Down Your Alley: Trump Street

With the ever increasingly acrimonious race for the White House I thought we could look at Trump Street which fortuitously is approached via Russia Row, and if that not serendipitous you get to Russia Row from Milk Street, as both candidates are milking the other’s indiscretions for all there’re worth. The other end of Trump Street lays King Street; it would appear that our City Fathers when deciding names for the Square Mile had our Donald in their thoughts in this little quarter.

[W]alking north up Milk Street in about 45 yards turn right into Russia Row. Russia Court is about 20 yards on the left. Situated in an area rich in age old alleys and narrow streets which have remained unchanged for centuries, Russia Court is a relative new-comer. It first appeared on the scene in about 1815 when the overflowing traders of the ancient Honey Lane Market were still setting up their stalls in every available crevice. A century earlier, the milk sellers around the corner tethered their cattle to posts driven into the ground, but only the name – Milk Street – survives to recall those smelly old days. In this street was the church of St Mary Magdalen, built in the early 12th century and burnt down on the 4th September 1666, never to be rebuilt.


An air of ambiguity lingers over the naming of Russia Court, for it apparently had no connection with that country, and neither did its traders or residents. Very little now remains of the court and recent restructuring of this area has caused the Court to submit to modern times. Severely truncated, it exists as a short paved inlet merely providing access to the ‘Udder Place’, a pub and wine bar where the younger set are amply catered for.


Honey Lane

Return to Russia Row turn left and after a few yards the road becomes Trump Street Honey Lane is to be found on the right. Many of the streets, alleys and courts in London still bear the names of commodities once made or sold there. You only need to walk the length of Cheapside to see a fair selection: Wood Street, Bread Street, Milk Street, Ironmonger Lane, and Honey Lane. This was the passageway leading to a market established in the 12th century where, along with other provision traders, honey producers congregated to sell their wares. It was a substantial and spacious market stretching from Milk Street in the west, where there was a supply of running water, to Ironmonger Lane on the east side. There were no fewer than 135 covered stalls for butchers alone, and presumably a similar number divided between the other traders. In the centre was a large square building raised from the ground on pillars and housing permanent facilities for those who could afford the higher rents. The market, however, was not free of its problems; there were complaints of butchers slaughtering sheep and pigs, and of farmers leaving the place in a filthy state. Fires were often lit there, causing damage to the stalls and destroying produce.

Honey Lane Market survived until 1835 when it was replaced by the City of London School. Early in the 20th century the school moved to Victoria Embankment and the site was built over with offices. The Lane has changed little during the intervening years, – covered at both ends and dominated by a seven storey stone faced building.

John Stow seems to disregard any association with sweet tasting substances and suggests that the Lane is so called on account ‘of often washing and sweeping, to keep it clean.’ Truly, with the constant procession of farmers and sheep, it must have been a street cleaner’s nightmare, but it is also true that honey was sold there.


Prudent Passage

Retrace your steps and turn right into Trump Street at the junction with King Street turn left and after 60 yards Prudent Passage is on your right. This is quite literally a passage; it leads to nothing and nothing leads to it. By its narrow covered way we merely pass between Ironmonger Lane and King Street. However, for this narrow alley of such apparent insignificance someone saw fit to line its walls from end to end in white glazed bricks, a seemingly unusual and extravagant embellishment for what is effectively a short cut. But perhaps there is more to this humble path than meets the eye – an occluded history lurking, or even lost, in the depths of time. Or could it be that the evidential facts are there lying mistily beneath the surface and I, through ineffective means, have totally missed the bate.

Whatever we make of it, Prudent Passage, in name, has only been with us for little over 100 years. During the mid 18th century it was known as Sun Alley, possibly from a sign above a shop, and it retained that name until 1875 when it first appeared as Prudent Passage . . . an over cautious resident?

View along Prudent Passage from King Street ©Robert Lamb (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Honey Lane, off Cheapside: The bee carved into the keystone of the arch is a nice nod to the name of this little street (now a pedestrian passage), one of many around Cheapside that indicate its previous role as the market for medieval London. © Copyright Christopher Hilton (CC BY-SA 2.0)

CabbieBlog-cabMuch of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.

Capital courtesies

Have you ever stood waiting for a cab to have it pass you by? Assuming you weren’t hanging from a lamppost with a kebab in your free hand, it might be that the driver was being courteous to his colleague behind.

A curious courtesy in the trade is that if you’re let out into a moving stream of traffic by another cab, should a job materialise, you ignore the punter allowing the courteous cabbie behind to pick up the job.

Probably unique for London are a number of other quirky courtesies.

[S]tanding on the right of an escalator allowing others to pass on one’s left is well known. Apparently it derives from the original at Earl’s Court station. Unlike today one couldn’t walk off the moving stairs, rather users were shunted off to one side by a diagonal partition, while the moving stairs disappeared under the partition. By standing on the right allowed for the right foot first so standing on the right made sense. Also those fewer travellers on the left who chose to walk could join fellow travellers on the right easier when preparing to alight.

Recently I’ve noticed that some considerate drivers will sound their horn just as the traffic lights turn, reminding the driver in front of the need to accelerate away the moment the light show red/amber. I first observed this courtesy, that of sounding one’s horn at the slightest opportunity when I was travelling in the Middle East.

Now London drivers are, through the medium of sound, telling fellow road users to go first. Those same drivers are want to inform pedestrians of the need to transverse pedestrian crossings swiftly, or risk being run over by the impatient driver.

Now I don’t expect to be thanked by every punter who alights from my cab, a simple tip suffices; and I’ve never seen anyone expressing gratitude to a train driver when safety reaching their destination.

So why do passengers thank bus drivers as they disembark? The first mention of gratitude at the beginning of their shift might be heart warming, but after a few hundred ”Thank You Driver” it could become tiresome.

It has also occurred to me that the Perspex partition between the driver and passenger might be to stop grateful passengers vigorously shaking the driver’s hand on the his achievement at stopping at the correct bus stop.

The London Grill: Mandy Southgate

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.


[I] am a South African expat living and working in London. By day I work as a Finance Officer but in my spare time I travel, explore London and blog about my adventures at Emm in London.

What’s your secret London tip?
The best way to discover the city is by foot.

What’s your secret London place?
The bombed out church of St-Dunstan-in-the-East.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
You know those signs everywhere telling you not to abuse staff at banks, train stations and doctor’s offices? They drive me crazy because more often than not, I witness those staff being rude and disrespectful to the public. London: that should change.

What’s your favourite building?
The Shard. I began photographing it when it was a hole in the ground and captured each stage of its development over the next four years.

What’s your most hated building?
The wire mesh monstrosity known as the Boiler Suit. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, it houses the old boiler at Guy’s Hospital and it is simply hideous.

What’s the best view in London?
So far, the best view I have personally had is from the London Eye but naturally, I cannot wait for the viewing deck at The Shard to open up.

What’s your personal London landmark?
Southwark Cathedral.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Andrew Duncan’s fabulous book Secret London: Exploring the Hidden City, with Original Walks and Unusual Places to Visit.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
Ooooh, it is right on the far boundaries of London but I would have to say the Miller and Carter at Hall Place, Bexley.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
I recently realised that there is just so much I still have to do in London, so the very next day I get off, I will be doing something new such as exploring the Barbican, or going to the British Postal Museum & Archive, the Museum of London or the V&A Museum of Childhood.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.

The Hive

On a warm Autumnal day we recently visited Kew Gardens, a belated birthday present that would include a cream tea.

Kew, one of London’s largest, if not cheapest, gardens was busy with groups of schoolchildren learning of the vital work the horticultural organisation undertakes. Apart from being under Heathrow’s flight path you could imagine that you were anywhere but London.

[I] have visited Kew many times before and even with an entrance fee approaching £20 it makes for a great day. The real surprise – worth the price of the admission – this time was a new installation – The Hive. Over 170,000 aluminium tubes seemingly to float 17 metres in the air, each rod just touching its neighbour. Looking from a distance like a swarm of bees.


Get closer and its conception becomes more apparent. A low humming sound and hundreds of LED lights draw you into the installation.

The intensity of this sensation is controlled by the vibration of honeybees in an actual hive connected nearby.

Designed to publicise the comprehensively researched decline of the nation’s bee population, it originally was displayed at the 2015 Milan Expo. Surrounded by a one-acre wildflower meadow, it was of real interest to the visiting schoolchildren. Their attentive, if a little bored faces, lit up once inside The Hive, the noise and vibration genuinely give the impression of entering a real hive.

The Hive – June 2016 until November 2017

London myths debunked

Matt Brown, Editor-at-Large of, debunks the capital’s most tenacious myths in his new book Everything You Know About London Is Wrong.

In this Guest Post, he looks at some of the famous bits of trivia to do with London’s roads. We all know that London’s streets are not really paved with gold, but they are lined with myths and misconceptions.

[D]id you know, for example, that the M25 does not quite encircle London (it becomes an A-road over the Dartford crossing and several bits of London poke outside of the motorway)? Other roads are often known by the wrong name. There is, for example, no such street as Bond Street (only New Bond Street and Old Bond Street). The visitor will search in vain for the famous Petticoat Lane, which has officially been known as Middlesex Street for over 100 years. The Strand is officially just ‘Strand’, and King’s Road carries signs both with and without the apostrophe. What a muddle.

Here are three more misconceptions about London, adapted from my book Everything You Know About London Is Wrong.

Black cab drivers must carry a bale of hay everywhere they go
This little nugget falls into the category of “ancient laws never repealed”. One can readily imagine a time when cabs were pulled by horses. A bale of hay would serve the equivalent role of diesel in the modern motor. Most cabbies I’ve asked about the legend chuckle to themselves and tell me it’s completely true. They’re still required by law to drive around with a block of hay in the boot. None of them do, of course.

The commandment seems to have no basis in law. The closest Westminster came to forcing bales of hay on cabbies comes in the London Hackney Carriage Act 1831. Section 51 of this Act concerns itself with the many ways that drivers might block the street — one of which involves horse feed. Drivers must not:

. . . feed the Horses of or belonging to any Hackney Carriage in any Street, Road or common Passage, save only with Corn out of a Bag, or with Hay which he shall hold or deliver with his Hands.

The Act does not require the cabman to carry any food at all, stipulating only that feeding must be done from the hand and not block the carriageway with bales or troughs. The penalty for such a misdemeanour was 20 shillings. If a modern cab driver attempted to place a bale of hay in front of her vehicle, her 20 shillings would be safe. The legislation was quashed as part of the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1976.


There are no roads in the City of London
One of the great pieces of London trivia posits that the City of London contains not a single thoroughfare that carries the word “Road” in its name. You’ll find plenty of Streets, Hills, Alleys and Squares, but never a Road.

This was probably the case for much of London’s history. Until modern times, a street (from the Latin via strata meaning a laid-down way) was normally a paved thoroughfare within a town centre. A road, by contrast, usually led away from town (cf. the Uxbridge Road) or between nearby towns. The City of London has been densely settled for 1,000 years, so any roads such as City Road and Goswell Road begin outside its well-defined and ancient borders.

This was true up until 1994. In that year, boundary changes did away with centuries of tradition. The City expanded north to take in the Golden Lane estate. In doing so, it absorbed Goswell Road, bringing a road within the boundaries of the city for the first time. I’m told that the change was not made in ignorance, and that some members of the Corporation council argued vociferously for a name change, to preserve the historic absence, to no avail.

This overturned piece of trivia can still cling desperately to a life-preserving piece of pedantry. The boundary line runs along the middle of Goswell Road: the western half is in the Borough of Islington while the eastern half alone rests within the Square Mile. So it can still be said that there is not a single road in the City of London, merely a half road.


Savoy Court is the only place in London where you must drive on the right
The eye is easily drawn into Savoy Court, a small turning off the Strand. The art deco facade and entrance to the Savoy Hotel is one of London’s minor landmarks. If you let your gaze linger, you might spot something decidedly odd about the court. Cars are instructed to enter via the right-hand lane, contrary to normal UK traffic regulations.

It is often claimed that Savoy Court is the only road in Britain where you may drive on the right. This is not quite true. Such a set up is common at bus stations, for example. Bus doors are always on the left-hand side of a vehicle. Whenever the bus is serving an island bus shelter, it makes sense for it to approach from the right and loop anti-clockwise around the shelter, so that its doors always face into the island to allow boarding or disembarkation. Hammersmith bus station is a good example. Instructions to “drive on right” are clearly marked on the tarmac by the entrance.

“OK, but that’s for buses only,” you might retort. True, but there are many examples where cars and other private vehicles are required to drive on the right. The car park at Victoria station, for example, has a reversed layout. The setup is potentially confusing for pedestrians crossing the entrance of the car park, who must remember to look for approaching vehicles in the non-intuitive direction. Even named roads can be right-handed. Petty France in the Square Mile has a cycle contra flow on the “wrong” side of the road. Most impressive of all, if that’s the right word, is the Tottenham Hale gyratory. Until recently, a short section known as The Hale featured a reversed-direction dual carriageway. Vehicles were separated by a central partition, but they nevertheless proceeded in the “wrong” direction. There are many other examples across the country.

But what’s the Savoy’s reason for its contrarian courtyard? The Savoy Theatre’s entrance is on the right-hand side. Forcing vehicles to enter on the right allowed cabs to queue up to the doors of the theatre, without blocking the hotel entrance just beyond. Boring, but true.

Other inaccuracies persist with this legend. Look up the story online and you will find dozens of sites parroting a supposed Act of Parliament in 1902, which gave the hotel permission to reverse driving priority. No such act exists, and no record of a relevant debate is to be found in Hansard, the official record of the Houses of Parliament.

Neither I nor the Savoy’s archivist have ever found any mention of official sanction. I suspect it was never given. The court was most probably made right-handed in the early 1930s, a time when traffic enforcement was not as strict as today. My best guess is that the Savoy, being on private land, simply went ahead with its novel road scheme without any public debate or permission from the local authorities.

The set-up has not always worked harmoniously. Queues to turn right into the courtyard from Strand caused major holdups in the 1960s. A policeman was stationed on the junction to help ease the flow. Right turns were eventually outlawed, although this has since been reversed.

Incidentally, the story that Britain’s left-handed road system originated on London Bridge appears to have at least a patch of truth to it. The narrow bridge had long been a traffic bottleneck. In 1722, Lord Mayor Gerard Conyers decreed that “all carts, coaches and other carriages coming out of Southwark into this City do keep all along the west side of the said bridge: and all carts and coaches going out of the City do keep along the east side of the said bridge”. In other words, “keep left”. The directive may have been arbitrary, or it may have been based on earlier custom to drive on this side. Nobody really knows, but many just-so stories have been advanced. Some say that the Romans always marched on the left, and that the habit has remained with us through the centuries. Others point to a medieval origin. Sticking to the left of the road would place oncoming traffic to your right, and therefore in range of your sword arm (assuming you are right-handed). Your carriage could be defended from any approaching ne’erdowells. It’s possible, though unproven.

Featured image: Cab in Corn ©Rikkis Taxi


CabbieBlog-cabThis is not a sponsored post. The author has written this Guest Post for CabbieBlog. Other articles from Matt Brown can be found at The Londonist.
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