The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 19 From Charing Cross To St Paul's Cathedral

Mitre Court and Johnson's Court

Previous - Next

Opposite Fetter Lane is Mitre Court, with another claimant to the title of Johnson's Mitre Tavern. Just beyond Mitre Court is the modern facade of the Norwick Union Insurance Co. (No. 49), masking the second Serjeants� Inn. The little square contains some characteristic Georgian houses, one of which (No. 16) was occupied by John Thaddeus Delane, Editor of �The Times� from 1841 to 1877. No. 56 Fleet St. was the home of William Hone (1760-1842), free-thinker, reformer, bookseller, and author of the �Everyday Book� (1826). On the north side of Fleet Street is a whole series of small courts and alleys (probably originating as gardens), all redolent of literary and historical association. Crane Court, the first of these, was the home of the Royal Society from 1710 to 1782, and here Sir Isaac Newton presided over many of its sessions. Later, when the building was in possession of the Philosophical Society, Coleridge delivered here the famous lectures on Shakespeare, begun on November 18th, 1819. The modem building, erected in 1879-80, after a fire, is occupied by the charity known as the Royal Scottish Corporation. Red Lion Court has always been connected with the printers� trade. In Johnson's Court (house demolished) Dr. Johnson lived from 1765 to 1776, an interval during which he published the �Journey to the Hebrides� (1775). In allusion to his residence in this court he jokingly called himself, when in Scotland, �Johnson of that ilk.� In Bolt Court Johnson lived (house pulled down) from 1776 till his death in 1784, the period that saw the production of �The Lives of the Poets� (1779-81). Cobbett lived at No. 11. Wine Office Court was another resort of Dr. Johnson; and the old �Cheshire Cheese�, in which he, Goldsmith, and Boswell are said to have forgathered (though Boswell makes no mention of it), is still extant. The authenticity of the chair here shown as Johnson's is not beyond cavil. No. 6, where Goldsmith is said to have written �The Vicar of Wakefield,� has disappeared. Johnson's Court, Bolt Court, and Hind Court all lead into Gough Square, containing Dr. Johnson's House (No. 17), where he lived from 1748 to 1758, engaged in the production of �The Rambler� and of his famous �Dictionary.� This is. probably the only London residence of Dr. Johnson that is still extant. His wife died here in 1752. The house was purchased in 1911 by Mr. Cecil Harmsworth and admirably restored. It is open to the public daily (10.30-4.30 or 5; visitors ring; admission 6d.). Among the numerous relics of Dr. Johnson are an early edition of the �Dictionary� and an autograph letter. There are also many pictures, engravings, and the like, illustrative of the period in which he lived. The most notable room is the large Attic, in which Johnson and the six amanuenses who assisted him worked at the �Dictionary�; but the kitchen, the staircase, the panelling (mostly of the 18th century), and the curious cupboards are interesting also,