This is a new alley that runs underneath a railway through a long line of brick arches that have been polished up to become a row of posh shops. The alley is part of Borough Yards, an upmarket development that has been turning a few yards and the railway arches into a cluster of shops and cafes.
The area of the development pretty much fills the site that was once occupied by Winchester Palace and its gardens. By the 1740s, the area was fully developed with a large timber yard in the middle and loads of narrow alleys and streets with wonderful names, such as Dead Mans Place, Dye House, Potts House, Dirty Lane, and Naked Boy Yard.
Dead Mans Place still survives as a road but was later renamed the more polite Park Street, alas.
The current appearance of the area comes from the arrival of the railways, and the wide set of railway arches built by the South Eastern Railway (SER) when they extended their railway across the river to Cannon Street station in the early 1860s.
That transformed the area from lots of smaller buildings into one dominated by the railway and its arches, which were rented out for warehouses, and later the railway was widened with the addition of new arches on either side. The area remained dominated by warehouses until fairly recently, when the southbank became better known for its culture and cafes, and a large section of the arches was taken over by the wine venue Vinopolis.
When the much missed (by me at least) Vinopolis closed, the site was bought for redevelopment as Borough Yards, and what they’ve done in part is punch a new passageway through the middle of the railway arches to create a new Dirty Lane.
The original Dirty Lane was actually outside the footprint of this development, but it seems the developers liked the name too much to ignore it. Sadly, the more geographically relevant Naked Boy Yard was rejected for reasons I simply can’t fathom.
These arches, the original ones from the 1860s run directly under the railway and already had doorways between them, so the new development has basically put shops in each arch, one on each side of the connecting arches and turned the space between into the new alleyway.
The opening up of the arches to form the new alley creates a new north-south link under the railway, leading to an open yard at the southern end of the development where there are more modern buildings slotted in alongside the railway.
The alley that passes through the arches has only just opened to the public, and most of the shops inside are still empty, or showing signs of opening soon. At the moment, there’s some illuminated art inside the empty shops, so right now is a good time to visit, before the accoutrements of commerce are added to the space.
One of the shops that has opened is Kitchen Provisions, which was quite happy for me to take a photo of their alluring display of Japanese knives. I still remember the shock I had when buying a set of knives after moving into my own home and discovering that it’s possible to slice tomatoes without turning them into crushed mush – because rental flat supplied knives are always blunt.
A large space in the middle of the arches is a junction for a couple of new side passages, and do look to the western side, where some old bike bells have been stuck on the wall, and yes, they still work if you want to give them a ring.
The southern end has been open for some time now, with modern buildings, shops, cafes and underground cinema then leading to the estate’s main gates.
Rather hidden behind the main gates, next to the signs warning about behaviour is a small sign telling the story of Finch’s Grotto Garden. It was founded in 1760 by Thomas Finch, a heraldic painter who seemed to put down the paintbrushes in favour of creating a garden around what was thought to be a medicinal water spring. It didn’t last long though being demolished just 13 years after it opened, and the site turned into a Skittles ground and pub, and later a burial ground for St Saviour Church.
Borough Yards is pitching itself as a slightly upmarket development, which is probably why the no-smoking sign shows a pipe rather than a cigarette.
Note, this alley is privately owned as part of the property development but is presumptively open to the public to use the facilities.