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Philpot Lane (No Mice)

A few posts ago I took a look at a quirky piece of art that adorns the wall of a building on Philpot Lane and so as I was there so to speak, I thought I’d take a look at the lane itself.

In the late fourteen hundreds the lane was known as St Andrew Hubert’s Lane. The name is taken from the nearby church of St Andrews Hubbard which was thought to stand on the site of a small Roman building, but by the mid fifteen hundreds was referred to as Fylpot Lane. This seems a bit strange as the church (highlighted in yellow) still stands at the end of the lane. The new name comes from a former Lord Mayor, John Philpot who served only once in 1378. However, there does seem to be some evidence that he actually owned the land the lane stands on.

Moving forwards to the mid 1700s Philpot Lane remains, but the church has disappeared, due to its destruction during the Great Fire of 1666. Records show that the church had been “richly beautified” in 1630, at a cost to the parishioners of more than £600 (around £70k today), but after the fire it was not rebuilt.

The lane over its history appears to have been a place mainly of business rather than one of residential occupation and anything criminal seems to have revolved around fraud and deception of local businesses. There are though a few cases of theft from private homes, one of which was an echo of what we would think of today as a modern crime. Elizabeth Armstrong was a widow living at number 25 Philpot Lane who employed a live in maid, sixteen year old Agnes Vallence. Armstrong appears to have employed Vallence a few months before the offence and had taken her on after receiving references of her good character and morals. During mid 1795 while her employer is away visiting friends in the country it appears that Vallence falls foul of what we would term today as a “Cuckooing Gang”. Some disreputable persons befriend the girl and move into the premises, where they use it as both a drinking den and an address to run up bills with local tradesmen. They also encourage Vallence to pawn nearly everything that is not nailed down.

A woollen blanket, value 3s. six china cups, value 2s. six china saucers, value 2s. a set of cotton bed furniture, value 9s. four cotton bed curtains, value 10s. a cotton counterpane, value 6s. seven linen pillow cases, value 14s. eleven linen shifts, value 30s. two linen sheets, value 4s. eleven cotton caps, value 6s. seven gingham bed gowns, value 7s. a cotton handkerchief, value 2s. a cotton quilt, value 4s. ten yards of satin for a petticoat, value 15s. a gown, value 11s. eleven muslin frocks, value £3.

Elizabeth Armstrong returns from her holiday to find her abode virtually bereft of all her possessions and those that do remain damaged beyond repair. Incredibly Agnes Vallence has remained to await the return of her mistress, her only defence being that “she had been a very bad girl and she had kept very bad company “. Vallance was found guilty of theft. During the trial she was unable or unwilling to name any of the gang and was sentenced to transportation for seven years. Records show that she left England in October 1795 on the ship Indispensable and ended up in New South Wales the following April. She received a full pardon in 1880 but after that I can find no further records.

The Shard (part of it) taken from the Sky Garden

Today the Lane is much changed and is home to the building known as the Walkie Talkie which houses the Sky Garden, a panoramic viewing area. On the day I visited the incredible views that I’d gone to see where swathed in low cloud, but none the less atmospheric.

The one remainder from several hundred years ago is Brabant Court, a lovely little cobbled courtyard with several Georgian houses made even more charming due to its juxtaposition with modern office blocks. The court emerged from the ashes of the great Fire and had once been part of a longer thoroughfare known as Bowling Alley, which linked Philpott Lane to Gracechurch Street to the west. Next to the court and at one time linked to it by a small passage was the first Headquarters of the East India Company.

The court was home to mostly wine merchants up to the Second World War, from which it came through relatively unscathed. Its biggest battle came in the shape of 1970s city planners who wanted to demolish the whole court and build an office block on the site, fortunately the plan was blocked by the Greater London Council.

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