Saturday 24 April 2021

Charles Booth's Poverty Map and what it tells us about late 19th Century Soho.

As the London School of Economics revamps and expands its Charles Booth Poverty Map website, Sarah Wise reveals what the Booth survey tells us about late 19th-century Soho.

On 15 May 1888, one year before publication of the first volume of his Life and Labour of the People in London survey, Charles Booth gave a lecture to the Royal Statistical Society, revealing his investigative team’s preliminary findings on the living conditions of the 909,000 inhabitants of East London. At the end, Booth expressed the desire that somebody would undertake the same investigation for the other areas of London.

Charles Booth's 1889 Poverty Map showing West Central London, including Soho.
In Booth’s audience was Robert Valpy – barrister and West End charity campaigner. He took up Booth’s challenge, and with a team of philanthropists and youth workers, Valpy spent the summer of 1888 creating a 27-page micro-survey of Soho and St Giles-in-the-Fields.

Valpy had a survey population of 113,000 – just one-eighth of Booth’s East End total. Keeping to Booth’s methodology, Valpy concluded that while there was a smaller percentage of people living in chronic poverty in West Central than in East London, nevertheless, those who were experiencing precarious employment or unemployment endured deeper poverty than their counterparts in East London.

Soho rents were significantly higher than those charged in the East End, he pointed out, with 6 shillings affording a three-room lodging in the East but just a single room in Soho.

Soho is a 1680s development, which had by the mid-18th century fallen on hard times and remained so throughout the 19th. Regent Street had been built in the second decade of the 19th century specifically to segregate Soho from wealthy Mayfair. A phenomenon that still frustrates today is that there are few access points into and out of Soho to Regent Street. But Mayfair has twice as many entrances, and broader ones. It was designed like that, to encourage Mayfair and discourage Soho!

Crosse & Blackwell pickle/sauce factory, Charing Cross Road.

The district was dominated by small-scale workshop manufacturing but there were also a number of large firms operating in ‘heavier’ industries, such as glassworking and gun-making, and big breweries and food-processing plants. One of the largest factories in the district was RW Wilson, a tin-plate works on a huge site between Wardour and Dean Streets. Soho was additionally noted for piano and organ manufacture.

Hat Factory, Hollen Street.
One of the reasons that, towards the end of the 19th century, people believed the East End was poorer than ‘Up West’ was that as well as being a hard-working part of town, Soho had become, as historian Judith Walkowitz has put it, ‘the bureaucratic centre of empire, the hub of communications, transportation, commercial display, entertainment and finance... A modern landscape constructed of office buildings, shops, department stores, museums, opera, concert halls, music halls, restaurants and hotels’.

Soho and St Giles also experienced the breaking up of concentrated communities of the working poor with the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue and widening of Charing Cross Road (these opened in 1886 and 1887 respectively); most notably the total loss of the Five Dials (where Cambridge Circus is today) and Newport Market (Charing Cross Road ploughs right through its site). Thousands of people were displaced as their small homes were demolished for the new roads.

Later, the population decline in Soho, between the Censuses of 1881 and 1891, was 20%, with Soho losing over 9,000 residents. This shrinkage was second only to the population fall in the Square Mile itself, which took place for broadly similar reasons.

One-quarter of the 42,000 residents of Soho and St James’s worked in the tailoring trade, and almost half of that one-quarter could be described as “poor” or “very poor”, according to the methodology used by Charles Booth and adopted by Robert Valpy. The fashion houses of Regent Street, Bond Street and Oxford Street, and the bespoke gentlemen’s outfitters of St James’s, had been shifting from in-house workshops to outsourcing manufacture via middlemen. This resulted in a drop in wages, as home-based workers undercut each other to secure orders. The brightly lit shopping streets of the West End were contiguous to slum streets where the produce was manufactured.

On Charles Booth’s Poverty Map, the two dominant colours within Soho are pink, which signified ‘working-class comfort – steady regular earnings’; but also purple – a funny old designation, which was a mixture of poverty and small businesses, being home to a broad range of incomes. One distinction Booth made was that purple streets featured ‘large houses that were no longer inhabited by the class they were built for.’ You see this mentioned a lot with regard to West Central London – that the working poor of the West were often to be found living and working in what had formerly been the most aristocratic part of town. In the late 19th century, certain houses had china plaques upon them commemorating that they were once the home of such luminaries as poet John Dryden (in Gerrard Street) and artist Joshua Reynolds (in Leicester Square). The Duke of Grafton’s Southampton House in Bloomsbury Square was now subdivided up and inhabited by the poor; the former library of Charles I, subsequently a prayer room in the time of Cromwell, was now an industrial school and night refuge. The ghostly presence of the Stuart and Georgian elite is more palpable in writings about Soho, Covent Garden and the Strand district in the late 19th century than it was in the East.
There are also smatterings of ‘black’ on the map: Soho was a place of ordinary street villainy, such as you would find more famously in the East. From the Booth police notebooks we have this snippet, from Constable Dunn, on Turner’s Court, just off St Martin’s Lane: ‘The worst spot in the sub-division... Has had many fights with the inhabitants; a policeman’s throat cut three months ago. A bad class of rough living here. Lower-class market porters and costers.... thieves but not prostitutes living here.’

In one of the last volumes of Life and Labour, this account of life in Soho in the 1890s is given – in highly coloured, not to say bigoted, language: ‘It is indeed a strange, outlandish population with which the churches and missions attempt to deal, and its social diseases are varied and numerous. Not only have we the criminal and outcast, the utterly vicious and the hopelessly drunken, the veriest refuse of London life, together with a low class of casual labour; not only have we the harlot and those who facilitate and live upon her trade; not only the unwholesome conditions of theatrical employment and the occupations which depend on the London season; but here are gathered together every kind and description of foreigner…so that Central London as a whole is in some ways as completely cosmopolitan as it is in others curiously insular and self-contained. We hear of instances in which five languages are spoken in one house, but as a rule the people of each nationality seem to select some particular street as their own… There is an army of hotel and restaurant waiters, shop assistants, theatrical employees and printers – the poorest are the odd-job men, market porters, hawkers, sandwich men, flower sellers and widows dependent on char-ring and office cleaning. There is a colony of Jewish tailors round Broad Street in Soho. Prostitution, pursued largely by non-residents, may also be considered a regular occupation in this district, both in the central parts and along the Euston Road in the neighbourhood of the large railway termini.’

You can explore Booth's Soho for yourself on the London School of Economics Booth website, which has high quality downloadable copies of the Poverty Map, as well as digitised versions of the original Booth notebooks on Soho:

Sarah Wise teaches a 6-week Iintroduction to Charles Booth course at The Bishopsgate Institute and the City Lit. She is the author of The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum (Vintage)

Sunday 29 July 2018

Murray's Cabaret Club.

“Murray’s Cabaret Club…We star showgirls walked bare-breasted on to the stage, and the hostesses, all cleavage and chat, moved among the wealthy and aristocratic middle-aged [clientele]…It was only after I left Murray’s and returned to the real world that I realised the strange underground fantasy life I had been leading” – Christine Keeler.

Dancing girls entertain customers while they eat at Murray's Cabaret Club. Getty Images

In 1913 one of London’s first nightclubs opened on Beak Street. 

Its American proprietor Jack May was alive to the tango craze then sweeping through the West End, and his exclusive venue was to host its wealthy enthusiasts. But scandal haunted the dance-floor and May was deported back home after allegations of opium trading and police bribery. In his place arrived nightclub aficionado Percival Murray (the surname was coincidental!) who revamped the Club in 1933.

Soho was then a hot-spot for the shabby and sleazy: for gambling dens, clip joints – anywhere that fuelled the demand for out-of-hours drinking. Not Murray’s Cabaret Club. Mr Murray was soon employing a 130-strong staff, amongst whom were classical choreographers, celebrated composers, lettered lyricists, and skilled seamstresses. And, of course, the dancers, showgirls and hostesses. 

Together, they pioneered the art of the cabaret floor-show. Two shows a night comprised three glamorous numbers based on different themes, each illustrated by elaborate – albeit scanty – costumes. Their standard was superlative. Their precision was balletic. And their format was unique; no other West End venue offered such inventive floor-shows that dissolved the traditional stage/audience separation.     

Percival Murray

The racy and respectable flocked nightly to Murray’s intimate basement venue. Royalty, film stars and leading politicians rubbed shoulders with notorious gangsters. Princess Margaret, King Hussein of Jordan, Jean Harlow: membership was eclectic, if exclusive. Even Winston Churchill attended, though his visits were apparently more discrete; allegedly, a screen would be erected to shield the Minister’s identity. Murray’s was where Gertrude Lawrence debuted as a chorus girl, where Kay Kendall worked before shooting to Hollywood fame, and where Ruth Ellis modelled before her hanging for murder. Society osteopath Stephen Ward was one of its best customers, and there would meet Murray’s showgirls Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler. 

Ward took Keeler – a teenage runaway – under his wing, whisked her off to aristocratic parties at Cliveden, and introduced her to government Minister John Profumo. Her love triangle with both Profumo and a Soviet spy would soon spark a national scandal. It hailed the downfall of Harold Macmillan’s government, and the birth of the Swinging Sixties.

The Club could only struggle on though the opening of the Playboy Club in 1966 sounded the death knell; Murray’s recipe of mild titillation and sophisticated entertainment looked dated in comparison. Although the amazing costumes and floor-shows cost a fortune, Percival Murray refused to update the venue and offset the enormous overheads by opening a gambling floor. 
Murray’s was forced to close in 1975. Though once the wealthy owner of a Rolls Royce collection, Central London flats, and hotel suites in Cannes, Mr Murray was now bankrupt and relegated to living in his chauffeur’s garage on what had been his country estate in Churt, Surrey. The chauffeur’s wife, Murray’s wardrobe mistress Elsie Burchmore, ended up with the Club’s costumes and designs.
Original costume design illustrations by Ronald Cobb.

“There’s nothing much left of [Murray’s] except the legend and the memories” wrote Christine Keeler years later. Little did she know that 380 costume designs by Ronald Cobb, Michael Bronze and Hilda Wetton were soon to come to light. For it was on a chance visit to an auction in Surrey that vintage poster dealer Charlie Jeffreys acquired the costume designs from the Burchmore family. 
Staff entrance signage.

They date from the late Thirties to the mid Sixties and have been the nucleus of ‘G-Strings and Gin Slings: The Story of Murray’s Cabaret Club’, an exhibition that ran for a month at the Century Club, this year. Mounted by The Museum of Soho in collaboration with Jeffreys. It has also featured costumes and other ephemera, including the original Club signage, menus and pamphlets.

In the Fifties, these designs injected a rare sparkle into a West End blighted by austerity. Now, hidden away carefully for decades, this has been their first public display. An amusing assortment of naughty policewomen, French maid fantasies, demonic dancers and space-age headdresses…their sparkle has never dimmed…

Ben Levy - curator and historian previously with the V&A in their Theatre and Performance department.

With thanks to King of Soho Gin, Shaftesbury Plc and Yak El Droubie of Korero Press

Friday 12 May 2017

Spiritus Soho

Robert Rubbish, photo by mary cigarettes
Robert Rubbish is an artist and filmmaker based in London He was a founding member of the Le Gun art collective.. Robert Rubbish presents a new body of artwork inspired by Soho.

Cathi Unsworth Photo Etienne Gilfillan.

Cathi Unsworth is the author of five pop-cultural crime fictions, The Not Knowing, The Singer, Bad Penny Blues, Weirdo and WIthout The Moon, all published by Serpent's Tail and many of which draw upon the history of Soho. She lives in London and is a member and regular host of events for The Sohemian Society, celebrating the characters that have populated both the geographical Soho and the Soho of the Mind. For more, please go to

Prelude is a new body of work that explores places and people in Soho’s rich history. Robert likes to think of his work as "drifting though Soho’s time and space fabric". It is the third exhibition in his ongoing project Spiritus Soho.

Spiritus Soho

Robert Rubbish takes Cathi Unsworth on A Drift through Soho…

CU Where do your Soho memories start – and what first drew you to the place?

RR My interest in Soho started when I was nine or ten and being into Mod music. Soho was name-checked in Lola by The Kinks, Pinball Wizard by The Who and A Bomb in Wardour Street by The Jam, so I think that’s how I first became aware of it as a place. My first visit was on a school trip in 1988, where we given an afternoon to do what we wanted to and me and a mate went for a wander into Soho… What I remember most is going into a shop on Carnaby Street and buying some smiley acid house badges – and booming out of the shop stereo was I Got A Big Dick by Maurice Joshua, which me and my friend found very funny as teenagers. So that was my first introduction to Soho!

The Drift starts at 33 Wardour Street, original home of the Flamingo Club (Black Bombers)…

CU The associations for me are all checked in your picture – snappy dressers, black bombers, underworld figures and GIs mixing with the Modernists. Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Johnny Edgecombe and Lucky Gordon, Jack the Hat dancing to Prince Buster in The Long Firm… Did you ever dip a pointed toe in there yourself?

RR I am too young to have visited The Flamingo, though I have been interested in it since I got more into all things Mod when I was 18 and bought the book Mods! by Richard Barnes. It had photos of Mods in The Flamingo and newspaper cuttings about purple hearts and drugs… The thing that has influenced me most in recent time is a photo of Andy Summers and Zoot Money taken by Jeremy Fletcher at The Flamingo. I love the vibe of this photo the fashion of the men and the look of the outside of the club.
…then to Meard Street and 69 Dean Street (Traces of the Night People)…

CU This is Gossips/Billy’s/The Batcave/The Gargoyle/Alice in Wonderland/The Comedy Store/Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues and the home of night club culture – a corner of Soho that has started many trends! You seem to have represented them all in this picture. Is it also Lord Longford with his camera in the corner? Is this referencing his 1971 enquiry into pornography that basically brought down the Dirty Squad who really ran all the Soho rackets, as told in Paul Willetts’ Paul Raymond biography Members Only/The Look of Love?

RR It’s amazing that so much stuff happened in that building! In my artwork I have featured King Charles II’s mistress, Nell Gwynne, who once lived in this building. Then all the history with David Tennant, who ran The Gargoyle Club. All the club people are represented from the Bowie night at Billy’s, The Batcave goths and Gaz Mayall from Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues. The man in the corner is actually based on a photo of the Soho photographer Harry Diamond – I liked the idea he is someone who took photos of Soho and jazz musicians. He is another ghost of the Soho night…

…then to Bar Bruno (Boys in the Cafés)…

CU A proper greasy spooner left in Soho! This picture makes me think of many classic London books where Soho cafés play a central role – James Curtis’ The Gilt Kid, Colin Wilson’s Adrift in Soho, Laura Del Rivo’s The Furnished Room, Roland Camberton’s Scamp, Terry Taylor’s Baron’s Court All Change and of course Colin MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners… Again you seem to have captured the characters of these books passing through…

RR Bar Bruno to me is one of the last links with the old cafés that Soho once had and have all sadly gone now. All of the books you have mentioned have influenced this artwork, and also Bernard Kops’ The World Is A Wedding and Frank Norman’s Stand On Me – I love how a lot of the action takes place in Soho cafés. The title of the artwork comes form The Pogues’ song The Old Main Drag, where Shane MacGowan tells the story of how a young boy ended up on his uppers on the old main drag (Old Compton Street). This song is like a novel in a song and the lyrics: ‘Where the boys in the cafés would give you cheap pills’ always made me think of one of these old cafés. So I went in to Bar Bruno and took some photos as reference.
…then to the Bateman Buildings (Skiny White Sailor)…

CU Well, we all want a homage to the sailors and working girls of the district that populate all the above books and, of course, the works of Patrick Hamilton, Julian MacLaren-Ross and Daniel Farson’s essential Soho in the Fifties… I believe this was once the site of The Duke of Monmouth’s stately home and was described in 1895 by William Le Queux as: “a short, paved court, lined on each side by grimy, squalid-looking houses, the court itself forming the playground of a hundred or so spirited juveniles of the unwashed class.”

RR I didn’t know it was the site of Duke of Monmouth’s stately home but I like this –another layer! I have used sailors a lot in my work for Spiritus Soho as the sailor represents the pleasure-seeker of the past looking for a good time. The working girls of Soho’s past I have read about in books like Barbara Tate’s West End Girls and Streetwalker: An Autobiographical Account of Prostitution 1960. There’s a great photo of working girls lined up on a Soho street in the daytime, prior to the Street Offences Act of 1959.

…then to Bateman Street (Lorelei mural)…

CU The Lorelei, like Bar Bruno, was an authentic family-run Italian Old Soho café that The Kid in Absolute Beginners would likely have frequented. The mural of the mermaid took up an entire wall – although strangely the legend of Lorelei is a German one. This perhaps sums up the fusion of cultures that has always been a Soho hallmark?

RR If there’s one place that I miss in Soho its the Lorelei – I had so many great times in there. The Lorelei was a time capsule, a place that connected Soho past and present. The mural was amazing and even though it was based on the German legend, it seemed to me to be about Soho the siren, beckoning the sailor to the rocks. Yes, the history of Soho is all about different cultures mixing and bringing their food culture and styles, and no more so than in the coffee shop boom of the 1950s.

…then to Archer Street, site Charlie Chester’s Casino (Caught in a Game of Chance)…

CU Named after (though not run or owned by) the popular 1940s-50s comedian, Charlie Chester’s casino was at 12 Archer Street and once had a laudably Pop Art exterior… The trainee dealers were called ‘Lumpies’ and debuted their skills at the 10p per stake ‘Lumpy Pit’. The place was described by a former of their number, Chris Moore as: “an incubation chamber for the London gaming industry,” that was: “aimed squarely at the bottom of the market”. Like The Flamingo, a melting pot of Soho sinners and no doubt a handy stop-off point for the Dirty Squad…

RR I like the fact that building still has the casino sign on it if you look up! This to me is another ghost of Soho’s past. This artwork was the meeting of three different influences. I read Francis Bacon in Your Blood by Michael Peppiatt and it was so good it really gave me the feel for Soho at that time, Bacon’s attitude to life and his gambler’s instinct that lead me to re-watch John Maybury’s Love is the Devil and I loved the film even more from reading Michael Peppiatt’s book – and they both use Charlie Chester’s. I like how John used the real outside of the building in his film, with all the neon and dice. At the same time, I have been in love with the song Madame George by Van Morrison – its other-worldly vibe made me riff a reworking of it as poem for this artwork:

Guided and wired by the pink moon
You slip into a trance intoxicated by a game of chance
And the sweet smell of men’s perfume fills the room
In a subterranean bar you take another drink
Just to see how far you may fall
And you fall
In love again

…then 8 Marshall Street, site of William Blake’s birthplace (Visions of William Blake)…

CU You have captured perfectly here the way I feel when I look up at that tower block and wonder what William ‘Nature Boy’ Blake would have made of it all…

RR I would like to think William Blake would like this Brutalist tower block. I like to think of it as an Obelisk to Blake’s memory. As I was wandering down Broadwick Street last year, there was a building hoarding in front of what was to be the site of The Ivy and on it was printed a reproduction of William Blake’s The Grave Personified artwork of a figure holding poppies. At the time, I was thinking of making a artwork about Blake and the tower block, so I took this as a gift from the Soho streets. A lot of my ideas come from walking around Soho.

…then 43 Carnaby Street (Lord John 1967)…

CU This wonderful homage to Swinging London and Warren and David Gold’s boutique brings to mind one of my favourite films, Smashing Time – written by top Soho swinger George Melly – in which Northern lasses Yvonne (Lynn Redgrave) and Brenda (Rita Tushingham) arrive in the capital in 1967 in search of paradise. Winding up in Camden Town instead, Yvonne instructs Brenda: “Give us ten bob and wait here while I got to Carnaby Street, get a job as a model and find us a flat. Then I’ll come back and get you.” Yvonne and Brenda were turned into Princess Margaret and The Queen by Private Eye and there is a song on the soundtrack about Carnaby Street that is playing in my head as I look at this…

RR George Melly is one of my all-time big influences and yes, Smashing Time is a great take on the Swinging Sixties. I’ve always loved photos of the Lord John shop in Soho and it has always interested me as a visual landmark of the point when the 1960s went psychedelic – the music changed, the style changed and the mindset changed. LSD was a big factor in this change and that’s what I wanted to get across in this artwork, that the mural on the building has come alive and is projecting beyond. One bit of music that I had in my mind when making this artwork was Nicky Hopkins’ 1967 instrumental version of the Rolling Stones’ She’s A Rainbow.

…ending at Walker’s Court (Red Light artwork and Sailor Minotaur and Twilight Daughters) relate to the death of Soho’s past walk ups.

CU The end of Walker’s Court is what sort of brought us together, isn’t it Robert? I had more responses to my FB outpouring of grief on this subject than anything else I have ever put on there… My own first entrée to Soho was listening to Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, with its cover of Marc Almond and Dave Ball in a neon-lit doorway underneath The Bridge of Thighs that demarks the former territory of Paul Raymond’s Revue Bar and all those little shops and secret places… Remembered for posterity in Gallon Drunk’s Jake on the Make. Is this really the end of Soho?

RR Walker’s Court was an unique piece of London architecture and walking though it gave me a feeling, a vibe. I think it’s so short-slighted to knock down the old buildings and replace them with glass boxes. They call it progress, but why can’t we have a mix of both old and new? Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret has been a big influence on my work for Spiritus Soho, it evokes the seedy underbelly of the old place. Your post about Walker’s Court was interesting and people really care and are affected by what’s going on in Soho – once you knock it down it’s gone forever.

And thank you for bringing Gallon Drunk’s song Jake on the Make to my attention. Jake Vegas is part of the Soho I know and love and its good to see him leaning on a lamppost playing his stereo in plastic bag, sipping one can of lager and having a chat with him.

Soho will never die. It will keep changing, but maybe it’s the death of the Soho I feel in love with and still love. People are being priced out and that’s sad – and to think it will just become about who can afford to be there is very short-sighted and kills the community that Soho has always had.

"Prelude" the exhibition continues at We Are Cuts, 33a Dean Street. 11 May – 30 June 2017.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Piccadilly. My Stop.

Piccadilly. My Stop, by Clayton Littlewood.

I step off the train, onto the escalator, up the stairs, until I’m above ground, on the Dilly Boy ‘meat rack’ of old, on the outskirts of Soho. I walk down Brewer Street, past the ‘closing-down’ Vin Mag, the NCP Car Park, my mood lifting as I enter the village, following in the footsteps of my heroes; Wilde, Crisp, Almond and Horsley.

Walker's Ct. Soft Cell-Non Stop Erotic Cabaret.
I first came to Soho in the 80s, drawn by the Non Stop Erotic Cabaret world of seedy films and sex dwarves. I’d stand outside Madam JoJo’s, gazing up at Marc’s flat, or linger outside the Trident Studios on St Anne’s Court (home to Bolan, Bowie and Freddie), hoping to catch a glimpse of my hero. Then at night, high on speed, I’d climb a rickety staircase on Wardour Street to the The Pink Panther, mixing with rent boys and goth girls, East End crims and West End toffs, drag kings and scene queens, ‘dancing, laughing, living, loving’. That was my Soho, so long ago.

Old Compton St.
From the dying embers of the sex industry (on Walker's Court) I cross the film world of Wardour Street, turning into the gay world of Old Compton Street. On my right, Cafe Espana. On my left, St Quentin’s old haunt, The Black Cat (where he was beaten by ‘the roughs’). The street’s awash tonight, with tourists and hen nights, Hari Krishnas and socialites, a melting pot of London life, thrown together on one street, like a modern day Hogarth painting. I walk past the 2is (the birthplace of British rock and roll), a pack of bears outside Comptons (the new Coleherne clones), bowing my head in remembrance as I pass the Admiral Duncan, breathing in the rich aroma from the 125 year old Algerian Coffee Shop, until I’m standing on the Dean Street crossroads. It was these magical few yards that Daniel Farson captured when chronicling Bacon’s ‘gilded gutter life’, that 50s Love Is The Devil drunken period when he’d stagger from Gaston’s bohemian The French House, to Muriel’s ‘concentration of camp’ at The Colony, recovering over breakfast at number 50, Cafe Torino’s, where a ten foot marionette once perched above the door, and where ‘dark Italians and pale young artists and poets’ would search halfheartedly for jobs. I have a connection to this building. This is where my partner and I once lived, in the damp rat-infested basement, just feet away from Elizabethan plague pits (and where I too would chronicle life on this street).

The Gargoyle Club.
I turn into Dean Street, waving at Maggie, one of the madams from the ‘walk up’, heading for Meard Street, the little cobbled Georgian thoroughfare where the famous Soho clubs The Mandrake and The Gargoyle once stood; where Tallulah Bankhead danced, where Fred Astaire was entranced, where Farson took Josh Avery in the book Dog Days of Soho. The prettiest street in the village. Whenever I’m in Soho I make a point of coming here. I stand outside number seven, the house with the sign that reads,

This is not a brothel.

‘This is not a brothel. There are no prostitutes at this address,’ and I remember. For it was here that Sebastian Horsely, the Soho dandy, once lived. I would ring his bell, the shutters would open on the 1st floor and he’d lean out, in a black silk negligee with a marabou feather–lined neck, his face coated in a fine white powder, his eyes caked in last night’s mascara and he’d purr ‘Hello Romeo, Juliet here. Welcome to Horsley Towers.’ When he died his coffin was wrapped in blood-red tissue paper, draped in jewels and it was placed in a Victorian style horse drawn hearse. And the hearse went all round the streets of Soho. It was as if Sebastian was saying a last goodbye to the village that he loved.

Pam outside the French.
Now I’m back on Dean Street, looking toward The Golden Lion (a one time serial killer haunt). It was here I last saw Pam, the local homeless ‘celebrity’. Wherever I was in Soho, Pam was here too. If I was walking past the Coach and Horses, Pam would step out of a doorway. If I was having a coffee outside Maison Bertaux, her radar would home in on me, dressed in her usual attire; camouflage trousers, donkey jacket, ‘barn owl’ NHS glasses, sporting a number one haircut. ‘Gotta gold one for me?’ she’d mumble. I’d hand her a coin. She’d squint at it, not looking impressed. ‘It’s all I’ve got, Pam.’ Then she’d wrap her arms around me, snuffling into my jacket. ‘Thank you ... Luv you!’ And off she’d trundle, like something from Beatrix Potter. Pam the Fag Lady. The hardest worker on Old Compton Street.

I turn left into Old Compton Street, and look, there’s the woman with the striking eye makeup and the ‘bum length’ multi-coloured plaits. And over there, that’s Michele, the aging trans woman, shuffling past, in a moth-eaten fur. Like an ancient Romanov in exile. This street maybe predominately youth oriented, but the old return, often unnoticed, to remember, to reflect. They see a different Soho. The ghosts.

A minute later I’m at ‘Fruit Corner’, the proliferation of coffee shops on the corner of Frith Street, within sight of Kettners. It is said that Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas entertained rent boys there. And a couple of decades before them, two other doomed lovers, Rimbaud and Verlaine, socialised in a public house on this street. And this is what I love about Soho - sitting in these coffee shops, by the window, writing in my notebook, watching the mayhem outside - I imagine the artists, the writers and the eccentrics that have flocked here over the centuries, attracted by the cosmopolitan feel, the lure of sex, and the hint of danger that lies within. You can’t transport this vibe. It’s in the brickwork. It’s in their footsteps. The High Street chains maybe moving in, but old Soho is still here if you care to look. There’s nowhere like it in the world. And one day it will rise again. It always does.

The Caravan Club.

A Call for Volunteers. Caravan Club Project. In 2017 organisations across the country mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act that partially decriminalised homosexuality and the signals it sent out about rights and freedoms. This spring, The National Archives and the National Trust are working with set designers to recreate the Caravan Club of 1934; an illegal gay club that was the subject of a sensational court case in 1934. The space will act as a focal point for a wider programme of volunteer led tours, debates, events, and a guidebook that celebrates the history of club culture c. from 1918 to now in the Soho, Covent Garden and Fitzrovia areas. There will also be a physical and online archival displays curated by The National Archives.We’re offering 25-35 volunteers the chance to be trained as National Trust tour guides as part of the project. In addition to meeting like-minded people and broadening your knowledge, you’ll be invited to a special ‘club night’ for volunteers to thank you for your time.If you’re passionate about LGBTQ+ heritage, love learning about London’s history and are a confident speaker in front of small groups, we’d love for you to get in touch. Click here for more info on volunteering. 


Thursday 5 January 2017

In the Shadow of the Prince Edward Theatre.

The Prince Edward Theatre has been a familiar Soho landmark for generations of people to enjoy since opening its doors on the 3 April 1930. Its own illustrious history has seen the theatre go through many transformations over the past 86 years. In 1929 the buildings which stood on the corner of Old Compton Street and Greek Street were demolished to make way for the new theatre completely eliminating any trace of the people and business which occupied the address of 41 Greek Street and 53 Old Compton Street.

While the buildings were home to a diverse mix of inhabitants and occupations the silk and linen drapery business was the main trade which eventually spanned several buildings as the business grew from small shops to a wholesale warehouse business.
Here are just a few of the businesses which occupied the space along with Auctioneers, Candle makers and residents living in the rooms above the offices and shops.
1796, 41 Greek Street, Thomas Clarke, Silk Dyer
1807, 41 Greek Street, Stephen Callahan, Silk Dyer
1808, 53 Old Compton Street, William and Joseph Bryan, Linen Drapers

In April 1824 Andrews, Stobbs and Maggs opens at 41 Greek Street 1826, 41 Greek Street, John Jenner and Ambrose Boodle, Linen Drapers and Mercers
1826, The Examiner, 12 November reports

The Evening Standard, 16 October 1828 reports, new proprietors of the “Emporium” Messrs Wagner and Chapman, Greek Street Soho, The business closed in 1830 when William Chapman and George Wagner were declared bankrupt.

In 1862, the final chapter of the address at the corner of Greek Street and Old Compton Street commenced when William Taylor Reddan a butcher’s son from Parson Drove in Cambridgeshire opened his drapers business, William Reddan & Sons Ltd.
William’s empire spanned several buildings 51 to 54 Old Compton Street and 41 & 42 Greek Street with around 14 drapers’ assistants and staff living above the business. Reddan’s was renowned for its Victorian charm and its most discerning cliental on its books which included Winston Churchill and members of the Royal family.

Image of William Reddan & Sons Ltd Drapers shop in 1926, 3 years before the buildings were demolished to make way for the Prince Edward Theatre. In 1899 the building numbers changed to 22, 24 & 28 Old Compton Street.

Members of William’s own family worked within the business, his brother Charles set up his own drapers business in North London. William died in 1920 year after his Wife Emma and was survived by his four children; in 1928 his children Minnie and Charles wound up their fathers 66 year old business and sold the premises to the Hay Hill Syndicate to make way for the Prince Edward Theatre. Reddan’s loyal staff moved on and his trusted store managers were remembered in Williams will.
On Monday 3 September 1928 The Evening Telegraph reports on the close of Reddan’s, One landmark falls into the shadow of another.
Further reading at  Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre History Website

The Prince Edward Theatre research by mosoho volunteer Sarah Buttery.
Sarah’s own family has a long history in Soho with Italian restaurants; Sarah worked for Kettner’s before its closure last January to make way for the next phase of its life and has researched the history of Kettner’s, the families and people involved in running the business and holds a private archive of information and artefacts which she has collected over the past few years. I hope Sarah will share this untold story with us in 2017.

We offer a bespoke research service to business and individuals. If you'd like to find out more please email:

Saturday 6 August 2016

Not Fade Away – The Rolling Stones in Soho.

“The streets of Soho were reserved for characters, cappuccino action, nerve, real verve and chat, most of it about music. The streets reeked of chutzpah and skiffle was dead – long live pop.” Andrew Loog Oldham, Stoned.

Although legend has it that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger hooked up on a station platform in Dartford, the Rolling Stones as we know them were born above a pub in Soho. 

The Bricklayers Arms in Edward Street (since renamed Broadwick Street) was where Brian Jones held auditions to form a rhythm and blues group in 1962. Some of the hopefuls replied to his ad in Jazz News, while others - including Mick and Keith - came from Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated sessions at the Marquee in Oxford Street. 

The Rollin’ Stones played their first gig at the Marquee in July ’62, and rehearsed different line-ups until Brian, Mick and Keith were joined by Bill Wyman on bass and Ian Stewart on piano. Drummer Charlie Watts climbed aboard last in January 1963. Another regular gig for the Stones in this period was at Studio 51 in Great Newport Street, where Ken Colyer ran his jazz nights.

De Hems.
Meanwhile, down the road apiece, journalists from the music papers in Denmark Street and Shaftesbury Avenue did their quaffing in De Hems bar in Macclesfield Street. It was here, in April ’63, that New Record Mirror editor Peter Jones tipped off pop publicist Andrew Loog Oldham about a certain group playing sensational R&B at the Crawdaddy club in Richmond. Over a vodka & tonic, the suave Mr Jones told Oldham that his paper was running a big piece on the Rollin’ Stones in the forthcoming issue, predicting they will “soon be the leading performers of R&B in the country” – incredible for a group that didn’t yet have a record out.

Those heady early days are captured in the photographs of Terry O’Neill and Gered Mankowitz in the book Breaking Stones, 1963-1965, A Band on the Brink of Superstardom.  O’Neill, who was then Fleet Street’s youngest photographer, walked the Rolling Stones around Soho carrying their brand new bags. They look every inch the travelling troubadours on their way to a recording session in Regent Sound studio (where the group cut their debut album and 1964 single Not Fade Away). 

Breaking Stones, 1963-1965, A Band on the Brink of Superstardom 
The black-coated Stones lined up in front of Tin Pan Alley’s red and yellow Members’ Club is a quintessential snapshot of Soho in the early 60s, with the band already exuding locked-out cool. 

O’Neill’s half of the book is a reportage-style account showing the life of a typical pop group – where the boys had to thank their lucky stars for plates of egg and chips in the BBC canteen, and the makeshift dressing rooms where Keith ran his shaver from a light fitting, while Mick wears a hair net with a fag on the go. The fateful New Record Mirror article, written by Norman Jopling and titled Genuine R&B, is also reprinted inside.

The second half of Breaking Stones features the work of Gered Mankowitz, the son of writer Wolf Mankowitz (author of Expresso Bongo, based on the 2i’s coffee bar scene in Old Compton Street). Gered’s portraits have a strong sense of creative direction and image building – from the band looking through a cage in Ormond Yard (they were dubbed ‘animals’ by the Daily Mirror) to the cover of 1965 album Out Of Our Heads. By the closing frames of the book, when Gered joins the band on their ’65 US tour, the Rolling Stones can no longer walk the streets unmolested. 

The 2i's Coffee Bar. Now Poppie's Fish 'n' Chips.

Their view of the world is from the back of limousines, with cops struggling to control thousands of screaming teenagers causing pandemonium everywhere they go. One heart-stopping moment shows Keith out cold on stage, electrocuted by a microphone stand. We see the band taking control of their own destiny as Mick and Keith become songwriters. The irony is that, by writing their own hits, the Beatles and the Stones started a trend that took the shine off Tin Pan Alley’s song merchants and hastened the end of an era. But, when midnight comes around, the streets of Soho will always echo with the sound of pointy-booted footsteps. Claudia Elliott.

Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist who has written for BBC's Sounds of the 60s, The Blues magazine and Classic Rock.

Twitter: @Claudia_Elliott

Blogger for BBC Radio 2 Sounds Of The 60s

Terry O’Neill’s photograph of the Stones walking in Soho can be seen at Exhibitionism, a retrospective show of the band’s history. Other Soho-related pieces include guitars and amps bought from Ivor Arbiter’s Sound City shops and gear from John Stephen boutique in Carnaby Street. Exhibitionism runs until 4 September at the Saatchi Gallery.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Ghosts of Soho Restaurants.

Soho Restaurants.

Restaurants. Do we regret the loss of Tomato when it turned into Barrafino? No.  L’Epicure when it turned into Waikkiki? Yes. Waikkiki when it turned into Bar Shu? An emphatic no!  In Soho we see them come and we see them go. Very few are mourned to tell the truth. It’s a hard place both physically and financially to run a restaurant.

We lived in Old Compton Street for ten years and could never quite get away from the smell of cooking.  We opened the window onto the street, and it was Opuz and Amalfi.  We opened the bedroom window one story up and it was Margot Henderson making trotters at the French House.  All of our household objects were covered in a very thin film of cooking oil.

A slice of Soho_Sunday Times Magazine 1968.
Below us then was Duke’s Bar, which changed hands several times before becoming Opuz Kitchen (now Pepe’s).  I was then a film critic on The Independent.  One evening I happened to see a Michael Winterbottom film called Wonderland (1999), and thought the location looked familiar. A large part of the film had been made twenty feet below us, without our ever noticing.  Such is Soho.

By 2008 I had become a restaurant critic for the Zagat Guides, the US equivalent of the Michelin Guides, now owned by Google.  Since then Soho has been reviving its foodie credentials, but there’s been a corresponding haemorrhage of good, cheap places to eat.   The area may have gained two or three Michelin stars and won restaurant of the year two years running in the Tatler, but where to the waifs and strays eat these days? Especially now that Stockpot is destined for the stockpot?

Soho dining originally was quite grand. Casanova’s mistress Teresa Cornelys first brought Venetian small plates to 18th century Soho (revived again by Polpo in St James bailiwick centuries later).  At the super exclusive and fashionable Carlisle House in Soho Square the food wasn’t just Venetian.  She had Brunswick pastry-cook Louis Weltje working in the kitchens; he later went to feed up the Prince Regent.  But cheap restaurants? The impoverished poets Rimbaud and Verlaine were able to dine cheaply on food that smelt of home in Old Compton St in the 1870’s.

This golden period of cheap dining was to last about 50 years. Here’s Thomas Burke in 1917 talking about Soho, bewailing to loss of bargain eateries. ‘Gone are the shilling tables-d’hote and their ravishing dishes…not in 1917 do you see Old Compton St as a line of warm and fragrant café-windows…gone are those exotic food which brought such zest to a jaded palate’.

Passport to Soho.

I rather miss L’Epicure with its fantastic gas-filled flaming torches, and its doddery waiters seemingly auditioning for a Victoria Wood sketch.  But there again Bar Shu with its Sichuan Fuschia Dunlop menu, in the same site, is one of my favourite restaurants. I remember that old-school 1950’s Italian family restaurant in Green Court, but it’s now replaced by Yalla Yalla, which is better.

A succession of awful restaurants on the site of Arbutus have been replaced by Arbutus (whose future is now sadly in doubt). One of the best new restaurants in London – Sri Lankan slice of happiness known as Hoppers – is on the site of the little-missed Alastair Little eaterie at 49 Frith St.  Bao offers brilliant cheap food but you have to queue for 40 minutes to get it.

One of the Italian restaurants I remember with particular fondness was Presto on Old Compton St, which was beloved by Derek Jarman, who lived nearby, and Sebastian Horsley.  You only ordered the ravioli, because that’s what Derek did.

Recently Young Cheung’s on Shaftesbury Avenue has closed, a particular sadness to me, not because it was the best restaurant in the world but because it was good and cheap and had the air of old Soho to it.  But it did help that I have a Chinese partner who could read all the special menus only in Chinese.

Also vanished, ECapital was a superb Shanghainese mid-priced restaurant at 8 Gerrard St, where the overpraised Haozhan is now.  Its chef David Tam is now at China Tang at the Dorchester – that’s how good it was.  Delicacies included pressed pig's ears, filleted duck's feet with celery, Lion's Head meatballs, Beggar's Chicken.  The actor Johnny Rhys Meyers was a regular after I took him there.
And we also loved China Experience on 118-120 Shaftesbury Avenue, and I remember the Swindon-based owner telling me he was spending £5,000 week in rent.  They had paper-lantern shadow beef and golden fried prawns.  The subsequent restaurant used the Zagat listed stickers for years afterwards, quite illegally.  Royal Dragon is still in Gerard St, but was ruined like Kettners by a revamp, and we followed our friend who manages it next door to Golden Dragon (her name is Jackie and we’ve known her 25 years).

Soho is full of ghosts, most especially, the ghosts of restaurants.

©Roger Clarke 2016 Twitter
Roger Clarke@Skionar

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