January 15, 2016
Holywell Street, which ran parallel to the Strand in the West End, was – as we pointed out in a story earlier this week – named for a ‘holy well’ which is still located in the basement of Australia House.
Once a favoured location for secondhand clothes dealers (it was then known to many as ‘Rag Street’), the street became known as something of a hot-house for those selling books containing radical and dissenting opinions in the late 18th century and early 19th century and it was during this time that it also started to attract a less reputable trade – that of the pornography industry.
So much so that by the 1820s, the narrow street – also then known as Bookseller’s Row – had effectively become the centre of the pornographic industry in London (one estimate puts at 57 the number of purveyors of indecency in the street by 1834). William Dugdale, who died in ignominy in prison, was the most infamous purveyor of such goods to work in the street.
The combination of its proximity to the church of St Clement Danes – which sits at the eastern end of what was the street (St Mary le Strand stands at what was the western end) – and the indecent trade which went on in it led to it being nicknamed the “Backside of St Clements”.
The street and is disreputable trade were removed during the building of what is now Aldwych – a crescent at the southern end of Kingsway – in 1901.
PICTURE: Holywell Street shown in 1888 book, The District Railway Guie to London, with coloured maps, plans etc./via British Library Flickr
January 12, 2016
News this week that scientists have confirmed an ancient sacred well beneath Australia House in the Strand (on the corner of Aldwych) contains water fit to drink. The well, believed to be one of 20 covered wells in London, is thought to be at least 900 years old and contains water which is said to come from the now-subterranean Fleet River. Australia’s ABC news was recently granted special access to the well hidden beneath a manhole cover in the building’s basement and obtained some water which was tested and found to be fit for drinking. It’s been suggested that the first known mention of the well – known simply as Holywell (it gave its name to a nearby street now lost) – may date back to the late 12th century when a monk, William FitzStephen, commented about the well’s “particular reputation” and the crowds that visited it (although is possible his comments apply to another London well). Australia House itself, home to the Australian High Commission, was officially opened in 1918 by King George V, five years after he laid the foundation stone. The Prime Minister of Australia, WM “Billy” Hughes, was among those present at the ceremony. The interior of the building has featured in the Harry Potter movies as Gringott’s Bank. PICTURE: © Martin Addison/Geograph.
July 17, 2012
Seventy-one years of broadcasting from Bush House in Aldwych came to an end last week when the BBC World Service formally left the building. The building has been used by the BBC for foreign language broadcasting since 1941 (the service’s previous home, Broadcasting House in Portland Place having been bombed out), initially for the European Service and, since 1958, for the rest of what was then called the Overseas Service. Designed by American architect Harvey Corbett, the building at the end of Kingsway in west London was constructed in 1923 and opened in 1925 (additions were made in 1928 and 1935). Built for an Anglo-American trading company at the enormous cost of around £2 million (a price tag which led to it being declared the most expensive building in the world), it was named for American businessman, Irving T. Bush. Noted for its distinctive portico featuring two male statues depicting Anglo-American friendship, the premises has been the site of important events including General Charles De Gaulle’s wartime broadcasts to the Free French while among those who worked in the building were George Orwell, who worked for the Eastern Service during World War II. The BBC, who have returned the World Service to Broadcasting House following a major extension, have never actually owned the building – owners during its residency there have included the Church of Wales and its current Japanese owners. For more on Bush House and its BBC connections, see www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/collections/buildings/bush_house.shtml. For the final broadcast, see www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-18805063. PICTURE: Bush House, 1951 – Courtesy BBC.