An anonymous-looking traffic island in the middle of London’s busy Charing Cross Road holds a mysterious secret.
If you look down at the metal grate covering the island you will see two tiled Victorian street names set into the wall below ground level. Bearing the faded name of Little Compton Street, it is a beguiling glimpse into a long-lost road buried underneath the modern-day streets of London.
The traffic island is to be found at the intersection of Charing Cross Road and Old Compton Street in Soho. Maps from the 1790s show Little Compton Street connecting Old and New Compton Streets, in between Greek and Crown Streets. At that time, the street level was much lower, running at the height of the basements of today’s buildings. A public house called the Coach and Horses stood on the corner of what would have been a bustling corner of Soho. But all of that came to an end in 1896 when the area was demolished for the building of the Charing Cross Road. The street level was raised and an office block eventually was built on the site of Little Compton Street, consigning it to history.
Little Compton was turned into a utility tunnel when Charing Cross Road was constructed. Today all traces of this old secret London street have long gone, apart from two perfectly preserved road signs. A forgotten remnant of the old London, hidden beneath one of its busiest streets.
Know Before You Go
The grating island divides Charing Cross Road, immediately north of the Old Compton Street intersection and pedestrian crossing. Look for it between the Coach and Horses on one side of the road and Salsa bar on the other. Be keenly aware of traffic, as you will literally be in the middle of the road to get the best view.