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

 

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.

London is illuminated for Christmas. Here’s some of what photographers on Flickr have captured this year…
regent-street

Christmas in Regent Street. PICTURE: Michael Reilly/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

west-end

Christmas tree in Waterloo Place. PICTURE: William Warby/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

carnaby-street

Carnaby Street. decorations PICTURE: Roger/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

oxford-street

Oxford Street under lights. PICTURE: Paolo Braiuca/Flickr/CC BY 2.0  (image cropped).

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A floating Christmas tree at St Katharine Docks. PICTURE: Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

shaftesbury-avenue-london

Looking down Shaftesbury Avenue, the heart of London’s Theatreland, in the West End. PICTURE: Pedro Szekely/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Battle-of-the-SommeThe Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is holding a free late night opening tonight featuring live music, film screenings, immersive theatre and poetry to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Highlights of Night Before the Somme, which runs from 8pm to midnight tonight, include slam poet Kat Francois’ critically acclaimed play Raising Lazarus, poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan’s show Magic Lantern Tales, and extracts from the immersive production Dr Blighty – which tells the story of the million Indians who travelled to fight in the war. Visitors will also have the chance to watch the film, The Battle of the Somme (filmed and screened in 1916, it was the first feature-length documentary about war), listen in to a series of Q&A’s with experts on the battle, and preview the major exhibition, Real to Reel: A Century of War Movies. Real to Reel, which officially opens on Friday, explores how film-makers have found inspiration in compelling personal stories and the real events of wars from the past century. As well as audio-visual installations, the display features film clips, costumes, props, scripts, sketches and designs from films such as The Dam Busters, Where Eagles Dare, Apocalypse Now, Battle of Britain, Das Boot, Casablanca, Jarhead, Atonement and War Horse along with original archival material and artefacts from the IWM collections. The exhibition, which is divided into five sections, runs until 8th January. Admission charges apply. See www.iwm.org.uk for more. PICTURE: © IWM (Q 70164. Staged scene from The Battle of the Somme film, 1916 British troops go ‘over the top’ into ‘No Man’s Land’. This scene was staged for the camera at a training school behind the lines.

• Don’t forget tonight’s vigil at Westminster Abbey to mark the 100th anniversary (as mentioned in last week’s entry here).

Still on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and a new exhibition opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington this week focusing on the innovations in medical practice and technologies developed as a result of the new kind of industrialised warfare seen in the battle. Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care has at its centre a collection of historic objects from the museum’s World War I medical collections including stretchers adapted for use in narrow trenches and made-to-measure artificial arms fitted to the wounded in British hospitals as well as lucky charms and personal protective items carried by frontline soldiers. There are also artworks from the period including Henry Tonk’s famous pastel drawings of facial injuries and a 1914 painting by John Lavery that depicts the arrival of the first British wounded soldiers at the London hospital. Admission is free and the exhibition can be seen until early 2018. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

Regent Street will be transformed on Sunday, 3rd July, with the Transported by Design Festival featuring transport designs which have shaped and will shape London. The festival, which will stretch from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus Tube stations, will see the street divided into three zones – past, present and future. Among the objects on show in ‘past’ section will be a horse-drawn bus and other heritage buses, a 1927 train carriage and an exhibition of classic advertising posters and signage while the ‘present’ section will feature ‘Cycle Spin Fun’ by Santander Cycles, Moquette Land – a showcase of fabric used across the transport network, and, a ‘design a bus’ competition, and the ‘future’ section will feature a range of technologies, including virtual reality headsets, exploring what transport could look like in 2040. The free festival, part of the ‘Summer Streets’ program which sees Regent Street closed to traffic on Sundays over summer, runs from noon to 6pm. For more, see www.tfl.gov.uk/campaign/transported-by-design/event-calendar?intcmp=40582.

• The work of artist Winifred Knights, the first British woman to win the Prix de Rome scholarship, is the subject of a recently-opened exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The display, the first major retrospective of the work of Knights (1899-1947), brings together more than 70 preparatory studies and her most ambitious works including The Deluge (1920), The Potato Harvest (1918) and Leaving the Munitions Works (1919). Winifred Knights (1899-1947) runs until 18th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.

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BT_Tower-1This West End district, located between Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Soho, probably owes its name to the Fitzroy Tavern, a public house which in turn is believed to owe its name to the Dukes of Grafton, whose family name was Fitzroy.

The Fitzroys (the name derives from  a Norman-French phrase and was typically associated with base-born royal sons), owned land in the area until the end of the 1800s.

The family first become associated with the area after the Manor of Tottenham (more on that name in an upcoming post) came into the possession of Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of King Charles II who became the Earl of Euston and later Duke of Grafton.

Incidentally, the grand Fitzroy Square, developed by the duke’s grandson, and Fitzroy Street are both also named after the family as are numerous other locations in the area including Grafton Street.

Fashionable as a residential area in the 1700s, the houses were gradually transformed into workshops – the area was noted for furniture-makers in particular – or cheap tenements and it’s during this period in the early 1800s that artists like John Constable were living in the area.

The name Fitzrovia apparently became popularised for the district which in the inter-war years, due to the community of artists and writers that met at the pub; it is said to have first appeared in print in the 1940s. Among those who were associated with the area during this period were the likes of writers Dylan Thomas and George Orwell and artists like Roger Fry and Augustus John.

More recently the area has become home to numerous media companies, particularly TV-related companies, and still hosts ample pubs, restaurants and cafes.

Notable buildings in the area include the BT Tower, a communications tower completed in 1964 which was until 1980, the tallest building not only in London but in the UK (and from where panoramic views could once be had – sadly it’s been long closed to the public).

Fitzrovia is also home to the quirky Pollock’s Toy Museum.

PICTURE: David Castor (caster)/Wikipedia

TheatreLondon’s West End “Theatreland” and New York’s Broadway are jointly the subject of a new exhibition which opened at the V&A this week. Curtain Up: Celebrating 40 Years of Theatre in London and New York takes visitors on an immersive, behind the scenes look at how award-winning plays, musicals and productions are made as well as the history of theatrical awards and life on the red carpet. Objects – taken from the V&A collection and that of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Centre – on display include Maria Bjornson’s original costume designs from The Phantom of the Opera (1986), one of the longest-running West End musicals and the longest running Broadway production in history as well as a selection of golden top hats from A Chorus Line which won both the Tony Award and the inaugural Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1976, a tunic worn by Rudolf Nureyev in Romeo and Juliet, winner of the Olivier Award in 1977, and a dress designed by Bob Crowley and worn by Dame Helen Mirren in The Audience, a production which earned the actress both an Olivier award in 2013 and a Tony Award in 2015. The free exhibition, organised in partnership with the Society of London Theatre as part of a year long celebration of 40 years of the Olivier Award, runs until 31st August in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries before touring to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Centre later this year. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/curtainup. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum.

A visually stunning exhibition highlighting the talents of Leonardo da Vinci opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington yesterday. Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius takes a look at some of the unique mechanical concepts dreamt up by one of “history’s greatest minds”. The display features 39 historical models of designs da Vinci drew – including those of flying machines, diving apparatus and weapons – which were made in Milan in 1952 to mark the 500th anniversary of his birth. Runs until 4th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/leonardo.

Kensington Palace is taking you even further into the wardrobes of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales, in a new display of dresses as part of the Fashion Rules exhibition. The new display continues the exhibitions exploration of how each of the three women have navigated the fashion ‘rules’ defined by their royal duties in their own unique style. Among the dresses on display is a candy-striped dress in the “Parisian style” created by Norman Hartnell in the late 1940s for Princess Margaret – on show for the first time at the palace, as well as formal dresses worn by the Queen on state visits to France and the Middle East, and a bottle green silk velvet halterneck worn by Diana which was later made famous in images by photographer Mario Testino. The new display goes on show today. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensingtonpalace.

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Covent-GardenA quiet moment in one of Covent Garden’s covered arcades. For more on the history of Covent Garden, see our earlier post here.

195 Piccadilly

Last weekend saw London transformed in a blaze of colour and light as the city hosted its first Lumiere light festival. More than a million people hit the streets over the four nights of the event – developed by creative producers Artichoke and supported by the Mayor of London – to take in the 30 artworks. Above are some of images of British screen stars and directors which were projected on 195 Piccadilly in an installation by Newcastle-based studio NOVAK. Below are some more images from the rather spectacular event. For more on the event, check out www.visitlondon.com/lumiere.

Les-Voyageurs

Above is Les Voyageurs (The Travellers) by French artist Cédric Le Borgne (located in St James) while below is Litre of Light by Mick Stephenson and Central Saint Martin’s students in Kings Cross.

Litre-of-Light

binaryWaves

Above is binaryWaves by LAB[au] while below is Ron Haselden’s Diver depicting an illuminated figure plunging into the water of the King’s Cross Pond Club.

DiverAll images courtesy of Lumiere London.

Australia HouseNews 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.

Prince-of-WalesAnother Drury Lane pub, the origins of this one go back to 1852 when it was established by Henry Wells on the site of what was once a potato warehouse. 

The name, in this case, comes from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s eldest son, Albert Edward.

Only about 11-years-old when this West End pub was first built, he remained Prince of Wales until succeeding his mother as King Edward VII (nonetheless, the location proved somewhat prescient – Albert Edward was to become known for his bon vivant lifestyle including his love of the theatre (along with, of course, his love of philandering.))

Located close to theatres and the Royal Opera House, the pub at 150-151 Drury Lane (on the corner of Long Acre) was rebuilt in Portland stone in the early 20th century when the street was widened.

Now part of the Taylor Walker group, it remains a popular pub for theatre goers (and even hosts its own events). For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/prince-of-wales-covent-garden/c0659/.

title-page-1950-cs-lewis-the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe-copyright-cs-lewis-pteFrom Peter Rabbit to Aesop’s Fables, animals and their appearance in some of the classics of literature are the subject of a new exhibition which opened at the British Library in St Pancras yesterday. Animal Tales explores the role animals have played in traditional tales around the world along with their importance in the development of children’s literature, and their use in allegorical stories such as CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as well as literary transformations between man and beast (this last in a nod to the fact it’s the centenary of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis). Highlights in the exhibition include one of the first children’s picture books – the 1659 edition of Comenius’ Orbis sensualism pictus, an 18th century woodblock edition of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West, and a soundscape installation drawn from the library’s world leading collection of natural history recordings along with other animal tales from the sound archive. The exhibition, which runs until 1st November, will be accompanied by a series of events. Entry is free (and the display includes a children’s reading area and a family trail brochure). For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: The title page from the 1950 London edition of CS Lewis’ The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. © CS Lewis Pte Ltd.

Gladiators will battle it out on the former site of London’s open air Roman amphitheatre in Guildhall Yard this weekend. The shows – which will recreate what gladiatorial games were like in Roman Londinium – will be presided over by an emperor with the crowd asked to pick its side. The ticketed event, being put on by the Museum of London, takes place Friday night from 7pm to 8pm and on Saturday and Sunday, from noon to 1pm and between 3pm and 4pm. Admission charges apply. To book, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

A new International Visitors Victim Service has been launched in London to specifically help foreign nationals affected by crime in the city. The first of its kind in the UK, the service, which has been established by the Metropolitan Police working with independent charity Victim Support and embassies, already operates across the five central London boroughs and is now available through a mobile police kiosk located in the West End’s “impact zone”, an area which spans Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus (alternatively they can contact the International Visitor Advocates by calling 0207 259 2424 or visit the West End Central Police Station at 27 Savile Row.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has celebrated the creation of 100 new pocket parks across London’s 26 boroughs in a scheme which is now being adopted by other locations across the country. The parks range from a rain garden in Vauxhall to a dinosaur playground in Hornsey and have seen more than 25 hectares of community land converted into enhanced green areas. A free exhibition is running at City Hall until 28th August which focuses on the stories of 11 people involved in the creation of the parks. For more on London’s “great outdoors”, you can see an interactive map at www.london.gov.uk/outdoors.

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SerpentineThe month-long London Festival of Architecture is underway with this year’s theme ‘Work in Progress’. Highlights of this year’s programme – which includes 220 exhibitions, installations, talks and tours – include a discussion at this year’s Serpentine Gallery (pictured) by architects SelgasCano, access to development sites including Olympic Park, Goodman’s Fields, and Nine Elms, a London Transport Museum tour of London’s first skyscraper, an installation exploring the role of coffee shop as workspace by the Not to Scale Collective, and a Routemaster tour of the West End. For more, including a downloadable PDF of the programme, see www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org.

A series of  26 ‘sestudes’ – texts exactly 62 words long – are being displayed along with the objects that inspired them in a new exhibition, 26 Pairs of Eyes, at The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. The sestudes have been written by the likes of former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion in a bid cast new light on the objects, which are all from the museum’s collection and which range from a pencil which once belonged to Hospital Secretary John Brownlow to George Frideric Handel’s will. The display, which opens today, is on show until 6th September. Meanwhile the museum is also hosting another exhibition, Lines of Beauty, which explores the tradition of decorative plasterwork including the restored Rococo splendour of the hospital’s Court Room (donated by William Wilton in the 1740s and saved when the Foundling Hospital building was demolished in the 1920s). Admission charges apply. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

A new portrait of the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has been unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. The work of Sean Henry, the painted bronze sculpture depicts a two-thirds life size Berners-Lee carrying the leather rucksack in which he keeps his laptop. It was commissioned to mark Sir Tim’s 60th birthday and is the gallery’s first commissioned portrait sculpture for seven years. On display in Room 40. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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There’s been a pub on the site of this Soho institution since before the 1700s, although the current building at 7 Greek Street is believed to date from the start of the 20th century.

Pillars-of-HerculesThe pub’s name is an ancient one – it refers to two landmarks, the Rock of Gibraltar on the north side and Mount Hacho or Jebel Musa on the south side (there is apparently some dispute over which), that mark the entrance to the Mediterranean and are together known as the Pillars of Hercules. The name apparently comes from a legend that Hercules created the Strait of Gibraltar between them when pushed the two pillars apart apart and so separated Europe from Africa.

There’s been several pubs in London which have borne this name although this particular premises does get a mention in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (a street which runs under the pub’s archway is named after one of its characters, Dr Manette). There was apparently a similarly named tavern on the site of what is now Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner (that one gets a mention in Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling).

According to a sign on the pub, this Pillars of Hercules was also frequented by nineteenth century poet and cricket lower Francis Thompson, author of the poet The Hound of Heaven.

The current half-timbered pub – located just to the south of Soho Square – has apparently continued as a favoured locale for literary types. Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan are among more recent writers who have visited (along with Clive James who referred to it in the title of his collections of literary criticism, At the Pillars of Hercules).

Selfridges’ flagship Oxford Street store has been an institution for more than a century.

Selfridges_nameboardCredited as being the second biggest store in the UK, the now Grade II-listed neo-Classical premises was opened in 1909. It was designed by US architect Daniel Burnham and features five above ground stories, three basement levels and a roof terrace (a western extension, designed by Sir John Burnet, was added between 1924-29).

Less known is that there was at one stage a proposal to build a massive 450 foot high tower on top of the building. Selfridges’ founder, Harry Gordon Selfridge, backed the plan for the tower – drawn up in 1918 – and apparently spent years lobbying for permission to build it before, eventually successful in those efforts, he commissioned architect Philip Armstrong Tilden and Burnet to draw up plans (you can see some of the designs on the Royal Institute of British Architects’ website here and here and a picture of a plaster model here).

Selfridge apparently didn’t like any of the plans, however, and eventually dropped the idea, his attention instead coming to focus on building the “largest castle in the world” in Dorset (another plan which didn’t go ahead).

The tower was among a number of proposed London buildings that were never built which featured in a gingerbread display in Selfridges’ famous windows in 2013.

PICTURE: Anuradha Dullewe Wijeyeratne

Nell-of-Old-DruryThis Covent Garden pub in London’s West End is named after Nell Gwyn, the 17th century orange seller turned actress who became most famous for being the mistress of King Charles II (for more on Nell, see our earlier post here)

‘The Nell’, as its known, is one of the area’s oldest pubs – a sign says there has apparently been a pub on the site since before 1660 when the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – located opposite – was built.

Nell-of-Old-Drury2There’s supposedly an underground tunnel that connects the theatre and the pub which is said to have been used by the king when he was visiting Nell (we’re not sure if it was Nell or the king who was in the pub). It was also apparently used by other theatre-goers who were warned to return to the theatre when intermission was over by a bell located inside the pub.

Now located at 29 Catherine Street pub (the street was formerly known as Brydges Street – we’ll deal with its renaming in an upcoming post), was apparently originally called The Lamb and then renamed the Sir John Falstaff in the nineteenth century, during which period it hosted exhibitions featuring a tattooed man from the South Seas and a Zulu warrior woman, before assuming its current moniker.

The pub was also apparently a regular for many prominent literary and theatrical figures, not to mention market traders from nearby Covent Garden. The exterior of the pub appears in the Alfred Hitchcock film, Frenzy.

For more on the pub, see www.nellofolddrury.com.

 

 

 

Trafalgar-Square

It’s Trafalgar Square but not as we know it. In a new Wednesday series we’re looking at eight proposed structures in London that were never realised and first up, is a proposal which would have seen a 300 foot high pyramid on what has become one of the city’s most iconic sites.

The stepped pyramid was the brainchild of an early 19th century Tory MP, Colonel (later General) Sir Frederick William Trench, and was designed in 1815 as a grand military and naval memorial to the Napoleonic Wars with each of the structure’s 22 steps apparently dedicated to a different year of the war.

Apparently drawn up by architects Philip and Matthew Cotes Wyatt – of the famous Wyatt architectural dynasty, the pyramid – which would have been taller than St Paul’s Cathedral and pretty much covered the entire space now occupied by the square – was, according to Nick Rennison’s The Book of Lists, costed at £1 million, a figure Sir Frederick – a veteran of the wars – apparently thought was not unreasonable.

But it didn’t prove a popular design with the public and got no further than the drawing board.

Among Sir Frederick’s other unrealised dreams was an elevated railroad running between London and Hungerford Bridges, an immense new royal palace which would have covered much of the West End, and an embankment – ‘Trench’s Terrace’ – along the north bank of the Thames. An embankment was, of course, later built, but not until after his death in 1859.

Following on from last week’s post, we look at a couple more London memorials to The Bard,  playwright William Shakespeare…

Shakespeare-Leicester-SquareLeicester Square: Returned to the West End square last year following its restoration (and the square’s redevelopment), this statue of Shakespeare – claimed to be the only outdoor one in London – was designed by architect John Knowles in 1874 when the square was constructed. Now Grade II-listed, it depicts Shakespeare leaning on a pedestal, pointing to a scroll which reads “There is no darkness but ignorance”, a quote from Twelfth Night. An inscription on the plinth upon which Shakespeare stands, refers to the laying out of the square by Albert Grant and doesn’t mention the playwright at all. The statue stands in the middle of a fountain, upgraded  as part of the recent overhaul of the site. PICTURE: Carcharoth/Wikipedia.

Primrose Hill: Shakespeare’s Tree on Primrose Hill was originally planted in April, 1864, to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth. An estimated 100,000 people marched to the site to watch the tree planting by poet Eliza Cooke and actor Samuel Phelps which was organised by the Workingmen’s Shakespeare Committee – apparently in response to the lacklustre efforts of a government-backed committee to mark the anniversary. The tree stood for 100 years before it died and was replaced with an oak sapling planted in 1964 actress Dame Edith Evans. A plaque which was attached to the tree detailing when it was planted has long since gone but there is talk of some sort of a permanent new memorial on the site.

There are other numerous places in London where Shakespeare – and his works – are remembered in London. One of our favourites is based in Love Lane and recalls the work of John Heminge and Henry Condell is getting Shakespeare’s works out to the world (for more on this, see our previous post here).

In our final post in this series next week, we take a look at some of the key London locations mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.

Cantonal-treeIn the hubbub of the West End, it’s easy to walk past the colourful monuments of Swiss Court without realising their significance is. 

Located between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, the area was formerly home of the Swiss Centre, completed in the late 1960s as a showcase and trade centre for Switzerland. The centre was demolished in the late Noughties and replaced by the building now housing the W London Hotel and M&M’s World.

It was named Swiss Court on 15th April, 1991 – the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation – by the then Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cr David Avery – and has two monuments commemorating the friendship between Switzerland and the UK.

The first is a “cantonal tree” (pictured) which displays the coats of arms of 26 cantons of Switzerland and was presented as a gift from Switzerland to mark the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in May 1977, “as a token of the friendship that exists between our two countries.”

The second is a glockenspiel featuring 27 bells and 11 moving figures which was originally attached to the front of the Swiss Centre after it was gifted to the City of Westminster by Switzerland and Liechtenstein in 1985.

It was removed when the building was demolished but, following a restoration and update (it’s now wirelessly controlled from Derby), returned to Swiss Court as a freestanding, 10 metre monument in late 2011. It now stands just a couple of metres from the cantonal tree.