Day 19 – Oxford Circus – Soho – Carnaby Street

Today’s route is a necessarily brief one as I’m still recovering from a sprained ankle which has kept me off the streets (so to speak) for the last couple of weeks. Still there’s plenty to report on as we make our first foray into Soho (settle down it’s not the Seventies), including Liberty’s department store and the Photographer’s Gallery.

Day 19 Route

We start out today at Oxford Circus tube station, the busiest on the London Underground network. Based on exponential growth in the first few years of this decade it would have seen more than 100m comings and goings in 2015. The Central Line was the first line to pass through here, opening in 1900 and originally just running from Shepherds Bush to the City. The Bakerloo followed in 1906 and the Victoria not until 1969.

From the station we head south down Argyll Street the site of the London Palladium.

The Grade II-listed Palladium was built in 1910 and is probably best known as the venue for that unmissable cavalcade of top flight family entertainment that is the annual Royal Variety Show. After WWII the legendary Val Parnell took over as manager of the theatre and introduced a policy of showcasing big-name American acts at the top of the bill – the likes of Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. One British performer who managed to steal back some of the limelight was the immortal Bruce Forsyth who hosted ITV’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium extravaganza during the sixties. The Beatles played here in 1963 and Slade ten years later when the balcony nearly collapsed. Marvin Gaye’s 1976 concert here was recorded and released as a double live LP.

At the end of Argyll Street we turn right on Great Marlborough Street past Liberty department store (which we will return to later). Turning left onto Kingly Street we pass beneath the three storey arched bridge into which is set the Liberty clock.  The clock was restored to its former glories in 2010 so that every quarter of an hour St George chases the Dragon around the clock, and on the hour raises his sword to smite the beast with each chime.  The inscription beneath the clock reads “No minute gone comes back again, take heed and see ye nothing do in vain”. Words we would all do well to take on board – though perhaps that piles on the pressure a bit too much (I’d have to give up doing this for a start).

On the way down Kingly Street we circle round each of Foubert’s Place, Granton Street and Tenison Court before stopping off at the Sadie Coles Gallery at no.42. It’s a nice space so always worth a visit (if only for the view over Regent Street).

Reaching Beak Street we turn left and back north up Carnaby Street. I don’t expect anyone still imagines this retains any of the (overstated even then) glamour of its sixties heyday but it is still always a bit of a jolt to see just what a nondescript shadow of its former self it now is. About as “swinging” as Basingstoke or The Voice.

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This mural, on the corner of Carnaby Street and Broadwick Street is entitled Spirit of Soho. It was created in 1991 by the Free Form Arts Trust and  St Anne, dedicatee of the local church, enveloping depictions of various characters and aspects of life from Soho’s history beneath her voluminous skirt. A more recent addition to the local artistic environment is the “light sculpture” Sherida Walking which was installed as part of January 2016’s  Lumiere London event (and kept as the one permanent reminder of that). It was created by artist Julian Opie, probably best known for his design of the cover of Blur’s “Best of…” album.

More or less opposite this is Kingly Court, a mini-mall of 21 restaurants and bars described by the Evening Standard last year as “the Carnaby Street enclave that’s fast becoming central London’s hottest foodie destination”. I draw attention to it merely on account of the fact that I am perpetually gobsmacked by the number and variety of eating establishments that London seems to manage to support. As if there weren’t enough things to do more interesting than stuffing your face ?

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At the northern end of Carnaby Street (actually no.29 Great Marlborough Street) is the Shakespeare’s Head pub which was built in 1735 and owned originally by Thomas and John Shakespeare, reportedly distant relatives of the great man himself. The pub’s inn sign is a reproduction of Martin Droeshout’s  contemporary portrait of Shakespeare. The life-size bust which appears to be gazing out of a window is missing a hand, lost in a WW1 bombing raid.

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Turn the corner and we’re back at Liberty department store which is always a pleasure to visit. I could wander round here for hours (and I don’t like shopping). Mind you I can’t remember the last time I actually bought anything.

The Liberty Store was founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875 and started out on a site in Regent Street. The mock-Tudor style building in Great Marlborough Street was completed in 1924. Designed by Edwin T. Hall and his son Edwin S. Hall, the store was constructed from the timbers of two ships: HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The frontage is the same length as the Hindustan. Designed at the height of the 1920s fashion for Tudor revival, the shop was engineered around three light wells, each surrounded by smaller rooms. Many of these rooms had fireplaces – some of which still exist today. If you’ve never been inside you can get an idea from the images below. The weathervane is an exact model of the Mayflower which took the pilgrims to the New World in 1620.

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Hopefully you managed to spot the sneaky “selfie-of-the-day”. And what about those lifts ? Outrageous. Nor surprisingly Oscar Wilde was a fan “Liberty is the chosen
resort of the artistic shopper.”

Across the road from Liberty is Ideal House (now known as Palladium House) constructed just a couple of years later from polished blocks of black granite, ornamented with enamel friezes and cornices in yellows, oranges, greens and gold. The black and gold colours were the colours of the American National Radiator Company (whose building in Manhattan inspired this design for their London HQ).

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A little way further east along Great Marlborough Street we turn left into Ramilies Street where we find the Photographer’s Gallery, which moved here a few years ago from its original home, a converted Lyon’s Tea Bar adjacent to Leicester Square tube station.

Since its inception in 1971 the Photographer’s Gallery has been the only public gallery in London specialising in the presentation and exploration of photography as an art form. In its new home it has three separate galleries and the three current exhibitions – which run to 3 April 2016 – are all definitely worth a look. These are – a retrospective of the work of Saul Leiter, a collection based around the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland and (my personal favourite) an installation by Brazilian artist Rosângela Rennó which presents images from the salvaged archives of Uruguayan photojournalist Aurelio Gonzalez using 20 scavenged analogue projectors. The slide show below features the last of these.

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After leaving the PG we turn left into Ramilies Place and then a dog-leg into Hills Place takes us practically back to Oxford Circus. Well I did say it was a short one.

 

 

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Day 18 – Clerkenwell – Farringdon – Hatton Garden – Holborn

Today’s route is another compact one covering the area bounded by Gray’s Inn Road to the west, St John Street to the east and Holborn to the south. Highlights include a visit to the Museum of the Order of St John (try and contain yourself please) and a stroll around the (in)famous home of the London diamond trade, Hatton Garden.

Day 18 Route

We start in familiar territory and quickly knock off the triangle of streets that are bordered by (and sunken beneath) Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell Road and Farringdon Road. Despite some great names: Coldbath Square, Crawford Passage, Bakers Row, Warner Street, Eyre Street Hill, Back Hill, Summers Street, Ray Street and Herbal Hill have only this temporary resident to tempt open the camera lens.

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Like most things though this is a matter of timing. This area of Clerkenwell (and a bit beyond) was once known as “Little Italy” due to the influx of about 2,000 immigrants from that country in the 1850’s. It remains something of a spiritual home to London’s Italian community due to St Peter’s Church (on Clerkenwell Road) which is the force behind the Procession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Sagra which takes place each July and brings this sunken enclave alive. I was fortunate enough to stumble across the procession, and its accompanying food and drink stalls, some years ago and have been trying to schedule a return visit ever since.

St Peter’s Church opened amid great celebration in 1863 and at the time was the only church in Britain designed in the Roman Basilican style. The painting below of the Beheading of John the Baptist is from the 17th century and by the hand of artist, Alessandro Turchi.

Leaving the church we head east along Clerkenwell Road as far as St John’s Square which  straddles the road. The north side of the square was included in one of our earlier posts. However, unlike on that occasion, St John’s Priory is open to visitors today. I won’t go through all the history again but for Tudor buffs would remind you that the Knights of St John were the last of the monastic orders to be abolished by Henry VIII (in 1540). Consequent upon that Henry took the priory and all its land and wealth which were second only to those of Glastonbury Abbey. Henry gave the priory itself to his daughter Mary to use and as a palace and on her accession to the throne she restored the Order only for Elizabeth to do away with it for good when she became queen.

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Across the road is St John’s Gate where the main part of the Museum resides. If, like me, you’ve seen anything of the recent TV series on the Crusades this is well worth a visit. There’s no entry fee and the museum does a great job in presenting the remarkable story of the Order and its survival.

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And it also provides the opportunity for today’s selfie-of-the day. I know what you’re thinking – not everyone can carry off the suit of armour look that well.

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Continuing down St John’s Lane we reach Passing Alley which according to several sources was known as Pissing Alley back in the days when an al-fresco emptying of the bladder was more in tune with public sensitivities.

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Just a couple of doors further down is this sign for E.Higgs Air Agency which upped and moved away several decades ago and was last heard of trading out of Bracknell under the name of Higgs International.

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At the end of St John’s Lane we turn right down Peter’s Lane to cut through to Cowcross Street whose name derives from the time (up until the 1850’s) when live animals were herded down here on their way to Smithfield Market. Turning west we arrive at Farringdon station which opened in 1863 as part of the first London underground line, the Metropolitan.  One of the finest looking tube stations in the capital it has fortunately been left unscathed by the developments for, firstly, Thameslink and now Crossrail.

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From here we turn briefly up Turnmill Street and then right into Benjamin Street. At the end of this is the Goldsmiths Centre which was opened in 2012 as a new training and education facility supported by the Goldsmiths’ Company (one of the 12 great livery companies of the City of London). The building combines an 1872-built Grade II listed Victorian school with a modern extension.

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Just round the corner, on another section of Peter’s Lane, the weathervane and bull’s head mouldings on what is now the Rookery Hotel are another reminder of the proximity to Smithfield Market.

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So next we snake round Eagle Court, Albion Place and Briset Street which brings us out onto Britton Street. Here we find Mountford House, a block of flats built in the 1970’s but which incorporates the 1901-03 façade (by E.W Mountford) from the offices of Booth’s Gin Distillery, demolished as part of the same redevelopment. The preservation of the façade represented a rare victory for the forces of conservation at that time.

At the top of Britton Street we turn left then head back down Turnmill Street and pass Farringdon station again via another stretch of Cowcross Street. We then head north up Farringdon Road before slipping into Saffron Street and cutting up Onslow Street to return to Clerkenwell Road before heading south again on Saffron Hill. Where this meets Greville Street sits today’s pub of the day, the One Tun, which was established as an alehouse in 1759 and was frequented in his day by our old friend, Charles Dickens. Reputedly this was this inspiration for the Three Cripples pub which appears in Oliver Twist and will be familiar to viewers of the BBC’s “Dickensian” series. Accordingly I should probably have had ‘a little drop of gin’ and a pie instead of a pint of Ubu bitter and a duck fried rice. (Shame that Booth’s Distillery’s no longer around).

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After leaving the pub we move north again up Kirby Street which leads into Hatton Place from where Hatton Wall crosses into Hatton Garden. Hatton Garden and the streets leading off it create the internationally renowned jewellery quarter and hub of the UK diamond trade. Recently of course it has become indelibly linked in the public consciousness with the April 2015 raid on the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company which occupies nos 88-90; the so-called “largest burglary in English legal history”.

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On reflection then I suppose I should have been a bit more circumspect in wielding the camera round these parts. (But I guess no-one would expect lightning to strike twice).

The “bluecoat” statues on the building below are indicative of the site of a charity school. This building was originally a church built after the great fire of London allegedly to a design of Sir Christopher Wren. It was converted to a charity school at the end of the 17th century, suffered serious bomb damage during WWII and upon rebuilding was named Wren House. Fortunately these statues had been sent to a college in Berkshire for safekeeping prior to the start of the Blitz.

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Treasure House at nos. 19-21 dates from 1907 and is embellished with a fine set of carvings relating to the gold trade.

The southern end of Hatton Garden forms one of the spokes of Holborn Circus. Heading west from here along Holborn (A40) we pass this statue of Prince Albert before turning right up Leather Lane.

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It’s been some years since I last visited Leather Lane market and I have to say it seems to have headed downmarket (so to speak) in the intervening time. Though in fairness the stallholders were packing up as I got there and my memory may be putting a bit of a gloss on its former status.

I did quite like the idea of the pie-minister though.

Having dipped in and out of St. Cross Street we exit the north end of Leather line by Portpool Lane and in doing so pass through the middle of the Bourne Estate. Constructed during the Edwardian era between 1905 and 1909 the estate represents one of London’s best examples of tenement housing and a number of the housing blocks have been Grade II listed. The Bourne Estate is the third of the three key estates built by the London County Council in the years of its greatest innovation. In Britain the Bourne Estate is the least known, but it has an international significance as the model for the much admired and highly influential public housing erected in Vienna immediately after the First World War.

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Portpool Lane terminates on Gray’s Inn Road and taking a left turn southward we call in on Verulam Street before taking the next left which is Baldwin Gardens. This brings us to the massive, and yet extremely well-hidden, Church of St Alban the Martyr. This one was originally built in 1859 to a design of William Butterfield. After being “burnt out” in 1941 it was restored during 1959-61 under the guiding hand of Adrian Gilbert Scott.  The large mural behind the altar, The Trinity in Glory (1966) and the paintings of the stations of the cross down the side are by Hans Feibusch, an artist of German Jewish extraction who after fleeing to Britain in in 1933 produced murals for 28 different Anglican churches. St Alban, incidentally, was beheaded by the Romans in Britain some time in the 3rd or 4th century A.D.

Baldwin Gardens takes us back to Leather Lane and then via Dorrington Street, Beauchamp Street and Brooke Street (with an “e”) we work our way back to Holborn and the site of the building called Holborn Bars but perhaps better known as the Prudential Assurance Building. This impressively monumental terracotta edifice in the Gothic Revival style was built in 1879 to the designs of Alfred Waterhouse (after whom the square which it surrounds came to be named). The Pru still own the building but since 1999 they no longer occupy it. In 1986, when they did, I had a temporary placement here and still remember the woman who sat opposite me and talked incessantly of nothing but her future wedding which was more than a year away. It was one of the longest weeks of my life.

This has been a bit of a marathon posting so well done if you’ve stuck with it right the way through. We’ve reached the final stop, you’ll be relieved to hear, which is Gresham College on the other side of Holborn. Gresham College was founded in 1597 and has been providing free public lectures throughout the more than 400 years since. From 1542 to 1959 the site which it occupies now, Barnards Inn, was home to the independent school operated by the Worshipful Company of Mercers.

 

 

 

 

Day 17 – Mayfair – Bond Street – Berkeley Square –

So we’re back again in the land of luxury that is Mayfair (didn’t previously realise what a wide area it encompasses). I’m afraid this isn’t quite the end of it either. Anyway, on this visit we’re treading the streets to the west of New Bond Street and circumnavigating Berkeley Square (without a nightingale to be seen or heard).

Day 17 Route

Start out once again from Bond Street tube and zigzag via Sedley Place and Woodstock Street to join a familiar stretch of New Bond Street. After about 100 yards veer right down Brook Street where the adjacent buildings at nos. 23 & 25 were once home, respectively, to Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970) and George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759). Hendrix occupied a flat at no.23 only during 1968 and 69. Handel was ensconced at no 25 for the last thirty-odd years of his life.

Heading south into Lancashire Court takes you to the back of the two buildings and the entrance to the Handel House Museum which has been open since 2001. I subsequently realise that I timed this trip about 2 weeks too soon as the Hendrix flat is also going to be opened up for visits – from 10 February 2016. Since we’ve already looked at Handel in earlier posts I decide to save myself the £6.50 entrance fee.

Lancashire Court joins up with Brooks Mews which leads into Davies Street. Across the other side of the road here is Three Kings’ Yard, named after a tavern which formerly stood at its entrance. This is supposed to be a private mews but there was no-one around to stop the inquisitive from wandering in. The building with the arch pictured below was designed by Joseph Sawyer and dates from 1908-09. The courtyard beyond accesses the back entrance to the Italian embassy, which sits on Grosvenor Square.

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The site on the corner of Davies Street and Brook Street is occupied by Claridge’s Hotel. William and Marianne Claridge started off running a small hotel in a single house on Brook Street but in 1854 they bought the five adjoining properties and two years later Claridge’s was born. In 1893 the hotel was acquired by the owner of the Savoy, Richard D’Oyly Carte and underwent a five-year refurbishment. At the end of the 1920’s it was transformed again under the guiding hand of the Art Deco pioneer and fabulously-monickered, Oswald Partridge Milne (1881 – 1968).

In 1996, the foyer created by Milne was subjected to a design restoration, complete with the installation of a Chihuly chandelier, but retains its Art Deco styling.

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After a circuit of South Molton Lane, Davies Mews, St Anselm’s Place and Gilbert Street we’re back on Brook Street and opposite the Embassy of Argentina at no.65.

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After a return visit to the east side of Grosvenor Square we head off down Grosvenor Street. Here at nos. 21 – 22 a blue plaque commemorates the fact that the Hungarian-born (subsequently British) film director and producer Alexander Korda (born Sándor László Kellner, 1893 – 1956) worked here between 1932 and 1936. During this period his directing achievements included The Private Life of Don Juan and The Private Life of Henry VIII, both of which starred Merle Oberon, who became is second wife in 1939. The marriage lasted as long as the Second World War.

At the end of the street we dip into Avery Row and then cross to the south side where Bloomfield Place leads onto Grosvenor Hill. At the top of the “hill” lies the Gagosian Gallery – poor timing from me again as I was about four hours too early for the opening of their new exhibition (not that I was invited).

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Doubling back down Bourdon Street there is a green plaque marking the site where photographer, Terence Donovan (1936 – 1996) had his studio. Donovan is of course one of the people most closely associated with the “Swinging Sixties” and in Bourdon Place there is a sculptural work from 2012 by Neal French entitled Three Figures which depicts “a passing shopper stumbling upon Terence Donovan photographing the model, Twiggy”.

Jones Street emerges at the north west corner of Berkeley Square and from here Bruton Place takes us east again before making a right dog-leg to cross Bruton Street into Barlow Place. At the conjunction of Barlow Place and Bruton Lane sits one of the more than fifty Coach and Horses pubs still to be found in London. This original version of this one dates from the 1770’s though the present “mock-tudor” building was put up in 1933. Further down Bruton Lane you can look up and see Banksy’s “Shop Till You Drop” work – a well-sited dig at ostentatious consumerism; nearby Bruton Street is home to more household-name luxury brand boutiques (see below).

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So now we arrive back at Berkeley Square for a proper circuit. We start on the east side then cut through the square itself to the southern end and back up the west side. There is some debate as to which is the poshest part of London but anywhere that can boast adjacent Rolls Royce and Bentley showrooms has to be a bit of a contender. Not surprisingly it’s Hedge Fund Management central round here.

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Berkeley Square is named after John Berkeley, first Lord Berkeley of Stratton (so Berkeley they named him twice). A few of the original buildings, dating from between 1738 and 1745, still survive, most notably no.44 which is considered to be one of the master works of architect, William Kent.

No.50 is the home of Maggs Brothers Antiquarian Books (est. 1853) but was a residence of George Canning (1770 -1827) during the period when he was Foreign Secretary under the Prime Ministership of the Earl of Liverpool.

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No. 45 was a home to Robert Clive (1725 – 1774), colloquially known as Clive of India. Feted in his time for his role in securing control of India for the British Crown, he is understandably less celebrated today. If for nothing other than being one of the prime movers behind the forced cultivation of opium, the tragic legacy of which endures into the present, he probably merits the castigation of history. Though ironically, or perhaps fittingly, his death in 1774 at the age of 49 is widely considered to be the result of an opium overdose. There was no inquest.

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On the right hand side of the picture is a glimpse of the aforementioned no.44.

We leave the square via Hill Street and this brings us to our pub of the day, another Coach and Horses and another part of the estimable Shepherds Neame estate. This Grade II listed building (from 1744) is proclaimed as the oldest pub in Mayfair. And they do a mean sausage sandwich. (should fess up here that I forgot to take a photo so this one is off their website).

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After leaving the pub we loop back round Farm Street where a 4 bedroom terraced house (converted from a former dairy parlour) was put on sale for £25m in 2014. That property is just next to the building below – the Farm House, which it may have been in a previous incarnation but this is actually another rebuilding job from the early 1900’s.

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A bit further down the street is the Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception  which doesn’t look much from the outside but has one of the most lavishly ornate interiors of any English church I’ve yet been in.

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And so we return to Berkeley Square and re-exit via the north-west corner to finish off today with a loop comprising Mount Street and Mount Row and the following quote from Louis-Antoine Saint-Just (1767-1794), one of three inscriptions forming a work by Ian Finlay Hamilton on the building at the corner of Mount Row and Davies Street

“When man obeys without being presumed good, there is neither liberty nor a native land.”

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