In the heart of a very maze of courts and lanes Stoney-alley proclaims itself. It is one of multitude of deformed thoroughfares, which are huddled together – by whim, or caprice, or in mockery – in a populous part of the City, in utter defiance of all architectural rules. It is regarded as an incontrovertible law, that everything must have a beginning; and Stoney-alley could not have been an exception to this law. It is certain that the alley and its surrounding courts and lanes must once upon a time have been a space where houses were not; where, perhaps, trees grew, and grass, and flowers. But it is difficult to imagine; more difficult still to imagine how they were commenced, and by what gradual means one wretched thoroughfare was added to another, until they presented themselves to the world in the shapes and forms they now bear; resembling an ungainly body with numerous limbs, every one of which is twisted and deformed. Easier to fancy that they and all the life they bear sprang up suddenly and secretly one dark night, when Nature was in a sullen mood; and that being where they are, firmly rooted, they have remained, unchangeable and unchanging, from generation to generation. Records exist of fair islands rising from the sea, clothed with verdure and replete with animal fife; but this is the bright aspect of phenomena which are regarded as delusions by many sober persons. Putting imagination aside, therefore, as a thing of small account in these days (if only for the purpose of satisfying unbelievers), and coming to plain matter of fact, it is not to be doubted that Stoney-alley and its fellows grew upon earth's surface, and did sot spring up, ready-made, from below – although, truth to tell, it was worthy of such a creation. In the natural course of things, the neighbourhood must have had architects and builders; but no record of them is extant, and none is necessary for the purposes of this story. Sufficient that Stoney-alley rears its ugly body – though lowly withal – in the very heart of London, and that it may be seen any day in the week in its worst aspect. It has no other: it is always at its worst.