It’s been a while since I went on a London Walk and this one has been on my to do list for a while, but as one that isn’t a part of their regular programme it’s all come down to whether I’ve been in London on the right weekend.
I’ve always been intrigued by Fitzrovia. Despite being in the heart of London, just off Oxford Street, and surrounded by many well known areas such as Soho, Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Mayfair, it’s a place that a lot of people haven’t heard of or at least couldn’t place on a map. The guide for this walk, Jane (a former school teacher although you could have easily seen her as the actor that she pointed out that she wasn’t at the start), got things rolling at Warren Street station making the very point about its obscurity to the surprisingly small group of eight of us. So as always, here are some of the highlights, although in not too much detail so as to not spoil the walk for others who may wish to pay their £10 to go on it:
- Fitzrovia has long been a home for a number of artists and radicals and as a result developed a bit of a bohemian reputation including some of the inevitable scandals. Big names include Virginia Woolf (and various members of the Bloomsbury Set), Louise Michel, George Bernard Shaw, Francisco de Miranda, Walter Sickert, James Whistler, Ford Madox Brown, Grayson Perry and Roger Fry. Many of them lived in and around the beautiful Fitzroy Square which takes up a decent chunk of the walk and provides a host of stories to be told.
- BT Tower dominates the area and you can’t help feel sad that its rotating restaurant is no longer open. A popular London landmark now, but can you imagine trying to get planning permission for it in 2016!
- Fitzrovia Play Association Mural on Goodge Place is a lovely montage of some of the various prominent figures who lived in the area, some of whom aren’t covered in the walk, and so it shows how many more stories there are to tell about the area.
- The Cleveland Street Scandal is a fascinating story well worth reading more about and in particular in the way that this all overlaps with some of the wilder theories around Jack the Ripper, Walter Sickert, Prince Eddy and the death of Mary Kelly.
- Charles Dickens crops up a few times as he lived in Cleveland Street and just along the road from that house continues to exist (albeit now derelict) the Strand Union Workhouse which may have inspired Oliver Twist, and nearby is Berners Street home to another legend around the ‘White Woman’ who may have become Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, and the Woman in White of Wilkie Collins.
- The architecture varies and there are some fascinating buildings in this area which I’d not really spotted before. Apart from the BT Tower there are a host of Georgian buildings, there’s the super modern Arup Offices and the 50s built Indian YMCA on Fitzroy Street, the jumbled non-conformity of the de Walden Estate, the huge yet hidden All Saints Church on Margaret Street and the small yet hidden Fitzrovia Chapel, the unique All Souls on Langham Place and the beautiful tiling of Radiant House on Mortimer Street.
- The BBC inevitably gets a mention, as does the Berners Street Hoax, but I also discovered (or perhaps re-remembered) that two of my favourite books Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell and Saturday by Ian McEwan have strong Fitrovia connections. It also includes one of my favourite shops The Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield Street.
This was a walk well worth doing and whilst it didn’t strike me at the time, it’s writing this up now that I remember how much I saw and what a fascinating area it is. Well worth spending some time there.