Category Archives: London

Explore the life and art of Vincent Van Gogh in a special, interactive experience

Installation view of Meet Vincent van Gogh. Image courtesy of Meet Vincent van Gogh

Installation view of Meet Vincent van Gogh.
(Image courtesy of Meet Vincent van Gogh)

Coming to London this winter and spring is a special, immersive art experience. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam’s hit attraction Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience will run in the capital for nearly four months. Launching on the South Bank on 7 February 2020, the interactive and multi-sensory experience will allow art lovers to step into the legendary Dutch painter’s world. It recreates van Gogh’s life through his own words thanks to the Van Gogh Museum’s research and the artist’s personal correspondence.

The experience will open on the South Bank in the borough of Lambeth – the same borough where van Gogh resided for about a year in 1873-74 in Hackford Road, Brixton. It aims to bring van Gogh’s original works to audiences around the world who cannot see them in the Van Gogh Museum. Visitors will be treated to a fully-automated, audio-guide experience, where they can enjoy stunning projections and interactive installations. People can stand on Vincent’s doorstep or sit on his bed in the state-of-the-art set work. Follow his life story from his childhood in the Netherlands to his Paris studios; from the inspiring Arles countryside to the St. Rémy asylum, and finally, the sombre wheat field where he shot himself in July 1890, before dying of his injuries two days later.

The popular experience comes to the UK following 2019 tour stops in South Korea and Spain, where it attracted 400,000 visitors. Along with London, the Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience will also stop in Lisbon, Portugal this year.

  • Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience runs from 7 February – 21 May 2020. At 99 Upper Ground, South Bank, SE1 9PP. Nearest stations: Waterloo, Waterloo East or Embankment. Open Sun-Wed 10am-6pm, Thu-Sat 10am-10pm. Tickets: Standard box office Mon-Fri £19, Sat-Sun £21. Advance online – Mon-Fri £18, Sat-Sun £20. Concessions available for students, children and the elderly. For tickets and more information, visit MeetVincent.com.

Installation view of Meet Vincent van Gogh.
(Image courtesy of Meet Vincent van Gogh)

For a guide to what’s on in London in March, click here.

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Five days of cultural festivities at the Ealing Music and Film Festival 2020

The Ealing Music & Film Festival returns in 2020

The hit Ealing Music & Film Festival returns to west London for 2020 with five-days of entertainment. Now in its eighth year, this annual cultural festival lights up gloomy February with an eclectic mix of theatre, music, film and more. From 12-16 February, a host of venues across the West London district hosts workshops, screenings, concerts, plays and more for all ages.

The EMFF kicks off with a lunchtime concert by woodwind ensemble The Thorne Trio at St Mary’s Church in South Ealing, followed by an afternoon immersive performance by the UWL’s London College of Music’s Headspace Project, concluded with a screening of Nino Oxilia’s Faustian classic Rapsodia Satanica (1915) accompanied by alternative soundtracks composed by LCM students.

The festival continues with a wide selection of entertainment to suit different tastes, including award-winning choir Tenebrae; a UWL production of the play Enron; the Ealing Youth Orchestra; the Ealing Symphony Orchestra and Opera Holland Park Un Ballo in Maschera. Among the workshops on offer include percussion and vlogging (both on 15 Feb). Meanwhile, for those in the mood for some romance – or not – on Valentine’s Day, watch a screening of classic love story Brief Encounter or rock opera Tommy.

  • Ealing Music and Film Festival is on from 12 – 16 February 2020. Venues include Weston Hall, St Barnabas, William Barry Theatre and Lawrence Hall. Nearest stations: Ealing Broadway, Ealing Common or South Ealing. Tickets range from free to £25. For booking, visit the Ealing Music & Film website.

For a guide to what’s on in London in February, click here.

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Valentine’s Day 2020 in London: What’s on for couples and singles

Treat your love or celebrate your fabulous singledom at one of London’s many Valentine’s events, from film screenings to workshops to 1920s themed ‘dos.

If doesn’t matter if you’re single or coupled up, there’s plenty going on in London in the run-up to Valentine’s Day. If you’re loved up and fancy something a bit different from dinner at your favourite local restaurant, why not treat your other half to a party, film screening or evening of poetry? Meanwhile, if you’re still looking for your Mr or Miss Right, head to one of London’s Valentine’s parties or dating events.

Here’s a guide to the best Valentine’s Day events on in London this February 2020.

  • 12 February : Fashion Roundtable

Q&A and workshop celebration of love for Valentine’s Day, discussing music, vintage, identity, inclusion and all things love with singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and LGBTQ+ writer, model and activist Jamie Windust. 7pm-10pm. Tickets: £35.08–£57.18. The Curtain, 45 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, EC2A 3PT. Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street or Old Street. For tickets, visit Eventbrite.

  • 12 February : Cinema Night @ View from the Shard

Watch A Star Is Born (2019) while enjoying 360 views of London from the top of The Shard. You’ll also be served complimentary Mermaid Gin and Tonic and fresh popcorn. From 8pm. Tickets: £45. View From The Shard, Joiner Street, SE1 9SP. Nearest station: London Bridge. For more information and booking, visit The View From The Shard website.

  • 12 February : Murder on the Barts Floor… Valentine’s Special

Murder mystery experience at a 1920s Chelsea speakeasy. Collect all the clues and interrogate the suspects to find out whodunnit. 7pm-9pm. Tickets: £30pp (inc complimentary cocktail). Barts, 87 Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, SW3 3DW. Nearest stations: Sloane Square or South Kensington. For more information, visit the Barts website.

  • 12 – 14 February : Pop-up cinema @ Rivoli Ballroom

Vintage ’50s ballroom hosts a pop-up cinema, featuring screenings of The Notebook, Pretty Women and Romeo + Juliet. 8pm. Tickets: £12. Rivoli Ballroom, 350 Brockley Road, Crofton Park, SE4 2BY. Nearest station: Crofton Park. For more information, visit the Rivoli Ballroom website.

  • 13 February : Late Night Keats – ‘Sick of Love’

Late-night opening of poet John Keats’ former London home, featuring readings, activities and a bar. 6.30pm-9pm. Tickets: £10. Keats’ House, 10 Keats Grove, Hampstead, NW3 2RR. Nearest station: Hampstead Heath or Hampstead. For more information, visit the Eventbrite website.

  • 14 February : The Godfathers’ Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre

The Godfathers return with their Valentine’s rock ‘n’ roll gig. 7pm-10pm. Tickets: £18.15. Dingwalls, Middle Yard, Camden Yard, NW1 8AB. Nearest station: Camden Town or Camden Road. For tickets, visit Ticketweb.

  • 14 February : The Soul of Nine Simone @ Jazz Cafe

The Black Voices Quintet perform music legend Nina Simone’s greatest hits. 7pm-10.30pm. Tickets: £15 (standing), £25 (restaurant). Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, NW1 7PG. Nearest station: Camden Town. For more information, visit the Jazz Café website.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

  • 14 February : Valentine in Paris

The London Philharmonic Orchestra performs music by Ravel and Saint-Saëns. From 7.30pm. Tickets £14-£65. Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, South Bank, SE1 8XX. Nearest stations: Waterloo or Embankment. For tickets, visit the Southbank Centre website.

  • 14 February : Valentine’s Day Speed Dating

Charity speed dating evening with money raised going to The Foundation for Live Research. Registration from 7pm, speed dating 7.30pm-9.30pm. Tickets: £25 (inc welcome drink). The Prince Albert, 85 Albert Bridge Road, Battersea, SW11 4PF. Nearest station: Battersea Park. For tickets, visit Eventbrite. Read the rest of this entry

Shopping in Style – Part 6: The lost Lowther Arcade

A late Georgian shopping arcade became a toy mecca for Victorian children until its demolition in 1902.

The Strand 1901 © Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons

The Lowther Arcade (left) in 1901 – a year before its demolition
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The West End has been a shopping destination for Londoners and tourists for over two centuries. Along with popular thoroughfares like Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street, there is also a selection of shopping arcades, providing a sheltered retail experience whatever the elements. Today, two of the capital’s existing shopping arcades are over 200 years old. However, one Georgian shopping arcade barely survived into the 20th century, let alone the 21st century. This post is a long-delayed addition to Metro Girl’s Shopping in Style series, which explores the history of London’s shopping arcades.

After the success of the capital’s first two shopping arcades – the Royal Opera and Burlington, plans were made for another arcade on Strand. Lowther Arcade was designed by architect Witherden Young and built by William Herbert in 1830 (see Young’s architectural plans). It was named after William Lowther, 2nd Earl of Lonsdale (1787-1872), who was Chief Commissioner of the Woods and Forests from 1828-1830. Lowther Arcade ran from the Strand to Adelaide Street and was 245 foot long, 20 foot wide and 30 foot high. The arcade featured 24 small shops, with two storeys above the shop level. The arcade was designed in a Greco-Italian style and was topped by a series of glass domes, flooding the aisle with light. Its classical design complemented the eastern end of Strand (No.s 430-449), which had been redeveloped by Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835) in 1830. Although shorter in length, Lowther Arcade was often referred to as the ‘twin’ of the Burlington Arcade in Mayfair. Just like the Burlington, the Lowther management also employed a Beadle to maintain order.

An 1883 illustration of the Lowther Arcade shops
(From “London Town” by Felix Leigh, illustrated by Thomas Crane and Ellen Houghton on Wikimedia Commons)

After opening, Lowther Arcade quickly won over Londoners with its architecture and atmosphere. In his 1834 book National History and Views of London and Its Environs, Volumes 1-2, Charles Frederick Partington wrote: “The Lowther Arcade is decidedly the most elegant establishment of this description erected in the metropolis… When we compare the costly and elegant bijoutrie exhibited for sale, it will be found the dealers lose nothing by comparison with those celebrated in the Arabian Nights and other works of eastern fiction.”

At the north end of the arcade was the Adelaide Gallery, a forerunner to the Science Museum. Opened by American inventor Jacob Perkins (1766-1849), it didn’t prove that successful and was replaced by an amusement hall in the 1840s. It then became home to Signor Brigaldi’s Italian Marionettes in 1852, and during another period was used as a music hall. Read the rest of this entry

Burns’ Night 2020: Guide to suppers and parties in London

Find out where to celebrate the birthday of Robbie Burns in London this January 2020.

Whether you’re Scottish or not, there’s plenty of reason to take part in the annual Burns’ Night celebrations. The event marks the birthday of Scottish poet Robert ‘Robbie’ Burns, who died in 1796. Expect a feast of haggis, soup, tatties and neeps with plenty of whisky.

Although Burns’ Night is officially 25 January, there are other suppers, parties and Ceilidhs taking place in the weeks leading up to and after the big night. Here’s some of the best events on in London this Burns’ Night.

  • 18, 24, 25 & 31 January & 1 February : Ceilidh Club presents Burns’ Night London

The Ceilidh Club are hosting four Burns’ Night celebrations. Expect a traditional evening of dancing, live music, poetry, drinking and dining. 8pm-11pm. Tickets: £29-£39. Porchester Hall, 45 Porchester Road, Bayswater, W2 5HS. Nearest station: Royal Oak. For more information and tickets, visit the Ceilidh Club website.

  • 21 – 25 January : A Week Of Burns Celebrations @ Mac & Wild

Scottish restaurants Mac & Wild are hosting a week of celebrations at their Fitzrovia and City locations. Events including Chivas Blend Burn’s Masterclass (21 Jan), Highland Park House of Haggis Masterclass (22 Jan), Burns Dram in the Dark (24 Jan), Mac & Wild X Copper Dog Burns Pop Up (24 & 25 Jan), Burns Bottomless Brunch (25 Jan) and Burns Night dinner (25 Jan). Times and prices vary. Mac & Wild Fitzrovia: 65 Great Titchfield Street, W1W 7PS (Nearest station: Oxford Circus) or Mac & Wild City: 9A Devonshire Square, City of London, EC2M 4YN (Nearest station: Liverpool Street). For booking and more information, visit the Mac & Wild website.

  • 23 – 24 January : Burns on the Barge

Take to the canals for an evening of revelry. Featuring live music, toasts to the haggis, whisky, and a 4-course Scottish feast. 7pm-11pm. Tickets: £45pp. Barge East, White Post Lane, Hackney Wick, E9 5EN. Nearest station: Hackney Wick. For more information, visit the Barge East website.

  • 23 – 25 January : Burns’ Night Celebrations @ Boisdale

Scottish restaurant chain Boisdale are hosting Burns’ Night celebrations across their venues. Featuring traditional Scottish set menus, live music, stabbing of the haggis and whisky from the Annandale Distillery. Times and prices vary. At Boisdale venues in Belgravia, Bishopsgate, Canary Wharf and Mayfair. For more information, visit the Boisdale website. Read the rest of this entry

Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds – The Immersive Experience review

A Martian watches over the steam-punk pub at Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Experience

I’m a fan of immersive theatre and virtual reality experiences and had previously visited DotDotLondon’s first outing Somnai in spring 2018. When I heard they had created an immersive experience of Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation of The War of the Worlds, I was very intrigued. I vaguely knew the rough plotline of the original H.G. Wells’ novel from the 1890s which inspired Wayne’s album. I went along recently with a group of friends. While waiting for our time slot, we took a seat under a Martian in the steam-punk themed pub and restaurant, with sensational newspaper headlines and sinister changing paintings around us giving a hint of what’s to come.

At the beginning of our experience, we were taken to a ravaged room and were introduced to the characters of George Herbert and his fiancée Carrie projected as holograms. After describing the scene of the Martian invasion of 1898, we heard the familiar beats of Wayne’s theme song as our journey began. We were taken to a Victorian observatory and introduced to Ogilvy, the astronomer. Looking through the vintage telescopes, we spy a mysterious green light coming towards the Earth. It isn’t long before ‘something’ has crash-landed in Woking and Ogilvy appears to be burned alive in front of us by a ray beam – an effective, but quite horrifying bit of special effects. The scene really gets your heart racing and sets you up ready to flee.

Sensational headlines

The experience lasts 110 minutes and features a mix of virtual reality, holograms, pyrotechnics and immersive theatre. You’ll need to be active and be prepared to hide under a table, crawl through a tunnel and slide your way through tight spaces. You get to wear a virtual reality camera on about four occasions, including a haphazard boat trip escaping the Martians (complete with real water splashes!) and a balloon ride. Occasionally, the VR headset could be a bit glitchy, but it certainly transported you to another space. One VR scene in a confessional booth was a little scary, so much so I kept bending down and hiding, prompting an unseen staff member to encourage me to stand up! Seeing some of the men in my group transformed into Victorian women in the VR set was particularly humorous. Along the way, you have many encounters with castmembers in character, with one giving me some money to bribe a boatman, which was a successful transaction! One of the most memorable moments was crouching under a table in a shaking room in the pitch black, anticipating some awful creature about to come into the room. Halfway through your journey you get to stop off in the Red Weed Bar for a cocktail. Read the rest of this entry

The story behind Fleet Street’s boldest art deco façade: The Express Building

The Daily Express Building is one of the boldest Art Deco structures in the capital

Along Fleet Street is a bold Art Deco building, which stands out amongst its more muted, grey neighbours. No. 120-129 is a Modernist remainder of the street’s journalism heyday in the early 20th century. Until 30 years ago, the building was home to the Daily Express newspaper. Founded in 1900 by Sir Arthur Pearson (1866-1921), the Express was originally printed in Manchester before moving to Fleet Street in the early 1930s.

The newspaper’s name remains on the building

The bold black and glass building was constructed from 1930-1932 to a design by architects Herbert O. Ellis and W.L. Clarke. The duo were commissioned by the Express’s then owner, William Maxwell Aitken, Baron Beaverbrook (1879-1960) to extend the existing newspaper buildings towards Fleet Street. Their original designs featured a steel-framed structure, clad in Portland Stone. However, the narrowness of the plot and Aitken’s requirements for room to have printing presses in the basement, meant their first proposal was canned. Aitken then brought in London-born architect and engineer, Sir Evan Owen Williams (1890-1969) to improve the plans. Although he started out as an aircraft designer, Williams won fame with his buildings for the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 (including being the engineer for the old Wembley Stadium) and later designed the Dorchester Hotel, the Boots factory in Nottingham, the Peckham Pioneer Health Centre and the first section of the M1 motorway. Williams redesigned the building’s exterior, with black Vitrolite panels and chromium strips replacing the Portland stone façade. Meanwhile, Robert Atkinson (1883-1952) designed the ground floor entrance, with a chrome canopy and the Daily Express spelt out in Art Deco lettering. Atkinson’s striking lobby features two plaster reliefs – ‘Britain’ and ‘Empire’ – by British sculptor Eric Aumonier (1899-1974). as well as silver and gilt decorative features and a grand oval staircase. The finished building is widely considered one of the best examples of Streamline Moderne architecture in the capital.

The building certainly stands out on Fleet Street

The building was joined by neighbouring Aitken House to the east in the mid 1970s, erected on the site of some smaller Victorian buildings. It was clad in similar black panels to the original Daily Express building so the two buildings looked like one huge building on Fleet Street (see a photo in 1990). While the extra office space was needed for Daily and Sunday Express staff, Aitken House ruined the shape and symmetry of the original 1930s design.

In March 1972, the Express building was Grade II* listed because of its Art Deco features, as well as its concrete frame structure. After over 50 years on Fleet Street, the Express group followed in the footsteps of many other newspapers and departed the building in 1989.

By 2000, the building was entirely refurbished and neighbouring Aitken House was demolished. John Robertson Architects restored the original building, including the façade and glazing, as well as replicated and reinstated the lost Art Deco features of the lobby. Investment bank Goldman Sachs leased the building until 2019. It will be interesting to see which tenants move in next…

  • The Express Building, 120-129 Fleet Street, City of London, EC4. Nearest stations: City Thameslink or Temple.

Discover the history of the Daily Telegraph building on Fleet Street.

Find out the story of No.186 Fleet Street.

For more London history posts, click here.

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Follow the words of Virginia Woolf with ‘Around The Corner’ from Culture Mile

One of the ‘Around the Corner’ installations by St Paul’s Cathedral

If you’ve walked near St Paul’s Cathedral or the Barbican recently, you may have noticed the appearance of some gold word sculptures dotted around. These installations are part of Culture Mile’s new commission ‘Around The Corner’.

From the north side of the Millennium Bridge to Aldersgate Street by the Barbican tube station, a series of 12 installations quote a line from Virginia Woolf’s 1922 novel Jacob’s Room: “What are you going to meet if you turn this corner?” The piece has been created by architects Karsten Huneck and Bernd Truempler from KHBT.

Starting at St Peter’s Hill with the word ‘What’, you can follow the sentence along points of the walk, with each sculpture featuring information to help you find your way.

  • ‘Around the Corner’ is on in the City of London until 31 March 2020. For more information, visit the Culture Mile website.

For a guide to what’s on in London in March, click here.

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Guide to what’s on in London in January 2020

Find out what events, art exhibitions and festivals are on in London this month.

Winterfest @ Wembley Park
© Jordan Laboucane

Welcome to 2020! It’s a brand new decade! All the busy schedules and heavy spending of December, no doubt many Londoners are feeling broke and tired. Fortunately, there are plenty of free events on around London to lift you out of the January blues. Expect light shows, art exhibitions, travel shows, and immersive experiences.

Look out for 🐻 for family-friendly activities.

Guide to Burns’ Night celebrations in London.

There’s also some of London’s outdoor ice-rinks and winter terraces still open.

  • 1 January : New Year’s Day Parade

Hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected to gather to watch 10,000 performers from around the world. Starts from Piccadilly’s Berkeley Street at 12pm, ending at Parliament Square at 3.30pm. Free. Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus, Westminster or Charing Cross. For more information, visit the Parade website. 🐻

  • Now until 3 January : Winterfest

A new immersive light festival comes to Wembley Park. Featuring huge light and sound installations, an LED Christmas tree, live bands, community choirs, DJs, and the hit West End production of Fame coming to the new Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre. Free admission. Wembley Park, Wembley, HA9 0FD. Nearest stations: Wembley Park or Wembley Stadium. For more information, visit the Wembley Park website. Check out Metro Girl’s blog post for further details. 🐻

  • 5 January : Twelfth Night Celebration

Theatre company the Lions Part host their annual celebration of the new year, ‘mixing ancient seasonal customs with contemporary festivity’ in the Bankside area of London. From 2pm. Free. Outside Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside, SE1 9DT. Nearest stations: Blackfriars, London Bridge or Southwark. For more information, visit the Lions Part website. 🐻

  • Now until 5 January : Winter Wonderland

The south east corner of Hyde Park is transformed into a festive fair with rides, food and drink stalls, ice rink, Zippos Christmas Circus, Cirque Berserk, The Sooty Christmas Show, The Magical Ice Kingdom and more. Open 10am-10pm daily. Free to enter. Nearest station: Hyde Park Corner, Victoria, Knightsbridge or Marble Arch. For more information, visit the Winter Wonderland website. 🐻

  • Now until 5 January : Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson brings his interactive installations to the Tate. Times vary. Tickets: £18 (free for members). Tate Modern, Bankside, SE1 9TG. Nearest station: Blackfriars. For more information and tickets, visit the Tate Modern website. Check out Metro Girl’s review of the exhibition. 🐻

  • Now until 5 January : Christmas at Kew

A one-mile glittering trail which weaves its way through Kew Gardens with stunning sights lit up upon the way. There will also be Santa at the North Pole Village, a Tunnel of Light, the singing Holly Bushes, a light dance show, vintage rides, festive food and drinks. 5pm-10pm. Tickets (advance): Adults from £18, Children from £11, Under 4 free. Kew Gardens (Royal Botanic Gardens), Kew, Richmond, TW9 3AB. Nearest station: Kew Gardens. For more information, visit the Kew Gardens website. 🐻

  • Now until 5 January : Christmas In Leicester Square

The West End’s famous square will feature a Christmas market, while a Spiegeltent will play host shows including Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel, La Clique, the Showstoppers’ Christmas Show, Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: The Magic Cutlass and more. Free entry to Leicester Square, but tickets required for the Spiegeltent. Leicester Square, WC2H. Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square. For more information, visit the Christmas In Leicester Square website. 🐻

The Snowman trail

  • Now until 5 January : Walking with The Snowman

Follow an art trail around the London Bridge district. Twelve Snowmen have been customised by 12 different artists, each inspired by a verse from the 12 Days of Christmas. Free. At London Bridge City, SE1 2DB. Nearest station: London Bridge. To download a map of the sculptures, visit the Walking with The Snowman website. Read Metro Girl’s blog post to find out more. 🐻

  • 8 January – 2 February : London International Mime Festival

Festival at various events across London including performances of physical theatre, dance, circus, puppetry and live art. Workshops also available. Tickets range from £10-£45. Venues include the Shoreditch Town Hall, Soho Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, Barbican, Wilton’s Music Hall, The Puppet Barge, Southbank Centre and more. For more information, visit the Mime London website.

  • 8 January – 16 February : Light Festival @ Battersea Power Station

Battersea’s first ever light festival features four installations from international artists. Free. Circus West Village, Battersea Power Station, Battersea, SW11 8AH. Nearest stations: Battersea Park or Queenstown Road Battersea. For more information, visit the Battersea Power Station website. 🐻

  • 10 – 19 January : London Short Film Festival

Ten day festival celebrating the best in short film-making at venues across the capital, including the BFI South Bank, Curzon Soho, the ICA, Regent Street Cinema, Rich Mix, the Pickle Factory and the Rio Cinema. For more information, visit the London Short Film Festival website. Read the rest of this entry

The Swan & Edgar building in Piccadilly Circus: One of London’s lost department stores

The history of the Swan & Edgar department store in Piccadilly Circus.

The former Swan & Edgar building at Piccadilly Circus

The decline of the department store is a frequently mentioned casualty of the ever-changing retail industry. A host of department stores in London have been closed down over the decades, with the buildings left behind leaving little trace of the retail giants which one inhabited them. Once household names such as Pontings, Pratts, Bourne & Hollingsworth, and Gamages, have been consigned to the history books. Among these lost London department stores was Swan & Edgar, whose flagship building still exists, looming large over Piccadilly Circus.

Cumbrian-born William Edgar (1791-1869) met George Swan (d.1821) met in the early 19th century. At the time, Edgar was running a haberdashery stall in St James Market, while Swan had a shop on Ludgate Hill in the City of London. They went into business together in Ludgate Hill, before moving to 20 Piccadilly in 1812. Business was booming and they made over £80,000 in their first year. Nine years later, Swan sadly died, but his business partner Edgar honoured his memory by continuing to trade in their joint name. Swan & Edgar moved to 49 Regent Street in 1841. By 1848, business was going so well, the store expanded to numbers 45-51 Regent Street and the corner of Piccadilly Circus.

Edgar ended up outliving with business partner by over four decades, passing away in 1869. He lived the last two decades of his life with his wife Frances and their five children at Eagle House on Clapham Common’s South Side. The Georgian building was mostly demolished after Frances’ death in 1889, although parts of the south wing exist today as mews housing. The couple are buried in one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries: West Norwood Cemetery in south London.

Swan & Edgar 1909 Wikimedia Commons

The Victorian Swan & Edgar store in 1909
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Although both founders had died, their names continued to live on through the department store as it continued trading. An 1883 advert boasted the huge range of articles offered for sale, billing the store as “wholesale and retail silk mercers, drapers, furriers/ Mantle and costume makers and seal skin merchants/ Novelty and economy in dress/ All articles of fashion of the latest styles and reliable quality”. The department store’s popularity was boosted by the opening of the nearby Piccadilly Circus tube station in 1906 and became a popular meeting place for friends and lovers to rendezvous. In December 1901, the managing director Walter Morford (who had been in the role since 1895), ended up in trouble with the police over the store. People complained his moving window displays were causing congestion on the pavement, with sometimes hundreds of people blocking the pavement to look at the action. Morford ignored several police summons, complaining he had spent over £100 on designing the windows to attract customers. Read the rest of this entry