London’s Old & New Alleyways
The city’s Square Mile lost a lot of courtyards and alleyways in the building boom of the eighties and nineties, but architects finally seem to be discovering the use of courtyards and alleys again. The centres of public buildings both old and new are being turned into small public thoroughfares.
I would like to think this was in recognition of the public’s distaste for monolithic office blocks, but I suspect it’s more a recognition of the fact that there’s money to be made in providing these off-street havens. Calm in the morning, they can be used to house cafes at lunchtime and bars at night.
Three have opened near my home in the last year or so, and have found dozens more since. I came across this one behind St Martin’s Lane, in a defunct alley that had not been connected to other streets.
A new book celebrates the traditional alleyways of London. It’s called ‘Hidden City: The Secret Alleys, Courts and Yards of London’s Square Mile’ it concerns the real London of office workers, looking at their history, their famous residents past and present, and of some of the architectural treasures to be found in them.
These are the small and obscure places which many of us overlook. David Long has uncovered some forgotten locations. I’m sure someone will eventually catalogue the new ones. Here’s another view of the one at the top, which is much more sedate in the morning.
A particular feature of the alleyways is the way they’re built slightly wider further up. This dates back to the time when buildings were taxed on their ground area, but has continued as a design choice.