The street was first built up in 1610 when Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury was granted 5 acres (2.0 ha) of land on the street's west side. It was originally known as West Church Lane; the current name dates from 1618.
A narrow street with relatively little traffic, St. Martin's Lane is home to the English National Opera at the Coliseum Theatre, as well as two other theatres, the Duke of York's Theatre and the Noel Coward Theatre, second-hand bookshops, antique dealers and high class gentlemen's outfitters. It also has a large number of cafes and a music shop aimed at opera and theatre goers. The theatrical agency set up by Peggy Ramsay in 1953 was located in Goodwin's Court, an alley leading off the lane.
Two pedestrian alleys, St. Martins Court and Cecil Court, connect St. Martin's Lane with Charing Cross Road have similar usage.
In the 18th-century St. Martin's Lane was noted for the Academy founded by William Hogarth and later for premises of cabinet-makers and "upholsterers" such as Thomas Chippendale, who moved to better premises there in 1753,
Vile and Cobb, and
William Hallett around the corner in Newport Street.