Wandering through gas-lit Goodwin’s Court, a delightful 17th century alley-way connecting St Martins Lane (No 55-56) and Bedfordbury (No 23-24) I could easily imagine it shrouded in one of London’s famous fogs and my steps being traced by a deerstalker-clad detective from the pages of Conan Doyle.
Originating in 1627 as Fisher Court, the current court which dates from 1690 features one of London’s most intact rows of Georgian style shop-fronts, black and red doors replete with solid brass door knobs and knockers and three fully functioning gas lights which would have been installed in the 19th century. The feature bow windows date from the late 1700s and comply with the London Building Act of 1774 which restricted protruding bows to ten inches at most.
The little Dickensian era low-end shops have long since been priced out of the to-day’s quaint alley which is now occupied by offices, with many theatre and entertainment agents, from nearby Theatreland, having taken space here over the years. Brass plates announce the names of the businesses within.
Given how it looks today with its multi-million pound price tags it is amazing to think that Goodwin’s Court was condemned to be demolished in the 1930s on the grounds that it was a slum alley unfit for human habitation – a remnant of the old Bedfordbury hovels that Dickens mentions in Bleak House. Anton Towers in his Londonwalks book describes how “Residents sat shelling peas on their doorsteps. Children ran barefoot across the alley. Late at night one drunken old dame used to relieve herself simply by lifting her skirt over a grating”.
The court was saved by a Mr Sympson who bought it and refurbished it.
Today Goodwin’s Court in addition to being highly sought after office space, much of it still owned by the Sympson family, it is also popular spot with period film-makers and it may indeed have provided inspiration for Diagon Alley’s creepy evil twin, Knockturn Alley with its numerous shops devoted to the Dark Arts, in the Harry Potter movies.
For me it is one of those rare backwaters in the bustling metropolis that captivates my imagination and keeps drawing me back for more of this wonderful city.
*Title quotation from Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities. Why? I like it and I suspect that the residents in 18th century Goodwin’s Court had the best of times in what was the worst of times.
Location: Goodwin’s Court can be entered from either end – Bedfordbury (Nos 23-24 – pictured immediately above left) – St Martins Lane (Nos 55-56 – pictured immediately above right).