London’s Alleys: Durweston Mews, W1

This is a small back of flats courtyard mews that can be found just around the corner from Baker Street.

The mews lies within the Portman Estate, a historic area that was once fields acquired by the Portman family in the mid 16th-century, and later developed in the 18th-century as London expanded.

The block that surrounds the mews shows up as a block of houses with back gardens in 1799, with the unnamed mews running behind the gardens. It shows up in the Greenwood map of 1828 with a name, but unfortunately, an unreadable name.

By the late 19th-century though, the gardens have gone, lots more buildings have been crammed into the space, and the mews has adopted the shape and size it has today. Booth’s poverty maps show the block as middle to low wealth.

The row of houses on the western side was cleared and replaced with a large block of flats, Montagu Mansions in the late 1890s. The area suffered during WW2, with the block of flats damaged by a nearby bomb impact. The targeting of the area was random, as most bombings of the time were, but they accidentally hit an important building – as some of the flats were being rented as offices for the Special Force Headquarters (SFHQ), which oversaw the actions of resistance activities in mainland Europe.

The eastern side of the mews is a row of redeveloped former stables, that back onto the rows of shops facing Baker Street. These mews are tied in ownership to a large former office block on the other side facing Baker Street that was recently converted into flats. As part of the deal, the mews flats were offered for social rent.

One of those mews flats though was once an office, belonging to the influential 1960s graphic design agency, Fletcher / Forbes / Gill.

Today, the entrance to the mews is down a narrow cobbled (setts) passage between the mansion block and a 1970s building, where it widens into a spacious courtyard.

One side is lined by the backs of the mansion block with its bin stores and the brickwork is demarked by the long lines of black drainpipes carrying other waste away. The far end has refurbished entrances to two flats at the back of the shops and the rest of the mews is lined with the refurbished social flats and access to their car park space behind.

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