Bleeding London – Hanging Sword Alley
To celebrate our Literary Footprints finale on Friday 31st October, the Footprints of London Guides have chosen their favourite London streets. Here’s what Neil Sinclair says about Hanging Sword Alley
If you feel any sense of foreboding or trepidation walking along Hanging Sword Alley, the passageway between Whitefriars Street and Salisbury Court off Fleet Street, it’s nothing to do with Damocles and the Greek classical morality tale.
There was never a Damoclesian dagger suspended by a horse’s hair above the heads of passers below in this narrow, dark alley. However, it probably wouldn’t cheer you up if you knew that a former name was Blood Bowl Alley.
Hanging Sword Alley almost certainly got its title from a sign marking the location of a fencing and sword-fighting school. Wearing a sword and (more importantly) knowing how to use it was a very wise precaution when negotiating the crime-ridden and poverty-stricken rookeries of Alsatia, the name given to this area south of Fleet Street after the reformation. Closure of the Whitefriars monastery, whose land extended from Fleet Street down to the River Thames, led to the area falling into disrepute. If your thrust couldn’t quite cut it in Alsatia you could easily end up skewered by one of the many vagabonds and footpads who roamed the area’s maze of streets and courtyards largely untroubled by the not so long arm of the law.
An act of Parliament in 1697 largely removed any of the privileges formerly associated with the Whitefriars monastery, although it remained a run-down area of dubious probity.
Of course, the unwary could get stitched up very easily when the red-top tabloids ruled the roost around Fleet Street. These days the pen is still mightier than the sword but it’s wielded around Fleet Street these days by sharp-suited lawyers and financiers who moved in when the journalists and printers moved out.
Still chance to get a ticket for our exclusive preview of Bleeding London – the ambitious photo project being run by the Royal Photographic Society