London – Nevill’s Court

A stone’s throw from the east end of the Record Office is one of the most curious unnoticed corners of old London. Go up Fetter Lane, which is the next turning to Chancery Lane out of Fleet Street, and at No. 34, close to the Moravian Chapel, you will see a narrow passage called Nevill’s Court. This passage leads you straight into one of the oldest bits of London still existing, for here in the very heart of newspaper land are little ancient seventeenth-century houses with cottage gardens. They give one the same feeling of unexpectedness as those other queer little wooden houses with their high gables that you may see in Collingwood Street, just on the other side of Blackfriars Bridge (I think it is the third turning to the right). They stand beside the church, just as they stood nearly three hundred years ago, when the Thames washed right up to their doorsteps.

At No. 6 Nevill’s Court, secluded in its walled garden, is a big seventeenth-century house, which must once have been inhabited by citizens of wealth and position. It is extraordinary that Time and the Vandal have left it still intact. I think the reason must be that they have never been able to find it, like those other old houses in Wardrobe Court near St. Paul’s, whose whereabouts certainly ought to be set as a problem in a London taxi-driver’s examination.

But before seeking the house, there is something to notice in Nevill’s Court. The main entrance to the Moravian Chapel is in Fetter Lane, at No. 33. I once went to the service there at three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon under the influence of the story of the messenger sent while Bradbury was preaching, to announce Queen Anne’s death and the safety of the Protestant succession. I hoped to find something to remind me of the chapel’s great age: it is the oldest place of Protestant worship in London, going back to Queen Mary’s day, when persecuted Protestants are supposed to have met in the sawpit of the carpenter’s yard on this site.

Down the long, narrow passage, I found a bare, uncompromising chapel, with a high, wooden pulpit, that I looked at with more respect than its ugliness warranted, remembering that Baxter had preached here in 1672, and that John Wesley and Whitefield had addressed crowded congregations during the year Wesley spent with the Moravians between the time that he left the Church of England and the founding of the Methodist persuasion in 1740. The boundary line between St. Bride’s, Fleet Street, and St. Dunstan’s in the West is just in front of the pulpit, so the preacher and his congregation are in different parishes.

The chapel has been used by the Moravian sect since 1738, and as their lease does not expire for about another 250 years, it is not likely to change ownership, in spite of the dwindling congregation.

It has been so many times restored and rebuilt that one gets a much better idea of the antiquity of the building from the back entrance in Nevill’s Court, for this is the only part that could possibly have existed before the Great Fire.