This is a long narrow alley near Richmond that’s hemmed in with tall walls and certainly looks at first glance to be very deserving of its name of Cut Throat Alley.
As it happens, the alley’s name may be a corruption of a more mundane name — Cut Through Alley. It apparently owes its origins as a shortcut for arable workers who needed access to Ham Gardens and Lands and its market gardens and arable fields. It certainly would save quite a long walk around Ham House for people on the southern side of the fields.
It’s not a unique name either – there used to be a Cut-Throat Alley in Belsize Park in the 1740s, and others in Notting Hill and Hornsey in the 19th century, and there’s a reference to the same name-switch from Cut Through to Cut Throat taking place in Camberwell in 1971.
The earliest written record I can find for the Ham alley being called Cut Throat Alley is in the 1940s, in a crime report where the name of the alley is used, seemingly as if it would be a well known name locally, so it much have been in use for many decades at least.
People clearly had a macabre sense of humour.
It’s still a useful cut through though, and on my visit, several people were indeed cutting through to get to the other side of the barrier row of houses that lines the side of the fields.
The alley presents almost two personalities.
Most of the northern half of the alley is currently filled with a muddy floor, although in fact underneath that there should be a clean solid path. One was added in 2015, but clearly the mud has reclaimed its territory.
To walk down is to have fields and trees on one side, probably the source of the mud on the floor, and a long tall and old brick wall on the other.
The brick wall deserves paying attention to though, as it’s covered in carved graffiti with much of it dating back decades. Tokens on love through to declarations of presence, it’s a form of written history, a record of who passed this way often enough to want to leave their mark here.
There’s a kink in the alley where it cuts around a sharp corner, and becomes a narrow passage between two tall rows of brick walls. The house on one side has an aggressive dog, judging by the sign in the door that faces into the alley, and the other older looking wall is still packed full of graffiti carvings. There are also some large patches of reddish brown paint, where more modern graffiti has been covered over.
Eventually, the alley emerges into an open landscape close to more parks.
It’s one of those alleys that seems to be in constant use, which certainly meant I loitered around longer than planned for those elusive photos without people in them, but that’s a good thing as alleys should be much used.
Recently there’s been some talk of improving the lighting in the alley, although just by adding reflectors for bicycle lights rather than anything for pedestrians.
I think a row of low-wattage uplighters in the pavement along the wall would be lovely – giving just enough light to illuminate the space without losing its character by flooding it with garish street lamps.
But it can’t be denied, it has a very atmospheric name.
And if you are in the area and looking for plants, on the other side of that heavily graffitied wall is a garden centre that specialises in selling palm trees.