So, after something of an extended hiatus, we’re back. And for this tour we return to the West End and explore the area between New Bond Street and Regent Street. Not a very extensive area but another busy one and, as we will come to later, currently a sad one too. This patch of London is dominated by upmarket clothes stores, restaurants and art galleries – a brand lover’s wet dream but a bit of a nightmare for those who feel uncomfortable around such conspicuous high-end consumerism. At least we finish in a more cultural vein with a visit to the temple of science which is the Royal Institution.
We start by heading south down Regent Street and turning right down Princes Street towards Hanover Square. The north, east and west sides of the square are currently closed off as the Crossrail works continue so we circle round to the south side via Harewood Place, Tenterden Street, Dering Street, New Bond Street and Brook Street.
On this stretch of New Bond Street the facades of four grand buildings decimated by the Crossrail work (nos. 67-71) have been turned into a giant canvas with their combined 243 windows displaying a series of images created by four emerging artists.
The three sculptures on the front of no. 71, representing, science, art and commerce, date from the start of WW1. Science was the creation of Thomas Rudge while the other two are by Louis Frederick Roslyn.
On Brook Street, the Issey Miyake store presents an early opportunity for selfie-of-the-day.
The square, which is named after George I (originally the Elector of Hanover), was first laid out in the 1710’s. Now that the surrounding houses have largely been torn down; the only thing here of note is the statue of William Pitt the Younger (1750 – 1806) which was put up in 1831 but nearly didn’t survive its first day after being assailed by Reform Bill agitators.
Hanover Street, Pollen Street and Maddox Street bring us back out onto Regent Street which was created at the instigation of George IV (during his time as Prince Regent no less) and laid out by John Nash (see earlier post). Nash’s original buildings unfortunately only managed to survive just over a century from their construction between 1813 and 1820. According to my 1930’s London Guidebook they were “replaced by marble and ferro-concrete ‘palaces that make Regent Street without question the finest shopping thoroughfare in the world”. Not a claim that still holds water today but the buildings do have a grandiosity that belies their relatively recent origins. One of these is the Liberty’s Building on the east side at nos. 208-222. This dates from 1926 and is notable for the curved frieze that runs almost the full width of the top section of the building. This the work of two sculptors; Charles L. J. Doman and T. J. Clapperton and goes by the, post-colonially embarrassing, title of ‘Britannia with the wealth of East and West’.
Turn back west again down Conduit Street which is home to, amongst many other haunts of the wealthy, the Sketch restaurant, the Vivienne Westwood store and Rigby and Peller (bra-makers by royal appointment).
Mill Street then takes us back up to Maddox Street and a right turn brings us to the junction with St George’s Street where, on the corner, you will find the eponymous church which dates from 1721-24 (and was extensively refurbished in 2010). The original designer of the church was John James and the painting of the Last Supper behind the altar is by William Kent. Handel was a regular worshipper here and it now hosts the annual London Handel Festival. And, as you can see, they’re not superstitious about leaving their decorations up beyond twelfth night.
Heading north on St George’s Street back to Hanover Square takes us past, in no particular order, the Mexican embassy, Vogue House – HQ of publishers Condé Nast, and the premises of art dealers, Offer Waterman, which was William Morris & Co’s main showroom from 1917 to the late 20th century.
Brook Street returns us for another visit to New Bond Street with its parade of Dolce & Gabbana’s, Armani’s, Jimmy Choo’s and Victoria’s Secrets before we’re back down Maddox Street and turning onto the southern stretch of St George’s Street where the back side of Sotheby’s the Auctioneers awaits.
A repeat visit to Conduit Street leads us into the world famous Savile Row at the top end of which is located the Hauser & Wirth contemporary gallery. There’s nearly always something on here worth seeing and the current exhibition, “Oscuramento – The Wars of Fabio Mauri” is no exception. Mauri is an a Italian artist, born 1926, who grew up during the time of the fascist regime and this historical solo show brings together works inspired by that context. Centrepiece of the exhibition is the work Oscuramento itself which is set inside a separate room and presents an (artistically-licensed) reconstruction, complete with 29 waxwork figures, of the meeting of the Fascist Grand Council in 1943 at which the arrest of Mussolini was sanctioned. This show ends on 06/02/2016 so hurry down there.
Opposite the gallery is the Savile Row police station – well I suppose there is all that pricey gear to nick round these parts. Hard to say on which side of the legal divide the geezers in this shot fall.
A left turn on to New Burlington Street takes us back yet again to Regent Street and a bit further down the next westward turn is Heddon Street. I wasn’t originally going to include this on today’s trip but something, serendipity I guess, made me change my mind and gives rise to the sadness I referred to at the beginning. These days, Heddon Street proclaims itself as the Regent Street Food Quarter but back in 1972, and I didn’t know this until today, it became famous as the site for the cover shot of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” album. Since Bowie’s untimely death, this spot, marked with a black plaque, has become one of many impromptu shrines/memorials around the capital adorned with poignant and moving tributes. I wish I’d had something with me to add to it.
Difficult to follow that but we’ll push on. Starting off with Vigo Street which connects Regent Street with the bottom end of Savile Row. And, heading north up the latter, we find what it’s really renowned for…
Turn left into Boyle Street and again down Old Burlington Street to reach Burlington Gardens where the back side of the Royal Academy (more of which on another occasion) is swathed in scaffolding.
Cork Street is another one lined with art galleries but we stop off briefly at only one, Waddington Custot, which is currently showing an exhibition of portraits by Sir Peter Blake. And has particularly challenging doors. Pride of place in the show goes to this Elvis shrine though the portraits of Ian Dury are also pretty good. If you want to see this you have even less time as it closes on 30/01/2016.
Coincidentally, as many of you may already know, Elvis Presley and David Bowie share a birth date – 8th January (1935 and 1946 respectively).
Clifford Street runs into the bottom end of New Bond Street from where we do a dog-leg to get to Grafton Street and find today’s only (true) blue plaque, to Sir Henry Irving (1838 – 1905), above Aspreys the jewellers. Irving was actually born John Henry Brodribb and was the first actor to be knighted (despite some opinions of his acting style being less than glowing by all accounts). On death he was cremated and his ashes buried in Westminster Abbey thereby making him also the first person ever to be cremated prior to interment at Westminster.
And so on to Albermarle Street where a first visit to the Royal Institution awaits.
The Royal Institution was founded in March 1799 with the aim of introducing new technologies and teaching science to the general public. It has subsequently become most closely associated with the great scientists, Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday, and with its series of Christmas Lectures.
Many of us are aware of Davy’s invention of the eponymous miner’s lamp but he was also, in the space of a few years at the start of the 19th century, the discoverer of the elements Sodium, Potassium, Chlorine, Magnesium, Strontium, Calcium, Boron and Barium. Faraday’s fame rests largely on his discovery, in 1831, of electro-magnetic induction, the basis of modern power generation and the electric motor.
The first Christmas Lectures took place in 1825 and have been given every year since apart from 1939-1942. Lecturers since the resumption have included David Attenborough (1973), Carl Sagan (1977) and Richard Dawkins (1991). Astonishingly though, it wasn’t until 1994 that a woman, Susan Greenfield, took charge of the lectern.
The lower ground floor houses the Faraday Museum (free entry) which incorporates a replica of the man’s original laboratory. The upper floors are often hired out for corporate functions but fortunately I had half an hour before today’s scheduled event started and the place to myself, including the lecture theatre.
A bit further down Albermarle Street is Brown’s Hotel and opposite that the swanky Royal Arcade which I’m sure is visited by twenty times more photo-opportunists (like me) than actual shoppers.
Anyway it’s a useful cut through to Old Bond Street which is the starting point for a run (not literally) up the final stretch of New Bond Street.
No. 24 Old Bond Street is now the Salvatore Ferragamo store, but was originally home to Atkinsons (the prestigious perfume house) and the tower – built in 1924 – houses London’s only carillon. This is a set of 23 bells that are tuned to harmonise together and played by a set of levers, like a very large piano. They are played at 5pm on Friday & Saturday during summer.
There’s just time to call in at the Fine Art Society (est. 1876) to take a look at their current Art and Design exhibition before whizzing up past the front entrance of Sotheby’s and heading back to Bond Street tube via Brook Street and South Molton Street.
To get to South Molton Street we cut through via Haunch of Venison Yard and the back of Bonham’s (the other slightly less well known auctioneers on New Bond Street).
And today’s parting gift (aside form another selfie) is the surprising news that the Christmas Gift Shop on South Molton Street isn’t open all year round. Chap with the beard stood there for ages so he obviously couldn’t quite believe it.