This rather dramatic and modern looking alley is a modern redevelopment of an alley that can trace it’s heritage back to the original developments along Chancery Lane.
The passage is named after the Bishops of Chichester whose mansion off Chancery Lane on the Lincoln’s Inn site came into the possession of Ralph Neville, the then Bishop and Chancellor in the 13th century.
The area lining Chancery Lane was largely built up by the mid 16th century, and Ogilby and Morgan’s map of 1676 seems to show the first tentative outlines of the alleys in this part of town.
It seems to have been a wide open space with lots of small tall buildings, and was largely rebuilt in the Georgian times, but retaining the alley as an open space.
In the latter part of the 19th century some of the buildings were redeveloped as a single block and the façades retained as part of a recent 1980s redevelopment, when the rest of the backs were gutted and turned into modern offices.
It was for a couple of decades a fairly ordinary alleyway lined with modest shops. Until 1989 Chichester Rents formed an open alleyway, but this was greatly reduced due to the addition in 1989 of rather ugly bridge links at each end.
Then in 2012 a planning application was made that would see the 1980s facades removed and a new modern design introduced, with the dramatic staggered walkways. It also almost saw Chichester Rents vanish entirely, but eventually it was agreed that the rebuiding of the surrounding offices would retain the alley.
The offices that now line the alley and overhang it are in fact not officially part of Chichester Rents, but 81 Chancery Lane, with the entrance outside the alley. The redevelopment of that office block has however created the very modern appearance of this ancient alleyway.
The overbridge is a clever design, as it’s narrowest and most “bridge like” at the bottom, but by the time you get to the top floor, it’s so wide that it’s easy to forget that it’s a bridge at all, and just part of an open plan office.
The lower level of the overbridge are not offices though – but the living rooms of two residential flats.
Lining the alley above the shops, terracotta fins reflect daylight down, and are a reference the faïence of the Victorian buildings replaced in 1990.
What is today a branch of Pret on the corner used to be the Old Ship Tavern and Chop House, the model for Sol’s Arms pub in Charles Dicken’s book Bleak House. The coffee shop on the other side used to be the Three Tuns pub, and fortunately, the 1980s redevelopment saved enough of the facade that it still looks pub like, even if the beverages are rather different these days.
From the outside, it’s easy to walk past this alley without noticing the stepped overbridge. But look sideways as you walk past, and this strikingly modern faceted aluminum facade leaps out at you.
It’s a very clever solution to the developer’s desire to have more office space, and the local constraints of preserving the alley. What had been a reasonably modest alley is now an architectural landmark.
Completed in 2017, I think it’s one of London’s most exciting office developments of the past decade.