This alley just to the north of Oxford Street in the heart of Fitzrovia is a convenient shortcut through a block of shops and offices and is original from when the area was first laid out.

William Franks, the developer who was responsible for the area was married to Mary Pepys, a relative of the diarist Samuel Pepys, and was granted a lease on the land in the 1760s to develop it into housing. In amongst the streets was a grand church, the Percy Chapel, with a small alley to the south side, Percy Passage.

The name Percy comes from Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, as was common at the time to name streets after nobles. Facing onto Charlotte Street, named after Queen Charlotte, the Percy Chapel was built in 1765 as a typical 18th-century church, with a portico in front and a pitched roof surmounted with a bell tower.

A contemporary illustration shows it brightly coloured dun yellow, and a slightly later image shows the frontage having been extended.

The church however did not own the land it sat on, and rising rents meant that the church was eventually demolished in 1867, to be replaced with the current building on the site, erected in 1888 as offices for the Hearts of Oak Benefit Society, which was a friendly society named after the navy whose wooden ships protected Britain from invasion.

Goad’s insurance map 1889

They moved out in 1906, and it became a showroom and office for the dental suppliers, Cottrell.

More recently though, it became the Charlotte Street Hotel, and what looks like the retention of the classical building is actually a modern hotel built in the late 1990s, behind just the original facade.

When entering the alley from Charlotte Street end do look for the blocked up door frame with a row of rosettes above – a surviving 19th-century entrance into the ground floor shop.

Away from the stucco-clad walls, it quickly becomes a lot plainer with a simple yellow stock brick-lined passage, and if you look up, some guard railings to stop people climbing up into the hotel building.

At the far end of the passage, on Rathbone Street, to the south is a pleasing 19th-century brick building with stone detailing and striking dark grey ground floor frontage.


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One comment
  1. Nicholas Bennett says:

    No doubt many a saucy remark about this alleyway!

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