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.