This is a brand new alley in central London that sits on a former orchard and was much later the brutalist police headquarters of New Scotland Yard.
The area was originally an orchard providing food for the monks in Westminster Abbey, which was also known as Cemetery Orchard because monks were buried there – giving back to the earth what it had given to them. However, following the dissolution of the monasteries, much of the abbey’s land was sold off and developed for housing.
In memory of the past use, there used to be an Orchard Street in the area.
There was for a short time a small alley close to the current one that shows up in the William Morgan map of 1682 called Prince Roberts Yard, which shows up as Cooper Street in 1799.
However, the layout of all the streets was radically changed a few decades later, because in 1851 the modern Victoria Street was created as part of a slum clearance project in the area. It was constructed in phases during the 1850s and 1860s, linking the new railway station at Victoria to Parliament, and the rebuilt Westminster Bridge.
The new layout of the area saw a large mansion block fronting Victoria Street and a cluster of smaller buildings behind.
After WWII, the area was heavily redeveloped as offices, and in 1962-66, this plot of land was cleared to build New Scotland Yard for the Met Police. It was very much of its time, a fairly bland office block designed by Max Gordon of Chapman Taylor Partners with facades by Adrian Gale.
The Met Police bought the freehold of the building in 2008 for around £120 million, and sold it in 2014 for £370 million, as they were moving to offices on Embankment, and moved in 2016.
The old building was now earmarked for demolition, and the developer wanted to break up the previous monolithic block that ran along Victoria Street, and that’s how Orchard Place came into existence.
It slices between two apparently separate buildings, but underneath, there’s a four-floor deep shared basement as it’s all one development. A large open space is at the northern end, leading to the alleyway as it heads southwards to Victoria Street.
Halfway along, there’s a large circular stone pad, which sits between two entrances into the offices above. It reminds me of pin cushions, albeit one that would dent your pins instead of holding them. Although it looks like offices, and there are two office entrances, the bulk of the towers above are actually residential, with 246 flats in the development.
At the moment, the shops that now run around the ground floor are empty as the development has only just been finished, but I’ve been told that all but one are leased and waiting to move in.
As a passageway, it’s otherwise punctuated with a number of wide timber seating platforms and raised planting beds.
It’s not a hugely atmospheric avenue, but it does offer a much wider pedestrian route around the area which is dominated by narrow pavements that skirt around the sides of buildings.
And it offers a good view of the former LU Headquarters building, which is always to be applauded.