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 his 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
It was off limits to the public for 35 years. However, 2015 saw the reopening of the Regent Street Cinema, the oldest cinema in Britain. Situated moments from Oxford Circus, the Grade II-listed cinema now shows a wide range of quality world cinema including current and classic releases, as well as hosts special screenings, workshops, lectures and events.
Situated on the University Of Westminster’s Regent Street campus, the stunning Victorian building played host to the first ever film screening to a British audience back in 1896. French film pioneers Auguste and Louis Lumière brought their cinématographe to the capital on tour with 54 people paying a shilling to watch 40 second clips of moving images – a major landmark in the history of film. During World War II, it – like many UK cinemas – screened newsreels. Following war in 1951, it also made history by hosting the first UK screening of an X-rated film – La Vie Commence Demain, a French movie featuring graphic violence. In its heyday, the cinema was a favourite of the late Princess Margaret. However, in 1980, the cinema was closed off to public and became a student lecture hall for Westminster students.
Back in 2012, the University of Westminster launched a campaign to fund a £6.1 million restoration to restore the cinema to its former glory for both students and the public to enjoy. Following opening last year, the 1920s Art Deco refit has been restored, as has the stunning domed ceiling and 1936 John Compton organ. It’s now the only cinema in the country which can show 16mm, 35mm, Super 8 and 4K digital formats.
Currently, the Regent Street Cinema is running a limited 2016 offer to sign up for free one year membership. Usually costing £40 (seniors/students £20) a year, you’ll get discounts on tickets, no booking fees and priority booking to special events, as well as other perks throughout the year.
- Regent Street Cinema, 309 Regent Street, W1B 2UW. Nearest station: Oxford Circus or Regents Park. For listings and bookings, visit the Regent Street Cinema website.
For all the years I’ve been dining out in London, I can’t believe I haven’t been to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant until now. In fact, Heddon Street Kitchen is one of the newest additions to the chef’s expanding empire, having opened in November 2014. Similar to Bread Street Kitchen in the city, the establishment is more relaxed and affordable than Ramsay’s other ventures.
The restaurant is spread across two floors with an outdoor terrace in the buzzy pedestrianised Heddon Street. We were shown to a booth in the 1st floor dining room, with its wooden bar, tiling and exposed ceiling pipes giving the venue a New York-loft feel. The menu offers European dishes with an Asian influence, with plenty of familiar favourites peppering the choices. We booked our table for the good value set menu deal, which came with a carafe of wine each.
For starters, I opted for the Tempura soft shell crab, served with coriander, sesame, yoghurt and watercress. It tasted pretty amazing – the mix of flavours and light batter really complemented the freshness of the crab. The presentation was good too, as I often find tempura can look a bit of a mess in other restaurants. My friend went for the Salmon Rilette with Avocado Mousse, which I had a taste of and was impressed. There was a generous helping of salmon for a starter so fans of the fish will be pleased.
When it came to ordering my mains, I decided on the Rigatoni with roasted pepper, ricotta and rocket. It was quite nice, but the pasta was too al dente for my tastes. My companion fared better with the Roasted Hanger Steak with Spring Onion Mash and Peppercorn Sauce, which she said was succulent and tasty.
Finally, the reason I went off the set menu was the allure of the Chocolate fondant with salted caramel and amaretto ice cream. Fortunately it did not disappoint. As much as I love chocolate desserts, I often find them too rich and end up sharing them or leaving them unfinished. This time, it wasn’t an issue and I must confess I wanted to say ‘no’ when my friend asked for a bite! The fondant oozed gorgeous chocolate sauce and the ice cream served on a bed of salted caramel was sweet and more-ish. I have actually been back to Heddon Street Kitchen a second time since my visit and have again eaten the fondant. I actually sent my compliments to the chef via the waiter over the dessert which is very out of character for me, but that’s how much I enjoyed it.
Overall, we had a good experience. The starters and dessert were what made my meal for me. The service was friendly and attentive and the booths incredibly comfortable for us girls to have a catch-up over dinner and wine. I’ve already returned once and I expect I will do so again, if not only for the fondant!
- Heddon Street Kitchen, 3-9 Heddon Street, Mayfair, W1B 4BE. Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus. For more information and booking, visit the Heddon Street Kitchen website.
For more of Metro Girl’s restaurant reviews, click here.
Regent Street is one of London’s most iconic shopping fares, full of people, buses and cars. However, this Sunday 31 May, the street is getting shut down to vehicle traffic as Magnum hosts a special party with entertainment, food, drink and more. The ice cream giants are hosting a one-day spectacular to mark the launch of their new flavours Magnum Pink (raspberry) and Magnum Black (espresso). Among the highlights will be dance performances, a catwalk show, DJ sets, themed cocktails at some of the area’s restaurants and complimentary ice cream.
In the Magnum Emporium – designed by The Saturdays singer Mollie King – there will be a dipping bar to customise your own Magnum, as well as the chance to sample the new Pink or Black at four stations along Regent Street. There music at one end of Regent Street and a catwalk show at the other.
Among the many offers, discounts and promotions taking place on the day include:
– Limited edition cocktail, Infinity & Beyond, from Gordon Ramsay’s Heddon Street Kitchen.
– An exclusive gift with purchase at Hackett.
– Live music at Karl Lagerfeld and 10% off their S/S 15 collection.
– Free manicure when you spend £25, cool giveaways, jewellery workshop for kids, face painting, balloon modelling, monogramming stations and outdoor chill out zone at H&M.
– 10% off at the S/S 15 collection at Banana Republic, Anthropologie, Penhaligon’s and Charles Tyrwhitt.
– Spend £250 at Oliver Sweeney and you will be treated to 20% off.
– 2 for 1 tickets to screenings at Regent Street Cinema.
– 20% off everything at Tommy Hilfiger.
– Sample exclusive Magnum themed cocktails and macaroons at the Hotel Café Royal.
– Cocktails and 10% off bills over £100 at Piccolino in Heddon Street.
– 10% off your bill at FishWorks in Swallow Street when you mention Magnum.
- Magnum hosts a traffic-free day on Regent Street on Sunday 31 May 2015. Free entry. 12-7pm. Regent Street, W1. Nearest tube: Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Regent Street website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in May, click here.
or listings of events in June, click here.
After all the eating and boozing over Christmas, many of us try to start the new year with a healthier approach. Often the word healthy can be translated as dull when we envisage such dishes in our head. However, Soho restaurant Aqua Kyoto has managed to create a menu which combines food which is both nutritious and tastes gorgeous. The New Year Solutions is a special menu which runs from January to March 2015, offering three courses of delicious and nourishing Japanese fare.
Aqua Kyoto is an upmarket Japanese restaurant located on the 5th floor of a Regent Street building (accessed from Arygll Street) – with its sister restaurant Aqua Nueva serving Spanish cuisine next door. The wide square room features contemporary red Asian-influenced interiors. The wide French windows at the back open out to a roof terrace, which would be amazing on a summer evening (on the rainy, cold January day I visited, perhaps not so much). My party of three visited Aqua Kyoto for a late lunch and were shown to a table right by the windows.
As we were having lunch in such a glamorous setting, a glass of champagne seemed a nice addition to the meal. I sensibly accompanied the bubbly with water, which was topped up regularly by the attentive waiters. While we were all booked in for the New Solutions Menu, we opted to start off-menu with a small plate of sushi, which had been recommended. We ordered the Salmon Sushi topped with Lobster Bisque which was absolutely delicious. I’m a huge fan of lobster – quite possibly one of my favourite flavours ever – so the combination of eating it alongside salmon sushi was a new, but enjoyable adventure for me.
The New Solutions menu features a choice of three starters. I chose the Horenso Goma Ae (spinach rolls with roasted sesame and goma dressing). The presentation was brilliant – two cones of spinach with the waiter mixing the dressing with the sesame seeds at the table so we could inhale the gorgeous scent before it was poured over the spinach. I absolutely loved the dish and it was my personal favourite of the three courses.
For main, I ordered the Sake Nabe (Salmon nabe with clear dashi soup and udon noodles and oba leaf). It looked incredibly healthy, but also tasted good. I actually found it too filling for lunchtime thanks to the udon noodles and unfortunately wasn’t able to finish, to my regret. Finally, to end there is only one dessert option – Akamiso chokoraito Macha garetto (red miso chocolate and green tea galette with miso milk sorbet and a sesame wafer). Despite being chocolate, the miso and green tea elements gave it a lighter flavour – avoiding that heavy, sickly feeling some chocolate desserts can conjure up. The mix of ingredients convinced you it was healthier than your average chocolate pudding and it didn’t last too long on my plate before it had vanished.
Overall, the set menu was delicious and nutritious – two words I don’t often use together. What particularly stood out to me was I wasn’t left with that uncomfortable over-stuffed feeling I often have after a three-course meal. Instead, I felt satisfied and energised. I liked the design of the venue and the service was very good. I’ll definitely be back to try out the Infinity Brunch or cocktails on the terrace during the summer months.
- Aqua Kyoto, 5th Floor, 240 Regent Street (entrance on Argyll Street), Soho, W1B 3BR. Nearest tube: Oxford Circus. The New Year Solutions menu features three courses for £27 and is available from 5 January-28 March 2015 between 12-2.30pm on Mon-Sat and 6pm-close on Mon to Thur. For more information and booking, visit the Aqua Kyoto website.
For more of Metro Girl’s restaurant reviews, click here.
This Sunday (8 June), Regent Street will turn into London’s most expensive car park as the cars of the Gumball rally roll into town. The iconic shopping thoroughfare will be closed off to regular vehicle traffic for a one-day festival, with the actual Gumball cars arriving around 6pm.
For those who don’t know, the Gumball 3000 rally sees 120 supercars and their drivers crossing 3,000 miles across five countries and two continents over seven days. Gumball actually has its roots in London as its founder Maximillion Cooper started it here in 1999. Having started in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday, it will be making its UK pitstops in Edinburgh, Manchester and London on Sunday, before ending in Ibiza on June 11.
Ahead of the rally’s arrival, Regent Street will be hosting a free street festival during the day, featuring extreme sports demonstrations, live music, celebrities, a kids’ zone and car displays. The talented and bizarre acts from top London nightspot Cirque Le Soir will also be venturing out of their Soho home to show their skills to the public on Regent Street.
Gumball founder Maximillion will also be celebrating his joint hen and stag party ahead of his marriage to the American rapper Eve – who will also be attendance – so this year’s rally and after-party is set to be a big one!
- The Gumball Festival and rally takes place on Regent Street on Sunday 8 June 2014. Noon-11pm. Nearest tube: Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Gumball 3000 website.
For a guide of what else is on in London this month, click here.