This is probably the grandest entrance that has ever been constructed to what is just a short set of steps between two roads.

These are the Essex Street steps that link Essex Street to Milford Lane.

When Essex Street was originally laid out in around 1676, the end of the street terminated in a large “triumphal gateway” that was there to screen the polite street from the rough workers in the docks fronting onto the Thames.

Damaged during World War II, the gateway was repaired and incorporated into the 1953 building across the end of the street. Pseudo-Roman pomp and circumstance. Giant order of fluted Corinthian pilasters on pedestals supporting archivolt arch. A typical piece of Barbon bravura “pour epater les bourgeois”.

As impressive as the entrance is from Essex Street, the lower level from Milford Lane is drab and unassuming. A simple brick doorway that is in total contrast to the grand facade above.

Milford Lane is on the other side, and runs up from the Thames to Strand, probably taking its name from a ford that once crossed a small stream in the area. It also once marked the boundary between two great estates, owned by Lord Essex and the Earl of Arundel.

The lane is notable for the death in 1722 of a local cook, who had black skin, and who funeral was attended by around 60 other people with the same skin complexion. Immigration isn’t a new thing.


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  1. John Abbott says:

    This is the spot where the narrator meets the tramp in The Diamond Maker by H G Wells (1894). They are looking out on the Thames towards Waterloo Bridge and Westminster beyond. In the 1890s the Thames bank was closer to the steps. The diamond maker tramp disappears up the Essex steps after he tells his story.

  2. Martin macGregor says:

    I have a framed picture a charcoal or pencil sketch which is written on described as ‘Essex Stairs’ showing a flight of stairs to left of picture & on right side a shop it could be a bookshop or tobacconist.It has been in my family for some time circa 80/90 years.Between the shop & stairs is a old street light assume gas lighting.The person who it was given to served in WW1 & passed away early 1960’s at a guess.I assumed the figure of 2/25 was year it was drawn but have been told that it refers to no 2 off a 25 run,but i think it was year drawn.I am curious if it is indeed these Essex Stairs that is mentioned in this article.Obviously the shop has long gone & area much changed i would think & maybe suffered bomb damage WW2.Is there any evidence of a shop being at the foot of these stairs victorian/edwardian era.The old street light i mentioned is large square shape at top tapering towards base of light,the shop has writing on front & sandwich board in front but cannot read the writing.The artist has signed the work but bit hard to decipher name.He has written ‘to my friend E Carwardine’,he was a violinist in many well known orchestras.Any knowledge if this is the Essex Stairs as in picture on this website would be interesting.I am only interested for my own interest i am not a historian etc,many thanks.

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