Mary Queen of Scots House: This Neo-Gothic building is younger than you think
The story behind a Neo-Gothic office building-turned-holiday let on Fleet Street
Fleet Street has its fair share of striking architecture – from the bold Art Deco design of the Express Building to the old Tudor frontage of Prince Henry’s Room. However, one particular building’s design suggests it’s from an earlier age that it actually is – the Mary Queen of Scots House at 143-4 Fleet Street. The building is situated just two doors down from the temple-like Peterborough House and next door to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub. The Mary Queen of Scots House has two entrances – the eastern one accessing the upper storeys, while the west is the shop door (currently a Pret a Manger). Just to the left of the shop entrance is Cheshire Court, a small alley previously known as Three Falcon Court.
Long before Pret A Manger arrived, and indeed, even the current building was erected, the site had a varied history. In the 1770s, a publisher named Joseph Wenman was operating out of his premises at 144 Fleet Street, producing mostly theatrical reprints. By 1833, No.143-144 was owned by a Sir John Marshall, with one of his tenants being a baker, according to an insurance policy taken out at the time. In the 1840s, wood engraver Edwin Morrett Williams and cutler/hardwareman William Sutton worked on-site. By 1882, 143 had become a restaurant. Nine years later, optician Samuel Poole was operating out of 144.
In the early 20th century, Scottish landowner and liberal politician Sir John Tollemache Sinclair (1825-1912) acquired the land of 143-144 Fleet Street. He commissioned architect Richard Mauleverer Roe (1854-1922) to design an ornate, Neo-Gothic office building in 1905. At the time, Gothic revival was steadily falling out of fashion in architecture, although the new dawn of Modernist design was still a way off. The building has five storeys, one of which being a roof storey. The ground floor is surrounded by a stone arch with zigzag mouldings.
Sir John was apparently a huge fan of the Stuart monarch, Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) and commissioned a statue of her to be erected on the façade. The 2.2 metre statue, whose carver is unknown, features the Queen in a long dress, cape, ruff collar and cap. Mary became Queen in 1542 when she was only six days old following the death of her father, King James V of Scotland (1512-1542). She was executed in Northamptonshire on the orders of her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1587. Despite having little connection to London, having spent most of her life in Scotland and France, Mary was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The first tenants of the building were a Scottish insurance company, so Sir John was clearly looking out for his fellow countrymen. The insurers soon made way for the publishing industry, as Fleet Street’s journalist population boomed. In the 1920s, the North Wiltshire Herald and the Middlesborough Sports Gazette had offices in the building. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Western Morning News and the Isle of Wight County Press were based at Mary Queen of Scots House. The ground floor was home to the Press Cafe & Restaurant in the 1950s, then the Val Ceno trattoria, then the latter closing at some point in the early 21st century. In 1977, the building was Grade II listed by Historic England. Today, the upper storeys contain short-term rental apartments for tourists looking for a central London base.
- Mary Queen of Scots House, 143-4 Fleet Street, City of London, EC4A 2BP. Nearest station: Temple or City Thameslink.
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Posted on 28 Jun 2020, in Architecture, History, London and tagged City of London, Fleet Street, Gothic revival, Neo-Gothic. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Mary Queen of Scots House: This Neo-Gothic building is younger than you think.