This is the alley that’s famous for squeezing in a narrow gap underneath an old pub in Covent Garden, and bare-knuckle fights.
The alley used to lead to a small courtyard surrounded by houses, but the rebuilding of the area in 1860s to extend Hart Street (now Floral Street) from Covent Garden saw that courtyard sitting in the middle of the new road, so was demolished.
What’s left is just the narrow passage and the famous Lamb and Flag pub.
Often said to date to Tudor times, when all around here was still fields, the building is actually early 18th century (refaced with new bricks in the 1950s), and has only been a pub since the 1770s. Originally known as The Coopers Arms, it became the Lamb & Flag in 1833.
The pub acquired a reputation in the early nineteenth century for staging bare-knuckle prize fights, earning it the nickname ‘The Bucket of Blood,’ and the alleyway beside the pub was the scene of an attack on the poet John Dryden in 1679 by thugs reputedly sent by the Earl of Rochester who he had repeatedly attacked in his poems as a notorious womaniser.
Dryden survived the attack, offering £50 for the identity of the thugs placed in the London Gazette, and a Royal Pardon if one of them would confess. No one claimed the reward.
It’s said that Charles Dickens frequented the pub, but as half the pubs in London make the same claim, either the author was perpetually drunk, or the claim is dubious in most cases.
The northern side of the alley has a 19th-century warehouse and used to have an ugly 1980s electricity substation, but now is an open courtyard.
Down in the alley itself, on the pub side is weatherboarded facing that is probably late 18th to early 19th century. It’s not clear how old the sign is, but it’s certainly been repainted in recent years as this photo from 1968 shows it there, but different.
The white brickwork is 19th century, and the other side of that wall is something quite impressive.
The block used to be a cluster of buildings joined up over time by the Westminster Fire office. As part of a redevelopment of the whole area, a rather ugly 1980s warehouse-style office block and substation to the north side was demolished and replaced with residential flats.
A new courtyard was created where a substation stood, and the building behind the gates to the courtyard, which makes up the other side of the alley is interesting though, being the board room of the Westminster Fire office.
Remarkably, it was being used as a changing room by the neighbouring shop with all the decorative features covered over in panelling, but the rebuilding has seen it restored and converted into a very posh entrance for the residential flats.
It’s a hidden gem in the area, and something you’d never expect if you walked down the alley and wondered what might be on the other side of the wall.