Another historic City of London view, this one dates from 1677 when construction of this memorial to the Great Fire of London was completed.

Located just a stone’s throw from the site where the fire of 1666 apparently started (more on that in our earlier post), the 61 metre high Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Dr Robert Hooke with a platform viewing platform set just below a stone drum and gilt copper urn from which flames emerge in a symbolic representation of the fire.

The viewing platform was intended as a place where Wren and Hooke could conduct experiments for the Royal Society (to this end, the Monument also features a laboratory in the cellar while its hollow shaft was designed to accommodate experiments with pendulums, its staircase steps measure exactly six inches high so they could be used in experiments on pressure and there is a trapdoor in the top of the orb to facilitate use of a telescope).

Vibrations caused by the traffic on Fish Street Hill, however, caused problems and so the idea was abandoned and the platform, located at a height of about 48.5 metres, was left to the public.

A mesh cage was added to the top in the mid 19th century, apparently as a preventative measure after a number of people had leapt from the top. The cage was replaced in 2008 as part of a major, £4.5 million, 18 month-long restoration of the Grade I-listed structure.

While people are welcome to climb the 311 steps to the top on a circular staircase that winds its way up the inside of the pillar to take in the views over the City and Thames (and about 100,000 d0 so each year, gaining themselves a special certificate for their efforts), for those who can’t make the climb, equipment enabling the streaming of live video images, taking in a 360 degree panorama from the top of the Monument, was installed as part of the restoration. These images can be accessed via the Monument’s website. The images, which take in the city, are updated every minute.

WHERE: The Monument, junction of Fish Street Hill and Monument Street (nearest Tube station is Monument); WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm daily (until October); COST: £4.50 adults/£2.30 children (aged five to 15)/£3 seniors (joint tickets with Tower Bridge available); WEBSITE: www.themonument.info

Top – Panoramic view from the top of The Monument taken in 2006; Below – The Monument. PICTURES: Top – Piotr Zarobkiewicz/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0/Below – David Adams

Tradition holds that the spot where this officially protected view originates from – the prehistoric barrow known as King Henry’s Mound – was where King Henry VIII stood on 19th May, 1536, to watch for a rocket fired from the Tower of London.

The signal was to indicate that his former wife, Anne Boleyn, had been beheaded for treason and hence that he was now free to marry Jane Seymour.

Sadly, the story is seen as unlikely – the king was apparently in Wiltshire at the time.

But it adds a nice nostalgia to this tree-framed view which looks across Richmond Park and areas south of the River Thames to the great dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The mound, which also offers views west over the Thames Valley towards Windsor, is believed to cover a burial chamber from the Bronze Age (it would have stood more prominently over the Thames Valley in those days) and was later used as a viewing position for hunting deer and falconry.

A permanent public telescope has been set up on the mound which since the 19th century has sat in Pembroke Lodge Garden (named for the Countess of Pembroke who lived in a cottage here between about 1788 and 1831).

The historic view made headlines last year over calls for London’s Mayor to step in and halt building work amid concerns that the 42-storey Manhattan Loft Gardens tower in Stratford, east London, could be seen in the view behind the cathedral dome.

WHERE: King Henry’s Mound, Richmond Park (nearest Tube station is Richmond); WHEN: 24 hour pedestrian access except during the deer cull in November and February; COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park

PICTURE: Royal Parks

Another of London’s protected views is that from the Grade II-listed statue of General Wolfe in Greenwich Park.

The panoramic scene takes in much of the park itself as well as The Queen’s House and the Old Royal Naval College and across the River Thames to London’s Docklands and around to St Paul’s Cathedral (the key point in London when it comes to protected views).

The bronze statue, which stands on a terrace just outside The Royal Observatory (home of Greenwich Mean Time) atop a stone plinth, was created in 1930 and commemorates General James Wolfe (1727-1759), whose victory in the Battle of Quebec (also known as the Battle of the Plains of Abraham) with the French secured Canada for the British.

Wolfe has local links – he and his father apparently lived in a house on the edge of the park and he is buried in St Alfege’s Church. The statue, unveiled by the Marquis de Montcalm, a descendant of the commander-in-chief of French forces who also died at the Battle of Quebec, was a gift from the Canadians and was designed by Dr Tait Mackenzie.

The statue’s plinth incidentally is pitted with bomb fragments from a bomb which exploded at the Royal Observatory during World War II.

WHERE: Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 6pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx

PICTURES: Views from the statue of General Wolfe via Flickr (top – Roman Hobler/CC BY 2.0/image cropped; bottom – Garry Knight/CC BY 2.0)

Standing some 200 feet above sea level (almost 63 metres), this rounded grassy hill, just to the north of The Regent’s Park proper, has long held a fascination for Londoners partly, at least, for the panoramic views it offers of the city skyline. 

Once part of a hunting ground used by King Henry VIII, the hill – which has also been known as Battle and Greenberry Hill – was purchased in 1841 from Eton College to provide more public space for Londoners.

It has served as the site of a famous unsolved murder (that of magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey whose mysterious death, exploited by anti-Catholic plotter Titus Oates, caused considerable uproar) as well as duels, prize fights, mass gatherings and mystic happenings.

The latter have included it being the location where Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg) first organised a gathering of druids, known as a Gorsedd of Bards, in 1792, as well as it being the subject of a prophecy by 16th century ‘soothsayer’ Mother Shipton warning that the streets would “run with blood” if the hill should become surrounded by urban sprawl.

Around the summit of the hill stands a York Stone edging feature bearing an inscription from poet William Blake – “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill” – while standing on the slope below is the famous Shakespeare’s Tree which was originally planted in 1864 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s birth (but was replaced in 1964).

The view over London is one of a number of protected views in the city (meaning you can’t build anything block it) and the trees below the summit are kept deliberately low so as not to impede sightlines.

The nearby residential district known as Primrose Hill is noted for being home to numerous famous figures including the likes of Jude Law, Kate Moss and the Gallagher brothers. It is also where the aliens in HG Well’s book, War of the Worlds, intended making their headquarters.

WHERE: Primrose Hill, The Regent’s Park (nearest tube stations are Chalk Farm, Swiss Cottage, St John’s Wood and Mornington Crescent); WHEN: Usually always; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/things-to-see-and-do/primrose-hill.

PICTURE: Mike Rolls/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (taken in 2012).


We kick off a new series this week looking at 10 of most memorable (and historic) views of London and to kick it off, we’re looking at the views from one of London’s most prominent historic institutions, St Paul’s Cathedral.

There are two external galleries at St Paul’s – the first is the Stone Gallery which stands at 173 feet (53.4 metres) above ground level. Encircling the dome, it is reached, via a route which takes the visitor through the internal Whispering Gallery, upon climbing some 378 steps.

Located above it, encircling the cathedral’s famous lantern (which sits on top of the dome), is the Golden Gallery. It stands some 280 ft (85.4 metres) above the cathedral floor, and can be reached by a climb of 528 steps.

From it – and the Stone Gallery below it – can be seen panoramic views of the City of London and across the Thames to Southwark.

The lantern above, meanwhile, weighs some 850 tonnes and on its top sits a golden ball and cross – the current ball and cross, which weigh about seven tonnes, were put there in 1821, replacing the original ball and cross which had been erected in 1708.

St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building in London from 1710 into the 1960s (when it was surpassed by Millbank Tower and what is now known as the BT Tower). Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s is not as tall as the original medieval cathedral which reportedly had a spire reaching 489 feet (149 metres) into the sky compared to St Paul’s as it is now, standing to a height of some 365 feet (111.3 metres) above ground level.

WHERE: St Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’s Churchyard (nearest tube station is St Paul’s); WHEN: The galleries are open from 9.30am to 4.15pm, Monday to Saturday; COST: £18 an adult/£16 concessions and students/£8 a child (6-18 years)/£44 a family of four; WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk

PICTURES: Top – Looking up at the lantern with the Golden Gallery around the base; Below – View looking west from St Paul’s down Fleet Street (the spires of St Brides and St Dunstan-in-the-West can be seen).

We’ve come to the end of our latest series on fictional character addresses in London. So here’s a recap (ahead of the launch of our new series next week)…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 1. Fetter Lane, Old Jewry and Wapping…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 2. 27a Wimpole Street…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 3. 32 Brett Street, Soho…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 4. 138 Piccadilly…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 5. 27b Canonbury Square…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 6. 9 Bywater Street, Chelsea…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 7. Outer Circle, The Regent’s Park…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 8. A square in Soho?…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 9. Holland Park or Borough Market?…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 10. 30 Wellington Square, Chelsea…

We finish this series on fictional London with the home of another of London’s most famous fictional spies – James Bond.

In Ian Fleming’s books about the adventures of 007, he has the spy living in a ground-floor flat in a “converted Regency house” in a “plane tree’d square” off the King’s Road.

While several possibilities have been identified over the years (including in  Markham Square), it was Fleming’s former assistant to The Sunday Times, biographer and friend, John Pearson, who is credited with having identified this terrace in Wellington Square as the property Fleming probably had in mind (Pearson apparently had a friend from his college days who lived there at some point).

The five storey terrace, which dates from the early 1830s, was actually close by the address where Fleming lived – number 24 Cheyne Walk – when he commenced writing the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1952.

The property was on the market not that long ago for a reported asking price of £6.35 million.

PICTURE: The terraces where James Bond is said to have lived in Wellington Square.

 

Helen Fielding’s creation, the thirty-something singleton Bridget Jones, lives in a small flat in London.

Jones started off life in a column published in The Independent newspaper which was later turned into a book, Bridget Jones’s Diary, followed by a sequel called Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason.

While in the original column, Jones’ home was given as Holland Park, a subsequent movie adaptation of the book (and sequels) shifted it to a flat above The Globe Tavern in Borough.

Located at 8 Bedale Street, the property – now rather squashed due to the proximity of railway viaducts – is located in the heart of the famous Borough Market.

A short distance away, at 5 Bedale Street, is where, Daniel Cleaver (played by Hugh Grant) and Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) battled it out over Bridget (played, of course, by Renee Zellweger) in the original film.

The Gothic-styled Globe, incidentally, dates from 1872 and was designed by renowned Victorian architect Henry Jarvis. As well as starring in the Bridget Jones books, it also featured in the Michael Caine thriller, Blue Ice.

PICTURE:  Ian Taylor/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped and lightened)

 

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous 1886 story, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,the address of the home of Dr Henry Jekyll (and his alter-ego Mr Edward Hyde) is simply given as a square in Soho – then a rather seedy district.

Dr Jekyll is said to have bought the property from the heirs of a “celebrated surgeon”. Like the man himself, the house has two characters and features a “blistered and distained” rear entrance used by the dastardly Mr Hyde.

In a BBC Scotland documentary broadcast several years ago, author Ian Rankin identified the house in which Jekyll and Hyde lived as being based on that which pioneering Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter (1728-1793) lived in on the east side of Leicester Square.

Hunter leased both the property at 28 Leicester Square (the present number 28 – the ground floor of which is a pub – is pictured) and another behind it (it fronted onto what was then Castle Street) in the 1780s. He then spent a good deal of money joining the two properties together, creating a complex of rooms which included space for his thousands of specimens (now in the Hunterian Museum) as well as an anatomy theatre. It was at the rear Castle Street entrance that he apparently received human cadavers, brought by so-called “resurrection men” for dissection.

The dualistic nature of the property fits with that of Jekyll and Hyde and while Leicester Square isn’t usually considered part of Soho, it’s at the least very close by.

“In the book, Stevenson gives a detailed description of the layout of Dr Jekyll’s home,” Rankin said in the documentary. “It is identical to John Hunter’s.”

He added that, despite Hunter’s “fame and respectability” – he was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to King George III and was one of London’s most sought-after doctors, “Hunter still demanded a constant supply of cadavers for his growing anatomy collection and teaching”.

“Naturally Hunter’s new home, in Leicester Square, was purpose-built for a surgeon’s double life.” Or for the respectable Dr Jekyll and brutish Mr Hyde.

Interestingly, the previous owner of Dr Jekyll’s home us said to have been a Dr Denman – there was a Dr Thomas Denman who was a contemporary of John Hunter who was a pioneering obstetrician.

The Leicester Square property later became the site of the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art (more of that in an upcoming Lost London post).

PICTURE: Top – Number 28 Leicester Square as it is today/Google Maps; Below – A ground floor plan of John Hunter’s residence made in 1792 (drawn in 1832) © Wellcome Images/CC BY 4.0

 

There’s no number for this property in the book so the actual house remains something of an unknown but it was on The Regent Park’s Outer Circle that a “young married couple of humans”, Mr and Mrs Dearly, lived along with their “owners”, a married couple of dogs named Pongo and Missis Pongo.

Yes, they’re all characters in Dodie Smith’s 1956 book, The Hundred and One Dalmatians. And the house? Well, Mr Dearly worked in the City where he was something of a “wizard of finance” and having done the government a “great service”  – described in the book as “something to do with getting rid of the National Debt” – he had, as part of his reward, been lent a “small house” on the Outer Circle where he and his wife lived with their dogs and two nannies.

While living there Missis gives birth to a litter of 15 puppies, the kidnapping of which by the dastardly Cruella de Vil, sets Pongo and his wife off on a journey to rescue them. They do so and manage to save more than 80 other puppies from de Vil (the 101 figure comes when the whole lot return to the Dearly’s home and, along with a few others including Pongo and Missus, take the total family to that number).

The Regent’s Park, of course, plays a key role in the book and subsequent films (see below) – it was in the park, for example, that Pongo engaged in the communication system of “twilight barking” to find out where his puppies were.

The book has, of course, been made into a film several times including a Disney animated version in 1961 and a Disney live action film starring Glenn Close in 1996 (although the plot has been altered somewhat) as well as a musical.

Meanwhile Smith (who based Pongo on her own Dalmatian of the same name), did go on to write a sequel to her book. Titled The Starlight Brigade, it tells a story of intergalactic proportions with the dogs of the world  – led by Pongo – being offered the chance to leave the Earth and escape the threat of nuclear war. They decide to stay.

PICTURE: Looking across the  Boating Lake in The Regent’s Park to the Outer Circle. Phil Russell/The Royal Parks

Fictional British spy George Smiley featured in some eight books written by acclaimed author John Le Carré (sometimes as the main protagonist, sometimes as a side character) and is about to appear in a ninth, A Legacy of Spies, which comes out in September.

And that’s not to mention his appearance on small screens and large where he’s been portrayed by everyone from James Mason and Sir Alec Guinness to Denholm Elliott and Gary Oldman.

In the books, Smiley and his wife, Lady Ann, lived at a number 9 Bywater Street in Chelsea – which is an actual address, just off King’s Road (pictured with the red door). The Georgian townhouse was appropriately used to depict his home in the 1979 BBC series of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy although, interestingly, while number nine’s exterior was used, it was apparently number 10, next door – pictured here with the blue door – which provided the interiors.

Le Carré, who was living just over the Thames in Battersea at the time of Smiley’s creation, has reportedly said he chose the location because his literary agent lived nearby (although there is apparently a little fuzziness on whether this is the case) and the mother of one his pupils from Eton (Le Carré – actually David John Moore Cornwell – taught at Eton for two years before he joined MI5 in 1958) lived in the street.

But perhaps the best literary reason is the fact that Bywater Street, despite the name, is actually a cul-de-sac which adds to the difficulty of anyone trying to spy on Smiley. A wise choice for a spy’s residence, in other words.

Other locations associated with George Smiley in London include The Circus, the secret London intelligence HQ where Smiley and his fellow intelligence operatives worked, which was located in an office block in Cambridge Circus, on the corner of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.

PICTURE: Google Maps

canonbury_squareOK, I know the plaque on the front says this was the actual home of author George Orwell – who moved here in 1944 with his family. But the property was also apparently partly the inspiration for Victory Mansions, the home of  Winston Smith, the protagonist of his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair) moved to the property at 27b Canonbury Square with his wife Eileen and their young adopted son Richard in 1944 after their flat in Mortimer Crescent, Kilburn, was hit by a V-1 flying bomb.

But Eileen sadly died unexpectedly during surgery only a few months later in early 1945 while Orwell was off working as a war correspondent.

Despite this, Orwell retained the property until 1947 – the same year his allegorical story Animal Farm was published – but had left the property when Nineteen Eighty Four, which he had largely written while on the Scottish island of Jura in 1947 and 1948, was published in June, 1949 – only a few months before he died in January, 1950.

His was apparently the basement flat – rather unlike Smith’s home which Orwell wrote was located “seven flights up” in a rather large block. The architectural differences aside, however, Orwell’s flat apparently served as something of a model for Smith’s “bleak tenement in a down-at-heel area” which was, like the rest of the flats Victory Mansions, was “falling to pieces” and filled with the smell of boiled cabbage.

A plaque erected by the London Borough of Islington has long adorned the building although last year Orwell’s son Richard attended the unveiling of a new plaque which amended the dates Orwell lived here, changing  it from 1945 to 1944-47.

Of course, London is replete with other locations mentioned in Orwell’s book – Trafalgar Square becomes Victory Square (Big Brother stands atop the column in place of Admiral Lord Nelson), the Ministry of Truth where Smith works is modelled on the University of London’s Senate House in Bloomsbury, and the cells in the Ministry of Love are apparently based on those at Bethnel Green Police Station where Orwell has been incarcerated (although only for a few hours) after being arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour in 1931.

Orwell, meanwhile, is commemorated with numerous plaques located around London, including an English Heritage Blue Plaque at a property in Lawford Road, Kentish Town.

Canonbury Square – Orwell’s former residence is in the foreground (with the old plaque). PICTURE: 14wesley/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

eon-house2This address would have been one to avoid. In Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel, Dracula, the evil Count Dracula owns a mansion on Piccadilly, one of numerous homes he purchases in London.

The address believed to be that of the mansion, based on information and architectural details given in the book, has apparently been identified – by people reportedly including Bernard Davies, co-founder of The Dracula Society, no less – as a property at number 138.

After arriving in England – landing at Whitby, Dracula had first moved into a property called Carfax House located at Purfleet on the River Thames, just to the east of London.

But after he was spotted in London, it is discovered that he has a property in Piccadilly (identified, though never named in the book, as 138). Those hunting him – including the unfortunate Jonathan Harker and vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing – break in to the property with the intent of destroying some of the many boxes filled with earth Dracula brought to England with him from Transylvania (he needs them to keep alive). They do so and there find keys to numerous other properties in the city as well, dispatching two of their number to go and destroy any boxes they find there.

They then wait in ambush for the Count at the “vile smelling” Piccadilly property but he manages to elude their attack and escape. Their chase then leads them to leave London and to pursue Dracula across Europe before he is finally defeated back at his home in Transylvania.

The Grade II-listed, three storey property at 138 Piccadilly, located opposite Green Park, is now known as Eon House and is located next door to the Hard Rock Cafe. It originally dates from the late 18th century and was remodelled in the early 1890s – just before the book was written.

The book, Dracula, is, of course, also associated with other London locations – including the London Zoo and Hampstead Heath.  And Stoker himself lived in London for much of his life, spending 27 years as an acting manager and business manager at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End. An urn containing his ashes is at the Golders Green Crematorium.

PICTURE: Google Maps

 

irving-street

The rather grim Adolf Verloc, the smut purveyor-come-spy and main protagonist of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (recently made into a BBC series starring Toby Jones), lives in a residence attached to a small shop in Soho.

sir-henry-irvingThe residence, where he lived with his wife Winnie, her mother and young, mentally affected brother Stevie, and shop, where he sold scandalous publications, photographs and other bric-a-brac, was located at 32 Brett Street in Soho.

Except there is no Brett Street in Soho.

While it has been suggested Conrad may have taken the name Brett Street from Brett Road in Hackney – near where Conrad had lodgings at one stage, it’s also been put forward that Conrad based the streetscape on Irving Street (previously apparently known as Green Street) which runs between Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road (pictured above).

The street itself was named after actor Sir Henry Irving, whose statue stands at the junction with Charing Cross Road (pictured, it’s located at the rear of The National Gallery), and is these days filled with eateries and cheap theatre ticket box offices aimed at tourists.

Conrad’s book, which was set in 1886 but published in 1907, was loosely based around a bombing which took place in Greenwich in 1894.

wimpole-streetThis notable Marylebone Street contains the home of Henry Higgins, the professor of phonetics who attempts to help Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle pass for a duchess as part of a bet in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion.

Written in 1912, the play which gives Professor Higgins’ address as 27A Wimpole Street was in 1964 adapted into the film, My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.

The choice of Wimpole Street as the address of Professor Higgins – both for his home and “laboratory” – was apparently not co-incidental. Articles in The Telegraph and Daily Mail last year talk about the fact that 27a lies not far from a grand Georgian (Grade II-listed) townhouse (then on the market for £15 million) in Upper Wimpole Street which was formerly the home of a Professor Horace Hayman Wilson, a professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University in the early 19th century.

The articles say that while the “real-life academic ‘model'” for Higgins was Henry Sweet – an early 20th century Oxford professor of phonetics who is named in the preface to the play, the basis for Professor Higgins’ rather grand lifestyle was that of Professor Wilson.

They also suggest that the connection between Professor Higgins and Professor Wilson makes sense considering one of the mysteries of Pygmalion – how a humble phonetics professor could afford consulting rooms on a street known for wealthy private medical practices.

The answer lies in the Professor Wilson’s history – his father, a doctor, bought a house in the street in 1806 and subsequently bought a neighbouring property for his son who initially pursued a medical career before moving into academia where he specialised in languages. Splitting his time between Wimpole Street, Oxford and Calcutta in India, Professor Wilson’s lifestyle, straddling high society and academia, formed a prototype for that of Professor Higgins. Or so the story goes.

PICTURE: Looking down Wimpole Street; number 27 is second on the left. PICTURE: Google Maps.

Lemuel Gulliver, the ‘hero’ of Jonathan Swift’s 1726 book, Gulliver’s Travels, wasn’t a native Londoner but moved to the city for work and lived in several different locations before embarking on his famous voyage to the land of Lilliput.

lemuel-gulliverAccording to the book, the Nottinghamshire-born Gulliver studied at Emanuel College (sic) in Cambridge before he was apprenticed to London surgeon known as James Bates after which he spent a couple of years studying in the Dutch town of Leiden (spelt Leydon in the book).

Returning to England briefly, he spent the next few years voyaging to the “Levant” before returning to London where he “took part of a small house in Old Jewry” (Old Jewry lies in the City of London runs between Poultry and Gresham Street) and married Mary Burton, daughter of a Newgate Street hosier.

His master Bates dying, however, a couple of years later and with a failing business, he took up the position of surgeon on two different ships and it was when he eventually returned to London that he moved to Fetter Lane – which runs north from Fleet Street – and then from there to Wapping where hoping to retire from the sea and “get business (presumably he meant medical cases) among the sailors”.

But it was not to be and so, in 1699, Mr Gulliver set off on the voyage accounted in the famous book.

The name Fetter Lane, incidentally, has nothing to do with fetters (ie chains) – see our earlier post for more. And it’s also worth noting that the author, Jonathan Swift, also visited and lived in London at various times of his career – we’ll take a more in depth look at his experiences in a later post.

PICTURE: Lemuel Gulliver, depicted in a first edition of Gulliver’s Travels/Wikipedia.

john-lewis-oxford-street

The upmarket department store chain John Lewis traces its origins back to 1864 when the man himself opened a drapers at 132 Oxford Street (later renumbered, it’s the site of the current store).

Originally from Somerset and brought up by an aunt after he was orphaned at a young age, Lewis served as an apprentice to a linen draper in Wells as a teenager before he moved to London to work as salesman for an Oxford Street draper, eventually becoming a silk buyer. He apparently turned down offer of partnership in that business, deciding instead to put out his own shingle.

Lewis slowly expanded his business into neighbouring properties and diversified into a growing range of goods – everything from clothing to furniture to kitchen china. By 1895 he had rebuilt his original shop, which now had fronts on Oxford and Holles Streets, into a multi storey department store with retail showrooms as well as a warehouse and a restaurant for customers.

More than 40 years after he opened his first shop in London, in 1905 Lewis acquired Peter Jones in Sloane Square. His sons, John Spedan Lewis and Oswald, became partners in the business in 1907. Oswald was later bought out but John, particularly while convalescing following a riding accident, began to think about how he could improve staff wages and working conditions.

However, his new ideas led to conflict with his father (known to be a tough employer) and so, in 1914, Spedan Lewis took over total control of the Peter Jones business in exchange for no longer taking any part in the Oxford Street store. Instead, turning his attention to the Sloane Square business, he introduced a profit-sharing scheme for employees as well as a representative staff council and other initiatives including the introduction of the weekly in-house magazine, The Gazette.

In 1924, Spedan Lewis was reconciled with his father and so it was that following his father’s death in 1928, he became sole owner of both businesses, bringing them together into a single entity. The famous motto – “Never Knowingly Undersold” – has apparently been in use in the Peter Jones store since it was introduced by Spedan Lewis in 1925.

In 1929, he created the John Lewis Partnership Ltd and while he continued to have practical control of the business, his reforms meant profits were distributed among employees. Twenty-one years later, in 1950, he signed settlement which saw the partnership become the property of the employees.

In 1933, the partnership purchased its first store outside London in Nottingham and it is now regarded as the largest department store retailer in the UK with 46 John Lewis shops including 32 department stores. It also owns the Waitrose supermarket chain.

The flagship Oxford Street store was almost completely destroyed during World War II. The present premises, which features a roof garden, opened in 1961. It features a famous (now Grade II*-listed) artwork – Barbara Hepworth’s Winged Figure – on the Holles Street facade near the corner with Oxford Street.

In 2008 this store was awarded a Royal Warrant from Queen Elizabeth II as “suppliers of haberdashery and household goods”.

This is the final in our current Wednesday series. We’ll be starting a new series shortly.

PICTURE: James Petts/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.0

hamleysThis Regent Street establishment – the oldest and largest toy store in the world – dates back to 1760 when Cornishman William Hamley came to London and founded his toy store – then called ‘Noah’s Ark’ – on High Holborn.

Selling everything from wooden hoops to tin soldiers and rag dolls, the business aimed to capture the trade of affluent Bloomsbury families and proved rather successful, attracting a clientele in the early 19th century which included not only wealthy families but royalty.

Such was its success that in 1881, Hamley’s descendants opened a new branch of the shop at 200 Regent Street. The Holborn store, meanwhile, burned down in 1901 and was subsequently relocated to a larger premises at numbers 86-87 in the same street.

Faced with the Depression in the 1920s, the shop closed briefly in 1931 but was soon reopened by Walter Lines, chairman of Tri-ang Toys, and in 1938 was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary, consort of King George V.

The premises at 188-196 Regent Street was bombed five times during the Blitz but the shop (and its tin hat-wearing staff survived). In 1955, having presented a Grand Doll’s Salon and sizeable model railway at the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shop was given a second Royal Warrant – this time by Queen Elizabeth II, who has been given Hamleys toys as a child – as a ‘toys and sports merchant’.

The business, which has passed through several owners since the early 2000s, is now owned by Chinese-based footwear retailer C.banner.  The flagship store is spread over seven floors and tens of thousands of toys on sale, located in various departments.

As well as the Regent Street premises (it moved into the current premises at number 188-196 Regent Street in 1981), Hamlets has some 89 branches located in 23 countries, from India to South Africa. A City of Westminster Green Plaque was placed on the store in February 2010, in honour of the business’s 250th anniversary.

The toy store holds an annual Christmas parade in Regent Street which this year featured a cast of 400 and attracted an estimated 750,000 spectators.

www.hamleys.com

PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.

Debenhams’ origins go back to 1778 when a draper’s store started trading at 44 Wigmore Street in London’s West End. Soon run by Thomas Clark and his partner Mr Flint, the shop sold fabrics, bonnets, gloves and parasols. 

debenhamsThe Debenhams name entered the story in 1813 when William Debenham, still young but having already learnt something of the trade at a hosiery in Nottingham, invested in the firm, now known as Clark & Debenham.

Success followed (apparently they expanded into a store across the road, calling one Clark & Debenham and the other Debenham & Clark) and in 1818, the firm opened its first store outside London – an exact replica of the Wigmore Street store in fashionable Cheltenham. This was followed by stores in other locations across England. (The original Debenhams store, which was rebuilt as a department store in the Edwardian era, is now largely occupied by offices).

The firm prospered in the coming years thanks to the demand for mourning attire in the Victorian age and in 1851 underwent another name change when Clement Freebody, brother of Debenham’s wife Caroline, invested in the firm, becoming Debenham, Son & Freebody and later just Debenham & Freebody (when William Debenham retired, it was his son William, Jr, who entered into partnership with Freebody) . At this time a wholesale business was established selling cloth and other items to dressmakers and other large retailers.

The company continued to expand and offices opened in various countries around the world – from Australia and South Africa to Canada and China. It’s said that in 1899, the store even had its own fire brigade and constabulary and around the start of the 20th century it became one of the first businesses to get a telephone.

In 1905, Debenhams Ltd was incorporated and in 1919 the business merged with Marshall and Snellgrove. Knightsbridge retailer Harvey Nichols was acquired in 1920 and seven years later the Debenham family’s involvement ended as the company went public.

Famous faces associated with the store in the early part of the 20th century included King Edward VII, for whom the business supplied coronation robes.

By 1950, Debenhams had become the largest department store group in the UK, owning 84 companies and 110 stores. Between 1985 and 1998, it was part of the Burton Group and it was during this period that it launched the Designers at Debenhams initiative as well as, in 1997, opening the first international franchise store in Bahrain. Debenhams listed on the London Stock Exchange following its demerger with the Burton Group and remain so until 2003 – when it was acquired by Baroness Retail Ltd – before returning to the London Stock Exchange in 2006.

It acquired nine stores from Roches in Ireland in 2007 and in 2009 acquired Danish department store chain Magasin du Nord.

As well as its flagship store in Oxford Street (refurbished for Debenhams 200th birthday in 2013), these days Debenhams owns and operates more than 18o stores in the UK, Ireland and Denmark (these include Browns of Chester which, following its acquisition in 1976, was allowed to keep its name). There are also some 60 franchise stores in more than 25 other countries.

For more, see www.debenhams.com.

PICTURE: Debenhams flagship Oxford Street store dressed up for Christmas.

Another Knightsbridge institution, the origins of luxury fashion department store Harvey Nichols (known to many as ‘Harvey Nicks’) go back to the founding, by Benjamin Harvey, in 1831 of a small  linen shop in a terraced house on the corner of Knightsbridge and Sloane Street.

Such was his initial success that the shop expanded quickly, just four years later taking over the neighbouring property (it was to expand further in following years).

harvey-nicholsIn 1841, James Nichols from Oxfordshire joined the company; he was promoted to management just four years later and three years after that, in 1848, he married Harvey’s niece, Anne Beale.

When Harvey died in 1850, he left the business to his wife, also Anne, and she subsequently went into partnership with Nichols to form Harvey Nichols & Co.

Anne died in 1872 and Nichols in 1873 leaving Harvey’s son, Benjamin Charles Harvey, as sole remaining partner.

By 1874, Harvey Nichols occupied the entire block between Seville and Sloane Streets and, in 1889, the existing properties were all demolished to make way for a new purpose-built department store. Designed by architect CW Stephens (designer of Claridges), it was built between 1889 and 1894. In 1904, the address of the store was changed (while the location remained the same) to 109-125 Knightsbridge.

The store opened a range of new departments in 1919 – including haberdashery and hosiery, and was acquired by Debenhams in 1920.

The first restaurant – Harvey’s – opened on the fifth floor in 1975. It was famously a favourite of Princess Diana’s.

Harvey Nichols has since gone through several ownership changes – and following the latest when it was bought by Dickson Poon, of Dickson Concepts (International) Ltd, in 1991, the store was refurbished and a new restaurant, cafe, bar and food market opened on the fifth floor, complete with an express lift allowing it to stay open after the rest of the store had closed (the restaurant was refurbished in 2002).

Harvey Nichols now also has stores in Leeds, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool as well as Ireland, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.

For more, see www.harveynichols.com.