Stand with your back to the “looks like it’s built out of Lego” St. Gile’s development and you’ll see New Compton Street.
Follow it for a while, running parallel to Shaftesbury Avenue and it comes to an abrupt end, due to someone building 125 Shaftesbury Avenue, which is also the Yahoo! London office, right across it.
New Compton Street used to continue through the Yahoo! office, across Crown Street, or Charing Cross Road as it’s now called, into Little Compton Street and into Old Compton Street in Soho. If you walk down Stacey Street onto Shaftesbury Avenue, turn right toward Cambridge Circus and start to walk up Charing Cross Road, you’ll see Old Compton Street on the right.
But wait. Little Compton Street? Where’s that? It used to be there, at least it was there in 1862, but it’s long gone now. Or has it? Slap bang in the middle of the Charing Cross Road is this strange, cast iron grid set into an island. It’s almost-but-not-quite a pedestrian crossing.
With your back to Old Compton Street walk over to the grid, peer down and there in the tunnel below you’ll see two old road signs for Little Compton Street, fixed to the brick wall. No one seems to know how they got there or how long they’ve been there but they’re a hidden-in-almost-plain-sight reminder of the London that used to be there, right under your feet.
(With thanks to Roman Kirillov for the loan of his arms, his eyes and his camera for the close up shots; there’s times when an iPhone camera just isn’t anywhere near good enough)