This is a well-used passageway in Holborn leading to Red Lion Square that’s a lingering echo of a path through long lost fields.

The fields were turned into fashionable housing in 1684 by Nicholas Barbon, with a much reduced private garden in the centre, and roads leading off following the old farm footpath alignments.

It is claimed, somewhat dubiously, that the bodies of three men who signed King Charles I’s death warrant, Oliver Cromwell, John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton were buried in a pit in the square, and substitute bodies taken to Tyburn for a post-mortem execution.

The square was opened to the public in 1885.

William Morgan Map 1682

R Horwood Map 1799

Lambs Conduit Passage was one of the paths leading off the square and was developed with cheap houses lining the passageway.

The name is likely to come from William Lambe, in recognition of the £1,500 he gave for the rebuilding of the Holborn Conduit in 1564. He also gave his name to the nearby Lamb’s Conduit Street.

At the far end is a pub, the Dolphin Tavern. Originally a Victorian pub, it was almost entirely destroyed in a Zeppelin raid on the evening of 9th September 1915 killing three people. It was later rebuilt the old bar clock found in the rubble, permanently stopped at 10:40pm, hangs inside the pub.

During WW2, much of the south-western half of the passageway was totally destroyed by another bomb. The ruins cleared, the land was redeveloped with a modern block of flats, Tresham House on the corner, constructed in the early 1950s, to a design by S.A.G. Cook.

One advantage of going for a block of flats was that they were able to bring light into the dark narrow alley by including a wide space in the middle, which today has trees in it and is used by the local cafes.

Today, Conway Hall is the dominant feature of the passage as it faces Red Lion Square and was constructed in 1928/9 to a design by Frederick Mansford for the South Place Ethical Society.

The Society bought the land, site of a former tenement, in October 1922, but it took a number of years to raise the rest of the money before building work could start. Works finally started in February 1928 and the hall opened (pdf) in September 1929.

Also down here is the tailors, Henry Herbert, which slightly confusingly was set up by the late Charlie Baker-Collingwood. The firm is notable for sending staff around to clients to measure them up for suits on a fleet of scooters decorated with suit fabric designs, and their brightly coloured scooters cluster outside the tailors.

The rest of the alley is very much as it was originally built, with housing above shops.

It’s a very busy alley most of the time, thanks in part to the shops and as it offers a very convenient route between the square and Theobalds Road.

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5 comments
  1. JW says:

    Great article, wonderful research, historic maps and images, many thanks.

  2. Chris Rogers says:

    Architect Richard Seifert’s old office is in Red Lion Square – it’s the one with the T-square on the facade.

  3. S Ainsworth says:

    So interesting to learn about this passage which I have cut through often. Next time I will look for the T-square building and stop at the Dolphin Tavern to admire the old clock. Thanks, Ian!

  4. Kevin M says:

    Thanks for this, now I can picture the place when I hear “After The Dolphin” by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Aw, I love this passageway. Used many times either on the way to the fab Conway Hall and some fascinating event or to Red Lion Square where a fellow volunteer used to work at a very glam office. And yes, Richard Seifert’s office with its utterly marvellous mid-century sign and t-square. Love!

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