Due to widespread slum clearance and redevelopment over the centuries, there aren’t many Georgian shop buildings left in the West End. However, two such shops have managed to survive for over 200 years, despite previously standing in one of the most notorious slums in central London.
Bedfordbury is a short road of only about 500ft long, linking New Row to Chandos Place. The name Bedfordbury comes from the Earls of Bedford, who acquired the seven acres of land in the 16th century. As Edward Russell, 3rd Earl of Bedford (1572-1627), focused his energies on developing the centre of estate, the fringes became a magnet for haphazard building. A series of small alleys linking Bedfordbury to St Martin’s Lane, including May’s Buildings, Hop Gardens, Turner’s Court, Goodwin’s Court, and Brydges Place, started to pop up. By 1700, the Earls and Dukes of Bedford had practically lost control over the buildings. The lack of landlord control meant the buildings’ standards were far from adequate and the area started to disintegrate into slums, with large groups of families being squashed into upper storeys above the shop levels. In 1887, the steward of the 9th Duke of Bedford’s London estates, wrote: “Every grantee became his own freeholder and his plot of land was under his own absolute control, with this result: that Bedfordbury commenced its career by every man doing what was right in his own eyes in the way of building. A number of alleys came into existence, and instead of a single house being put upon a single plot … a man would put two or three or four on it, may be half-a-dozen houses, or cottages, or anything he pleased upon it, and that went on in perpetuity; and from the time those grants were made until a few years ago… Bedfordbury gradually became one of the worst dens in London.”
No. 23 and No. 24 are likely to be the oldest existing buildings today on Bedfordbury. Built in late 18th century, the terraced houses incorporate the entrance to Goodwin’s Court. Both buildings stand tall at three storeys and have dormered mansard roofs. However, No.24 is slightly wider and features two dormers, with the entrance passage to the Court on the left. The current ground floor shop fronts are not original. No.24’s shop dates back to around the first half of the 19th century, while No. 23 has a mid-century bowed shop window to complement the similar styled windows of Goodwin’s Court.
From the late 18th century to the present day, there has been a high turnover from businesses in the shops at No. 23 and 24. In 1791, a man named Barnard Baker sold household upholstery and hardware. Next door at No.21 was a pub called the Cock & Bottle, which stood on the site for over 100 years, but has long been demolished. By 1842, 23 and 24 were the premises for surgeon JN Walters and hairdressers Cowan & Co respectively.
Moving into the 19th century, the turnover of shops and residents continued to be high – no doubt many were keen to move on when finances allowed due to area’s reputation as a slum. Among the businesses at 23 and 24 in the mid 19th century were greengrocer Michael McNallay and hairdresser/perfumier Reuben Clamp. In 1859, Victorian author and journalist George Augustus Sala (1828-1895) wrote of his disgust of Bedfordbury, describing it as a “wretched little haunt”. He elaborated: “A devious, slimy little reptile of a place, whose tumble-down tenements and reeking courts spume forth plumps of animated rags, such as can be equalled in no London thoroughfare save Church Lane, St Giles. I don’t think there are five windows in Bedfordbury with a whole pane of glass in them. Rags and filthy loques are hung from poles, like banners from the outward walls.”
The third and final installation for the Artist’s Artist Project has been unveiled in Seven Dials. ‘Count to Four’ by Lee Kay Barry is a thought-provoking piece to support World Mental Day 2019. The London-based artist hopes his work will help raise awareness of the importance of talking about mental health.
The Artist’s Artist Project launched in January 2019 and sees each participating artist nominating another artist for the successive installation. It was kick-started by Iona Rowland and her Agatha Christie piece, who then went on to choose Rene Gonzalez‘s ‘At the Entrance of Seven Obscure Passages’, which was displayed over the summer. Each piece will be auctioned for charity following display.
This latest artwork features four people in a living room with one of the group depicted in the colour blue and clearly looking overwhelmed. The colour blue is often linked to mental health, with people complaining of “feeling blue” or “suffering from the blues”.
- ‘Count to Four’ by Lee Kay Barry is on show now until the end of 2019 at the junction of Shorts Gardens and Neal Street, WC2. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Leicester Square. For more information, visit the Seven Dials website.
For a guide to what else is on in London this December, click here.
A new piece of art is on show in Seven Dials to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the district’s famous sundial pillar. ‘At the Entrance of Seven Obscure Passages’ by Rene Gonzalez is the latest installation for the Seven Dials’ The Artist’s Artist Project and was unveiled in May 2019.
The Artist’s Artist project features the showcased artist nominating another for a new installation. Iona Rowland nominated Gonzalez and two other artists following the display of her Agatha Christie piece earlier this year. A panel of Shaftesbury representatives and Seven Dials stakeholders then select the winning artwork. Following display, the piece will be donated to charity.
Gonzalez’s art not only pays tribute to the sundial, but also the rich history of the area. Politician and project manager Thomas Neale (1641-1699) – who designed the Seven Dials estate – is featured in the image, alongside Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, who unveiled the reconstruction of the sundial monument for The Seven Dials Trust in 1989.
- ‘At the Entrance of Seven Obscure Passages’ is on show until September 2019 at the junction of Shorts Gardens and Neal Street, WC2. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Leicester Square. For more information, visit the Seven Dials website.
For a guide to what’s on in London in July, click here.
On show in Seven Dials for a limited time only is a celebration of one of the country’s most successful authors. Artist Iona Rowland has created an artwork marking the 90th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s novel The Seven Dials Mystery. The detective story was one of Christie’s early works and was published in January 1929. Among the characters included Lady Eileen (Bundle) Brent, who also appeared in the author’s 1925 tale The Secret Of Chimneys.
Rowland’s artwork features silk screen prints of a 1926 photograph of Christie. The piece, which was unveiled in January 2019, is on show until spring 2019 on Shorts Gardens – leading to the Seven Dials district of the West End. Once the art comes down, it will be auctioned for charity.
- The Evolution of Agatha Christie is on show until spring 2019. At the junction of Shorts Gardens and Neal Street. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Leicester Square. For more information, visit the Seven Dials website.
For the latest what’s on guide in London, click here.
With the rising popularity of Veganuary and more people making sustainable lifestyle choices, veganism is becoming more mainstream. With that in mind, Londoners are seeking more options when drinking or dining out. For a short time only, Dirty Martini have a limited-edition vegan cocktail menu. On offer until the end of March, the menu features a choice of five dairy-free, boozy creations, all priced at £9.
I went along to the Covent Garden branch last week to try them out with a friend. Upon entering the subterranean space, we were given a cosy, leather booth in the corner which was perfect for a girlie catch-up over cocktails. Despite being a Tuesday night, the atmosphere had just the right amount of party with a DJ playing a mix of new and classic hits in the background. We dove straight into the new vegan menu, with my eye naturally being drawn to the gin cocktails. I ordered The Pink Garden (Beefeater gin, basil liqueur and beetroot shrub with pomegranate, raspberries and citrus), while my friend opted for the 24 Carrot Gold (Havana 3 year rum, green Chartreuse, carrot, ginger, mango, pineapple and citrus). The Pink Garden was a unique flavour – with the beetroot, pomegranate and basil really coming through strong. Surprisingly, the contrasting sweet and savoury flavours worked really well and it was my favourite concoction of the evening.
Next up, I continued with the mother’s ruin theme with a more traditional-esque cocktail – the Lemon and Ginger Collins – a modern twist on the Collins (Beefeater gin, elderflower, ginger and lime, topped with soda). It was refreshing and light and would make a fabulous drink at a spring or summer party. Meanwhile, my friend wanted a sweet treat with the Smooth Operator (Absolut vodka, Kahlua, vegan cream and vegan chocolate), which she declared was a delectable dream and was drunk very quickly!
Delicious drinks aside, we also ordered food to accompany our drinks – well it was a school night! Having ordered vegan cocktails, it was only right to go for the vegetarian sharing platter. The board included Mac & cheese bites; vegetable dumplings; grilled halloumi, vegetable & pesto kebabs; Korean vegetable samosas and grilled flatbreads with mint yoghurt and hummus. Despite being a carb fest, the food was perfectly cooked and wasn’t oily. I particularly loved the mac and cheese bites and the kebabs, they were a great accompaniment to our cocktails. Overall, we had a fabulous evening. The cocktails were experimentally excellent, while the food, service and ambiance were also brilliant.
- The special Vegan cocktail menu are available at all Dirty Martinis until 31 March 2019. London branches at Bishopsgate, Covent Garden, Hanover Square, Islington, Monument, St Paul’s and Minories. For more information, visit the Dirty Martini website.
For a guide to what’s on in London in March, click here.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar reviews, click here.
Beso London is the newest foodie addition to the West End. Billed as a Moorish restaurant, the menu takes inspiration from Morocco and Spain. The new establishment is headed up by founder chef Khalid Dahbi, who has worked in Michelin-starred Le Meurice and L’Arpège in Paris, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, the Gaucho, and Bibendum Restaurant. Situated on the fringes of Covent Garden at the less hectic end of Shaftesbury Avenue, Beso is a refreshing addition to the area’s culinary offerings, which tend to be dominated by chain restaurants.
The venue offers a choice of outdoor and indoor tables. The night of my visit was hot so the terrace was understandably in high demand, so we decided to dine indoors and were thrilled to be offered the Chef’s Table, aka the Firebar. The space features low-lighting, modern art and subtle mosaic detailing, giving a contemporary Moorish feel. Although primarily a dining destination, there is also seating at the bar if you just fancied a quick drink or pre-food cocktails.
Pulling up comfortable bar stools at the marble Firebar, we had a great view into the kitchen so could see and smell the food being cooked. The beauty of sitting at the Firebar meant Chef Khalid could explain the dishes to us and show us the individual ingredients being added. Reading ingredients on a menu is one thing, but being able to see the quality and quantity of them being added to your food was really enlightening. We kicked things off with a glass of Cava with some nibbles as we decided between going off the menu or opting for ‘the Beso Experience’. My friend and I were up for a culinary adventure so after stipulating our dietary requirements, signed up for the experience, which translates as small plates of Beso’s best dishes using the freshest ingredients that day.
We began with the starter-esque sharing plates, along with a bottle of a Portuguese white, Fernão Pires Verdelho, Ai Galera, – recommended by the chef – which was a refreshing and delicate accompaniment. Our first dish was some Crispy Chickpeas with Cumin and Paprika; and Moroccan Sardines with Basil and Chichurra. I liked the different approach to chickpeas, which can be quite a boring food if not seasoned correctly, while the sardines were absolutely delicious. Thinly sliced and served cold, the sardines tasted so fresh and were well complemented by the Basil and Chichurra. We moved on to another fish dish, Smoked Mackerel Pate with Smoked Nuts with bread. It was incredibly more-ish (or should that be Moorish! – ha). Continuing the fish dominance, we had an old favourite of Calamari with Crème Fraiche, Lemon Zest and Harissa, with Chef Khalid garnishing it in front of us, really bringing the kitchen action to the table. Adding some vegetables into the mix, we had a delicious Aubergine Salad with Mixed Peppers and Spinach. The Duck Pastilla was a big hit with my friend. A Moroccan dish of duck wrapped in pastry, cumin, flaked almonds and cinnamon, which proved an interesting and tasty mix of sweet and savoury. Read the rest of this entry
Coming to the West End this month is a brand new festival from the team behind Citadel. Seven Dials will be taken over by Soundtrack, a free one-day music festival. Revellers young and old will find plenty to entertain, including music, comedy, theatre and debates. All seven of the interconnecting streets will be closed to vehicle traffic for the day with a pop-up lawn surrounding the iconic dial. The free event is taking place to coincide with the Mayor of London’s ‘Sounds Like London’ campaign, which aims to celebrate the capital’s rich music heritage and talent.
Throughout the day, the open-air main stage in the centre of Seven Dials will host a variety of music acts, including London singer-songwriter Rukhsana Merrise, The Voice finalists Into The Ark, indie group Pumarosa and vintage-inspired rocker Ten Tonnes. Broadcaster and author Gemma Cairney will be hosting the action from 12pm-6pm. Meanwhile, funky choir Some Voices will be putting on flash mob performances around the area, while there will also be a free silent disco.
You can get into the festival spirit with The Gypsy Shrine on Monmouth Street, who will be offering free, eco-friendly glitter face painting all day. People can try their luck in an attempt to win festival tickets and more at the music-themed tombola, which raises money for charity partner Covent Garden Dragon Hall Trust. When you’re feeling hungry, you can head to the many street food and alfresco dining options, including independent café BOKI, pop-up pizza and prosecco bar from the Escapologist and Portuguese eaterie Canela. Many of the area’s establishments and shops, such as Rosa’s Thai, Rossopomodoero, Duke & Dexter and Club Monaco will be offering 20% off all day. There will also be a pop-up superfood smoothie bar from Neals Yard Remedies and a pop-up cocktail bar from Monmouth Kitchen.
While the festival is free to attend, its recommended you register for your festival map and ticket at Seven Dials’ website. As a ticket holder, you can pick up a free Mint Julep cocktail from the Hawksmoor Seven Dials x Evan Williams pop up bar on Earlham Street.
- Soundtrack takes place on 23 June 2018 from 12pm-6pm. At Seven Dials, Covent Garden, WC2H. Nearest station: Leicester Square or Covent Garden. For more information and to register, visit the Seven Dials website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in June, click here.
The story of Long Acre in Covent Garden and a remnant of its former industry.
Long Acre is a busy shopping thoroughfare in the Covent Garden area of London. Linking Drury Lane with St Martin’s Lane, it has a host of shops from affordable to expensive, attracting both tourists and Londoners. As a one-way road, Long Acre isn’t particularly wide so most pedestrians rarely look up to see the Georgian and Victorian detailing of its many historic buildings. I have walked down Long Acre hundreds of times in my life and never noticed the stunning façade of No. 30-31. Now home to a branch of Gap clothing, the former carriage shop dates back to the late 19th century and shows a clue to its past life.
From the 13th to the 16th century, the area we know today as Covent Garden was ‘the garden of the Abbey and Convent’. The land covered 40 acres and was looked after by the monks of Westminster. However, King Henry VIII (1491-1547) seized the land during the dissolution of the monasteries and in 1552, it was given to John Russell, Earl of Bedford (1485-1555). The northern boundary of the estate was referred to the ‘long acre’ after the first pathway was constructed. In the early 17th century, King Charles I (1600-1649) criticised the condition of the road and houses along Long Acre, prompting estate owner Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford (1593-1641), to try to tidy up the area with more attractive dwellings. As well as improving Long Acre, Russell laid out Covent Garden Piazza and commissioned architect Inigo Jones to design St Paul’s Church in the 1630s.
By the late 17th century, Long Acre started to attract the coach and carriage building trade. In the late 18th century, one of Long Acre’s most famous coach makers was Hatchett & Co at No.121, on the current site of the Calvin Klein boutique and directly opposite Nos 30-31. John Hatchett, whose family were in business from 1750-1870, was credited with creating high standards and innovative designs of carriages copied by his rivals (click here for one of his designs). According to the Carriage Journal, the Hatchetts employed several hundred workers, while John served as chief of The Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach-Harness Makers livery company in 1785, which still exists today. As the 19th century progressed, Long Acre was dominated by coach builders and harness makers, with names such as Pearce & Countze; Edwin Kesterton; Silk & Sons; Wyburn, Meller & Turner; Holman & Whittingham; G. Amery; T George & Co, and, finally, C. S. Windover and Co., Ltd, who was coach builder to her Majesty and next door neighbour at No.33. Read the rest of this entry
Following the recent #MeToo movement, this year’s International Women’s Day is predicted to be the biggest ever. Although it’s still not a public holiday like in Cambodia and the Ukraine (we can dream…), there are a host of events on around the capital to celebrate woman power.
This year, Seven Dials will be hosting a week of events, launches and promotions focused on females. One of the highlights will be an ‘In Conversation With’ talk on International Women’s Day itself on 8 March. Presenter Gemma Cairney will be a hosting a free discussion with a varied panel of influential and progressive women to discuss IWD’s theme of ‘Press for Progress’. Taking place at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel, the panel will feature Trans activist and author Charlie Craggs; British jeweller Dinny Hall; Founder of Mothers Meeting Jenny Scott and Founder of Livia’s Kitchen, Olivia Wollenberg.
Throughout the rest of the week, the area’s boutiques, cafes and bars will be taking part with various activities and promotions. Rossopomodoro will be serving a special chocolate pannacotta with marmalade from CasaLorena, an Italian organisation who help women affected by domestic violence or sexual harassment. Neal’s Yard Remedies will be hosting create-your-own massage oil workshops and offering free hand and arm massages, superfood tasting and in-store discounts. Illustrator Morgan Seaford will be talking about her designs at Duke and Dexter, while jeweller Dinny Hall will be launching a Suffragette-inspired edit at the boutique. Meanwhile, steak restaurant and bar Hawksmoor Seven Dials have created a £6 ‘Sister Suffragette’ cocktail (Appleton Rum, Cocchi Rosa Vermouth, Lavender Bitters and Triple Sec). Throughout the week, Seven Dials have partnered with Hey Girls, who are campaigning to end period poverty in the UK.
- National Women’s Day celebrations are taking place from 1 – 8 March 2018. At venues and stores around Seven Dials, Covent Garden, WC2H. Nearest station: Leicester Square or Covent Garden. The panel discussion takes place on 8 March at 7pm at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel. To claim your free ticket to the talk, enter the ballot on the Seven Dials website before 2 March at 6pm. For more information, visit the Seven Dials website.
For a guide to what else is on in London, click here.
Enjoy a free festival of entertainment, shopping, eating and drinking in London this weekend. This Saturday 19 August 2017, the Spotlight Festival returns to Seven Dials. The streets will be closed to vehicle traffic so visitors can relax in the sunshine on the pop-up lawn.
The open-air stage, hosted by author and presenter Laura Jackson, will feature a great line-up, including performances from the cast of West End musicals The Lion King and Aladdin, Some Voices choir, Whinnie Williams, Old Dirty Brasstards, Marawa’s Majorettes, Five Guys Named Moe and the House & Garage orchestra. There will also be further smaller stages throughout the area featuring performers and DJs, such as Sax and Bongos, burlesque performances from Circus, acoustic sets from Version and magician Neil Henry.
Visitors can really get into the festival spirit with chill out areas, free glitter stations to decorate your face and hair, a GIF photobooth and free fashion illustrations. Among the freebies on offer include cocktails from the Monmouth Kitchen pop-up bar, flower crown workshops, cinnamon buns from the Nordic Bakery and dog grooming from Malin & Goetz in collaboration with Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.
Fashion fans can get their retail fix at the various stores and boutiques, which will be offering in-store discounts and promotions. Among those taking part are jewellers Laura Lee, watch brand Larsson & Jennings, Neal’s Yard Remedies and glasses specialist Ollie Quinn.
- The Spotlight Festival is on 19 August 2017. 12-6pm. Free entry. Seven Dials, Covent Garden, WC2H 9HD. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Leicester Square. Register for free on the website for your free glass of Monmouth Fizz cocktail from the Monmouth Kitchen pop-up bar on Earlham Street. For more information, visit the Seven Dials website.