This is a narrow alley right next to Oxford Circus that is soon to vanish, replaced by a new property development.

This is an alley of two names, officially Swallow Passage only applies to the northern narrow section, whereas the wider road part behind is officially Swallow Place.

The joint passageway came into existence when the area was redeveloped to create Regent Street in 1811-25, and is likely named after the road that was absorbed into Regent Street, Great Swallow Street. That street itself was named after a tenant farmer, Thomas Swallow who worked the area when it was still fields in the 16th century.

So buried deep under the layers of history of the area, we have an alley that can trace its name to a 16th-century farmer.

Equally deeply buried is the possibility that part of the Civil War fortifications may run through the site. While all that might remain is marks in the ground, it would at least improve the very inaccurate maps of where the walls ran.

Today the passage is about as far from a farm or a fortification as it’s possible to get, a rather dirty short cut from Oxford Street and delivery drop-off for the offices and shops. And also a well-used cigarette zone.

There is a hint of heritage though as the granite sett paving is thought to date to the rebuilding of Regent Street in the 1920s when most of John Nash’s designs and smaller shops were replaced with the classic Portland stone frontages we have today.

However, the alley’s days are numbered.

Plans by the Crown Estate to redevelop this corner of Oxford Circus will see Swallow Passage wiped from the map, as the new building will obliterate it, leaving just a small recess for the office block entrance facing onto Princes Street where the alley once was.

What’s being planned is that the Edwardian facade facing Oxford Cirus will be retained, but the candidly rather dreary building from the early 1960s next to it facing onto Oxford Street will be demolished, and the two units merged into one large building.

Also going is another 1980s building facing Oxford Street by an unknown architect — probably at their request — which was described as a “horror” by the Pevsner book on Oxford Street. That ghastly facade continues around the back and enters into Swallow Passage, along with a goods service entrance.

As Swallow Passage is used for deliveries to the buildings, that capability is being replaced with a tunnel running under Princess Street and linked to an existing loading bay behind the Apple shop in the block to the south on Regent Street.

London may lose an alley, but it is about to gain a new tunnel.

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8 comments
  1. Andrew says:

    I gather there aren’t protests against the closure. Effectively HM is closing down what could be very well described as public space and possibly important access.

    • ianvisits says:

      It’s barely 10 yards from Oxford Circus, so there’s negligable loss of access to the road behind, and access is only important if you don’t demolish the shabby 1960s and 1980s offices. If you do, then it becomes largely redundant.

  2. Melvyn says:

    Given the location of this development the golden bullet would be all or some step free access to Oxford Circus Station. The minimum could be escalators from street to beooking hall level making the Bakerloo and Victoria Lines stair free as escalators already run between booking hall and platform levels, while the addition of a lift from street to booking hall level would be useful for those with prams etc. It would also add value to any shops built at basement level as at nearby Bond Street Station with it W1 shopping centre.

    • ianvisits says:

      That was actively ruled out in the planning as there’s a huge new Elizabeth line entrance with that opening a hundred yards away.

  3. Mark Spivey says:

    Hello,

    I’m assuming that Swallow Street a little further south is a nod to the same farmer?

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Emma says:

    Shame, that was a handy shortcut from Regents Street to Oxford Street avoiding the bottleneck at the entrance to the tube station

  5. Chris Rogers says:

    A shame. It will need a stopping-up order to close it, so it will be interesting to see if anyone objects.

  6. David Gibson says:

    The Italian tourist board used to be in the brick building down there. You could go in and get the latest Italian railway timetables and lots of nice brochures about Sicily. Lovely place to waste a bit of time

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