This is an entirely new alley for London, but owes some of its existence to a Tudor prison and a Victorian charity.
Baring one possible short period in the 18th century where there might have been a small dead-end passage, there’s never been an alley running east-west in this area. It developed as housing and shops as much of this part of London along Cheapside did, but the layout as a block of densely packed small buildings didn’t change much until after WW2.
The modern building block that Compter Passage passes through is the legacy of 1950s redevelopment of a cluster of Victorian buildings that filled the site, and while damaged during WW2 they were still usable until demolished to create three large office blocks on the site.
A road slightly to the south of where Compter Passage exists was first introduced in the mid-1950s during the post-war rebuilding as a new service road was added where before there had been nothing. The current building dates from the mid 2000s, as a replacement set of offices, and they included the pedestrian passageway as a break between the retail side facing Cheapside and the offices behind.
It’s not an entirely empty passageway, as two glass bridges run above it linking the offices on the first floor, and giving the passageway a bit of interest as you walk through.
The name of the alley comes from the Wood Street Compter, a small prison built just to the north of the alley’s location today in 1555. It was mainly a debtors prison and closed in 1791. The 1950s building that used to sit directly to the north of where the alley is today was also called Comptor House.
So the alley is named after an old prison.
Another quirk is the landlord.
Although the buildings are leaseholds on the land and that’s owned by Land Securities, the freehold is owned by the City Parochial Foundation — renamed as the Trust for London in 2010.
The Trust for London is a charity founded in 1891 from the merger of 107 smaller parish endowments — giving it around 1,400 individual charitable gifts to look after. It’s still active, and its endowments and investments are now worth around £342 million, generating around £10 million a year which goes to charitable causes to alleviate poverty and inequality.
The charity earns around £400,000 a year in ground-rent each year from this plot of land.
So, while Compter Passage may be a modern newbie in London’s history, it sits on land owned by a Victorian charity and is named after a Tudor prison.