Despite its name, this is not a large square but a narrow passageway that leads off from Ludgate Hill in front of St Paul’s Cathedral and winds around the back of buildings to a cluster of narrow streets.

This part of London is just inside the ancient Roman Wall, and the gatehouse into the City – hence Ludgate. Although the area around St Paul’s Cathedral was developed by medieval times, the south side of Ludgate Hill where the alley is was still dominated by a moat surrounding the ruins of  Montfitchet’s Tower.

Montfichet’s Tower was a Norman fortress between where St Paul’s Cathedral and City Thameslink station now stand. First documented in the 1130s, it was probably built in the late 11th century. The defences were strengthened during the revolt of 1173–1174 against Henry II. It was demolished in 1213 by King John and the site was sold in 1275 to build the great Dominican priory of Blackfriars.

Despite its prime location, took a while for the area to develop, but by the 1600s, it was fully developed, with a row of houses fronting Ludgate Hill, and behind them a large courtyard, Holliday Court.

J Ogilby & W Morgan map 1676

Holliday Court was slowly filled in and had adopted the alley-like appearance that it has today by 1799, but still lacked an entrance onto Ludgate Hill.

R Horwood map 1799

It was during the Victorian rebuilding of the smaller Georgian era houses and shops to replace them with larger buildings that the alley finally acquired its current layout, with a new covered entry created where it is today, fronting Ludgate Hill. Although the alley was mainly occupied by warehouses and shops, in 1887, a large stone masons yard shows up in Goad’s Insurance Maps, and you can see that Holiday Yard is now partly Ludgate Square. Later the whole alley was renamed Ludgate Square.

Goad’s Insurance Map 1887

Although the area around the cathedral was badly damaged during WWII, the buildings around Ludgate Court managed to escape with minimal damage. However, most of the buildings that now line the area are in fact 1980s redevelopments behind retained Victorian facades. Road vehicles were banned in 1993 when the City of London pedestrianised the alley.

There is a remnant of memory of former warehouse use on one of the buildings with a first-floor pully and winch to lift cargo up to the upper floors. And yes, it’s original and not a recent warehouse fake as many in docklands tend to be, as it shows up in a 1975 photo.

About half of the northern side of the alley is a new hotel, replacing a poor-quality 1980s pastiche of an earlier Victorian building. The rebuilding of that site is why the paving in the alley has been relaid recently, as part of the planning approval to improve the area.

With the Victorian original archway at the top of the alley leading into this recently sanitised passage that looks just a bit too clean at the moment, maybe hold off a visit for a decade to let some muck and grime settle in and give the area some character once more.

There’s a side passage off the alley though, which is just for bins and fire escapes, but someone has recently applied a delightful dose of facial pareidolia to the lamps.

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One comment
  1. Chris Rogers says:

    That whole area is a lucky survivor; the post-war redevelopment north of St Paul’s and south (Upper Thames St etc) was abandoned just before it reached it.

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