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 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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