This is a short but charmingly cobbled little passage in Hampstead that unexpectedly leads to a cluster of hidden cottages.

There is a hint in John Roque’s map from 1746 that the alley ran through the block to the road on the other side, although that could be a reference to Oriel Place or Perin’s Court, two longer alleys on either side of Oriel Court. It’s a tad difficult to be certain though.

Whatever its origins, today the alley is a short L-shaped dead-end passage. The name comes from Oriel House, which stood about where the alley is today and gained some local fame when it was used to hold Catholic worship at a time when that was still a rarity in England.

However, by the mid-1800s, the row of houses was tenements and ran down, and finally, in 1888, they were demolished as part of a road widening scheme and replaced with the blocks of flats above shops that exist today.

Something interesting right next to the entrance is the name sign with the postcode. It seems likely to have originally been “Oriel Court N.W.”, and the THREE was added when the NW postcode was divided into smaller areas in 1917, thus creating NW3.

For some reason, they put the 3 below the NW instead of next to it. I speculate, but as the 3 was added to assist women posties helping out during WWI, was it expected to be a temporary change that would be reversed once the men returned from war?

The south side of the alley is lined by a single building, which had been a forge, followed by Roff & Son, the builders, and the White Bear Garage. The entrance to the garage wasn’t in the alley, though, but just a bit to the south, through what was until recently the Hampstead Antiques Emporium. You can see the entrance to the garage in this photo from 1960, and you can just about see the entrance to Oriel Court, where two men are walking away from the photographer.

The name of the garage seems odd for a car firm, but it’s also quite popular, judging by how many White Bear Garages I found while researching this article. Nevertheless, hardly anything about the Hampstead garage was found.

The garage didn’t last long after the photo was taken though, as the Antiques Emporium opened on 1st July 1967, and that has itself now closed as well.

Back to the alley, which is charmingly cobbled (setts) as you walk down it and suddenly opens up with a courtyard space surrounded by small cottages and small private gardens.

If you walk a bit further down the passage, it turns a corner into a long, narrow passage that’s also a dead end and seems only to exist now to let light into the buildings on either side.

It used to lead to a garden though, but that was built over sometime between 1866 and 1893, leaving this narrow dead-end of a passage.

OS map 1866 showing the garden at the end of the alley

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  1. Simon Doyle says:

    I don’t think I ever actually plucked up the courage to see what was down that passage when I lived in the neighborhood, so thanks for sharing. Interesting about the moved “3” – could there have been a now lost obstruction (drainpipe, or a gas pipe or power cable for a lamp) that stopped it being in line?
    There’s evidence further down the high street in other passage entrances that the letter tiles must be getting scarce, with “Q” being used because presumably they ran out of “O”s…

    • Max Ingram says:

      If you look closely at that ‘Q’ you’ll see that it is an ‘O’ that has been modified wi5 a felt-tip pen!

  2. tim says:

    There’s quite a few Qs used as Os in Hampstead, and commas as spaces and a few other similar things where they seem to be running out of characters.

    I wonder that the ‘3’ was below the ‘NW’ to avoid damaging the brickwork at the end of the wall as it’s quite close to the edge there?

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