This West End thoroughfare obviously, now associated with London’s nightlife, owes its name to a windmill which once stood in the vicinity.

The windmill stood for at least 100 years before it was demolished in the late 17th or early 18th century – the rural land on which it stood was known as Windmill fields.

As the area now known as Soho was developed, the street, which runs between Brewer Street and Coventry Street (albeit split into two sections by Shaftesbury Avenue), was gradually constructed and by the early 1680s both sides of it had been developed.

Famous residents include the Scottish anatomist and physician William Hunter, who, built a large house at number 16 in 1767 which featured an anatomical theatre, dissecting rooms, library and museum. It now forms part of the Lyric Theatre and is recognised with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

An upstairs room in the former Red Lion pub, located on the corner with Archer Street, is famous for being where Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were asked to write a program of action for the Communist League, published in 1848 as The Communist Manifesto.

Meanwhile, the former Windmill Theatre, which first opened in the 1930s and famously “never closed” during the Blitz, was known for its “Windmill Girls” in which nude girls posed motionless in what were known as “tableaux vivants”, has long been associated with risqué entertainment. The establishment was owned by Laura Henderson, the subject of the 2005 film starring Dame Judi Dench, Mrs Henderson Presents.

The street is also home to the Trocadero complex, originally built in 1896 as a restaurant by J Lyons and Co – of Lyon’s Corner Houses fame – to cater for theatre crowds on the site of what had been the Argyll Assembly Rooms, an establishment which become notorious as a meeting place for prostitutes and their customers. The Trocadero was redeveloped in the 1980s into a shopping and entertainment complex. There are now plans to build a hotel on the site.

Other landmarks include the Soho Parish School – the only school in Soho – which, located at number 23, traces its origins back to 1699 as well as St James Tavern, said to be built in the late 1890s on the site of an earlier tavern, The Catherine Wheel.

View down Great Windmill Street with The Lyric pub on the right and the former Windmill Theatre on the left (Pedro Szekely/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Wondering which ‘great’ Queen this street name is referring to? Perhaps Queen Victoria, our own Queen Elizabeth or even her namesake, Queen Elizabeth I?

None of the above – the West End thoroughfare which runs between Drury Lane and Kingsway, is named for Queen Anne (of Denmark), consort of King James I (and the ‘great’ in Great Queen Street, we imagine, refers to the size of the thoroughfare and not the ‘greatness’ of the Queen).

Originally a residential street dating from the first half of the 17th century (one of which apparently sported a statue of another queen, Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, on its facade), the houses were gradually replaced  over the years but some early 18th century abodes do remain.

Famous residents include everyone from Civil War Parliamentarian General Thomas Fairfax and 18th century composer Thomas Arne to late 17th and early 18th century portrait painter Sir Godfrey Kneller and James Boswell, biographer of Samuel Johnson.

Freemason’s Hall, home of the United Grand Lodge of England, is located on the corner with Wild Street and the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms next door stand on the site of the former Freemasons Tavern where, in 1863, the Football Association was founded.

PICTURE: View down Great Queen Street with the edifice of Freemason’s Hall on the right. (Google Street View)

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert both had an abiding love of performance and were avid theatre-goers (the Queen first attended the theatre as monarch to watch The Siege of Rochelle and Simpson & Co at the Drury Lane Theatre just a few months after ascending the throne in 1837).

Until Prince Albert’s death in 1861, they were regularly seen at various theatres with the Queen attending both ‘in state’ (that is, formally as monarch with all the pomp and ceremony that entails) as well as in private (despite Prince Albert’s concerns over her security). The royal couple’s visits to the theatre generally took place from February to June when the Queen was principally in residence at Buckingham Palace.

As well as the Drury Lane Theatre (more formally, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – pictured above in 2018), other theatres they attended include the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the Covent Garden Theatre, now the Royal Opera House.

They also attended the now demolished Princess’s Theatre in Oxford Street, most notably to see Charles Kean’s production of The Corsican Brothers in February, 1852. Keen not only directed but played both brothers mentioned in the title. So enamoured was the Queen of it, that she would see it four times.

The royal couple were such great admirers of Kean that they even had him stage private theatrical performances at Windsor Castle and when he died, Queen Victoria sent a letter of condolence to his wife.

PICTURE: Marco Verch (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

Chinese or Lunar New Year celebrations in London – the largest outside Asia – were held at various West End sites including Chinatown, on Sunday to welcome in the Year of the Pig.

PICTURES: Garry Knight (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This sprawling London hotel in Portland Place – just past the top end of Regent Street – has spent much of its life as a hotel but was also once part of the BBC.

Built in 1863-65 to the plans of John Giles and James Murray, the £300,000 Langham Hotel – claimed as Europe’s first “grand hotel” – was deliberately designed to be on a scale and with a level of magnificence the city had not yet seen.

Spread over 10 floors – including those below ground – and designed in the style of an Italian palace, it boasted 600 rooms including numerous suites and featured mod-cons including the city’s first hydraulic lifts (electric lighting and air-conditioning would follow).

Features included its celebrated Palm Court, said to be the birthplace of the traditional afternoon tea.

It opened in a rather spectacular celebration on 10th June, 1865, with more than 2,000 guests including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

It soon gained a reputation among the rich and influential. Along with exiled members of European royal families including the Emperor Napoleon III of France and exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, those who stayed here included the likes of American writer Mark Twain, Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, explorer Henry Morton Stanley and romantic novelist Ouida.

Charles Dickens believed there was no better place for dinner parties and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another guest, used it as a setting in his Sherlock Holmes novels.

Its proximity to All Soul’s in Langham Place – the scene of many a fashionable wedding – saw it host many wedding receptions and the servants at Langham were led in prayers each morning by a clergyman from the church.

It was also popular with international musicians and artists thanks to the location of Queen’s Hall nearby.

The Langham declined in popularity during the two World Wars as the social centre of London moved west. Having served as a first aid and military post during World War II, it was badly damaged during the Blitz with much destruction caused when its massive water tank ruptured.

After the war, the BBC bought the hotel and used it for offices, studios and the BBC Club.

The BBC sold the building in the mid-Eighties and in 1991 after a £100 million renovation, it reopened as the Langham Hilton Hotel with Diana, Princess of Wales, a regular visitor.

It was sold again in 1995 and extended and refurbished. It again underwent a five year, £80 million, refurbishment in the mid 2000s, reopening in 2009.

The five star Langham – now the flagship of a group of hotels, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015 with the opening of the Regent Wing as well as The Sterling Suite, a luxurious six bedroom suite, and a new Langham Club Lounge.

Now a Grade II-listed building, it contains some 380 suites and rooms as well as The Grand Ballroom, the aforementioned Palm Court, restaurants including Roux at The Landau and Artesian, a British tavern, The Wigmore, and a spa.

It has appeared in numerous films, including the 1995 James Bond film, GoldenEye, in which it doubled for a hotel in St Petersburg. It also features a City of Westminster Green Plaque commemorating a meeting there between Oscar Wilde, Conan Doyle and Joseph Marshall Stoddart who commissioned the two writers to write stories for his magazine.

For more, see www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/london.

PICTURE: Top – Sheep”R”Us (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – David Adams

Correction – this is actually number four in our special series, not three!

This month marks 50 years since The Beatles’ final public performance – a seemingly impromptu concert which took place on a Savile Row rooftop on a freezing day in 1969 (but was actually held to record the final scenes of a film they were making).

The unannounced concert on 30th January was only 42 minutes long and featured five songs – including Get Back, I’ve Got A Feeling, One After 909, Dig A Pony and Don’t Let Me Down, some of which were played more than once (as well as various other song snippets).

As well as band members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, Billy Preston had been brought in as a keyboardist.

The event, described in RollingStone as the band’s first “truly live” performance in more than two years, took place on the roof of the headquarters Apple Corps, then located at 3 Savile Road, which was the corporation the group had founded as an umbrella organisation for its various business ventures including Apple Records.

The performance, which famously ended with John Lennon saying “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition”, was filmed and recorded and 21 minutes of the footage featured in the 1970 documentary, Let It Be.

The Fab Four’s concert was eventually shut down by the Metropolitan Police – located just up the street at number 27 – over noise and traffic issues but no arrests were made (Ringo later wrote about his regret at not being dragged off by them).

 

This Soho pub, located not far from Piccadilly Circus, takes its name from the blue posts which once stood out front.

A pub is believed to have stood on this site at 28 Rupert Street – now in Chinatown – since at least 1739 and is believed to have been updated substantially in about 1850. While the blue posts themselves are long gone, the building itself is now painted blue.

It has been suggested that the blue posts were simply placed out the front to mark the pub’s location before street numbering systems were introduced – as in, “it’s the place with the blue posts out the front”, but there are a number of other suggestions for the origins of the name.

One is that the blue posts were used as border markers for the royal hunting ground which once stood or Soho. Another, perhaps more likely than the aforementioned, that they marked locations where you could hire sedan chairs from in times gone by.

Whatever the reason for its name, this small, Grade II-listed pub, which is located on the corner with Rupert Close, underwent a complete transformation in early 2018 by the team behind the Israeli eatery, The Palomar.

As well as a small pub in ground floor of the building, it also boasts a cocktail lounge on the upper floor called the Mulwray (apparently named for the character, Evelyn Mulwray, played by Faye Dunaway in the movie Chinatown) and a small restaurant in the cellar called Evelyn’s Table (another Chinatown reference).

The Rupert Street establishment is one of several pubs with the same name in West End – others include one located nearby in Berwick Street, another in Newman Street, and yet another in Bennet Street in St James’s. And that’s just those in near proximity. So whatever the blue posts represented, it was clearly a relatively common feature in the area.

For more, see http://theblueposts.co.uk.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)


The first purpose-built luxury hotel built in Britain (and often referred to as London’s “most famous” hotel), The Savoy opened its doors on 6th August, 1889.

Located on the river side of the Strand on the site of what had been the medieval Savoy Palace (its most famous resident was John of Gaunt), the hotel was built by theatre impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte using profits made from his staging of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, some of which were performed in the neighbouring Savoy Theatre.

The now Grade II-listed building, which apparently had no overall architect in its initial design process, exuded opulence and its interiors included the latest in modern amenities such as electric lighting and lifts, en suite bathrooms in most of the guest rooms and constant cold and hot running water.

César Ritz, who would later rise to fame as the owner of The Ritz Hotel in Paris and then London (see our recent post), was hired as the manager and Auguste Escoffier as the chef. Together they oversaw the introduction of a new, unprecedented level of hotel service which would set the standard for future enterprises. This included keeping a comprehensive index of guest’s tastes and preferences and saw Escoffier revolutionise the restaurant industry in the country with the creation of various “stations” in the kitchen (his pots and pans are apparently still at the hotel).

The hotel was expanded in 1903-04 under the eye of architect Thomas Edward Collcutt (the designer of Wigmore Hall) with new east and west wings and the main entrance was moved from the river side of the building to Savoy Court running off The Strand. The Front Hall is a survivor of this period while the Lancaster Ballroom dates from 1910.

The hotel underwent further remodelling in the 1920s – it was during this period that the famous stainless steel sign over the Savoy Court entrance, designed by art deco architect Howard Robertson (later Sir Howard), was created (Savoy Court incidentally is the only street in the UK where traffic must keep to the right – more on that another time). The sign is topped with a gilt statue of Peter of Savoy, the uncle to King Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence (pictured below). It was Peter who first built the Savoy Palace on the land where the hotel now stands. The sign, meanwhile, was created for the 1904 extension but placed here during the 1920s works.

Further modifications – including the introduction of air conditioning – followed in later decades. The hotel now boasts some 267 rooms and suites (the latter include the Royal Suite which spans the entire riverside of the fifth floor), many of which feature panoramic views of the River Thames.

Famous guests over the years have included royalty such as King Edward VII (when Prince of Wales) as well as more recent royals, French actress Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Sir Henry Irving and Sir Laurence Olivier. It’s also hosted a who’s who of Hollywood – everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland to Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne – and US President Harry S Truman.

Others associated with the hotel include opera singer Dame Nellie Melba – the dessert known as a Peach Melba was created here in her honour, and artist Claude Monet, who painted Waterloo Bridge from a position on one of the balconies.

Among other significant events to take place within its walls was a 1905 “Gondola Party” hosted by American millionaire George A Kessler which saw the central courtyard flooded as part of a recreation of Venice with guests dining on an enormous gondola and entertainment featuring singer Enrico Caruso.

In 1953, to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the hotel hosted a ball attended by 1,400 of the rich and famous with special touches including 16 Yeoman Warders from the Tower of London who lined the entrance staircase.

Films shot here include Kipps (1921), based on a HG Wells novel (Wells was in attendance during the filming), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Notting Hill (1999).

The Savoy remained in the Carte family until it was bought by an American private equity house in 1998 and eventually sold, in the mid-2000s, to become part of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts of Canada.

Closed in late 2007 for a complete renovation (the cost of which has been put at £220 million), it reopened in October, 2010. Among restaurants and bars now in the premises are the Thames Foyer restaurant – hosted in a glass atrium, it’s where afternoon tea is taken, the American Bar – described as the oldest cocktail bar in Britain, the Beaufort Bar, and the restaurant Kaspar’s.

The latter is named after the hotel’s oldest “employee” – Kaspar the Cat. Carved in 1927 by Basil Ionides, the cat was created to act as a 14th guest in the private dining rooms when 13 guests were present, a figure which was considered unlucky and which, tradition held, meant the first person to leave the table would one the first to die.

Its origins go back to 1898 when a wealthy South African by the name of Woolf Joel apparently scoffed at the idea of 13 being an unlucky number at the table and volunteered to leave it first. He was shot dead back in South Africa just a few week’s later. In the wake of his death, management at the hotel decreed that any table of 13 would be joined by a staff member.

But this was only a short-term solution – not only there was there the privacy of diners to consider, the fact staff would be a person down when this was required was a problem. So when Ionides redecorated the private dining room ‘Pinafore’ in the 1920s, he created the cat, complete with napkin, to fulfil the role of the 14th diner. And so he has ever since. Kaspar, the subject of a children’s book written by Michael Morpugo in 2008, can these days be found in Kaspar’s or, when not working, in the Front Hall.

For more, see www.thesavoylondon.com

This Piccadilly institution was constructed from 1904 to 1906 and takes its name from Swiss hotelier César Ritz.

It was constructed on the site of a former coaching inn for the Blackpool Building and Vendor Company – it was the first steel-framed building in London – and designed by Mewés and Davis, the architects of the Paris Ritz. And even though Ritz himself was apparently actually retired at the time, it was built according to his specifications.

The exterior facade features Norwegian granite and Portland stone and boasts an arcade on Piccadilly which deliberately evokes the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The interior, the work of Waring and Gillow, is designed in the style of Louis XVI and was designed to be opulent with all rooms featuring a working fireplace.

Public spaces include the Palm Court – famous for its traditional afternoon teas –  and a Michelin-starred restaurant with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Green Park. Other features include the Rivoli Bar, designed in 2001 by Tessa Kennedy to resemble the bar in the Orient Express, and the basement Ritz Club, a private casino.

The now Grade II*-listed hotel was officially opened by Ritz himself on 24th May, 1906, and was soon adopted by the rich and famous – the patronage of the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VIII) after the death of King Edward VII was one key reason for its success.

Actor Charlie Chaplin, who apparently had to have 40 police hold back the crowd to enter the hotel, is also a name famously associated with it as is that of Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova who performed here.

The Aga Khan and Paul Getty both had suites, and playwright Noel Coward and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, regularly dined here while Tallulah Bankhead famously sipped champagne from a slipper in the bar. The Marie Antoinette Suite was also famously the location of a conference between Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle during World War II.

The hotel also featured in 1999 film Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and in the more recent TV drama Downton Abbey.

The five star hotel underwent a major 10 year refurbishment after it was acquired by the Barclay brothers in 1995. The complex these days includes the adjoining 18th century property William Kent House (designed, of course, by William Kent).

In 2001, the hotel was awarded the first Royal Warrant for Banqueting and Catering Services. Other boasts these days include being the only UK hotel to have a certified tea sommelier (among teas served is the hotel’s own Ritz Royal Blend).

For more, see www.theritzlondon.com.

This statue of famed ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) is actually a replica of an original which was first installed here atop the cupola of the Victorian Palace Theatre, in Victoria Street in the West End, in 1911.

Commissioned by the theatre’s owner, Alfred Butt, it had been installed to mark Pavlova’s London debut. The ballerina, who had started her career in Russia, moved to settle in Ivy House in Golders Green in 1912 and subsequently went on to tour the world.

It is believed that the gilded statue was the work of the theatre’s architect, Frank Matcham. Larger than life-sized (although that’s hard to ascertain given its lofty position), it depicts Pavlova in a classical tutu standing on one leg in what’s known as the “arabesque” position.

The story goes that the superstitious dancer hated the idea of the statue and always refused to look at it, even pulling closed the curtains on her cab when passing.

It was removed for safe-keeping in 1939 following the outbreak of World War II but apparently lost soon after.

The replica, which was created by Hary Franchetti  based on photographs, was reinstalled in 2006. The fate of the original remains a mystery.

PICTURES: Top – amateur_photo_bore (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – David Adams.

Union Jacks daub Regent Street in the West End in honour of the wedding in Windsor last weekend of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. PICTURE: Pete (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

Now the name of a short, crescent-shaped thoroughfare which links the Strand with Kingsway in the West End (and the area surrounding it), the name actually refers back to the Saxon era.

The name Aldwych, which translates roughly as “old trading place” or “old settlement”, referred to a seventh century Anglo-Saxon settlement which was built outside the walls of the Roman city of Londinium. It was after Alfred the Great had the walls of the Roman city refortified in the late 9th century – moving the settlement back inside, that the former Anglo-Saxon settlement eventually became known by the moniker ‘old’.

The modern use of the word for the area dates from just after the dawn of the 20th century when the new street was created, doing away with a number of former streets including the notorious Wych Street. The name was subsequently used for a station on the tramway which ran under Kingsway (closed in the 1950s) and for an Underground station located nearby on the Strand (originally named Strand Station, it was soon changed to Aldwych and closed in 1994).

Notable buildings along Aldwych today include both Australia House and India House, both home to the High Commissions of their nations and both of which date from the early 20th century. It’s also home to Bush House, formerly the headquarters of the BBC World Service and now part of King’s College, London, as well as a number of theatres – including the Aldwych Theatre – and hotels.

 

• London’s Chinatown will come alive this Sunday to mark the Year of the Dog. The biggest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of Asia feature a parade – which kicks off at 10am with a dragon and lion dance in Charing Cross Road before making its way through Chinatown where between noon and 6pm people get up close to lion dances,  take selfies with Chinese zodiac animals and enjoy traditional Chinese food. Festivities in Trafalgar Square, meanwhile, kick off at 11am with the Lions’ Eye-Dotting Ceremony at noon while there’s entertainment including live performances, family-friendly entertainments and martial arts displays at a series of West End locations including Charing Cross Road, Leicester Square, Shaftesbury Avenue between noon and 5pm. For more, check out the Visit London guide. Meanwhile the Museum of London Docklands is also celebrating the Year of the Dog with a range of free cultural events on Friday (the actual date of the New Year) including everything from ribbon dancing classes to taekwondo taster lessons, calligraphy and a spectacular dragon dance. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands. PICTURE: Paul (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The works of one of Canada’s greatest modernist painters, David Milne (1882-1953), have gone on show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. David Milne: Modern Painting follows Milne’s career chronologically, charting his development as an artist as he moves from New York to the war ravaged landscapes of Europe and back to the fields and open skies of North America. Highlights include Fifth Avenue, Easter Sunday (1912), the watercolour Bishop’s Pond (1916), Montreal Crater, Vimy Ridge (1919) – one of his most famous war paintings, White, the Waterfall (1921) and Summer Colours (1936). Runs until 7th May. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

Send all inclusions to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Reflections at Trafalgar Square. PICTURE: Raphaël Chekroun (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0).

 

Carnaby Street ‘Carnival’. PICTURE: Kevin Oliver  (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (image cropped).

 

Flying high in the West End. PICTURE: Maureen Barlin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

 

Thrills at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Kevin Oliver (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

 

Outside St Paul’s at Covent Garden. PICTURE: Kevin Oliver (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Designed by Witherdon Young, this 24 metre long arcade on the Strand was built in 1830 and was famously topped with glass domes. 

Named after Lord Lowther, Chief Commissioner of the Woods and Forests, when this section of the Strand was improved, the arcade’s 24 small shops initially sold luxury goods and various items but by the mid 19th century they were nearly all toyshops, making this a popular place for children (and particularly so, one might assume, at Christmas time!).

The northern part of the arcade was initially home to the Adelaide Gallery, described as a “National Gallery of Practical Science, Blending Instructions with Amusements” – this part of the building later became an amusement hall and then a puppet theatre.

The arcade was demolished in 1904 to make way for the construction of Coutts Bank.

PICTURE: Lowther Arcade as seen in an engraving published in a periodical in 1832.

Christmas is looming so we thought we’d take a look at which street in London’s West End has had Christmas lights for the longest. And, no surprises, it’s Regent Street which first lit up in 1954.

Apparently prompted by a newspaper article decrying the drabness of London’s streets at Christmas, local traders got together and, via the Regent Street Association, financed the first display. Oxford Street followed in 1959.

An economic downturn meant Regent Street’s lights (and those of Oxford Street) were turned off for almost a decade but the display was resumed in 1979 and have been a part of London’s Christmases ever since.

These days the Regent Street lights are generally geared around a theme and the ceremony at which they are officially turned on has become quite an affair with celebrities performing the honours. This year singer Paloma Faith was the special guest at the ceremony with the aid of Clean Bandit.

The decorations, switched on in mid-November and featuring 300,000 LED lights, are based around “The Spirit of Christmas” theme for the second year in a row.

PICTURED: Last year’s light display/Ungry Young Man (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Seventeenth century politician, diplomat and royal courtier, Henry Jermyn’s influence can still be seen in London’s West End today.

Jermyn was born as the fourth, but second surviving, son of courtier Sir Thomas Jermyn, of Rushbrook, Suffolk, and his wife Catherine, in early 1605. He was baptised soon after at St Margaret’s Lothbury in London in late March of that year.

Having already been among several diplomatic missions, he entered the political world at about the age of 20 in 1625, when he was elected member for Bodmin in Cornwall – the first of several seats he (and his brother Thomas) would hold around the country.

He joined the household of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, in 1627, becoming her vice-chamberlain in 1628, and Master of the Horse to the Queen in 1639 (although he apparently spent a couple of years in exile in France during this period when he refused to obey the King and marry another courtier).

An ardent royalist, in 1641, he participated in a plot against Parliament and was forced to flee to France. In 1642, he joined the Queen in The Hague and returned to England with her in 1643 as the Civil War raged.

His loyalty was rewarded on 6th September that year when he was raised to the peerage as Baron Jermyn of St Edmundsbury (he was apparently wounded just 10 days later at the Battle of Aldbourne Chase). He was made the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain in early 1644 and in April that year accompanied the Queen to France where he helped her raise money for the Royalist cause.

He was made Governor of Jersey in 1645 (a post in which he succeeded his father), although it was a role he apparently had little interest in, at one point proposing selling the island to France.

In 1649, it was apparently Jermyn who had to give the Queen the news of King Charles I’s execution. Her closest advisor, it was subsequently falsely rumoured that he had secretly married the Queen – some even went so far to suggest he had fathered her children.

Jermyn became a member of King Charles II’s Privy Council in 1652 and, in 1659, just before the Restoration, he was created the Earl of St Albans. Created ambassador to France in 1661, he would go on to play a key role in helping King Charles II negotiate the secret 1670 Treaty of Dover with the French King Louis XIV.

In the early 1660s he was rewarded with land grants including land located to the north of St James’s Palace in London. He encouraged the development of the area, centred on St James’s Square and surrounding streets including Jermyn Street – such was his impact on the area that he became known as the “Father of the West End”.

He returned to France with Queen Henrietta Maria in 1665 and was present when the Queen died on 31st August, 1669, at Colombe in France. He subsequently returned to England and served as Lord Chamberlain to King Charles II between 1672-74 as well as, in 1672, being invested as a Knight of the Garter.

Jermyn, who never married, was generally said to have been a prolific gambler (and, some said, a glutton) and while he attempted to retire more than once to Rushbrook, the lure of London’s gaming tables proved too strong.

He died in his house in St James’s Square on 2nd January, 1684, and was buried at Rushbrook. While his earldom became extinct, his barony passed to his nephew Thomas Jermyn.

PICTURE: A City of Westminster Green Plaque located at the site of Henry Jermyn’s former home in St James’s Square.  (Simon Harriyott/licenced under CC BY 2.0

The Ship & Shovell just off the western end of the Strand takes its name from Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell who lived nearby in May Street.

Shovell (1650-1707), like the more famous seaman Horatio Nelson, was a rare achiever – he joined the navy at the age of 13 as a cabin boy and rose to earn a commission, an unusual accomplishment at a time when most were purchased.

Described as the “best officer of his age”, he was eventually made Commander in Chief of the English Fleet having taken part in the capture of Gibraltar as well as Barcelona, but was killed after a disastrous shipwreck off the Isles of Scilly in 1707.

The story goes that when his flagship, the Association, foundered, he had washed up on St Mary’s Island and was killed by a woman for the emerald ring he was wearing – she apparently later confessed (we’ll take a longer look at Sir Cloudesley’s fascinating life in an upcoming Famous Londoners).

The pub itself, located at 1-3 Craven Passage close to Charing Cross and Embankment, originally dates from around 1740 but has been updated several times since, most latterly after, having been left derelict for more than 15 years, it was restored and reopened in 1996.

Another part of the pub was opened across the street a couple of years later, making this a rather unique set-up in that it’s apparently the only London pub with two sections facing each other from either sides of the laneway.

Part of the Hall & Woodhouse group. For more on the pub, see http://shipandshovell.co.uk.

PICTURE: Andrew Bowden/CC BY-SA 2.0

London was agog. Gathering at what is now the Theatre Royal in Haymarket on the evening of 16th January, 1749, the city’s inhabitants were ready to experience a most amazing spectacle as a man would not only play a “common walking cane” as if it were any instrument but, apparently shrinking himself, step inside a common, ordinary sized wine bottle placed upon a table.

Spurred on by newspaper advertisements promising a night of “surprising things” (which also included the promise of the performer taking on the likeness of any person, living or dead), it was with great expectation that the crowd, which included the Duke of Cumberland, settled into their seats in the theatre, having willingly paid at least two shillings (and some substantially more) for the privilege of being present.

When the time came for the curtain to rise and nothing happened, there were no doubt some who thought it merely a tactic of the performer to build suspense. But the crowd was getting restless and soon after began booing and stamping their feet in their annoyance.

One of the theatre’s staff then appeared on stage to inform them the performer had not arrived and that all entrance fees would repaid  – his comments were apparently answered by a wit who claimed they would pay double if the magician could enter a pint bottle instead of a quart bottle. Further catcalls followed and before long someone apparently threw a candle, setting the stage curtains on fire. Panic broke out among those in the theatre as people sought to escape but for some rage took over as they realised that they had been the victims of a hoax.

The theatre was destroyed as people tore up the seats and smashed the scenery, carting what they could out into Haymarket where it was burnt in a bonfire. The theatre manager called out the guards but the rioting was largely over by the time they arrived. There were apparently no casualties, apart from the theatre itself, although the Duke of Cumberland did, it was said, lose a jewelled sword.

Apparently a bizarre hoax, attention quickly turned to who was behind it. It was commonly believed that it had been the 2nd Duke of Montagu, a notorious practical joker, who had placed the advertisement in order to win a bet that he could fill a theatre by promising something impossible such as a man being able to step inside a bottle. Yet to this day, the identity of the hoaxer remains something of a mystery and the case went on to be cited in reference to the gullibility of the London populace.

PICTURE: Kbthompson at English Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

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