This is a short shabby alley that leads off from some of the most expensive properties in central London.

The short alley leads off Duke Street in St James, which first appeared in the rate books of the parish of St. Martin in the Fields in 1673. It is likely that it was named in honour of James, Duke of York, later James II.

The alley itself first shows up as Princes Court in John Roque’s map of 1746, and in more detail in Horwood’s map of 1799 as a narrow passage lined with small houses leading to the back gardens that at the time filled the rest of the block.

Horwood’s Plan of London (1792-9)

The gardens behind the houses slowly filled in with more buildings as the houses turned into offices and galleries. The entire block to the south of the alley was however then destroyed in WW2, leaving just the corners intact –which explains the sharp change in building styles.

The southern half of the block was rebuilt after WW2 as offices and occupied by Dunlop, prior to Christies’ acquisition and integration of most parts as an extension of its adjoining headquarters and auction rooms on nearby King Street.

Although the alley looks like nothing more than a back passage for the buildings around it, there is an art dealer down here — in the far right corner. Occupying a building address that managed to survive from the alley’s earliest days is the Asian art specialists Littleton & Hennessy, who also hold public exhibitions a couple of times a year.

So now you have an excuse to walk down this short unimpressive alley, for there are wonderful things to be found down here.


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