Deans Court, EC4V

Deans Court is directly opposite the south west corner of St Paul’s Cathedral, on the south side of St Paul’s Churchyard.

Of the numerous thousands of visitors to St Paul’s Cathedral each year, how many do we suppose take a few steps across St Paul’s Churchyard and venture into the ancient lanes to the south which have remained unchanged since the Cathedral was built? I suspect not more than a handful. In reality, the vast majority will not even be aware of these treasures and, without further ado, hop on to a number eleven bus back to Trafalgar Square or the Houses of Parliament.

St Paul’s is one of the most popular tourist venues in London. It is also most conveniently situated about mid-way on the bus route between the West End and the Tower (number 15), both very tempting haunts to the visitor on a summery day. But the next time you descend the steps of Wren’s wonderful masterpiece, let the buses go by, walk into Dean’s Court and have a look at one of the great architect’s less elaborate pieces. Here, on the west side of the Court, behind a black painted gateway is the old Cathedral Deanery, built by the master in 1670. For many years it was the principal residence of the Dean’s of St Paul’s but is now converted to commercial premises.

Also in the Court were the offices controlling the issue of marriage certificates, the offices of the Vicar General, and the consistory courts. The House of Doctors of Law, known as ’Doctors Commons’, occupied a site on the east side of the Court. From this house the ’Doctors’ attended to the detail of civil law and held court until modifications to the legal system caused their activities to amalgamated with the High Court. The ’Commons’ was closed down in 1867. Adjacent to this building, in St Paul’s Churchyard, was the ’Paule Head Tavern’ where the local printers who congregated around the Cathedral haggled the best deal with their clients.

Having wandered these few yards, and before beating a hasty retreat for the first bus to Trafalgar Square, continue to the end of Dean’s Court and turn right into Carter Lane. Look up at the Latin inscription on the old choir house of 1875, now a Youth Hostel, and then walk on to explore the tributaries to the right and left.

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