Alleys are often ancient cracks in the streetscape allowing people to slip between buildings to escape otherwise onerous routes around streets. A modern counterpart is a footbridge that leaps across otherwise forbidding railways and motorways, and a remarkable footbridge can be found in Shoreditch.
A curiosity of what is more usually called Pedley Street Arch is that it’s not on Pedley Street at all, but Fleet Street Hill, and what is called Pedley Street used to be Weaver Street, and what was Pedley Street… is now underneath the London Overground railway.
Recently adorned, if that is the correct phrase, with voluminous street art, it’s both alluring to visit, and oppressive. One would certainly not want to be here in the dark of night, a narrow slip of a route with high stairs and an atmospheric railway arch approach. In an area that’s still largely industrial, it’s exceptionally quiet at times, yet serves as a vital link over the railways that dominates the area.
I’ve always been drawn to footbridges. They’re often bitterly exposed to the weather, with grills that let the wind whistle through, yet the upper railings so often covered with deterrents from things, or people, being thrown on the traffic below.
As opposed to the quiet alley, they roar with noise, of wind, of cars, of trains. Seemingly insufficient to the span they cross they add an existentialist threat to the traveller who dares to cross.
The metal bridge leaping across the rails, with trains thundering a few feet below is, however, a far cry from the solid brick stairs on its approach. The northern side is, well, ordinary, but head to the southside for something really quite special.
It’s just a brick staircase, on two levels, but what a delight the design is, with its cross-shaped aspect and high walls that conceal, maybe danger, but also an exciting delight.
Dimly lit, these stairs were, before the street art arrived, a staple for film crews needing a night time footage of people escaping dark terrors in Victorian London, or even modern-day, thanks to its moderately low passenger use.
Once a dumping ground for unwanted domestic waste, you’re more likely to find discarded cans of spray paint or some young thing taking arty photos of arty walls.
What you will also find though, if you peer through the metal fencing is a series of odd-looking stone carvings. Often a topic of puzzlement to commuters heading into Liverpool Street station these lumps of stone are from Harwich House at the old Liverpool Street station that was demolished in the 1980s when the current station was redeveloped.
If you want to see Fleet Street Hill in its current “glory”, then head along soonish, as the new block of flats recently built nearby were conditional on £250,000 being spent to improve the local area, including the footbridge, where they plan to rebuild the steps on the southside to remove the angle and repaint the whole thing.
It’ll end up more pleasing to the eye for Joe Public, but blandness can be such a bore.