This is a short alley in Smithfield that has been on this site ever since the area was first developed and sits in an area with a cluster of small alleys to explore. The placement of this alley owes its existence, as so much around here to St Bartholomew’s Priory, and its dissolution.

The buildings to the western side of the alley as themselves relatively new, but sit on the site of a block of buildings that were erected to service St Bartholomew the Great Church.

The row of buildings on the eastern side are the legacy of later property developments and sits on top of the church’s former Lay cemetery. Although today that side is largely the side walls of the two buildings that side alongside it, in the early 1600s, it was recorded as being nine small houses facing into the alley.

The two buildings on the western side of the alley were 19th century banks, but as with so many banks, are now pubs – Lloyds bank became the St Barts and the Butchers Hook & Cleaver, which was between the two banks, but expanded sideways to take over its neighbour when the clerks moved out of the Midland Bank.

One thing to note is that the historic-looking frontage on the building is, modern, or at least a modern reproduction of what might have been there, as in the 1970s the white stone frontage on the old bank extended the full width of the building. The wooden pub frontage and old-style pub sign is new.

But back around the corner to the alley!

At the top of the alley is the Barley Mow tavern and this was probably the old court-house which administered to the annual Bartholomew Fair. The Barley Mow pub closed in 2006, and is now a restaurant.

The covered entrance to the alley also used to have a gate in the alley where it marked the boundary between parishes.

Look at the floor as you go along, as you’ll spy a very small metal plate in the ground saying NR, and that’s a fresh water supply from the New River.

The narrow entrance opens up to a much wider alley which would have been lined with homes, but is now mainly the back of the pubs, and windows into the restaurant.

A historic oddity is that the last surviving residential home down the alley, which was built in 1740, has its address as being on the road at the end of the alley, Cloth Fair, not inside the alley. That’s a long-standing legacy of when the alley was seen as an extension of the road, Cloth Fair, not a side alley.

John Rocque’s Map of 1746

So some 200 years after the alley was renamed, there’s a house down here that still uses the old naming system.

I bet that pleases delivery drivers.


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One comment
  1. Panda Mery says:

    > a very small metal plate in the ground saying NR, and that’s a fresh water supply from the New River.

    Thank you for your greatly informative posts, however I don’t believe NR stands for New River.

    The New River ended in Clerkenwell which is further North of Smithfield.

    I haven’t managed to find any authoritative source (Thames Water Archive didn’t respond to my enquiry), but I now believe the most likely meaning is ‘Non Return’ valve.

    I’ve posted a few pics of NR opercules at

    If you check the comments of the oldest one, you’ll find links to Tweets from Walk Hackney, Stokey Nature, Nick Perry and others offering suggestions after I queried this at a talk by Laurie Elks organised by the Hackney Society.

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