The start of the eighteenth century
The Portsoken that the children of the first school would have known was very similar to what it had been like for two hundred years. Before the Fire of London, more of the rich still lived in the City, and there were some very fine seventeenth century buildings, but after the fire a lot of richer people moved west to new areas like Mayfair and Soho.
Portsoken was still built in the old fashion, with some big roads, but with lots of ‘courts’, which were small dead-end streets with houses built all round them. They have names like ‘Black Horse Yard’, ‘Blue Boar Inn’ ‘White Bear Alley’ and ‘Bull court, and may have been named after the biggest house in each court. At this time, houses were not numbered, but the bigger ones had names; some would have been pubs. There were tiny patches of open ground in between the courts, but for the most part, the houses were built close together, with little ventilation, and for poorer people, the area was very crowded. These are the courts that the first intake of children to the school would have come from.
Although the immediate area of Portsoken was built up and crowded, it was possible to get out into the fields. It would only be a ten minute walk along Whitechapel Street to open land north of Virginia Row, or North up Shoreditch to the orchards of Hackney Road. Villages like Hackney were only a few miles away, but whether the children of the school ever had the time or opportunity or suitable footwear to go there is unknown.