This is a wide alley just to the north of Trafalgar Square and sits between the St Martins Lane Hotel to the north and the London Coliseum to the south.

Originally, the alley would have been lined with shops, but two very large buildings now occupy either side turning what would have been a bustling shopping lane into a blank corridor with space for the hotel to put out tables and chairs.

To the south side, the London Coliseum was built in a plot of land occupied by a lot of different businesses, most of who agreed to sell to the Coliseum owner, Oswald Stoll, but a handful refused, so what had been planned as a rectangular plot ended up more irregular. If you look at the Coliseum from above, you’ll see that the main theatre is built at an angle to get around the problem that the two corners of the block refused to sell up, and forced a design change on the building.

Goads insurance map – showing outline of properties bought for the Coliseum

Building work started in 1903 and the theatre was sufficiently complete to open in December 1904.

The Coliseum side of the alley is lined in red brick and stone finishes in Edwardian style, with the name of the theatre in large carved stone lettering on the side. Apart from the windows, it’s a flat solid wall, with a set of large exit doors that are opened after performances to help people leave quickly.

An oddity of the facade is that above one set of staff doors is the crest of the City of London.

On the corner is a cafe, the legacy of one of the original buildings that refused to sell to Oswald Stoll when he was buying up all their neighbours. It was at the time a silversmith.

The north side of the alley is today the St Martin’s Lane Hotel, an occasionally trendy hangout designed by Philippe Starck and sitting within a refurbished 1960s office block designed by Richard Seifert. The basement was the Luminere Cinema that opened in October 1967 and eventually closed in 1997 when the building was to be converted into the hotel. The main cinema is now the basement gym, but the original auditorium is still used as a small cinema and conference room by the hotel.

The other corner of the hotel also included a basement venue, a long-running gay bar, Brief Encounter that refused to move out when the hotel was being created, although it has since closed down, and the corner is now a service entrance for the hotel.

At the time of rebuilding around it, the alley was originally called May’s Buildings, but was renamed sometime after WW2. The apostrophe seems inconsistent, with some maps showing it as Mays Court, and others as May’s Court. I have stuck with the apostrophe as that’s what the street signs have used.

As an alley, it’s in two halves, one side Edwardian glamour and the other 1960s office block turned posh hotel.

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3 comments
  1. Guy says:

    I think along time ago there was a gay bar called Brief Encounter which had its entrance on Mays Court.

  2. guy says:

    Just realized it mentions it in the article Doh

  3. Jennifer says:

    I love when I read your articles about alleys and I realise I’ve walked past or down them! I recently went to the National Gallery for an event but first had some lunch at Koshari nearby to this court. I then walked down St Martin’s Lane to get to the Gallery. I know the gym you speak of and of course the theatre building. Fantastic history to learn of!

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