could say that this sort of behaviour was very devious, selfish and possibly a little bit corrupt – but that’s just the way things were back then.
Unfortunately, the Earl of Harrington’s little plan went right out of the window, because it was eventually decided that the Palace of Whitehall would not be re-built – but a new ‘Buckingham Palace’ would become the Monarch’s future new residence.
So the poor old Earl of Harrington was left with this massive house at the top of Whitehall – and now had to walk the mile or so down the road just to get to and from Parliament.
But it’s not just Harrington House that little old “Craig’s Court” is famous for – it had a significant influence on something that we all see/use today and take no notice of whatsoever.
Craig’s Court is where London’s pavements began.
Until the mid 18th Century, London’s streets did not have pavements or kerbs – there was no distinction between the pathways where horses and carts travelled up and down – and where pedestrians walked up and down. Carriage drivers could drive along streets as close to the front of a house/building as they liked.
This meant that a simple task like going out for a walk, was actually quite a dangerous activity – London’s streets back in the 1700’s were not particularly wide or well lit, and you never knew what was coming towards you.
To make more money and to cope with demands, carriages kept being made bigger and bigger – and as a result, it was quite common for them to get ‘stuck’ between buildings down narrow roads and alleys.
Parliament had long debated the need to start paving London’s streets, but like all such matters, the decision on just ‘who’ was going to pay for all this work – prevented prompt progress.
However, this all changed in 1760, when the then Speaker of the House of Commons, had to attend a meeting being held at Harrington House at the end of the Craig’s Court alley.
Unfortunately, his carriage got completely stuck between the buildings either side of the narrowest part of the Craig’s Court alley.
However had they tried, they could not free the Speaker of the House of Commons from his carriage via its doors – and a hole had to be cut in the roof of the carriage which he had to be hoisted out through.
He then had to walk the mile or so back down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament, to resume his duty’s – in a foul mood.
He was so angered by this incident that at every opportunity, he used his influence to lobby parliamentary discussions on proposing a formalised approach to the paving of London’s streets – and the fact that on every street there should be a clear distinction between the street, and where pedestrians should walk.
The Pavement Act 1762 and its subsequent ‘Westminster Paving Bill’ – made it law that people should lay down ‘kerb-stones’ outside their property – and Craig’s Court where the Speaker of the House had got stuck – was the very first London street to have a kerb stone and paving!!!
Today – directly opposite the entrance to Craig’s Court across the other side of Whitehall – some of those original very first kerb stones from the late 1700’s are STILL in situ.
Opposite the Craig Court entrance, on the other side of the Whitehall road, there once stood the Admiralty building (where the ‘Moon of the Mall’ pub now stands).
The Admiralty building needed to pave the front of their building to protect the public and their comings & goings – and so they commissioned some of the finest distinctively coloured ‘Aberdeen Granite’ from Scotland for their kerbstones.
Because the Admiralty’s kerbstones were Government property, paid for by the Monarch – they were ‘tagged’ with their own mark – an ‘Arrow’ – and these marked kerbstones are still in situ to this day, some 250 years since they were first laid out.
So – on a cold and wet morning last week, London Shoes quest was to firstly locate and explore Craig’s Court, the trigger for the eventual ‘Pavement Act’ – and then cross the road to the other side of Whitehall, to locate those original kerbstones marked with an ‘Arrow’.
There was a lot of building work taking place at the entrance to narrow entrance to the Craig’s Court alley, and my snooping around and taking photos, raised suspicion amongst the builders, who thought I was spying on them and their work – but after a few ‘colourful’ words, I think that they sort of understood my motives.
At the end of Craig’s Court was the magnificent ‘Harrington House’ still going strong some 300 years since its construction.
Across the road, on the other side of Whitehall, I located London’s very first brown Aberdeen Granite kerbstones with their distinctive ‘Arrow’ marks on them.
Again – I got some very strange looks from cabbies and bus drivers as I was jumping in and out of the Whitehall taking photos of the pavements…..but it was worth it, as I got the photos that bring this little ‘lesser known’ snippet of history to life.
Hope you found it interesting.
See below – for the full gallery of photos accompanying this blog