This is a Clerkenwell alley that has survived many attempts to remove it and today snakes between a posh hotel and into a private car park.

The alley leads off what was known as Great Warner Street, which shows up initially in the 1740s as the area was slowly developed from fields into houses, but the area where the alley is was still fields at the time. The alley though can be clearly seen as more housing was added, and it appears on the Horwood map of 1799 as a link between Great Warner Street and Cold Bath Square.

Cold Bath Square was noted for the medicinal baths, hence the name of the square and the alley. A well of fresh water in the area can be traced back to around the 1600s, but it must have been good water as by the late 1700s a dedicated medicinal bathhouse had been built on the site.

R Horwood Map

Aptly for an article about an alley, one of Warner Street’s earliest occupants was Henry Carey, a poet and musician who wrote the popular ballad, Sally in our alley. Great Warner Street was later reduced to plain Warner Street when the Holborn Valley Improvements were carried out in the 1860s-90s to remove the steep slope down to the valley caused by the buried Fleet river.

This is also the time that that the medical bathhouse was demolished.

The alley remained though, leading to new housing on the site of the old bathhouse, the Coldbath Buildings. These were two tenement blocks built by the philanthropic organisation, the Artizans’, Labourers’ & General Dwellings Company, as housing for local workers displaced by the arrival of the railways. The housing company built a lot of housing but struggled in the 1950s when rent controls and taxes nearly bankrupted the company. Today it still exists as a commercial housing developer and is a subsidiary of the Canadian financial firm, Sun Life.

OS Map 1896

Back to the buildings at the top of Bath Court, which were eventually demolished in the late 1980s as part of the Rosebery Scheme, and replaced with private housing and offices.

That new development though also rearranged the local roads, resulting in the alley Bath Court running into what is now the car park for the flats. So a permissive right of way exists through the car park so that the alley isn’t a dead end. That’s why there are so many signs put up around warning that this is a private car park, a private staircase, a private entrance, etc — to make sure the few people who do make use of the alley know their place.

If approaching from Warner Street, the alley, which is unnamed, seems fairly conventional, a couple of barriers and then decent paving between high walls on one side, and the 2010 expansion of the Rosebery hotel building on the other.

It’s fairly bland until you get to the end, and then suddenly, it gets very old industrial with remains of the original stone cobbles (setts) in the floor and the late Victorian building from the 1890s beside it.

Then you’re into the 1990s car park and surrounded by warning signs, so best to hurry out through the pedestrian gate.

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2 comments
  1. Barb J says:

    Ha ha, thanks for this. When the current development was built the developers tried to stop public right of way, and then afterward they got some residents in the flats to try this, citing the usual complaints re druggies, drunks, etc. I was there when the Clerkenwell neighbourhood forum saw them off. Now of course the place is cctv’d more than a prison corridor, but still a public footpath.

  2. Dawn Elizabeth Howells says:

    The 1799 Horwood map of the area is also most interesting.

    What was then Liquorpond Street (presumably named because of the brewery on the corner of Leather Lane) is now the top end of Clerkenwell Road. This new road from Liquorpond Street, swooping gently downhill over the Fleet, and running to Old Street, must have been very radical in its time as this map shows a great number of houses there!

    The House of Correction is of course now the Mount Pleasant sorting office.

    Interesting also to see the “Red Lion Yard” as there was a “Blue Lion Yard” further up Grays Inn Road and remembered now by the Blue Lion Pub!

    Hatton Wall, where I live doesn’t seem to have changed much through the years!

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