This short alley through a pub gateway is a pale shadow of its much larger past, where old warehouses and shops are now achingly expensive flats.

The alley first appears on John Rocque’s map as Three Cups Yard, a long alley with narrow entrances at either end, and was largely unchanged until the 1880s, when a school building was added blocking off the northern half of the alley.

The area was very badly bombed during WW2, with buildings on either side of the yard totally destroyed.

Of much bigger impact though was the destruction of the entire block of buildings that sat just outside the yard to the south. That had been two blocks separated by Grays Inn Passage, but is today occupied by a single large office block.

The previous occupants of the buildings were mainly printers, metal melting and rolling workshops, oil and colour and offices with oil heaters and associated storage tanks, all lost in the war. In 1955, the current office block was constructed, although the exterior looked very different back then, and it has been “modernised” several times since then.

Sadly, the back of the building is now an unremittingly solid slab of plain brickwork that sits very ill at ease with its surroundings.

On the other side is the devil himself — well, his local pub. The Old Nick pub is actually a modern name for a much older pub, and used to be known, unsurprisingly as the Three Cups.

There has been a pub on the site since at least 1472, which was probably a coaching inn, although the current building is said to date from 1766, and revamped in 1900. The pub claims one rumour has it that it was renamed after a local barrister. However, there are an awful lot of Three Cups pubs in England, and Three Cups pubs are usually named after the Worshipful Company of Salters who are associated with three cups for salt, a once luxury commodity.

The inn sign is a portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli, the Renaissance political operator who wrote The Prince. It is sometimes thought that it is because of him that Old Nick became an English term for the Devil, hence his portrait for the pub sign.

The pub also used to house an upstairs theatre, and in 1997 put on a double bill of plays by Robert Hamilton, based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Renaming the pub Old Nick seems to have been foretold.

Today most of the alley is sealed off, the school converted into very expensive flats and a gate blocking access into the yard proper.

The upper part of the pub is now flats.

Nearest railway stations

  1. Holborn
  2. Chancery Lane
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One comment on “London’s Alleys: Three Cups Yard, WC1
  1. Kathleen Coventry Toomey says:

    My old school now posh flats Princeton Primary School also my Mums old school great school in its day

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