This is London’s shortest alley, and also one that you can’t actually walk down any more as modern gates replicate a medieval barrier.
One one side is the old Chapterhouse building, and the other a modern office block, and public toilets, so why is the alley here at all?
Before German bombs flattened the area, it was a closely built up cluster of buildings and narrow passages, and St Paul’s Alley, if not so called at the time, certainly dates back to the time of the old Cathedral.
At the time, it was common for churches to be surrounded by a high wall, and St Paul’s Cathedral was no exception, but like all walls, it had gates. One of those gates was right here. As housing built up around the outside of the Cathedral precepts, what was to become St Paul’s Alley came into existence.
The wall, and the gates have long since vanished, but St Paul’s Alley carried on and used to run from the Cathedral up to Paternoster Row, which used to run through the middle of what is today Paternoster Square.
So it wasn’t a long alley even then, but when the area was redeveloped in the 1960s, it was truncated even further, and to ensure they could control how people entered and left the area, the alley was later fenced off.
Many people will see the gates on either side of this short alley and presume they are there to protect what lies within, for in the middle of the alley is an old water pump.
An inscription declares that the water pump was built in 1819, making it 200 years old this year. However, it was originally situated against railings of St Paul’s Churchyard close to St Paul’s Cross, and only moved to present position in 1973.
The gates were actually added to stop people using the alley and corralling them into more controllable routes. The current gates are more recent additions, but in keeping with the heritage of the area.
In a way, the alley as it is today looks ancient, but most of what you see is modern, yet it’s also one of the oldest identifiable alleys in London.