This is an alley of mixed appearances, with a claimed link to the madness of King George III. It seems to have been built specifically as a passage between Southampton Row and the park behind. Looking back, William Morgan’s map of 1682 shows the area still fields, and what looks like a small pond where Cosmo Place is today.
The area built up in the 18th century, by the Bedford Estate which owned much of the land in the area. The alley seems to have been left open at the same time.
John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows it as Fox Court, but by 1799 Horwood’s map is showing it split in half. The Western half used to be called Southampton Court – as it’s next to Southampton Row, while the Eastern half used to be Little Ormond Street – leading to Great Ormond Street, of hospital fame.
The passage is still architecturally split in half, with big hotels fronting onto Southampton Row, with quaint Georgian houses and later added shops on the eastern side – along with the Church of St George the Martyr.
Opposite is a busier venue – the Queen’s Larder pub, which used to also be a house when built.
It’s claimed that the pub takes it’s name from Queen Charlotte, wife of the ‘Mad King’ George III, who was receiving treatment for his apparent insanity at a doctors house in the square. It’s said that the Queen assisted in the nursing of her husband, by cooking for him and rented a small cellar beneath the pub, where she kept special foods for him.
Only one tiny problem – there’s no record that I can find of the good doctor owning a house in the square, which was at the time called Devonshire Square and mainly grand houses of the sort the doctor could never have afforded to live in. It was renamed Queens Square as Queen Anne visited her invalid son, the Duke of Gloucester who lived in the square. Somehow, Queen Anne and Queen Charlotte got mixed up, and a legend was born.
There’s a second pub in the alley, The Swan, just a few doors down. Having a large church on your doorstep presumably means lots of thirsty Christians seeking solace.
Rather famous down here is also Cosmo China – a collective of artists hand-decorating bone china in the heart of Bloomsbury for over twenty years.
Before it was the Grand Hotel, there were homes here, and a blue plaque marks the spot where the musical conductor, Sir John Barbirolli was born. As Southampton Row is within the sound of Bow Bells (on a very quiet day!), Barbirolli always regarded himself as a Cockney.
It’s an odd alley, that thanks to its location and retailers very busy. Stand in the middle and look west and you have the backs of grand buildings and fire escapes, but turn around and it’s a cute Georgian row of shops and cobbled paving.
I leave it to you to decide which way you will face.
Location map and local interesting places
- 8] The British Museum
- 9] Wiener Library
- 10] Cartoon Museum
- 11] Novelty Automation
- 12] Brunei Gallery, SOAS
- 13] Foundling Museum
- 14] Sir John Soane's Museum
- 15] Charles Dickens Museum
- 16] The Building Centre
- 17] Museum of Freemasonry