This is a busy alley off Camden’s main shops that has a long and at times confusing history.
The alley runs east-west off Camden High Street and leads to Underhill Street behind. So you’d assume from the name, that the passage was built at the same time as the street, and it was — but it wasn’t called Underhill Passage, and neither as it happens, was Underhill Street.
Underhill Street was originally called Clarendon Street, while Underhill Passage used to be called Pleasent Passage.
By at least 1895, Clarendon Street was showing up as Underhill Street, but the renaming of Pleasent Passage as Underhill Passage seems to have been a 1940s decision.
It’s speculative, but there’s also a Pleasent Row a few shops further to the south, and it was decided that’s too many pleasants in so small a space, so one had to go, and Pleasent Passage became Underhill Passage.
It’s not an unappealing passage to walk down today, a bit bland and hardly one that seems to merit the name of Pleasent. However, had you walked down it 150 years ago, it was lined with small shops and on the south side also a stable.
It also had a slaughterhouse, which might be less pleasant to modern eyes, although at the time, quite a useful utility to have.
The buildings to the north side are modern, having been constructed in 2015 to replace a cluster of three smaller 20th-century shops, and there’s a side entrance into the flats above the shops in the alley.
The entrance was opposed by the council’s crime prevention officer, who wanted it on the main road, but the plans were approved anyway. The alley was also slightly widened when the new building was constructed – by about the width of one paving slab.
Opposite the modern side of the alley is a proper old building, likely dating to the 19th-century, and was for many years, a shoe shop called Hiltons, with curved glass windows is now a sandwich parlour without the curves.
Further down the alley, there is also a small house that may be the site of the old horse stables building.
The main occupant of the rest of the alley is the back of a large M&S store, with its main goods entrance at the end of the alley, where there is also a small car park for customers. You can also just about see one of the ventilation/access shafts for the Camden deep-level shelters built during WWII, which has the potential to be an access site for construction works if the paused upgrade of Camden Town tube station is ever restarted.
The alley is today not unpleasant, being fairly clean and a bit bland in fact, but also quite busy as it does offer a very useful cut-through in this part of bustling Camden.