09 February 2009
London's secret 'Zen street'
Another miserable morning, with cheesegrater drizzle and a sky the colour of undergraduate laundry, so I cheered myself up en route to work with a visit to a Zen street.
Leigh Hunt Street (right), off Southwark Bridge Road in SE1, is hard to find on the map. In fact, Google and the London A to Z don't acknowledge its existence at all.
Maybe it hides Southwark council's nuclear bunker, or an underground weapons research establishment. But more probably its anonymity is because it's only 27 feet long, has no buildings on it, and goes nowhere: the street equivalent of one hand clapping. Presumably, it used to go somewhere, but was truncated when the park was created.
The street is listed on the excellent SE1 news website, so maybe it has just enough Internet validity for you to use it as a false address next time you have to supply one for an Internet competition. (The postcode, to judge by a search on the Land Registry's find a property facility, would be SE1 0EY or similar.)
It was being used as a car park on my visit this morning, but you can get an idea of its brevity from the pic. Until recently it was little more than a brick gazebo, as the image on one visitor's photo website shows ("eine absolut notwendige Strasse", he notes pithily - "a vital street").
It's nowhere near the shortest street in Britain (that's Ebenezer Place in Caithness, which is less than 7ft long, and has an address on it).
But is Leigh Hunt St the shortest in London? Curiously, a leading candidate for the 'genuine' shortest street in London is Clennam St, which is virtually next door. I paced it out: 18 strides, so around twice as long as Leigh Hunt. But Clennam St is a proper thoroughfare (for now: it's due for pedestrianisation) and even has a good pub on it - the Lord Clyde, which bizarrely is at no. 27. (The strides were paced out before going to the pub.)
There's something about Leigh Hunt's minimalism that I like, though. And for such an elusive thoroughfare, it has something of a history: it used to be called Lombard St, apparently.
A pleasant thing about taking in semi-arbitrary diversions like this is that it forces you to do a familiar journey by an unfamiliar route. In London that's always fun.
So, this morning, instead of my usual scoot over Waterloo Bridge I came over Southwark Bridge, which had some entertaining roadworks (right), and found myself going towards St Paul's up historic Watling Street - which, leading as it does to Holyhead, is a bit longer than Leigh Hunt.