Day 15 – Bloomsbury – British Museum – Holborn

Another short one, at least in terms of distance travelled, but there are a lot of points of interest contained within today’s route. This takes in the area between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn tube stations to the south, east and west of the British Museum and includes a brief incursion into the BM as well as a visit to the, somewhat lower profile, Cartoon Museum.

Day 15 Route

Kick off at Tottenham Court Road tube station (with its spacious Crossrail- ready new ticket hall) and head over to the Dominion Theatre. The theatre opened in 1929 but before that the site was occupied by a brewery which was the source of the 1814 London Beer Flood (not quite the lark it sounds as it was responsible for more fatalities than all of the rainwater based flooding of recent years). The theatre is currently showing the musical version of Elf (presumably in tribute to the old maxim about no-one ever going broke by underestimating the taste of the public). Still anything has to be better than We Will Rock You (which had 12 years of mugging gullible punters here).

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Head north up Tottenham Court Road and turn right down Bayley Street which leads into Bedford Square. On its own the latter is endowed with more plaques commemorating the residence of notable public figures than the whole of some of the areas previously visited. I only mention a couple here; first of which, at no.22, is the ornate memorial to the actor-manager Johnston Forbes-Robertson (1853 – 1937). J F-R was educated at Charterhouse – which just shows that in those days it was still possible for someone from the upper middle classes to forge an acting career.

No.6, on the right above, was the home of Lord Eldon  (1751 – 1838) who was Lord Chancellor during part of the reign of George III. At the age of 21 he eloped to Scotland with Bessie Surtees, the daughter of a Newcastle banker, fortunately without being disowned by his family.

No.41 was once the residence of the novelist, Anthony Hope (1863 – 1933), best known for The Prisoner of Zenda.

No.46 is occupied by the Angolan Embassy and no.52 was apparently used as the contestants’ house in the 2010 series of the Apprentice.

The eastern side of the square is where Gower Street morphs into Bloomsbury Street and at no.2 of the former is a plaque to the splendidly named Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847 – 1929), one of the leading lights of the Suffragist movement. Suffragists were proponents for votes for women but not necessarily Suffragettes (who were a specific and highly militant group). Millicent campaigned, often in vain, on a wide range of Women’s rights issues. However as the head of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), which unlike the Suffragette WSPU kept up its campaigning during World War One, she played in key role in securing the vote for Women (or at least some of them) in 1919.

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Next up is Bedford Avenue with its very distinctive Victorian terrace on the north side.

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Adeline Place then takes us south to the western section of Great Russell Street where, before rejoining Tottenham Court Road, we pass the headquarters of the Trades Union Congress and the Central London YMCA. The latter is on the site of the original YMCA founded by drapery trade worker, George Williams in 1844. It also proclaims itself as the largest gym in central London.

After turning left at the Dominion again to join New Oxford Street we fork left along Bainbridge Street which merges in Streatham Street where there is further evidence of the work of the Peabody Trust.

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Dyott Street then takes us back to New Oxford Street from where we continue eastward into High Holborn all the way to Holborn tube station. On the way we pass James Smith & Sons, purveyors of highest quality umbrellas and walking sticks on this site since 1857.

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Also en route is Holborn Town Hall, a legacy of time (from 1900 to 1965) when Holborn was a distinct and separate metropolitan borough. In 1965 it was merged with the boroughs of Hampstead and St Pancras to create the London Borough of Camden. The Grade II listed town hall with its Portland stone façade dates from 1908 and is now used as office space.

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From Holborn tube head north up Southampton Row then veer left down Sicilian Avenue, a well-preserved Edwardian commercial development still popular with shoppers and al-fresco diners.

Having crossed over Bloomsbury Way it’s a circuit of Bloomsbury Square next. This is reportedly the oldest London square; licensed to Lord Southampton in 1661 (Covent Garden is older but considered a piazza rather than a square). The eastern side of the square belongs to the massive Victoria House , designed by architect Charles W. Long. Construction of this behemoth of a building with its grand Beaux Arts facades began in 1924 but it wasn’t finally completed until 1932 by which time it was the largest office block in the country apart from Whitehall and incorporated 125 miles of electric wiring, 5000 tons of steel frameworks and 5.25 million bricks.

The square itself was at first very simply landscaped, but was laid out by Humphrey Repton in about 1806 in a more romantic manner in accordance with Regency tastes. At the north end is Westmacott’s statue of Charles James Fox (1749 – 1806), gazing towards his friend the Duke of Bedford in Russell Square. CJF, who served as Foreign Secretary under three different prime ministers, was notorious for his drinking, rakishness and gambling as well as his corpulence and unlovely appearance. As such he was reputedly the most-ridiculed figure of his era, principally by the cartoonist James Gillray (who, by dint of serendipity, we shall hear more of later).

Cross back over Bloomsbury Way and go down Southampton Place then back via Barter Street. On the corner here is Swedenborg House home of the Swedenborg Society named after the eponymous Emanuel (1688 – 1772), Swedish Philosopher, Inventor and general renaissance man.

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Another great polymath is recognized with a blue plaque at no.3 Russell Chambers on the conjunction of Bury Place and Galen Place. Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) lived in a flat here during the 1910’s. Best known as a philosopher and mathematician (and a combination of the two) Russell won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 (something I was previously unaware of).

On Bloomsbury Way again we pass the Pushkin House, home of Russian culture in London. This is named of course after the great Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin (1799 – 1837), who is alleged to have fought around 29 duels, the last of which, against his wife’s reputed lover (and brother-in-law) resulted in his premature demise.

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Further along is St George’s Church, the sixth and last of the London churches designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and completed in 1730. The stepped tower is influenced by Pliny the Elder’s description of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), and topped with a statue of King George I in Roman dress. Its statues of fighting lions and unicorns symbolise the recent end of the First Jacobite Rising. Continuing the earlier Suffragette theme, this was where the funeral of the martyr to the cause, Emily Davison, was held in 1913.

That just leaves the remaining streets between Bloomsbury Way and Great Russell Street before we get to the two museum stops. So after Museum Street, Coptic Street, Willoughby Street, Stedham Place and Gilbert Place we arrive on Little Russell Street, home to the Cartoon Museum. This was opened in 2006 as a venue dedicated to the celebration of British cartoon and comic art from the 18th century to the present day. A visit to the upper floor is recommended to anyone who recalls the glory days of the Beano, Dandy, Beezer, Sparky, Cor !, Whizzer & Chips, the Victor and perhaps slightly younger aficionados of Viz and 2000 AD.

Current exhibition (to 17 January 2016 so be quick) is entitled Gillray’s Ghost and looks at the work of the aforementioned 18th and early 19th century political cartoonist, James Gillray (1756 – 1815) and his influence on his contemporary equivalents such as Steve Bell and Martin Rowson.

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This brings us finally to the British Museum which I obviously don’t have space to do justice to here so I’m just going to leave you with a selection of images, mainly of artefacts relating to my current favourite ancient civilisation, the Assyrian Empire (approximately 1900 to 612 BCE). Warning: unfortunately some animals were harmed in the making of these.

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Day 14 – Clerkenwell – Finsbury – Farringdon Road

Pretty extensive route today; initially covering the eastern side of the Finsbury district between Goswell Road and St John Street then moving back into Clerkenwell and visiting the area east of Farringdon Road and north of Clerkenwell Road.

Day 14 Route

Before we get into that though here’s a quick update on overall progress so far (including today).

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So today’s excursion takes Sadler’s Wells as its starting point and begins by heading north on Arlington Way and after a quick diversion along Chadwell Street merges into St John Street up to the apex with Goswell Road. On the way we pass the Old Red Lion Theatre (currently showing a world premiere of Arthur Miller’s first play “No Villain”). Criss-cross between Goswell Road and St John Street using Owen Street and Friend Street. The latter then links via Hermit Street and Paget Street to Rawstorne Street. This is occupied along its southern side by the Brewers Buildings, constructed in the 1870’s in an act of philanthropy by the Brewer’s Company, one of London’s historic livery companies.

Back on Goswell Road nos. 338-346 form the site of Angel House, a former tobacco warehouse with a set of distinctive travel-related plaques on its frontage.

Spencer Street, Earlstoke Street and Wynyatt Street take us back again to St John Street and turning south here takes us to the main building of City University. The University was originally founded in 1894 as the Northampton Institute with the objective of promoting ‘the industrial skill, general knowledge, health and wellbeing of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes’. It achieved university status in 1966 by Royal Charter. At the moment City University is not one of the federal colleges of the University of London but it was announced this year (2105) that it will become so as from August 2016. Alumni include  the likes of Tony Blair and Michael Fish amongst their number.

The University buildings cluster around Northampton Square from which radiate Wyclif Street, Ashby Street and Sebastian Street.

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Next rung down is Percival Street which links, via Agdon Street and Cyrus Street, to Compton Street. This was the site of the Harrow public house from as far back as the 1760’s up to the late 1980’s. The building below dates from 1904-05, part of the Watney Combe Reid estate.

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Back on Goswell Road we encounter the design studio of the internationally-renowned architect Zaha Hadid (best known here for the Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics). It’s not one of those places you can just pop into for a browse.

These days Clerkenwell is the main hub for London’s architecture and design studios and this is in full evidence in the cluster of streets around Brewery Square; Brewhouse Yard, Dallington Street, Pardon Street, Northburgh Street, Great Sutton Street and Berry Street.

Once these are out of the way we hit Clerkenwell Road itself

Head west until we reach St John’s Square, home to the Priory of the Order of St John. The origins of the Order and its mission to administer to the sick and injured lie as far back as 11th century Jerusalem. The Priory Church Clerkenwell was occupied by the Order from around 1140 to 1540 when, because of its association with the Catholic Church, the English branch was disbanded during the reign of Elizabeth I. Subsequently the building was put to a number of different uses, coffee house, pub, offices of the Master of the Revels, until the Order of St John in England was resurrected in 1888 by Royal Charter. Although it has other activities it is most prominent today in the guise of the St John’s Ambulance. Unfortunately, today both the museum and garden were closed (despite what is says on the sign).

 

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St John’s Square is also home to the rather twee Zetter TownHouse Hotel and this gravity-defying paean to petty crime.

Leave the square via Jerusalem Passage which leads into Aylesbury Street and from here go north along Woodbridge Street as far as Sekforde Street. Here we find the site of the one-time Finsbury Savings Bank and another Dickens connection; apparently he deposited some trust funds here in 1845. The bank was absorbed into the London Trustee Savings Bank around 1928 and this branch closed in 1960.

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Continue back to St John Street and then sharp right into Skinner Street which skirts Spa Fields Park. At the top end we cut back through the park to reach the apex of the dog-legged Northampton Row which is the location of the London Metropolitan Archives.

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This free resource is home to an extensive collection of documents, images, maps, books and films covering around 900 years of London’s history. Took the opportunity to apply for a History card and also look around the current (to 27 April 2016) exhibition on War in London. This includes some very sobering photographic archives showing the destruction caused by the bombing raids of both World Wars. As the image below dramatically reminds, St Pauls only survived WWII against some pretty considerable odds.

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At either end of Northampton Road lies Bowling Green Lane which segues into Corporation Row which runs along the back of the former Hugh Myddleton (that man again) School. There were separate entrance gates here for Boys, Girls and so-called Special Girls. This was not intended in the Jose Mourinho sense of the word I believe but probably alludes to the fact that there was a separate school of deaf and dumb children on the premises at one time.

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Turning right back into Woodbridge Street and again into Sans Walk brings us round to the front side of the building, now offices and flats (of course).

Head down St James Walk next and cut through St James’s Church Gardens to reach the two limbs of Clerkenwell Close on the eastern side of which sits the Peabody Estate, Pear Tree Court. This was one of six such estates built by the Peabody Trust in the late 1870s and 80s on sites cleared by the Metropolitan Board of Works. The Peabody Trust was one of the original London Housing Associations established in 1862 by the American Banker, George Peabody. It continues to fulfil that charitable mission to the present day.

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Also on Clerkenwell Close are former warehouses which were built in 1895–7 as the central stores of the London School Board. This is one of the several original entrances still visible today.

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Pear Tree Court leads out onto Farringdon Lane where we head south alongside the railway and past Vine Street Bridge. The sign in the picture below helpfully provides a number call if your vehicle should crash into the bridge.

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Ok so we’re on to the final lap of this one, left into Clerkenwell Road then up Clerkenwell Green and back onto Clerkenwell Close to take a closer look at St James’s Church. This has apparently been a religious site since the 12th century though the current church dates from 1792. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to get a look at the interior of the church, or its much vaunted crypt, on this occasion.

By way of compensation today’s Pub of the Day, the splendid Three Kings, is just across the road. A public house has occupied this spot since at least the 18th century, when it was originally known as the Three Johns. The somewhat unprepossessing exterior (blame a re-tiling job in 1938) is more than made up for by the splendidly idiosyncratic interior styling.

Until next time…

Day 13 – Rosebery Avenue – Mount Pleasant – Gray’s Inn Road

Another short one today – just ticking the streets to the east of Gray’s Inn Road and north of Rosebery Avenue and finishing off with a look at the Post Office’s Mount Pleasant site and a sixties time capsule within Holborn Library.

Day 13 Route

Start off on Rosebery Avenue again; this time at the Old Finsbury Town Hall  the Grade II listed building originally known as the Vestry Hall at the time of its construction in 1895. The building is now occupied by the Urdang Academy performing arts school which unfortunately means there is no public access to see the interior art nouveau detailing which it is best known for. You can however see the influence of that style in the glass and wrought iron canopy over the entrance.

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A little way further north turn right down Gloucester Way right by the Finsbury War Monument with its extravagant angel, created by Thomas Rudge in 1921.

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Then we go west again along Myddleton Street which brings us to the junction of Rosoman Avenue and Exmouth Market. The latter is worth a visit for its selection of independent stores and bar/restaurants; and for the gentlemen there is an opportunity for recoiffeuring at “Barber Streisand” (no stop you’re killing me !).

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Exmouth Market also houses the entrance to another listed late 19th century building, the Italianate-styled Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer.

 

Take a left down Pine Street then cut through Vineyard Walk onto Farringdon Road and back up to Rosebery Avenue. This time we turn north on Tysoe Street into Wilmington Square. On the west side take in Attneave Street and Easton Street before leaving via Yardley Street. The passage at the top end of the square fronts another archetypal Georgian terrace and emerges opposite Charles Rowan House (see previous post).

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Follow Margery Street back down to the point at which King’s Cross Road changes into Farringdon Road then head north-east up Lloyd Baker Street. A circuit of Lloyd Square, Wharton Street, Granville Street and Granville Square returns us to the same point. This time we go west along Calthorpe Street which id on the north side of the vast Mount Pleasant sorting office site. You can also get a view of the backside of 200 Gray’s Inn Road now the home of ITN Productions, the people behind the ITV news.

Pheonix Place flanks the west side and runs down to Mount Pleasant itself.

Mount Pleasant (officially known as the London Central Mail Centre) is the UK’s largest sorting office, a 12 acre site created in 1889 where the former Coldbath Fields Prison formerly stood. From 1927 to 2003 it was the central focus of the London Post Office Railway the PO’s own driverless, underground railway. In the picture above you can see the signage for one of the platforms. In 2014 mayor Boris Johnson gave the green light to a controversial proposal to build 700 new homes on a large portion of the site. Despite fierce local campaigning for affordable housing it now seems inevitable that most of this new build will comprise yet more luxury flats. As a reminder, Royal Mail was privatised in 2013. The sorting office operations, employing 3,000 people, will continue beyond the re-development.

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Next we head back north on Gough Street thereby returning to Gray’s Inn Road. At no.238 the former premises of bedmakers, Litvinoff & Fawcett, was for a brief time a couple of years ago squatted by the Occupy Movement and proclaimed as a Bank of Ideas.

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Beyond Coley Street is the aforementioned no.200. Now ITN’s HQ this was in a previous incarnation the location of the offices of the Times and the Sunday Times and also housed those papers’ printing presses in the basement. The current building was the result of a 1990 redevelopment.

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Loop east down Elm Street and back up the remaining section of Mount Pleasant before crossing Gray’s Inn and making a circuit of Kings Mews, North Mews and John Street to arrive back on Theobalds Road.

This is the location of Holborn Library, dating from 1960 and one of the earliest examples of the now oft-maligned modernist architectural designs of the sixties. Unfortunately the part of the building really worth seeing, the third floor, is only accessible when hosting special exhibitions (such as the one by Artangel in 2014). There used to be a 250-seat lecture theatre, also used for film screenings, on this level. Although now only partially used as offices the rooms here remain a symphony in wood panelling.

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Day 12 – Gray’s Inn Road -Pentonville Road – New River Head – Charles Dickens Museum

Bit of a meandering one today, largely covering the triangular area bounded by King’s Cross Road, Pentonville Road and Roseberry Avenue then returning to Gray’s Inn Road and ending up at the Charles Dickens Museum. Much of this area is comprised of the site known as New River Head which is integral to the story of London’s water supplies. This trip also takes us for the first time into the London Borough of Islington.

Day 12 Route

Begin within a return visit to Kings Cross and take the Scala on the corner of Pentonville Road and King’s Cross Bridge Road as the starting point. Originally opening as a cinema in 1920, the Scala has had many incarnations including a brief ill-fated stint in the late seventies as a Primatarium (a specially made-up word I suspect). This monkeying around lasted all of 18 months before the venue reverted to being a cinema and also hosting live music performances. That continued until 1993 when the Scala Cinema Club went into receivership after losing a court case over an illegal screening of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. After a radical make-over it was resurrected in 1999 as a concert and club venue. Unfortunately the building is completely swathed in scaffolding for repainting at present.

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Cut through onto the top end of Gray’s Inn Road where the familiar un-tarted up Kings Cross lives on.

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On the opposite side of the road is Willing House, now a Travelodge but originally built around 1910 in a ‘Free Baroque’ style for the Willing family, whose fortune was founded on billboard sites.

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The streets which intersect between Gray’s Inn and King’s Cross Road have little of real interest but the photos below give some flavour of St Chad’s Place, Field Street, Leeke Street, Swinton Street, Wicklow Street and Britannia Street.

One thing of note on Wicklow Street is this indication that the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital isn’t that keen on taking on any additional patients.

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After that lot it’s back out onto King’s Cross Road and a break for lunch; finally catching up with the vogue for Vietnamese Banh Mi rolls (after everyone else has moved on no doubt).

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Cut up onto Pentonville Road again via Lorenz Street then back down Weston Rise and up Penton Rise. Somehow it’s never really registered with me before that a Rise is so-called because it does just that. On the west side of this incline is the 1960’s GLC built Weston Rise Estate which is garnished at its southern end by a somewhat incongruous tropical garden.

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On the other side is Vernon Square, home to Kings Cross Baptist Church and behind which is another SOAS campus.

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Heading further east along the Pentonville Road brings us to Claremont Square in the middle of which is the eponymous reservoir originally dug at the start of the 18th century then covered in 1855 following The Metropolis Water Act of three years earlier, prompted by the cholera epidemic of 1846, which required this of all reservoirs within London. The reservoir fell into disuse in the 1990s, but came back into service in 2003 to provide a kind of header tank or balancing reservoir for the London Ring Main

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Claremont Close loops off the square and then Mylne Street leads off the south-east corner down to Myddleton Square. This, the largest square in this part of London, is named after Sir Hugh Myddleton  one of the main architects of the New River project – of which more in a minute. In its centre sits St Mark’s Church, Clerkenwell, consecrated on 1st January 1828. The church is unusual in that there is no graveyard in its grounds. The congregation have also shared the church with the World Community for Christian Meditation since 2002.

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Having circumvented the square, Ingelbert Street takes us into Amwell Street and then River Street returns us to the square from where Myddleton Passage cuts through to Arlington Way. Here we emerge opposite the west side of Sadler’s Wells Theatre on Roseberry Avenue, London’s premier contemporary dance venue. The current building which opened in 1998 is the sixth theatre on this site; the first erected in 1683. Current offering is Matthew Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty” which I can thoroughly recommend.

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Immediately to the west of Sadler’s Wells is the area known as New River Head which derives its name from being the site of the mouth of the New River, the channel cut at the start of the 17th century to supply London with water from springs out in Hertfordshire. This was all carried out under the auspices of the New River Company which became a very substantial property owner over the next couple of centuries before being taken over by the Metropolitan Water Board in 1904. It was the latter which constructed the Laboratory Building (below) in 1938 as a home for the testing of water quality. This archetypal 1930’s creation was converted to residential use in the 1990’s.

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On the apex of Roseberry Avenue and Hardwick Street sits the equally impressive New River Head Building which was opened in 1920 as the headquarters of the MWB. This also succumbed to conversion into luxury private residences in the nineties.

 

Hardwick Street leads into Amwell Street again and crossing over into Merlin Street we find Charles Rowan House  with its distinctive turrets and atypically Expressionist feel. This was originally built in the 1920’s as married quarters for Met policemen and was converted into council housing in 1974.

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Next up is Wilmington Street, then Fernbury Street and Naoroji Street (named after Dadabhai Naoroji (1825 – 1917) the so-called “Grand Old Man of India” and the first Asian to sit as a British MP). A bit more of Amwell Street then left into Lloyd Baker Street and right into Lloyds Street. The elevation comes into its own here with this view across to the BT Tower in the west.

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From Great Percy Street we dip back into Amwell Street then loop back via Cruikshank Street and Holford Street. Cumberland Gardens and Prideaux Place are the next stops before arriving at Percy Circus. Like Great Percy Street, this takes its name from Robert Percy Smith, Governor of the New River Company from 1827 to his death in 1845. It is also the least central of the London Circuses. At No. 16 is yet another blue plaque commemorating a brief residency of Lenin.

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Next down Vernon Rise back to King’s Cross Road and again zig-zag between this and Gray’s Inn Road taking in Acton Street, Frederick Street, Ampton Place, Ampton Street, Cubitt Street, Pakenham Street and Wren Street. This brings us to St Andrews Gardens opposite which on GIR is the London Welsh Centre – a hub for Welsh cultural activities in the capital not a rugby player.

Just a bit further up the road is the old Kings Cross telephone exchange with its distinctive blue façade.

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Wander down to Doughty Street to  rendezvous with final stop of the day, the Charles Dickens Museum at no.48. Dickens only lived in this Georgian terraced house from 1837 to 1839 but two of his daughters were born here. it was where he wrote Oliver Twist and it also sadly witnessed to the death of his 17 year old sister-in-law. The museum first opened in 1925 and, as you would expect, is home to the world’s most important collection of Dickens memorabilia, including the writing desk you see below. To be honest I can’t say it was the most scintillating museum experience I’ve ever had – perhaps I should have waited a week for the Christmas decorations to go up.

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48 Doughty Street
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Drawing Room
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Study

 

Day 11 (part 2) – Tottenham Court Road – University College London – Bloomsbury

Second leg of today’s walk resumes at the north side of Russell Square then concentrates on the constellation of buildings and institutions that constitute the “Bloomsbury Site” of the University of London, principally UCL.  This was originally an area of eleven acres stretching from Woburn Square to the British Museum and its acquisition, from the Duke of Bedford (see last post) in 1927, was partially funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. It ends with visits to the two wonderful in-house museums belonging to UCL, the Grant Museum of Zoology and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

Day 11 Route pt2

We begin by heading north up Bedford Way then after turning left into Gordon Square venture south again via Woburn Square and Thornhaugh Street before returning to Russell Square and exiting that by the south-west corner. This takes us into Montague Place which runs along the back of the British Museum (more of which in a later post).

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As mentioned above the creation of this new hub for the University of London in the thirties was facilitated by an endowment from the Rockefeller Foundation – £400,000 which was a pretty immodest sum back then. The centrepiece of the development was the (still) imposing Senate House on Malet Street. Construction of this iconic Art Deco edifice (often claimed as London’s first skyscraper) began in 1932 and although some staff moved in during 1936 it wasn’t fully completed until 1937 by which time it had been scaled back from the original designs due to a shortfall in funds.

The building was used by the Ministry of Information during WWII and this, combined with its monolithic appearance no doubt, inspired both Graham Greene’s “Ministry of Fear” (adapted for the cinema by Fritz Lang) and George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth as featured in “1984”.

There is even an actual Room 101 inside on the first floor though there is not thought to be any direct correlation between this and Orwell’s home of nightmares made flesh (despite the fact that his wife worked for the MoI during the war).

The right-hand image below is of a map in The Chancellor’s Hall showing the location of all the constituent colleges of the University of London in 1939. The actual painting, by MacDonald Gill, is 4m across.

The building mainly functions as the administrative centre for the University of London but also houses its main library. On the left below is the Senate Room itself; these days used only a handful of times a year for meetings of the actual Senate (which is largely ceremonial) though it is available for hire.

To the north of the Senate House is Torrington Square where reside  Birkbeck College and The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Opposite the latter is the Brunei Gallery (no prizes for guessing where the funding for that came from) which is well worth a visit, not only for its exhibitions but also its Japanese roof garden.

Across the road at the top end of the square is the southern end of  Church of Christ the King, Bloomsbury

Here we turn left along Byng Place then head back down Malet Street until we get to Keppel Street which is where London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine lives.

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The creation of this new building for the school, following the granting of its Royal Charter in 1924, was another result of the munificence of the Rockefeller Foundation. The building, which was opened in July 1929, was one of the first constructed around a steel frame. The facade of Portland stone incorporates above the main entrance a carving of Apollo and Artemis riding a chariot. As you can also see above, the first floor balconies are  decorated with a selection of gilded bronze studies of insects and animals infamous for their roles in the transmission of disease.

The sculpted panel above is by Eric Kennington (1888 – 1960) who is mainly known for his work as an official artist in both World Wars. The bust in the library is of Sir Richard Doll (1912 – 2005) considered to be the foremost epidemiologist of the 20th century.

Cross over to Store Street with its uniformly fronted independent shops, galleries and coffee shops and on the corner with Ridgmont Street come across the site of the old Bloomsbury Service Station which was redeveloped in 2012 incorporating the style and some of the features of the original 1926 building into what is now offices and a Byron hamburger joint.

Next up Chenies Street, North Crescent and Alfred Place. The middle one of those is largely comprised of Minerva House, a grade II listed former car showroom and workshop.

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Back on Store Street, South Crescent to be precise, is the Building Centre. Established in 1931, this is now not-for-profit organisation is dedicated to providing education, information and support in relation to all aspects of the built environment. Worth a visit just to see the 3D map which highlights all the current new-build projects in London.

We now take a first dip into Tottenham Court Road and the next turning on the right is Alfred Mews where we come across this somewhat redundant instruction.

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Criss-cross between Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street via Torrington Place, Huntley Street, Chenies Mews and Capper Street. Last of these features another great surviving example of the Art Deco form in Shropshire House which dates from 1932.

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Another cul-de-sac off of TCR is Queen’s Yard where behind this unprepossessing entrance can be found the Government Art Collection. One of the small selection, of the over 100,000 works in the collection, on display is the splendid 4’33” (Prepared Pianola for Roger Bannister) by Mel Brimfield

 

On University Street, where we turn next, there is, appropriately, a pub named after the philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832),  who left his body to be publicly dissected by his friend, Dr Thomas Southwood Smith, and preserved as an ‘auto-icon’. Jeremy the auto-icon was bequeathed to UCL in 1850 and has remained there ever since.

 

The Grant Museum of Zoology sits on the corner of University Street and Gower Street and houses around 68,000 remarkable zoological specimens.

 

Founded in 1828 as a teaching collection, the Museum is packed full of skeletons, mounted animals and specimens preserved in fluid. Many of the species concerned are now endangered or extinct. Below are a selection of my personal favourites.

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After leaving the museum we head down Gower Street, stopping briefly for a look at the UCL Main Building also known as the Octagon Building.

To get to the final stop for today, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology we veer off to the left and left again into Malet Place. The museum was set up as a teaching resource for the Department of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at UCL. Both the department and the museum were created in 1892 through the bequest of the writer Amelia Edwards (1831-1892). The collection, of over 80,000 Egyptian and Sudanese artefacts dating from prehistory through the time of the pharaohs to the Islamic era, was considerable extended due to the extraordinary excavating career of the first Edwards Professor, William Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) after whom the museum is named. Of course the export of such antiquities from their place of discovery has long been illegal so the collection is a static one. It is also quite astonishing.

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2015 is actually the centenary of the museum opening to the public and in recognition of that here is one final exhibit to hopefully whet your appetite for a visit.

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This is a fragment from the “Book of the Dead” papyrus belonging to a man named Khnumemheb. It shows the ‘weighing of the heart’ scene in which the deceased’s heart is weighed against the feather of truth while Ammut, the monstrous devourer of the dead, sits beneath the balance awaiting the judgement.

 

And on that cheery note…until next time.

 

Day 6 – Wigmore Street- Portland Place – Cavendish Square

Today’s Route finishes off the area to the north of Oxford Street, covering the stretch between Bond Street and Oxford Circus tube stations. Main focus is on the southern portion of Portland Place home of BBC HQ and the Langham Hotel but also foreign embassy central.

Day 6 RouteStarting point is Bond Street tube from where we head north on Marylebone Lane then right at Wigmore Street and south again on Welbeck Street to Vere Street. Here we find St Peter’s Church once known as the Oxford Chapel. This is now the base for the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity.

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The Brazilian Consulate General (different from the embassy) is also located here at no.3. IMG_20150904_112202

Chapel Place skirts up the side of House of Fraser at no.350 Oxford Street. Up until its rebranding in 2001 this was the main branch of DH Evans. (DH Evans was named after Welshman Dan Harries Evans and opened on Oxford Street in the last century. It was quickly expanded but Mr Evans died penniless in 1928 after a series of unsuccessful property deals. House of Fraser is unfortunately not after the misanthropic Dad’s Army character though it did originate in Glasgow – in 1849 as Athur and Fraser).

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IMG_20150904_112713 This brings us to the bottom end of Wimpole Street (see previous post). Since 1912 No.1 has been the home of the Royal Society of Medicine. Both Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud are Honorary Fellows of the Society and five of its former presidents have diseases named after them. The symbol of the serpent entwined around a staff derives from the rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine.

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Further down the street we find the London Eye Hospital

IMG_20150904_113207At the intersection with Wigmore Street (again) is the world-renowned Wigmore Hall London’s premier venue for chamber music. Rather shamefully I have only ever been here once which was when my A level Russian group (all three of us) came up to hear the poet Yevgeniy Yevtushenko. So that would be have been either 1976 or 1977 and I suspect none of us managed to follow a word.

The stage and green room at the Wigmore Hall

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This rather splendid edifice opposite the Wigmore Hall at no.33 brings us back into the realm of department stores as this is where Debenhams began. (Its genesis was actually at no.44 but it moved to no.33 in 1851 as Debenham and Freebody and properly took off from that point.)

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Via Queen Anne Street we reach yet another stretch of Harley Street and here at No.43-49 is sited Queen’s College which was founded in 1848 as the first academic institution providing girls aged 11-18 with a secondary education that would allow them to go on to university.

In a flat at the very grand no.2 Mansfield Street resided the music patron and philanthropist, Sir Robert Mayer (1870 -1985), who was one of the founders of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and (as you can see) lived to be 105. When he appeared on Desert Island Discs at the age of a hundred he picked Son of My Father by Chicory Tip as his favourite track.

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IMG_20150904_120025This rather enigmatic grade II listed building at no. 10 Duchess Street is now part of the British Medical Association and originates from around 1770 as designed by Robert Ada. At the end of the 18th century the house was acquired by Thomas Hope, a wealthy Dutch designer and collector. His remodelling of the interior based on a series of themes included an Egyptian Room but whether this was inspired by or led to the creation of the sphinxes on the exterior is unclear.

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Back out now on to the lower end of Portland Place with its cluster of embassies. So high numbers to low we have China down at no. 49, Poland a non-mover at no. 47, Kenya bubbling under at no. 45, Columbia a new entry at no.35, Sweden climbing to no.27 and Portugal smashing in at no.3.

Adjacent to Portugal on the eponymous Langham Street lies the Langham Hotel opened in 1865 and mooted as the first of Europe’s so-called “Grand Hotels”. It was built at a cost of £300,000 which today would get you about 12 nights in the penthouse Sterling Suite.

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Notwithstanding that the most famous occupant of Portland Place is of course the good old BBC Broadcasting House. W1A 1AA being possibly the most iconic post code in the country – at least for those of us old enough to have written actual letters to BBC television programmes. Built in classic art deco style in 1932 the building was extensively restored and redeveloped in the early years of the 21st Century and as well as being the administrative HQ of the BBC is home to its news and radio services.

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The statues on the exterior of the building are the work of the supremely talented but infamous Eric Gill (1882 – 1940). Suffice to say, were Eric Gill  alive today his activities would be of more than passing interest to Operation Yewtree. There are probably few more prominent examples of the vexed question of whether or not it is possible to continue to admire the work of an artist whose personal mores turn out to be abhorrent.

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Round the back of the new development (on Middleton Place) is the home of Radio 1 and Radio 1-Xtra. And on this day there was a posse of young hopefuls looking out for the visiting James Bay, one of the new breed of sensitive male singer-songwriters (Ed Sheeran you have a lot to answer for). At another entrance (presumably Radio 6) was a collection of trainspottery middle-aged men clutching record bags but I never did find out who they were hoping to meet.

Just next door to the BBC on is All Souls, the last remaining church designed by John Nash (1752 – 1835), which opened in 1824.

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Not to be confused of course with either the mathematician John Nash who was the subject of “A Beautiful Mind” or the pop reggae singer Johnny Nash of ” I Can See Clearly” fame.

East of here the walk takes in the man stretch of Langham Street where the attractively tiled Grange Langham Court makes a bit of a show of itself before moving on to Hallam Street, Gildea Street, Girfield Street and a bit more of Great Portland Street without arousing further interest before heading back via Riding House Street where another embassy, that of Algeria, sits at No.1 (with a bullet).

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This is the point where Portland Place merges into Regent Street (north) but we head straight across and on to Cavendish Place. Chandos Street to the north is home at no.11 to the Medical Society of London founded in 1773. No.10a next door is built in the same style and although just offices of a financial company makes a nicer picture.

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A little way further along, the entrance to Deans Mews is framed by this arch with its “levitating” sculpture of the Madonna and Child. This, the work of sculptor Jacob Epstein, was constructed from lead that was salvaged from the nearby roof of a building bombed in the Second World War and weighs in the region of three tons.

Almost final stop on this journey is Cavendish Square named after Henrietta Cavendish-Holles, the wife of the second Earl of Oxford. The statue on the centre of the square, ignored by the lunching office workers, is a recent art project which has recreated in soap the original statue of the Duke of Cumberland which stood on the plinth from 1770 to 1868 but was removed in the late nineteenth century due to posthumous disapproval of the Duke’s actions during the Battle of Culloden.

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IMG_20150904_131425The bronze statue on the south side of the square is of Lord William George Frederick Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck (1802 – 1848). Bentinck was a conservative MP best known for his part in the corn laws-related downfall of Sir Robert Peel and also a prominent racehorse owner and notorious gambler. He died, unmarried, aged 46 of a suspected heart attack and was buried in (our old friend) St Marylebone Parish Church.

IMG_20150904_130311On the west side of the square is found The Royal College of Nursing, at no.20 which was at one time the home of Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916. The RCN, which was founded in 1916, took over the house that same year when Asquith left office and found he could no longer afford its upkeep.

Asquith was married twice but during his term in office he also developed a romantic obsession with Venetia Stanley who went on to marry Edwin Montagu, a Liberal Cabinet Minister. He sent her over 560 letters and Churchill who was at the time the First Lord of the Admiralty, viewed this endless letter writing as “England’s greatest security risk”. However within days of his rejection by Venetia, Asquith started an intense relationship with her older sister Sylvia, which lasted for several years.

Returning to the building itself its most prominent feature is the extensive mural painted alongside and above the main staircase depicting scenes of ancient Rome. The mural is believed to date from around 1730 and be the work of Sir James Thornhill, father-in-law of Hogarth.

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We end again back on Oxford Street emerging by John Lewis at no. 300. The original John Lewis store in Oxford Street was bombed to the ground during the Blitz (though amazingly without any casualties). It took until 1960 before the present building was completed and opened. The iconic Winged Figure statue by Barbara Hepworth was unveiled in 1963, John Lewis having commissioned the Yorkshire-born artist to create a work that evoked common interest and ownership.

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Day 5 – Fitzrovia – North of Oxford Street East

Today’s route covers the area to the west of Tottenham Court Road and North of Oxford Street and takes in most of the rest of Fitzrovia. Back in the 90’s some genius tried to re-brand this area as “NoHo” but there was NoHope of that succeeding despite the prevalence of media businesses. Most well-known thoroughfare is probably Charlotte Street; once renowned for its many Greek restaurants. It appears sadly that those have all gone now (I guess plate-smashing and austerity aren’t a good mix), replaced by clutch of high-end eating establishments – all doing great business on a Friday lunchtime.

A lot of this post will focus on the compact but fascinating Pollock’s Toy Museum in Whitfield Street – more than worth £6 of your hard-earned if you’re ever in the vicinity.

Day 5 Route

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We begin at Goodge Street tube station just adjacent to which in Whitfield Gardens can be found the Fitzrovia Mural depicting life in the area at the start of the 1980s.

Head north up Tottenham Court Road then turn left into Grafton Way and again into Whitfield Street. At no.108 is Marie Stopes House, former home of the lady herself.  Marie Charlotte Carmichael Stopes (1880 – 1958) led a very colourful and varied life and although her fame today rests on her pioneering work in the field of birth control she was also (and first) a renowned palaeontologist.

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The address of the aforementioned Pollocks Toy Museum is actually 1 Scala Street but it does front onto Whitfield Street.

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The museum’s collection mainly focuses on Victorian toys with a particular interest in model theatres and dolls but as you can see below there is plenty of nostalgia prompts for us kids of the sixties and seventies.

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The following two items greatly intrigued me. I wasn’t previously aware that Snakes and Ladders originated as a game used for Hindu religious instruction. Apparently it represents the journey of a soul towards heaven with the ladders rewarding good deeds and the snakes punishing evil ones. The unfortunately named Plopitin looks like some weird 1930s forerunner of swingball. If you’ve got a £150 spare there’s one currently going on ebay

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/1930S-RARE-VINTAGE-BOXED-THE-GAME-OF-PLOPITIN-/261704562321

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Just about my favourite things though were these two prints which are facsimiles from 1883 editions of the Victorian publications, the Girl’s Own Paper and the Boy’s Own Paper. At the end of each paper was as section which printed replies to correspondence received from readers – the letters themselves were never published. I’d urge you to take a closer look at these because they are supremely amusing.

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I can’t believe I’m alone in finding dolls like these incredibly creepy. As for the Russian Matryoshkas I’m ok on the smaller ones at the front but having trouble identifying the three at the back. Looks to me like there are two alternative Gorbachevs.

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Anyway moving on…At the end of the street is Lewis Leathers, proclaimed as Britain’s oldest purveyors of motorcycle clothing. I thought it was the motorcyclists that wore the clothing but that may be just me being pedantic. Inadvertent crap selfie of the day. 

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Above right is the charmingly out-of-context Colville Place which cuts between Whitfield Street and Charlotte Street. This is home to the Movie Poster Art Gallery which also features original artwork for LP sleeves such as this one for the brilliant A Certain Ratio’s Sextet album from 1982. If you’re unfamiliar with ACR then I strongly suggest that you Spotify them.

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I’ve already mentioned Charlotte Street and its culinary delights. It’s also home to Saatchi & Saatchi of which the less said the better probably. Quick mention of the Darren Baker gallery which currently has an interesting selection of work on display and where the assistant was atypically friendly.

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On to Goodge Street and then in succession, Tottenham Street , Goodge Place, Charlotte Place and Newman Passage.

No 15. Percy Street was for a time the residence of actor Charles Laughton (1899 – 1962). No matinee idol, Laughton is probably best known for his portrayal of the Hunchback of Notre Dame though he also starred in Mutiny on the Bounty and The Barretts of Wimpole Street (see previous post). Nowadays his acclaim, as far as film buffs are concerned, rests on his solitary directorial effort, the startling Night of the Hunter.

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Next door at No.14 lived (though not contemporaneously) the poet, Coventry Kersey Dighton Patmore (1823 – 1896) about which nothing was quite as interesting as his name.

On the corner of Charlotte Street and Windmill Street is the famous Fitzroy Tavern which is unfortunately closed for major refurbishment until 2016 which means that the pub of the day is the nearby Rising Sun, quite possibly the last unreconstructed boozer in the vicinity. Which means that there are free tables and who can argue with just over a tenner for a pint of Czech lager and a plate of ham, egg & chips.

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Had I hung on till I got round the corner into Rathbone Place I could have drunk in the footsteps of Dylan Thomas and George Orwell in the Wheatsheaf,

Stephen Street is home to the British Film Institute and in Gresse Sreet is the grandly named Fashion Retail Academy (where you can learn how to flog frocks in Next).

Duck back down onto Oxford Street and up Hanway Street leading to Hanway Place. On the former lies Bradleys Spanish Bar which is for my money the best drinking place within coughing distance of Oxford Street and one of the few bars that still has a working jukebox.

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North again on Newman Street and into Mortimer Street. The architecturally striking Radiant House occupies nos. 34-38 though there seems to be a dearth of information about its origins.

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At No. 10 Berners Street is the 5 star Edition Hotel (part of the Marriott Group). The building dates from 1835 and the site has been a hotel since 1904, simply the Berners Hotel in its previous incarnation.

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IMG_20150828_144007 IMG_20150828_151100Back up Wells Street and veering off down Marylebone Passage (above right) takes us on to Margaret Street where on opposite sides you have the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist temple (south side) and All Saints Church (north side). The former (Grade II listed) was originally the parish school attached to the latter and dates from the mid 19th century.

All Saints was completed in 1950 and, designed by the architect William Butterfield, is one of the landmark buildings of the Gothic revival.

IMG_20150828_150806IMG_20150828_150712The church has recently undergone renovation work which shows off the impressive decorative tiling and paintwork to fantastic effect.

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Next up is Riding House Street home to the College of Naturapathic Medicine where presumably one student has the same effect as several thousand.

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This leads on to Nassau Street, Foley Street, Candover Street, Hanson Street and Eastcastle Street.

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Eventually arriving back on Oxford Street via the already familiar Great Titchfield Street we emerge opposite Marks & Spencer which opened here in 1938 occupying the former site of the London Pantheon which in its various incarnations since 1772 served as a theatre, opera house, bazaar and wine merchants. The present building, in iconic art deco style, was designed by by Robert Lutyens (son of Sir Edwin Lutyens) and was granted Grade II listed status in 2009.

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