This short cobbled passage off Old Street is the surviving remnant of a once much longer alley.
The alley first shows up in John Roque’s map from 1746 as Anchor (something), but the Horwood map of 1799 shows it as Horseshoe Alley. A century later, and it’s back on the maps as Anchor Yard as a long, narrow north-south passage leading off Old Street and almost, but not quite, reaching to Mitchell Street at the north end of the alley before being blocked by a wall.
By the 1830s, the alley seemed to be lined with small tenements and a number of warehouses, including on the corner, a cigar factory, and hadn’t changed much by the time it was mapped in the 1880s.
The empty space at the top of the alley turned out to be a garden belonging to the church rectory, according to a map of the properties in the area owned by the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers. Now hidden behind a wall, that “void” is still there hidden between the former pub and rectory.
The name, unsurprisingly for a landlocked alley with a nautical name comes from the pub that used to be on the corner, the Anchor Brewhouse. The pub was mentioned in an 18th-century guide to London pubs, A Vade Mecum for Malt-Worms, as offering “good Beer and good Wine”.
However, in 1891, Kelly’s Post Office London Directory lists the pub as being a newsagent. Maybe it wasn’t that good a pub then.
Regular readers won’t be overly surprised what happened to the alley in the 20th century as WWII destroyed most of the area around it. In the post-war rebuilding, the low rows of terraced houses were replaced with large blocks of flats. Int eh rebuilding, the alley was cut right back to the little stump that it is today.
The cobbles are a recent addition to create a hint of heritage while offering a level crossing point for pedestrians. If you look carefully, the top of a metal bollard is on the corner, likely to protect the corner from being damaged by carts turning into the yard.
There’s a small, fenced-off garden next to the yard, which was occupied by a shabby garage in 1958 (right hand side of this photo) before the rest of the buildings along this part of Old Street were cleared for another block of flats to be built here. There’s a small notice by the locked gate in memory of Frances Fuller (1933-2017) in remembrance of her time in the Wenlake Estate and the Anchor Yard Garden.
The block of flats next to the garden is appropriately called Anchor House, and if you walk around the north side, you’ll see it’s been decorated with anchors.
Back to the alley, at the far end is Wenlake Cottage, which gave its name to the housing estate around it, and opposite is the remains of the old cigar factory, now supporting an expensive penthouse suite. And then at the far end, a fence lets you see where the alley was cut back to allow for the garden and flats to be built instead.