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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.