This equestrian-named passage near Holborn isn’t named after jockeys, as we think of them today, riding horses in races, but it is related to horses as a mode of transport.

The passage runs alongside the wall surrounding the Grays Inn legal enclave, which was still largely fields until the 18th century when the Bedford Charity started developing the area.

William Morgan’s map 1682

A quirk of the history is that what is today Jockey’s Fields was originally called Bedford Mews, and a small bit of road at the southern end of the mews was called Jockeys Fields.

John Rocque’s map 1746

Later, Jockey’s Fields was renamed Warwick Place (now Beford Row) around 1804, which should have seen the name disappear, but it was reused when Bedford Mews ceased to be a row of stables for horses and was renamed Jockey’s Fields.

Around this time, the back gardens of the houses were being filled in, and old stables were replaced with a mix of houses and offices. At one point in the 1880s, “the tricycle stable” opened an early replacement for horses—a bicycle repair centre that could also store 1,500 bicycles.

In 1863, a public urinal was installed at the southern end of the passage. The urinal probably stank though, because the Holborn Board of Works objected to paying £40 a year to the New River Company for the water supply and cut it off.

At a time when homosexuality was illegal, meeting in urinals was often the only option for gay men — and the police knew it was an easy win to get some convictions by hanging around and entrapping gay men.

In 1957, a 27-year old butcher was fined £5 for “importuning male persons for an immoral purpose”, and in 1959, a clerk was entrapped by plain-clothed police officers. When sentenced to a conditional discharge, the judge said that “for a man of your previous good character your week in custody must have been terrible indeed”. In 1966, a shop messenger was fined £15 for “persistently importuning ” in the urinal.

The passage also gained unwanted publicity in 1954 when gold worth £46,000 (equivalent to £37 million today) was stolen from the KLM air freight depot based here. The gold had been delivered to the depot from Rothchilds bank to be shipped to Switzerland. As the gold was being loaded into a van, a car was driven at speed at the van. As the guards jumped out of the way, two other men jumped into the van, transferred the gold into their own vehicle, and drove off. A year later, two men were jailed for accepting a £1,000 bribe to keep quiet about the robbers’ identity.

It’s widely thought that the gangster Billy Hill was behind the crime, but he was never convicted. His alibi was that he couldn’t have committed the crime as he was being interviewed about his criminal career by a journalist at The Sunday People newspaper when the robbery took place. Which is the sort of unlikely alibi that even a crime drama would baulk at using as being too improbable to be believed.

Today the alley is considerably quieter and almost genteel in nature.

On one side, the long brick wall surrounds Grays Inn, and the former stables are now houses and offices.

There is some interesting architecture down here, though, such as the modernist-looking flats at numbers 18 to 21. A careful study of old photos suggests that half of the building is a more recent structure designed to match the older modernist building next door.

Next to that, there’s a rather 1980s-style office and two more similar-styled buildings with large garages on the ground floor and offices above. Further down, you get to more residential-appearing buildings, with rows of Georgian houses and also a gap in the wall opposite, leading into Grays Inn for the convenience of the residents.

At the very end of the passage is where it turns into the original Jockey’s Fields, now Bedford Row, and where you can see all the motorbike parked up — that’s where the urinal used to be.

I wonder how many motorcyclists know they’re parking their bikes in an old toilet.


Be the first to know what's on in London, and the latest news published on ianVisits.

You can unsubscribe at any time from my weekly emails.

Tagged with:

This website has been running now for over a decade, and while advertising revenue contributes to funding the website, it doesn't cover the costs. That is why I have set up a facility with DonorBox where you can contribute to the costs of the website and time invested in writing and research for the news articles.

It's very similar to the way The Guardian and many smaller websites are now seeking to generate an income in the face of rising costs and declining advertising.

Whether it's a one-off donation or a regular giver, every additional support goes a long way to covering the running costs of this website, and keeping you regularly topped up doses of Londony news and facts.

If you like what you read on here, then please support the website here.

Thank you

One comment
  1. Reaper says:

    Even if Billy Hill wasnt involved in this crime he should still have been imprisoned for the much worse crime of assisting the Sunday People.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Home >> News >> London's Alleys and Passages