Day 16 – Bond Street – Regent Street – Mayfair – Royal Institution

So, after something of an extended hiatus, we’re back. And for this tour we return to the West End and explore the area between New Bond Street and Regent Street. Not a very extensive area but another busy one and, as we will come to later, currently a sad one too. This patch of London is dominated by upmarket clothes stores, restaurants and art galleries – a brand lover’s wet dream but a bit of a nightmare for those who feel uncomfortable around such conspicuous high-end consumerism. At least we finish in a more cultural vein with a visit to the temple of science which is the Royal Institution.

Day 16 Route

We start by heading south down Regent Street and turning right down Princes Street towards Hanover Square. The north, east and west sides of the square are currently closed off as the Crossrail works continue so we circle round to the south side via Harewood Place, Tenterden Street, Dering Street, New Bond Street and Brook Street.

On this stretch of New Bond Street the facades of four grand buildings decimated by the Crossrail work (nos. 67-71) have been turned into a giant canvas with their combined 243 windows displaying a series of images created by four emerging artists.

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The three sculptures on the front of no. 71, representing, science, art and commerce, date from the start of WW1. Science was the creation of Thomas Rudge while the other two are by Louis Frederick Roslyn.

On Brook Street, the Issey Miyake store presents an early opportunity for selfie-of-the-day.

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The square, which is named after George I (originally the Elector of Hanover), was first laid out in the 1710’s. Now that the surrounding houses have largely been torn down; the only thing here of note is the statue of William Pitt the Younger (1750 – 1806) which was put up in 1831 but nearly didn’t survive its first day after being assailed by Reform Bill agitators.

Hanover Street, Pollen Street and Maddox Street bring us back out onto Regent Street which was created at the instigation of George IV (during his time as Prince Regent no less) and laid out by John Nash (see earlier post). Nash’s original buildings unfortunately only managed to survive just over a century from their construction between 1813 and 1820. According to my 1930’s London Guidebook they were “replaced by marble and ferro-concrete ‘palaces that make Regent Street without question the finest shopping thoroughfare in the world”. Not a claim that still holds water today but the buildings do have a grandiosity that belies their relatively recent origins. One of these is the Liberty’s Building on the east side at nos. 208-222. This dates from 1926 and is notable for the curved frieze that runs almost the full width of the top section of the building. This the work of two sculptors; Charles L. J. Doman and T. J. Clapperton and goes by the, post-colonially embarrassing, title of ‘Britannia with the wealth of East and West’.

Turn back west again down Conduit Street which is home to, amongst many other haunts of the wealthy, the Sketch restaurant, the Vivienne Westwood store and Rigby and Peller (bra-makers by royal appointment).

Mill Street then takes us back up to Maddox Street and a right turn brings us to the junction with St George’s Street where, on the corner, you will find the eponymous church which dates from 1721-24 (and was extensively refurbished in 2010). The original designer of the church was John James and the painting of the Last Supper behind the altar is by William Kent. Handel was a regular worshipper here and it now hosts the annual London Handel Festival. And, as you can see, they’re not superstitious about leaving their decorations up beyond twelfth night.

Heading north on St George’s Street back to Hanover Square takes us past, in no particular order, the Mexican embassy, Vogue House – HQ of publishers Condé Nast, and the premises of art dealers, Offer Waterman, which was William Morris & Co’s main showroom from 1917 to the late 20th century.

Brook Street returns us for another visit to New Bond Street with its parade of Dolce & Gabbana’s, Armani’s, Jimmy Choo’s and Victoria’s Secrets before we’re back down Maddox Street and turning onto the southern stretch of St George’s Street where the back side of Sotheby’s the Auctioneers awaits.

A repeat visit to Conduit Street leads us into the world famous Savile Row at the top end of which is located the Hauser & Wirth contemporary gallery. There’s nearly always something on here worth seeing and the current exhibition, “Oscuramento – The Wars of Fabio Mauri” is no exception. Mauri is an a Italian artist, born 1926, who grew up during the time of the fascist regime and this historical solo show brings together works inspired by that context. Centrepiece of the exhibition is the work Oscuramento itself which is set inside a separate room and presents an (artistically-licensed) reconstruction, complete with 29 waxwork figures, of the meeting of the Fascist Grand Council in 1943 at which the arrest of Mussolini was sanctioned. This show ends on 06/02/2016 so hurry down there.

Opposite the gallery is the Savile Row police station – well I suppose there is all that pricey gear to nick round these parts. Hard to say on which side of the legal divide the geezers in this shot fall.

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A left turn on to New Burlington Street takes us back yet again to Regent Street and a bit further down the next westward turn is Heddon Street. I wasn’t originally going to include this on today’s trip but something, serendipity I guess, made me change my mind and gives rise to the sadness I referred to at the beginning. These days, Heddon Street proclaims itself as the Regent Street Food Quarter but back in 1972, and I didn’t know this until today, it became famous as the site for the cover shot of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” album. Since Bowie’s untimely death, this spot, marked with a black plaque, has become one of many impromptu shrines/memorials around the capital adorned with poignant and moving tributes. I wish I’d had something with me to add to it.

Difficult to follow that but we’ll push on. Starting off with Vigo Street which connects Regent Street with the bottom end of Savile Row. And, heading north up the latter, we find what it’s really renowned for…

Turn left into Boyle Street and again down Old Burlington Street to reach Burlington Gardens where the back side of the Royal Academy (more of which on another occasion) is swathed in scaffolding.

Cork Street is another one lined with art galleries but we stop off briefly at only one, Waddington Custot, which is currently showing an exhibition of portraits by Sir Peter Blake. And has particularly challenging doors. Pride of place in the show goes to this Elvis shrine though the portraits of Ian Dury are also pretty good. If you want to see this you have even less time as it closes on 30/01/2016.

Coincidentally, as many of you may already know, Elvis Presley and David Bowie share a birth date – 8th January (1935 and 1946 respectively).

 Clifford Street runs into the bottom end of New Bond Street from where we do a dog-leg to get to Grafton Street and find today’s only (true) blue plaque, to Sir Henry Irving (1838 – 1905), above Aspreys the jewellers. Irving was actually born John Henry Brodribb and was the first actor to be knighted (despite some opinions of his acting style being less than glowing by all accounts). On death he was cremated and his ashes buried in Westminster Abbey thereby making him also the first person ever to be cremated prior to interment at Westminster.

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And so on to Albermarle Street where a first visit to the Royal Institution awaits.

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The Royal Institution was founded in March 1799 with the aim of introducing new technologies and teaching science to the general public. It has subsequently become most closely associated with the great scientists, Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday, and with its series of Christmas Lectures.

Many of us are aware of Davy’s invention of the eponymous miner’s lamp but he was also, in the space of a few years at the start of the 19th century, the discoverer of the elements Sodium, Potassium, Chlorine, Magnesium, Strontium, Calcium, Boron and Barium. Faraday’s fame rests largely on his discovery, in 1831, of electro-magnetic induction, the basis of modern power generation and the electric motor.

The first Christmas Lectures took place in 1825 and have been given every year since apart from 1939-1942. Lecturers since the resumption have included David Attenborough (1973), Carl Sagan (1977) and Richard Dawkins (1991). Astonishingly though, it wasn’t until 1994  that a woman, Susan Greenfield, took charge of the lectern.

The lower ground floor houses the Faraday Museum (free entry) which incorporates a replica of the man’s original laboratory. The upper floors are often hired out for corporate functions but fortunately I had half an hour before today’s scheduled event started and the place to myself, including the lecture theatre.

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A bit further down Albermarle Street is Brown’s Hotel and opposite that the swanky Royal Arcade which I’m sure is visited by twenty times more photo-opportunists (like me) than actual shoppers.

Anyway it’s a useful cut through to Old Bond Street  which is the starting point for a run (not literally) up the final stretch of New Bond Street.

No. 24 Old Bond Street is now the Salvatore Ferragamo store, but was originally home to Atkinsons (the prestigious perfume house) and the tower – built in 1924 – houses London’s only carillon. This is a set of 23 bells that are tuned to harmonise together and played by a set of levers, like a very large piano. They are played at 5pm on Friday & Saturday during summer.

There’s just time to call in at the Fine Art Society (est. 1876) to take a look at their current Art and Design exhibition before whizzing up past the front entrance of Sotheby’s and heading back to Bond Street tube via Brook Street and South Molton Street.

To get to South Molton Street we cut through via Haunch of Venison Yard and the back of Bonham’s (the other slightly less well known auctioneers on New Bond Street).

And today’s parting gift (aside form another selfie) is the surprising news that the Christmas Gift Shop on South Molton Street isn’t open all year round. Chap with the beard stood there for ages so he obviously couldn’t quite believe it.

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Day 15 – Bloomsbury – British Museum – Holborn

Another short one, at least in terms of distance travelled, but there are a lot of points of interest contained within today’s route. This takes in the area between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn tube stations to the south, east and west of the British Museum and includes a brief incursion into the BM as well as a visit to the, somewhat lower profile, Cartoon Museum.

Day 15 Route

Kick off at Tottenham Court Road tube station (with its spacious Crossrail- ready new ticket hall) and head over to the Dominion Theatre. The theatre opened in 1929 but before that the site was occupied by a brewery which was the source of the 1814 London Beer Flood (not quite the lark it sounds as it was responsible for more fatalities than all of the rainwater based flooding of recent years). The theatre is currently showing the musical version of Elf (presumably in tribute to the old maxim about no-one ever going broke by underestimating the taste of the public). Still anything has to be better than We Will Rock You (which had 12 years of mugging gullible punters here).

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Head north up Tottenham Court Road and turn right down Bayley Street which leads into Bedford Square. On its own the latter is endowed with more plaques commemorating the residence of notable public figures than the whole of some of the areas previously visited. I only mention a couple here; first of which, at no.22, is the ornate memorial to the actor-manager Johnston Forbes-Robertson (1853 – 1937). J F-R was educated at Charterhouse – which just shows that in those days it was still possible for someone from the upper middle classes to forge an acting career.

No.6, on the right above, was the home of Lord Eldon  (1751 – 1838) who was Lord Chancellor during part of the reign of George III. At the age of 21 he eloped to Scotland with Bessie Surtees, the daughter of a Newcastle banker, fortunately without being disowned by his family.

No.41 was once the residence of the novelist, Anthony Hope (1863 – 1933), best known for The Prisoner of Zenda.

No.46 is occupied by the Angolan Embassy and no.52 was apparently used as the contestants’ house in the 2010 series of the Apprentice.

The eastern side of the square is where Gower Street morphs into Bloomsbury Street and at no.2 of the former is a plaque to the splendidly named Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847 – 1929), one of the leading lights of the Suffragist movement. Suffragists were proponents for votes for women but not necessarily Suffragettes (who were a specific and highly militant group). Millicent campaigned, often in vain, on a wide range of Women’s rights issues. However as the head of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), which unlike the Suffragette WSPU kept up its campaigning during World War One, she played in key role in securing the vote for Women (or at least some of them) in 1919.

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Next up is Bedford Avenue with its very distinctive Victorian terrace on the north side.

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Adeline Place then takes us south to the western section of Great Russell Street where, before rejoining Tottenham Court Road, we pass the headquarters of the Trades Union Congress and the Central London YMCA. The latter is on the site of the original YMCA founded by drapery trade worker, George Williams in 1844. It also proclaims itself as the largest gym in central London.

After turning left at the Dominion again to join New Oxford Street we fork left along Bainbridge Street which merges in Streatham Street where there is further evidence of the work of the Peabody Trust.

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Dyott Street then takes us back to New Oxford Street from where we continue eastward into High Holborn all the way to Holborn tube station. On the way we pass James Smith & Sons, purveyors of highest quality umbrellas and walking sticks on this site since 1857.

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Also en route is Holborn Town Hall, a legacy of time (from 1900 to 1965) when Holborn was a distinct and separate metropolitan borough. In 1965 it was merged with the boroughs of Hampstead and St Pancras to create the London Borough of Camden. The Grade II listed town hall with its Portland stone façade dates from 1908 and is now used as office space.

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From Holborn tube head north up Southampton Row then veer left down Sicilian Avenue, a well-preserved Edwardian commercial development still popular with shoppers and al-fresco diners.

Having crossed over Bloomsbury Way it’s a circuit of Bloomsbury Square next. This is reportedly the oldest London square; licensed to Lord Southampton in 1661 (Covent Garden is older but considered a piazza rather than a square). The eastern side of the square belongs to the massive Victoria House , designed by architect Charles W. Long. Construction of this behemoth of a building with its grand Beaux Arts facades began in 1924 but it wasn’t finally completed until 1932 by which time it was the largest office block in the country apart from Whitehall and incorporated 125 miles of electric wiring, 5000 tons of steel frameworks and 5.25 million bricks.

The square itself was at first very simply landscaped, but was laid out by Humphrey Repton in about 1806 in a more romantic manner in accordance with Regency tastes. At the north end is Westmacott’s statue of Charles James Fox (1749 – 1806), gazing towards his friend the Duke of Bedford in Russell Square. CJF, who served as Foreign Secretary under three different prime ministers, was notorious for his drinking, rakishness and gambling as well as his corpulence and unlovely appearance. As such he was reputedly the most-ridiculed figure of his era, principally by the cartoonist James Gillray (who, by dint of serendipity, we shall hear more of later).

Cross back over Bloomsbury Way and go down Southampton Place then back via Barter Street. On the corner here is Swedenborg House home of the Swedenborg Society named after the eponymous Emanuel (1688 – 1772), Swedish Philosopher, Inventor and general renaissance man.

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Another great polymath is recognized with a blue plaque at no.3 Russell Chambers on the conjunction of Bury Place and Galen Place. Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) lived in a flat here during the 1910’s. Best known as a philosopher and mathematician (and a combination of the two) Russell won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 (something I was previously unaware of).

On Bloomsbury Way again we pass the Pushkin House, home of Russian culture in London. This is named of course after the great Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin (1799 – 1837), who is alleged to have fought around 29 duels, the last of which, against his wife’s reputed lover (and brother-in-law) resulted in his premature demise.

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Further along is St George’s Church, the sixth and last of the London churches designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and completed in 1730. The stepped tower is influenced by Pliny the Elder’s description of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), and topped with a statue of King George I in Roman dress. Its statues of fighting lions and unicorns symbolise the recent end of the First Jacobite Rising. Continuing the earlier Suffragette theme, this was where the funeral of the martyr to the cause, Emily Davison, was held in 1913.

That just leaves the remaining streets between Bloomsbury Way and Great Russell Street before we get to the two museum stops. So after Museum Street, Coptic Street, Willoughby Street, Stedham Place and Gilbert Place we arrive on Little Russell Street, home to the Cartoon Museum. This was opened in 2006 as a venue dedicated to the celebration of British cartoon and comic art from the 18th century to the present day. A visit to the upper floor is recommended to anyone who recalls the glory days of the Beano, Dandy, Beezer, Sparky, Cor !, Whizzer & Chips, the Victor and perhaps slightly younger aficionados of Viz and 2000 AD.

Current exhibition (to 17 January 2016 so be quick) is entitled Gillray’s Ghost and looks at the work of the aforementioned 18th and early 19th century political cartoonist, James Gillray (1756 – 1815) and his influence on his contemporary equivalents such as Steve Bell and Martin Rowson.

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This brings us finally to the British Museum which I obviously don’t have space to do justice to here so I’m just going to leave you with a selection of images, mainly of artefacts relating to my current favourite ancient civilisation, the Assyrian Empire (approximately 1900 to 612 BCE). Warning: unfortunately some animals were harmed in the making of these.

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