There is a delightfully cute little alley that has been in this part of Hoxton ever since it was all fields, and yet its history is a total mystery.

The alley is actually a subway that run underneath a row of houses built in the early 19th century as a single block, with a brick wall to give the residents on either side a bit of privacy.

What’s peculiar is that the foot tunnel sits underneath 107 Shepherdess Walk, and yet, as far as I can tell, number 105 didn’t exist when 107 was built, so why have a subway when they could just as easily have had a conventional open alley?

This is not the only mystery about the place.

The purpose of the tunnel is clear though, as today it provides a convenient, and on my summer morning visit, well used link to the park behind, but at the time of construction that park didn’t exist.

The park is new, and used to be homes so the alley lead to a street, Turner’s Place, and provided a route for workers working on the canal wharves beyond, rather than dog walkers.

The park that exists today was also home to two large baths, opened in 1842 and were the largest covered baths in London for 90 years.

The baths were converted into factories sometime around the 1950s, but even by then it’s clear that some dereliction was starting to set in with some houses marked as ruins.

By the 1970s, the area was totally run down, and it seems there were plans to renovate the derelict homes, but while the council was keen, the residents of the area wanted a park.

A campaign was mounted to overturn a report supporting the redevelopment of the area, and as the park exists, it seems clear that they succeeded. Quite when they succeeded is difficult to be sure of though.

The council website mentions the park, but oddly seems to be talking about a different park that stood further down the road, where the famous pub now stands. There also seems to have been another park on the street, leased in 1957 to the Public Gardens Association, who were late in paying their rent. A letter in 1966 complained that the annual rent, of “a bunch of flowers in season” hadn’t been paid since 1962.

Anyway, the foot tunnel survived, and now leads not between run-down streets, but to a park, and one which was recently decorated with some delightful mosaics.

I just wish that after several hours trawling archives, I could say why it exists.


Article last updated on April 14th, 2020 at 10:36 am

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18 comments
  1. GT says:

    Fascinating.
    Next time I go to the “Wenlock” I’ll hae a closer look.
    Thanks

  2. John Usher says:

    Title suggests that the alley is Shepherdess Walk, when, as you burrow into the article, it becomes clear that is off Shepherdess Walk – that confused me at first. I originate from not far away, and this a new one on me – intriguing. I will have a look next time I am in the area. Thanks.

  3. Les D says:

    Presumably constructed to give access to the public baths on development of the rest of the terrace ?

  4. Nicholas Bennett says:

    My great grandmother died in 1969 in the hospital which had been the workhouse on Shepherdess Walk. Long since closed.

  5. Dawn Williams says:

    My family lived at Windsor House from 1968 to 78 and I remember as a child walking through that alley to go to packington park which had a really great little paddling pool with big round stones and a slide built into a hill. There was also some kind of play area which was constructed like a maze it was quite awesome, I don’t this type of innovation exists in design of parks as it did in the early 70s. I always remembered that alley and today I have read why it was there, people today would think twice about travelling through that tunnel!

    • Colin says:

      Hi Dawn,

      Do you mind me asking what number you lived at?

      I live in Windsor house now and am fascinated by local history.

      Thanks

  6. Hannah says:

    I just walked past this and wondered why it was there and where it went! It’s a funny old area..

    Also, I love this website!!!!!

  7. Rachel King says:

    I was born in 103 Sheperdess Walk, it survived dereliction and now has a preservation order..we used the lane to play in the park all the time, happy days early seventies

    • Tracey Swain says:

      Hi Rachel I lived at 103 shepherdess walk the same time you did, we were upstairs and you were down. Hope you and your family are well x

    • Carole King says:

      Hi Rachel you most probably don’t remember us we lived above you in no 103 l was friends with your Mum we visited you in Harmony Heights in Castle Bar lm Carole and we were the North family. 💋

  8. William Harris says:

    My 2nd great aunt Rebecca Mersh, lived at 28 Turner’s Place, Shepherds Walk. On the 1911 census.

  9. Lesley glide says:

    My father and his parents and siblings lived at 24 shepherdess walk in 1906

  10. jacqueline freeman says:

    the alley in shepherdess walk is indeed an ancient walk way.By law you can’t build on it. Therefore it was built over and became a tunnel…Ingenious.

  11. Anthony Warden says:

    Several members of my family lived in Turners Place in the 30s through to the 40s. My uncle Charles Robert Penn lived there at the time of his death when he was killed in the bombing of the Wenlock Brewery, my aunt and 2 cousins (still around) survived due to the women being separated from the men.
    The basement of the brewery was used as a shelter.

  12. Rob says:

    Hi – I’m doing some research on my family tree. My grandmother was born in 1921 and immediately put into an orphanage. On her birth certificate it lists 122 Shepherdess Walk as her mother (my gt. grandmother’s) address. Would this have been the workhouse referred to in the comments here?

    Any info most gratefully received.

    Rob

  13. Susan says:

    My great grandfather, John Sandercock, was Assistant Master of the Workhouse at the census in 1881. Does anyone have any more information on the workhouse?

  14. Terry Barker says:

    Found this most interesting site by accident when reading about the Wenlock Brewery Bombing. I had two relatives who survived the bombing but were taken to Frien Barnet hospital.They Had a son (Jimmy Cagehin) age 15 who died in the same bombing raid at home that night in Bristow Street because he wouldnt go to the shelter in the Brewery. On the 1901 census my gt granddfather & three other family members lived at 24 Turners Place and on the 1911 census he was living on his own at 29 Turners Place, His name was George Barker,

  15. Sonia York-Pryce says:

    My ancestors the Yarrolls lived on Shepherdess Walk around 1836/37, either at no 6 or 8, not entirely sure. It appears there may have been a passage on Shepherdess Walk where there was a door leading to some gardens and a field beyond. Probably all gone now since WW2 bombing perhaps?

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