This is a short, characterful, dead-end alley in Whitechapel with a very rich history. The alley used to be much longer than it is today though, as it shows up in the 1740s as a long passage running the full width between Whitechapel Road and Wentworth Street to the north.

R Horwood Map 1799

However, in the 20th century, the northern three-quarters were cut off, and although the remains of the alley can be seen in the layout of the modern buildings, the passage is no longer open to the public. What’s left is the bottom quarter, and an interesting quarter it is to visit.

What is today a nail lounge next to the entrance was a long-lasting pub, the Angel, which was founded on the site in at least 1612 (initially as the Gryffon) and later renamed the Angel, was rebuilt in 1900 (there’s an 1884 painting here), but didn’t last long as a pub afterwards, as it seemed to close by 1910.

Behind the covered entrance, the George Yard Mission and Ragged School for the poor was created in 1854 on land donated by the Truman, Hanbury, Buxton brewery. The school expanded rapidly, and while fitting for the time, it’s ironic that there was also a temperance society set up by the school, using the land donated by a brewery.

The schools expanded again in the 1880s, with an infants school and library in the alley, but moved out in 1905 when the London Council Council deemed it unsuitable for education. The rear of the ragged school later became the home of the Jewish Post newspaper, which was based in front of it on 88 Whitechapel High Street.

The alley used to curve around a corner and then carry on northwards, passing by small houses and large warehouses until it emerged onto Wentworth Street. However, everything north of the corner is now sealed off from public access.

The alley today is a mixed affair, with a very characterful covered entrance covered in bill stickers and ever-changing colours from the lights above, making it feel a bit nightcluby, but head on down here, and it widens into a very different aspect.

On the right is a modern building, the rear of the Whitechapel Gallery, which expanded and cleared away part of the old school buildings that were here. Opposite is the reason why many people come down this seemingly dead-end alley — a solitary retailer.

This is Freedom, the anarchist bookshop and publisher, catering to a very politically minded customer base from its back alley location.

Maybe not surprisingly, the whole area is covered in graffiti and bill stickers, and if you venture around the dead-end corner, there’s a large poster about your rights if stopped and searched. Although, as a public information service, putting it at the end of a dead-end alley that few will see seems rather missing the point.

More interesting is the wall of radical writers’ portraits on the shop’s side.

There’s a sign on one wall thanking donors for the “library in an alley”, which turns out to have been an attempt to improve the alley in 2016 with concrete planters decorated as if made from concrete bookends. I must admit I didn’t even notice them on my visit, which, having looked at the photos, is a shame as they look quite interesting.

As an alley, it’s a curious mix to wander down from the nightcluby covered passageway leading to the home of anarchist publishing.

You won’t find a street name sign on the wall but look on the floor by the entrance for a decorative manhole cover with two hands pointing into the alley and its name, Angel Alley.


Be the first to know what's on in London, and the latest news published on ianVisits.

You can unsubscribe at any time from my weekly emails.

Tagged with:

This website has been running now for over a decade, and while advertising revenue contributes to funding the website, it doesn't cover the costs. That is why I have set up a facility with DonorBox where you can contribute to the costs of the website and time invested in writing and research for the news articles.

It's very similar to the way The Guardian and many smaller websites are now seeking to generate an income in the face of rising costs and declining advertising.

Whether it's a one-off donation or a regular giver, every additional support goes a long way to covering the running costs of this website, and keeping you regularly topped up doses of Londony news and facts.

If you like what you read on here, then please support the website here.

Thank you

  1. Reaper says:

    How fitting or otherwise is it that an anarchist book shop should be found in a dead end?

  2. David says:

    The modern long bay window on the right at first floor level was for the Whitechapel Cafe.
    At one point – probably in the early 2000s, one of the windows was removed, and a temporary pedestrian bridge constructed, running over to the first floor of the bookshop. I presume it was some sort of artistic statement, but I can’t remember…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Home >> News >> London's Alleys and Passages