The remains of the 13th-century Whitefriars Monastery are situated very close to a busy central London street, and yet so remarkably well hidden that you’d have to be aware of their existence in order to find them.
The first step is to find Magpie Alley, which is tucked away behind an imposing law firm on Fleet Street. At the end of the alley, there is a large flight of steps behind a heavy gate. Though this might suggest to some that the steps are off-limits, if you continue downwards you’ll find a glass wall, behind which is the crumbling Whitefriars Crypt, lit inside by an electric candle.
The Carmelite Order of the White Friars (named for their white cloaks) once owned a large stretch of land between Fleet Street and the river Thames. Like so many other orders in England, though, they did not survive Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, and were forced from their estate. The Great Hall of the Whitefriars Monastery became a theatre for child actors, while the crypt suffered a more ignominious fate, becoming a coal cellar.
Eventually buried underneath a couple of centuries of redevelopment, the crypt was unearthed in 1895 and restored in 1920. However, its present location is not the original. The crypt spent years underneath the offices of The News of the World, and when the journalists left the building was demolished and the crypt was at risk of being buried once more. To preserve it, a concrete platform was placed underneath the crypt, allowing it to be picked up and moved to its current site, where it was incorporated into the new building.