Time Travel Explorer Blog

Ghost Streets of London: 1. Red Lion Square

by Matt Brown 21. September 2010 17:48

Perhaps the most addictive feature on the Time Travel Explorer app is the ability to effortlessly move between maps and time periods with the swipe of a slidebar. The maps are so well aligned that you can see immediately how street patterns have changed over the centuries. The effect really comes into its own with roads that have been erased from the map. In a series of posts, I'll use Time Travel Explorer (TTX) to seek out some of these vanished routes and look for any remnants. I suspect that London is crisscrossed with these ‘ghost streets' and that TTX is the perfect tool for hunting them. We'll start with Red Lion Square.

This diminutive rhomboid just north of High Holborn is among the more obscure of central London's squares. It's a little bit off the beaten track to be well-known, but packs plenty of history into its four sides. It was laid out in 1698, reportedly amid pitched battles between the builders and the neighbouring lawyers of Gray's Inn, who took umbrage at the new development. Over the centuries, it has been home to many distinguished people, from the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti to craftsman William Morris, to the populariser of the umbrella, Jonas Hanway.

Now, if we travel back in time, we can see several subtle differences. Sliding back to 1862, it's immediately clear that Orange Street, to the north-west, has now vanished. The street was swept away during the construction of Kingsway to the west. However, if you visit the site and look closely, where Central St Martin's meets the Cochrane theatre, you can see a remnant of the old street in the angle of the building. We've found our first ghost street!


Left: Modern map of Red Lion Square. Middle: The view in 1862. Right: A little to the east, focusing on Gray's Passage.

The other salient change to Red Lion Square is the absence of Red Lion Passage and it's continuation Gray's Passage in the modern map (see the south-east corner). This thoroughfare was obliterated in the aftermath of the Second World War, when new housing blocks were constructed. Once again, however, the changes reflected in the maps of TTX London can also be seen on the streets (or in Google Street View). Head to the Old Nick pub on Sandiland Street and note the way the building curves into the block, following the old alignment of the vanished Gray's Passage. The second phantom debouchment of Red Lion Square.

The curve of the Old Nick pub recalls the location of the vanished Gray's Passage.

I'd be interested to hear of other examples of these ‘ghost streets' - long missing from the maps, but still detectable if you know where to look. TTX London is the perfect tool for hunting these remnants, and I'll be exploring a few more with future posts.