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St Christopher’s Place

the Survey ofLondon25 December 2019

Tucked away up a narrow alley off Oxford Street’s north side, St Christopher’s Place has been a characterful shopping destination for many years. Almost all the buildings are Victorian or later, but the street dates back to the 1760s. When it was first built up most of the surrounding area belonged, as much of it still does, to just a couple of landholdings – the Portman estate and what is now the Howard de Walden estate. There were a few smaller holdings too, one of which was Great Conduit Field, named from the City of London Corporation’s medieval water supply system which ran through Marylebone Fields and on to Cheapside. Great Conduit Field fronted Tyburn Road, as Oxford Street was then known, and extended west from the Ay Brook – part of the river Tyburn, now covered by the buildings on the west side of Stratford Place – to halfway between Duke Street and Orchard Street. Selfridges covers the line of the old field boundary. In the mid eighteenth century this ground came into the hands of Thomas Barratt of Brentford, one of a number of prosperous brick and tile makers digging and baking clay all along Tyburn Road and beyond for the London building trade. In 1760 his only child Ann married Thomas Edwards of Soho, heir to a Shropshire baronet. Barratt died a couple of years later. By this time much of the wider area was being laid out in streets and built up, and in 1765 two partners – Richard Forster, a bricklayer, and John Crowther, a plasterer – agreed to build houses on Great Conduit Field in return for long leases.

St Christopher’s Place as Barrett’s Court, running north from Henrietta Street, c.1870 (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

Part of the new development was Barratt’s or Barrett’s Court, the narrow street now called St Christopher’s Place. The wider Barrett Street at its south end was originally (and until 1879) called Henrietta Street, and as the name implies was intended to have gone on eastwards, to join up with present-day Henrietta Place near Cavendish Square. But the creation in the 1770s of Stratford Place, a gated enclave on land belonging to the City Corporation, put paid to the plan. That may have had a lowering effect on the value of Great Conduit Field generally, which became a mixed area of trades and crafts with some notably poor and over-crowded patches.

Barrett’s Court can never have been other than a fairly lowly address. Even so, it is interesting that it was called a court, as the often down-market term was mostly applied to blind alleys or yards with only pedestrian access, not proper streets. The reason is that when Barrett’s Court was first laid out the west end of Wigmore Street did not exist, sothe north end, near the field edge, would have been closed. That changed a little later, when Wigmore Street was extended west to Portman Square. Not that it was actually acknowledged as such – amour-propre on the part of the landowners meant that one end of the extension took the name Edwards Street, and the Portman-owned remainder became Lower Seymour Street. A pub was built there on the corner of Barrett’s Court, the Pontefract Castle, opened in 1771 and closed only in recent years.

Corner of Barrett Street and James Street leading to St Christopher’s Place, December 2019 (Photographed by Ecem Ergin, PhD student at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL)

Barrett’s Court became part of the long-standing Irish colony in this part of Marylebone, packed with inhabitants most of whom worked outside the district. In 1838 one of the dilapidated houses collapsed, though with enough warning for the occupants to escape. An old woman who refused to leave was rescued from beneath the rubble. Like the even narrower Gee’s Court connecting it with Oxford Street (named after its builder in the early 1770s, John Gee), Barrett’s Court was typical of the slum courts found throughout central London, in which unchecked sub-letting of rooms and a fundamental inadequacy of fresh air and daylight militated against almost any conceivable sanitary improvement. An instance of the prevailing conditions in the area is given by the report of an inquest in 1857 (held at the Lamb and Flag on the Barrett Street–James Street corner) into the death from respiratory disease of a labourer’s child at the truncated end of Barrett Street, characterized as a ‘low, dirty by-street’. There were said to be 30 to 40 people in the house altogether, and the household in question comprised a widower and sister-in-law with their respective several children living in the basement. There was no ventilation other than the area doorway and, in the coroner’s words, ‘not sufficient air for a mushroom to grow’.1

In the late 1850s the parish Vestry did manage to bring about some improvements, and the condition of Barrett’s Court was mentioned in proof of this by the local Medical Officer of Health in 1858. But it remained a poor address, and when Mandeville Place was planned in the early 1870s hope was expressed that it would be taken all the way to Oxford Street, with associated slum clearance sweeping away ‘those fever dens, Barrett’s court and Gee’s court’.2 Instead, both courts were subsequently improved and rebuilt, preserving their back-alley dimensions for posterity.

The north end of St Christopher’s Place, looking towards 78–80 Wigmore Street. An outlet of the Danish bakery chain Ole & Steen occupies the former Pontefract Castle public house at 71 Wigmore Street (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

A further attempt at improving the locale was the parish’s erection of a surface street urinal in Barrett Street in 1865. Tradesmen in the neighbouring streets, including the landlord of the Lamb and Flag, soon wanted it removed. Put euphemistically, ‘it was made a water-closet, a brothel, and was such a great nuisance that the lodgers were leaving the different houses adjacent’.3 But it was decided that the benefits outweighed the drawbacks. In 1910 it was replaced on the same site by the surviving underground convenience.

The housing reformer Octavia Hill’s involvement at Barrett’s Court began in 1869–70, with the purchase of eleven leasehold houses by her associates Julia, Countess of Ducie, and Emma Brooke, wife of the popular preacher and writer Stopford Brooke. Lady Ducie offered practical assistance as well as money – Emma Brooke was an invalid and could not do so – but at least early on the management of Barrett’s Court was largely in the hands of Hill’s disciple Emma Cons, who later founded the Old Vic. More houses were acquired, until Hill and her helpers were in effective control of most if not all of them. Her approach being essentially personal, moral and exemplary, there was no thought at first that the houses should be rebuilt along model-dwellings lines, and as they were leasehold that would not necessarily have been possible anyway. When some of the houses were declared unfit by the Medical Officer and had to be rebuilt, she was ‘obviously annoyed’.4 Rebuilding, however, allowed for more and better dwellings as well as lucrative shop units.

23 Barrett Street (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

‘Blank Court; or, Landlords and Tenants’, her account of Barrett’s Court, was first published in 1871 and was at once denounced by the Medical Officer, Dr Whitmore, as ‘a clever fiction, rather than a narrative of actual facts.’5 He thought she was sensationalizing the subject and exaggerating both the bad condition of Barrett’s Court in 1869 and the extent to which her management had improved it. She replied with a detailed list of what had done by way of repair and improvements in drainage, cleaning and management, and the two met. Somewhat mollified, Whitmore declared himself ‘strongly impressed with the earnestness of her purpose’.6 But there was a further clash with the Medical Officer and Vestry in 1874.

Rebuilding took place in three stages, beginning with houses on the east side, replaced by Sarsden Buildings in 1873, and continuing in 1877 on the west with several more, rebuilt as St Christopher’s Buildings, subsequently designated North St Christopher’s Buildings. The final block, South St Christopher’s Buildings, followed in 1881–2.

The area in the 1890s (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

Sarsden Buildings was financed by Lady Ducie (1829–1895), whose London residence was in Portman Square, and named after her birthplace in Oxfordshire. Its building followed her acquisition of the freeholds of the houses on the site when these were put up for sale with other properties on the now fragmented Great Conduit Field estate in 1873. In their original form the individual tenements were very basic, consisting of small two-room ‘sets’ accessed from open balconies at the rear. This remained the arrangement until the block was modernized in the 1960s to make proper flats, each with its own compact bathroom and kitchen. By then the upper floors of No. 1, the sole survivor of the original houses in the street, had been added to the ensemble.

In the basement, entertainments were organized by Emma Cons and the author George MacDonald, who wrote plays to be performed there. A visitor in the 1880s found it ‘the most cheerful by far of the many club rooms for the poor that I have seen’, but gives an impression of some awkwardness: ‘On the little round tables I noticed all sorts of illustrated papers – the Graphic, and Illustrated News, and even Punch. There was excellent tea and coffee at a penny a cup, and a kind of concert was given by some good-natured amateurs. The people seemed to enjoy themselves a good deal, in a quiet sort of way. The women brought their babies – wretched-looking little mites most of them … Miss Hill and some of her lady-helpers moved about amongst the people, and seemed to know them all by name’.7

Sarsden Buildings on the east side of St Christopher’s Place (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

St Christopher’s Buildings were built on long leases from the freeholder H. J. Hope-Edwardes, a descendant of (Sir) Thomas Edwards. Although Emma Brooke had bought the old houses, she died young in 1874 and the rebuilding was seen through by her brother, the banker and Liberal politician Somerset Beaumont. Another very plain structure, the north block originally comprised tenements of one, two and three rooms, with shops and a basement laundry. The southern block at least was designed by Octavia Hill’s favoured architect Elijah Hoole, who gave it a red-brick Gothic front with distinctive curved doorways on the street. The name of the development was suggested by Octavia herself: ‘The world would fancy it was named after some old church; and I should hear the grand old legend in the name. Is it too fantastic a name?’8 In 1884 the street became St Christopher’s Place.

Though the Victorian rebuildings have survived, some of the old tenements are now luxury apartments. But the tradition of social housing here continued with the construction in 1964–5 of the modern-style flats, over shops, at 6–8 St Christopher’s Place, designed for the St Marylebone Housing Association Ltd by Green & Monk, architects, of Forest Gate.

14–15 St Christopher’s Place (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

Following the improvements in housing brought about by Octavia Hill and her followers, in the early twentieth century there was another notable female enterprise, at the corner of St Christopher’s Place and Barrett Street. Much rebuilding was going on around this time, including the redevelopment at 3–5 Barrett Street, undertaken speculatively by Charles Pedlar, an engineer and gas-fitter of Bird Street, who developed several sites in the area. No. 5 became his own new premises, while the greater part of the block was first occupied by the newly incorporated Women’s Dining Rooms, Ltd, whose restaurant exclusively for women opened there in 1904. Its founders included May Tennant, the first woman factory inspector, her husband the Liberal politician H. J. (Jack) Tennant, and Thereza Rücker, wife of the physicist and principal of the University of London, Sir Charles Rücker. Young shop assistants and typists were the typical intended clientele. The shareholders, most of them women, were drawn mainly if not exclusively from the upper classes. Larger subscribers included the Wigmore Street store owner Ernest Debenham; the promoter of model dwellings and the Rowton Houses, Sir Richard Farrant; the future peace campaigner Lord Robert Cecil; and the barrister Henry Bonham Carter. May Manning of the Ladies’ Empire Club in Mayfair became manager.

Christmas decorations at St Christopher’s Place (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

It was acknowledged that good midday meals were unaffordable for most working women, and that charity restaurants would only encourage the acceptance of less than living wages. The need for such meals had been ‘felt and successfully met in many foreign towns’ and it was hoped the same could be done in London.9 The kitchen was at the top, and dinners, to a basic menu of meat, fish, vegetables, soup, bread and cake with tea or coffee, were served below from midday in two rooms seating nearly 300 in all. They cost only a few pence, but there were flowers and white tablecloths, and lavatories and a rest-room with newspapers and magazines, available without extra charge. Although similar to the Dorothy Restaurants begun in Mortimer Street, Bond Street and Oxford Street in the late 1880s, the venture was hailed as a novelty. A conference and entertainment, overseen by the National Union of Dressmakers’ and Milliners’ Assistants, was held there in 1906, and the restaurant may have been set to become a centre of the women’s movement. But it did not pay and in 1909 had to close.

The premises were subsequently occupied by the London Home Delicacies Association Ltd, run by Harriet Converse Moody of Chicago, who held the Earl’s Court Exhibition catering contract. She was the wife of the American poet and playwright William Vaughan Moody, and the friend of literary figures including Robert Frost and Rabindranath Tagore. As a professional caterer, she had contracts with the Marshall Field store and Chicago railways. The business was not a success, however, and from the First World War or soon after the building was used as garment workshops. The Antique Supermarket was started there in the 1960s, an establishment which helped put St Christopher’s Place on the map for trendy shoppers.

The Lamb and Flag public house at the corner of Barrett Street and James Street (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

The secondhand furniture trade was well established in Barrett’s Court by the mid nineteenth century. It survived the street’s extensive redevelopment, and in the early twentieth century there were also businesses in related fields such as cabinet making, art metalwork and gilding. By the 1930s St Christopher’s Place was known for its rather picturesque concentration of antique shops. The writer E. V. Lucas found it comparable in atmosphere to Cecil Court off Charing Cross Road, but instead of the antiquarian prints and books found there it specialized in furniture and bulky objets, with ‘life-size statues, carved overmantels, bureaux, often encroaching on the pavement’.10 An old-fashioned ambience survived the Second World War but by the early 1960s the picture was beginning to change. A modern furnishings showroom was opened at No. 10 by the Custom Design Group, which had been set up by a consortium of companies ‘to raise the standard of British design’.11 This sold relatively upmarket product ranges for the home including commissions from well-known names such as Lucienne Day. Bennie Gray’s Antique Supermarket, opened in 1964, tapped into the nostalgic, often off-beat, taste for Victoriana and Art Nouveau which was swiftly developing alongside that for ‘Contemporary’ design. The basic idea, of independent stalls operating under one roof in the manner of a bazaar was not a new one to London, and a successful precedent in the antiques trade had been set as early as 1951 by the Red Lion Antiques Arcade in Portobello Road. Gray followed the original supermarket with a series of antique centres – the Antique Hypermarket in Kensington, Gray’s in Mayfair, Alfie’s in Church Street off Edgware Road, and Antiquarius in King’s Road.

The Lamb and Flag (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

Planning permission for redevelopment on the west side of St Christopher’s Place had been granted when in 1967 the property was bought by the developer Robin Spiro, in conjunction with Allied Land. Spiro was taken by the street’s character and instead of redeveloping set about renovating the buildings, employing the Irish designer William Graham, and re-letting the shops. Graham was also commissioned to fit up one of the shops as the Redmark Gallery, which opened in 1968 and was associated with contemporary and avant-garde artists including the experimental film-maker Stephen Dwoskin.

With this new approach, St Christopher’s Place and streets in the immediate vicinity became a shopping destination in their own right, a much-needed counterweight to the hectic, hard-sell atmosphere of main-street retailing and fast-food catering typified by Oxford Street. St Christopher’s Place became well-known for unusual shops selling such items as jewellery and crafts products. Hiroko, the ‘first fully authentic’12 Japanese restaurant in London, opened there in 1967 and was followed by Kazuko on the corner of James Street. In 1968 the still-extant Amjadia Indian restaurant opened in Picton Place near by. The neighbourhood is now home to restaurants of many ethnicities, and the east end of Barrett Street is an oasis of eateries with outside seating.

1 Barrett Street (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

In the 1970s, working with the Imperial Tobacco Company Pension Fund, which owned property locally, Spiro planned a retail ‘village’ named Craftown, partly modelled on San Francisco’s Ghiradelli Square. The idea was to turn the block north of Barrett Street, between St Christopher’s Place and James Street, into a glass-roofed precinct, with shops and restaurants specializing in national or ethnic, particularly third-world, crafts and cuisine, together with exhibitions and other promotional activities. Agreements for participation were made with numerous countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Greece and Iran.

The full vision of Craftown remained on paper, but St Christopher’s Place was successfully improved and regenerated during the 1970s and 1980s. On the west side, the old tenements were refitted as luxury apartments and offices, while the street was repaved and buildings refurbished as craft and other specialist shops, galleries, restaurants or wine bars. By the early 1980s it was becoming established as a centre for high-class fashion and fashion accessories. Well out of the retail mainstream was Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s Nostalgia of Mud at No. 5, in 1982–3, conceived to display an earth-coloured clothing collection of the same name based on Peruvian ethnic dress, and as much art installation as shop. The shopfront was obscured by an exterior hanging in the form of a world map fashioned in relief in plaster, and the interior incorporated a brown ceiling drape, a pit of ‘mud’ bubbling under a grating, and scaffolding apparently to suggest to the unadventurous that building was still in progress and the shop not yet open.

View looking south along St Christopher’s Place (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

References

  1. Morning Chronicle, 4 Sept 1857
  2. Marylebone Mercury, 14 Jan 1871
  3. Marylebone Mercury, 22 July 1865
  4. Robert Whelan, Octavia Hill and the Social Housing Debate. Essays and Letters by Octavia Hill, 1998, p. 66
  5. Marylebone Mercury, 18 Nov 1871
  6. Marylebone Mercury, 18 Nov 1871
  7. Norfolk News, 12 Jan 1884
  8. C. E. Maurice, ed., Life of Octavia Hill: As Told in Her Letters, 1913, p. 351
  9. The National Archives, BT31/10556/79790
  10. Sunday Times, 26 Sept 1937
  11. Sunday Times, 7 Jan 1962
  12. The Guardian, 8 Dec 1967

Oxford Street

the Survey ofLondon29 November 2019

The Survey of London looks forward to the publication of the 53th volume in its main series in April 2020. Oxford Street is among the world’s great shopping streets, renowned for its department stores and the vitality of its crowded pavements. After well over 200 years of retailing, it stands unchallenged as London’s most continuously successful magnet for shoppers. As a thoroughfare Oxford Street is far older, going back to Roman times. Under its earlier name of Tyburn Road, it was notorious for centuries as the route of the condemned to the gallows on the site of the present Marble Arch. The volume will be the first in the Survey of London series to deal with the development and architecture of a single street. No major London street has ever received such a complete analysis, offering fresh insights on the growth of shops and shopping in the British capital and illuminating the variety of buildings and activities that have given Oxford Street its striking and fluctuating character. It also explains the reasons underlying Oxford Street’s unique success – at first, its position between opulent Mayfair and Marylebone, later, the array of underground lines affording fast and easy access to its shops.

Following the success of making draft texts of Woolwich, Battersea and South-East Marylebone available online, the Oxford Street texts have now been released on the Survey of London’s website. The draft chapters may be viewed or downloaded as pdf files. The chapters include references but not illustrations. The print volume will follow next April, published by Yale University Press on behalf of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. The Survey of London’s website contains a catalogue with links to online versions of volumes in the main series and monograph series. For some time, volumes 1 to 47 of the Survey of London have been available via British History Online. Print copies of the most recent volumes, including Oxford Street (which may now be pre-ordered), are available from Yale Books and other booksellers.

Here follows a selection of illustrations specially created and commissioned for the forthcoming Oxford Street volume, with links to the relevant draft chapters.

3 Tottenham Court Road, front of the former Lyons Oxford Corner House in 2015. F. J. Wills, architect, 1927–8 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read the account of the Oxford Corner House in Chapter 1

Oxford Circus Station, former Central and Bakerloo Line Stations, in 2018. The Bakerloo Line Station to the left with its superstructure is in the foreground, with the Central Line Station across Argyll Street (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read a full account of Oxford Circus Station in Chapter 12

Ground and first-floor plans of Joseph Emberton’s second reconstruction of HMV, 1938–9 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones). Read more about the HMV store at 363–367 Oxford Street in Chapter 20

Debenhams, Oxford Street, front in 2019, showing overcladding installed in 2013 to designs by the Californian artist Ned Kahn (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read more about the Debenhams flagship store in Chapter 8

The 100 Club in the basement of 100 Oxford Street, 2018 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read more about Century House and the 100 Club in Chapter 2. Earlier this year, the 100 Club was the subject of a blog post

Frascati’s Restaurant, 26–32 Oxford Street, section c.1905 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones). Read the account of Frascati’s Restaurant, located at 26–32 Oxford Street between 1892 and 1954, in Chapter 1

Marks & Spencer, Pantheon Branch, front in 2018. W. A. Lewis & Partners with Robert Lutyens, architects, 1938, extended eastwards in 1962–3 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). The Pantheon store is included in Chapter 17, and was the subject of an earlier blog post

John Lewis, Oxford Street and Holles Street fronts in 2018. The revised fascia with the firm’s new title John Lewis and Partners was incomplete (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Chapter 6 covers the block entirely taken up today by John Lewis

Etam shop, 264 Oxford Street, plan and section, 1959 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones). The redevelopment of the ‘East Island’ site by Land Securities may be found in Chapter 5

164–182 Oxford Street, former Waring & Gillow store, in 2019. R. Frank Atkinson, architect, 1904–6 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read the account of Waring & Gillow in Chapter 4

Peter Robinson, former restaurant on top floor of Oxford Circus block, now accounting department of Topshop, in 2013, with murals by George Murray (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read more about Oxford Circus and the Peter Robinson department store in Chapter 12

Selfridges, block plan showing phasing of the original building between Oxford and Somerset Streets, and inter-war acquisitions of sites further north up to Wigmore Street (© Survey of London, Helen Jones). Read the full account of Selfridges and buildings previously on the site in Chapter 10

London College of Fashion, detail of the front, 2018 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). The London College of Fashion building (LCC Architect’s Department, 1961–3) above the ‘East Island’ site development by T. P. Bennett & Partners for Land Securities may be found in Chapter 5

Tottenham Court Road Station, vestibule with mosaics by Eduardo Paolozzi in 2018 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read about Tottenham Court Road Station and its surroundings in Chapter 13

Studio Two, plans of the new cinema in 1936. Leslie H. Kemp & Tasker, architects (© Survey of London, Helen Jones). Read more about Studios One and Two in Chapter 19

Main entrance of Selfridges in 2018, showing bronze doors and flanking figures of Art and Science by William Reid Dick, sculptor, 1929 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Chapter 10 is devoted to the large block occupied by the Selfridges store, with a summary of buildings previously on the site followed by an account of the store’s convoluted origins and growth

156–162 Oxford Street, former Mappin & Webb building, in 2013. Belcher & Joass, architects, 1907–8 and 1929 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read about the Mappin & Webb store at 156–162 Oxford Street in Chapter 3

Marks & Spencer (Pantheon store), 169–173 Oxford Street

the Survey ofLondon17 May 2019

The site of the celebrated Pantheon (1772–1937), fronting Oxford Street and carrying through to Poland Street at the side and Great Marlborough Street at the back, is occupied today by the best-known London outlet of the Marks & Spencer chain, familiar for its distinctive polished black-granite frontispiece. The Pantheon was a place of public entertainment (originally with a spectacular domed interior) from its opening in 1772 to 1814, and afterwards the site of a bazaar and W. & A. Gilbey, wine and spirit merchants. The site was sold to Marks & Spencer Ltd in 1937. The store was constructed in 1938 by Bovis Ltd to designs prepared by W. A. Lewis & Partners in collaboration with Robert Lutyens (the son of Edwin Lutyens). It originally covered just the Oxford Street frontage of the Pantheon site, numbered 173 after 1880, together with the premises behind, but was extended eastwards in 1962–3 to take in the sites of Nos 169–171.

The front of the Pantheon branch in 2018 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Marks & Spencer Ltd opened their first West End branch at Orchard House, 454–464 Oxford Street near Marble Arch, in 1930. The decision to establish a larger store in the West End confirmed the success of the earlier enterprise and the energetic pace of the firm’s expansion. In 1916, Simon Marks took the helm of the company co-founded by his father and set about improving the business to fend off competitors such as Woolworth. Marks travelled to the United States in 1924 to study retail practices in chain stores, and returned with an insight into ‘the value of more imposing, commodious premises’, modernised administration and counter footage. [1] The public flotation of the company in 1926 generated funds for the construction of new stores. By the beginning of the Second World War, the company had built or rebuilt 218 shops and extended approximately 200 more. The Pantheon store was set apart from its contemporaries by its size, sophistication and superior location. One of its architects later recalled that it was ‘the store to outstore all stores, and the amounts involved in the acquisition of the site and the building were, by comparison with the stores which had already been erected, quite astronomical’. [2]

The task of designing this prominent store was entrusted to Lewis & Partners (later Lewis & Hickey), the architectural firm largely responsible for work in the south of England for Marks & Spencer. The building process was overseen by Ernest E. Shrewsbury, the head of its building department. Lewis & Partners also worked in collaboration with Robert Lutyens, who was appointed consultant architect to the company in 1934. He devised a standardised system for the street elevations of stores, which were faced with square artificial-stone tiles based on a ten-inch module to ensure uniformity and coherence. This inventive approach was applied to frontages of any size, including extensions. The application of polished black granite to the Pantheon and Leeds stores signalled their prestige and imitated the glamour of West End blocks such as the National Radiator Building (Ideal House) in Great Marlborough Street, Drages in Oxford Street, and the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square. [3]

The Pantheon store, photographed in 1938 (The M&S Company Archive, P2/87/195)

The original store occupied the full site of the former Pantheon, reaching south to Great Marlborough Street and east to Poland Street. Lewis & Partners had produced plans for a three-storey north range fronting Oxford Street in 1936, but these were supplanted by a more ambitious scheme with a showy arcade. A four-storey block faced with shiny black granite was devised for the north front. The sleek façade was composed of five bays, with square first-floor windows set among chequer-work panels and three embrasures above containing tall Crittall windows and flat paterae. A plain parapet contained green neon lettering. The ground floor incorporated an arcaded shopfront executed by Holttum & Green of Holloway. This was lined with Bianca del Mare marble and furnished with gilded bronze display cases, including a central freestanding showcase. Two-storey ranges facing Great Marlborough Street and Poland Street were more modest in scale and quality of materials, being faced with glazed terracotta tiles. The east frontage initially comprised 39 and 41 Poland Street, its regularity interrupted by a pre-existing front at No. 40. The remainder of the site was occupied by a single-storey range which provided nearly 22,000 square feet of retail space. [4]

After the Pantheon branch opened in October 1938, an article in a trade magazine remarked that it was ‘designed and equipped on lavish lines’, incorporating features more commonly found in department stores. [5] The ground floor was devoted to sales, with approximately 2,200 feet of counter displays, garment rails and wall racks in an open-plan arrangement. The main retail departments were food, clothing, millinery, footwear and household goods. Extravagant decorative finishes included walnut counters and wall panelling, coffered ceilings and oak block floors laid in a basket weave pattern. Specialist technology in the store included a clock with a signalling system for managerial staff and pillars capped by aluminium light reflectors and grilles for heating and ventilation. A café at the back of the shop adopted a bold, streamlined style based on Wanamaker’s luncheonette in Philadelphia, with curved bars encircled by tall fixed stools with red-leather upholstery. A ladies’ writing and rest room was located on the first floor, with an adjoining lavatory and attendants’ office. The store also provided amenities for the welfare and training of nearly 300 employees, who included an interpreter for seven languages. The upper floors of the north range contained offices, a training room, comfortably arrayed rest rooms, and a canteen serving meals at low prices. The basement contained stock rooms with air-conditioned stores for foodstuffs and a loading bay in Great Marlborough Street.

The Pantheon store, photographed in July 1951 after its extension eastwards into 169–171 Oxford Street (The M&S Company Archive, P2/87/195)

In 1951 Marks & Spencer Ltd expanded eastwards into the basement and ground floor of 169–171 Oxford Street. This six-storey speculative block had been built in 1934 by James Carmichael Ltd to designs by Morris de Metz, replacing Vanoni’s restaurant and a shop. It had been mainly occupied from 1935 by Associated Talking Pictures Ltd, for whom the cinema architect George Coles made alterations, but the shop below had been in separate occupation. By this time, Marks & Spencer Ltd had expanded its catering provision for customers with tea and sandwich bars, ice cream counters, and a large self-service cafeteria with seating for 260 people. These additions probably compensated for the shortage of clothing during rationing. After the acquisition of the adjoining property, openings in the party wall were formed to extend the ground-floor shopping area and the basement stock rooms. Additional shopping space was formed by clearing the arcade shopfronts at both premises, restricting the main entrances to narrow lobbies flanked by display cases.

Sales at Marks & Spencer, Oxford Street Pantheon branch, in the early 1960s. Stocking counter in the foreground (Historic England Archive)

The eastern extension at Nos 169–171 was rebuilt in 1962–3 to secure a continuous street front for the enlarged store. The black-granite façade of the original store was extended by four bays, creating a symmetrical and uniform composition that attested to the adaptability of Lutyens’s modular system. A new shopfront had two recessed public entrances flanked by display cases, which admitted customers into an extensive and open-plan shop. The east front was also extended southwards to include 42–43 Poland Street. In the 1970s, a series of extensions tripled the area devoted to retail space. Lewis & Hickey oversaw a first-floor extension and the rebuilding of the rear of the store in 1971–2. A substantial five-storey range fronting Great Marlborough Street was constructed with irregular fenestration, grey-slate cladding interspersed with raised brown-brick panels, and a steep mansard roof. Public staircases, lifts and escalators on the ground floor ascended to a first-floor sales floor, with an adjoining stock room in the north range. A basement sales floor opened in 1978, increasing the retail space to 93,100 square feet arranged over three main floors. Around this time, the east front in Poland Street was rebuilt on an extended footprint to similar designs prepared by Lewis & Hickey, with a brown-brick and grey-slate elevation. The addition of a second-floor sales area followed. Successive refurbishments of the interior have left no original features behind the black-granite front.

The Pantheon store, photographed in March 1963 during construction works to extend the black-granite façade (The M&S Company Archive, P2/87/195)

References

1. Israel Sieff, Memoirs, 1970, pp. 141–60.

2. Patrick Hickey, cited by Asa Briggs, Marks & Spencer, 1884–1984, 1984, p. 47.

3. Lewis & Hickey, Sixty-Two Years Association with Marks & Spencer, 1984: Kathryn Morrison, English Shops and Shopping, 2003, p. 230.

4. Neil Burton, ‘Robert Lutyens and Marks & Spencer’, Thirties Society Journal, no. 5, 1985, pp. 8–17.

5. The Chain and Multiple Store, 22 October 1938.

The 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street

the Survey ofLondon22 March 2019

With the Survey of London’s Oxford Street volume currently in preparation, today’s blog post looks at one of the street’s hidden musical treasures – the 100 Club, at 100 Oxford Street.

The 100 Club (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

At a time when the capital’s increasing gentrification and corporatisation is gradually erasing anything of vitality or individuality from the city’s streets, the 100 Club stands out as a rare survivor of the type of raw and intimate live venue that once made London the world centre of popular music culture.

The 100 Club (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Hidden away down a simple staircase in the dark basement of a 1920s office block, the 100 Club epitomises the type of gritty trad jazz and folk ‘cellars’ that rose to prominence in post-war London. But its origins go back further, to 1942, when a Sunday night swing club, Feldman’s Swing Club, opened in a basement restaurant called Macks at 100 Oxford Street. By 1949 the club had become the Jazz Club, or London Jazz Club, and by 1951 the Humphrey Lyttelton Club. Roger Horton, father of the current owner Jeff Horton, took over the premises in 1964 and renamed it, presumably after its address – though legend has it that the name was also a sly reference to the club’s small capacity – though today that is now 350.

The main staircase at the 100 Club (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

All the factors that might appal a modern concert-goer are what make the place special. It can be dark, cramped, hot, noisy, and teeming with people – ‘a proper cave’, as the music citric Geoffrey Smith once described it [1] – but nearly always overflowing with the raucous atmosphere of audience and musicians having a good time. That atmosphere has lasted through the jazz and blues nights of the fifties and sixties, the British ‘beat’ explosion of the early to mid sixties, punk and funk in the seventies and eighties, and Britpop in the 1990s.

The 100 Club (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The list of now world-famous names who have appeared on the 100 Club’s tiny stage is astonishing, from Louis Armstrong, Humphrey Lyttelton and Stan Tracey, to Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and Bob Dylan, and in more recent years Blur and Oasis. But emphasising this glittering roll-call partly misses the point. The 100 Club’s durability is due in large part to its refusal to confine itself to one particular brand of music, to its championing of the up-and-coming, the new and the unfamiliar. The now legendary ‘100 Club Punk Festival’ held there by Malcolm McLaren in the summer of 1976, which heralded the appearance of a new, exhilarating, anti-establishment force in music and popular culture, expressed this best, when an impromptu group of ‘musicians’ that would later evolve into Siouxsie and the Banshees took to the stage to open the festival, for what was their first ever live performance.

The dressing room at the 100 Club (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Despite its undoubted cultural significance and the dearth of live music venues in twenty-first century London, the 100 Club was by 2010 struggling with debt and facing closure. Rising business rates, alcohol duty increases and licensing restrictions had tipped the business into debt. A partnership with Converse footwear (now finished) and a high-profile publicity and fund-raising campaign, including a performance by Paul McCartney, saved the 100 Club then. But today its future is still far from secure. Further rises in rents and rates, and especially the Conservative government’s iniquitous attitude to business rates, which were raised again dramatically in 2017, have once again left the club’s owners faced with debt and ruin. The recent business rates revaluation takes no account of the size of a business or its profit margins, only its property. The effects can be seen all across London’s high streets today, where many cafés, bars, live music venues and other small local businesses have been forced to close.

The 100 Club (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Miles Kingston once described the 100 Club as a ‘vast underground barn … where over the years the hand of the interior decorator has not set foot, a big functional oblong which, if 1950s jazz clubs ever get the Betjeman seal of approval, will have a preservation order slapped on it as a totally unspoilt specimen’. [2] That was in 1980 and little has changed at 100 Oxford Street since then, but that ‘preservation order’ has still to come. Perhaps it is time for a rethink?

Notes

[1] Country Life, 26 April 1979, p. 1282.

[2] Punch Historical Archive, 10 September 1980, p. 392.

Seasons Greetings from the Survey of London

the Survey ofLondon21 December 2018

Thank you for reading the Survey of London’s blog posts over the last year. Here follows a selection of our favourite wintry photographs from our past and present studies of London. Happy Christmas and all good wishes for the New Year.

Oxford Street

As the longest continuous shopping street in Europe since the eighteenth century, Oxford Street is a unique phenomenon. Though it has witnessed almost continuous change, it has never lost its popularity. The character of Oxford Street is defined above all by its shops, and Christmas is its busiest time of the year. In 2015 we asked Lucy Millson-Watkins to photograph the lights, sights and decorations of Christmas on Oxford Street. Here is a selection of the photographs that she took, first published online in a blog post that considered the festive season on Oxford Street and its enduring traditions. The Survey’s work on Oxford Street is nearing completion, and the volume is expected to be published by Yale University Press, with support from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, in 2020.

Boots at 385–389 Oxford Street, photographed in December 2015. (© Lucy Millson-Watkins)

West end of Oxford Street looking towards Marble Arch, with Marks & Spencers flagship store. (© Lucy Millson-Watkins)

The Toy Store at 381 Oxford Street, a Dubai-based chain which opened its first UK store in 2014 close to Bond Street Station. (© Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Whitechapel

Research is continuing in Whitechapel, a district with a long and rich history, currently in the throes of intense change. One of this year’s highlights for the Survey was the Whitechapel History Fest, which took place at the Whitechapel Idea Store in October. The festival marked the closing stages of the three-year Arts and Humanities Research Council funded research project, ‘Histories of Whitechapel’. Local experts, residents and historians convened to discuss the past and present of Whitechapel, with talks, film, poetry readings and panel discussions.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32–34 Whitechapel Road, in 2010. (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

Gee 8 Fashions, 14 New Road, Whitechapel, photographed in November 2018. (© Derek Kendall)

View into vehicle dispatch bay at the East London Mail Centre and E1 Delivery Office, Whitechapel Road, photographed in October 2018. (© Survey of London, photographed by Derek Kendall)

South-East Marylebone

In 2017, two volumes (Nos 51 & 52) were published on South-East Marylebone, covering a large swathe of the parish of St Marylebone. In November 2018, the Survey was honoured to received the prestigious Colvin Prize from the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain in recognition of the volumes as an outstanding work of reference on an architectural subject. The draft chapters are available to download via our website, pending a full online version. The Survey is following up these volumes with a study of South-West Marylebone, covering the area west of the boundary of the previous volumes as far as Edgware Road.

17–18 Cavendish Square, view from the east in December 2015. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The Golden Eagle Public House, 59 Marylebone Lane, view from the north-east in January 2016. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Nativity with six apostles on the lowest row of the reredos at All Saints Church, Margaret Street, South-East Marylebone. The tilework at All Saints was designed by Butterfield, painted by Alexander Gibbs and executed by Henry Poole & Sons. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Battersea

The Survey completed its work on Battersea in 2013, with the publication of two volumes (Nos 49 and 50) by Yale University Press. The draft texts of all thirty-two chapters from the Battersea volumes are available via our website, prior to the release of a full online version.

Battersea Square, photographed in December 2012. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Clapham Common under snow in 2013. St Barnabas’s Church on Clapham Common North Side is within view in the distance, its pitched roofs adorned by a dusting of snow. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Clapham Common under snow in 2013, looking towards towards Clapham Common North Side. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Woolwich

Finally, 2018 saw the online publication of the Survey’s volume (No. 48) on Woolwich, first published in 2012 and now digitally available here.

Woolwich Covered Market, Plumstead Road, listed in 2018, photographed in 2007. (© Historic England, Derek Kendall)

Mosaic detail from St George’s Garrison Church, Woolwich, photographed in 2007. (© Historic England, Derek Kendall)

Mosaic and painted decoration, St Michael and All Angels Church, Woolwich, reconstruction. (© Historic England, George Wilson)

Looking for a lost painting of an Oxford Street chemist’s workshop by W. H. Hunt

the Survey ofLondon4 May 2018

Can anyone help the Survey of London trace a remarkable lost watercolour of the chemist Jacob Bell’s workshop in Oxford Street by the famous early Victorian painter William Henry Hunt? Today the painting seems to be known only from a splendid print. But the original was in the library of the Chemists’ Club of New York in the 1930s, so the likelihood is that it is still somewhere in the United States.

John Simmons and his apprentice working in the laboratory of John Bell’s pharmacy in Oxford Street. Engraving by J. G. Murray, 1842, after W. H. Hunt. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

W. H. Hunt (1790–1864), sometimes known as ‘Birds Nest’ Hunt to distinguish him from his later contemporary William Holman Hunt, was among the finest and most delicate of English watercolour painters. Nearly all his works show intimate rural scenes, or close-up details from nature, among which his studies of bird’s nests and fruits are outstanding. He very seldom painted large or urban compositions – which makes his study of Bell’s workshop, originally entitled A Laboratory, the more intriguing.

The story behind the painting appears to be as follows. Jacob Bell (1810–59) was the son and successor to John Bell, a chemist who founded a firm in Oxford Street still in existence today as John Bell & Croyden in Wigmore Street. Jacob was a man of wide interests and initiatives, in politics, art, photography and, above all, the better organization of his profession. He was effectively the founder of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. That took place in 1841, the very year in which A Laboratory was painted. It shows the workshop behind Bell’s shop, with John Simmonds, Bell’s apothecary and one of his father’s early apprentices, seated on a barrel stirring a crucible, while an apprentice boy, William, cleans a mortar. It seems a reasonable guess to suppose that the painting and the founding of the society are connected, and that Jacob Bell wanted to commemorate the charming but rather primitive state of the chemists’ premises at the time, before they were modernized.

Jacob Bell had had some art-training himself and enjoyed many friends among artists, principally Edwin Landseer. So it is likely that he knew Hunt well, and asked him to paint the picture as a special favour. It was exhibited at the Society of Watercolour Painters’ annual exhibition in 1841, and then again at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, when it was lent by Jacob Bell. After Bell’s death the painting disappeared from view. Much later, in 1931, it was spotted on the walls of the library in the Chemists’ Club of New York and cleverly identified by an American scholar, Elsie Woodward Kassner. It was known to be English, and had been anecdotally known in the club as Michael Faraday washing apparatus for Sir Humphry Davy. Kassner wrote an article for the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association (Volume 20, number 3) correctly identifying the subject.

That ought to have been that. But unfortunately the premises and holdings of the Chemists’ Club were sold in the 1980s and ‘90s. Some items went to the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, but the Hunt painting was not among them, and efforts to trace this unique work of art have so far proved unavailing. Fortunately we have a fine lithographic print of it by J. G. Murray, published in 1842, but to find and republish the original would be thrilling.

The Survey of London, December 2017

the Survey ofLondon29 December 2017

Recently we have been looking through our archive on the history of the Survey of London, which traces its beginnings to the 1890s. These large cloth-bound boxes brimming with letters, newspaper cuttings, photographs and pamphlets include detailed reports on the progress of the Survey.

A pamphlet recording the progress of the London Survey Committee, as the Survey was formerly known, at Midsummer 1929.

As it is customary during the festive season to reflect on recent achievements, current research, and plans for the future, we think it might be timely to share an update on the current progress of the Survey. 2017 has been an important year for the Survey of London, marked by the publication of Volumes 51 and 52 on South-East Marylebone by Yale University Press, supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. We are delighted that these volumes, which document a rich and varied part of the capital, have been received with glowing reviews:

  • “Superbly researched, well written and comprehensively illustrated…” – John Martin Robinson, Country Life, October 2017.
  • “These two [volumes] cover a chunk of the historic West End in unrivalled detail following years of rigorous research…” – Robert Bevan, Evening Standard, December 2017.

The draft chapters for these volumes have been made freely available online via our website.

Covers of Volumes 51 and 52 of the Survey of London on South-East Marylebone, published in Autumn 2017. 

The Survey is following up its two volumes on South-East Marylebone with a study of South-West Marylebone, covering the area west of the boundary of the previous volumes as far as Edgware Road. A comprehensive study of Oxford Street is also underway to produce a volume covering both sides of the street from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch. As the longest continuous shopping street in Europe since the eighteenth century, Oxford Street is a unique phenomenon. Though it has witnessed almost continuous change, it has never lost its popularity. The traffic, the crowds and the modes of transport will be an equal part of the Survey’s study along with the buildings and shops of Oxford Street. Publication date is estimated as 2019.

View of Oxford Circus taken from the roof of Spirella House, 266270 Regent Street, looking north-west. (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Research is continuing in Whitechapel, an area with a multifaceted history that is currently in the throes of intense change. In Autumn 2016 the Survey launched a public collaborative website, ‘Histories of Whitechapel’, with the involvement of the Bartlett Centre of Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL and supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This ongoing project is an experiment in the public co-production of research, which during the last year has encompassed oral-history interviews, walking tours, exhibitions, and film viewings, all in addition to the combination of rigorous research, field investigation and architectural drawings that is the mainstay of the Survey of London series.

View of Whitechapel Road in 2015, looking east towards the City. (© Survey of London, Derek Kendall)

As many of our readers will know, the Survey has been based at the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture since 2013. Research has recently begun towards an in-depth study of University College London for the Survey’s monograph series, which is devoted to buildings and sites of particular note. The forthcoming monograph will focus on UCL’s Bloomsbury campus, the historic core of the university’s estate. Publication date is intended as 2026, to coincide with celebrations for the bicentenary of the university’s foundation.

View of UCL’s main quadrangle from Gower Street, looking east towards the dignified Corinthian portico of the Wilkins Building. (© UCL Creative Media Services, Mary Hinkley)

Areas covered by the Survey of London in 2017, including current studies in Oxford Street, Whitechapel and South-West Marylebone. Please click to extend the map and view a list of volumes.

The Survey of London’s favourite festive photographs

the Survey ofLondon21 December 2017

Thank you for taking the time to read the Survey of London’s blog posts over the last year. Here follows a selection of our favourite festive photographs from our past and current studies of the capital’s built environment. Happy Christmas and all good wishes for the New Year.

Oxford Street

The character of Oxford Street is defined above all by its shops, and Christmas is its busiest time of the year. In 2015 we asked Lucy Millson-Watkins to photograph the lights, sights and decorations of Christmas on Oxford Street. Here is a selection of the photographs that she took, first published online in a blog post which considered the festive season on Oxford Street and its enduring traditions.

Oxford Street at dusk, looking east. (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Christmas bauble decorations strung across Oxford Street in December 2015. (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Boots, with understated decoration. (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Whitechapel

Last December it was announced that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry would close in May 2017, and this year has witnessed its closure and the end of what has been a remarkable story. Business cards claim the bell foundry as ‘Britain’s oldest manufacturing company’ and ‘the world’s most famous bell foundry’ – the first not readily contradicted, the second unverifiable but plausible. The business, principally the making of church bells, had operated continuously in Whitechapel since at least the 1570s. It had been on its present site with the existing house and office buildings since the mid 1740s. Derek Kendall’s wintry photographs of the bell foundry in 2010 provide an insight into its historic buildings and the preservation of traditional craftsmanship until its closure. If you would like to read the Survey’s full account, please click here to find the draft text on the Survey’s ‘Histories of Whitechapel’ website.

Shopfront at the east end of 32–34 Whitechapel Road in 2010. (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

Inner yard of the bell foundry, looking north-west in 2010. (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

Tuning shop in 2010. (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

University College London

There is a Survey of London monograph on University College London in the offing. UCL’s first architectural expression was the grand neoclassical building constructed in 1827–9 to designs by William Wilkins, its portico and dome a prominent statement. Only the central range of this scheme was completed, yet successive wing extensions have formed a dignified quadrangle in Gower Street.

The Corinthian portico and dome of the Wilkins Building is instantly recognizable and has been adopted by UCL as its logo. (© UCL Creative Media Services, Mary Hinkley)

View of the Wilkins Building from Gower Street, looking east. (© UCL Creative Media Services, Mary Hinkley)

Even the railings in front of the Cruciform Building, formerly University College Hospital, received a generous helping of snow in February 2009. Alfred and Paul Waterhouse’s triumphant red-brick and terracotta hospital was built on a cruciform plan in 1896–1906. (© UCL Creative Media Services, photographed in 2009 by Mary Hinkley)

Battersea

Clapham Common is one of London’s most-prized public spaces, notable for its wide-open character and the clear sense of definition and urbanity imposed by its boundaries. An essentially triangular and uniform area of some 220 acres, it has lost less ground to development than most metropolitan commons. Archery was a popular pastime in the eighteenth century, as were boxing and hopping matches, and occasional fairs which attracted larger gatherings. Today the common boasts a mixture of formal and informal planting, tree-lined roads, sports facilities, play areas, and broad open spaces. The ponds and the bandstand (1890) are notable remnants of improvements effected in the nineteenth century, when cricket, football, tennis, golf, horse riding, model yachting and bathing were all enjoyed on the common. If you would like to read the Survey’s full account of Clapham Common from the Battersea volumes (published in 2013), please click here to download the draft chapter on ‘Parks and Open Spaces’ from our website.

Clapham Common, the north-western panhandle under snow in 2013. St Barnabas’s Church on Clapham Common North Side is within view in the distance, its pitched roofs adorned by a dusting of snow. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Sledging on Clapham Common in 2013. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Clapham Common under snow in 2013, view towards Clapham Common North Side. (© Historic Englnad, Chris Redgrave)

South-East Marylebone

The brick church and lofty spire of All Saints, together with the twin clergy and parish buildings that front it towards Margaret Street, comprise a renowned monument to Victorian religion and architecture. Exuberant and compact, the group was built in 1850–2 by John Kelk to designs by William Butterfield, yet the interior of the church with its painted reredos by William Dyce was not completed and opened till 1859. Butterfield continued to embellish and alter All Saints throughout his lifetime, and it is always regarded as his masterpiece. Among decorative changes to the interior since his death, the foremost were those made by Ninian Comper between 1909 and 1916. Recent restorations have reinforced Butterfield’s original vision of strength, experimental colour and sublimity. A full account of this astonishing church has been published in the Survey’s volumes on South-East Marylebone, published in 2017. Please click here to read the account of All Saints’ Church in the Survey’s draft chapter on Margaret Street.

View of All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street from the west. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

North aisle, looking north-east. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Nativity scene on the wall of the north aisle. The tilework at All Saints was designed by Butterfield, painted by Alexander Gibbs and executed by Henry Poole & Sons in 1875–6. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Shopping in style – D. H. Evans in 1937

the Survey ofLondon26 March 2016

The name of D. H. Evans disappeared from Oxford Street in 2001, though it lingers in the memory of many. Since then it has been a branch of the House of Fraser, the company which has owned the store since 1954. Just over eighty years ago the present store was completed, officially opened in February 1937. It was designed by Louis Blanc in 1934 and constructed in two phases so that trading could carry on with as little interruption as possible. When it was completed, it made a dramatic impact, occupying an entire block, and rising higher than any of the other shops then standing on Oxford Street.

D-H-Evans-aerial-copy

Cover of the Coronation Brochure produced by D. H. Evans in 1937, with their new store circled, and showing how much higher it was than its neighbours along Oxford Street.

With the coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth taking place on 12 May that year, the management of D. H. Evans produced a commemorative brochure for the occasion, which principally served as a promotion for their new store. Traditionally Oxford Street was included in royal processions, and the coronation that year was no exception. The street was part of a six-mile route taken by the new king and queen after their coronation from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace. Some press reports estimated that six million people descended on London for the occasion. All the shops were decorated with special window displays, and the street enlivened with flags and flowers. Royal monograms and coloured streamers abounded.

Side elevation of D. H. Evans

Perspective view of D. H. Evans from the Coronation Brochure. 

Recent relaxation of the height restrictions imposed on trade buildings by the London Building Acts enabled the new store to rise to 100 feet, twenty foot more than the old limit and productive of an additional two storeys. The building was steel-framed, with solid concrete floors and faced in Portland stone above the pale-grey granite facing of the ground storey. The great height of the building gave it presence on the street and produced one of its most exciting spaces inside in the form of the escalator hall. This contained not just the sequence of escalators but also staircases and ‘high-speed’ lifts (the upper trading floor could be reached in one and a half minutes).

Escalator Hall, D. H. Evans, from the 1937 Coronation Brochure

Escalator Hall, D. H. Evans, from the 1937 Coronation Brochure

In its finish and colour the escalator hall was also intended to be a glamorous focal point, a place to be seen, as well as from which to view all the store had to offer. The walls and pillars were of delicate beige-pink Travertine marble, the floors of polished cork, producing a ‘soft, brown glow’, the fibrous plaster ceiling was in a ‘modernistic design’, the sheen of metalwork on stairs, escalators and lifts was achieved in ‘silver and copper bronze surfaces, satin finished’.

Ground Floor

Ground Floor, D. H. Evans, with the impossibly angular largely female shoppers parading along the wide aisles between display stands.

There were six trading floors. On the ground floor were fashion accessories and fabrics arranged either side of a sweeping central aisle. Branching from each side ‘miniature, self-contained shops’ sold specific accessories or goods: stockings, gloves, handbags, lace, jewellery, perfume, fur trimmings, scarves, haberdashery, needlework, flowers, wools, or household stationery, each defined beneath its own canopy, with diffused light illuminating the merchandise displayed beneath. Fabrics had a larger area, occupying the rear half of the floor with separate sections for different types of material: plain silks, printed silks, tweeds, woollens, cottons, and lingerie fabric (staffed entirely by women). Here were also dress-making patterns, staffed by ‘expert saleswomen’ capable of giving sound and practical advice.

One of the 'display corridors', bringing window shopping indoors.

One of the ‘display corridors’, bringing window shopping indoors.

The first floor was divided into three sections devoted to the principal items of women’s clothing: the hat, the coat and the frock. Display corridors ran around the floor designed to look like shop windows. Thought was given to the way in which people shopped in the arrangement of goods, so they were divided into price groups and size, but also for quick or slow shoppers.

Millinnary department,

Millinery department, where different areas were adapted to differing habits of the shoppers, whether they were fast or slow. 

Hats were arranged on tall counters for quick shoppers, and mirrored alcoves for those wishing to make a leisured choice. A separate room was set aside for three-piece suits, and private fitting rooms, luxuriously appointed, were provided ‘in plenty’.

The corset department.

The corset department.

Underwear, including night-clothes, was on the second floor. More display corridors lead to blouses and knitted jumpers, placed ‘for matching purposes, next to skirts. Knitted suits were in a separate room, and ‘tailormades’ supervised by a specialist tailor. Here too were shoes, furs, and bathing and beach wear. Furs were displayed against a background of Indian white mahogany, and there was a fur storage section resembling a small bank, with a vault of its own, while the cold storage in the sub-basement could store ‘many thousands of pounds worth’.

the children's department

The children’s department, which featured Peter Pan’s Playground. ‘The houses of Peter Pan and Wendy take the form of two huge trees which spread their branches over an enchanting ornamental pond and fountain.’

The third floor contained three quite separate sections: the children’s department, household and travel. The children’s department was the largest, taking up about two thirds of the floor and not only selling outfits but also providing two playrooms for the under-sixes – Peter Pan’s Playground (see above).

D-H-Evans-baby-shop

The Baby Shop

The travel section sold school trunks, suit cases, rugs, foot muffs and ladies’ weather-coats and mackintoshes, while the household section included overalls, utility frocks, maids’ and nannies’ outfitting as well as bed- and table-linen etc.

The beauty salon

The beauty salon, offering sound-proof beauty rooms. 

Half of the fourth floor was devoted to hairdressing and beauty salons, boasting ‘an all British staff’. All cubicles had padded comfort chairs, spring rests for the feet, a telephone, and sterilising cabinets – for disinfecting the instruments of beauty treatments. For beauty culture there were nine sound-proof beauty rooms with day or night lighting. Materials used were prepared in the company’s own laboratories, adjoining which were workrooms for the production of postiche. The rest of the floor was given over to the gifts department.

The restaurant

The restaurant on the fifth floor.

The fifth floor was the highest one devoted to the public and contained the restaurant. Furnished in brown, beige and rose, down both sides were plush-seated alcoves while the rest of the floor had circular tables arranged in a grid of squares around the supporting columns, around the base of which were waitressing stations. The restaurant offered table d’hôte and à la carte meals, while a salad and sandwich room catered for customers with less time to linger. Two kitchens, one at either end, were fitted out with all the latest appliances.

Ladies who lunch

Ladies who lunch – enjoying a lettuce leaf or two, and a cigarette, in the fifth-floor restaurant at D. H. Evans in 1937

Sources

The Builder, 8 Jan 1937, p.122; Coronation brochure, 1937

Christmas shopping on Oxford Street

the Survey ofLondon18 December 2015

The Survey of London not only records the architectural history and development of each area that we work on, but draws out the character of that area both in the past and as it has become today. In Oxford Street that character is defined above all by its shops, and Christmas is its busiest time of the year. A couple of weeks ago we asked Lucy Millson-Watkins to photograph the lights, sights and decorations of Christmas on Oxford Street in 2015. Here follows a selection of the photographs that she took, with a few views from the 1950s on the same theme, showing how much – or how little – things have changed.

20151209-_33B2983

Oxford Street at dusk, looking east. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

The throngs of traffic and shoppers at this time of the year have been newsworthy for well over a century. In December 1882 The New York Times commented on the streets in the West End being more than usually crowded, the shops and stores full of ‘wonders of nature and art, sweetmeats and fruits from every clime, toys and magic surprises of all imaginable shapes and inventions, Christmas cards designed by famous pencils, books for children that are art treasures’. [1]

Gather round to get your hands on Cliff Richard. Customers searching through racks of LPs in Selfridges, Christmas 1959. A ‘Cliff Sings’ (Cliff Richard) record can be seen advertised above one of the boxes. (© Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London)

20151209-_33B2701

The Toy Store, a Dubai-based chain which opened its first UK flagship store in 2014 close to Bond Street Station. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

20151209-_33B2929

West end of Oxford Street looking towards Marble Arch, with Marks & Spencers flagship store. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

‘Christmas shops’ within the larger department stores are also nothing new. In 1909 Warings on Oxford Street created a display which aimed to make the task of choosing a Christmas gift comparatively easy by arranging ‘practically on one floor, suitable articles from their various departments … Silver, lace, bronze, clocks, glass and china, pictures, musical instruments, furniture and fancy articles of every description.’ [2]  Not to be outdone, the following year Peter Robinsons was advertising ‘Arcadia’ its ‘grand xmas bazaar’: ‘don’t let the children miss it’. [3]

20151209-_33B2681

Boots, with understated decoration. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Selfridges in December 1953 also making use of the first-floor space above the entrance. Extravagant and elaborate window and exterior displays at Christmas time and during Royal celebrations have been a tradition at Selfridges since the founder Henry Selfridge first lit the shop windows at night for passers by to see goods on sale in 1890. Here statues of Father Christmas and Disney characters stand above the entrance to the store to entice customers inside to look at the Toy displays. (© Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London)

There are grumbles about how early in the year decorations and displays of Christmas gifts appear in the shops, but it seems even that is not new. According to The New York Times, in the mid 1920s Christmas shopping was unthinkable in the United States before Thanksgiving, and it was not really until mid-December that ‘the Christmas fever germ begins to “take” in America’. By contrast, in London  ‘everything from orchids and knitting needles to vintage wines and bath salts may be purchased on the afternoon of Armistice Day’ and packages for India and the Far East were posted out soon afterwards. [4] Perhaps therein lies a part of the explanation for our unseasonably early habits.

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South side of Oxford Street, looking East. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

During the Second World War the blackout, and later rationing, had obvious effects, as also did bomb-damage – notably on John Lewis’s. On the run up to the first Christmas of the war there was a proposal to erect a light-proof arcade along Oxford Street for night-time window shopping. It was to have comprised a thick solid roof, stretching out over the curb, and heavy canvas screens which could be drawn aside during the day. As yet, we have not discovered if the arcade was built. [5]

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Selfridges window display. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins). Selfridges’ displays this year are themed on the signs of the zodiac, promoting high fashion and accessories much in the same way as Bourne & Hollingsworth were doing in the 1950s.

Window shopping at Bourne and Hollingsworth department store, Christmas 1953. The store opened in 1902 at 116-118 Oxford Street. It became known for the high quality of the goods sold there. The department store closed in the 1980s and the building now houses the Plaza Shopping Centre. (© Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London)

After the war things slowly returned to normal. In 1949 although turkeys were scarce, coconuts made their appearance in the shops for the first time since the war. There were dense crowds of shoppers in Bond Street and Oxford Street, restaurants and hotels reported record bookings at gala dinners, but the main attraction was the giant Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, the gift of Norway: ‘its coloured lights, surrounded by floodlit fountains, make a picturesque spectacle’. [6]

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Selfridges window display. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins). The windows this year are aimed firmly at adults, though in the past they were more likely to be designed to appeal to families and young children.

Crowds outside Selfridges’ window based on Gulliver’s Travels. Christmas windows were often designed to appeal to children, with ingenious automata. Christmas window display at Selfridges in December 1953. A mannequin cast as Gulliver is used to advertise the third floor toy department and entice customers into the store. The mannequin was automated and his hand and head moved. (© Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London)

‘All gay for the Christmas season’ announced the South China Sunday Post Herald in December 1959. This was the first year that Oxford Street was adorned with decorations running from one end to the other: ‘symbolic Christmas trees, hung with tinsel and lit with coloured bulbs’ ornamented the lamp standards down the centre of the street. [7]

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London buses and Selfridges. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Lights had been put up in Regent Street in 1954, and in the following year some of the Oxford Street stores applied to extend the decorations to include Oxford Circus but Marylebone Council would not allow it because of the possibility, however slight, of an accident. The Council also banned decorations suspended between buildings.

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Lights strung across streets have been a feature on Oxford Street since at least 1962, though resisted at first by the local council. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

The stores kept applying, with a more ambitious scheme in 1958 for an ‘Archway of Light’ all along Oxford Street from St Giles’ Circus to Marble Arch (excluding Oxford Circus), but this too was turned down. One of the problems was the traffic chaos, but the Council’s fears of a decoration-related accident proved sadly well founded when early on New Year’s Day a man walking past the Cumberland Hotel in Oxford Street had an unfortunate encounter with a falling 20ft-high revolving Christmas decoration. [8]

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Shimmering light, Oxford Street impressions. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Sources

  1. New York Times, 4 Jan 1882, p.2
  2. The Observer, 5 Dec 1909, p.17
  3. The Observer, 20 Nov 1910, p.18
  4. New York Times, 13 Dec 1925, p.24
  5. The Sun, Baltimore, 7 Dec 1939, p.14
  6. South China Sunday Post, 25 Dec 1949, p.7
  7. South China Sunday Post Herald, 20 Dec 1959, p.22
  8. The Times, 27 May 1957, p.6; 20 Dec 1958, p.6; 7 Jan 1959, p.4