This is an entirely new alley for London, but owes some of its existence to a Tudor prison and a Victorian charity.

Baring one possible short period in the 18th century where there might have been a small dead-end passage, there’s never been an alley running east-west in this area. It developed as housing and shops as much of this part of London along Cheapside did, but the layout as a block of densely packed small buildings didn’t change much until after WW2.

The modern building block that Compter Passage passes through is the legacy of 1950s redevelopment of a cluster of Victorian buildings that filled the site, and while damaged during WW2 they were still usable until demolished to create three large office blocks on the site.

A road slightly to the south of where Compter Passage exists was first introduced in the mid-1950s during the post-war rebuilding as a new service road was added where before there had been nothing. The current building dates from the mid 2000s, as a replacement set of offices, and they included the pedestrian passageway as a break between the retail side facing Cheapside and the offices behind.

It’s not an entirely empty passageway, as two glass bridges run above it linking the offices on the first floor, and giving the passageway a bit of interest as you walk through.

The name of the alley comes from the Wood Street Compter, a small prison built just to the north of the alley’s location today in 1555. It was mainly a debtors prison and closed in 1791. The 1950s building that used to sit directly to the north of where the alley is today was also called Comptor House.

So the alley is named after an old prison.

Another quirk is the landlord.

Although the buildings are leaseholds on the land and that’s owned by Land Securities, the freehold is owned by the City Parochial Foundation — renamed as the Trust for London in 2010.

The Trust for London is a charity founded in 1891 from the merger of 107 smaller parish endowments — giving it around 1,400 individual charitable gifts to look after. It’s still active, and its endowments and investments are now worth around £342 million, generating around £10 million a year which goes to charitable causes to alleviate poverty and inequality.

The charity earns around £400,000 a year in ground-rent each year from this plot of land.

So, while Compter Passage may be a modern newbie in London’s history, it sits on land owned by a Victorian charity and is named after a Tudor prison.

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4 comments
  1. Kim says:

    Before the new building work arrived it was possible to go into a courtyard here with buildings all around. In the corner were steps going down into what I think was a bar. There was an old blue rectangular plaque on the wall that mentioned the Compter and the implication was, and I was told this, that there was evidence of the Compter beneath. Can anyone confirm this? Did anyone visit the bar and does anyone know what happened to the plaque?

    • ianVisits says:

      The courtyard was slightly to the north of the alley, and the pub was just trading on the name, archaeology during the rebuilding found no links with the old prison.

  2. Chris Rogers says:

    That was Mitre Court, within the curtilege of Compter House (1953-56). As Ian says it was believed that the grate and the underground space was the cellars of the old Compter but it was never confirmed. The planning of the new buildings between which the new alley passes is very complex – happy to expand if you contact me via http://www.chrismrogers.net

  3. Peter Williams says:

    I worked in an office in Compter House in the early 1980s, looking out onto Wood Street. The tenant at the time was Stephenson Harwood, a law firm. Bizarrely for a few years I also worked in the new (current) building after its development in 2006 or thereabouts, in almost exactly the same position on the same level, again looking out onto Wood Street. The tenant now is a law firm called Eversheds Sutherland. I remember that there was an off-licence within Mitre Court. I was sent there in a hurry one day to buy champagne to celebrate the completion of a particularly exciting commercial property transaction, I recall.

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