Day 33 (part 2) – The Strand -Covent Garden -Savoy Place

So the second leg of this walk resumes where we left off last time, on the Strand by the Adelphi Theatre, then heads north towards Covent Garden before crossing back over the Strand to traverse the streets either side of the Savoy Hotel and running down to the Embankment.

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The origins of the Adelphi Theatre go back to 1806 when it was originally known as the Sans Pareil (without equal). The current, fourth building on the site, has been around since 1930 when it was constructed by the Pitcher Construction Company to the designs of Ernest Schaufelberg. The design was notable for the absence of any kind of curve (unusual for the thirties) and the building process attracted a great deal of public attention due to the builders frantic attempts to complete on time and avoid a punitive daily over-run penalty of £450. The venue has been home to a good number of successful productions, several of them off the Lloyd-Webber conveyer belt.

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Just a few doors further east stands the Vaudeville Theatre of which the present building is the third incarnation, opening in 1926. It has less then half the capacity of its near neighbour and therefore tends to present comedies and straight drama rather than musicals. Though it did play host to part of a then record-breaking run by the musical Salad Days in the 1950’s (a 1996 revival was rather less successful, reflecting changing tastes). Dance/performance art troupe Stomp had a five year residency here from 2002.

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Turn north up Southampton Street where in the 1870’s Vincent Van Gogh worked in the London offices of the French art dealers, Groupil et Cie, commuting from lodgings in Brixton. This clock, outside no.3, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1904 for George Newnes Limited, the publishers of such periodicals as John O’London’s Weekly and the Ladies’ Home Magazine.

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Turning left back onto Maiden Lane we find the rear of the Vaudeville Theatre which houses the Hungarian Cultural Centre (not looking particularly active it’s fair to say). 150 years before there was any theatre here the French philosopher Voltaire (1694 – 1778) spent a year living in the house that then occupied this spot – he had gone into self-imposed exile as an alternative to imprisonment in the Bastille at the instigation of the aristoctratic de Rohan family with whom he had fallen into confrontation.

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Across the road is, reputedly, the oldest restaurant in London, Rules, which was founded in 1798 by Thomas Rule to purvey “porter, pies and oysters” to a clientele of “rakes, dandies and superior intelligence’s”. Since then, it appears, just about anyone who is anyone in the literary and entertainment worlds has passed through its doors. And the menu would probably still look pretty familiar to the rakes and dandies of the Regency era.

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Retrace our steps up Bedford Street then head east towards Covent Garden plaza along Henrietta Street. Another green plaque here, this one in commemoration of the fact that Jane Austen stayed at no. 10 during 1813-14.

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Turn back down Southampton Street then left into Tavistock Street followed by a right down Burleigh Street. Squashed in between more modern buildings is the former vicarage of St Michael’s Church, dating from around 1860 and now the rectory of St Paul’s (see above). St Michael’s itself was built in 1833 on the corner with Exeter Street but demolished in 1906.

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Exeter Street runs along the back of the Strand Palace Hotel which was built in 1907 by J.Lyons & Co. to cater for those who wanted  “the maximum of luxury and comfort with the minimum of expense.” To which end they charged 5 shillings and sixpence (27p in new money) for a single room with breakfast. Even today the room rates represent pretty good value for central London. Unfortunately I am unable to unearth any information about the decoration on the bridge across the street or the clock on the rear facade of what is currently the HQ of the nuclear industry association.

Turning the corner brings us back out on to the Strand opposite a somewhat more famous hotel, the Savoy, built by Richard D’Oyly Carte – the man who brought the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan to the world – and opened in 1889. The Savoy was the first luxury hotel in Britain, with electric lights, electric lifts, en-suite bathrooms and constant hot and cold running water among its innovations. The name derives from the historic region of France (which today spreads into part of Italy and Switzerland as well) and specifically Count Peter of Savoy who was the maternal uncle of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, and accompanied her to England. Henry made Peter Earl of Richmond and gave him the land which lies between the Strand and the Thames where he built the Savoy Palace in 1263.

When D’Oyly Carte’s daughter Bridget died childless in in 1985 ownership of the hotel fell into corporate hands ending up as part of the Fairmont Hotels estate some twenty years later. I’m sure you won’t be at all surprised to learn that Fairmont Hotels is affiliated with one of the members of the Saudi Royal Family. In 2007 the Savoy closed for a complete renovation, budgeted at £100 million but ultimately costing more than twice that amount. Judging by the reviews when it reopened in 2010 the expense seems to have been worth it with the new Edwardian decor on the Thames’ side and the Art Deco stylings on the Strand side earning lavish praise. FYI – to stay in one of its 267 rooms for the night will give you enough change out of £500 for a couple of beers (though not here) and that doesn’t include breakfast.

We continue east along the Strand past the front of the Strand Palace then head south down Savoy Street which offers us our first glimpse of the river before we turn right onto Savoy Hill and then right again up Savoy Steps. In so doing we encircle the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy. The palace of Peter of Savoy lasted barely a hundred years before being superseded by an even grander palace built by John of Gaunt who had gained control of the land via inheritance of his wife, Blanche (great-great-granddaughter of Henry III). That one had an even briefer lifespan, being burnt to the ground during the peasants’ revolt of 1381 led by Wat Tyler. The site remained semi-derelict until, at the beginning of the 16th century, King Henry VII ordered the building of a foundation hospital which included three chapels, dedicated to St John the Baptist, St Catherine and Our Lady respectively. The first of these, now known as the Queen’s Chapel, is the sole building that survives.

Continuing back down Savoy Hill towards the Embankment and then turning left onto Savoy Place we arrive outside the HQ of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (or just IET as it prefers to call itself) which has an impressive 167,000 members in 150 countries. There’s a statue of our old friend Michael Faraday (1791 – 1867) outside and a suitably tech-inspired art installation in the lobby. A carved inscription on the facade of the building notes the fact that this was the original central London home of the BBC from 1923 to 1932 (when Broadcasting house opened).

We next head back west along Savoy Place then turn north up Carting Lane which runs up to the back of the Savoy Theatre. D’Oyly Carte built the first theatre here in 1881 eight years prior to putting up the hotel on the adjacent lot. A green plaque on the back wall commemorates the fact that that original theatre was the first public building in the world with electric lighting. The building was reconstructed at the end of the twenties and the new Savoy Theatre opened in October 1929 with a production of The Gondoliers (of course). Then in 1990 during another renovation the building was almost completely gutted by fire. Against expectation it arose, Pheonix-like, from the ashes just three years later with an extra storey housing, inter alia, a swimming pool above the stage.

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A few steps further on we reach the Coal Hole, another old haunt of mine, which is rumored to occupy what was the coal cellar for the Savoy Hotel in its early years. The pub is Grade II listed but despite its proximity to the Savoy Hotel is no longer part of it.

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Turning left along the Strand again we pass another green plaque; this one honouring the fact that the Royal Air Force had its original headquarters in the Hotel Cecil, which then stood on this plot on the Strand, from 1918 to 1919.

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Turn south again down Adam Street where at no.8 there is a blue plaque celebrating one of the pioneers of the industrial revolution, Sir Richard Arkwright (1732 – 1792). Arkwright was not, as I erroneously recalled from schooldays, the inventor of the spinning jenny. The patents which brought him his fortune were the spinning frame (later re-dubbed the water frame) and the rotary carding  engine that transformed raw cotton into cotton lap. His factories employed a high percentage of children (aged 7 and up) and although he allowed employees a week’s holiday a year they were not allowed to leave the village in which he housed them. When he died aged 59 that fortune was worth £500,000 (which apparently is only equivalent to about £68m today).

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Adam Street leads down to Adelphi Terrace which runs along the rear of the Grade II listed Adelphi. The construction of this purpose-built office building, 1936-8, by Stanley Hamp of Colcutt and Hamp required an act of Parliament (the Adelphi Act of 1933) due to the covenants on the site imposed by a statute of 1771 relating to the original development of the area by John, Robert, James and William Adam from 1772 (Adelphoi is Greek for brothers). The Act gave permission for the demolition of 24 Georgian houses built by the Adams, as well as placing conditions on the height of the new building and requiring the developers to maintain and widen public thoroughfares. Although it sparked controversy at the time of its erection the Adelphi is now regarded as one of London’s premier Art Deco buildings. The four giant allegorical relief figures on the corners of the Embankment front representing west-east are ‘Dawn’ (by Bainbridge Copnall), ‘Contemplation’ (by Arthur J Ayres), ‘Inspiration’ (by Gilbert Ledward), and ‘Night’ (by Donald Gilbert). Turning north up Roberts Street and right onto John Adam Street brings us to the front entrance with its carved reveal panels by Newbury Abbot Trent depicting scenes of industry. However there seems to be some confusion as to whether the building represents 1-10 John Adam Street or 1-11 (perhaps it’s a subtle tribute to Spinal Tap).

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Across the road is the home of The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce which, I have to confess, I had never heard of before. The RSA was founded in 1754  by William Shipley (1715 – 1803) with the central credo that the creativity of ideas could enrich social progress. The first meeting was held at Rawthmell’s Coffee House in Covent Garden. Fellows of the RSA over the years have included Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin and William Hogarth. Their current mission statement reads “We believe that all human beings have creative capacities that, when understood and supported, can be mobilised to deliver a 21st century enlightenment.” Amen to that.

The house itself is a survivor of the development by the Adam Brothers in the 1770’s and it’s our final port of call on today’s journey.

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Day 6 – Wigmore Street- Portland Place – Cavendish Square

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

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

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

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

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

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Further down the street we find the London Eye Hospital

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

The stage and green room at the Wigmore Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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