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 18 – Clerkenwell – Farringdon – Hatton Garden – Holborn

Today’s route is another compact one covering the area bounded by Gray’s Inn Road to the west, St John Street to the east and Holborn to the south. Highlights include a visit to the Museum of the Order of St John (try and contain yourself please) and a stroll around the (in)famous home of the London diamond trade, Hatton Garden.

Day 18 Route

We start in familiar territory and quickly knock off the triangle of streets that are bordered by (and sunken beneath) Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell Road and Farringdon Road. Despite some great names: Coldbath Square, Crawford Passage, Bakers Row, Warner Street, Eyre Street Hill, Back Hill, Summers Street, Ray Street and Herbal Hill have only this temporary resident to tempt open the camera lens.

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Like most things though this is a matter of timing. This area of Clerkenwell (and a bit beyond) was once known as “Little Italy” due to the influx of about 2,000 immigrants from that country in the 1850’s. It remains something of a spiritual home to London’s Italian community due to St Peter’s Church (on Clerkenwell Road) which is the force behind the Procession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Sagra which takes place each July and brings this sunken enclave alive. I was fortunate enough to stumble across the procession, and its accompanying food and drink stalls, some years ago and have been trying to schedule a return visit ever since.

St Peter’s Church opened amid great celebration in 1863 and at the time was the only church in Britain designed in the Roman Basilican style. The painting below of the Beheading of John the Baptist is from the 17th century and by the hand of artist, Alessandro Turchi.

Leaving the church we head east along Clerkenwell Road as far as St John’s Square which  straddles the road. The north side of the square was included in one of our earlier posts. However, unlike on that occasion, St John’s Priory is open to visitors today. I won’t go through all the history again but for Tudor buffs would remind you that the Knights of St John were the last of the monastic orders to be abolished by Henry VIII (in 1540). Consequent upon that Henry took the priory and all its land and wealth which were second only to those of Glastonbury Abbey. Henry gave the priory itself to his daughter Mary to use and as a palace and on her accession to the throne she restored the Order only for Elizabeth to do away with it for good when she became queen.

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Across the road is St John’s Gate where the main part of the Museum resides. If, like me, you’ve seen anything of the recent TV series on the Crusades this is well worth a visit. There’s no entry fee and the museum does a great job in presenting the remarkable story of the Order and its survival.

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And it also provides the opportunity for today’s selfie-of-the day. I know what you’re thinking – not everyone can carry off the suit of armour look that well.

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Continuing down St John’s Lane we reach Passing Alley which according to several sources was known as Pissing Alley back in the days when an al-fresco emptying of the bladder was more in tune with public sensitivities.

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Just a couple of doors further down is this sign for E.Higgs Air Agency which upped and moved away several decades ago and was last heard of trading out of Bracknell under the name of Higgs International.

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At the end of St John’s Lane we turn right down Peter’s Lane to cut through to Cowcross Street whose name derives from the time (up until the 1850’s) when live animals were herded down here on their way to Smithfield Market. Turning west we arrive at Farringdon station which opened in 1863 as part of the first London underground line, the Metropolitan.  One of the finest looking tube stations in the capital it has fortunately been left unscathed by the developments for, firstly, Thameslink and now Crossrail.

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From here we turn briefly up Turnmill Street and then right into Benjamin Street. At the end of this is the Goldsmiths Centre which was opened in 2012 as a new training and education facility supported by the Goldsmiths’ Company (one of the 12 great livery companies of the City of London). The building combines an 1872-built Grade II listed Victorian school with a modern extension.

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Just round the corner, on another section of Peter’s Lane, the weathervane and bull’s head mouldings on what is now the Rookery Hotel are another reminder of the proximity to Smithfield Market.

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So next we snake round Eagle Court, Albion Place and Briset Street which brings us out onto Britton Street. Here we find Mountford House, a block of flats built in the 1970’s but which incorporates the 1901-03 façade (by E.W Mountford) from the offices of Booth’s Gin Distillery, demolished as part of the same redevelopment. The preservation of the façade represented a rare victory for the forces of conservation at that time.

At the top of Britton Street we turn left then head back down Turnmill Street and pass Farringdon station again via another stretch of Cowcross Street. We then head north up Farringdon Road before slipping into Saffron Street and cutting up Onslow Street to return to Clerkenwell Road before heading south again on Saffron Hill. Where this meets Greville Street sits today’s pub of the day, the One Tun, which was established as an alehouse in 1759 and was frequented in his day by our old friend, Charles Dickens. Reputedly this was this inspiration for the Three Cripples pub which appears in Oliver Twist and will be familiar to viewers of the BBC’s “Dickensian” series. Accordingly I should probably have had ‘a little drop of gin’ and a pie instead of a pint of Ubu bitter and a duck fried rice. (Shame that Booth’s Distillery’s no longer around).

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After leaving the pub we move north again up Kirby Street which leads into Hatton Place from where Hatton Wall crosses into Hatton Garden. Hatton Garden and the streets leading off it create the internationally renowned jewellery quarter and hub of the UK diamond trade. Recently of course it has become indelibly linked in the public consciousness with the April 2015 raid on the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company which occupies nos 88-90; the so-called “largest burglary in English legal history”.

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On reflection then I suppose I should have been a bit more circumspect in wielding the camera round these parts. (But I guess no-one would expect lightning to strike twice).

The “bluecoat” statues on the building below are indicative of the site of a charity school. This building was originally a church built after the great fire of London allegedly to a design of Sir Christopher Wren. It was converted to a charity school at the end of the 17th century, suffered serious bomb damage during WWII and upon rebuilding was named Wren House. Fortunately these statues had been sent to a college in Berkshire for safekeeping prior to the start of the Blitz.

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Treasure House at nos. 19-21 dates from 1907 and is embellished with a fine set of carvings relating to the gold trade.

The southern end of Hatton Garden forms one of the spokes of Holborn Circus. Heading west from here along Holborn (A40) we pass this statue of Prince Albert before turning right up Leather Lane.

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It’s been some years since I last visited Leather Lane market and I have to say it seems to have headed downmarket (so to speak) in the intervening time. Though in fairness the stallholders were packing up as I got there and my memory may be putting a bit of a gloss on its former status.

I did quite like the idea of the pie-minister though.

Having dipped in and out of St. Cross Street we exit the north end of Leather line by Portpool Lane and in doing so pass through the middle of the Bourne Estate. Constructed during the Edwardian era between 1905 and 1909 the estate represents one of London’s best examples of tenement housing and a number of the housing blocks have been Grade II listed. The Bourne Estate is the third of the three key estates built by the London County Council in the years of its greatest innovation. In Britain the Bourne Estate is the least known, but it has an international significance as the model for the much admired and highly influential public housing erected in Vienna immediately after the First World War.

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Portpool Lane terminates on Gray’s Inn Road and taking a left turn southward we call in on Verulam Street before taking the next left which is Baldwin Gardens. This brings us to the massive, and yet extremely well-hidden, Church of St Alban the Martyr. This one was originally built in 1859 to a design of William Butterfield. After being “burnt out” in 1941 it was restored during 1959-61 under the guiding hand of Adrian Gilbert Scott.  The large mural behind the altar, The Trinity in Glory (1966) and the paintings of the stations of the cross down the side are by Hans Feibusch, an artist of German Jewish extraction who after fleeing to Britain in in 1933 produced murals for 28 different Anglican churches. St Alban, incidentally, was beheaded by the Romans in Britain some time in the 3rd or 4th century A.D.

Baldwin Gardens takes us back to Leather Lane and then via Dorrington Street, Beauchamp Street and Brooke Street (with an “e”) we work our way back to Holborn and the site of the building called Holborn Bars but perhaps better known as the Prudential Assurance Building. This impressively monumental terracotta edifice in the Gothic Revival style was built in 1879 to the designs of Alfred Waterhouse (after whom the square which it surrounds came to be named). The Pru still own the building but since 1999 they no longer occupy it. In 1986, when they did, I had a temporary placement here and still remember the woman who sat opposite me and talked incessantly of nothing but her future wedding which was more than a year away. It was one of the longest weeks of my life.

This has been a bit of a marathon posting so well done if you’ve stuck with it right the way through. We’ve reached the final stop, you’ll be relieved to hear, which is Gresham College on the other side of Holborn. Gresham College was founded in 1597 and has been providing free public lectures throughout the more than 400 years since. From 1542 to 1959 the site which it occupies now, Barnards Inn, was home to the independent school operated by the Worshipful Company of Mercers.

 

 

 

 

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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Day 16 – Bond Street – Regent Street – Mayfair – Royal Institution

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.

Day 16 Route

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And so on to Albermarle Street where a first visit to the Royal Institution awaits.

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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.

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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.

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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