Today’s route covers the area north of the Marble Arch to Bond Street stretch of Oxford Street. It’s a part of London dominated by soulless chain hotels and the knock-on effect of proximity to the mecca of consumerism but with some surprises.
First of those surprises is Stratford Place which almost has more of interest in its short span than the rest of this area put together. Immediately adjacent to Bond Street tube it’s only about 100 yards long but by the end of it you would never know that the inferno that is Oxford Street is within spitting distance. The Tanzanian and Botswanan high commissions are next door to each other at numbers 3 and 5 and at no. 7 is the one-time residence of Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the USA.
Colloquially known as the “Little Magician” he was unfortunately unable to conjure up a solution to the financial crisis of 1837 (which if you read about it sounds rather familiar – plus ca change).
At no.10 is the Royal Society of Musicians and at no. 11 (though it doesn’t advertise itself) is the Oriental Club, originally established in 1824 by and for officials and officers who had served in India and elsewhere in the “East”. Nowadays you just need to have the right background and a £1,000 a year to spare.
Finally at no.12 is the Kabbalah Centre. “Kabbalah is an ancient wisdom that provides practical tools for creating joy and lasting fulfilment.” As you can see from these handy aphorisms (if you enlarge the picture).
Next street down is James Street which has gone for al-fresco dining in a big way.
I notice that the branch of Nando’s here does a Quinoa salad. And thoughtfully displays a poster advising on the ridiculous pronunciation (Keen-wah). Can’t be long before people in Ireland start naming their children after it. Come back cous-cous all is forgiven.
Running parallel is St Christopher’s Place, home of high-end brunching and shops aimed at people who might get French puns, as in the name “Les 100cials”, and appreciate a bush shaped into a giant platform shoe.
Turn right into Wigmore Street and then north up Welbeck Street. This was home to the scientist Thomas Young (1773 -1829) at no.49 and the poet and sculptor Thomas Woolner (1825 – 1892) at No.29. Woolner was one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (though not quite colourful enough to make it into the TV series).
Left into Bulstrode Street and on to Marylebone Lane. Here you can find Paul Rothe & Sons delicatessen (est.1900). As you can see, actor Tim McInnerny (of Black Adder fame) worked behind the counter back in the day.
Bentinck Street houses the former residences of historian Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794) and chemist James Smithson (1765 – 1829) at nos. 7 & 9 respectively. The former is of course best known for the Decline and Fall of the Roman Emperor (the book not the actual event). The latter was the founding donor of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. despite having never visited the United States.
North again on Mandeville Place. At no.11-13 is the School of Economic Science, a registered charity which has the somewhat esoteric mission of finding the common ground between Philosophy and Economics and the spiritual dimension to that link.
Mandeville Place is bisected by Hinde Street, home to quite an imposing Methodist Church which dates from 1887, before turning into Thayer Street. A nod to the AtTheMovies film poster store at no. 18.
Right onto George Street where we find St James’ Spanish Place RC Church with a lunchtime service in full swing. Out of respect I decide I have no choice but to sit down and wait for this to finish before taking a look around. Quite a fan of the current Pope but judging by the literature on display some of his more liberal notions have yet to filter down to the grassroots.
A quick tour round Manchester Square home of the Wallace Collection (see previous post). At no. 14 lived Lord Alfred Milner (1854 – 1925) the sort of chap who wouldn’t have had any trouble getting into the Oriental Club.
The route then takes us along Robert Adam Street, Blandford Street, Portman Close and Upper Berkeley Street. The beginning of the last of these is sandwiched between the massive and unlovely Radisson and Hyatt Regency hotels.
Montagu Street then on to Great Cumberland Place which goes all the way back down to Marble Arch. Part way down is Wallenberg Place which features this memorial to the great Raoul Wallenberg (1912 – 1945?). The Swedish diplomat responsible for savings tens of thousands of Jews from the Nazi holocaust who was taken captive by the Red Army at the end of WW2 and never heard of again. If you’re not familiar with him this is one of the essential bios to look up.
On Bryanston Street can be found the Church of the Annunciation Marble Arch then down to Marble Arch itself (which more another day). Don’t know when this ferris wheel was put up.
Finally brave the hell that is Oxford Street to briefly marvel at the hordes outside Primark. Since this is everywhere these days God alone knows why anyone would want to trek into town just to patronise a slightly larger branch. I will also note in passing the very sizeable presence of middle-easterners in this corner of the capital – the Marble Arch to Bond Street stretch of Oxford Street could just as well be part of downtown Riyadh.
Take in Old Quebec Street, Seymour Street and New Quebec Street before reaching Portman Square which has one of those private gardens that always strike a discordant note. Off the north-west corner of the square is Fitzhardinge Street which is only notable for being the former home of B.T Batsford the publisher for whose softball team, the Batsford Bats, I turned out as a regular ringer during the late eighties and early nineties.
Back to Oxford Street via Seymour Mews and Orchard Street. No pub of the day today as this part of town is something of desert as far as hostelries are concerned. Duke Street has both the Devonshire Arms and the Henry Holland but the former doesn’t do food and the latter is asking £8 for a baguette. It also boasts the fact that Simon Bolivar (1783 – 1830) the hero of South American liberation took lodgings at no.4 in 1810.
Was going to have something to eat on the 4th floor but £11 for a Halloumi wrap (as an example) is taking the proverbial somewhat. Still, the toilets are splendid enough to make the trip worthwhile even if it does involve passing the jaw-dropping apparition that is the Christmas Shop. Now either they’re jumping the gun by several months or this is here all year round – and I don’t know which is worse. All the more surprising since quite a fair proportion of their clientele definitely doesn’t do Christmas.