This is an alley in Covent Garden that seems to have slipped through history barely leaving a mark, but it’s also an alley that’s had many names over its long life.
It first shows up on William Morgan’s map of 1682 as Queen’s Head Alley. It’s likely, in line with common tradition at the time, that the alley was named after a local pub, as there was a pub called the Crown in the alley, later known as the Poet’s Head, after John Taylor, the water poet who managed the tavern. He likely changed the pub’s name as while a staunch Royalist, even he couldn’t keep a regal name in the years following the English Civil War.
As a former waterman who made most of their money plying people along the Thames, he objected passionately to the growing use of horse cabs to get around London, writing “A coach like a heathen, a pagan, an infidel, or an atheist, observes neither Sabbath nor holiday, time nor season, robustly breaking through the toil or net of divine and human law, order, and authority”.
The alley later changed its name to Phoenix Alley, possibly after the Phoenix Theatre on nearby Drury Lane. John Strype’s Survey described the alley in 1720 as “a pretty open alley, but ill inhabited and nastily kept”.
It was still Phoenix Alley on R Horwood’s map in 1799, and a record shows it still as Phoenix Alley in 1819. However, in 1846, it was renamed Hanover Court, apparently because the old name was confusing. It later acquired its current name of Hanover Place by the 1940s. The choice of Hanover Court/Place as a name is likely to be after Hanover Street, which was almost opposite the alley but was itself absorbed by Endell Street.
Although the earlier name changes may have been related to the changing pub names, why they felt it necessary to rename Hanover Court as Hanover Place is however lost to history.
Today though, it’s a relatively wide alley mainly providing more space for a local restaurant, and side entrances to the flats above.
The northwestern end is a modern development from the 1980s, which replaced a former 1940s printworks on the site. A decision that they probably rue to this day as they replaced a classic warehouse building with a fairly bland block, and today the remaining warehouse buildings in Covent Garden are achingly fashionable.
And although mostly lit by electricity, the alley also boasts one of Covent Garden’s last remaining gas lamps.
A lot of the area has seen substantial redevelopment in recent years, with clusters of buildings being bought up, and then the whole block redeveloped, sometimes behind retained facades. It’s worth noting then that the entire block between Hanover Place and Bow Street — except the former pub on one corner is now owned by one investment firm.