Londonist's Back Passage

By M@ Last edited 170 months ago
Londonist's Back Passage

48. Denmark Place

Where: In the shadow of Centrepoint, Denmark Place connects Charing Cross Road to St Giles High Street, with a narrow offshoot into Denmark Street.

What: The passage and neighbouring Denmark Street take their names from Prince George of Denmark, consort to Princess Anne. It must have been a posthumous naming, however, since Rocque's map of 1746 (several decades after Anne's reign) shows the area listed as 'Farmer's Alley'.

From the 19th Century, when sheet music publishers sought cheap premises close to West End theatres and music halls, the area has been closely wedded to all things that toot, twang and trill, and the block acquired the moniker 'Tin Pan Alley' in homage to a similar quarter of New York. Acts such as the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Hendrix, The Beatles and the Sex Pistols recorded key tracks here. Bob Marley bought his first guitar from a shop on the street, and both NME and Melody Maker were launched here.

A tin pan of the most gruesome aspect made its way to Denmark Street in 1980. Mass murderer Dennis Nilsen worked at the local job centre, and (according to the London Compendium) brought in a sizeable cooking pot to help cater for an office party. He'd previously used the vessel to boil the heads and hands of his victims.

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Although long past its heyday, the area remains a musical nexus. Shops selling instruments, rehearsal spaces and recording facilities line Denmark Street, mixed with the occasional tattoo parlour. Shabby Denmark Passage always has a few musos hanging around smoking. Part of the wall is given over to adverts for band members and gigs. And the intimate 12 Bar Club is possibly London's only music venue that includes a 17th century blacksmith's forge.

Why Use? Any cutting that bypasses the Tottenham Court Road/Oxford Street junction has got to be worth knowing about. This place has got soul, which more than makes up for the litter, piss and dodgy geezers.

Last Updated 12 December 2008