The back streets of London: St Dunstan’s Court, EC4
This is a small lane and yard off Fleet Street probably most noted today for Space Invaders playing in the sidewalk.
The driveway probably first appears in the 1600s when the earlier row of Tudor houses facing Fleet Street with fields behind began to be developed. An unnamed cluster of lanes appears in the area on the 1676 Ogilby and Morgan map.
The driveway appears as Swan Yard on the 1682 William Morgan map, and may have acquired the name Dunstans Court by the time it appears on the 1746 John Rocque map, but St Dunstan’s Court is clearly marked on the map R Horwood. of 1799.
In the 19th century, the alley was notable for two things that no longer exist there. The west side was dominated by the Anderton Hotel, which had stood on the site since at least the 17th century, but was rebuilt in 1880 with a large building. Like many hotels of the time, it included its own Masonic lodge, and less obviously, it was here that 12 small unions came together in August 1920 to form the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers’ Union (ATGWU), at once the largest trade union in the world. The hotel was however demolished in 1939 to be replaced by offices.
The other thing here is an old school, which is remembered with a plaque on a building on the site. This was the Stationers’ School, which had its entrance in another lane in pre-Reconstruction times, but here members of the Worshipful Company of Stationers could send their children for private grammar education at the period before free public education. The school moved to Hornsey in 1891 and was converted into a comprehensive school for boys in 1967, closing in 1983. The old school building in the town was for a time the School of Photogravure and Lithography , which opened in 1894 as the London College of Printing, and came under the control of London County Council in 1922 and was renamed the London School of Printing and Kindred Trades.
Although long out of court, the school still exists, as the London College of Communication.
Today the driveway is a small space between the modern Bouverie House office block and an Edwardian office block with a bank on the ground floor. A small decorative stone lintel with the name of the driveway gives it a bit of prominence.
But look down before entering. A few years ago the City of London decided to remember the legacy of the area’s long printing industry with plaques on the pavement of the lanes along Fleet Street telling the area’s history . This tells how printing went from hot typesetting to computerized newsprint and is illustrated with a game of Space Invaders.
The rest of the driveway is less interesting, being a fairly bland hallway between buildings with fire escapes and skylights. A nice modest touch is the row of floor lamps in the covered section of the driveway, but it’s really a driveway to watch the Space Invaders game alone.