A short side street next to a disused railway in Shoreditch has a complicated history.

It’s an area that has changed an awful lot over the centuries. Once farms on the edge of London, by the time of the 1700s the area was built up and what is today one alley may well be the remnants of two alleys.

The north-south stretch was once known as George Street (picture above), while a grimmer east-west length at the far end of this alley would have been known as Three Cup Alley.

When the railway to Broad Street was constructed in the 1860s, the buildings to the west side were demolished to make way for a three track railway. A building that still exists on the corner of Fairchild Place once accommodated a railway signal box on its roof at track level.

When Great Eastern Street was created in 1877 it demolished most of the buildings around the alleys, but the rough layout remained intact, and the entire alley was called George Street.

In the early 20th century, it was renamed Fairchild Place though, possibly after Thomas Fairchild who used to live locally, and is also remembered in a local park.

On the corner is a bull-nosed building that was once shops, dwellings and bank premises for the National Penny Bank, now office and residential accommodation.

The National Penny Bank was set up in 1859 by Colonel Edward Akroyd in Halifax as a philanthropic organization aimed at providing a means of saving for the working classes. Unlike the grand banks, the Penny Banks were open in the evenings and took deposits of less than a shilling making them more accessible to the working classes.

Looking up above the sign of the Penny Bank Chambers is a row of terracotta “pennies” with the name of the bank embossed in them. The National Penny Bank was wound up in 1914, although its Yorkshire original bank continues today as the Yorkshire Bank.

On the other side, the railway arches are now occupied by The Stage, or more correctly, the sales office for the massive housing development behind that is called The Stage after it was confirmed that one William Shakespeare performed here.

Down the far end, the alley turns a right into the former Three Cup Alley, and into a dead-end that is lined with air conditioning units, fag ends and rubbish.

It’s also got three rather nice looking very new doors that suggest flats behind have been recently refurbished.

An oddity though is how the cobbled street looks as if it’s been cut in half lengthways with the buildings encroaching onto the street. But I can’t find any evidence to suggest that happened – this just seems to be an odd layout of the alley.

The alley is also a curiosity of bureaucracy as this short dead end route is inside the congestion zone. This short road may be just a few yards long, but it’ll cost you £11.50 to drive into it.

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  1. Melvyn says:

    Not only is the short dead alley in the Congestion Zone it’s also in the Ultra Low Emission Zone and that charge is 24/7 !

  2. JP says:

    I love these anomalies. You can just imagine the meetings to determine the physical boundary of the zone. I would hope that someone raised the issue of such places and if so, I can just imagine the spluttering retort that no we can’t have this wonderful idea condescending to wiggly little lines going in and out of these particular cats’ backsides at its borders.
    Or sthg not too dissimilar.

  3. Mark says:

    Before being claimed as the sales office for The Stage development, the furthest arch was formally an abandoned lock-up. It was where the footballer Justin Fashanu broke into and committed suicide. He was an openly gay footballer at the time.

  4. Liam says:

    This street with “a complicated history” has an even more interesting history. In the mid-1600’s it grew from an aggregation of weaver’s homes and workplaces, first known as Cradle Alley then as George Yard from c1690. Two families lived on the corner of ‘George Yard’ (Fairchild Place) and ‘Holywell Street’ (Shoreditch)- the Beaumonts and the Perrys. The Beaumonts were weavers and a grandson of theirs joined the East India Company as a trader and became a notably wealthy man.

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