What? Time to raise a glass, as we reach a half-century of Back Passages. The derivation of Wine Office Court is easily guessed; it was from buildings in this alley that licenses to sell wine were once granted. First-floor stone reliefs close to the point of inflection recall this history by depicting tools of the vintner’s trade. Like much of the area, Wine Office Court is first documented in the John Ogilby map of 1676. The famous cartographer was, in fact, a local, owning a shop on the east-west portion of the passage. The most celebrated resident of Wine Office Court was Oliver Goldsmith, who wrote part of The Vicar of Wakefield in his lodgings at number 6. But of greater éclat than either Ogilby or Goldsmith is the world-renowned pub at the Southern end of Wine Office Court. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was built immediately after the Great Fire on the site of previous inns. It has lasted through the reigns of 15 sovereigns;a heritage proudly boasted on a poster outside the entrance. Everyone has visited, including Dickens, Johnson, Carlyle, Twain, Teddy Roosevelt and Londonist, but few will be familiar with every nook and cranny of this vertically sprawling emperor of pubs. The remainder of the passage is largely unremarkable, consisting of handsome red-brick buildings and a more forgettable postmodern effort along the northern boundary.
Why visit? Pub aside, Wine Office Court is the only alley we know of guarded by a cannon; a physical rebus to mark Gunpowder Square to the north-west.