Out of shop hours, the battered, blue door at 223 Rue St Martin presents a blank face to passers by; if the door is open you catch a glimpse of an unexpected tunnel of greenery which invites further exploration. This morning the upper floors of the buildings along the passage were bathed in sunshine but the potted shrubs and trees, ranged outside the brightly painted shop fronts, were still in deep shade. Not much sun reaches down into the passage, except in mid summer, so the plants that survive through the winter are a shade tolerant selection. While Photinia and hydrangeas seem to do well in the brighter spots, the darkest corners are left to ivies and Fatsia japonica.
The Passage de l’Ancre is an ancient lane that was swallowed up by successive developments in the surrounding streets. Like many passages and arcades in Paris, it is not a public right of way, though anyone is welcome to walk through when the gates are open. Most of the premises in the passage are now occupied by offices but one long-established workshop is still in business; Pep’s is the last remaining umbrella repairer in Paris.
The timeless appearance of this peaceful garden passage gives no hint of a bleak episode in its history. Before the passage was restored in 1998 it had been abandoned for many years. In July 1942 most of its inhabitants had been taken away and never returned, victims of the roundup known as the Rafle du Vélodrome d’Hiver.