Day 33 (part 1) – National Gallery – St Martin’s Lane – The Strand

Today’s walk starts out with a quick tour around the National Gallery then meanders up St Martin’s Lane to explore the streets in between Leicester Square and Covent Garden before heading east along the Strand and then wending its way back west through the streets adjacent to the north bank of the river. (There’s so much of note crammed into this part of town though that I’ve split this into two posts again).

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The National Gallery has its origins in the 1824 purchase for £57,000 of the banker, John Julius Angerstein’s, collection of 38 paintings to form the core of a new national art collection. In 1831 the King’s Mews on the north side of Trafalgar Square was chosen as the site for a permanent building to house this collection. The original architect was William Wilkins and construction was completed in 1838. The building wasn’t exactly garlanded with praise however and thirty years later another architect, E.M Barry, was asked to submit designs for a reconstruction. In the end this just resulted in an extension which included the now iconic dome. In 1907 five new galleries were built at the rear and a further extension on the north side was completed in 1975. 1991 saw the opening of the Sainsbury Wing on the west side; sponsored by the eponymous supermarket magnates and the inspiration for the Prince of Wales’ notorious “monstrous carbuncle” rant against modern architecture.

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Probably the most famous work in the collection (and certainly the one which prompts the most selfies) is Van Gogh’s Sunflowers though personally I prefer his Crabs (so to speak).

 

The following slideshow features a selection of the 3o paintings which the Gallery itself classes as highlights of the collection including Velazquez’s “Rokeby Venus”, Cezanne’s Les Grandes Beigneuses (immortalised as “the big bathers” in the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch, still priceless after nearly fifty years – the sketch that is) and Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire subject of a recent episode of Melvyn Bragg’s excellent In Our Time programme on Radio 4 and due to appear on the new plastic £20 note when it arrives.

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Just about the only one of these artists I wasn’t previously familiar with is Paolo Uccello (1397 – 1475) who has instantly become my early renaissance artist of preference – partly because his work seems to eschew that era’s ubiquitous depictions of the Madonna and child. His rendering of Saint George and the Dragon is one of my three top picks from the works currently on show.

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Leaving the Gallery we head east along the north side of Trafalgar Square towards St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, running the gauntlet of two Yodas and one Imperial Stormtrooper.

St Martin’s  originated on this site in the late Norman era. That first church was built over in 1542 at the instigation of Henry VIII. His church was demolished in turn in 1721 and replaced by the current building designed by James Gibbs. In the 20th century St Martin’s has been at the forefront of the fight against homelessness as well as championing other social and humanitarian causes. It is also renowned for its programme of music concerts which dates back to the age of Handel and Mozart. This includes at least a couple of free (donation suggested) lunchtime recitals every week. Below you can see Russian pianist, Anna Schreider, limbering up for her performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons which I popped back to listen in full ( a somewhat chastening experience for someone struggling to learn to play the wretched instrument).

A little way further up St Martin’s Place is a monument to Edith Cavell (1865 – 1915) the British nurse executed by a German firing squad during WW1 after aiding the escape of 200 Allied soldiers from occupied Belgium. The charge was treason even though Edith was not a German national and had also helped German soldiers escape fire – bastards !

Surprised to see Count Arthur Strong paying his respects.

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We continue up Charing Cross Road towards Leicester Square tube and then cut through Cecil Court. The fact that this prime location is still lined with independent vintage book and music shops implies that there is some kind of special arrangement going on with the rents – and long may that continue. At the turn of the 20th century Cecil Court earned the soubriquet Flicker Alley due to the number of businesses associated with the embryonic British Fil Industry that found a home here.

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Emerge on to St Martin’s Lane and turn left to arrive at one of the three theatres on the street, the Noel Coward Theatre. This one opened in 1903 and was designed by W.G.R Sprague for Sir Charles Wyndham; the same combination responsible for the Wyndham’s Theatre on Charing Cross Road which was completed four years earlier. It was originally (somewhat unimaginatively) known as the New Theatre, then in 1973 became the Albery Theatre and finally in 2006 was renamed in honour of the eponymous actor, playwright, director and flamboyant wit.

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On the other side of St Martin’s Court is the Grade II Listed Salisbury pub named after the three-time 19th century Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury. The pub is notable for its art nouveau interiors and was used in the 1961 film Victim starring Dirk Bogarde and Sylvia Sims; the first British feature to mention the word “homosexual”.

A few steps further south another branch of Browns Restaurants occupies what used to be the Westminster County Courts and across the road what was once the Green Man & French Horn pub is now a French restaurant of the same name.

Then on the west side it’s the second of those three theatres, the Duke of York’s. This was the first one built on St Martin’s Lane, in 1892, and was originally named the Trafalgar Square Theatre. The change of name, in honour of the future King George V, came just three years later along with a rather hasty re-opening. Between 1980 and 1992 the theatre was owned by Capital Radio before becoming part of the ATG estate.

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Opposite is the imposing London Coliseum (though not quite as imposing as the one in Rome), home of the English National Opera Company. The Coliseum opened in 1904 as the London Coliseum Theatre of Varieties having been designed by Frank Matcham for the impresario Oswald Stoll who intended it to be the “largest and finest music hall” of the age. Large it certainly was; its 2,359 seats mean it is still the largest theatre in London. At the time of construction it was the only theatre in Europe with lifts to its upper levels. In 1908 it apparently hosted a cricket match between Middlesex and Surrey (I’m still trying to get my head round that one). Then from 1931 onward it transitioned from a variety to a playhouse theatre and post WW2 housed successful runs of the likes of Annie Get Your Gun and Guys and Dolls. In 1968 the Sadlers Wells Opera Company moved in and then in 1974 changed its name to ENO. In recent times, despite many acclaimed productions, ENO has been struggling financially, mainly due to the pressures of trying to fill such a large auditorium. It’s probably also fair to say that it doesn’t have quite the same cachet for the traditional opera-going audience as the Royal Opera House. I know which I prefer, though there are times when I opera definitely sounds better if you can’t follow the words.

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At the bottom end of the street is the Chandos pub c.1839 which is distinguished by the mechanical statue of a barman opening a barrel perched on a balcony at the top of the building.

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We head back up St Martin’s Lane and cut right down Brydges Place – one of the narrowest alleys in London – into Bedfordbury (it’s just called that and that’s the only interesting thing about it).

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Cut back again down May Court and then head up to the top of St Martin’s Lane and take a right into New Row. Couple of pubs here that I used to frequent back in the day – the Roundhouse, whose address is actually 1 Garrick Street and which isn’t actually round, more of a semi-octagon and the White Swan (in the background below) occupying a Grade II listed building from the turn of the 18th century and which features in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novel, Murder Must Advertise.

Next we turn southward down Bedford Street and arrive at the front entrance to St Paul’s, the Actors’ church, which we touched on previously in Day 30. The interior is filled with plaques commemorating a host of departed great British thespians as well as a memorial stone for Thomas Arne (1710 – 1778), the composer of Rule Britannia, who is buried here.

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Nxt up we turn right onto Chandos Place then again onto Agar Street. On the west side here stands Charing Cross Police Station. The core of this building was erected in 1831 as a new home for the Royal West London Infirmary which was then renamed Charing Cross Hospital. The hospital was extended several times over the next two hundred years and was used for the treatment of war casualties in both World Wars. When it became part of the NHS in 1948 it was as a teaching hospital but even in this guise it had outgrown the premises by the early sixties and in 1973 was relocated to a new hospital in Fulham that was ten years in the building. Strangely enough it kept the Charing Cross name. The Agar Street building remained vacant for many years until the Met took it over in the 1990s.

At the junction with the Strand we find Zimbabwe House. This was built in 1908 as the first headquarters of the British Medical Association. The architect was Charles Holden and the series of 18 8ft high naked figures that adorn the exterior were the (at the time) controversial  work of the sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880 – 1959).  The National Vigilance Association (a Victorian version of Mary Whitehouse’s NVALA) and the Evening Standard published their opposition to anyone having to see the sculptures, which caused people to flood into London to do just that. Artists and critics were equally vocal in support of Epstein and the BMA decided to withstand the pressure to remove the sculptures. However, in the 1930’s, the Rhodesian High Commission, which had bought the building in 1923, decided that the sculptures were no longer appropriate. Under the pretext that their protruding parts (including heads) were potentially dangerous the sculptures were hacked into the state you see below. After UDI in 1965, Rhodesia House, as it had been renamed, became merely a Representative Office with no official diplomatic status, until the triumph of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF in 1980 and the country re-entry into the Commonwealth as Zimbabwe with fully recognized independent status.

Veer off west again to cover the length of William IV Street then double back and turn south down Adelaide Street to arrive on  the Strand opposite Charing Cross Station.

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Head east along the Strand before turning north again up the bottom section of Bedford Street then continue eastward along Maiden Lane. On the site of the Porterhouse craft beer emporium once stood the house in which our old friend John Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851) was born.

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A short way further along Maiden Lane, Bull Inn Court leads down to the Nell Gwynne public house, built on the site of the Old Bull Inn and named after Charles II’s most infamous mistress of course. Had I known beforehand that this is one of the few pubs that still has a proper working jukebox I would definitely have gone in for a drink.

In 1897, William Terris, a well-known actor of the day, was murdered yards from the pub by a stage hand from the neighbouring Adelphi Theatre which is where we shall resume in part 2.

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Bobble hat, anorak and shorts – what were you thinking mate ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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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Day 21 – Soho – Cambridge Circus – Shaftesbury Avenue – Wardour Street

Back after another enforced hiatus tackling Soho for the third and final time. This visit includes some of the most famous streets that bridge the divide between Oxford Street and Shaftesbury Avenue: Greek Street, Frith Street, Berwick Street and Wardour Street; as well as Brewer Street and Old Compton Street which intersect them. I touched upon the history of the area in the two previous posts and if you’re interested in a glimpse of Soho in in its 1950s cosmopolitan heyday this film from the BFI archives is well worth dipping into – Sunshine in Soho 1956.

Day 21 Route

For what seems like the umpteenth time I start out from Tottenham Court Road tube station only this time head south down Charing Cross Road. First site of interest on the western side is the building which up until 2011 housed St Martin’s School of Art (now to be found in Kings Cross). Aside from its famous alumni such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, P J Harvey and M.I.A. the building also holds the honour of being the venue for the first ever gig by the Sex Pistols on 6 November 1975.

Right next door, as you can see, is Foyles bookstore, often proclaimed as the most famous such emporium in the world. The company was founded by brothers William and Gilbert in 1903 and moved to this site just before WW1. From the end of WW2 up until the turn of the millennium (when she died) the store was effectively under the iron control of William’s daughter, the notorious Christina. This went well up until the 1970’s when (as admitted even in the in-store display) her increasingly idiosyncratic business decisions began to alienate both staff and customers. Happily, the family members who subsequently took over the reins have succeeded in revitalising the business and the store, with its five floors holding the largest stock of books in the UK, is a pleasure to wander around.

Next up is Cambridge Circus, home to the imposing Palace Theatre. This red brick monolith was commissioned by Richard D’Oyly Carte in the 1880’s and was intended primarily as a stage for English Grand Opera. Within a few years of its opening however it was sold at a loss and became a music hall theatre. The Palace Theatre name was introduced in 1911 and the first proper staging of a musical came in 1925 with No, No Nanette which ran for 665 performances. This of course pales beside the 2,385 shows racked up by The Sound of Music in the 1960’s, the 3,358 achieved by Jesus Christ Superstar in the 1970’s and the nineteen-year (1985 to 2004) residency of Les Miserables. The theatre is currently dark but is gearing up for another blockbuster when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opens in July 2016 (initial run already sold out).

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Adjacent to the theatre is the Spice of Life pub (another haunt of mine in the Eighties) which is still doing its bit for the Soho jazz tradition with regular gigs in the basement.

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Head past the pub down Romilly Street where on the corner with Greek Street stands the Coach and Horses perhaps the most famous of all the many Soho watering holes. This fame is largely attributable to the 62-year reign of Norman Balon as the self-proclaimed rudest landlord in London which ended in 2006. During this period the pub counted the likes of Peter O’Toole, Francis Bacon and the staff of Private Eye amongst its regulars. And then there was the journalist, Jeffrey Bernard, whose hard-drinking exploits were immortalised in the successful play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell.

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Moor Street takes us back to Charing X Road.

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Head back into Soho along Old Compton Street then swiftly turn north up Greek Street. Up at no.48 is L’Escargot, reputedly the oldest French restaurant in London. Its founder, M. Georges Gaudin, originally owned a restaurant called Bienvenue further up Greek Street but when he moved his business to this site in 1927 it was renamed after his most famous dish. There was a snail farm in the basement and the plaster cast above the entrance depicts M. Gaudin riding a snail along with the motto “slow but sure”.

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Turning left down Bateman Street brings us into Frith Street where you will find Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. This has been a Soho institution since October 1959 (it started in Gerard Street and moved to its present location in 1965) and has played host over the years to such as Miles Davis, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz and Freddie Hubbard. Ronnie himself passed away in 1996. Only got to see the illustrious Mr Scott in the flesh on one occasion – a Roy Ayers gig in the early nineties – and true to form he bestowed his full repertoire of time-worn jokes on the audience. Amongst the old chestnuts there was a surreal gag to which the punchline was “a fish”. Sadly I can’t quite recall the rest of it.

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Cutting across the corner of Soho Square and nipping down Carlisle Street takes us on to another stretch of Dean Street. Here on the west side is a legacy of old Soho in the Wen Tai Sun Chinese News Agency (though sadly not for much longer it appears). Despite the name this is basically just an outlet for the sale of oriental gewgaws  – so if you need a nodding gold cat you’d better get down there quick. On the opposite side we have the Soho Theatre; which offers an eclectic and extensive selection of comedy and cabaret acts. Have been to see loads of stuff here (was there just last week in fact) and most of it has been pretty good.

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A little further down at no. 28 is a blue plaque marking the residency of Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) for five years in the 1850’s. Remarkably he earned a living during this time as European correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. The building is currently occupied by the Quo Vadis restaurant – Quo Vadis ? being the phrase which Christian tradition attributes to St Peter upon meeting the risen Jesus when fleeing from Rome. A tenuous touch of irony given Marx’s staunch atheism.

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Having taken in further stretches of Romilly Street and Old Compton Street we emerge out of Dean Street and onto Shaftesbury Avenue, the heart of theatreland. And turning right we reach the Queens’ Theatre where the aforementioned “World’s Longest Running Musical” has sailed merrily along since leaving the Palace Theatre 12 years ago (can it really be that long ?)

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Turning right next up Wardour Street and almost immediately on the right is The Church of St Anne Soho. The design of this is attributed to Christopher Wren and/or William Talman and construction took place between 1677 and 1685. The original tower was demolished in 1800 (though the 1 ton clock bell, cast in 1691 and still in use, was retained) and a replacement completed within 3 years. Until the mid nineteenth century the churchyard was the final resting place of Soho’s inhabitants – up to 100,000 of them by some estimates. By then though the volume of burials had created such a sanitation problem that further interments were banned and in 1891 the churchyard was laid out as a public garden. The most famous post-mortem resident is the writer William Hazlitt (1778 – 1830) who died in a house on Frith Street.

There’s a final stretch of Old Compton Street before we retrace our steps up Dean Street. OCS and its several pubs are indelibly linked with London’s gay community though the best known of these, the Admiral Duncan (named after Adam Duncan who defeated the Dutch fleet in 1797) will always be associated with the heinous nail-bomb attack perpetrated in 1999.

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Sandwiched in between the pub and one of a fair few remaining “adult” emporia is the Algerian Coffee Store one of the survivors from Soho’s bohemian golden age (check out the film).

Strung between Dean Street and Wardour Street are Bourchier Street, Meard Street, Richmond Buildings and St Anne’s Court. The Soho Hotel is tucked away around the penultimate of these, providing a home for this giant (and rather impudent) cat in its foyer.

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On Meard Street there are indications that some visitors may have been a bit over-zealous in their search for the vestiges of Soho’s sleazier past.

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On the other side of the Soho Hotel is Flaxman Court named after the sculptor, John Flaxman (1755 – 1826) who lived on Wardour Street after his marriage.

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Now we’re back on that same Wardour Street which back in the day was renowned for being the centre of the British Film Industry and for its clubs and live music venues. Sadly (and I seem to be using that adverb quite a lot today) in both those regards it is a pale shadow of its former self. The Film industry connection is still evident in the names of many of the buildings – Film House at no. 142 Wardour Street was formerly the headquarters of the Associated-British Pathé film company and Hammer House at nos. 113-117 was home to the eponymous “House of Horror” production company from 1949 until the mid-eighties.

Check out the dapper gent with the plastic bag in front of Hammer House – at least someone’s making an effort to maintain the sartorial image of the area. In terms of the nightlife associations Wardour Street was in different eras home to the likes of the Flamingo Club, the Marquee and the Wag Club not to mention (as the Jam did in their A Bomb in Wardour Street) punk favourite the Vortex.

At the northern end of Wardour Street we do a quick to and fro of Sheraton Street where yet more Crossrail workers are enjoying a break.

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Cross westward into D’Arblay Street where the lunchtime queue is building up outside the Breakfast Club.

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Into Poland Street and I’m pleased to see that the QPark has kept these reminders of motoring days past.

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Turn left onto Broadwick Street and then northward on Berwick Street. On the cul-de-sac that is Livonia Street one splendidly Afro-ed temporary denizen is single-handedly reviving the spirit of the Seventies. Although you can’t tell from the photo she (?) has got a friend with her and I think they’ve just stopped for a coffee though the suitcase maybe tells a different story.

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Berwick Street itself is the location for two of the records shops I spoke of in the last post. Reckless Records and Sister Ray are now on opposite sides and both deal mainly in second-hand vinyl. The former relieves me of the largest chunk of change.

Have to retrace my steps down Broadwick Street to get to Lexington Street where I take a quick left into Beak Street. Although it was mentioned in a previous post I couldn’t resist making the Old Coffee House pub of the day. Delighted to see that it’s hardly changed a bit in the last 25 years or so and also to have my half of one of Brodies’ craft ales and brie and chorizo sandwich in splendid isolation (apart from the old school Irish barman).

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On leaving the pub turn south down Great Pulteney Street where the composer Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) lived for brief time.

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The ill-fated writer and physician, John William Polidori (1795 – 1821) also lived in this street. His most successful work was the short story “The Vampyre” (1819), the first published modern vampire story but even this was originally wrongly attributed to Lord Byron. Despite his early death (probably suicide brought on by debt and depression) present day interest in the gothic and the romantic has led to an increasingly high posthumous profile.

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Emerge on to Brewer Street opposite the Vintage Magazine Shop and just along from the Brewer Street Car Park which as well as being probably the most expensive car park in the country has set aside a space in which the Vinyl Factory outfit put on some of the most innovative art installations to be seen in the capital. (Unfortunately nothing on at the moment though).

So next it’s back up Lexington Street, cut through Silver Place on to Ingestre Place which leads into Hopkins Street which turn ends at Peter Street. Opposite is Green Court which is basically just an alleyway. Its in these passages (forgive me) that the seamier side of Soho retains a foothold.

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Not sure exactly what characterises a British adult shop as opposed to any kind of foreign adult or if Up West has a connotation that has previously eluded me but I didn’t venture in to seek enlightenment. These pigeons have probably seen it all before mind you.

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Walker Court which joins Brewer Street to Berwick Street is another case in point.

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This stretch of Berwick Street contains the market and yet again we’re talking shadow of former self (check out the film and you’ll see what I mean.)

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On the corner of Broadwick Street and Duck Lane is the third and final record shop of the day (and probably my favourite), Sounds of The Universe.

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Another couple of albums acquired and I have quite a haul to lug around the final lap of today’s journey. Here’s a selection :

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So that final lap is taken a quite a pace and involves heading back down Wardour Street, turning right into Winnett Street opposite the church, left down Rupert Street, right into Archer Street, up Great Windmill Street, right into Brewer Street again and then at the junction where the boarded up husk of one of Paul Raymond’s Revuebars forlornly sits proceed the full length of Rupert Street back to Shaftesbury Avenue where there’s just time to look back at the string of three practically adjoining theatres before escaping into Piccadilly tube station.

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Day 20 – Soho – Golden Square – Soho Square

Back for another trip round Soho this time. Something of a meandering route; largely dictated by my desire to avoid the records shops as this month’s vinyl budget has already been exhausted.

The name Soho is believed to derive from the cry “So-ho” which was heard around these parts back in the 17th century when it was a popular destination for the fox and hare hunting set. (A century earlier Henry VIII had turned the area into one of his royal parks). Its reputation as a slough of moral lassitude dates from the mid-19th century when it became a magnet for prostitution and purveyors of cheap entertainment. In the early part of the last century large numbers of new immigrants set up in business here and it evolved into a byword for a Bohemian mind-set as the exotic and the louche fused together.

Day 20 Route v2

Today’s starting point is Piccadilly Tube Station exiting on the north side of Regent Street. From here we head along the partly-pedestrianized Glasshouse Street before taking a left into Air Street. Emerge onto Regent Street again with a view across to the colonnaded arch that looms over the continuation of Air Street; an arch which took centre stage during the recent Lumiere London festival.

Turning right up Regent Street we pass the Café Royal. This was established in 1865 by émigré French Wine Merchant, Daniel Nicholas Thévenon (who later anglicised his name to plain Daniel Nichols). At one time it was claimed to have the greatest wine cellar in the world and swiftly became a favoured haunt of London’s fashionable set. The rich and famous, royals and commoners, continued to flock here well into the latter part of the 20th century, Burton and Taylor, Princess Diana and Muhammad Ali among them. In 1973 David Bowie famously retired his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust with a star studded party here, dubbed ‘The Last Supper’. Unlike some of the other places to be name-checked later I have never been inside.

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One final building on Regent Street to highlight is Westmoreland House on the west side dating from 1925. The statue in the bottom half of the picture of a girl, seated cross-legged, and holding a spinneret and threads is The Spinner, by the sculptor William Reid Dick and was commissioned by the Scottish clothing company of R. W. Forsyth.

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Turn back onto Glasshouse Street then head north up Warwick Street. Here we find the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory (two for the price of one). The original chapel on this site belonged first to the Portuguese Embassy and then the Bavarian Embassy before being destroyed in the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780. The current building was opened ten years later.

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At the end of Warwick Street we turn right briefly on to Beak Street and then right again down Upper John Street which feeds into Golden Square. The square was created at the end of the seventeenth century and, as alluded to earlier, was in its early years the address of a number of foreign embassies. There seems to be some debate as to whether the statue (no not that one) depicts George II or Charles II. It is attributed to Flemish sculptor John Van Nost who was around at the same time as George II but nobody seemed much inclined to commemorate that particular monarch (this would be one of only two statues of him in London) whereas Charlie the Second is represented all over the place.

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These days Golden Square is known for being a bit of a media hub – Sony Pictures and Clear Channel both have offices here as do M & C Saatchi and the owners of Absolute Radio.

We exit the square via Lower John Street turn left onto Brewer Street and then right down Sherwood Street.

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Before we end up back at Piccadilly Circus we veer left down Denman Street which ends at the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Great Windmill Street. The latter is of course renowned as the home of the Windmill Theatre. This opened as a small playhouse in 1931 but its notoriety was formed upon the introduction of the continuously running  Revudeville shows a year later. The USP of these performances was of course the nude tableaux featuring the Windmill Girls who because of licensing restrictions had to remain absolutely still for the entire time they were on stage. The merest twitch could have resulted in the theatre being shut down. Famously, shows continued right throughout WWII inspiring the strapline “We Never Closed” which was inevitably satirised as “We Never Clothed”. All this was the brainchild of the owner, Laura Henderson, and was celebrated in the 2005 Stephen Frears’ film Mrs Henderson Presents which has now been turned into a West End Musical. That isn’t of course playing at the Windmill Theatre itself which was reincarnated in the Seventies as the Paul Raymond Revue Bar and is now the Windmill International Table Dancing Club. (Just to be clear – this isn’t one of the places I’ve been to that I referred to earlier.)

Always amuses me that these establishments call themselves Gentlemen’s Clubs. Gawping at young ladies in the altogether isn’t the most obvious of gentlemanly pursuits. But we digress.

Somewhat incongruously there is a primary school at no.23. This dates back to the 1870’s and was originally associated with St Peter’s Church which was demolished in the 1950’s. The façade of the school building still features a bust of the 14th Earl of Derby who was a generous benefactor of the church.

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After stopping off at Ham Yard and Smithy’s Court we’re back on Brewer Street and a left then sharp right up Lower James Street brings us back to the eastern side of Golden Square. This leads inevitably into Upper James Street which ends at Beak Street opposite no.41 which was once the residence of the venetian painter Canaletto (1696 – 1768) whose work was featured way back in the Day 3 post. A few doors further along is the Old Coffee House pub, somewhere I did frequent back in the eighties so pleased to see it still there (ironically one of the few places that hasn’t been turned into an actual coffee house yet).

Next up, still continuing north, is Marshall Street which once boasted William Blake as a resident. No doubt he’d be delighted with what they’ve done to the place.

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Loop round Newburgh Street and Foubert’s Place where the shops are certainly more interesting than anything found on Carnaby Street which is literally yards away.

Back on Marshall Street is the Marshall Street Leisure Centre which opened in 2010 following a 13 year (?) refurbishment of the Grade II listed building which was the site of the Westminster Public Baths from 1850 to 1997. Back in 1850 the charges were 6d for a first class warm bath, 2d for a second class warm bath and half these prices for a cold bath. I’ll you to speculate as to the difference between a first and second class bath.

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Turning eastward on Broadwick Street we pass the John Snow pub named after the eponymous “father of epidemiology” (1813 – 58) whose findings in relation to the source of Soho cholera outbreak of 1854 saved the lives of countless Londoners in the second half of the 19th century. (Whether he was also the inspiration for the Game of Thrones character of the same name or that was either the Channel 4 newsreader or the former England and Sussex fast bowler we may never know).

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Head north again up Poland Street then duck in and out of Oxford Street via Berwick Street, Noel Street, Wardour Street, Hollen Street and Upper Chapel Street. Then back south down Dean Street, skirting more Crossrail disruption, as far as the Pizza Express Jazz Club (visited once).

Here we turn down Carlisle Street to reach Soho Square.  This dates back to 1681 when it was originally known as Kings Square on account of the statue of Charles II (what did I say earlier).  In 1875 the statue was removed during alterations by T. Blackwell, of Crosse and Blackwell fame who gave it for safekeeping to his friend, artist , Frederick Goodall. Goodall’s estate was subsequently purchase by the dramatist W.S Gilbert and it was in accordance with the will of Lady Gilbert that the statue was restored to Soho Square in 1938. The miniature Tudor-style house that sits in the centre of the Square was erected in 1925 as it was necessary to have a doorway above ground leading down to an electricity sub-station constructed under the gardens. It is now used as a gardener’s hut.

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In the north-western corner of the square stands the French Protestant Church of London. The church as institution was founded by charter of King Edward VI in 1550 but this building dates from the 1890’s. The yellow piece of paper pinned to the sign in the picture below reads “Adam and Eve – the first people not to read the Apple terms and conditions”. (Bit of ecclesiastical humour for you there).

A bit further round is a blue plaque commemorating the Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole (1805 -81) renowned for her work during the Crimean War.

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On the eastern side of the square is the Roman Catholic St Patrick’s Church. St Patrick’s was built on the site of Carlisle House, a mansion bought by Casanova’s mistress Teresa Cornelys, who went bankrupt running a music hall and allegedly a brothel there. The present Italianate building dates, like its Protestant counterpart across the square, from the 1890’s. A £3.5m restoration project was completed in 2011.

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On the Greek Street corner of the square is the House of St Barnabas, a charity founded in 1846 to aid the homeless and destitute. This Grade II listed building and chapel served as a hostel for the homeless into the 21st century but is now a private members’ club whose profits continue to serve the original charitable aims (have also been here once).

These coloured pigeons are the remains of a 2015 installation by artist Patrick Murphy.

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Like Golden Square, Soho Square has been a magnet for media companies. The British Board of Film Classification has offices here and the UK head office of Twentieth Century Fox occupies the south-western corner. Incidentally there is a separate Twenty First Century Fox corporation which was spun out of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in 2013. The website is http://www.21cf.com as the seemingly apocryphal story about http://www.21stcenturyfox.com being acquired by some clever dick in the 1990s who has refused to sell (or Murdoch has refused to pay out) appears to be true. Try it and see

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Leave the square finally via Batemans Buildings then back up Greek Street before heading beneath the Pillars of Hercules pub into Manette Street which is named after one of the characters in A Tale of Two Cities.

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On the right just beyond the archway is Goldbeaters House, presumably named after a trade carried on in these parts and on the left is Orange Yard, home to the spit and sawdust music venue, The Borderline. (And yes you’ve guessed it – I’ve been here just the once as well).

And that concludes today’s instalment.

 

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.

 

 

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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