This semi-convenient bypass for tourist central is rather modest for something named after the owner of Kensington Palace.

Back in the 17th century, Heneage Finch, first Earl of Nottingham had a house in nearby Great Queen Street, which at the time was newly fashionable with the Royal Court. His son was to later buy a building to become Nottingham House in Kensington, which his grandson sold to William and Mary as their principle Royal Palace in 1689.

Renamed Kensington Palace, it remained the principal residence of the reigning sovereign until the death of George II in 1760.

When Covent Garden was being laid out, it seems that they decided to remember the old Earl of Nottingham with a narrow alley.

Quite when Nottingham Court was laid out is unclear, but it certainly appeared on maps from the mid 18th century when the area was already built-up. Doubtless it was a trades entrance, running as it does down the centre of a block of buildings that front onto King Street, the main tourist route today.

It crops up again in 1899 in Charles Booth’s poverty maps, where its the only spot of black in a sea of shades of middle-class reds, indicating an alley lined with extreme poverty and being semi-criminal in nature.

Today it’s still got some residential apartments from the Covent Garden Housing Co-operative overlooking the alley, but is largely lined with modern offices and at the north-end, what looks like a miniature attempt at a post-modern shopping block, replacing the venerable bookbinders, Morrells & Sons when they closed in 1983.

The most noticeable thing about the alley though is the smell. This is clearly an open latrine for use by people who have overindulged in the nearby pubs.

Such is the problem of public urination, that one recessed house has installed a modern variant on the Victorian urine deflectors that you can still find in some parts of the City of London.

Going off on a tangent, the southern street that Nottingham Court abuts to is Shelton Street, named after William Shelton, a wealthy trader, who left provision in his will of 1672 to build a school for under privileged children.

Nearly 350 years later, that charity is still functioning, as the William Shelton Educational Charity.

Nearest railway stations

  1. Covent Garden
  2. Tottenham Court Road
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