This is a passageway near Green Park with a yard in the middle and offers two very different appearances depending on which side you approach it from.
This part of London has always been rather upmarket, and the two streets on either side of Dover Yard sit in a space between the grand Berkeley House and Albemarle House. When those two grand buildings were demolished, much of the modern street layout was developed, and sitting between Dover Street and Berkley Street was the small Dover Yard.
It first shows up in John Rocque’s map of London from 1746 as a slightly larger yard than it is today, but is more detailed in the R Horwood map of 1799.
The yard presents two personalities – on the eastern side, it’s a narrow alley through the ground floor of the 1860s Arts Club, whereas on the western side, it’s an open yard still, although now part of a large hotel.
The hotel has an interesting, if indirect, history.
Just to the south of Dover Yard, on the corner of Berkley Street and Piccadilly used to be the Gloucester Coffee House, a coaching inn for the mail coaches heading out of London. In 1897, the coffee house, now much larger, was renamed the Berkeley Hotel.
In the 1970s, the hotel moved to Knightsbridge, and a property developer bought the hotel and the buildings behind, redeveloping the whole site into a mix of offices facing onto Piccadilly, and a modern hotel next to Dover Yard. That hotel, in a marked departure from the previous upmarket neighbour, was a Holiday Inn.
The yard and its narrow alley were retained but had been reduced to a mere service yard and car parking space, albeit one that had a lot of footfall. A recent planning application suggested around 9,000 people walked through a space filled with rubbish bins.
A plan to demolish the whole site was recently changed into one that refurbished the buildings, but also with the aim of revamping Dover Yard into a decent public space.
What they have done is to turn the former car park into a pedestrianised yard, with a lot more planting in the yard, and also an open-air cafe area. The old Holiday Inn is now the more Mayfair appropriate upmarket hotel, the 1 Mayfair. The old basement car park that used to lead off from the yard has been replaced with a 170 cycle park instead, reflecting the change in attitudes since the site was first developed in the 1970s.
Although it feels like a private space owned by the hotel, it’s open to the public as a permissive right of way, and the owner is required under a Section 106 agreement to keep them open from 7:30am to midnight.
The yard is linked to the roads on either side by covered walkways.
The hotel side is the old road which has been pedestrianised and lined on one side with a plant-covered wall with the windows into the hotel sitting above a line of rusticated concrete panelling.
The yard is now filled with lots of pot plants and trees in pots, leading to the narrow Victorian walkway with a classic arched ceiling and metal rebars to hold the walls in place.
However, while I think the conversion of the old car park/bin store into a public yard is lovely, there’s something even more so here — and that’s the Dover Yard sign you’ll find at the end (or the entrance) to the Georgian covered passage.
And that’s the fantastic old City of Westminster street sign that predates the modern design by Sir Misha Black which was introduced from the late 1960s onwards. It’s difficult to be sure, but the sign could date from when the building around it was constructed in the 1860s, and is a fairly rare survivor of that era.
For that alone, this is a nice alley to visit.