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 5 – Fitzrovia – North of Oxford Street East

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

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

Day 5 Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Day 4 – North of Oxford Street West

Today’s route covers the area north of the Marble Arch to Bond Street stretch of Oxford Street. It’s a part of London dominated by soulless chain hotels and the knock-on effect of proximity to the mecca of consumerism but with some surprises.

Day 4 Route

First of those surprises is Stratford Place which almost has more of interest in its short span than the rest of this area put together. Immediately adjacent to Bond Street tube it’s only about 100 yards long but by the end of it you would never know that the inferno that is Oxford Street is within spitting distance. The Tanzanian and Botswanan high commissions are next door to each other at numbers 3 and 5 and at no. 7 is the one-time residence of Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the USA.

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Colloquially known as the “Little Magician” he was unfortunately unable to conjure up a solution to the financial crisis of 1837 (which if you read about it sounds rather familiar – plus ca change).

At no.10 is the Royal Society of Musicians and at no. 11 (though it doesn’t advertise itself) is the Oriental Club, originally established in 1824 by and for officials and officers who had served in India and elsewhere in the “East”. Nowadays you just need to have the right background and a £1,000 a year to spare.

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Finally at no.12 is the Kabbalah Centre. “Kabbalah is an ancient wisdom that provides practical tools for creating joy and lasting fulfilment.” As you can see from these handy aphorisms (if you enlarge the picture).

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Next street down is James Street which has gone for al-fresco dining in a big way.

IMG_20150817_142836I notice that the branch of Nando’s here does a Quinoa salad. And thoughtfully displays a poster advising on the ridiculous pronunciation (Keen-wah). Can’t be long before people in Ireland start naming their children after it. Come back cous-cous all is forgiven.

IMG_20150817_114045Running parallel is St Christopher’s Place, home of high-end brunching and shops aimed at people who might get French puns, as in the name “Les 100cials”, and appreciate a bush shaped into a giant platform shoe.

IMG_20150817_113916Turn right into Wigmore Street and then north up Welbeck Street. IMG_20150817_115231This was home to the scientist Thomas Young (1773 -1829) at no.49 and the poet and sculptor Thomas Woolner (1825 – 1892) at No.29. Woolner was one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (though not quite colourful enough to make it into the TV series).

Left into Bulstrode Street and on to Marylebone Lane. Here you can find Paul Rothe & Sons delicatessen (est.1900). As you can see, actor Tim McInnerny (of Black Adder fame) worked behind the counter back in the day.

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Bentinck Street houses the former residences of historian Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794) and chemist James Smithson (1765 – 1829) at nos. 7 & 9 respectively. The former is of course best known for the Decline and Fall of the Roman Emperor (the book not the actual event). The latter was the founding donor of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. despite having never visited the United States.

North again on Mandeville Place. At no.11-13 is the School of Economic Science, a registered charity which has the somewhat esoteric mission of finding the common ground between Philosophy and Economics and the spiritual dimension to that link.

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Mandeville Place is bisected by Hinde Street, home to quite an imposing Methodist Church which dates from 1887, before turning into Thayer Street. A nod to the AtTheMovies film poster store at no. 18.

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Right onto George Street where we find St James’ Spanish Place RC Church with a lunchtime service in full swing. Out of respect I decide I have no choice but to sit down and wait for this to finish before taking a look around. Quite a fan of the current Pope but judging by the literature on display some of his more liberal notions have yet to filter down to the grassroots.

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On Spanish Place proper no.4 is the former of home of the novelist Captain Frederick Marryat (1792 – 1848) and actor-manager George Grossmith (1847 – 1912).

IMG_20150817_130356A quick tour round Manchester Square home of the Wallace Collection (see previous post). At no. 14 lived Lord Alfred Milner (1854 – 1925) the sort of chap who wouldn’t have had any trouble getting into the Oriental Club.

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The route then takes us along Robert Adam Street, Blandford Street, Portman Close and Upper Berkeley Street. The beginning of the last of these is sandwiched between the massive and unlovely Radisson and Hyatt Regency hotels.

Montagu Street then on to Great Cumberland Place which goes all the way back down to Marble Arch. Part way down is Wallenberg Place which features this memorial to the great Raoul Wallenberg (1912 – 1945?). The Swedish diplomat responsible for savings tens of thousands of Jews from the Nazi holocaust who was taken captive by the Red Army at the end of WW2 and never heard of again. If you’re not familiar with him this is one of the essential bios to look up.

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On Bryanston Street can be found the Church of the Annunciation Marble Arch then down to Marble Arch itself (which more another day). Don’t know when this ferris wheel was put up.

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Finally brave the hell that is Oxford Street to briefly marvel at the hordes outside Primark. Since this is everywhere these days God alone knows why anyone would want to trek into town just to patronise a slightly larger branch. I will also note in passing the very sizeable presence of middle-easterners in this corner of the capital – the Marble Arch to Bond Street stretch of Oxford Street could just as well be part of downtown Riyadh.

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 Take in Old Quebec Street, Seymour Street and New Quebec Street before reaching Portman Square which has one of those private gardens that always strike a discordant note. Off the north-west corner of the square is Fitzhardinge Street which is only notable for being the former home of B.T Batsford the publisher for whose softball team, the Batsford Bats, I turned out as a regular ringer during the late eighties and early nineties.

Back to Oxford Street via Seymour Mews and Orchard Street. No pub of the day today as this part of town is something of desert as far as hostelries are concerned. Duke Street has both the Devonshire Arms and the Henry Holland but the former doesn’t do food and the latter is asking £8 for a baguette. It also boasts the fact that Simon Bolivar (1783 – 1830) the hero of South American liberation took lodgings at no.4 in 1810.

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Picton Place and Barrett Street then finish off at Selfridges the world-renowned emporium and TV series inspiration founded by Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1909.

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Was going to have something to eat on the 4th floor but £11 for a Halloumi wrap (as an example) is taking the proverbial somewhat. Still, the toilets are splendid enough to make the trip worthwhile even if it does involve passing the jaw-dropping apparition that is the Christmas Shop. Now either they’re jumping the gun by several months or this is here all year round – and I don’t know which is worse. All the more surprising since quite a fair proportion of their clientele definitely doesn’t do Christmas.

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