Place residence

The back streets of London: Leigh Place, EC1

This is a modest lane that is within the back streets of Holborn and is notable, apart from the varied history, for having one of the few remaining painted road signs in the town.

When all around here was still fields, it was part of Portpoole Manor, owned by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, who leased it to Reginald de Grey, 1st Baron Gray of Wilton. Portpoole Manor then became known as Gray’s Inn.

By the 1650s the area was heavily developed, but still with a number of large gardens, and Leigh Place appears, roughly, to have sat on the land occupied by a large house and rear garden overlooking Baldwins Garden .

Although the neighborhood has many gardens, the street’s name actually comes from Baldwin, gardener to Queen Elizabeth I, and not from the local gardens. Although the gardens were long gone by the 1740s, it was also around this time that Baldwins Garden became Baldwin’s Gardens. Why it became a plural, however, is unknown.

It was in the mid to late 1700s that the area was redeveloped into many smaller houses, and the driveway first appears on the 1799 Horwood map as Hole in the Wall Passage.

R Horwood 1799 map

It appears to have been renamed Leigh Place towards the end of the 19th century, Most likely after the Leigh Barons, who bought land in the area from the Baldwin family in 1689.

Richard Baldwin was a book and a journal editor who was often accused of printing seditious pamphlets in support of Wigg politicians without the permission of the stationery company which at the time was necessary to maintain government censorship of the books. At one point he even ended up in Newgate prison, charged with high treason, but managed to be released. His wife was later the editor of The Tatlera tri-weekly newspaper that lasted only a few years, but gave rise to the later creation of The Spectator magazine.

Today the driveway passes through a block of flats known as Langdale House, a social housing estate owned by Original Housing Association. This social housing group was born from the merger of several smaller organizations – the St. Pancras Housing Association, formed in the 1920s to clean up dilapidated housing and build houses for the local population; the Humanist Housing Association, established in the 1930s to provide housing for people who could not access charitable housing traditionally provided by churches because they did not follow religion; and Griffin Homes, established in 1974 to provide accommodation for London Transport staff.

Behind this Edwardian block are two very modern buildings, there was once on the west side of the driveway a pub and an old schoolhouse. During World War II most of the west side of the aisle was leveled by bombs, including The Hole In The Wall pub which had sat in the upper corner for at least two centuries.

The east side was dominated by a foil mill owned by Elmsslie and Simpson, later the Brook Street Iron Works. The factory was purchased by Prudential Assurance in 1922 as a document storage archive, and the current building on the site was constructed around the same decade, known as the Prop House.

In the 1960s the Records Center became a computer centre, but was sold to the local council in 1979 and then to the current owners, Workspace in 1999 as Hatton Square Business Centre, now called The Record Hall.

It has been recently renovated and extended. The letters outside the building with its new name may seem familiar to some, as they are directly inspired by the Air France logo which used to be on Piccadilly, and were installed by Karakusevic Carson Architects.

Around the north end is the rear entrance to the St Albans Center, a conference center built in 1990 and attached to the Church of St Alban the Martyr. The small car park is where the old pub was. So no alcohol, but lots of driving.