The Hurdy Gurdy Man

Sometimes without realising you get into a rut, do the same things the same way and miss out on new opportunities. For instance, I always exit Charing Cross station turn right and walk along the Strand on the right hand side of the road. This recently highlighted the downside of sticking with what you know.

The Adelphi

Today I wanted to take a photo of the Adelphi Theatre, which is situated on the other side of the Strand. As I ambled about looking for the best position to capture the theatres understated Art Deco frontage, looking to my right I saw a pub sign hanging above the heads of other pedestrians which I’d never seen before. To my knowledge that side of the Strand is home to a phone shop and a bank, no sign of a pub.

I wandered over and right in front of me was a small alley with the pub sign hanging above it. Why had I never seen it before? Because I’d never looked is the simple answer.

The alley in question is called Bull Inn Court and the earliest map I can find that shows it is from 1682.

Looking at the map shows that this was a block of five alleyway, all running north from the Strand into Maiden Lane. I have a sliding scale for alleys and courts (rather sad I know) and Bull Inn Court ranks as “pleasing“. It has a smart porticoed entrance, is dark in places and has things of interest within it. As normal I always make my way to the the other end of a new alley and work back to the entrance I’ve just found and there I was delighted to see an even more pleasing view including a replica gas lamp.

The passageway turned out to be a bit of a gem, having a bit of a dog leg in the middle you couldn’t see the full extent of its length. There’s a nice row of gas lamps and a bit of wall art along the way, these cogs were retained from a small Victorian generator that was at one time located in the court. At the far end, the pub whose sign had started the discovery and some beautiful Edwardian tiles advertising the pub and the nearby theatre.

Maiden Lane entrance
William Terris

The pub is called the Nell Gwynne after the mistress of Charles II, sometime actress, sometime orange seller. It is built on the site of the much older Old Bull Inn from which the court takes its name. There’s nothing to link the pub to Nell, although she was born in nearby Covent Garden. Just by the Maiden Lane entrance is the site of a notorious murder on December 16 1897 when William Terris, an actor known for his portrayal of swashbuckling heroes and Shakespearean characters, was stabbed to death by a disgruntled colleague.


During the late 1950s and early 60s the pub and the alley was a regular meeting place for “Beatniks” so not a place to visit if you were “Square”. It was also a frequently used pitch for the folk singer Donovan to busk, singing songs about love and peace and players of hand cranked musical instruments.

So it just goes to show the benefits of changing your routine. Walk on the other side of the street sometimes, you never know what you might find.

By endean0

Hi, I'm Steve, a London tour guide and owner of A London Miscellany Tours, a guided walking tour company who specialise in small number tours of the greatest city in the world!

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