Above: Street name plate as it is today.
If you know where Charing Cross Station is, you will know that Villiers Street forms a steep slope leading from the Strand on the east side of the station. The land of this street and the land on its eastern side were once a large estate extending to the Thames in the days before the Victoria Embankment was built. It was owned by the Duke of Buckingham. His name was George Villiers and he was a favourite of James I and also served under his son, Charles I. He was created Duke in 1623 but in 1628 he was assassinated, leaving his wife and a small son who, when he grew up became the second Duke of Buckingham. By the time the son had become a man the large estates in the Strand, mainly owned by the gentry, were becoming less trendy as a place to live and gradually, one by one, their owners sold the land to developers.
The second Duke of Buckingham, whose name was also George Villiers, decided to sell the land about 1670 to a developer. What makes this story unusual is that he told the developer that he could do whatever he liked with the land but if he was going to lay out streets he should name them after him.
Above: Streets shown on John Rocque’s map of 1746.
It was a modest request and the developer duly complied which is why Villiers Street is so-named today. The next turning off the Strand is called George Court and runs in line with a further street that was once named George Street. It is now called York Buildings. That accounts for ‘George Villiers’, now for his title ‘Duke of Buckingham’. Running east off Villiers Street was ‘Duke Street’ which is now called ‘John Adam Street’. Also running east off Villiers Street is a short alleyway now known as ‘York Place’ which was originally ‘Of Alley’. There was a public outcry when the name was changed and so the name plate now reads ‘York Place formerly Of Alley’ to placate the objectors. Finally, Buckingham Street used to run south from the Strand, with a steep slope like Villiers Street. At some later date Buckingham Arcade was laid out, leading off the Strand with level paving and a flight of steps leading down to the remaining original part of Buckingham Street which is still lined with elegant 17th and 18th century houses.
Of Alley had the shortest name of any thoroughfare in London. Being such an unusual name, it is a shame that the name plate could not have been left in its original state. Why administrators have to meddle with such a unique name plate is beyond comprehension.