The history of the Swan & Edgar department store in 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) 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 soon 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.
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
If you’re interested in London history, architecture or its transport network, then check out a Hidden London tour from the London Transport Museum. Run for limited periods, I’ve previously visited the disused Aldywch tube station and the former World War II shelter underneath Clapham South tube station and found them fascinating. Although the Hidden London group offers visits to other disused platforms and tube stations, my last booking with them saw me remaining above ground. The tour lasts 90 minutes and covered many of the 14 floors of the building.
55 Broadway in St James was London’s first skyscraper because of the way it was built. Standing tall at 53 metres (175ft), the Grade I listed office block is an impressive piece of art deco architecture in Portland stone. The structure was originally built in 1927-1929 to a design by English architect Charles Holden (1875-1960). As well as 55 Broadway, Holden was also responsible for the University of London’s Senate House, Bristol Central Library and many tube stations, such as Acton Town, Balham, Clapham Common and Leicester Square, among others. 55 Broadway was briefly the tallest office block in London, before it was surpassed by Holden’s Senate House in the mid 1930s. It was originally constructed as the headquarters for the Underground Electric Railways Company of London Limited (UERL), on top of St James’s tube station.
The Daily Telegraph may have moved on, but its imposing offices remain. Discover the history of this modernist building.
The newspapers have long moved out of Fleet Street, but their buildings remain. Standing halfway along the iconic street is an art deco temple to journalism. Peterborough Court is the former home of the Daily Telegraph. Although the publication has moved on to Victoria, there are still subtle signs of the building’s former use on the façade.
The Daily Telegraph was founded in 1855 and its first offices were in the Strand, before it moved to 135 Fleet Street in 1862. In 1882, the Prince of Wales (King Edward VII – 1841-1910) opened the Telegraph’s new offices made of Portland stone and Aberdeen granite, designed by architects Arding, Bond and Buzzard. The building remained until the twenties when it was torn down to make way for the current design.
Peterborough Court was built in 1927-1928 to a design by architects Elcock and Sutcliffe, with Thomas Tait (1882-1954) and Sir Owen Williams (1890-1969) as consulting engineers. Tait worked on Adelaide House (the City’s tallest office block in 1925), later phases of the Selfridges department store on Oxford Street and the pylons of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Meanwhile, Williams was the head engineer for the original Wembley Stadium (1923-2003) and architect of The Dorchester. The building was named Peterborough Court after the Bishop of Peterborough, who used to have a house on Fleet Street. The name inspired the ‘Peterborough’ diary column in the newspaper, which remained for decades until it was renamed in 2003.
Likes it predecessor, Peterborough Court is also made of Portland stone. The building’s façade features a combination of art deco and neoclassical details. Large Doric columns give the building a sense of heritage, while its modernist elements represents the present. Standing tall with six storeys and a recessed top storey, Peterborough Court features seven windows across each storey. The centrepiece is the ornate coloured clock on its third floor level, full of Art Deco details such as diamonds, chevrons and sunburst motifs. Read the rest of this entry
Discover London’s best hidden and not-so-secret prohibition-inspired cocktail bars.
London is world-renowned for its nightlife… and with good reason. While admittedly the nightclub scene isn’t what it was in the ’90s and 00s, the quality of its bars has certainly increased tenfold. Back in 2013, Metro Girl published a guide to London’s speakeasy bars to coincide with the release of The Great Gatsby movie. Over the years, this post has continued to get a lot of readers, but it’s time for an update. A lot can change in five years with cocktails bars opening and closing all the time. While many of these hidden drinking dens are 1920s themed and underground, some are on ground level, but are included on the list for their vintage vibe. Of course, in the capital, nothing stays secret for long so reservations are recommended for most of London’s hidden bars.
- 69 Colebrooke Row
Islington cocktail bar with a 1950s Italian café vibe crossed with Film Noir. Billed as ‘The Bar With No Name’, it’s a tight squeeze with only 30 seats. Includes experimental cocktails, food, cocktail masterclasses and weekly live music. Reservations highly recommended.
– 69 Colebrooke Row, Islington, N1 8AA. Nearest station: Angel. For more information, visit the 69 Colebrooke Row website.
In the true spirit of a speakeasy, this secret bar is hard to find. Barts is hidden away in a 1930s Chelsea apartment block behind an unassuming door requiring a password to enter. The venue is styled as a 1920s gangsters’ hideout with the cocktail menu inspired by Uncle Barts’ mob. Read Metro Girl’s review of Barts.
– Barts, Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, SW3 3DW. Nearest stations: Sloane Square or South Kensington. For more information, visit the Barts website.
- Beaufort Bar
Although not a speakeasy or a basement bar, the exquisite Beaufort Bar deserves to be on the list for its stunning Art Deco interior alone. While many visitors head to The Savoy’s American Bar, they often miss out on its sister bar. Expect stunning black and gold decor, fabulous cocktails and exceptional service. Read Metro Girl’s review of the Beaufort Bar.
Located hidden down a side street in Kingly Court, Cahoots is a step back in time to post-war London. During the Blitz, many of the capital’s tube stations were used as bomb shelters. Cahoots is essentially a post-war tube station, with plenty of vintage TfL memorabilia and furniture, 1940s-themed cocktails, and live swing and lindyhop. As well as cocktails, they also have late night music nights and boozy picnics. To get in, you are advised to make a reservation or try and talk your way in by getting into character and saying the right thing. Read Metro Girl’s review of Cahoots.
The history behind the Art Deco building on the corner of Great Marlborough Street and Argyll Street.
Standing across the road from the Tudor-style Liberty department store is a striking building which couldn’t look more different. Palladium House is a Grade II listed Art Deco office block on the corner of Great Marlborough Street and Argyll Street. With its Egyptian detailing and black granite, the building wouldn’t look out-of-place in Manhattan. So it’s not surprising to discover it was built as a smaller twin to another skyscraper across the pond by an American architect for an American company.
Great Marlborough Street dates back to the early 18th century when the road was named in honour of the Duke of Marlborough’s victory at Blenheim in 1704. The Duke of Argyll then added Argyll Street in 1736. Various buildings came and went over the remaining centuries, with the site becoming empty and ready for Palladium House in the early 20th century.
Today, we tend to think of radiators as a relatively modern invention, with many British homes not embracing the technology until the 1970s and 1980s. One of my childhood homes had no central heating when we moved in and installing some was fortunately my parents’ first priority. However, the central heating we have today stems back to the mid 19th century thanks to inventors like Franz San Galli, Joseph Nason and Robert Briggs. In 1902, the National Radiator Company was formed in Pennsylvania, USA, with the hopes of bringing this technology to homes across America and beyond. By the 1920s, the NRC’s business was going so well they bought a plot of land in Bryant Park area of Manhattan, New York City. American architect Raymond Hood (1881-1934) and French architect Jacques André Fouilhoux (1879–1945) co-designed the American Radiator Building with a combination of Art Deco and Gothic styles in 1924. Today, the building is one of Manhattan’s iconic skyscrapers and is now home to the Bryant Park Hotel.
Despite their success in the US, the ARC had global dreams. They had already had a factory in Hull since 1906, and had subsidiaries in France and Germany. A few years after erecting the American Radiator Building in the Big Apple, they bought a plot of land in London’s West End for their UK headquarters. They brought Hood over from America to design their new building and enlisted British architect Stanley Gordon Jeeves (1888-1964). Their design was in the Art Deco style and a scaled down version of its New York counterpart. Palladium House is the only European building by Hood, who also designed or co-designed Chicago’s Tribune Tower and New York City’s Rockefeller Center and New York Daily News buildings. Meanwhile, Jeeves went on to create the Earls Court Exhibition Centre and Dolphin Square flats in Pimlico. Read the rest of this entry
We all know about the Victorian origins of the London Underground, which has been transporting commuters since 1863. However, did you know it’s not the capital’s only underground railway in existence? For eight decades, the Post Office ran their own subterranean train system to transport letters and parcels under the city’s streets. Affectionately known as the ‘Mail Rail’, it closed for good in 2003. However, in September 2017, the railway was brought back to life and adapted for human passengers as part of a new experience at the Postal Museum.
Road traffic has been a problem in London for centuries, stemming back to the days of horses and carts. For owners of the Post Office, the impact on their deliveries arriving late was not good for business so something had to be done. In 1909, a committee was set up to devise a traffic-proof delivery system, and by 1911 had settled on the idea of driverless electric trains. Construction began in 1914 with a trial tunnel in Plumstead Marshes, south-east London, with the main 6 1/2 miles of tunnels completed by 1917. By this time, World War I was in full swing so lack of labour and materials meant the project was put on hold. However, the tunnels did find some use during WWI as the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate stored some of their artworks in them for safe-keeping. Following the end of the Great War, costs of materials had risen so much, it wasn’t until 1923 that work could finally resume. Finally, on 5 December 1927, parcels were transported underground between Mount Pleasant and Paddington for the first time.
The trains run in a single 9ft tunnel featuring a double 2ft gauge track. Approaching each station, the tunnel would split into two 7ft tunnels with a single track each. The railway’s deepest point was 70ft, although the stations tended to be slightly closer to street level. By 1930, the original rolling stock were knackered so they were replaced with new trains. These new ones featured a 27ft single car train with each container having a capacity for 15 bags of letters or six bags of parcels. These were used until they were replaced in 1980 by a new fleet. Over the decades, some of the stations came and went, including the Western Parcels Office and Western District Office, with the latter name being reused at a new station at Rathbone Place, which opened in 1965. In 1987, the train system was renamed ‘Mail Rail’ to mark its 60th anniversary. In 1993, the whole system was computerised so the trains could be controlled from a single point. By the end of the 1990s, only the stations at Paddington, Western Delivery Office, Mount Pleasant, and the East District Office were being used, carrying over 6 million bags of mail annually. However, as the system aged, Royal Mail decided it was becoming too costly to run the railway, claiming road transport was cheaper and its death warrant was signed. On 31 May 2003, the Mail Rail was closed for good.
However, now the Mail Rail had been resuscitated as an attraction at the Postal Museum. It took several years to restore the tunnels, convert the trains for passengers and to transform the space into a museum. We arrived 10 minutes before our time slot and headed downstairs to board the small train. The seats are reversible, but narrow so it could be a squeeze getting two adults seated beside each other. You’re protected from the tunnel atmosphere with clear, hard plastic windows and ceiling, although it can distort photography somewhat (admittedly, my accompanying photos aren’t too great). The 15-minute ride is accompanied by an audio tour, with sound effects and visuals and films projected on the walls of the various stations. To many who think the history of Royal Mail may not seem that interesting, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised as the museum curators have done a great job bringing to life the story of our mail system and the Mail Rail. Following your ride, your ticket also covers entrance to the Postal Museum across the road, with many interactive exhibits for adults and children. I’d thoroughly recommend both the Mail Rail and the Postal Museum for families, history buffs or if you’re looking for something a bit different to spend your leisure time.
- Mail Rail, 15-20 Phoenix Place, WC1X 0DA. Nearest station: Angel or Russell Square. Mail Rail is open daily from 10am-5pm (last train departs at 4.30pm). Tickets: Adults £17.05, Children £10.45. For more information and booking, visit the Postal Museum website.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
The history behind a 1920s shop building and its artistic decorations.
Spitalfields is full of fascinating buildings, with Georgian, Victorian and early 20th century well represented. Many businesses are moving into the area, with some redeveloping or demolishing older buildings. While some historic architecture has been restored and changed for the better, there are others which meet a sorry fate (see my post on a crime against architecture in Artillery Lane). One of the things I love about the Spitalfields area is its many old lanes and alleys. Although many were destroyed during the Blitz, some still remain despite the encroaching modernity and skyscrapers of the City. As businesses come and go from the area, it’s interesting to see which ones embrace the history and heritage of the buildings they occupy… or completely annihilate any original features.
This post focuses on one particular street and one of its buildings. Widegate Street is just 200ft long and connects Middlesex Street and Sandy’s Row. The name Widegate comes from the former ‘white gate’ entrance into the Old Artillery Ground, which was established in the 16th century. Areas of the ground were sold off for housing and shops in subsequent centuries, with its legacy living on today in names such as Fort Street, Gun Street, Artillery Passage and Artillery Lane. Widegate Street used to be longer than what you see today, but some of it was absorbed by Middlesex Street in the 1890s. Today, Widegate Street features a mix of narrow historic buildings, including two listed houses at No.24 and 25 dating back to 1720. Over the years, the site of 12-13 Widegate Street was often home to pastry chefs. including Alexander Kennedy in the 1780s, and John King in 1790, and bakers Joseph Hawkes in the 1820s, and Edward Roll in 1834-37.
No.12-13 is currently home to Honest Burgers, who have branches across London in a variety of historic premises. However, before burger buns were being served, more traditional buns were being baked on site up until the late 20th century. The current building was designed in the 1920s by architect George Val Myer as a bakery, in a neo-Georgian style to complement neighbouring buildings. The ground floor features glazed white bricks, giving a clean, clinical look. The two upper stories are made of red brick, Crittal windows and a strong cornice projecting above. The most striking part of the building are four ceramic panels, giving a permanent reminder of its origins as bakery. ‘Bakers Relief’ were created by Brixton-born sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark (1899-1977) in 1926 and were fired by Carters of Poole. The white and blue glazes are 1.2metres by 50 centimetres and depict the baking process. The panels start with a man carrying a sack of flour; a baker kneading the dough, baking the loaf in the oven and a baker carrying a tray of loaves. The original business itself was called the Nordheim Model Bakery and was opened by Charles Naphtali Nordheim (1864-1941). It carried on trading for several decades after Charles’ death (see a 1973 photo of the bakery). In the 1970s, the words ‘French Vienna and Rye Breads’ had been fixed to façade in between the 1st and 2nd floors. Although the bakery moved on in recent decades, today customers are still their getting their carb fix thanks to buns with their burgers.
- 12-13 Widegate Street, Spitalfields, E1 7HP. Nearest station: Liverpool Street.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
As someone who doesn’t like to follow the crowd, I’m a huge fan of speakeasy bars. I love the idea of venturing into a secret bar or restaurant that only a few know about. Barts in Sloane Avenue has been on my to-do list for quite some time and this week, I finally paid a visit to attend the launch of the venue’s new Comic Book menu.
Barts is located in Chelsea Cloisters – a 1930s apartment block on Sloane Avenue. You’ll have to hunt a bit to find it – there’s no neon street sign guiding you to your destination. We eventually found the hidden door and rang the bell, prompting a tiny letterbox-sized window to open revealing a pair of eyes to check if you’re not the fuzz. Once we entered, we were greeted by an intimate, quirky space featuring cosy red and wood interiors. Vintage Bric-à-brac, such as taxidermy, lampshades and tennis racquets, adorned the walls.
The venue originally opened in 2009 and describes itself as ‘London’s worst kept secret’. However, the team behind Barts have decided to shake thing up and have launched a new Comic Book menu. The new drinks listings come in the form of, you guessed it, a comic book, which tells the story of how Chicago gangster Uncle Barts crossed the Pond and started his bootlegging business in Chelsea’s mean streets. Aside from the obvious of being a place to peruse the alcoholic concoctions on offer, the menu also gives you something to read (handy when your friend or date is running late!) and provides an entertaining back story to some of the innovative cocktails. The menu is separated into eight chapters (e.g. ‘The Real McCoys’ and ‘Most Wanted’), with each having a distinct theme and with boozy mixes complementing Uncle Bart’s adventures animated on the opposing pages.
After spending rather longer than we expected perusing the extensive menu, we settled on the Charleston Crumble (Grey Goose vodka, cranberry juice, rhubarb purée and vanilla syrup) and the Jazz Singer (Russian Standard Original vodka, passion fruit purée and vanilla syrup). On reflection, they had very similar ingredients, but tasted rather different. Mine was the Charleston, which tasted like a dessert and I absolutely loved it. When I tried a bit of my friend’s Jazz Singer, it was more fruitier. Next up, my companion wanted something a bit more dramatic – the intriguingly named Kidnap & Handsome. When the drink arrived at our table, it made quite the entrance. A short tumbler was oozing smoke under a bell jar, with the gangster theme continuing with dollar bills, a lipstick-smudged playing card and chocolate truffle. The drink itself was a mix of sweet and bitterness – Sauvelle vodka, oak-infused vanilla syrup and oak bitters. My choice, The Alchemist (Belvedere vodka, elderflower cordial, mint, gomme syrup and cloudy apple juice) was decidedly less theatrical in a simple coupe glass, but refreshing and subtly sweet.
Drinks aside, Barts also plays host to regular parties and live entertainment. During the night, we were entertained by the fabulous, feel-good vocals of the Haywood Sisters, who really fitted into the retro vibe. Barts regularly have live music on the bill so it’s worth checking out their website.
Overall, we had a great evening – the service, venue and drinks were all exceptional. I loved the intimate feel of the bar, while the staff were friendly and clearly knew their stuff when it came to mixology. Barts would be a great venue to impress a date or celebrate a birthday. I’m off to join Uncle Barts’ mob!
- Barts, Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, SW3 3DW. Nearest stations: Sloane Square or South Kensington. For more information, visit the Barts website.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar reviews, click here.
Vintage has never been bigger and with the release of The Great Gatsby movie last year, it appears the roaring ’20s have been… well roaring again. There is now a host of Art Deco and Speakeasy-themed bars in London as entrepreneurs catch on to the soaring popularity of drinkers wishing they were in another time.
Taking the 1920s theme a step further is The Candlelight Club, a touring pop-up nightclub featuring live music, cocktails, dancing and overall ambiance from yesteryear. I had wanted to get tickets for some time, but finally got round to booking them when I was tasked with organising a hen party recently. The Candlelight Club takes place on sporadic dates in various secret London locations – with them only being revealed a few days before the event, so you need to keep an eye on the website for dates.
A group of nine of us booked our £20 tickets quite far in advance and were able to take advantage of the early bird deal. In addition to your entry, there are options to dine or have a table for an extra cost. As expected the dress code was 1920s so lots of fringing, pleats, spaghetti straps, feather boas, long pearls and Mary Jane shoes. Although hen parties – such as our group – are welcome, try to blend in with the theme so no bright pink sashes or inflatable genitalia! We bought our bride a ‘bride to be’ rosette badge which was the same colour as her dress which was a subtle and simple. The venues of The Candlelight Club tend to be different and all the time, and on the night in question we attended, was a stunning building built in the 1920s in West London lit by candlelight.
In addition to the Twenties theme, The Candlelight Club also has a further theme each night – ours was the Excelsior club, a grander version of the usual club with sweeping staircases, waiters in full suits and a grand venue. Leading the entertainment was Champagne Charlie and his Bubbly Boys with dancing by the Bee Knees. We arrived about an hour after opening and missed out on any unreserved tables, but managed to get a few chairs for our group. It was rather quieter than expected at first before the live music started and with many people eating, which left guests soaking in the atmosphere, having costume envy and sampling the vintage-themed cocktails or bubbly. I particularly liked the bubbly being served in coupé champagne glasses, which nestle in your hand a lot easier than regular champagne flutes.
The atmosphere really changed once Champagne Charlie came on stage with his band. His mix of cheeky humour and singing soon got the crowd going. He also came over to our group and teased the bride with some risqué jokes. We were also treated to several performances by the very glamorous Bee Knees dancers. When the band weren’t performing, there was a vintage DJ spinning tracks so you could attempt the Charleston. In between shimmying, we could be found at the bar which was staffed by very dapper and friendly mixologists and barmen.
I can highly recommend Candlelight Club for a unique night out. The entertainment was brilliant and the venue was totally stunning. It was a refreshing change to my usual weekends to step back into the 1920s for the evening.
- The Candlelight Club takes place on various dates in various secret locations. Tickets highly recommended to be booked in advance. Check out the Candlelight Club website for dates and tickets.
For a guide to other 1920s bars and venues in London, click here.
Or if you fancy a trip to the 1950s instead, check out Metro Girl’s review of the Jive Party at the Rivoli Ballroom.
I always loved the 1920s and 1930s as a stunning era for fashion, design and architecture. So with the release of the recent Great Gatsby movie, I was in the mood for an evening at a venues which fit the bill for a flapper’s night out. Arranging to meet a girl friend for some mid-week post-work drinks and a gossip in central London, we decided to meet at Oxford Circus and check out The Lucky Pig in Fitzrovia. While there are nearer tube stations, it’s really such a short walk to Clipstone Street – which is just off Great Portland Street. Located just under Bolshover House on the junction with Bolshover Street, you are greeted by a colourful mural with the name of the bar, inviting you downstairs to the basement below. While the cocktail bar is located in a basement, it is far from dinghy. Some skylights, coupled with twinkling chandeliers and retro lampshades, give the place just enough light. Although it hasn’t been there for years, the faded and peeling wallpaper, old posters and vintage furniture make you feel like you’ve walked into a hidden gem that’s always been there.
My friend and I arrived on a Tuesday evening, but found most of the tables were reserved or taken so pulled up a stool at the bar. Happy hour was on giving two-for-one cocktails so we spent quite some time trying to decide between the wide range of original cocktails. We started off being a bit decadent than usual – well it did fit the theme of the bar! – by ordering a Prosecco-based mixture. We started with the Isadora Belle – a concoction of Belvedere Raspberry Vodka, framboise, pineapple juice and Prosecco, served in a martini glass and was delicious. We also tried a more light, refreshing Grey Goose Le Fizz – Grey Goose Vodka, lime, elderflower and soda. Although on the night in question there was quiet background music enabling us to talk, the bar does host live music and DJs too. Overall, the staff were friendly and the drinks went down very easily. I loved the venue’s faded-style grandeur which gave it a lot more atmosphere and style than so many other bars in the area. I will definitely be back.
- Lucky Pig, 5 Clipstone Street, Fitzrovia, W1W 6BB. Nearest stations: Great Portland Street or Regent’s Street. Open Tues-Sat. For more information and detailed opening times and menus, visit The Lucky Pig website.
For a full list of all of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.