A narrow open passageway that creates a convenient cross passage in the middle of two otherwise long unremitting roads.
Although surrounded by relatively modern buildings, the passage is fairly old, emerging from fields and housing into a defined route around the 1800s.
This part of London first appears in the records as an area of farmland described by Stow’s Survey of London in 1603 as Goodman Fields.
Braun and Hogenberg’s map of 1572 shows the area around the alley as open yards to the rear of buildings.
By the mid 1700s, Rocque’s map of 1746 shows that there has been major development within the site. It is no longer within open ground but has been built upon and is part of a row of buildings fronting southward onto what has become Chamber Street with gardens to the rear.
An institution named as the “London Infirmary” is located immediately east of the alley, and by 1813, maps are clearly showing Magdalen Passage in place.
What makes this part of London particularly notable though is that it’s widely thought to be where house numbers originated around 1708 when the street became notable for having buildings identified by a number rather than a name or sign.
As with much of this part of London, it swiftly industrialized, becoming warehouses and factories, but during WW2 the buildings to the west of the alley were totally destroyed.
The rather grand redbrick former government offices survived, and is today occupied by a restaurant, and half way down the alley is another eaterie, hidden behind a locked door, but having an outdoor garden space.
A modern office block fronts the other side of the alley, and at the rear, a plot of empty land that’s been empty ever since it was cleared of rubble following WW2. It’s soon to be built on with a new residential tower, but it’s a reminder that there are still bits of London that show the signs of war damage.
The alley is of use, if admittedly not adornment, and the council has a plan to improve the route at some point in the future to make pedestrian routes around the area more visible.
Just watch out for a surly security guard who tells you not to take photos. Which your correspondent, on a public highway ignored.
Location map and local interesting places
- 1] Magdalen Passage
- 2] Abel's Buildings
- 3] Little Somerset Street, E1
- 4] Golden Fleece Court
- 5] Gunthorpe Street, E1
- 6] Blue Boar Alley
- 7] Whitechurch Passage, E1
- 8] French Ordinary Court
- 9] Hartshorn Alley, EC3
- 10] Sugar Bakers Court, EC3
- 11] Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum
- 12] Whitechapel Gallery
- 13] Tower of London
- 14] The Crypt Museum