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Fit for a King

If you walk along the south side of Cheapside heading towards the Bank of England, a little way beyond Bow Church is a narrow opening leading to Crown Court.

The actual footprint and name of the passageway has been there since at least the early 13th century and was once the private entrance for the king to Crown Fields where jousting and other tournaments took place.

The field has long since disappeared under the busy Cheapside area, but Crown Court is still there.

Crown Court in purple running off of Cheapside and Well Court in yellow

Well Court

Looking at reconstructions of maps from the 13th century it looks as if your average punter set on an afternoon of galloping horses and grunting knights would have accessed the field by St Pancras Lane, somewhere in the region of Well Court. While the King who around the time that the map depicts was Edward I would enter the field via Cheapside through Crown Court.

Looking at the old maps the area is known as Crowned Seld. I’d never come across the word Seld before and guessed that it was the medieval word for field or arena, wrong! The best I can find at the moment is that Seld is either some type of structure, like a viewing platform, or it could be a type of workshop. Neither seems to fit the location, but I’ll keep digging.

The next map of around 1570 doesn’t actually show Crown Court, but it does show that Crown Fields has been built on and must have disappeared between the 1520s and the 1570s.

Crown Court marked with arrow

Chronologically the next map to show the court is dated 1799 and although the field is built on it doesn’t seem as densely populated as in the 1500s. By this time most of the properties surrounding the court are shops. Number 64 on the right side of the entrance was by the late 1830s the hosiery and glove emporium of Mary Eddels while number 65 was home to the clockmaker John Bennett who later bought Mary Eddels property and built over the top of the entrance to the court as can be seen in the plan of the frontage by John Tallis.

Although this rendered the building pleasing to the eye incorporating the court as a small arcade used to gain entry to his shop, Bennett seems to have overlooked the fact that during the hours of darkness the dimness of the court made it difficult to see into from Cheapside and in 1870 despite having a watchman on the premises through the night thieves managed to cut their way through the window glass and help themselves, waking the watchman twice in the process!

Some twenty years after the robbery Crown Court is shown on the OS map as the entrance to the Golden Fleece pub which eventually became Kennan’s Hotel. This was a very popular and well frequented establishment. A piece in the Morning Post of 1886 extolls is its offerings and gives a clue as to why it is no longer there.

By 1917 both leases were coming to an end and the building was put up for sale, causing the Sunday Times to write a piece on it declaring the hotel and it’s court to have a “calm, monastic seclusion” and this is still the case if you time your entry to coincide with the gates being unlocked (obviously learning a lesson from John Bennett). Turn off busy Cheapside and walk into the court, stand for a while and you can imagine well to do Victorians being greeted by the uniformed doorman and perhaps if you listen hard enough the cheers of the assembled crowd and hoof beats as Edward Longshanks turns right off of Cheapside to enter Crown Court to enjoy a day at the tournament.

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