Probably one of the better-named alleys in London, this short pedestrian passage can be found on Regent Street and is named after a stoned man.
The alley sits on an alignment that used to be a much longer road called Vine Street, possibly after an 18th-century pub in the area, and happens to also be one of the original locations on the London version of the Monopoly game board.
Vine Street was cut in half for the development of Regent Street and the southern half retained the name of Vine Street and extended along another short road that had been known as Little Vine Street.
Vine Street was to become much more famous thanks to a small police station that existed down there, which over time was to become of the more important police stations in central London, and was said at one point to be the busiest police station in the world.
The police station closed in 1940, but a rise in crime saw it reopened in 1966 and closed again in 1997. The area was recently redeveloped by the Crown Estate in 2005, demolishing the police station building and the remains of the building on the corner of Vine Street and Man in Moon Passage – an old pub.
That pub was, unsurprisingly, the Man in the Moon pub at 13 Little Vine Street, after which the passage took its name – you can just about see it in this photo. The pub, being right next to a busy police station was as popular as you can imagine, but also had a bit of artistic fame, as it held an engraving by Hogarth of the Man Loaded with Mischief, which used to be on a pub on Oxford Street.
The name of the pub, and many others of the same name, is said to owe its origins to a typically grotesque story in the Old Testament.
And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.
Although not written down, there’s an associated legend that the man in the moon that we see when looking at the moon on clear nights is the unnamed man being punished by God. The story is often represented as a man in a crescent moon carrying a bundle of sticks, and often with a lantern and a dog.
Quite when the passage was renamed from Vine Street to Man in Moon Passage has been difficult to trace, but seems likely to date to the 1920s, which is when much of Regent Street was rebuilt. The curving Quadrant had the covered walkways removed and the buildings redeveloped.
For some reason or other, they dropped the definitive when renaming the passageway, so Man in the Moon pub became plain Man in Moon Passage.
The alley itself is short, and mainly contains back doors for the shops and cafe on either side. The grand portland stone facade on Regent Street swiftly gives way to a utilitarian passageway with Edwardian tiles on one side facing the 2005 redevelopment on the other.
A wazzbaffle stops drunken men from making use of a recessed doorway and the alley passes down the remains of Vine Street at the end, and on the corner, what is today a goods entrance is where the Man in the Moon pub used to stand.
So, when you look at the alley and comment on the strange name, remember that it’s named after a man who was stoned to death for working on the sabbath.