This is a narrow winding alley close to Liverpool Street station that’s been here in some shape or form since Tudor times.

This part of London is just on the outskirts of the old Roman Wall around the City of London. The name of the road the alley leads off on the western side, Houndsditch, comes from the “moat” that ran around the outside of the Roman wall, where it’s suggested feral dogs scavenged from rubbish dumped in the ditch.

The land was fairly undeveloped and used as fields until the Dissolution of the Monasteries saw the nearby Bethlem hospital closed and the land sold off. The buyer was the goldsmith Jasper Fisher, who built a large manor house and gardens and so stretched his finances that it became known as “Fisher’s Folly”. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t get to enjoy his home for long, dying penniless in 1579, and it passed through several owners, including Sir Roger Manners, the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Argyll and the Marquis of Hamilton.

However, in 1625 it was bought by the fabulously wealthy Cavendish Family (later the Duke of Devonshire), by which time it was entirely surrounded by houses and numerous alleys — including this one, although at the time it was called Sandwich Court.

Ogilby and Morgan’s Large Scale Map of the City as Rebuilt by 1676

The house was sold just 50 years later and demolished for development, leaving Devonshire Square as an open space where the gardens had been.

Not too much changed for the next couple of centuries, and although the buildings around were redeveloped, the alley retained its historic layout. An OS map from 1893 shows that both ends of the alley were through a covered archway through buildings, leading to an open-air passageway.

The alley could have been lost, though, as many of the buildings around it, particularly to the south, were destroyed during WWII, and rebuilding could have seen the alley swallowed up as so many were by replacement offices. However, it managed to survive.

Today, if heading from Houndsditch, the alley starts very differently from most of its life when it was a covered arch in a row of shops — as it now sits between a pocket park, Jubilee Gardens and a tall tower and is entirely open to the skies.

The park is associated with a rather odd-looking building behind it, which looks to be a modern pastiche of a grander older building — and is, in fact, an electricity substation that was built in the mid-1980s.

Today that substation would be buried underground and a tower built on top, but now that it’s there, it would be really quite difficult to switch off for a few years while a replacement is built. So it accidentally preserves a patch of undeveloped sky in the cluster of towers around it.

The alley twists around a couple of corners, as it has done ever since it was first laid out all the way back in Tudor times.

Most of the alley is now very modern in appearance, but do look for one curious little survivor, an old door and window frame that has somehow clung on.

It now opens into a modern courtyard, but so long as you stick to the side of the buildings, you’ll still be within the footprint of the old alley, and it eventually passes through a row of old shops, much as it would have at the other end, had WWII not demolished them.

One of the quirks of the alley is that it also straddles two postcodes – the western end is in EC2, while the eastern end is in EC3.

Sadly, the recent refurbishment of the building above the eastern end has seen fit to remove the street sign, making it less obvious that the postcode transition has taken place as you walk along it.


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

One comment
  1. Steve Bowers says:

    I enjoy your series about little known alleys in London. I look forward to your item on Cuntgrope Alley in the City of London although I think the only thing of interest is its name (perhaps you can prove me wrong).

Leave a Reply

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


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