This is one of those dirty alleys that that overflows with rubbish and mess, but it also has the moon in the midst of its grime and clutter.
The alley seems to appear as a much wider courtyard space between two blocks of houses in around the 16th century as the area was being built up but within a century it had taken on its current very narrow alignment.
To the north side is the Prince of Wales theatre, which was first built on the site in 1884 and given its current name just two years later, after the future Edward VII.
That building was torn down in 1937 and the current art-deco inspired theatre built to cope with increased demand. On 17 June 1937, Gracie Fields sang to the workmen as she laid the foundation stone of the new building.
The southern side had remained a cluster of smaller buildings, including the Pickwick Inn, and famous Stones Chop House, but was badly damaged by bombs in WW2 and largely torn down to be replaced with the 1950s Clareville House — which was occupied by Stones until the 1980s.
The building was recently refurbished internally, and as a condition of the works, Westminster Council required a piece of public art to be provided, and that’s why there’s a rather odd and tired looking fabric circle hanging in the middle of the alley.
It used to look rather more impressive though.
It’s called “La nuit” by the artist Mark Pimlott. When installed in 2009, strings of lights were draped along the alley to mimic the stars that would never be visible from the ground in this part of London.
The orb is the moon, and a nearby lamp would project the actual phases of the moon onto it.
The planning permission granted in 2007 noted that “a good maintenance regime will clearly be important for this proposal. It will look very poor if allowed to slip into neglect”.
Sadly, it seems the planners were right. The strings of stars were recently torn down, and as far as I am aware, the moon phase illumination is also no longer functional. As least it’s never been when I walked past.
Today it’s a curious “thing” hanging in the alley looking rather left over from grander times.
The alley is today pretty much what it has always been, a back access to the main buildings on either side, so filled up with rubbish carts waiting to be taken away and staff popping out for a smoke.
The original hope was that the artwork would turn the alley into a destination in its own right, hence the decision to add local area signs to help tourists admiring the artwork to get back to to the main attractions.
Location map and local interesting places
- 1] Whitcomb Court
- 2] Cranbourn Alley
- 3] Tyler's Court
- 4] Mason's Yard, SW1
- 5] York Place (formerly Of Alley)
- 6] George Court
- 7] Bull Inn Court
- 8] National Gallery
- 9] National Portrait Gallery
- 10] Canada House Gallery
- 11] British Council London
- 12] Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
- 13] Mall Galleries
- 14] Benjamin Franklin House