Where? Nest of courts and passages just south of the British Museum.
What? Like a gentrified version of Diagon Alley, with a similarly evocative name, Pied Bull Yard contains plenty of enchanting shops. You won't find Olliavander the Wandmaker, but you can visit independent book sellers, specialist camera shops and even a rubber-stamp outlet. King of the Yard is Truckles, a Davy's bar with one of the few beer gardens in central London. It's slightly pricey, but the downstairs room is a delight for anyone who enjoys old-fashioned drinking. Tell your friends you've been imbibing Old Wallop from pewter tankards in Truckles of Pied Bull Yard, and they'll confiscate your Dickens collection.
It's hard to trace the history of a place that doesn't appear in most maps. The area was undeveloped until the 17th Century, as can be seen on the Agas map of the 1560s, where the land is taken by the grounds of Southampton House. The Rocque map of 1746 (see gallery) knows the passage as 'Stable Yard', while the first mention of the modern name that we can find is from an 1827 map of the area.
We're lucky to have Pied Bull Yard. Amazing as it seems now, many of these picturesque streets and courts were almost demolished in the 1970s to make way for the British Library. Next time you're in Truckles, raise a glass to Dr George Wagner who spearheaded a residents' revolt that ultimately defeated the scheme.
Why Use? You're spoiled for choice. Quirky shops, a special pub and a fortress of solitude from the adjacent British Museum tourist buzz.