Bull Inn Court, WC2
This narrow passageway runs between the Strand and Maiden Lane and is located to the eastern end of the Strand. Other than avoiding the crowds on your way to or from the Covent Garden area, the main reason to visit this oasis of quiet is to pop into the wonderful Nell Gwynne pub which, as well as a splendid array of beers, boasts one of the best juke boxes in the town and one of the steepest set of stairs to the bog.
The Court took its name from the Black Bull which served its ales for around 150 years from the early 16th century until the landlord was forced to sell up, presumably because of pressure from developers. It was pulled down in 1685 to make way for one of a series of courts to appear at the eastern end of the Strand. Bull Inn Court is clearly shown on John Roque’s large scale map of the metropolis which appeared in 1746 and unlike some of the other courts that were built in this part of the Strand in the late 17th century, it and Lumley are the only ones that survive today.
The current pub takes its name from the infamous mistress of Charles II, Nell Gwynne, who was born in nearby St Martin-in-the-Fields and sold her wares in Covent Garden before moving on to the stage at Drury Lane. The pub (natch) boasts that Nell used to frequent the original pub that stood there. Although this is likely, there is no evidence to its veracity. Anyhow, it makes a good tale and is a hook to draw in the punters. The site occupied by the pub looks as though it was built after or at least contemporaneously with the Court rather than it being the precise site of the of the original Black Bull. The Gwynne’s website states that it was built on the site of the Old Bull Inn and this may have been the name of the first pub there after the court was developed. Just to add to the confusion, some records show the pub as the Bull’s Head.
The Maiden Lane end of the Court was the scene of a notorious murder. On 16th December 1897 William Terriss, famous for his swash-buckling roles, was going through the stage door to the Adelphi Theatre when he was stabbed to death by an impecunious actor, Richard Archer Prince, whom Terriss had had dismissed and with whom the victim had been seen arguing the previous night. The press could not get enough of the story but Prince pleaded insanity, a regular ruse in those days to avoid the hangman’s noose, and was sent to Broadmoor where he remained until his death in 1936. This relatively lenient sentence got the hackles of the acting community up. Henry Irving noted, “Terriss was an actor, so his murderer will not be executed.”
For fans of the paranormal the ghost of William Terriss has been seen on occasions at the Adelphi Theatre. The Nell Gwynne is also said to be haunted but the only spirits I have seen there have been in bottles.
Filed under: Culture, History Tagged: Adelphi Theatre, Bull Inn Court WC2, Henry Irving, John Roque, Nell Gwynne, the Nell Gwynne Pub, the nurder of William Terriss, William Terriss
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