Of Alley and the Duke’s Streets
An agreement meant to honor the Duke of Buckingham led to this unusually-named passageway near Charing Cross.
Until the 1670s, at the edge of London’s River Thames, stood York House, the mansion property of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. In 1672 however, Villiers had fallen on hard times financially and so when the developer Nicholas Barbon asked to purchase the land, Villiers was glad to accept the £30,000 offered (an amount equivalent to more than £5 million in 2022). The agreement was made on the condition that the proposed development would pay homage to Villiers, therefore the developer was instructed to name each of the streets after the Duke.
This directive was followed and as such, George Court, Villiers Street, Duke Street, Of Alley, and Buckingham Street filled the space left by the mansion of the eponymous noble. Notably, “Of Alley” was the shortest street name in London. It is fortunate the developer was not inspired to use his own name in this novel approach, for Nicholas Barbon’s middle name was purported to be “If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned.”
Over 350 years later, most of these streets retain their names, with the exception of Duke Street, which now forms part of John Adams Street, and Of Alley, which has been renamed York Place. It is this latter thoroughfare that caused controversy when renamed. Though calls to return York Place to its original trivial title have been unsuccessful, the street sign at each end of the alley still highlights its role in history “York Place formerly Of Alley.”
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