One thing I love about London is how many little lanes and alleys survive from Victorian or Georgian times (or even older). Despite the constant redevelopment and reconstruction of the ever-evolving capital, some of these tiny thoroughfares remain today as handy shortcuts for those in the know.
Located off St Martin’s Lane in the heart of the West End is a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it alley named Brydges Place. With its western entrance sandwiched between the Coliseum theatre and Notes coffee shop at No.31, it’s said to be the narrowest alley in London. It runs for about 200 yards east, linking St Martin’s to Bedfordbury and is just 15 inches wide at its thinnest point – no passing room there! Along the alley, you’re likely to find punters from the Marquis pub or the Two Brydges members’ club smoking or enjoying an alfresco drink.
St Martin’s Lane is named after St Martin-in-the-Fields church on the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square. The church has been on the site since Medieval times, when much of the current West End area was countryside. The road itself was in existence for many years, a simple country lane linking St Martin to St. Giles-in-the-Fields church half a mile north. In the early 17th century, building started on both sides of the lane, with Francis Russell, the 4th Earl of Bedford (1593-1641) on the east, transforming Covent Garden into what we know today with the construction of the Piazza and St Paul’s church. During this time, Bedfordbury was established running parallel to St Martin’s Lane, with several alleys linking the two roads. Some of the alleys – Hops Garden, Goodwin’s Court and May Court – still exist today.
By the late 19th century, the area around Bedfordbury had fallen into squalor, garnering attention from the Metropolitan Board of Works. The board’s report described some of the courts as less than 4ft wide and featuring many dilapidated houses featuring residents living in severe poverty. In 1880, the houses to the east of Bedfordbury were demolished and Chandos Street was widened. Read the rest of this entry