It’s Halloween, whoooooo! To clarify, that’s supposed to be a spooky ghost noise, rather than a cheerleader at a basketball game. Anyway, not only am I celebrating by dressing up as Daenerys from Game of Thrones (I’ve gained a little summer weight so the technical name will be Fat Daenerys), but I’ve also decided to revisit my love of London’s best alleyways for the occasion. Not featured: the one 5 minutes from my old house which I christened Murder Alley.
Not so much an alleyway but always deserves a mention on Halloween. Cock Lane, named such because of its legal brothels and abundance of prostitutes is now better known for its supposed abundance of ghosts, therefore fitting neatly into every stereotype of an historical London street. The story goes, and I want to make it clear that I did not make this up, that in 1792 an usurer called William Kent formed a relationship with his dead wife’s sister, Fanny (oh God). The two resided in a house on Cock Lane, where they reported ghostly apparitions and strange knocking sounds. I’m not sure why a resident of Cock Lane called Fanny would ever expect to achieve any peace in her life, and sure enough following her apparent death of smallpox (but possible arsenic poisoning by Kent), Kent was plagued by vengeful scratching noises in the house, earning the ghost the name of “Scratching Fanny”. Again, not made up. If a haunted Fanny doesn’t scare you enough, the junction at the end of Cock Lane was also said to be the source of the Great Fire of London 1666.
Nearest tube: Farringdon
Nearest Pub: The Old Red Crow, Clerkenwell
Wine Office Court
One of the best alleyways purely for the inclusion of one of my favourite pubs. Wine Office Court used to be the place to go if you needed a license to sell wine; now it’s the place to go if you want to wet your whistle at one of London’s most historical and well known public houses. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese sits in the middle of the alleyway, and is best visited in winter when the roaring fireplaces, candlelights and scooped out nooks and crannies make it feel like you’ve walked into a Dickens novel. Dickens did actually spend some time here, as did Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle and Alfred Tennyson. The upper room of the pub used to contain a number of sexually explicit tiles, suggesting the establishment was also once used as a brothel (because of course).
Nearest tube: Blackfriars
Nearest pub: Really?
Teeny tiny Brydge’s Place may not hold the title for London’s best alleyway but it’s narrowest, despite many contenders. The alleyway, which connects St Martin’s Lane with Bedfordbury, is 200 yards long, just over 15 inches wide and can only fit one person at a time. Fat Daenerys would definitely have a bit of a challenge on her hands. Apart from getting minor claustrophobia, there’s not a huge amount to do in Brydges Place (I looked up to see if there were any small prostitutes or ghosts frequenting the area, but no), though the Coliseum is a short walk away and gentlemen’s club Two Brydge’s Place, frequented by Simon Callow, is just around the corner.
Nearest tube: Leicester Square
Nearest pub: The Marquis of Granby
Goodwin’s Court and Cecil Court
Hey-o, it’s a double bill. Tucked away around the streets of St Martin’s Lane is Goodwin’s Court, said to be inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. The street is filled with Georgian houses lit by guest lamps, – because it doesn’t really lead anywhere, it’s largely empty and therefore hugely photogenic. All very atmoshpheric, but for stuff to actually do and see head to the similarly charming Cecil Court, a pedestrian only book-lovers street where the shop fronts haven’t been altered in over a century. Legend is Mozart lived and composed his first symphony at aged eight here. Maybe some ghosts around? I don’t know, I’m really clinging on to this Halloween thing.
Nearest tube: Covent Garden
Nearest pub: The Salisbury
Ely Place is the last privately owned street in London – which means technically, it’s not actually part of London but instead belongs to Cambridgeshire. The border actually runs through one of Ely Place’s best known attractions, Ye Olde Mitre Tavern, a pub which dates back to 1547 and which continues to prove my theory that all the best things in life start with “ye olde”. It’s also home to Britain’s oldest Roman Catholic church, housing the street’s only official resident Father Cunningham. Why not pop in and say hello, it almost definitely won’t be the old man from Home Alone that we’re all imagining.
Nearest tube: Chancery Lane
Nearest pub: Ye Olde Mitre Tavern of course
What do you think are the best alleyways in London? Are there any I missed off? I mean of course there are, there must be tons. Just leave a comment and get off my back, okay?