A side alley off posh Bond Street that is a back entrance to an auction house but is more notable for the distinctive name of the yard.

This part of London started being developed in the 1740s from fields into the layout we have today, although at the time it was far from the upper-class area that we associate Mayfair with today. Haunch of Venison Yard was certainly here by the 1760s, almost certainly providing stables and mews for the houses facing onto the main roads around it, and the name comes from a pub that stood in the corner.

By the turn of the 19th-century, as with much of the area, the yard was mainly occupied by small factories and workshops. Goad’s insurance plan shows everything from a soap and candle maker, a couple of blacksmiths, stables, a piano warehouse and even an opticians.

The insurance map turned out to be quite useful, as on the night of 17th November 1891 a serious fire broke out in an electrical engineering workshop, and not only gutted the entire building but spread far enough to have damaged the frontages of buildings on New Bond Street. The St James’s Gazette newspaper noted in its report that the building was insured.

Goad’s insurance map

From the number of contemporary crime reports of the time, there was also a lot of lodgings in the yard, probably attached to the workshops.

The yard has a curious note in history, as the first prosecution for riding two people on one bicycle took place here, when in December 1934, David Drayford and John Vaughan were fined 7s 6d each for being “two up on cycle”.

As the area changed from workshops into the posh shops that it is today, the residential uses declined and now the yard is mainly back entrances to the shops that front the main roads around it.

On the corner of the alley is a decorative building, and this was the Haunch of Venison pub, after which the yard behind was named. As a pub, it likely closed in 1901, as that is the last record of a licensed landlord on the site, and was later converted into a shop on the ground floor and offices above.

Incidentally, if you think a haunch of venison is a rather grand meal to serve in a pub, the pub probably served any sort of game meat, as the term venison, derived from the Latin, venari, meaning to hunt, later came to mean any meat from a game animal, and only recently became associated purely with deer meat.

So they probably served up rabbit stew for supper.

On the other side of the former pub is a very different building entirely. This art-deco style building, Greybrook House, was built as a showroom with practice rooms and offices above for Bechstein’s, the piano manufacturer, in 1929 by Sir John Burnet & Partners. It’s particularly distinctive for the reeded and fluted (or corrugated) panels in the stonework especially on the corner elevation and at the top of the building where there is a double set-back.

Heading into the yard, it opens up into a wide space, and was until fairly recently very much a cluster of back entrances and service yards. The far end is however very different as it’s a brand new replacement for the cluster of relatively shabby buildings that were demolished and the current Bonhams building, designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands was built on the same footprint.

Bonhams planning application

The building now houses Bonhams auction house, its display rooms and offices.

The alleyway carries on around a corner, and to the rear of Blenstock House, which from this side looks pretty plain, but is in fact Grade II listed, thanks to its frontage facing onto Blenheim Street.

The site has links to the Crossrail project. The westbound tunnel runs right underneath the yard, and in the corner of the yard had a shaft dug down to create access for compensation grouting. This was used to pump grout into the ground as the tunnel boring machine passed underneath to prevent any subsidence at the ground level.

Heading further down the alley it looks to be a dead end, but in fact, there’s a fairly small gap, and you can walk into another alley, Globe Yard.

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One comment
  1. Chris Rogers says:

    Do pop in to Bonhams, it’s a beautiful piece of contemporary architecture.

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