This is a fairly wide modern looking alley just off Fleet Street that follows a path which is traceable back to Tudor times.
The alley runs alongside what was once fenced off pasture land and lead down to now buried Fleet River. The Faithorn and Newcourt map of 1658 shows a bridge over the Fleet at roughly the end of the alley, suggesting that it was of some significance at the time.
John Rocque’s map of London was the first to give it a name, Harp Alley (although it shows up as Harp Street on some maps).
The area was largely tenement buildings, but a lot of these were torn down in the 19th century road widening schemes. What was put up was soon taken down, this time by a WW2 V1 flying bomb which hit the site.
In the 1990s, the post-war site was cleared, and underneath the office block they found a former burial ground for plague victims in the 17th Century (first opened in 1610). Further burials took place between 1770 and 1849. These burial pits were fully excavated in 1991 when the existing buildings on the site were developed.
What’s there today is itself about to be torn down and replaced with a more modern office.
Down this otherwise uninteresting alley is an unexpected open space, which is today a beer garden for a pub. The Hoop and Grapes public house was built in 1721 for a vintner and converted to a public house around 1832. As an inn, it gained notoriety as a location for illegitimate Fleet weddings.
Nearly demolished in the 1990s, it’s today Grade II listed, and will be preserved as part of the new office block developments.
The courtyard looks like an old churchyard, maybe associated with the plague burials, and even has what looks like grave stones in the yard. But that’s misleading as it’s entirely modern, and related to the office blocks needing light into their spaces. Even the gravestones are fakes, being covers for ventilation shafts.
Over the years, the courtyard has also moved around a bit depending on the needs of the buildings that surround it.
The open space will soon be turned into a “pocket park” and moved slightly to the East along the alley — it’s fifth move since the 1890s.
As the land was on a slope down to the Fleet River, there is today an echo of that slope, in the stairs at the far end.
The alley also once contained its own “coinage mint”. In the 17th century, in response to the lack of low denomination currency being produced by the crown cities started issuing their own local currency which was accepted by local traders.
One such “mint” was on the corner of Harp Alley.
Much has changed over the centuries, from open path in fields, to slums, and then offices. And soon it will change yet again when the new office block is built.
Location map and local interesting places
- 1] Harp Alley
- 2] Bear Alley
- 3] Cheshire Court
- 4] Warwick Passage
- 5] Church Entry, EC4
- 6] Crane Court, EC4
- 7] Wardrobe Place
- 8] Ireland Yard, EC4
- 9] Hen and Chicken Court
- 10] St Paul's Alley
- 11] Ely Court
- 12] New Bell Yard, EC4
- 13] Stationers' Hall