Part of the busy Wandsworth Road sits at the bottom of a steep slope, and to get to the top, in one place is a steeply sloping alley, with the charming name of Matrimony Place that leads up to an old church.
The alley is rarely named on maps, but the name seems to have been around for a long time, probably as long as the church has. John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the church and the barrier between two fields pretty much where the alley is today.
The earliest record of the alley’s name I can find is when it’s mentioned in Lady’s Magazine in 1815, where the location was a suitable one for a public proclamation on Valentine’s Day. Greenwood’s map of 1828 frustratingly puts the map name right on top of where the alley is so we can’t quite see it. The name still existed in 1865 though, as it appears in a list of street names of London.
OS Maps of the area in the 1890s shows the area developed much as it is today, with the Wandsworth Road lined with houses, and the alley snaking up between them to the church, with the steps clearly marked.
The alley had homes facing into it, as the addresses pop up occasionally in newspaper reports of petty crime, but awkwardly, by 1924, the only address listed in the alley was the rather less romantic Clapham Mortuary.
Apart from the obvious association with marriage and the nearby church, it’s been a struggle to find out why the alley is called Matrimony Place. A newspaper reference in 1946 says the area was known as Matrimony Place, but I can’t seem to find any corroborating evidence for that.
What’s interesting is that the 1946 newspaper article makes mention of the 29 steps, that lead up to the church as if it’s a well-known local custom to walk up to the church for a wedding as that the steps bring good luck to the married couple. The steps do provide a very good location of a photo though, with the married couple standing in front with their family on the steps behind.
At a best guess, people going to church would have found the steps up to the church from Wandsworth Road a much more convenient route than the winding streets around the back, and as many a couple heading to be married there would have gone up the same passage, that’s where the name came from. But it’s just an educated guess.
Today, it’s still there, although the cast-iron railings that line the alley are relatively recent, dating from a turn of the millenium renovation of the alley.
It had originally been lined with iron railings, but they were removed during WW2, and replaced with concrete pillars and mesh netting strung between them. That was at some point replaced with some very municipal steel railings, but hardly appealing. At the turn of the century, Julian Lush organised the renovation of the alley to make it a bit more appealing.
Unfortunately, the revamping of the alley doesn’t seem to have solved the problem that people were complaining about 20 years ago, and the local police are still having to target the alley for drug dealing.
So maybe an alley to visit during the daytime, with a friend, or to get wed.
And yes, it does have 29 steps.