A wry view of life for the world-weary

The Streets Of London – Part Thirty Five


Devereux Court – WC2R

Running parallel to the south side of the Strand and off to the left of Essex Street or to the right if you approach it via the atmospheric steps from Milford Lane to Essex street is to be found Devereux Court which forms one of the entrance ways into barristerville. It is a rather quaint alley although the current buildings are 1950’s mock Georgian. What adds to its charms is that it boasts two rather splendid pubs, the Devereux and the Edgar Wallace.

One of the earliest buildings to occupy the site was Exeter House, built in the 1320s as the London residence for the Bishop of Exeter by Bishop Stapldon. Unfortunately the Bishop did not have long to enjoy his new abode because in 1326 he was set upon by a mob, dragged from his horse and a flying butcher’s knife removed his head from the rest of his body.

Following Henry VIII’s split with the Roman church, the house became crown property and was leased to William Paget who renamed it Paget House. The area’s association with the name Devereux comes from Robert Devereux who was the Earl of Essex. He was a favourite of good Queen Bess who granted him a life-long tenancy on the gaff. Devereux eventually fell out of favour with the queen, plotted against her and paid for his treason with his life and head in 1601.

By 1675 the Crown had sold the property to one Nicholas Barbon who proceeded to demolish everything there and erected buildings to his own design. By the end of the 17th century the area was described as “a large place with good houses, and by reason of its vicinity to the Temple hath a good resort, consisting of public houses and noted coffee houses”.

Perhaps the most noted coffee house was that which stood on the site of what is now the Devereux and was known as the old Grecian Coffee House. As its name suggests it was established by a Greek called Constantine, in 1652, who as well as serving the new trendy beverage held impromptu classes on how to infuse the beans. The house was a magnet for the rich and famous and if the first edition of the Tatler magazine is to be believed had a reputation for the reading and discussion of learned articles.

The coffee shop ceased trading in 1842 and the building was converted into a hotel along the lines of that which you would find in the countryside and some of its distinctive wooden panelling survives today. The other pub, the Edgar Wallace, whose postal address is Essex Street but has a side entrance into the Court, occupies the site of Essex House. The original name of the pub was the Essex Head – Edgar Wallace was a famous novelist and journalist and lived between 1875 and 1932 – and Samuel Johnson set up his club there in 1783 “to ensure himself society in the evenings for three days a week”.

The other residents of note are the tea merchants, Twinings, who set up their first shop there in 1710 and they still have a presence on the site.

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