Day 31 (part 1) -Spitalfields – Broadgate – Liverpool Street Station

Back on the east side again with a sizeable trek that starts off on the edge of the City of London, where we were a few weeks back, on Norton Folgate. We then tour the streets either side of Commercial Street (a.k.a the Commercial Road), taking in Spitalfields Market (both Old and New), before doing a circuit of Liverpool Street station and the various Broadgate developments that surround it.

The area immediately to the east of Bishopsgate and north of Spitalfields market is on the frontline of the battle between City developers and conservationists and after a long-running struggle it looks as though the former have gained the upper hand with Boris Johnson green-lighting the Blossom Street office development in January 2016. This could mean the end for the historic Victorian-era warehouses that inhabit the space between Folgate Street and the west side of Blossom Street.

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Turning right onto Fleur de Lis Street and then north on Elder Street takes us out onto Commercial Street.

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Returning west on Fleur de Lis we turn left onto the southern stretch of Elder Street where many of the terraced properties from its origin in the 1720’s are still intact. Among these are nos. 19 & 21 which are both listed. In the doorway of the former still just visible painted lettering proclaims the leasehold of a straw-chip dealer named Troake and a printer named Leghorn.

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Across the street at no.32 is a blue plaque commemorating the residence here of the painter Mark Gertler (1891 – 1939). Gertler was unrequitedly in love with his fellow artist, Dora Carrington, who was equally devoted to the gay author Lytton Strachey. In 1939 Gertler took his own life just seven years after Carrington had herself committed suicide. His most famous work is probably Merry-Go-Round painted in 1916.

Turn left onto Folgate Street again and then branch off down Lamb Street which emerges on the north side of Spitalfield market. Head back west and reach Spital Square, home to gourmet French restaurant Galvin La Chapelle which occupies a former Victorian chapel.

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Doubling back we take a turn round Bishops Square which was created as part of the 2005 Spitalfields regeneration programme. During the excavations the remains of a charnel house (repository for human bones) dating back to the 14th century were uncovered. These remains have been preserved as part of the development beneath a glass pavement.

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Return eastward on Lamb Street where the open-air food stalls are preparing for lunchtime business then about-turn again to enter into Old Spitalfields Market. Spitalfields takes its name from the hospital and priory, St. Mary’s Spittel that was founded in 1197. The origins of a market on this site go back to the years immediately following the Great Fire of 1666; then in 1682 Charles II granted another of his charters – this time to one John Balch, giving him the right to hold a market for fresh produce here on Thursdays and Saturdays. After several decades of success the area went into decline from the 1820’s onward and it was only when a former market porter called Robert Horner bought a short lease on the market, and started work on a new market building which was completed in 1893 at a cost of £80,000, that its fortunes recovered. The City of London took control of the market in 1920 and it continued to prosper. By the end of the 1980’s however the same congestion issues that forced the closure of Covent Garden resulted in the removal of the fruit and veg market to Leyton further out east. Following this the aforementioned regeneration programme was embarked upon (not without a good deal of controversy). Nowadays, the Old Market continues as a mix of temporary stalls with mainly a vintage/arts & crafts flavour whereas the New Market, further west in the redeveloped section and surrounded by chain restaurants, is filled with permanent stalls with more of a fashion and design feel.

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Having arrived back in Bishops Square we turn east again down Brushfield Street. Beyond the southern side of the street the City’s relentless eastern march is in full swing though a few of the 18th century buildings are holding their ground. Despite appearances this one below is home to yet another coffee shop.

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As we continue up Brushfield Street with the market to our left Nicholas Hawksmoor’s imposing Christ Church looms ever closer. This Anglican church, built between 1714 and 1729, was another product of the “Commission for Building Fifty New Churches” created by a 1711 act of parliament (we have already encountered other examples of these in our previous travels though only twelve were actually built). Christ Church is probably the finest of these twelve with its impressive Tuscan columns out front and its soaring Gothic steeple. A major restoration of the interior of the church, begun in 2000 and completed in 2004, removed nineteenth- and twentieth-century alterations and reinstated the original arrangement of galleries, returning them to something as close as could be established to Hawksmoor’s original design. In 2015 the Crypt was also restored and converted into a cafe area. The organ which was originally installed in 1735 was the largest in England at the time with over 2,000 pipes.  After it fell into disuse and disrepair in the 1960’s the organ’s parts were removed for safe-keeping during the restoration project. Following its own restoration it was reassembled in the church in 2014.

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The monuments on either side of the altar recess are to Edward Peck and Sir Robert Ladbroke respectively. The former was one of the Commissioners who authorised the building of the church and the latter was a one-time Lord Mayor of London. When I visited the church was manned (if that’s the right word) by an Indian lady called Ava Bose who showed me a programme advertising Billy Graham’s crusade appearance in Victoria Park in 1996 when she shared a platform with him (I suspect she shows it to most visitors).

Continue east away from the church down Fournier Street. This area saw the arrival of many of the Huguenots driven out of France following the 1685 edict of Nantes (which featured in one of the Leicester Square posts). The Huguenot silk weavers were followed by a later wave of Irish weavers in the mid 1700’s and then from 1880 onward an influx of Jewish migrants fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe. The current population of the area is of largely Bangladeshi origin.

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Turn north on Wilkes Street and stop off at Puma Court to take a look at some Victorian almshouses built in 1860.

At the end of Wilkes Street, on Hanbury Street, is the Old Truman Brewery. A brewery was originally established here around 1666 and the Truman name arrived a decade or so later when one Joseph Truman took control of operations. Under the guidance of Joseph’s younger son, Benjamin (who inspired the Ben Truman brand), the brewery expanded rapidly to become one of the largest in London. Growth both organically and through acquisition continued under subsequent generations and by 1873 Truman had become the largest brewery in the world. Nothing lasts forever though and in 1971 Truman lost its independence when it was taken over by the conglomerate, Grand Metropolitan, and shortly thereafter merged with Watney Mann. A switch into keg beer in the late seventies and early eighties combined with a growing consumer preference for lagers proved to be the undoing of Truman and the brewery eventually closed in 1989. In a bizarre case of things turning full circle though the Truman brand name was bought from Scottish & Newcastle in 2010 by two London businessmen who opened a new micro-brewery in Hackney Wick producing a range of cask ales. The brewery site itself has over the last twenty years been turned into a centre for the arts and creative and media industries with gallery spaces, restaurants and independent retail outlets.

Head north up Corbet Place and then Grey Eagle Street which flanks the brewery (see bottom right above). Turning left onto Quaker Street there are three blocks of buildings which were put up by the Great Eastern Railway Company in 1890 in order to rehouse those whose homes had been demolished to accommodate the expansion of Liverpool Street Station. These buildings currently lie derelict (for how much longer) but like many other spots in the vicinity have provided a ready canvas for the local street artists. As have the walls on either side of Wheler Street and Braithwaite Street which combine to link Quaker Street with Bethnal Green Road.

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Retracing our steps back underneath the railway we enter the southern section of Wheler Street passing Bedford House. This Grade II listed building was built in 1894 to house the Bedford Institute, named in honour of Peter Bedford, a Quaker philanthropist and silk weaver who formed the Society for Lessening the Causes of Juvenile Delinquency. The institute moved out in 1947 and the building was converted for industrial use as a warehouse and bottling plant for E.J.Rose & Co Ltd, wholesale suppliers of spirits and wine. When they too left in the late eighties the building was empty for more than 20 years before squatters moved in 2011 followed shortly after by an artists’ collective from Berlin. Despite the group carrying out restoration work on the building and the owner, reputed to be in the UK top ten rich list, seemingly having no plans of his own, they were evicted after only four months. The building still lies empty a further five years on.

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Next we take a left down Calvin Street and then follow Jerome Street round to rejoin Commercial Street.

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Cross over and take a second stroll down Folgate Street, past Dennis Severs House at no. 18 – a museum recreating the world of he 18th century Huguenot silkweavers. Arriving back on Bishopsgate head south briefly then turn west down Primrose Street. Almost immediately swing north again and cut through one of soulless new developments that cluster around Liverpool Street Station – all tinted glass and Pret A Manger. This brings us out onto Worship Street where we turn left and then swing round into Appold Street. From here we do a circuit of Snowden Street, Vardy Street, Finsbury Market, Clifton Street and Pindar Place to bring us back round to Exchange Square which sits on the site to the north of Liverpool Street Station which until 1986 was occupied by Broad Steet Railway Station. By that time only around 6,000 passengers a week were using this outpost of the North London Line so there was every imperative for British Rail to cash in by selling the site. The station was the inspiration for Paul McCartney’s 1984 album and film of the same name Give My Regards to Broad Street. Whether or not this contributed to the closure is open to conjecture. Exchange Square is a popular lunchtime destination for many of the thousands of workers in the surrounding offices and during the winter hosts an ice rink.

Cut through the eastern section of the Broadgate development and we’re back on Bishopsgate and turning right to cover the hundred metres or so to the eastern entrance of Liverpool Street Station. The station was fully opened as the new London terminus for the Greta Eastern Railway in 1875. When I used to travel from here to University in Norwich in the late Seventies and early Eighties it was (like most London mainline stations at the time) not somewhere you would want to linger for any length of time. The major redevelopment of the station was begun in conjunction with the Broadgate project (see above) and completed in 1991. Oddly this didn’t include an electronic departure display boards but a new mechanical “flapper” model that was the last of its kind when finally replaced in 2007 (by the one you see below).

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After traversing the concourse we emerge on the western side in Sun Street Passage then nip round into Broadgate Circle which used to be home to the ice rink that has now moved to Exchange Square but nonetheless remains a “dynamic food, drink and leisure offering to the City” (according to the Broadgate website).

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And that brings us to a close for this particular post though not for this particular day’s walk. We’ll be back to test your patience with highlights of the rest of that in around seven days or so I guess.

 

 

Day 30 Pt2 – Drury Lane – Covent Garden

Bit of a summer recess but finally we’re back with the second leg of the tour of Covent Garden and its environs. Picking up where we left off at the upper end of Drury Lane we circle east and back through the densest concentration of theatreland then loop round the Royal Opera House and into the piazza itself.

Day 30 Route

To start we head down Drury Lane then turn left along Kemble Street back up Wild Street and cut through to Kingsway via Keeley Street. Double back down Kemble Street then take Kean Street to return to the bottom stretch of Drury Lane. Move straight on down Tavistock Street and into Catherine Street where there are theatres every way you look . The Duchess Theatre  dates from 1929 and has the dubious honour of playing host to the world’s shortest theatrical run. On the 11th March 1930 a show called The Intimate Review opened and closed on the same night. Current production is The Play That Goes Wrong whose popularity completely eludes me – the concept is lame enough but the fact that they had to fully disclose it in the title speaks volumes about the deemed intelligence of the average West End theatregoer. It’s as if Shakespeare had called Hamlet the Play In Which Everyone Dies.

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Turning westward along Exeter Street and into Wellington Street we reach the Lyceum Theatre. The Lyceum has a long and interesting history going back to the 18th century. The grand portico you see below survives from the 1834 designs of Samuel Beazley but the rest of the building was fully reconstructed in 1904. In 1939 the building was bought by the London County Council who planned to demolish it but that was put on ice due to the onset of war and in 1945 it was acquired by Matthews and Sons who converted it into the Lyceum Ballroom. During its years as a dancehall it also played host to the Miss World Contest (from 1951 to 1968) then from the late sixties onward it became one of London’s foremost pop and rock concert venues. Bob Marley and the Wailers recorded a 1975 live album at the Lyceum and during the heyday of punk all of the most successful bands played there. By 1986 however it had run its course as a live music venue and the building fell dark for ten years before being reconverted for theatrical use. In 1999 The Lion King opened and looks like it will stay here until every single living soul has succumbed to see it (may I be the last).

 

Keep going west on Exeter Street then turn right up Burleigh Street and head back east on Tavistock Street to Catherine Street again and switching northward pass the front entrance to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Four theatres have been built on this site, the first of these by the dramatist Thomas Killigrew under charter granted by Charles II in 1663. The present theatre was built in 1812 to a design of Benjamin Wyatt. In its early years it became synonymous with the success of the Shakespearean actor, Edmund Kean (after whom the nearby street is named of course). During WWII the theatre was used as the headquarters of ENSA. In the post-war period Drury Lane’s notable successes have included a five year run of My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews and Miss Saigon which ran for ten years. The Monty Python team recorded a live album here in 1974. The bust outside the theatre is of Augustus Harris who was its manager in the latter part of the 19th century and known as “the father of modern pantomime”.

Just around the corner on Russell Street is the somewhat more understated Fortune Theatre, built in 1922-24 in the Italianate style. It was the first theatre to be built in London after the end of the WW1 and since the demolition of the original Wembley Stadium is now the oldest remaining public building designed wholly using concrete as a textured and exposed façade. The theatre’s famous figurine, Terpsichore, overlooking the entrance, was sculpted by M. H. Crichton of the Bromsgrove Guild, a noted company of artisans from Worcestershire. The supernatural thriller, The Woman in Black, has been playing here since 1989 which means it must have been seen by over half a million people even though this is the second smallest theatre in the West End.

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As you can see in the picture above, the theatre, rather incongruously, incorporates an entrance to the next door Crown Court Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland has been active in London since time of James I (originally James VI of Scotland of course). It took up residence here in Covent Garden from 1719 though the present building only dates back to 1909. Rather confusingly the name of the church implies no kind of legal jurisdiction but simply references the thoroughfare on which it sits, Crown Court, which is where we turn next.

At the top of Crown Court we turn left into Broad Court which brings us out on to Bow Street right by the eponymous magistrates’ court. The original Bow Street court was established in 1740 across the road on what is now the site of the Royal Opera House. A few years later the author Henry Fielding took charge of the court in his capacity as London’s Chief Magistrate. The extant building was completed in 1881 and among the famous and infamous names to have occupied its dock are such as Oscar Wilde, Dr Crippen, the Kray twins, the Pankhurst sisters, Jeffrey Archer and General Pinochet (some dinner party that would be). However the final session at what had become the most well-known magistrates’ court in Britain (if not the world) took place in 2006. The Grade II listed building, put up for sale by its joint owners, the Greater London Magistrates’ Courts Authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority, was originally acquired by a property developer, Gerry Barrett, who had intended to turn it into a boutique hotel. His plans never came to fruition and in 2008 it was sold on to Austrian developers, the Ploberger brothers, who hoped to retain the police cells and create a World Police Museum (alongside a boutique hotel). However, having finally obtained planning permission in 2014, the brothers in turn decided to sell on just a year later – at a price tag of £75m.

That brings us on to the Royal Opera House which as already noted is across the road, occupying the whole of the north-east section of Covent Garden. This site has been occupied by three theatre buildings and has witnessed opera and ballet performances since the 1730’s. The current building (the first two were both destroyed by fire) was opened in 1858 having been built by the Lucas Brothers Company (who were also responsible for the Royal Albert Hall). At that time it was known as the Covent Garden Opera House. It was only after WW2, during which it had been used as a dancehall, that the building became the permanent home of the companies now called the The Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet. In 1997 the building closed for a thirty month major redevelopment at a cost of over £200m. The Royal Opera Company curently performs an annual repertoire of around twenty operas here amounting to 150 separate shows.

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We finally head towards the piazza itself along the western stretch of Russell Street which bears a plaque commemorating the first meeting of Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell in 1763.

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As anyone born in the 20th century should know, Covent Garden was originally London’s main fruit and vegetable market. The earliest recorded market on the site dates back to 1654, a time when the land was part of the estate of the Russell family a.k.a the Earls and then the Dukes of Bedford. It wasn’t long (1670) before the incumbent Earl of Bedford acquired a private charter from Charles II  for a permanent fruit and vegetable market, permitting him and his heirs to hold a market every day except Sundays and Christmas Day.  Unfortunately, the presence of the market led to the area becoming increasingly insalubrious and by the 18th century it had descended into a fully-fledged red light district attracting such notable prostitutes as (the brilliantly-named) Betty Careless. Descriptions of the prostitutes and where to find them were provided by Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, the “essential guide and accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure”. In 1830, in an attempt to improve the image of the area, the 6th Earl commissioned Charles Fowler to design the neo-classical market building that remains at the heart of Covent Garden today. The Floral hall and the Charter Market were added later and in 1904 the Jubilee Market for foreign flowers was created. The Covent Garden Estate passed out of the hands of the Bedfords in 1913 when the 11th Duke sold out to the first in a series of property investors. Then in 1962 the bulk of the remaining properties in the area, including the market, were sold to the newly established government-owned Covent Garden Authority for £3,925,000. By the end of the 1960s however, traffic congestion had reached such a level that the use of the square as a modern wholesale distribution market had become untenable, and significant redevelopment was planned. Following a public outcry, buildings around the square were protected in 1973, preventing redevelopment. The following year the market moved to a new site in south-west London while the square lay idle until its central building was eventually rejuvenated in 1980 as a retail mall with a bias toward independent traders and artisans. In the picture below you can just about still make out the inscription commemorating the building’s origin.

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These days of course, Covent Garden is a serious tourist magnet fueled by the presence of myriad street performers and artists as well as the ubiquitous “living statues”.

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In the background of a couple of the above slides you can see St Paul’s Church which was completed in 1633 having been designed by Inigo Jones. It was the first entirely new church to be built in England since the Reformation. It is also commonly referred to as “The Actors’ Church” due to its associations with the theatrical community. Since 2007 it has been home to its own in-house professional theatre company, Iris Theatre – currently staging a production of Treasure Island. Opposite the church is the Punch and Judy pub – default reunion destination for generations of students since the 1980s.

As we circle back round the north side of the square we pass the new flagship store for Brazilian footwear brand Melissa which occupies 43 King Street a.k.a Russell House, a Grade II listed building from 1716, making it the oldest survivor in the piazza. It was designed by the Baroque architect Thomas Archer as a townhouse for Lord Russell, First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. Between 1891 and 1929 it was also home to the National Sporting Club, the organisation responsible for the creation of the sport of glove boxing, under its president Hugh Cecil Lowther, the fifth earl of Lonsdale (after whom the Lonsdale belt is named). This is testified by the green plaque outside the building.

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Just round the corner from here is a shrine to the modern-day religion of techno-worship in the form of the Apple Store. Been a while since I was last in here and I had forgotten just how massive it is inside.

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Head away from the square up James Street, which is where the “living statues” ply their trade (see slideshow above), then veer right down Floral Street which flanks the north side of the ROH. In doing so we pass beneath the “Bridge of Aspiration” which links the Royal Ballet School to the ROH.

Emerge out onto Bow Street again and turn north to reach Long Acre where we head west past the tube station. Covent Garden station is notorious for two things – firstly for being party to the shortest distance between any two adjacent stations on the London underground network, Leicester Square is a mere 20 second journey, and secondly for the overcrowding (if you eschew the wait for a lift it’s 193 steps up the stairs to reach the surface). For both these reasons TFL go to great lengths to try to discourage anyone from using the station at all.

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This is the view from James Street which was a better shot 

Moving swiftly on we duck down Langley Court on to another section of Floral Street and continue west. Loop round Rose Street, Long Acre again and Garrick Street to get back to Floral Street. At no.15 Garrick Street is the Garrick Club, founded in 1831 by a group of literary gentlemen under the patronage of the Duke of Sussex, brother of King William IV, and named after the 18th century actor, David Garrick. Today this private members’ club has around 1,300 members and anyone wishing to join has to overcome the credo “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”.

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I can only assume that the Garrick Club has some kind of status in the Far East that has escaped me up until now.

Lazenby Court and the southern dog-leg of Rose Street surround the Lamb and Flag pub, one of the most historic and well-known hostelries in London. The very first mention of a pub on this site dates from 1772, when it was known as The Coopers Arms (the name changed to The Lamb & Flag in 1833). The pub acquired a reputation in the early nineteenth century for staging bare-knuckle prize fights earning it the nickname ‘The Bucket of Blood,’ and the alleyway beside the pub (see below) was the scene of an attack on the poet John Dryden in 1679 by thugs hired by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, with whom he had a long-standing conflict.

We return to the square along King Street then go back past the church and along the southern side of the arcade. On the building at the south-west corner you can still just about make out the lettering advertising this as the one-time premises of Butler’s Medicinal Herb warehouse.

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The south-east corner of the square is occupied by the London Transport Museum (which I may or may not return to but with an hour until closing was reluctant to part with £17 on this occasion). Doubling back along Henrietta Street we pass the modern incarnation of the Jubilee Hall where general tat has now replaced the foreign flowers of yesteryear.

Arrive back at Garrick Street and complete the circle bringing today’s epic to a close. If you made it all the way here I salute you.

 

 

 

Day 30 Pt1 – Seven Dials – Neal Street – Long Acre

Today’s jaunt starts out at Leicester Square tube and ticks off all of the streets that radiate out from Seven Dials before looping eastward round the back of the Royal Opera House and circumnavigating the tourist inferno that is Covent Garden piazza. Passing just the odd theatre or two along the way. A wealth of material to cover on this trip so it’s another one split into two posts.

Day 30 Route

First up is Cranbourn Street then a return to Charing Cross Road via Great Newport Street. Here at nos. 10-11 is a green plaque marking the fact that this was home to trad jazzman Ken Colyer‘s Studio 51 basement jazz club in the Fifties. Not quite as wild as Studio 54 but the concept of the all-nighter did probably take root here for the first time as far as the UK is concerned.

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Charing Cross Road has historically been known for its second-hand and antiquarian bookshops. Fortunately there are still a few of these hanging on, though no.84 which inspired an eponymous book of 1970 that was made into a 1987 film starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft hasn’t housed a bookshop since the late sixties. It’s now a MacDonald’s.

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Turning right down Litchfield Street brings us to St Martin’s Theatre which has been home to The Mousetrap for the last 42 years of its record-breaking 64 year unbroken run on the West End stage. It first became the longest-running show in British theatre history as early as 1958. During its entire run 442 actors and actresses have appeared in the play, there have been 256 understudies (including one 15 year stint), 142 miles of shirts have been ironed and over 500 tons of ice cream sold. Of course the ending of the play is the worst kept secret in the world of stage – everybody knows that the big red plastic colander thing falls on top of the mouse.

Just opposite the theatre is The Ivy, a restaurant that has long been something of a cliché as a lunchtime rendezvous for luvvies and their agents. The Ivy was created in 1917 by Abel Gandolini and Mario Gallati and the name was inspired by actress Alice Delysia who, quoting a popular song of the day, told the pair “Don’t worry, we will always come to see you, we will cling together like the ivy” when Gandolini’s original cafe closed for work to begin on the new venture.

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Next we head up to Shaftesbury Avenue via West Street passing another theatre, the Ambassadors, en route. This one has been around since 1913 and played host to The Mousetrap for the first 21 years of its run up to 1973 when it moved a few yards down the street. The aforementioned French actress and singer, Alice Delysia (1889 – 1979) appeared in revue here regularly during the WW1 years and the theatre later witnessed the stage debuts of both Ivor Novello and Vivien Leigh.

Turn briefly on to Earlham Street then fork right down Tower Street and when this merges into Monmouth Street head north up the latter for the first of several visits to Seven Dials.

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As its name implies, Seven Dials is the hub of seven different streets and was the brainchild of Thomas Neale, MP in the early 1690s. He devised the idea of laying out the area in a series of triangles to maximise the number of houses; as rentals were charged per foot of frontage and not per square foot of interiors. Neale commissioned England’s leading stonemason, Edward Pierce, to design and construct the Sundial Pillar you see above as the centrepiece of his development. Unfortunately for Neale the area didn’t become the fashionable address he had hoped for and rapidly degenerated into a slum renowned for its gin houses. At one time each of the seven apexes facing the monument housed a pub and all their basements were connected for ease of escape in the event of a raid. Sadly, only the 19th century Crown (see above) remains.

Back along Earlham Street then continue north-east along Shaftesbury Avenue past the Chinese Church in London which was born out of a prayer meeting of Chinese Christians held on Christmas Eve 1950.

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Return to Seven Dials via Mercer Street and arrive opposite the Cambridge Theatre ( I did warn you). This is one of a number of theatres that opened in 1930 and had an original capacity of 1,275. It has had something of a chequered history including a couple of stints as a cinema and an ill-fated 1984 reinvention as a soi-disant Theatre of Magic called the Magic Castle which lasted just a year. The current production of Matilda, which has been here since 2011, and its predecessor, Chicago, which ran for eight years represent a welcome upturn in fortune.

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Head back north on the upper stretch of Monmouth Street stopping en route to visit Neal’s Yard, named after the aforementioned Thomas, which has been the home of alternative medicine, occultism and astrologers, attracted by the sundial and the symbolic star layout of the streets,since the 17th Century. Not very well hidden in the bottom right picture below are at least six signifiers of poncey Metropolitanism that will have anyone living north of Watford Gap frothing at the mouth.

Swing right into Neal Street and half way down turn right again down Shorts Gardens and find ourselves back at Seven Dials. This time we leave by the eastern section of Earlham Street (roughly 3 0’clock on the dial) which is where you’ll find a theatre of a different stamp in the Donmar Warehouse. The Donmar is a 252 seat not-for-profit theatre that has been staging innovative and much-acclaimed productions of both classic and contemporary plays for the last 24 years. Despite its size it’s attracted stars like Nicole Kidman (The Blue Room), Jude Law (Hamlet) and Tom Hiddleston (Coriolanus) to tread its boards over the past decade.

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Emerge onto Endell Street by the Cross Keys pub which was mentioned a few posts ago. This time I pop in for a quick half and have to endure the blaring of some new London-based golden oldies radio station. Christ knows why these things are so popular – in the Seventies we weren’t subjected to non-stop segues of forty-year old Gracie Fields and George Formby records in the way that Billy Joel and Queen are forever polluting the airwaves of today.

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Across the road is the building where the firm of Lavers, Barraud and Westlake produced stained glass windows between 1855 and 1921.

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Return westward next along Shelton Street and make a quick detour up and down Nottingham Court before resuming as far as the bottom of the middle section of Mercer Street and nipping up this to get back to Seven Dials for one final time. From here it’s back down Monmouth Street which morphs into Upper St Martin’s Lane before hitting Long Acre. Heading east here we pass across the road from Stanfords, the self-proclaimed premier map and travel bookshop in the world, which has been trading from this site since the start of the last century. In 1941, during one of the biggest raids on the capital, Stanfords was hit by an incendiary bomb which all but destroyed the top two floors of the building. However, the thousands of Ordnance Survey maps stocked by the shop in tightly constructed stacks helped halt the path of the flames and saved the rest of the shop from destruction. Subsequently, in a business move which his grandfather, the founder of the company, would have been proud of, Fraser Stanford continued to sell these maps withe their charred edges for years afterwards.

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Next up we loop round Slingsby Place back to Shelton Street then turn south again on the bottom stretch of Mercer Street back to Long Acre. From this point we traverse between Long Acre and Shelton Street using Langley Street, the lower part of Neal Street and Oddhams Walk before continuing east along Long Acre as far as the top of Drury Lane which is where we’ll leave things for now…

 

 

Day 29 – Bunhill Fields – Whitecross Street – Barbican

This walk begins opposite where the last one finished, on the western side of City Road at Bunhill Fields, the last remaining historic burial ground in central London. It then winds its way westwards and southwards, taking in Whitecross Street market before ending up at the behemoth of modernist architecture that is the Barbican Centre and estate.

Day 29 Route

Bunhill Fields is the final resting place for an estimated 120,000 souls, a large proportion of them interred at the time of the great plague of 1665 when the area first came into use as a burial ground. As the ground was never consecrated by the Church of England it became a popular burial site for Nonconformists and Radicals among whose number were  John Bunyan (1628 – 1688), the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress and a Baptist, Daniel Defoe (1660 -1731), writer of Gulliver’s Travels and Moll Flanders and a Presbyterian, and William Blake (1757 – 1827), poet, artist and religious iconoclast.

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Tomb of John Bunyan
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Memorials to Daniel Defoe and William Blake

The last burial here took place in 1854 and the site was configured into its current layout in the 1860’s with a public garden area created alongside a hundred years later. The burial ground now contains 2,333 monuments, mostly simple headstones (of which there are 1,920) arranged in a grid formation. Among the more extravagant memorials is that of Dame Mary Page, wife of Sir Gregory Page, first baronet, wealthy City merchant and East India Company director. As you can see below, the tomb is unusual in bearing an inscription setting out the graphic detail of the disease that brought about the lady’s demise – believed to be what is now known as Meigs’ Syndrome.

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After a circuit of Bunhill Fields we head north up City Road a short distance before turning left into Featherstone Street and proceeding west to Bunhill Row with a brief deviation into Mallow Street. Cross over into Banner Street just off the south side of which sits the Bunhill Fields Quaker Friends House, originally the caretaker’s house of a set of Quaker mission buildings, the rest of which were destroyed in WWII. The surrounding gardens and playground occupy the site of the old ‘Quaker Burying Ground’ where the movement’s founder, George Fox, is buried along with many thousand early adherents.

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At the next intersection with we turn north for the first of several visits to Whitecross Street. This has been home to an eponymous market since the 17th century though by the late 19th century the area had become a by-word for poverty and alcohol, known colloquially as Squalors’ Market. When I used to visit it occasionally ten years or more ago it was very much in the “pile it cheap and high” tradition of street markets with just the odd food stall among the DVDs, kitchen implements and cut-price clothing. Nowadays the “street food” has effectively taken over completely and the market is more-or-less just a lunchtime affair. Naturally (in keeping with established tradition) I got here just as all the stalls were packing up.

We hit Old Street just opposite St Luke’s and resume west as far as Golden Lane where we turn south then east along Garrett Street back to Whitecross Street. The restaurants that line the street have gone pretty upmarket and edged out most of the old-school retailers. The second-hand record store run by a couple of aging Teddy Boys is long gone but one or two of the old guard cling on as you can see.

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Whitecross Street and its offshoots have also succumbed to the encroachment of “street art” (spreading west from its Shoreditch heartland). Topically and appositely, the latest manifestation is an image of someone very cross and very white.

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Next up it’s the western stretch of Banner Street which returns us to Golden Lane where we look in on Nags Head Court before turning back east along Roscoe Street. Loop round Baird Street then continue east along Chequer Street (through another Peabody Trust estate). On the return to Bunhill Row we dip south briefly then make a right into Dufferin Street and complete a circuit of Dufferin Avenue and Cahill Street before crossing Whitecross again, this time into Fortune Street. Where this meets Golden Lane once more we encounter what can only be a sign of things to come.

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Turning south we arrive at no.1 Golden Lane which is now offices of UBS Bank but started life in 1896 as the home of the Cripplegate Institute; a charitable foundation set up by the City of London Parish of the same name. The building, designed by architect Sidney Smith, who was also responsible for what is now known as Tate Britain, incorporated a reference library, news and magazine rooms and classrooms for teaching such subjects as photography, dressmaking and first aid. In 1898 a theatre, staging mainly amateur productions, was opened in the building. The institute left the premises in 1987 and relocated to Chiswick, having sold the building for £4.5m.

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At its southern end Golden Lane emerges into Beech Street, a lengthy stretch of which forms the Barbican Tunnel. Heading east again we pass the Barbican Cinema which is now housed in a separate building from the rest of the arts complex.

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Passing this we turn back into Whitecross Street where the last vestiges of the old 3-for-a-fiver style street market are huddled in a concrete forecourt to a Waitrose supermarket. I once bought a checkered trilby hat here for £6 and still get occasional use out of it when the sun deigns to make a proper effort.

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Next right is Errol Street which forks right again into Lambs Buildings where you can find the home of the Royal Statistical Society in a converted Victorian Sunday School building. In 1833 the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA) created a statistical section following a presentation by the Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet to its fellows. This proved so popular that, a year later, a Statistical Society was founded by Charles Babbage, Thomas Malthus and Richard Jones with the Marquis of Lansdowne as President. Florence Nightingale became the first female member in 1858. I failed miserably to come up with any interesting actual statistics about the RSS but a mildly interesting fact is that Harold Wilson was its President in 1972-73 whilst leader of the opposition to Ted Heath.

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Just around the corner is St Joseph’s Catholic Church featuring the memorial Cardinal Hume Quiet Garden.

Turning left we’re back on Bunhill Row which was originally called Artillery Walk (as it runs along the western side of the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company – as featured in the last post). John Milton lived here for a time, during which he completed Paradise Regained.

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We go south from here onto Chiswell Street and then complete a circuit of Lamb’s Passage, Sutton’s Way and Whitecross Street (for one final time) before crossing into Silk Street and entering the Barbican Centre just as the rain starts to fall.

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The Grade II listed Barbican is Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue and one of London’s best examples of Brutalist architecture. It was developed from designs by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon as part of a utopian vision to transform an area of London left devastated by bombing during the Second World War. Although the first proposals were submitted in 1955 it wasn’t until 1971 that construction started and 1982 when the Queen formally opened the building. For a whistle-stop  history of the Barbican site from medieval times to the present day I would recommend this animated video inspired by an essay from the pen of Peter Ackroyd. The image below shows how things looked in 1955, with only the church of St Giles Cripplegate having miraculously survived the carnage wrought by the German air raids.

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The following selection of images feature :

  • a spatial installation in the foyer (until 10/09/2016), exploring the theme of collision, in which two revolving arms narrowly evade each other in a mobile of light and sound in constant motion.
  • the Barbican Muse – a sculpture, created by artist Matthew Spender, of a woman holding the separate masks of tragedy and comedy.
  • the Guildhall School of Music and Drama – founded in 1880 and taking up residence in the Barbican complex in 1977.
  • the “lakeside” terrace (thronged on this day with graduating students from King’s College)
  • the residential tower blocks (now some of last remaining from their era)

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Nip in to see the latest exhibition in the art gallery which is a retrospective of work by the Icelandic performance artist, Ragnar Kjartansson which you can catch until the first week of September 2016. Centrepiece of the exhibition is a work entitled Take Me Here by the Dishwasher: Memorial for a Marriage (2011) a live performance featuring ten guitar-strumming troubadours singing for up to eight hours a day against a backdrop of a clip from an Icelandic softcore film of the Seventies starring the artist’s parents.

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Leave the Barbican by the Silk Street entrance again, head east and loop round Milton Street and Moor Lane. This area is home to several of the monolithic glass skyscrapers that have come to dominate the City and these days there are as many residential as there are office blocks and I find myself asking if there isn’t perhaps a finite pool of people who can stump up £3.75m plus for an apartment, however stunning the view.

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Moor Lane backs onto another massive instalment of the Crossrail redevelopment.

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Fore Street takes us round to the southern side of the Barbican complex where we find the aforementioned St Giles Cripplegate church.  It is believed that there has been a church on this site since Saxon times though it was during the Middle Ages that it was dedicated to St Giles. The name “Cripplegate” refers to one of the gates through the old City wall, which had its origins in Roman times as a fortification to protect the Roman city from attackers. There is no definitive explanation of the origin of the word ‘Cripplegate’ but it is thought unlikely that it relates to cripples despite the fact that St Giles is their patron saint (along with beggars and blacksmiths).  It is more likely that the word comes from the Anglo-Saxon “cruplegate” which means a covered way or tunnel, which would have run from the town gate of Cripplegate to the original Barbican, a fortified watchtower on the City wall. Sections of the old wall can still be seen near the church.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950 and it was extensively restored in 1966. Against the northern flank of the church is one of 14 artworks located around central London which were organised during Lent 2016 into a trail telling the story of the Passion of Christ under the umbrella title Stations of the Cross. Some of these (like the Jean Cocteau mural reported on a couple of posts back) are longstanding features of the city but the one you can see below, station no.9 by G.Roland Biermann, is one of four freshly commissioned pieces in 2016.

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As you see, after an absence of several weeks, some more of my pigeon friends have managed to inveigle themselves into this final collection of images.

Leaving the many fascinations of the Barbican behind we finish for today by walking down Wood Street to London Wall (which we will return to on other occasion).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 28 – Where Shoreditch meets the City

This walk took place on 22 June, the day before London pegged its colours to the masts of tolerance and enlightenment and practically the whole of the rest of England laughed in the face of this exhortation on the Great Eastern Road.

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Which is where we begin this time; heading north west initially then veering due north up Curtain Road before covering the area west of there as far as City Road and south as far as Worship Road which is pretty much the northern boundary of the City now.

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First though there’s a brief detour back on to Old Street to take a look at two Grade II listed buildings on opposite sides of the road. On the north side is the former Old Street Magistrates Court and Police Station, constructed in the Edwardian baroque style in 1906 to the design of architect John Dixon Butler. This has recently been converted into a 5-star 128-room hotel (opening just last month in May 2016 in fact). In somewhat dubious taste perhaps, five of the old 5ft by 15ft cells where East End felons including the Kray twins were banged up have been incorporated into the hotel bar as VIP booths which can be hired out for the night. The bar will also serve cocktails with a range of crime-oriented names including “slammer”, “clink” and “nick”.

Facing the hotel is Shoreditch Town Hall which was designed by Caesar Augustus Long opened in 1866 as the Vestry Hall for Shoreditch. Throughout the building the motto ‘More Light, More Power’ can be seen beneath the crest of Shoreditch. This motto, together with the statue of Progress on the front of the tower, commemorates the reputation that the Vestry, (later the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch), had as a progressive local government, particularly in its provision of electric power to the borough. Shoreditch Town Hall ceased to be a centre of municipal administration in 1965, when the boroughs of Shoreditch and Stoke Newington merged with Hackney to form the larger London Borough of Hackney.  For the next four years the Assembly Hall became one of the East End’s premier boxing venues until in 1969 when, after a hard-hitting fight against Joe Bugner, the tragic death of Trinidadian boxer Ulric Regis led to a ban on boxing throughout Hackney. After this the building’s future became increasingly uncertain as neglect and disrepair set in. In the early 1990’s there was colourful interlude in the shape of the Whirl-Y-Gig weekly trance nights before in 1997 a trust was formed with a mission to regenerate the building. This eventually led to a reopening in 2004, following major restoration work, as an independent arts and events venue.

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So next we track back west along Old Street and turn down Charlotte Road. Then it’s right into Rivington Street which leads out onto Great Eastern Street again where we turn left as far as Garden Walk. Head up here back to Rivington Street then complete the southern stretch of Charlotte Road. Crossing over Great Eastern Street we go west on Leonard Street where Joy Division meet Marvel’s Avengers – a near unbeatable combination in my book.

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On the corner with Ravey Street (well-named for this part of town) is the Grade-II listed Griffin pub which dates from c.1889. Before its closure for refurbishment in 2014 it was described by Time Out as a “typical old blokes’ boozer”. What odds it will still warrant that description once it re-opens.

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At the top of Ravey Street squeeze past some more new development to get to Willow Street then west to Paul Street and up to the apex of Old and Great Eastern Streets where stands this pink and grey polished granite monument which was originally a drinking fountain installed nearby by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1880. When it was moved a short distance in 2002 as part of street improvements the fountain aspect seems to have been discarded.

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Behind this to the north east is this giant geisha mural by artists Core246 & Kaes on the wall of Red Gallery.

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So we retrace our steps down Paul Street, look in briefly on Blackall Street and then return along Leonard Street stopping off at Westland Antiques which occupies the former Church of St Michael and All Angels. This Victorian Gothic revival  church was built in 1865 and designed by James Brooks (1825 – 1901) who was the architect of many East End churches of this era. Westland, who took over the site in 1977, specialise in salvaged Antique Chimneypieces and Fireplaces . But their collection extends far beyond that as you can see  in the pictures below. If you find yourself in the area its more than worth looking in.

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So after a circuit of Mark Square which lies behind the church we turn south down another section of Ravey Street into Luke Street then north east on Phipp Street and east on Gatesborough Street to reach the lower stretch of Curtain Road. From here we weave back and forth along Luke Street and Christina Street passing the splendidly-named but hugely disappointing Motley Avenue.

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When we return to Curtain Road we find ourselves opposite one of the most decrepit (though presumably still financially viable) NCP Car Parks in the land.

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Given everything else that’s going on in the area I can’t help but feel its days are numbered (though I also feel a tinge of regret about that – for the Star Wars mural alone it deserves a shot at survival for a few years yet). Anyway, continuing down Curtain Road we arrive at the site of the absolutely massive new residential, leisure and retail development known as the Stage. In 2011 the remains of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre were discovered 3 metres below the surface of the development. The intention now is to incorporate these remains into the development as a tourist attraction with a purpose-built visitor’s centre and sunken amphitheatre.

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As you can see below, the Curtain Theatre was built in 1577 as London’s second playhouse, just a year after the first, simply known as The Theatre and only a few hundred yards away (and covered in a previous post). The Curtain’s heyday was really only the three years from 1597-1599 when it became the premier venue of Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, during the time it took for the Theatre to relocate to the South Bank and become the Globe. In this time though it did see the openings of both Romeo and Juliet and Henry V.

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Hewett Street which was the actual address of the Curtain still survives as does the Horse and Groom pub (more like barely clinging on in truth) but Hearn Street to the south and Plough Yard to the east have both been wiped out by the redevelopment (though they still show up on Google maps).

That partially completely development you can see in the background above is Principal Place which some marketing genius has branded as the Unsquare Mile. It’s also subtitled (with rather more legitimacy) as the place where the City meets Shoreditch. (For the purposes of entitling this post you will note that I’ve switched that around).

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In the background above is the well-known music venue, the Queen of Hoxton (teetering on the right side of the line for now). Moving on; at the eastern end of Worship Street we meet the junction of Shoreditch High Street and the wonderfully-named Norton Folgate (more of that another time).

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Turning away from the City dragon we go up the A10 and revisit Great Eastern Street this time turning west down Holywell Lane. On the other side of Curtain Road this turns into Scrutton Street and where that forks into Holywell Row we have today’s pub of the day, the Old King’s Head – half of Estrella and a bacon, chicken and avocado sandwich for £5.95.

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Holywell Row merges into Clifton Street which takes us back to Worship Street. After a brief stint westward we turn north again on Paul Street then east for the remainder of Scrutton Street and then left up New North Place. Emerging back on Luke Street we resume west into Clere Street (which was formerly Paradise Street – and you can see why they changed the name).

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We then find ourselves on Tabernacle Street and veering northward takes us right back up to the Old Street/Great Eastern Street nexus. After turning briefly west on Old Street we take a left down Singer Street and then a right into Cowper Street which is home to one of my favourite music venues, XOYO, though this puts on far more club nights than gigs these days.

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Across the road is the Central Foundation Boys’ School established in the 1860’s by the Reverend William Rogers to provide affordable secondary education (£4 a year) for the sons of skilled workers and tradesmen. It was originally called the Middle Class School (back when becoming Middle Class was still an aspiration).

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We’re now at the Old Street roundabout and from here we head a short way south before turning east down Leonard Street. At the junction with Tabernacle Street we resume southward as far as Epworth Street which crosses over to Paul Street and then switch back via Bonhill Street. The final yards of Tabernacle Street run down to Worship Street almost at the apex with City Road and turning back up the latter represents the final stage of today’s journey. The western side of this stretch of City Road is dominated by the home of the Honourable Artillery Company. The HAC is the oldest regiment in the British Army and the second most senior unit of the Territorial Army. It traditionally traces its origins to 1537, when Henry VIII granted a charter to the ‘Fraternity or Guild of Artillery of Longbows, Crossbows and Handguns’ which was also to be a perpetual fraternity of St George. The building you can see below, which fronts onto City Road is the Finsbury Barracks designed by the architect Joseph Jennings and completed in 1857. Behind this is the gargantuan Armoury House, most of which dates back to 1735, and in front of that the extensive Artillery Garden (and sports grounds).

A little way further up, on the other side of the road, is our final stop of the day, Wesley’s ChapelJohn Wesley (1703 – 1791), the founder of the Methodist branch of Protestantism, built the chapel in 1778 to be his London base. Its designer was George Dance the Younger, surveyor to the City of London. Although it has undergone some alteration the Grade I -listed chapel is still one of the finest extant examples of Georgian architecture. Margaret Thatcher was married here in 1951 and the communion rail was presented by her as a gift. To the right of the chapel is the house in which John Wesley lived for the last eleven years of his life. Wesley’s tomb is in the garden at the rear of the chapel alongside the graves of six of his preachers, and those of his sister Martha Hall and his doctor and biographer, Dr John Whitehead. The statue of Wesley which stands at the entrance to the courtyard bears the inscription “the world is my parish”. The ground floor of the chapel houses the Museum of Methodism which is well presented but, if I’m being honest, not exactly a riveting experience. It may be sacrilegious to say so but perhaps  the best reason to visit the chapel is to take a look at the toilets; specifically the gents which are the only surviving original Victorian conveniences in London. These were installed at the end of the nineteenth century with cisterns by the one and only Thomas Crapper (1836 – 1910) who provided the colloquial name for the W.C even if he didn’t invent it as such.

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Day 27 (part 2) – Leicester Square – National Portrait Gallery

So this is the second leg of the jaunt round the epicentre of West End Theatreland; picking up where we left off in Leicester Square then heading round its southern end for a visit to the National Portrait Gallery.

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We finished the last post at the Queen’s House and turning the corner there we enter into Leicester Place which definitely punches above its weight in terms of points of interest. First up is the church of Notre Dame de France which serves the French-speaking Catholic communities of London. The parish has been in existence since the 1860’s but the original church building was severely damaged during the WW2 bombings of 1940. Although it reopened a year later after extensive repairs a full reconstruction was ultimately required and in 1953 Maurice Schumann, French Foreign Secretary, laid the foundation stone of the new building, which was brought from the Cathedral of Chartres. The architect was Hector Corfiato of Beaux Arts de Paris.

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The most famous aspect of the church are the murals created by the artist, filmmaker and all-round renaissance man Jean Cocteau (1889 – 1963) during a week’s visit to London in November 1959. The murals depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and are divided into three panels portraying the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the Assumption. In front of the murals is an altar decorated with a mosaic of the nativity by the Russian artist Boris Anrep (1863-1969), best known for his giant works in the National Gallery, Westminster Cathedral and the Bank of England. This mosaic was created in 1955 but was then covered over in 1960 by a painted wooden panel of Cocteau’s a decision which unsurprisingly outraged Anrep. When the mosaic was rediscovered in 2003 in was decided to move the Cocteau panel to elsewhere in the church. The tapestry which hangs above the main altar is the work of the Benedictine Monk (and friend of Cocteau’s) Dom Robert (Guy de Chaunac-Lanzac 1907-1997). The theme of the tapestry is Paradise on earth with a reference to the Creation and to Wisdom. The New Eve, title given to Mary by the Church, is walking towards us as pure as a new bride.

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As you can see in the photograph above, part of the building which houses the church is given over to the Leicester Square Theatre. The LST is one of the top comedy venues in the capital, specialising in one-man stand up shows (I’ve seen Stewart Lee here a couple of times) or sketch group performances.

Next building along is the Prince Charles Cinema which these days is the only remaining repertory cinema in central London. Just lately I’ve spent quite a few afternoons there watching just-off new releases for a measly £4 (for members). The cinema started life as a small basement theatre in the early sixties then after a few years had a brief and equally unsuccessful stint as a music hall. Following rebuilding it opened as a cinema in 1969 eventually falling prey to the winds of change in the seventies and resorting to playing porn flicks. Its current incarnation began in 1991 and has enjoyed great success with a repertory mix of cult classics, arthouse second runs and themed programming.

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Staying with cinemas, next up when we return to Leicester Square and turn left towards the north east corner is the Vue West End. Currently a nine-screen complex this started life as the Warner Theatre, built in 1938 to the design of architects Thomas Somerford and E.A Stone. First presentation on opening was Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. The frontage was faced with reconstructed marble with a large relief panel by sculptor Bainbridge Copnall in each corner depicting spirits of sight and sound. When the cinema was redeveloped in the 1990’s this frontage was just about all that was retained of the original building.

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This brings us on to the Hippodrome which looms large over this corner of the square. The London Hippodrome was designed for the theatre impresario Edward Moss by architect Frank Matcham and opened its doors to the public 15 days into the start of the twentieth century. At the outset it specialised in a mixed programme of variety and circus performers including (as the name suggests) a number of equestrian acts. In 1958 the interior was completely remodelled and the venue was reborn as the Talk of the Town nightclub showcasing stars from Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland at one end of the spectrum to Val Doonican and The Seekers at the other. The T.o.t.T lasted until 1982 when after a brief closure and another renovation Peter Stringfellow opened a new nightclub and restaurant, reinstating the original name. He in turn sold out to a company called European Leisure who cashed in during the height of club culture in the late eighties and nineties by making the Hippodrome one of the highest profile (and also naffest) destinations in London. When that boom was over the Hippodrome had a few years in the noughties riding the burlesque wave before, following a £40m investment, it converted to a casino in 2012.

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Here’s a copy of a contemporary press report covering the impending opening night of the theatre in 1900 – Hippodrome2.

Head out of the square through Bear Street (which is really just a passage) and turn right on Charing Cross Road past Hunts Court which has a claim as one of the least inviting alleyways in London.

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Turn right again up Irving Street, which is lined with tourist-trapping restaurants, and arrive back at the east side of the square which is home to the daddy of all West End cinemas, the Odeon Leicester Square. This iconic black monolith with its polished granite façade and 37m high tower was built in 1937 to the design of Harry Weedon and Andrew Mather. Weedon was the architect that Oscar Deutsch charged with overseeing the building programme for his  new chain of Art Deco Odeon Cinemas in the thirties. (Side note – it is apocryphally believed that the Odeon name is an acronym for Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation but it almost certainly comes from the term Nickelodeon coined in the US in the early years of the century and itself derived from Ancient Greek). The cinema took seven months to build at a cost of £232,755 and had 2,116 seats and the film shown on the opening night was The Prisoner of Zenda. The grand interior was desecrated in a cack-handed 1967 modernisation but at least some of the original styling was restored in the Eighties.

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Leicester Square was originally laid out in 1670 and named after (the then) nearby Leicester House built in 1631-35 by Robert Sidney 2nd Earl of Leicester. Its renown as a hub of popular entertainment began in the 19th century and was enhanced by the building of the imposing Alhambra Theatre in 1854 (it was demolished in 1936 to make way for the Odeon). In the latter part of the 20th century the square came to be a byword for seediness and urban menace. During the 1979 winter of discontent it effectively became a temporary rubbish dump, earning the nickname Fester Square. Eventually Westminster Council woke up to the fact that having this running sore in the heart of tourist London was something of an embarrassment and in 2010 a major redevelopment was undertaken and completed 2 years later to coincide with the London Olympics. The improvements included 12,000 square metres (130,000 sq ft) of granite paving and a water feature surrounding the Shakespeare statue. The Shakespeare statue itself was erected during a previous renovation of the square in 1874.  It was sculpted by Giovanni Fontana after an 18thC. original by Peter Scheemakers which stands in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

In the background of the bottom right photo above you can see the empty space where the Odeon West End cinema used to stand. This site is currently being developed as a new cinema and “guess what” complex.

Exit the square’s south west corner via Panton Street where you will find the Harold Pinter Theatre (formerly The Comedy Theatre). This one opened in 1881, again designed by Thomas Verity, and atypically still has most of its auditorium in the original form. The change of name occurred in 2011 three years after the death of the playwright. Current production is the Kinks’ musical “Sunny Afternoon”.

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Comedy is still represented in the area in the form of The Comedy Pub and The Comedy Store which both inhabit Oxendon Street; the former was previously the rather classier Piccadilly’s No.7 Piano Bar (as the frontage still reflects).

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After a quick up and down of Oxendon Street we continue along Panton Street to Haymarket then turn south and head east again along Orange Street. The passageway that is the northern section of St Martins Street is closed off due to the new development so we have to skirt round Longs Court to get to no.35 which is now the Westminster Reference Library. However the building which formerly stood on this site was the home of Sir Isaac Newton from 1711 until his death in 1727. He had a small observatory built at the top of the house and a laboratory in the basement. Later residents of the house were the Burney family including Fanny Burney (later known as Madame D’Arblay) (1752 – 1840) the novelist and diarist. That building was demolished in 1913.

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The library holds over 15,000 books covering the performing arts and a wide range of film, theatre, dance, radio & TV publications, some (such as The Stage and Era) going back to the 19th century. It also houses The Sherlock Holmes Collection (which contains a far greater wealth of material than the tawdry museum on Baker Street which we ignored in our very first post). The library was also bequeathed the ballerina Anna Pavlova’s collection of books on dance which is kept in a separate section that was opened by Dame Alicia Markova in 1957.

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Back on Orange Street is the Orange Street Congregational Church founded in 1693 by Huguenot refugees who fled France following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Given the current furore concerning migrants from Syria and North Africa I thought the passage (included in the slideshow above)  which I discovered in one of the books on Isaac Newton’s house that I looked at in the library had a timely poignancy.

Reaching the end of Orange Street we turn right on Charing Cross Road past the statue of the stage actor Henry Irving (1838 – 1905) (who gives his name to the aforementioned street of course) to get to the National Portrait Gallery.

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The NPG was the brainchild of three men, Philip Henry Stanhope, Thomas Babington Macauley and Thomas Carlyle, whose efforts are commemorated in three busts above the main entrance to the gallery. Although the idea for a national gallery dedicated to portraits of famous Britons was first mooted in 1846 it was another ten years before it was actually founded. And then it wasn’t until 1896 that it established a permanent residence on the current site, funded by a donation from the philanthropist, William Henry Alexander. Both the architect, Ewan Christian, and the gallery’s first director, George Scharf, died shortly before the building was completed.

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There are over 200,000 works in all in the NPG’s collection though only a fraction of these are on display at any one time. On the second and first floors the portraits of the great and famous are displayed more or less chronologically from the Tudor period up to the 20th century. The ground floor is devoted to special exhibitions and contemporary works.

The following slideshow presents the individual portraits of all the British monarchs from Henry VIII through to William IV (excluding a couple of Georges) but starts with a compendium set of portraits depicting all the rulers from William the Conqueror to Mary Tudor which was probably created between 1590 and 1620 (after the last of them had died).

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And since we were just looking round where his old gaff used to be here’s Sir Isaac Newton (bottom) with his contemporary, the philosopher John Locke.

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Finally, for this time, here are the so-called Medieval Stairs with their busts on the main protagonists in the Wars of the Roses, for the Houses of York and Lancaster respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 27 (part 1) – Leicester Square – Chinatown – Shaftesbury Avenue

Back again and into the heart of tourist London; running the gauntlet of the yellow properties on the Monopoly board – Leicester Square, Coventry Street and Piccadilly – along with the streets that make up the capital’s Chinatown.

Day 27 Route pt1_a

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Starting point for today is Piccadilly Circus and as we head east along Coventry Street the first thing we pass is the massive London Trocadero complex, a site with a long and chequered history. In the 1820’s and 30’s there were various attempts to establish a theatre here but by the mid century it was being mainly used as an exhibition space. It was then leased to a wine merchant by the name of Robert Bignell, who reconstructed the existing buildings into Assembly Rooms called the Argyll Subscription Rooms. Thirty years later the place had degenerated into a haunt of prostitutes and their clients and in 1878 was raided and then closed down by the police. Despite losing his license, Bignell was not one to let go lightly and four years later he managed to re-open the building as the Trocadero Palace music hall. Bignell died in 1888, the music hall failed to flourish in his wake and seven years later his daughter sold the building on a 99-year lease to J. Lyons & Co. who converted it into the Trocadero Restaurant. This was decorated in an opulent baroque style with murals on Arthurian themes alongside the grand staircase and a Long Bar which catered to gentlemen only. During World War I, the Trocadero initiated the first “concert tea” served in the Empire Hall and accompanied by a full concert programme. The restaurant lasted right up until 1965 and after its demise the building played host variously to a dance hall, bowling alley and casino. Then in 1984, the Trocadero was redeveloped as a tourist-oriented entertainment, cinema and shopping complex; the largest in the UK at the time. Sadly for the owners, visitor numbers for attractions such as the Guinness World Records Exhibition and later the Segaworld arcade failed to match the scale of the ambition. By the mid-noughties the place was in a sorry state and, as you can see in the pictures below, most of it is now boarded up. In 2015 however the opening of a new Picturehouse cinema on the Shaftesbury Avenue side of the building at least provided signs of rejuvenation.

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Turn north up Rupert Street passing this elaborate roof-top embellishment about which I can find no information on whatsoever.

 

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Emerge on to Shaftesbury Avenue opposite the run of three theatres that we covered briefly in one of the Soho posts. First of these, moving west to east, is the Lyric which opened in 1888 but retained the façade of the house built in 1766 by  Dr William Hunter, an anatomist, partly as a home and partly as an anatomical theatre and museum. Amazingly, “Thriller Live”, the current production has been running since 2009 which means it could soon become the most successful show this theatre has ever hosted (takes all sorts I guess).

Bang next door is the Apollo which opened three years later with an exterior designed in the Renaissance style. The four figures on the top of the facade were created by Frederick Thomas, of Gloucester and Cheltenham, for the Theatre’s opening and represent Poetry, Music, Comedy and Dance.

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In 2013 part of the auditorium ceiling collapsed during a performance of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ and nearly 80 people were injured. The Theatre was subsequently closed for investigation and repairs for over 3 months and by the time it reopened the National Theatre-spawned smash had moved to the Gielgud just a block down.

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The Gielgud started life as the Hicks Theatre in 1906 but within three years had been renamed the Globe. It was renamed again in 1994 after the eponymous theatrical knight; partly in celebration of the renowned thespian (who still had six years to live at the time) but also to avoid any confusion with the newly opened Shakespearean Globe Theatre on the south bank. (For this information and most of the rest on the history of London theatres I am greatly indebted to www.arthurlloyd.co.uk).

Next we cut through Rupert Court to the lower end Wardour Street which marks the western boundary of Chinatown,

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No 41-43 is the home of the Wong Kei restaurant, renowned back in the day for the “alleged” rudeness of its waiting staff. This was said to only increase the popularity of the restaurant which is generally full but that probably has more to do with the reasonableness of their prices. You can’t expect both value for money and over-politeness.

The building is another designed in the baroque style (with added touches of Art Nouveau) and as the blue plaque attests was once owned by Willy Clarkson (1861 – 1934), theatrical costumier and perruquier (that’s wigmaker to you).

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Dansey Place is basically just a back alley that runs behind the restaurants on the north side of Gerrard Street and emerges into Macclesfield Street. Despite all the visits I’ve made to this area I’d never even noticed it before but it has a distinct dingy, unchanged for decades charm to it.

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Next we’re on to Gerrard Street itself which at mid-morning with a parade of white vans lined up making deliveries manages, if anything, to look slightly tackier than normal. Though I have to confess to a bit of a soft spot for its gaudy accoutrements.

The part of London originally known as Chinatown was down in Limehouse in the East End and consisted of businesses that catered to Chinese sailors visiting the docks. It wasn’t until the Seventies following an influx of immigrants from Hong Kong and a growing taste for oriental cuisine that Gerrard Street and the surrounding area began to assume the name.

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Those two carved Chinese lions in the one of the slides above were donated by the People’s Republic of China and were unveiled by the Duke of Gloucester in 1985 at a formal naming ceremony (which coincided with the quatercentenary of the City of Westminster). Appropriately, given the Chinese fondness for gambling, they are now backdroppped by a  Betfred bookmakers.

There are a couple of atypical commemorative plaques on Gerrard Street. At no.37 is one to John Dryden (1631 – 1700), England’s first Poet Laureate. The phrase “blaze of glory” is believed to have originated in Dryden’s 1686 poem The Hind and the Panther (which celebrated his conversion to Catholicism), in that it refers to the throne of God as a “blaze of glory that forbids the sight.”

(The portrait of Dryden above was taken in the National Portrait Gallery which will feature in the next post.)

The second plaque is at no.37 in honour of the Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke (1729 – 1979). Burke, who was both a philosopher and politician, was supportive of American independence and Catholic emancipation but vehemently antipathetic to the French Revolution. Although a member of the Whigs he is widely touted as the “father of modern conservatism”.

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As noted in an earlier post, the original Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club was at no. 39.

If you nip up Gerrard Place, at the western end of the street, you hit Shaftesbury Avenue opposite the Curzon Cinema which, to my mind, is one of the best in London. Its existence is under threat from the proposed Crossrail 2 (Gawd help us) and though the building it occupies the basement of is nothing to write home about, the cinema would be sorely missed. (So go on – sign the petition).

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Next we go south down Newport Place and veer left down the alleyway that is Newport Court. This brings us out onto Charing Cross Road where we turn right almost immediately back up Little Newport Street. The building on the corner that is now a branch of Pizza Express is Grade II listed and was once an outlet of the costumiers, Morris Angel & Son.

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Pass round the back of the Hippodrome (more of that next time) and continue along Lisle Street which probably has a better selection of Chinese restaurants than its parallel neighbour.

At the end we’re back out on Wardour Street opposite what used to be the Chuen Cheng Ku restaurant which served the best Dim Sum in Chinatown in bamboo baskets wheeled round on trolleys. Not sure what it is now and the splendid Dragon Pole is gone, in its place a plaque commemorating the building as the site where the Magic Circle was founded in 1905. Bizarrely a website for the restaurant still lives on as a ghostly reminder so you can see what’s been lost here.

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A couple of doors down no. 9 was once the residence of Benjamin Smart, a goldsmith and dealer in bullion, who wasn’t shy of advertising the fact as you can see.

A left turn at the southern end of Wardour Street and Swiss Court takes you into Leicester Square and face-to-face with the Swiss Glockenspiel, a 10m high structure, with 27 bells, an automated musical clock with a procession of herdsmen and their animals ascending an alpine meadow. This rather charmless confection was only erected here in 2011 in an attempt to replace the far more impressive glockenspiel and clock which in 1985 was installed on the front of the Swiss Centre that occupied the north-west corner of the square, from 1966 until its demolition in 2008.

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I don’t think I ever really understood the purpose of the Swiss Centre but its demise seems to be lamented by quite a few online commentators. In any event it was preferable to the building which has replaced it and incorporates yet another luxury hotel and M&M’s World which stretches to a mind-boggling four floors. About as necessary as another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.(For people of a certain age – M&Ms are like an American version of Smarties).

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Leicester Street runs north from the square to Lisle Street emerging opposite no.5 which was designed by Frank T. Verity in 1897 in the early Renaissance style of northern Europe. The building was first occupied in 1900 by the French Club and subsequently by Pathé of France and Pathéscope Limited, film-makers. From 1935 to 1989 it was the home of St. John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin. After that it became the aptly-named Crooked Surgeon pub until in 2007 it was (sigh) taken over by the owners of the ubiquitous Slug and Lettuce Chain.

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In the next block down on the square itself is the Empire Cinema and Casino. The current building is the third incarnation of the Empire Theatre to occupy this site. The first version opened in 1884 as a high-end variety theatre but within three years had repositioned itself as a popular music hall. That building was demolished in 1927 and the second Empire Theatre which opened a year later operated primarily as a cinema. After WW2 the theatre became known for its Cine-Variety programmes – a combination of film showings and live performances – and example of which you can see here. In 1959, the Empire installed 70mm projectors and a new screen in front of the proscenium to show Ben-Hur, which ran for 76 weeks. Following this, in 1961, the Empire was closed for extensive internal reconstruction to a design by Architect George Coles. It reopened in 1962 with a new 1,330 seat auditorium in place of the circle and a Mecca Ballroom where the stalls used to be. The latter is now the Casino. The cinema today comprises 9 screens, one of which is an IMAX.

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Next door to the Empire is Queen’s House which was built in 1897 and opened as the Queen’s Hotel in 1899. In 1920 the socialist MP Victor Grayson vanished mysteriously after telling friends that he had to pay a quick visit to hotel. It was rumoured that the MP, who had made a number of enemies in high places, was killed to stop him revealing details of government corruption.

In 1936 the building was remodelled to accommodate office space on the upper floors but today it is once again a hotel (wait for it) as part of the Premier Inn stable. It also plays host to yet another casino (Napoleon’s).

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On that note it’s time to bring things to a conclusion but we’ll be back with more of Leicester Square in the next post. Until then here’s a reminder of what it’s really all about – foreign tourists and half-baked street performers.

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