This is a recently cleaned up alley that links two busy shopping streets in Covent Garden.

Banbury Court came into existence during the rebuilding of the blocks of shops and houses that it runs through in the early 1700s. It shows up clearly in a map by R Horwood in 1799 as a passage that gave access to gardens behind the houses that lined the area.

R Horwood map, 1799

By 1897 the back gardens were filled in and any resemblance to residential occupancy replaced with industry.

According to Goad’s Insurance Maps, the western side of Banbury Court was occupied by the Victoria Carriage Works Factory, and on the eastern side was the Fallen Coach Builder. You can still see some of the heritage of the Victoria Carriage Works Factory building — in the doors that open onto the main road which would have lead into the factory floor. A small ironmonger sat at the northern corner of the alley.

Goads Insurance Map 1897

The presence of coach buildings in the alley is due to the whole area being known for them — being on the edge of the expanding central London at the time, and so close enough to customers to be convenient, but far enough from them that the smells wouldn’t offend noble noses.

Although the area attempted to adapt to the arrival of the motorcar, by the 1940s most of them had moved away and in the post-war period it was mainly an expansion space for the Covent Garden market traders. It was only in the 1980s that retail significantly took over, and more recently, fashion retail.

The block to the western side of the alley was recently refurbished internally although most of what you see is actually from a 1980s office redevelopment of the buildings facing onto Long Acre.

Today the alley is a very clean space — a departure from its previous reputation as an open-air toilet — but feels almost overcleaned and polished as if it’s lost some character. A facelift too far that has removed too many of the wrinkles of maturity.

On the northern end of the alley look up, as there’s a small metal grill above the entrance, and it spells out Banbury Court in a rather decorative style. Looks like it was added around 2010 when a series of glass dutch blinds was removed from the shop next to it.

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