What happened to Little Compton Street?
To find out, let’s trace where Little Compton Street used to be. Look on an old map and you will see it linked Old and New Compton Streets, via a junction with Crown Street.
In 1877 an Act of Parliament was passed to improve London’s traffic flow. Crown Street became Charing Cross Road. The road itself was widened and smaller ones either side were altered.
While New Compton Street was shortened, Little Compton Street vanished from maps. But look around and we can still find it.
With your back to the Molly Moggs pub, face the modern buildings. New Compton Street once ran straight through the middle of them. Little Compton Street would have been over our right shoulder.
It still is. When Charing Cross Road was completed, Little Compton Street became even littler. So in 1896 it became part of Old Compton Street. It wasn’t buried, it was renamed.
But why are the signs for Little Compton Street hidden under Charing Cross Road? If you’ve ever been stuck in traffic while roads are dug up for gas, water or electricity repairs you can probably guess.
Underneath our cities are countless networks - water mains, gas pipes, electricity cables, heating and air conditioning shafts, telephone and Internet lines. These all need maintenance and, to reduce disruption, some are laid in tunnels built deep enough for engineers to walk through.
For safety and navigation, underground maintenance crews need to know where they are. So the tunnels have street signs in them indicating what’s overhead. The oldest date from 1861 and include names no longer used above ground.
When Little Compton Street was renamed, an old street sign was perhaps put in the tunnel rather than thrown away - hence the two signs we can see here.
London has changed beyond recognition over 2,000 years. But look carefully and small rips in the capital’s fabric let the older layers show through.
The Little Compton Street on a period map / Underground maintenance work at nearby Cambridge Circus
© National Library of Scotland / Rory Walsh RGS-IBG Discovering Britain