Welcome to London’s narrowest* alley, and it’s not the one that most other people say is the narrowest alley in London.
This is not Brydges Place near Trafalgar Square, often cited as the narrowest, but Emerald Court, in Bloomsbury not far from Great Ormond Street Hospital. A narrow slit in the streetscape this alley is just 26 inches wide, barely enough for an Englishman to walk down, and a formidable barrier to the average American. For comparison, Brydges Place is 33 inches wide at its narrowest point.
Those extra inches matter!
Emerald Court is not the original name though, as it used to be known as Green Street, and was apparently renamed in the late 18th century to avoid confusion with other green named streets in the area. Adding to the confusion, what is today Rugby Street used to be Chapel Street until even more recently.
That the road, lined with fine Georgian housing and shops is called Rugby Street is quite appropriate though, as the whole area is the Rugby Estate, a charitable bequest of land to Rugby School by Lawrence Sherriff or Sherriffe, a Rugby-born London grocer in 1567.
At the time this plot of rural land outside London was seen as a rather unfortunate change in his will, which had originally bequeathed £50 to the Rugby School.
Although its fortunes have waxed and waned over the centuries, the land is still owned by the charitable trust, and very rich it is indeed.
Although originally farmland, it was starting to be developed and by 1814, houses and a chapel were recorded on Chapel Street, and it would seem that’s when Emerald Court (or Green Court back then) was built.
Although the Rugby Street side of the alley is narrow and Georgian, as you pass through, you emerge into the 20th century, with a block of modern flats behind the Georgian shops.
The alley itself is frankly primarily notable for its lack of width than for any other features, although do look for the camouflaged alarm box in the alley next to the Susannah Hunter store.
*may be the narrowest, I am sure there’s one somewhere that will be narrower, if only to spite this article.