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Alan Stapleton’s Alleys, Byways & Courts

September 11, 2017
by the gentle author

In the archive at the Bishopsgate Institute, I had the good fortune to come across a copy of Alan Stapleton’s London’s Alleys, Byways & Courts, 1923. A title guaranteed to send anyone as susceptible as myself meandering through the capital’s forgotten thoroughfares, yet the great discovery is how many of these have survived in recognisable form today. Clearly a kindred spirit, Stapleton prefaces his work with the following quote from Dr Johnson (who lived in a square at the end of an alley) - ‘If you wish to have a notion of the magnitude of this great city, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but survey its innumerable little lanes and courts.’

St John’s Passage, EC1

Passing Alley, EC1

St John’s Gate from Jerusalem Passage, EC1

Stewart’s Place, Clerkenwell Green, EC1

Clerkenwell Close, EC1

Savoy Steps, Strand, WC2

Red Lion Passage, Red Lion Sq, WC1

Corner of Kingley St & Foubert’s Place, W1

Market St, Shepherd Market, W1

Crown Court, Pall Mall, SW1

Rupert Court, W1

Meard’s St, W1

Conduit Court, Long Acre, WC2

Devereaux Court, Strand, WC2

Greystoke Place, Chancery Lane, EC4

Huggin Lane, Cannon St, EC4

Mitre Court, EC1

Faulkner’s Alley, Cow Cross St, EC1

Last of Snatcher’s Island, Drury Lane, WC2

Brick Lane looking north

Brick Lane looking south

‘Hatton in 1708 called Brick Lane the longest lane in London, being nearly three quarters of a mile long. But Park Lane by Hyde Park was then six furlongs thirteen poles in length, so it had the advantage of Brick Lane, the length of which was five furlongs four poles. Today, Brick Lane by taking in its length its old continuations, Tyssen St and Turk’s St now beats it by thirteen poles. Tyssen St measuring one furlong fourteen poles and Turk’s St eight poles, thus bringing the length of the current Brick Lane to six furlongs twenty-six poles. Yet White HorseLane was undoubtedly the longest in London when it existed’ - Alan Stapelton 1923

Images courtesy © Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

The Lost World of the Alleys

10 Responses leave one →
  1. steve permalink
    September 11, 2017

    Thanks Gentle Author for such an utterly fascinating article. So much character, flavour and sense of another world. All things change of course and these areas are largely ‘modernized’ now (i.e. made to be functional, sterilized and economically productive) but to see what we once had and have surrendered to corporate greed and need…..

    The drawings are superb and even today you can recognise many areas from those drawings – I could tell Brick Lane instantly. It does make one wonder why we have to destroy so much of London’s heritage? Improve it by all means, change interiors if necessary, but why is it not possible to retain more of the flavour and character of those buildings?

    Thanks for bringing this superb work to light.

  2. September 11, 2017

    Good morning – Alan’s style is unique lots of clutter within the interpretation, he has worked this to his advantage he gives us more detail. One or two are breath taking, another is almost in 3D. Alan was an artist for his time, our time and will be seen in future time. Poet John

  3. Penny Wythes permalink
    September 11, 2017

    Absolutely fascinating. I do hope you take/took a camera while exploring as I’d love to see which still exist and how they have changed.
    I knew Brick Lane was long – but not how long, and especially surprised to hear it is longer than Park Lane – or is that no longer true?
    Also fascinated by Faulkner’s Alley – is that still there, and if it is just how narrow is it? Looks impassible to me.

  4. Gary Arber permalink
    September 11, 2017

    There is the chance for an interesting Gentle Author project. to visit each site and do a then and now article.
    Gary

  5. Helen Breen permalink
    September 11, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for retrieving these great drawings of London’s old paths and byways. Alan had such great depth perception. I particularly enjoyed those graceful lanterns/gas lights (?) that appear throughout.

    He must have had a successful career as an illustrator. Fine work…

  6. pauline taylor permalink
    September 11, 2017

    What a lovely record of these fascinating alleyways and courts that some of our ancestors must have known so well. Thank you.

  7. Kari McBride permalink
    September 11, 2017

    Thanks for this lovely article. Yes, please do pair photos of surviving courts, lanes, etc. with corresponfing drawings by Stapleton.

  8. Jim McDermott permalink
    September 12, 2017

    Technically superb AND wonderfully evocative.

  9. Roger C permalink
    September 12, 2017

    Yet another wonderful article from the GA, ‘just up my street’ (alley?) as I love nothing more than to poke my nose down and into hidden alleyways to find the unseen places of old London :)

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