There is at the western end of Fleet Street an opening to an alleyway so small that it is often easy to walk past and not notice it is there. It goes by the quaint name of Hen & Chicken Court. It appears named on John Rocque’s map of 1746 but is shown on maps of seventy years earlier as a much longer alley that ran between Fleet Street and the Chapter House of St Dunstan’s church which was situated at the edge of Cliffords Inn and as such was a busy thoroughfare.
John Rocque’s Map 1746
The court is said to have connections to Sweeny Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street. The tale of the murder of what is purported to be one hundred and fifty men who had their throats cut while awaiting a shave is nearly certain to be a myth, as is the disposal of their fleshier body parts through the local pie shop owned by Mrs Lovett. The name of the court is thought to have come from a nearby tavern of the same name that was located at the northern end of the alley.
Today, as in 1746 the alley is truncated to form a small narrow court which is rather gloomy with only a small amount of sunlight throughout the day. The proportions of the court are still as they were in the 17th century and so it is worth thinking about the conditions back then, as not only was the court a convenient cut through from Fleet Street in contained dwellings on either side and was also lined with several traders selling an assortment of wares.
One of these traders and also a resident of the court in the1760s was Mary Edwards who sold Gingerbread and Saloop to passers by. Saloop originated in Greece, and was a popular drink in London during the 1700s. It was served in the same way as tea and coffee which were more expensive and used the root of the Sassafras tree to thicken the drink. It became a very popular drink with those termed as the “Lower Orders” and at the height of it’s popularity was reported to cure most ailments known to man. However, it seems that one of these early day marketeers over extended his claims and by In the 1800s, its benefits were purported to treat venereal disease. Drinking it in public became shameful, so it’s popularity declined and it vanished from London’s streets.