This is an alley in Belsize Park that slips in between St Dominic’s Priory Church and the neighbouring school, and dates from when they were built. All was fields around here until 1862, when the Dominican Order purchased the land in this part of London for a church and school to be built.
The priory was opened in 1867 and the Priory Church dates from 1883. There was a part of the alley built at the time, the western half which links the nearby Tasker Road with the side entrance to the church.
However, the land for the school remained unused until fundraising started in 1912 and the school opened in 1932.
It’s likely that the rest of the alley linking up with the eastern end of the church came into existence then, as a gap between the priory and the school, as there wasn’t an alley on maps before the school was built.
That two-stage construction of the buildings and the alley between them probably explains the slight difference in the appearance of the alley on the western and eastern halves, especially where it curves around the corner of the church building.
The alley also overlooks the newish Rosary Garden that’s behind the church, and was created in 2019 from an unkempt space as a garden for contemplation. It’s open to the public during the summer months, when there’s someone around to unlock the gates. Otherwise, you can peer over the fence to have a look. Central to the garden is a newly commissioned statue of Our Lady of Cana, by the sculptor Cody Swanson.
I’m not sure if the door is supposed to be open but the side door to the church was open and I popped inside for a quick look. An inner glass door was locked, but you can get a decent look at the church through it anyway. Looks like it’s worth a visit another day when the doors are unlocked fully.
The name of the alley is relatively new though, having only been added in 1998.
It’s named after Father Alan Cheales, who served the parish of St Dominic’s from 1963 for more than 30 years and died, aged 84, in 1996. The naming of the alley took place in October 1998 at a memorial service for the priest
The alley, if you start on the western end passes through a narrow doorway in a high wall and is lined on one side with an old wall, and the other an iron fence overlooking the garden, and slopes gently downwards to the corner of the church. A sharp corner and now it passes between the school with its very modern fencing and the old church building and comes out onto the busy main road.
It’s quite a busy alley as even on a quiet weekend morning, there were plenty of people using it as it does provide a convenient link between the housing and the main road.
The recent naming of the alley is marked by an unusual set of street signs, which look far older than the 25 years that they have been there.