To most tourists – and many Londoners – Cecil Court comes as something of a surprise. You might turn onto it by accident, looking for a cut-through between Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane, or catch a glimpse of an elegant shopfront from the main road and take a detour to investigate.
Either way, you find yourself on a short pedestrianised street, lined not with the west end’s usual mix of theatres, bars and restaurants, but with specialists in rare books, die-cast models, antiques and maps. And they all have beautiful Victorian facades painted the same rich shade of green. There are rumours that Cecil Court inspired Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, and it’s easy to see why.
It wasn’t always like this. The street was first laid out in the late 17th century, on land owned – as it still is – by the Cecil family, descendants of Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury. By the late 19th Century the state of its buildings had deteriorated enough to cause a scandal for the third earl, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, who was rather inconveniently serving as prime minister at the time. As hostile journalists circled, Cecil Court was swiftly redeveloped into something resembling its current form.
Among its new commercial tenants was a small but influential number of film distributors, producers and equipment dealers, who earned Cecil Court the nickname “Flicker Alley”. Little of that remains now, but the street continues to appear on big and small screens, serving as a location in Miss Potter and in the famous ‘fly fishing’ ad for Yellow Pages. Look out for it at 0:16:
To give you a flavour of the street, here’s a whistle-stop tour in five photos…
Two floors of antique maps and engraved prints on a huge range of subjects, from military history to costume and fashion. Established in 1929.
Packing probably the best name of any shop on the street, The Witch Ball specialises in prints and posters related to theatre, music and dance. It joined Cecil Court in 1981.
This unique antique shop arrived in Cecil Court in 1998, and rightly describes itself as stocking “just about anything of particular historical interest”. Expect anything from porcelain statues to scientific instruments.
David Drummond’s shop is an established presence on Cecil Court, first opening its doors in 1967. It’s a trove of nostalgia, packed with old playbills, posters and assorted Victoriana.
This recent arrival on the street – it moved in in 2011 – is effectively a small but well-stocked showroom for Diecast Legends, with collectible cars and bikes from a huge range of brands.
Credit: This post draws on the far more the detailed essay on cecilcourt.co.uk.
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