Royal-Opera-ArcadeFollowing our recent article on John Nash (see the earlier post here), we’re taking a look at one of his projects as part of our series on London’s oldest. Built between 1816-18,  the Royal Opera Arcade – which features a series of shops running down the side of a covered central hall – is not only the oldest existing shopping arcade of its type in London but apparently in the world.

The 12 foot wide covered arcade was built on the west side of what was previously the Royal, King’s or Haymarket Opera House – Nash and George Repton completed the exterior of the property originally built by Sir John Vanbrugh at the same time the arcade was built – but is now the site of Her Majesty’s Theatre (the former theatre was destroyed in a fire in 1867).

It extends between Pall Mall and Charles II Street in the West End, running parallel with Haymarket. Burlington Arcade, frequently cited as the city’s oldest, was in fact completed a year later.

The arcade originally had 19 shops – each with a cellar and mezzanine level – running down its west side. It now features shops which sell everything from fine wines and art to books and sandwiches.

For more on the Royal Opera Arcade, see www.royaloperaarcade.com.

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In the first of a new series looking at some of London’s most historic markets, we take a look at the history of Borough Market in Southwark, now the city’s most famous food market.

The origins of a food market in the area go back to at least to the reign of the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred the Unready in early 11th century (some have suggested as far back as Roman times) with food vendors clustering around the southern end of London Bridge. The market was relocated to Borough High Street in the 1200s.

In 1755, traffic congestion saw Parliament close the market but Southwark residents raised £6,000 and bought a small area of land known as The Triangle – once part of the churchyard of the now long gone church of St Margaret’s – and reopened the market there.

The Triangle still remains at the heart of the market which sits partly under railway arches just to the south of the Southwark Cathedral churchyard. New market buildings were constructed in the mid 1800s but deemed “impractical”, they were replaced by new buildings in the late 1800s and 1930s (the latter was when the art deco entrance on Borough High Street was erected).

The market was refurbished in 2001 and the ornate Grade II-listed Floral Hall, which was originally the south portico on the Floral Hall at Covent Garden (taken down to make way for the Royal Opera House), was installed in 2003.

There are now more than 100 stalls in the wholesale and retail food market, making it one of the largest in London. It is owned by a charitable trust, The Borough Market (Southwark), with the volunteer trustees all local residents. Sections in the market include the Jubilee Market and the Green Market and a blue plaque, declaring the market London’s “oldest fruit and veg market”, was installed by Southwark Council earlier this year.

The amazing variety fine food on offer will tempt even the most jaded of palates but be warned that you have to queue as it can get a little packed with tourists at lunchtimes!

WHERE: 8 Southwark Street (nearest Tube Stations are London Bridge or Borough); WHEN: 10am to 3pm Monday to Wednesday, 11am to 5pm Thursday, 12pm to 6pm Friday, and, 8am to 5pm Saturday; COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.boroughmarket.org.uk

Claire Lomas, an event rider paralysed from the chest down who became the first person to complete a marathon in a bionic suit when she finished the London Marathon in April, is applauded by Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Prime Minister David Cameron and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, after lighting a ‘celebration cauldron’ in Trafalgar Square (with the National Gallery in the background). The event, using the English National Flame which was originally created at Scafell Pike, was part of the Paralympic Flame’s visit to London last Friday during which it was taken to various landmarks across London including the Houses of Parliament, Notting Hill ahead of last weekend’s Notting Hill Carnival, and the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. During the event in Trafalgar Square, 26 ‘Flame ambassadors’ each collected a ‘splinter’ of the Flame in a lantern to take to various Flame celebrations being held around the country over the past few days. The Flame visits London again this Wednesday in the 24 hour Torch Relay leading up to the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games on Wednesday night. For more on the Paralympic Torch Relay, see www.london2012.com/paralympics/torch-relay/PICTURE: LOCOG. 

The world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes is one of London’s most widely known characters.

While Holmes’ early life is something of a mystery, it is known that he lived at his most famous address, 221B Baker Street, from 1881 until his retirement in the early 1900s (when he moved to Sussex and took up beekeeping). It was from there that he lived and worked along with his colleague, Dr John H. Watson (Dr Watson lived with Holmes at the address both prior to his marriage and following his wife’s death).

Baker Street is these days home to the Sherlock Holmes Museum where the rooms have been reconstructed as they would have been in Holmes’ day – including his famous study where you can sit in his chair by the fire – and filled with artefacts from his many cases (there is however some confusion over the address as the current location of 221B Baker Street is located in what was, prior to the 1930s, known as Upper Baker Street).

Nearby – just out the front of the Baker Street tube station – stands a statue of Holmes, commissioned by the Sherlock Holmes Society in 1999 and sculpted by John Doubleday (see picture).

Holmes has numerous associations with locations and buildings in London and while there’s far too many to mention here, there are a couple of addresses worth noting. Among them is:

• the Criterion Restaurant at 224 Piccadilly, site of Holmes’ and Watson’s first meeting on New Year’s Day, 1881 (there’s a commemorative wall plaque inside);

• the former site of Scotland Yard, headquarters of the metropolitan police, in the Westminster street now called Great Scotland Yard;

• the Sherlock Holmes pub, just off Northumberland Avenue near Craven Avenue – formerly known as the Northumberland Arms, it featured in the book The Hound of the Baskervilles and now contains a large collection of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia;

• the historic restaurant Simpson’s-in-the-Strand at 100 Strand, where Holmes and Watson dined;

• and, The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden – one of Holmes’ favorite ways to pass the time.

Holmes’ contribution to the art of detection has rippled across the globe and following the first recounting of his exploits in the 1887 book A Study in Scarlet, his deeds have provided the inspiration for countless books, films, and TV series.

The man behind what is perhaps the most famous quote about London – “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – Samuel Johnson was a noted writer, critic and raconteur of the 18th century whose work included a then unparalleled English language dictionary.

Often simply referred to as “Dr Johnson”, Johnson was also the subject of one of the most famous biographies ever written – that of his friend James Boswell’s aptly named Life of Samuel Johnson.

Born in 1709 in Lichfield, Staffordshire (the home is now a museum), Johnson – who often struggled with poor health and depression – was the son of a bookseller who managed to help fund his brief time at Pembroke College in Oxford before lack of funds meant he had to leave without a degree (he was later awarded an honorary degree).

He worked with his father and as a tutor before eventually, in 1737, heading to London with his friend and former pupil, actor David Garrick, and there worked for the rest of his life as a writer producing works including magazine articles and essays, poetry, sermons, and biographies.

In 1746, he was commissioned to produce the dictionary and rented  a property at 17 Gough Square, not far from Fleet Street, where he would spend the nine years working in it. Published in 1755, the dictionary was a remarkable work which not only won him acclaim ever since but also resulted in King George III granting Johnson a modest pension for the rest of his life (he had previously been arrested for debt).

The Gough Square house is these days open to the public and includes an exhibition on Johnson’s life, particularly with regard to his time there (there’s a statue of his cat Hodge in the square itself). Other sites which Johnson is known to have frequented include Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street, the Anchor Inn in Bankside, the Theatre Royal Covent Garden (now the Royal Opera House) in Bow Street where the Beefsteak Club met, and St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell where he once had an office.

Johnson married an older widow, Elizabeth Porter, in 1735, but she died in 1752 and it was following her death that Francis Barber, a former Jamaican slave, moved in as his servant, eventually becoming Johnson’s heir.

Johnson’s friends included some of the great luminaries of the time, including artist Joshua Reynolds, philosopher Edmund Burke, poet Oliver Goldsmith, and, of course, Boswell.

Following a series of illnesses, Johnson died in 1784 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The 300th anniversary of his death was marked with a series of events last year including a re-enactment of the walk Johnson and Garrick made from Lichfield to London.

Dr Johnson’s House (17 Gough Square, nearest tube is Temple, Holborn or Chancery Lane) is open Monday to Saturday, 11am-5.30pm (5pm from October to April). Entry costs £4.50 an adult, £3.50 for concessions, £1.50 for children and family tickets are available for £10. For more information, see www.drjohnsonshouse.org.