This is an old path that appeared with the railways but only gained the name of a local celebrity fairly recently.
When the railways arrived in this part of London, it was still largely fields, so any footpath that may have existed along this line doesn’t show up, but by 1872, there is the clear sign of the footpath showing up on maps.
The utility of the footpath is that it was at the time, the only way between Finchley Road and what is today West Hampstead, as there were no roads at the time. It was, as I said, all fields around here.
Over time, the area built up as the railways hoped, bringing fresh commuters to their stations, and as new roads and houses were added the footpath somehow managed to linger on, even as its usefulness declined.
In 2010 the footpath gained its current name of Billy Fury Way following a public poll, and was named after the singer who used to rehearse in the Decca Studios on Broadhurst Gardens, just around the corner from the alley.
It was also given a bit of a clean up, and at the West Hampstead end, a mural of the singer was added. Sadly the mural has not had a good life as it was swiftly damaged, then painted over, restored, and was on my visit, once again painted over.
The alley was also being suggested as a site for graffiti artists, and while one was at work on my walk through, it seems that the graffiti of choice along here is more tagging than artistic.
Indeed, it’s a bit of a run down pathway now, and there have been suggestions to close it entirely due to anti-social behaviour.
However, it’s these slivers of communication weaving their way around the backs of houses and warehouses that are so interesting to wander down, getting away from the clean high streets and residential streets into the underbelly of the city.
It slides between busy railway lines and the backs of houses, modern and old. One side of walls maintained by home owners, and inches away, the other side covered in spray paint. Rubbish is dropped, dog poo is left where it falls.
The back walls of the former Tower Royal Works owned by J. Sloper and Co lines the opening of the alley, where machines for protecting cheques, and later railway tickets were made.
The alley, so far deep down at ground level and surrounded by high walls and fences suddenly leaps upwards and over the railways through a metal canyon of spray paint.
The route of the alley used to veer away from the railway, but post-war rebuilding pushed the alley sideways to make space for homes.
Along it’s length this is an alley with many changing faces, while all wear the same make up of graffiti artists. Brick walls, metal fences, security gates, old warning signs, simple utility lighting, it’s an feast of fencing designs.
The Finchley Road end is soon to be revamped though. A new housing development, replacing an old pub will see the footpath’s ancient(ish) route diverted northwards, widened and opened up to make it more welcoming. That might encourage a few more people down into this thin vein of London to discover the curious delight that comes from unkempt footpaths.
Some more photos:
Location map and local interesting places
- 2] Freud Museum
- 3] Ben Uri Gallery
- 4] Fenton House and Garden
- 5] Burgh House and Hampstead Museum
- 6] Keats House
- 7] London Zoo
- 8] Brent Museum
- 9] Kenwood House
- 10] Jewish Museum London
- 11] Sherlock Holmes Museum
- 12] St Augustine's Church, Kilburn
- 13] St Stephen's, Rosslyn Hill
- 14] St Michael's Church, Camden Town
- 18] 2 Willow Road
- 19] Kenwood