Thursday, 22 August 2013

1-8 Goodwin's Court, WC2

Strolling down St Martin's Lane in Covent Garden, it's easy to miss the narrow opening into Goodwin's Court. But duck down it into this gas-light lit alley and you'll find one of London's most-intact rows of 18th-century shops.

The houses were erected in 1690, but the wooden bowed shopfronts from numbers 1 to 8 were added in the late 18th century. They're typical late 18th century, when window displays were becoming more eye-catching yet the shopfronts still had little architectural elaboration.

The London Building Act of 1774 restricted protruding bows to ten inches or less - these ones look well in keeping with that...

Look closely at some of the shopfronts and there are holes at the bottom of some of the frames, which often on old shopfronts is evidence of the wooden shutters that were used before the introduction of iron roller shutters in the 1840s. Pins holding the bottom of the shutters were inserted into the holes.

The original gas lights are 19th century.

The shops are offices now - the street has a more recent history of being home to theatre and entertainment agents (Dawn Sedgwick at number 3 represents Simon Pegg and Catherine Tate, among others). The Post Office Directory of 1855 lists numbers 2, 4 and 7 as occupied by piece brokers, who bought off-cuts or shreds of cloth and other materials to sell on, so it was clearly not a lucrative street. The long-gone shopkeepers, such as a tailor and piece broker at number 2 called Frederick Bartens, who was in court for insolvency in January 1855, were probably left to rue the St Martin's Lane shoppers who strolled on by...

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