This is a Limehouse street which crops up regularly on lists of odd street names in London, but it had a more interesting history than that.
Quite when it was constructed is unclear, but it was listed as one of many developed alleys and passages in the area in 1732 by Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks, later confirmed by John Roque’s survey of London in 1747, paved in 1782 by order of government, and shows up in on the Greenwood map of 1828.
The name nearly changed in 1859, when a meeting of the local council discussed “improvements” to the names of roads in the area, citing Shoulder of Mutton Alley, Gin Alley, Beer Street, Kidney Stairs, Hot Water-court, Pickle Herring street, and Labour-in-Vain street.
Fortunately, the scheme was dropped, although another attempt was made in 1914 following the renaming of Perriwinkle Street, although sadly most of the old names were lost in rebuilding and docks developments anyway.
Due to the high number of food-related names in Limehouse at the time, I suspect that Shoulder of Mutton Alley was probably named after a local pub or butchering factory on the site – as would have been the case elsewhere.
There was a pub with the curious name of North Country Pink on the corner of the alley and Narrow Street, which may be been demolished in the 1870s to support road improvements.
In the 1870s, the alley is shown as a wide passage with a dry dock on the western side, lined with buildings, and the eastern side was probably a row of houses or small buildings, as there was a small alley behind them.
What makes this alley notable though is one very special occupant.
In the 1970s, two men, Peter Fluck and Roger Law set up a puppet factory that made caricatures of famous people, initially up at Bow, and later here in Limehouse, and their work was often used in the Sunday Times magazine, and — as I much later discovered — one of my favourite versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
They were later to develop movable puppets – and Spitting Image was born.
The puppets were made in their factory on this alley in Limehouse, and initially, the programme was filmed at the nearby Limehouse Studios, but later they shifted the filming to Central’s studios in Nottingham, so newly made or repaired puppets were driven up to the Nottingham each week.
When Fluck and Law, and other occupants moved out, the site was cleared and a long block of flats was erected in 1995, called Lamb Court, which is a nice touch for the Shoulder of Mutton Alley.
The other side of the alley was at one time a row of houses, later factories, and then in the late 19th century, a large electrical works. That has also long vanished and is another long unremitting row of flats.
Today the alley has lost all of its former character and is essentially a road to drive through to get to more interesting places. Which is a pity.
The spirit of Spitting Image lives on though and returns to our screens this autumn.