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In Search Of The Alleys Of Old London

February 26, 2020
by the gentle author

Almost a century later, I set out in the footsteps of Alan Stapleton seeking London’s Alleys, Byways & Courts that he drew and published in a book in 1923, which I first encountered in the archive at Bishopsgate Institute.

It is a title that is an invitation to one as susceptible as myself to meander through the capital’s forgotten thoroughfares, and my surprising discovery was 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.’

Jerusalem Passage, Clerkenwell

Jerusalem Passage, Clerkenwell

St John’s Passage, Clerkenwell

St John’s Passage, Clerkenwell

Passing Alley, Clerkenwell

Passing Alley, Clerkenwell

In Pear Tree Court, Clerkenwell

In Pear Tree Court, Clerkenwell

Faulkner’s Alley, Clerkenwell

Faulkner’s Alley, Clerkenwell

Red Lion Passage, Holborn

Red Lion Passage is now Lamb’s Conduit Passage, Holborn

Devereux Court, Strand

Devereux Court, Strand

Corner of Kingly St & Foubert’s Place, Soho

Corner of Kingly St & Foubert’s Place, Soho

Market St, Mayfair

Market St is now Shepherd Market, Mayfair

Crown Court, St James

Crown Court is now Crown Place, St James

Rupert Court, Soho

Rupert Court, Soho

Meard St, Soho

Meard St, Soho

Alan Stapleton’s images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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Alan Stapleton’s Alleys, Byways & Courts

The Lost World of the Alleys

13 Responses leave one →
  1. February 26, 2020

    What a moving set of juxtapositions: i can almost see the ghosts in those alleyways.

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    February 26, 2020

    Kindred spirits indeed! I can’t resist a back alley or courtyard…

    And particularly when they appear in unexpected areas of London (I recently discovered a hidden gem at the bottom of St James Street near St James Palace)

  3. February 26, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a nice job you did matching the hidden byways in Stapleton’s LONDON’S ALLEYS, BYWAYS & COURTS with present day sites. You might say that the task was “right up your alley,” eh?

  4. Claire D permalink
    February 26, 2020

    These are such wonderful drawings, and juxtaposed with the photographs even more fascinating. A book perhaps ? With other similar works.

  5. Penny Gardner permalink
    February 26, 2020

    What a charming article. I was taught to navigate London by my parents in the early 1950s and carried on, always 2 blocks from the main street. It is a great place if you know how to avoid everyone else. You have pinpointed one of two that I have missed. The loss of old buildings for cheap developments makes me very sad.

  6. February 26, 2020

    Charming . . . thank you!

  7. Gayle permalink
    February 26, 2020

    Maybe Adam Dant should make a map of alleys and passageways! So happy this many are still recognizable.

  8. paul loften permalink
    February 26, 2020

    I have visited cities far from home
    Could be Paris or Rome
    Which did not invite a stranger
    In bygone days 0ur alleyways
    Were night footsteps full of danger

    Now the footpads no more
    The night tourist is sure
    London’s alleys are now as safe as houses
    There is no finer sight
    Than an alley at night
    And footsteps only history arouses

    Thank you for the wonderful photos of London’s old alleys !

  9. Ian Silverton permalink
    February 26, 2020

    Shepherd Market picture taken outside the former club bar restaurant known as TIDDY DOLLS it’s where most of the Mayfair people from the 1960s went Mike Caine Terry Stamp Etc Etc just around the corner from Sir Stirlings Moss home with his cars and scooters reg no starting with SM parked up outside his double garages, further along was the Playboy Club, with my friend Battersea Bill ran the roulette wheel when on duty, to think we where able to park our cars outside with no parking restrictions in place, London as was no problems no worries.

  10. Sue Mayer permalink
    February 26, 2020

    I love looking at old and new photos of the areas my ancestors lived in. I was thrilled to see Pear Tree Court, Clerkenwell as at least one of my Stringle families lived there in the early 1800s. Thank you for helping to bring my ancestors to life.

  11. February 27, 2020

    When well the allies be gone by high rise buildings?????❤?

  12. James Harrison permalink
    February 27, 2020

    These effortless drawings are beautiful. Makes me want to grab a pencil and try the same. Such sketches forces the artist to observe in a way no photographer can . . . mind you, the photos are great too, especially as they match the drawings perfectly.

  13. Carolyn Hooper permalink
    March 4, 2020

    My favourite part of this entire post is the Devereux Court Strand photo and sketch, because of one part alone…….. The right hand side column carving which, thankfully, still exists in a 2020 photograph taken by you, gentle author.


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