An urban view — 26 January 2018

Recently CabbieBlog featured a piece about a hostage situation played out in Knightsbridge’s Spaghetti House Restaurant.

Down Your Alley now looks at two of the tiny thoroughfares probably used by the police during that December 1975 siege. Off the south side of Knightsbridge, about 225 yards west of Hyde Park Corner, is Old Barrack Yard.

UNTIL 1834 Old Barrack Yard formed the access road to Knightsbridge Foot Barracks which occupied the site now covered by St Paul’s church, Wilton Place. When the Guards moved to their present home at Wellington Barracks in Birdcage Walk the site was donated by the Duke of Westminster to the Diocese of London. The foundation stone of St Paul’s was laid in November 1840 and at a cost of £13,000, supplemented by a contribution from the Duke of £500, the church was completed and consecrated in 1843.

Old-Barrack-Yard-SW1

Old Barrack Yard

Leaving Knightsbridge, the Yard, or passage as it would more correctly be defined, briefly widens out before reducing in width to a narrow path leading behind the church where it links with Wilton Row. Most worthy of note is the Grenadier public-house, where the Duke of Wellington is reputed to have seen the nights away drinking from a leather stirrup cup while trying his hand at a game of cards.

Displayed on the walls is a collection of prints depicting the history of the Grenadier Guards and on the ceiling a worldwide assortment of paper currency. Every old tavern worth its salt can muster up a tale of ghostly chills and the well-known spirit haunting the rooms of the Grenadier is said to be that of a soldier who expired this life while waiting for his quota in the jug-and-bottle.

This is a cheery place, but sporting your medals in the Grenadier will not guarantee the landlord saluting you with a free pint.

From Old Barrack Yard walk west along the south side of Knightsbridge turn left into Wilton Place. Take the first right turning into Kinnerton Street, which at the ‘T’ junction continues to the right and left.

Kinnerton-Stret-SW1

Kinnerton Street

A string of charming byways branching from this unusual street – eight of them in all – illustrates why Knightsbridge is so popular (and expensive). You wouldn’t realise walking down this charming thoroughfare the busy A4 is just yards away.

Beginning in the north, right at the very end, is Duplex Ride, its origin unknown but possibly from a house split between two owners. Next is Studio Place, named from an artists’ workroom which occupied the yard until about 1940.

The two inlets of Kinnerton Place North and Kinnerton Place South come next, followed by Frederic Mews, recalling a previous resident; then comes Ann’s Close, from Ann . . . who must have lived here at one time? Then to the yard of a carpenter and undertaker, Capener’s Close, where John Capener built up his business making coffins; and so to Kinnerton Yard.

Along Kinnerton Street, between these fine mews, every single one of the tiny residential houses is a representation of elegance with their narrow doorways and shiny knobs. At number 71 the row is gently interrupted by the Wilton Arm with an abundance of plants about its frontage – but not content with one hostelry, this short secluded street boast yet another – the Nags Head, at number 53. If there is one pub in the entire expanse of central London where the country yokel would feel at home, this is surely it.

Along with a multitude of other establishments, the Nags Head claims the prize for being the smallest pub in the capital. whether it can uphold its claim against competition or not, it is certainly small. There are three bars here, all situated on different levels, but with the feet firmly on the ground, at street level is the place to be. In this room, there is a beautiful black-leaded grate and accompanying wood burner, surrounded by an ample complement of nick-nacks. Slouching on the bar in the Nags Head is totally out of the question – it stands about two feet high and the compulsion to sit down on the squat bar-stools is almost overpowering. Standing proudly on the low bar are the four Chelsea China beer-pull handles which won outstanding merit at a Brewers’ Exhibition about 150 years ago, the Nags Head would fit just as snugly on the corner of the green in a quiet village.

Picture credit: Old Barrack Yard and Kinnerton Street by Chris Gunns (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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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.

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