Pictured below is Craig’s Court, a tiny dead-end street tucked away off of Whitehall.
Although located just yards from Trafalgar Square, this cramped little cul-de-sac is often overlooked by the thousands of tourists and commuters who stream past every day, completely unaware of the site’s quirky history.
Little is known about the origins of Craig’s Court, other than it was laid out at some point in the 1690s by Joseph Craig, a vestryman of St Martin’s. When inaugurated, Craig’s Court lay at the northern tip of the Palace of Whitehall, a vast royal residence which had been expanding ever since Henry VIII pinched it from Cardinal Wolsey in the 16th century.
The palace was destroyed by a huge fire in 1698. Today, only the Banqueting House on the corner of Horseguards Avenue remains.
As the remains lay smouldering, one William Stanhope, 1st Earl of Harrington convinced himself that the palace would be rebuilt and so, not wishing to miss out on the opportunity to shack up beside the royal family, purchased a plot of land on Craig’s Court and built the splendid Harrington House which was completed in 1702.
Unfortunately Whitehall Palace was never reconstructed. The royals migrated westward, depriving Stanhope of the opportunity to call the monarch his neighbour and rendering his grand home an isolated white elephant (although the family remained there until 1917).
Today, the 18th century building houses a telephone exchange…and allegedly harbours an entrance shaft to a large, top-secret government bunker dubbed ‘Q Whitehall‘- although you didn’t hear that from me…
Paving the way
Despite its diminutive size and association with folly, Craig’s Court can be thanked for blessing London with a major innovation.
In the mid-18th century, the then speaker of the house, Arthur Onslow decided to pop by Harrington House for a visit.
In those days London’s streets were not paved, leaving many thoroughfares boggy and treacherous.
Craig’s Court was no exception and the sodden road, coupled with the dead-end’s narrowness resulted in Onslow’s coach becoming lodged as he approached Harrington House. So tight was the squeeze that a hole had to be cut in the coach’s roof so that the flustered and infuriated speaker could drag himself out.
When he returned to Parliament, Arthur Onslow pushed through a bill which required London householders to ensure kerbstones were laid outside their door- thus giving birth to ordered pavements.
Craig’s Court was also once home to Teresia Constantia Phillips, a woman who caused great scandal in the 1740s when she published shocking series of accounts detailing her numerous affairs.
In the 1760s, a fashionable artist named George Romney also set up house here.
Romney was noted for his relationship with Emma Hart- the woman who would later become Lady Hamilton and mistress to Lord Horatio Nelson, the celebrated admiral whose infamous memorial stands just around the corner on Trafalgar Square…
Pictured below is Myddelton Passage, a quiet road which pops out behind Sadler’s Wells Theatre.
Initially a narrow footpath, the street was widened in the early 19th century as an estate of homes developed around nearby Myddelton Square, Claremont Square and Amwell Street.
Despite the expansion Myddelton Passage was considered to be a dark and dangerous alley throughout the Victorian era; a reputation making it notorious enough to feature in George Gissing’s 1889 novel, The Nether World as the setting for a violent assault on a character named Pennyloaf Candy:
“Pennyloaf…turned into Myddelton Passage. It is a narrow paved walk between brick walls seven feet high…the branches of a few trees hang over; there are doors seemingly never opened, belonging one to each garden; a couple of gas-lamps shed feeble light…
“There came running from the other end of the Passage a girl whom Pennyloaf at once recognised. It was Clem Peckover…who was now springing out of ambush. She rushed upon Pennyloaf who for very alarm could not flee, and attacked her with clenched fists.
Pennyloaf could not even ward off the blows that descended upon her head; she was pinned against the wall, her hat was torn away, her hair began to fly in disorder…Pennyloaf’s hysterical cries and the frantic invectives of her assailant made the Passage ring.”
Today, Myddelton Passage has cleaned up its act; you can certainly walk along it of an evening without fear of attack.
However, look closely at the wall running along its southern perimeter and you’ll discover a secretive hint of its shadier Victorian past…
This large collection of seemingly random numbers were mostly carved around the mid to late 19th century by an array of police officers– with each set of digits representing the respective bobby’s collar number.
Most of the numbers feature a ‘G’ linking them to ‘Finsbury Division’; the team who operated out of the former King’s Cross police station.
Quite why so many Victorian coppers chose to create this swathe of graffiti in this particular location remains something of a mystery…
Deep beneath Waterloo station and just 800ft from the London Eye runs Leake Street; a disused road tunnel which is now a designated legal graffiti area.
Last open to traffic when Waterloo was home to the Eurostar terminal (more of which in the next and final part of this history on the station), Leake Street’s status as a graffiti hotspot originated in May 2008 when renowned street artist, Banksy arranged the ‘Cans Festival’; an exhibition featuring murals and art installations.
In his own words, the secretive artist expressed his wish that the project would “transform a dark forgotten filth pit into an oasis of beautiful art… I’ve always felt anyone with a paint can should have as much say in how our cities look as architects and ad men.”
Today, Leake Street continues to provide street artists with a vast, urban canvas.
Due to the nature of the style, the artwork changes frequently so repeated visits are well rewarded.
Images from my own recent visit can be viewed below.