Cockpit Steps – A Hidden Alley Leading To Birdcage Walk

Unlike my posts of the previous two weeks, the location of this week’s post was very easy to find and also unlike the previous posts the location has hardly changed and I was able to work out the exact position to take 2014 photos some 65 years after my father took the originals.

The following photo from about 1950 was taken halfway down Cockpit Steps, looking up towards the corner of Dartmouth Street and Old Queen Street. The steps link this corner with Birdcage Walk, alongside St. James Park.

Dads Cockpit 1

The following is my 2014 photo taken from the same location:

My Cockpit 1

The scene is very similar. The lamp-post is still the same and although there is still a post box in the same position, it is a later model.

Walk down the steps, and there is nothing to suggest any history to the location, however the name is a clear indication of what was here a couple of centuries ago as this was the location of one of the three main cock-pits in London (the others were in Whitehall and Drury Lane) where the sport of cock-fighting was held. Whilst to us this is a barbaric sport, for centuries it was very popular and had royal patronage.

The location of the steps is shown in the following map from Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London, where they are shown as a continuation of Dartmouth Street, however they do have their own unique identity.

cockpit map 2

The cock-pit was finally taken down in 1816.

The cock-pit was a typical London scene for Hogarth and the following is Hogarth’s view of the cock-pit at the end of Cockpit Steps:

Hogarth_The-cockpit

It is easy to imagine the intrigue, secret meetings and arguments that would have taken place in such a place. It was here that Robert Harley, afterwards Earl of Oxford was stabbed, though not fatally, with a penknife by a French noble refugee, the Marquis de Guiscard who was brought before him and the rest of the Cabinet Council by the Queen’s Messenger, charged with treacherous correspondence with the rival court at St. Germain, whilst drawing a pension from the English Court.

My father’s original photo of the entrance to Cockpit Steps also shows that very little has changed.

Dads Cockpit 2

And my 2014 photo from the same position:

My Cockpit 2

Whilst walking down the steps, I noticed some very worn graffiti carved into the brickwork. Probably wishful thinking but is this one from 1907?

Initials

The lower entrance to Cockpit Steps is from Birdcage Walk and is the location of the original cock-pit. Even on a busy Saturday morning the steps were very quiet. Lots of tourists and walkers passing along Birdcage Walk between Buckingham Palace and Westminster but hardly a glance at this hidden location.

The entrance from Birdcage Walk:

Cockpit Entrance

Looking down Old Queen Street with the entrance to Cockpit Steps in the bottom left:

Old Queen Street

 

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Streets of London by Gertrude Burford Rawlings
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published 1940

alondoninheritance.com

4 thoughts on “Cockpit Steps – A Hidden Alley Leading To Birdcage Walk

  1. Pingback: London News Roundup | Londonist

  2. Vivienne

    How nice to see somewhere that hasn’t changed, David! So many places are unrecognisable….congrats on your regular repost on The Londonist by the way, well deserved!

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Thanks Vivienne. The rate of change across London at the moment seems to be gathering pace that I fear the number of places that remain untouched will reduce year by year. By the way, thought of your blog the other day whilst walking across Vauxhall Bridge. It was low tide and I was surprised to see a heron on the bank at the southern end of the bridge. No success catching any fish, but superb to see.

      Reply

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