The alley first shows up on the Ogilby and Morgan map of 1679 as an unnamed passageway, almost perfectly aligned with a boundary between farms that used to exist in the parish of St Andrew Holborn before the area was developed.
It seems that the alley once had gates across the entrance on the Chancery Lane side of the passage, which were locked at night.
The alley gained a brief period of notoriety as the meeting place of the Spencean agitators — a group based on the theories of Thomas Spence that private land ownership was unchristian, and should be abolished in favour of a type of common ownership.
A meeting in the Autumn of 1816, possibly a honey trap set by the government, formulated plans for an uprising. Although the Spenceans were a tiny group, they were considered a threat by the government. Nonetheless, on 2nd December, they were able to muster enough people to march through London, and a small riot started.
That evening, the leaders, James Watson and Arthur Thistlewood were arrested and put on trial for High Treason, but as the evidence was weak, and the mob found to have been rather inept than dangerous, they were found innocent and released.
They were however later found guilty of participating in the Cato Street conspiracy in 1820, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason. The sentences were later reduced and James Watson was sent to Australia, while Arthur Thistlewood was executed by hanging and beheading at Newgate Prison.
That radical interlude aside, the alley seems to have had no other notable developments.
By Victorian times, the area was filled with printers, and so was the alley, with several printers and printer manufacturers showing up on Goad’s insurance maps as being based in the alley.
The buildings along it all look relatively modern today for such an old alley and that’s because the alley suffered a direct hit during WW2, which took out all the buildings along the passageway. No heritage to save, the buildings have been redeveloped several times over the subsequent 80 years.
There used to be a pub on the corner with Fetter Lane, rebuilt in 1955 following the war, and known as the Vintners Arms, it later gained the far more interesting name of the Printer’s Devil. The pub, and the 1950s building was demolished in 2015 to be replaced by the current office block.
The southern side is still the 1955 development that was a mirror for the northern side – at least until a few years ago.
Further down is a white tiled modernist office block, designed by Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall as their own headquarters, and served as a flagship for the practice’s increasing specialisation in office work.
The alley then curves around a corner where it ends on Cursitor Street.
What I have been totally unable to work out is why it’s called Greystoke Place.
There are suggestions that it may have been known originally as Black Raven Passage, probably from a local inn as it was a common(ish) name once, but changed its name in 1810, but why it changed its name is a total mystery at the moment.