In cinemas’ heyday in the early half of the 20th century, there were film theatres on every high street, often several on the same road. However, in recent decades, a host of cinemas have been bulldozed or converted into bingo halls, churches and even pubs. However, while one such venue is no longer screening movies, the stunning, original interiors have been largely preserved.
In the heart of Tooting stands a very grand branch of Gala Bingo. Located on Mitcham Road, Gala is residing in the former Granada Tooting, a Grade I listed, Art Deco cinema. Although bingo players are welcome to visit during game-playing hours, I joined a guided tour early one Sunday morning during Open House London for a more in-depth look and to find out about the history.
The cinema was originally built as one of a chain, owned by Essex-born media baron Sidney Bernstein (1899-1993) and his younger brother Cecil (1904-1981). After his eldest sibling Selim was killed during World War I in 1915, as next in line Sidney inherited the family business following the death of his property tycoon father Alexander (1870-1922). The business included several music halls and the Empire group of ‘Kinemas’ in Ilford, Plumstead, East Ham, West Ham and Willesden. Together, Sidney and Cecil established the Granada Cinema chain – named after the Spanish city of Granada after the former had been there on holiday. Granada is home to the stunning Alhambra complex, so the name would have sounded very exotic to the average early 20th century Brit, most of whom would have never been abroad. Sidney wanted people to be drawn to the cinema itself, rather than the film, and thought of his businesses as temples of entertainment. Although his initial ‘Kinemas’ were converted music halls and theatres, his first purpose-built cinema was the Granada Dover, which opened in January 1930 (it was demolished in 2014). Read the rest of this entry
Decades before the likes of Westfield and Brent Cross came to London, those who wanted to shop in comfort headed to one of the capital’s arcades. Like the mega malls of today, these arcades featured numerous shops under one roof, providing a sheltered retail experience whatever the weather. However, as well laid out as these modern fashion meccas are, they just can’t compare to the historic and upmarket designs of the late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. As part of Metro Girl’s series on the five historic arcades of Mayfair and St James, Part 5 focuses on the youngest, the Princes Arcade, which unlike the others, wasn’t purpose built.
Princes Arcade is part of Princes House at 190–195 Piccadilly which was originally built to house the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. The building, designed by English architect Edward Robert Robson (1836-1917) and built by Messrs. Holland and Hannen, and Messrs. Peto Brothers of Pimlico, featured galleries, shops and a public hall. Robson was famous for his London state schools of the 1870s and early 1880s. The Piccadilly-facing ground floor featured six shops, with their own basements and mezzanine. On the façade of the building were eight portrait busts by sculptor Edward Onslow Ford (1852-1901). The building was in a prime location opposite the road from the Royal Academy and was opened by Prince and Princess of Wales (the future Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) in April 1883.
The main public gallery in the building was called the Prince’s Hall. However, by the turn of the 20th century, the Hall was joined with the Prince’s Hotel in the rear and it started being used as a restaurant. Between 1929 and 1933, the gallery building and the Prince’s Hotel underwent significant alterations, with the Princes Arcade being constructed at the time. The new arcade linked Jermyn Street and Piccadilly and opened in 1933. The Princes Arcade is roughly about 200ft long and features shopfronts projecting into the aisle on scrolled bracket. The southern part of the Arcade has a lower ceiling than the northern part, with the latter featuring decorative plasterwork with the Princes of Wales feathers.
In World War II, Princes Arcade fell prey to bomb damage in 1940, prompting repairs and alterations. The galleries of the Royal Institute were also damaged, reopening in July 1948. By 1972, the entire building was Grade II-listed – two years after the Royal Institute’s lease expired and they moved to the Mall Galleries near Trafalgar Square.
The Princes Arcade was renovated in 1983 and is now sporting a blue, grey and white colour scheme. The original lanterns were restored in 2011 and are now a dark grey colour. Today, the Arcade is home to Andy & Tuly, Barker Shoes, Bates Hatters, Christys’ Hats, Loake Shoemakers, Sage Brown, Segun Adelaja, Simply Gem, Smart Turnout, St Petersburg Collection, The Left Shoe Company and Prestat – Roald Dahl’s favourite chocolatier.
- Princes Arcade, Piccadilly, St. James’s, SW1Y 6DS. Nearest station: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Princes Arcade website.
‘Shopping In Style’ is a series of blog posts on the history of London’s oldest shopping arcades. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ to keep up to date with my latest posts. Read Part 1 on the Burlington Arcade here, Part 2 on the Royal Opera Arcade here, Part 3 on the Royal Arcade here or Part 4 on the Piccadilly Arcade here.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
Looking at London architecture, it seems to be dominated by Victorian, Georgian and post-war buildings more than any other style. While very sought-after by many of us today, Art Deco isn’t very widespread in London, and Art Nouveau even less so. The architectural trend for Gothic revival lasted a long time in Britain, kicking off in the 18th century and lasting through the Victorian period. However, in the late 19th century, Art Nouveau brought a much needed injection of light and colour into the gloomy Victorian architecture. Art Nouveau was a short-lived movement and admittedly wasn’t as popular in Britain as it was in continental Europe.
When I was checking out the Sculpture In The City exhibition recently, I happened upon Bolton House in the City. Located on Cullum Street, just off Lime Street. Bolton House is a striking Art Nouveau building housing several shops and businesses, including Bolton’s Italian restaurant. The Art Nouveau design, which is blended with Moorish influences, stood out because it is so rare to see this style, especially in the City. The building features a stunning façade of blue and white faience, arched windows and elegant columns. The frieze above the first floor windows sports the typical Art Nouveau preference for nature with its foliage designs. The building was completed in 1907 – the year emblazoned above the door – just three years before Art Nouveau fell out of fashion. The architect was a Mr A. I. Selby, who I haven’t been able to find out much about. The shield is believed to be the heraldic device of Prior Bolton. The building was renovated in 1984, when two further storeys were added above.
Cullum Street itself is a just moments from Leadenhall Market. The street dates back to the City’s famous rebuild following the Great Fire Of London in 1666. Prior to the blaze, a large house and garden occupied the site. However, in the rebuilding in the late 17th century, 30 houses were erected on the street, which was named after the owner Sir Thomas Cullum.
Meanwhile, if you’re into Art Nouveau, why not check out the Bishopsgate Institute, the Hippodrome, the Horniman Museum or, one of my favourite London buildings, Michelin House in Chelsea.
- Bolton House, 14 – 16 Cullum Street, City of London, EC3M 7JJ. Nearest station: Fenchurch Street or Monument.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
Decades before the likes of Westfield and Brent Cross came to London, those who wanted to shop in comfort headed to one of the capital’s arcades. Like the mega malls of today, these arcades featured numerous shops under one roof, providing a sheltered retail experience whatever the weather. However, as well laid out as these modern fashion meccas are, they just can’t compare to the historic and upmarket designs of the late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. As part of Metro Girl’s series on the five historic arcades of Mayfair and St James, Part 4 will be focusing on the Edwardian of the quintet – the Piccadilly Arcade.
At the dawn of the 20th century, the St James area was a hangout for the capital’s gentry and royals with a host of gentlemen’s shops and businesses catering for the upper classes. St James’s Palace was in the area, as well as prestigious members’ clubs, such as The Athenaeum and The Carlton Club. Swiss hotelier César Ritz (1850-1918) had opened his ground-breaking Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly in 1906. Following the death of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and the ascension of King Edward VII (1841-1910), the country was changing, with styles of fashion and architecture evolving into less gloomy and simpler designs.
When it came to London’s shopping arcades, by the early 20th century, it had been a while since any new ones had been built. The Royal Opera and Burlington Arcades were over eight decades old at this point, while the Lowther Arcade was demolished in 1904 after standing on The Strand for over 70 years. In 1909, work started on a new shopping mecca – the Piccadilly Arcade. The Edwardian arcade linked Piccadilly and Jermyn Street – famous as London’s retail destination for well-dressed gentlemen. Architect George Thrale Jell of Waterloo Place was brought in to design it. Throughout his career, Jell was a popular architect for retailers, having designed several stores in Oxford Street, including the Hanan-Gingell shoe shop in 1908 (now home to branches of Fossil watches and Sunglasses Hut), flats in Bury Street and converted the Georgian building, 138 Park Lane into offices and flats in the late 1920s.
The arcade was constructed by builders Messrs. Leslie and Co. of Kensington Square in 1910. The ground-floor arcade featured 28 shops, while the remaining upper floors were used as offices and chambers. The façade of the building is made of Portland stone and features four columns supporting a architrave with the words ‘Piccadilly Arcade’. Above, a wide wrought iron balcony spans the five windows of the 2nd floor, with further storeys of windows and smaller balconies above. The fifth floor features another wide balcony, while dormer windows stand out on the 6th floor slated roof. The upper storeys were converted into the Felix Hotel in 1915, but is now called Empire House and is mostly offices.
Among the first businesses to open in the arcade were the shirtmakers Budd, who are still trading today over a century later. Harold Budd established his shirt shop at No.4 in 1910, which was set over three floors. Meanwhile, tailors Hawes & Curtis, founded by Ralph Hawes and George Frederick Curtis, opened their first store at No.24 in February 1913. Over one hundred years later, they now have over 20 stores in the UK.
The Piccadilly Arcade traded in peace for 20 years before World War II brought death and destruction to the streets of London. At 3.10am on 17 April 1941, the Jermyn Street end of the building was severely damaged by a 2,200lb parachute bomb. Twenty three people were killed, including the 1930s singer Al Bowlly (1898-1941), who lived on the corner of Jermyn Street. The Dunhill store on the corner of Jermyn Street took a direct hit, while Fortnum & Mason and the Cavendish Hotel were also damaged. Budd’s shop at No.4 in the arcade was burnt down so Harold Budd swiftly purchased the remaining leases on the only two intact stores in the arcade; 1A and 3, where Budd remains trading today. The Piccadilly Arcade was gradually restored, with work finishing in 1957.
Today, the Piccadilly Arcade is home to tailors, shirtmakers, shoe shops, jewellers, hairdressers, womenswear, pharmacy and mustard and vinegar makers. Meanwhile, those who enter or exit through the Arcade’s south entrance of Jermyn Street will be greeted by Irena Sedlecká’s sculpture of Beau Brummell (1778-1840), a Regency dandy who was famous for his dress sense.
- Piccadilly Arcade, Piccadilly or Jermyn Street, St. James’s, SW1Y 6NH. Nearest station: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Piccadilly Arcade website.
‘Shopping In Style’ is a series of blog posts on the history of London’s oldest shopping arcades. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ to keep up to date with my latest posts. Read Part 1 on the Burlington Arcade here, Part 2 on the Royal Opera Arcade here, Part 3 on the Royal Arcade here, or Part 5 on the Prince Arcade, click here.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
Decades before the likes of Westfield and Brent Cross came to London, those who wanted to shop in comfort headed to one of the capital’s arcades. Like the mega malls of today, these arcades featured numerous shops under one roof, providing a sheltered retail experience whatever the weather. However, as well laid out as these modern fashion meccas are, they just can’t compare to the historic and upmarket designs of the late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. As part of Metro Girl’s series on the five historic arcades of Mayfair and St James, Part 3 will be focusing on the only surviving Victorian one – the Royal Arcade.
London’s first ever shopping arcade – the Royal Opera Arcade in St James opened in 1818, with the Burlington Arcade in Mayfair following a year later. The Lowther Arcade was established in The Strand in 1830, but unlike its contemporaries, it didn’t survive far into the 20th century when it was demolished in 1904. After the Lowther opened, it was a 49 years before another arcade joined the capital’s retail industry.
The Royal Arcade was originally known as simply The Arcade and was first envisioned in 1864 as a link between Old Bond Street and Regent Street. However, these proposals were rejected due to the required volume of demolition of existing buildings. However, the plans were revised into its current design by Victorian architects Thomas Archer and Arthur Green (1847-1904). Archer & Green shared a practice for over 15 years before going their separate ways in 1889, during which they designed Whitehall Court, No.1 Cambridge Gate and the Hyde Park Hotel (now the Mandarin Oriental). Green was the father of Leslie Green (1875-1908), who designed many of London’s tube stations, including Oxford Circus, Camden Town, Covent Garden, Holborn and South Kensington. His stations are recognisable due to their ox blood red tiling on the buildings’ exteriors.
The Clarendon Hotel on Albemarle Street was demolished in 1870, freeing up the space for construction of The Arcade, which opened in 1879. In contrast to the older shopping arcades of the capital, The Royal Arcade is a lot more ornate in design. The two-storey arcade features curved bay windows on the ground floor with Ionic columns separating the 16 shops. The first floor features cast iron balconies overlooking the walkway. Looking up, the aisle is covered by a saddled glazed roof and arches with stucco detailing. Meanwhile, the orange and white façade of the building features reliefs symbolising abundance and commerce, caryatids (sculpted female figures taking the place of a column) and a portrait of Queen Victoria.
Decades before the likes of Westfield and Brent Cross came to London, those who wanted to shop in comfort headed to one of the capital’s arcades. Like the mega malls of today, these arcades featured numerous shops under one roof, providing a sheltered retail experience whatever the weather. However, as well laid out as these modern fashion meccas are, they just can’t compare to the historic and upmarket designs of the late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. As part of Metro Girl’s series on the five historic arcades of Mayfair and St James, Part 2 will be focusing on where it all began; the Royal Opera Arcade – the oldest arcade in the world.
Now you could well be confused wondering why the Royal Opera Arcade is over a kilometre away from the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Well the current opera house has only been in its current location since 1847. The current Her Majesty’s Theatre on Haymarket is the fourth theatre to stand on the site and has experienced numerous name changes throughout history. Throughout the 18th and early 19th century, the theatre was renowned as the place in London to see opera and ballet. However, in 1846, Michael Costa (1808-1884), conductor at Her Majesty’s, had a dispute with the owners and switched allegiance to the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, bringing most of the company with him. Theatre Royal, Covent Garden was then renamed the Italian Opera House, eventually becoming the Royal Opera House in 1892.
The Royal Opera Arcade was conceived as an add-on to the second theatre to stand on the site – the King’s Theatre. The original King’s Theatre burned down in 1789 and replaced by a new building in 1791, designed by Michael Novosielski (1747–1795), an architect and former scene painter. When it opened, it was the largest theatre in the country. However, as the 19th century progressed, the theatre was in need of improvement. Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835) and his assistant George Stanley Repton (d.1858) altered the façade of the theatre and increased the capacity of the auditorium to 2,500 in 1816-1818. To the west of the theatre, they added the Royal Opera Arcade. Nash is also famous for designing Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, Carlton House Terrace and many others.
Decades before the likes of Westfield came to London, those who wanted to shop in comfort headed to one of the capital’s arcades. Like the mega malls of today, these arcades featured numerous shops under one roof, providing a sheltered retail experience whatever the weather. However, as well laid out as these modern fashion meccas are, they just can’t compare to the historic and upmarket designs of the late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian period. As part of Metro Girl’s series on the five historic arcades of Mayfair and St James, I will be starting with the Burlington Arcade – the longest and the 2nd oldest of the arcades.
In the early 19th century, the site of the arcade was owned by the wealthy aristocratic Cavendish family. The family had inherited neighbouring Burlington House through marriage when Richard, 3rd Earl of Burlington’s (1694-1753) daughter Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Boyle (1731-1754) wed William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire (1720-1764), who briefly served as Prime Minister. The couple’s son Lord George Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire, (1754-1834) inherited Burlington House in 1815 and ended up using some of the side garden to erect the arcade. His apparent reasoning for building the mini mall was to prevent the passing public from lobbing oyster shells – a common and affordable food at the time – over the wall into his home. As well as give him more privacy, it would also be a tidy earner for the estate.
Lord George enlisted architect Samuel Ware (1781-1860) to design the arcade with building starting in February 1818. While it was being constructed, the world’s oldest existing shopping arcade, the Royal Opera Arcade opened on Pall Mall in 1818. While the Royal Opera only had shops on one side, the Burlington was a double-sided arcade. Opening on 20 March 1819, the Regency-style building featured a 196 yard long walkway lined by 72 two-storey shop units. The high ceiling covered the walkway featured windows letting in lots of light, with Palladian-style, Ionic columns bringing in some style from the classical world. The arcade cost £29,329, with all shops being occupied by the end of the year. Originally, there were 47 leaseholders, including some females, with tenants and their families residing in the cramped living quarters above their shops.
By 1828, it appeared the arcade was certainly prospering, with milliners, hosiers, linen shops, shoemakers, hairdressers, jewellers, watchmakers, tobacconists, umbrella sellers and florists among the many businesses on site. In 1830, Burlington retailer James Drew was the first in the arcade to receive the Royal Warrant. He made the famous high collars for Prime Minister William Gladstone (1809-1898) and invented the soft collar. Read the rest of this entry
Without a doubt, Strawberry Hill is one of the most unique houses in the capital. I was first introduced to it when I saw an Instagram photo of the building’s stunning Gallery and wanted to find out more. Built as a private home, it stands in Twickenham, south-west London, a short walk from the Thames and is now open to the public as a museum.
Strawberry Hill was built in stages from 1749 to 1776 as a home for Horace Walpole (1717-1797), a politician and the son of the first British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745). Horace was under pressure to find himself a country seat (18th century Twickenham was countryside) and found one of the last sites available in the very fashionable area. The original house on the site was called Chopp’d Straw Hall, which Horace wasn’t too impressed with and renamed his new build Strawberry Hill after finding the name on an old lease.
Work on the house started in 1749 with Horace conceiving a vision of a Gothic castle. His inspiration from Medieval architecture predated the Victorian architectural fashion for Gothic revival many decades later. Horace and his team of amateur architectures looked at the Henry VII chapel and tombs at Westminster Abbey, as well as tombs from Canterbury Cathedral for ideas. The resulting building looks like a cross between castles and Gothic cathedrals. The first stage of construction was complete by 1753, with a second stage of alterations taking place in 1760, a third in 1772, with work finally being completed in 1776, costing £20,720 – a rather hefty sum in the 18th century. Read the rest of this entry
History and architecture buffs rejoice – Open House London is returning. Now in its 24th year, the weekend is essentially a festival of design and architecture. Over 17-18 September 2016, around 700 homes, government buildings, offices and more will open their doors to the public for free. While some will be fee-paying museums opening for free, there are also rare opportunities to visit some very special buildings, such as 10 Downing Street or the clock tower of St Pancras. Some buildings, such as the latter two I just mentioned, are entry by ballot or booking in advance. However, most you can just turn up and enter. Some popular venues, such as the Gherkin and the Billingsgate Roman Bath House, are likely to have a queue. With that in mind, here’s my guide to making the most of Open House London.
Tips to making the most of Open House London
- Comprise a list of places you hope to visit and also a few back-ups if the queues are too long.
- Check out TFL’s website to make sure there are no engineering works affecting your transportation to the sites.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking and standing a lot.
- Make sure your phone and/or camera is fully charged so you can search online maps (or bring an A-Z) and share photos on social media.
- Bring ID – some official buildings or skyscrapers may want to check you out before letting you enter.
- Buy an official guide book for £7 (available to order here) or search the listings online on OpenHouseLondon.org.
- Bring your lunch with you – you’ll have plenty of time to eat it if you end up queuing.
- Make sure you don’t carry too much in your bag, which will inevitably end up getting searched at many buildings for security reasons.
- Go the toilet whenever you find a public convenience. Some of the more unusual buildings may not have any available facilities.
- Share your discoveries on social media under the hashtag #openhouselondon. This is also handy for checking out where the long queues are.
- Follow Open House London on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
Highlights of Open House London 2016
30 St Mary Axe, aka The Gherkin. Iconic skyscraper in the City of London, built in 2003. Open Saturday 8am-12pm, Sunday 8am-2pm. (groups of 30 every 10 mins). 30 St Mary Axe, EC3A 8EP. Nearest stations: Bank, Aldgate or Liverpool Street.
Airport House. London’s first ever airport in Croydon, built in 1928. Open Sunday 11am-3.30pm. Purley Way, Croydon, CR0 0XZ. Nearest station: Waddon or South Croydon.
Alexandra Palace. Visit the WW1 relics in the rarely-seen basement and see the progression on the restoration of the Victorian Theatre in this Victorian entertainment palace, built in 1873. Open Saturday 10am-4pm (pre-book 30 min tour in advance via the website). Alexandra Palace (meet on South Terrace for tours), N22 7AY. Nearest stations: Wood Green or Alexandra Palace.
ArtsLav. A former Victorian men’s public toilet has been semi-restored as an underground arts hub. Built 1898. Open Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm. 180 Kennington Lane, Kennington, SE11 4UZ. Nearest station: Kennington or Elephant & Castle.
Bank Of England. Imperial classical headquarters of England’s bank, built in 1925-1939. Open Saturday and Sunday 9:30am-5pm (book via the Bank of England website). Threadneedle Street, City of London, EC2R 8AH. Nearest station: Bank.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. Hindu temple, built in 1995. Open Saturday and Sunday 10am-4pm. 105-119 Brentfield Road, Neasden, NW10 8LD. Nearest station: Harlesden.
Brixton Windmill. Restored Georgian windmill, built in 1816. Open Saturday and Sunday 1-5pm (book in advance via the Brixton Windmill website). Windmill Gardens, Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, SW2 5EU. Nearest station: Brixton.
Caledonian Park Clocktower. Victorian clocktower and former centrepiece for Caledonian Market, built 1850-1855. Open Sunday 10am-3pm (book in advance via Islington council website). Market Road, Islington, N7 9PL. Nearest station: Caledonian Road.
Clissold House. Georgian villa, built 1793. Open Sunday 1pm-4pm. Clissold Park, Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 9HJ. Nearest stations: Manor House, Finsbury Park or Stoke Newington.
Finsbury Town Hall. Art Nouveau, Victorian building from 1895. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. Rosebery Avenue, Farringdon, EC1R 4RP. Nearest station: Farringdon or Angel.
West End stars, a notorious public loo and Dr Crippen: The story behind Clarkson’s wig and costume shop in Chinatown
Chinatown is one of London’s most popular areas for tourists and diners. While today it may feel like it’s been there forever, the capital’s Chinatown used to be located in Limehouse and only started moving into the West End in the 1970s. Looking at the streets of Wardour and Gerrard Street, your eyes are drawn to the Chinese decorations and lights. However, if you look closer, you’ll see many of these Chinese restaurants and bars are situated in ornate Victorian, Georgian and Edwardian buildings.
One such building which stands out from the rest due to its elaborate façade is 41-43 Wardour Street – currently home to The Wong Kei restaurant. However, looking up at the four-storey building, an ornate clock and various plaques give clues to its original use.
While some buildings, such as No.9 Wardour Street dated back to the 18th century, this one is rather more modern. No.41-43 is a little over a century old, built to a design by architect H. M. Wakeley in 1904-5. Made from red brick and green stone, it features three levels of wide windows in a mix of Baroque and Art Nouveau. The smaller, central window on the 1st floor features two cartouches with ‘Estb. 1833’ and ‘Rebt. 1904’ inscribed on them. On the centre of the second floor is a clock projected outwards on wrought iron, reading ‘costumier’ and ‘Perruquier’ (French for costumer and wigmaker respectively).
The building was designed as the new premises for theatrical costume designer and wigmaker William Berry ‘Willy’ Clarkson (1861 – 12 October 1934). His father, also called William (d.1878), started the family business in 1833 after he was apprenticed to a court wig-maker. William Snr established his own business in Vinegar Yard, Drury Lane. He later moved to 45 Wellington Street off The Strand – near the Royal Opera House and Theatre Royal Drury Lane where wigs would have been in high demand. Willy took over the family business after his father’s death and was still living and working at Wellington Street in the 1891 census.
When Willy moved to his new premises on Wardour Street, he obviously had friends in high places due to his West End clients. French stage and early film actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) laid the foundation stone aside the front door, while Victorian actor Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905) is on the coping stone in 1905. His new location was just moments from Shaftesbury Avenue so was easily accessible to the nearby theatres. An advertisement in 1906 describes Clarkson’s as ‘Theatrical Costumier and Wig Maker to His Majesty The King’. The ad boasted customers would find ‘cheapest – the best – the most reliable – the oldest established house in the world for wigs, costumes, grease paints, powders’. Apparently fluent in French as well as English, Clarkson’s had won the ‘highest possible award at the Paris Exhibition 1900’. In 1898 – while still at Wellington Street – Clarkson ended up in court after he had some of his female employees working on a Sunday – which was illegal at the time. He was ordered to pay court costs of £3, 9s, 6d. At the height of his success in the 1920s, he bought the Duchess Theatre in Catherine Street but soon sold it on after issues with the law of Ancient Lights.
As well as stage stars, the police and criminals also came to Clarkson’s for disguises. It is even claimed murderer Dr Crippen (1862-1910) and his mistress were arrested while wearing Clarkson wigs. In James Morton’s 2012 book Gangland Soho, he describes Willy as being a known blackmailer and insurance fraudster with 11 of his premises having burnt down. He owned some rooms opposite an infamous public lavatory in Dansey Place, which was nicknamed ‘Carson’s Cottage’ during the interwar years. It was notorious as a gay pick-up joint and for attracting blackmailers, who would extort money from the cottagers to keep silent. He died in suspicious circumstances in October 1934 at the age of 74. He was found lying on the floor with a deep gash on his forehead, while investigations into the fires were still continuing. The post-mortem was inconclusive. His associate, solicitor’s clerk William C Hobbs forged his will, leaving money to some people the late wigmaker hadn’t even met. However, Hobbs’ forgery was exposed by the lawyer William Charles Crocker and he was arrested four years later.
So Clarkson’s business is now long gone with only the plaques and signage a reminder of his establishment. In 1966, a London County Council blue plaque was unveiled to commemorate him. When Chinatown began to spring up in the area in the early 1970s, the Lee Ho Fook Chinese restaurant took over the building. In more recent years, it became the Wong Kei Chinese Restaurant, which was previously known as ‘the rudest restaurant in London’. However its been under new management since 2014 and is said to be significantly more friendlier now.
- 41 – 43 Wardour Street, Chinatown, W1D 6PY. Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square.
For the history of No.9 Wardour Street, click here.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.