The narrow alley and 17th Century buildings of Goodwin's Court evoke a sense of mystery and wonder. At the same time, there is a sense of seediness about it. You can tell that it was not always a place of luxury.
A City's Dark Heritage
With its wonderful, old buildings and its long history, it is no surprise that the City of London is now a prestiguos area. Centuries ago, however, its streets were home to all manner of individuals.
The wonky staircase and battered front door of no. 1 Goodwin's Court feel a world away from the grandeur of nearby St Pauls. You can imagine all manner of people walking up them over the years: the Victorian tailor who used to live in no. 3 in 1820, an 18th Century landlady (houses having been shared between many families at the time), 17th Century actress and mistress, Nell Gwynn, who is rumoured to have been one of the earliest residents of the court.
You can imagine the way that Nell must have felt walking through the alley's gloom, late at night, on her way home from the theatre or from a tryst with King Charles II. This was years before the 19th Century gas lamps were put up in Goodwin's Court. Perhaps she carried a candle. Perhaps the moon and stars were her only light.
A Window Into A Thousand Different London's
Of course, Goodwin's Court doesn't only bring to mind fear and peril. One person might look at it and see the butsling, 19th Century shopfronts of a Dickens novel. The 1881 census reports that it housed tailors, coachmakers, waiters, clockmakers, an oysterman, a printer and an upholsterer. What a lively crowd they might have made!
Someone else might picture the cosmopolitan mix of Italians, Welsh, Irish, Germans and French that lived there during the early 20th Century. Working men with working wives, there might have been palace attendants, hotel cooks, stage-hands, charwomen, laundresses and housekeepers, a microcosm of common people just making a living.
Perhaps it was bleak. Perhaps it was joyful. Most likely it was a bit of both.
A Place Where Fantasies Come To Life
As well as these real-world characters, Goodwin's court has played host to a wide-range of fictional creations.
Meryl Streep's Cousin Topsy owned a shop there in 2018's Mary Poppins Returns. Gene Tierney's Mary Bristol wandered through it in Jules Dassin's 1950 Noir, Night and the City. And, of course, a literary echo of the alley has been immortalised in J K Rowling's Harry Potter series.
One More Thing...
Goodwin's Court might have been lucky to survive the Metropolitan slum clearance of 1890, Victorian author and journalist George Sala having renamed it 'reeking courts'.
Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Treasure Trails in London - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of London.