Various areas of London come and go as the ‘trendy’ new postcode to visit. However, one that has remained an eternal draw to Londoners and visitors for decades as a playground for both is Soho. Bordered by the shops of Oxford and Regent Street with the theatres of Shaftesbury Avenue cutting through it, Soho today retains a mix of its old and new haunts – with iconic venues and restaurants such as Ronnie Scott’s and the Gay Hussar sharing the same roads as the inevitable chain restaurants and coffee shops.
Back in 1991, the community of Soho created a mural at the western end of Broadwick Street to celebrate the characters and venues which make the area so special. Crowning the mural is St Anne – who lends her name to Soho’s church in Dean Street – with her skirt forming the streets and lanes of Soho. Dotted around are dogs and hares, harking back to Soho’s origins as royal hunting ground between the 16th and 17th centuries. In fact, the word Soho is believed to have come from an old hunting cry.
Representing Chinatown in the south east corner of the skirt, is the pagoda and Lee Fung supermarket, while the western borders features a depiction of Liberty’s department store with its iconic Tudor-style timber frame. On the right panel of the mural, popular Soho spots are depicted including the Palladium, Carnaby Street and Ronnie Scott’s, while the left panel features an artist in his studio (believed to be late animator Bob Godfrey MBE), fashion stores and international restaurants. Among the streets of Soho you may well recognise one of the Groucho Brothers – likely alluding to the iconic Groucho Club on Dean Street.
At the bottom of the mural is a huddle of notable Soho residents and clientele, including revolutionary Karl Marx, artist William Blake, poet Dylan Thomas and jazz musician George Melly. When the clock (which was restored in 2006) strikes on the hour, look carefully to see Marx sipping a can of Coca-Cola, while opera singer Teresa Cornelys winks at her former lover Casanova, who returns the favour by blowing her a kiss. Marx actually lived in Dean Street in the 1850s with his family, above what is now the Quo Vadis restaurant. During his time in Soho, Marx and his wife suffered the loss of three of their children in infancy, while he also wrote his proposal for the Communist Manifesto in a room above the Red Lion pub on Great Windmill Street. Meanwhile, Teresa’s parties at her home, Carlisle House in Soho Square were legendary in the mid 1700s. She fathered a daughter Sophia during an affair with Italian playboy Casanova, who used to visit the house.
Next time you’re in Soho, why not pay a visit to the mural and see who you can recognise. Aim to visit on the hour for the very subtle animations around the clock.
- The Spirit Of Soho mural in located on the Berwick Street side of 9 Carnaby Street, Soho, W1F 9PB. Nearest stations: Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus.
For more of Metro Girl’s history blog posts, click here.
While I love the South Bank, few would disagree with me that the brutalist architecture and concrete isn’t the most visually appealing. Those passing under Hungerford Bridge as they walk from Jubilee Gardens to the Southbank Centre would be hard pressed to ignore the mud coloured walls surrounding them. Earlier this month (2-4 August 2013), the Southbank Centre hosted a three-day Urban: Celebrating Street Culture festival, which included DJs, breakdancers, street artists, skaters, free runners and poets doing their thing.
I attended on the first day and was fortunate enough to see street artist Stik in action creating a mural along a particularly drab piece of wall under the bridge. At the point I saw him, he had created a string of his white stick people against a yellow backdrop. When I returned a few days later, they had acquired outfits and different expressions.
Speaking about the South Bank, Stik was quoted as saying: ‘The South Bank has already made a commitment to having a great deal of artistic freedom for street artists and graffiti artists to come and express themselves on their premises. It’s become part of the institution of street art.’ I applaud the Southbank Centre for allowing Stik to create street art on the site and I hope it remains all the walls for the foreseeable future.
For another Metro Girl post on art on Hungerford Bridge, read A different kind of street art: Painter on Hungerford Bridge.