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Frascati’s Restaurant, 26–32 Oxford Street

Survey of London26 June 2020

Our latest blog post is the third piece in a series of extracts from the Survey of London’s volume 53, on Oxford Street, published in April 2020. This piece includes four photographs of Frascati’s Restaurant by Bedford Lemere & Co., making use of a new facility on the Historic England Archive’s online catalogue. We are aware that these photographs might not appear for users of the Safari web browser and recommend using an alternative such as Google Chrome.

Once among the West End’s most famous restaurants, Frascati’s operated in spacious premises behind 26–32 Oxford Street between 1892 and 1954. Frascati’s had a chequered early history. It emerged from plans to redevelop the former Star Brewery to the west of the Oxford Music Hall. By 1887 the brewery had been acquired by a speculating mine owner, R. B. Lavery, on whose behalf a builder, J. Evans, applied to erect shops and offices at Nos 26–28. Briefly that scheme was superseded by a plan for a music-hall-type ‘theatre and opera house’, for which the theatrical manager and entrepreneur Andrew Melville was to act with Lavery as sponsor. Designs for this so-called New Oxford Street Theatre came from the Birmingham architects Essex & Nicol, with whom Melville had been working in the Midlands. Two versions were sent in to the Metropolitan Board of Works in quick succession during the summer of 1887. The first included a show front in Franco-Flemish style towards Oxford Street and a three-tiered, east-facing auditorium behind with a refreshment room and promenade serving each floor. The revised version, incorporating better exits and more up-to-date iron construction for the roof and cantilevered balconies, won approval. But Melville must have backed out, for nothing more is heard of the theatre.

The eastern end of Oxford Street c.1870 (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

In about 1888–9 the front block at 26–32 Oxford Street was erected in carcase. This severe, four-storey brick building was probably the work of the City-based architect J. Lewis Holmes, once more representing Lavery. It included generous entrances in the centre and east position, reserved for whatever would be built behind. In 1889 Holmes brought forward plans for a grand café to fill the back space, with Henry McDowell, an art dealer and entrepreneur of New Bond Street, as the prospective tenant. The project was spatially ambitious, involving an iron and glass structure behind the existing block of Oxford Street shops, centred upon an octagonal dome 40ft in diameter and overlooked by deep galleries, to which there was separate staircase access. Though the design was somewhat crude and old-fashioned, it seems to have been largely built, and a music licence was obtained for the prospective Frascati Winter Garden. But when McDowell asked in March 1890 to extend the licence to selling alcohol, the London County Council, by then the pertinent authority, declined, pointing out that the original licence had been granted on condition that the building was not to be a music hall or casino with a bar attached. The refusal led to McDowell’s withdrawal, leaving the structure untenanted.

Oxford Street, looking west c.1900, with Frascati’s Restaurant in the foreground to the right (Postcard in possession of the Survey of London)

A more exotic taker now came to the fore in the person of A. W. Krasnapolsky, a Dutch businessman of Ukrainian descent. Krasnapolsky had risen to fame by creating a fashionable café and winter garden in the heart of Amsterdam, enhanced by electric lighting. Drawn to London and the Frascati’s site, he commissioned elaborate alterations from the well-known Dutch architect Jan Springer. These were in the planning stage by the end of 1890, and in hand during the summer of 1891, when it was reported that Dutch carpenters were on site despite a lock-out in the London building trades. Representing Springer in London was his assistant Willem Kromhout, later an architect of greater distinction than Springer; a third designer of note, Alban Chambon, a Belgian who had previously contributed to various London theatre interiors, was also involved. Under the hands of these collaborators the structure was fitted out and enriched in a florid Renaissance taste. The Krasnapolsky Restaurant, now so called, was inaugurated by the Dutch ambassador, Count de Bylandt, at the end of November. It was advertised for its winter garden, billiard tables and lager beers; a painting of the young Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands by Hubert Vos held pride of place. Besides the winter garden behind, it took in most of the front block at 26–32 Oxford Street.

Frascati’s Restaurant, section, c.1905 (drawn by Helen Jones for the Survey of London). Please click on the illustration to open an expanded version.

But Krasnapolsky had miscalculated. Too much money was spent (according to one source £100,000) and too little arrived from Holland. Within six months the restaurant was in trouble and the creditors were closing in. The business was sold in the summer of 1892 to the proprietors of the Holborn Restaurant for £70,000, who reinstated the name of Frascati’s. The enterprise now began to flourish at last.

Frascati’s Restaurant, plans, c.1905 (drawn by Helen Jones for the Survey of London)

The Holborn Restaurant stood formerly on the south side of High Holborn, about half a mile east of Frascati’s. Founded in 1874, it flourished under the management of Thomas Hamp as a large-scale establishment for the professional classes. In the mid 1880s the hotelier Frederick Gordon bought the Holborn and doubled it in size. Hamp remained in charge, and probably initiated the acquisition of Frascati’s. At any rate a company under his name was responsible for minor decorative alterations early in 1893. These were limited, the essential arrangements and décor having been created by the Krasnapolsky designers. The facilities at this stage consisted of two large billiard rooms in the Oxford Street basement, a buffet and marble-lined grill room on the ground floor above, and the large domed winter garden behind. To one side was an elliptical alcove, perhaps for the orchestra, and on the other a kitchen. Two ample curving stairs led up to balcony level, where the Alpha Saloon occupied half of the front. Above again were an opulent Banqueting Hall and the earliest of what was to be a series of masonic rooms. But the winter garden was the space everyone remembered. ‘There are gold and silver everywhere’, noted the restaurant critic Col. Newnham-Davis:

The pillars which support the balcony, and from that spring up again to the roof, are gilt, and have silver angels at their capitals. There are gilt rails to the balcony, which runs, as in a circus, round the great octagonal building; the alcoves that stretch back seem to be all gold and mirrors and electric light. What is not gold or shining glass is either light buff or delicate grey, and electric globes in profusion, palms, bronze statuettes and a great dome of green glass and gilding all go to make a gorgeous setting.[1]

Like the Holborn, Frascati’s earned its way by hosting private dinners for clubs, companies and associations. If its fare was not of the highest class, it was remembered for the élan of its central space and for the pleasures of dining there to the accompaniment of a string orchestra, not yet usual in 1890s London. An early aficionado remarked,

Frascati’s really does supply a perfectly innocent and a rational plan of recreation to a class of persons … who never enter ordinary so called Music Halls. It provides an orchestra solely, without songs or any scenic attractions, and hence is the one place of entertainment in this immense city of its kind … There are many who like myself dine at clubs or elsewhere, and like to saunter in afterwards to smoke a cigar and hear some pleasant music.[2]

Winter Garden at the Krasnapolsky Restaurant in 1892 (Historic England Archive). If the photograph is not visible, please switch to another browser such as Google Chrome. 

The various minor changes made to Frascati’s during the mid 1890s were probably designed by T. E. Collcutt. Fashionable just then in the West End on the strength of his Imperial Institute, his extensions to the Savoy Hotel and his opera house at Cambridge Circus, Collcutt was a neighbour to the Hamp family in Bloomsbury Square, and in 1894 was commissioned to aggrandize the Holborn Restaurant with the King’s Hall. He also designed an iron and glass canopy for the Frascati’s entrance at 32 Oxford Street, but it was refused permission by the LCC. In 1895 Frederick Gordon gave up his controlling interest in the two establishments, which were reorganized as a public company, Holborn and Frascati Ltd. Hamp stayed on at the Holborn, but a new manager, J. W. Morrell, took over at Frascati’s. Morrell had ideas of his own, so the canopy finally erected in 1896 may not have been Collcutt’s.

Banqueting Room at the Krasnapolsky Restaurant in 1892 (Historic England Archive)

Instead, Morrell chose to employ C. H. Worley to undertake a series of additions at Frascati’s from 1899 onwards. In particular the restaurant was enlarged with extra rooms and services along the south side of Hanway Street, where Worley supplied a run of two and three-storey fronts in his idiosyncratic style. At ground level the winter garden restaurant was extended on both sides, with the York and Connaught Rooms at first-floor level and new masonic temples a further floor higher. Worley lived only to see the western masonic room built, for he died in 1906, to be succeeded by Reginald Blomfield, who next year designed a small elliptical domed room on the eastern end of the Hanway Street front, and altered the Oxford Street basement. The builders Godson & Sons undertook most of these jobs. The total capacity of Frascati’s at this stage was about 1,500.

Winter Garden at Krasnapolsky’s Restaurant in 1892 (Historic England Archive)

After the First World War the Collcutt firm returned to Frascati’s. Stanley Hamp, one of Thomas Hamp’s sons, had been articled to Collcutt in the late 1890s and became his partner in 1906. After Collcutt’s retirement Hamp updated Frascati’s in an effort at Empire style. The York Room came first (1920–1). Recasting the interiors facing Oxford Street followed in 1927, when Hamp created a spacious new foyer and pepped up the dour brick frontage with gilt metalwork, electric lighting and a glass valance over the entrance. Godson & Sons were once again the builders for this work, with decorative panels by Eleanor Abbey and plaster relief panels by Percy Bentham. Collcutt & Hamp added a small extra building to expand the service accommodation of Frascati’s on the north side of Hanway Street, at No. 18, in 1925.

Frascati’s Restaurant in 1920 (Historic England Archive)

Though the restaurant was re-equipped after the Second World War, once again under Collcutt & Hamp, it closed in 1954. The Land Securities Investment Trust bought the premises and hired Fitzroy Robinson & Hubert H. Bull, architects, to adapt them to a mixture of commercial uses. The conversion took place mainly in 1957. The front building at 26–32 Oxford Street was reclad with a modern front and divided between shops on the ground floor and a language school above. The great domed space behind survived in carcase, concealed from sight. Floored over and shorn of all ornament, its upper level became an open-space banking hall for Lloyd’s Bank in 1983, numbered as 32 Oxford Street. The whole premises, back and front, were finally demolished in 2013, so that no trace of Frascati’s now remains.

References

  1. Lt.-Col. Newnham-Davis, Dinners and Diners, Where and How to Dine in London, 1899, pp. 220–1
  2. R. W. Lewin, 2 October 1893, in LMA, LCC/MIN/10811.

The Flying Horse, 4–6 Oxford Street, and 1 Tottenham Court Road

Survey of London31 May 2020

This blog post coincides with London History Day, an annual celebration launched by Historic England in 2017. The event falls on the anniversary of the completion of Big Ben in 1859. The theme of this year’s festival, a necessarily virtual occasion, is the resilience of London’s people and places. The celebration may be followed on Twitter via the hashtag #LondonHistoryDay.

The Survey’s recently published study of Oxford Street has explored the evolution of the road from its Roman origins to the present day. For more than 250 years, Oxford Street has been an important and successful destination for shopping in London. In a recent review of the Oxford Street volume for The Guardian, Gillian Darley has pointed to the resilience of shops and the culture of shopping along Oxford Street, while contemplating the as yet unknown effects of the pandemic on its future. Christopher Howse’s review for The Telegraph also hints at the uncertainty.

There are other aspects to Oxford Street’s activities and building typologies than shopping. Notably, it has housed places of entertainment. The first and most famous was the Pantheon (1772), followed by a succession of theatres, music halls and cinemas, alongside pubs, restaurants and cafés of all sizes and types. Only one true pub survives today, the Flying Horse close to Tottenham Court Road.

The Flying Horse (formerly the Tottenham), 4–6 Oxford Street, and 1 Tottenham Court Road

In 1793 the leases of the original houses built along the frontage at the eastern extremity of Oxford Street were running out. They were then renewed en bloc by the freeholder, Anne Hinde, for terms of 41 years, in exchange for some repairs and rebuildings. Next west from the corner house with Bozier’s Court, these included a small pub with an alley behind called the Flying Horse, a typical name in this vicinity of coaching inns and major thoroughfares. By 1880, when it was renumbered 2 Oxford Street, it was under the control of Meux the brewers. Meux’s headquarters lay close by in the massive Horse Shoe brewery behind the east side of Tottenham Court Road, in front of which stood the Horse Shoe Tavern, rebuilt to Edward Paraire’s designs in 1875.

Composite photograph of 4–24 Oxford Street in 2018 (© Historic England)

In 1890 the Horse Shoe and the Flying Horse were taken over from Charles Best by the ebullient Baker Brothers, namely William Henry and Richard Baker. From lowly beginnings the brothers had made a fortune from London pubs and restaurants and recently turned themselves into a limited company, linked with Meux & Co., and with Nicholson & Company, the gin distillers. With the aggrandisement of the neighbouring Oxford Music Hall and the removal of the Bozier’s Court island in the offing, the Bakers spotted – or perhaps took over from Best – a golden opportunity for rebuilding a grand new pub, shops and offices on this future corner site. That also suited the joint freeholders of 4–6 Oxford Street together with the flanking properties along the west side of Bozier’s Court. These had been allotted by a recent division of Hinde family property to W. F. H and H. N. G. Hinde, army officers both; the former was keen to raise money on the security of the scheme. So the Hindes and the Bakers signed an agreement in April 1891 whereby Nos 4–6 and the buildings behind were to be rebuilt by the end of 1893 at a cost of not less than £8,000 in return for a long lease at £1,200 per annum. In fact a sum nearer £13,000 was spent, most of it coming from Meux.

The Flying Horse public house, interior in 2013 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

As architects the Bakers employed their regular firm, Saville & Martin, who were simultaneously employed across the road on a lavish reconstruction of the Horse Shoe Tavern; the contractors were Kirk & Randall. The resulting building of 1892–3 is a major surviving monument of London’s late Victorian pub boom. There were three elements: a new pub at 6 Oxford Street, rechristened the Tottenham; shops at No. 4 at the corner and along the Tottenham Court Road flank, mostly taken by the West End Clothiers Company, whose emblem was prominently displayed over the corner; and workshops and offices above, originally Tottenham Chambers, including space for Baker Brothers.

The Flying Horse, interior detail, showing painting of Spring (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The elevations were in the banded idiom of brick with Portland stone strips and trimmings of terracotta then in vogue, punctuated by arched windows with elaborated heads, and overtopped by a vigorous roof line of gables and chimneys and a tourelle at the corner. The Tottenham had a slightly richer front, with an inset bay and some carving. Only here does the roofline survive, the Tottenham Court Road side having lost its excrescences. The pub is exceptional today for its surviving interior, complete with panelling, mosaics, back-painted mirrors supplied by Jones & Firmin, and paintings personifying the seasons, by Felix De Jong & Company. Now the only true pub remaining on Oxford Street, it reverted to the name the Flying Horse in 2014.

The Flying Horse, clock detail (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The Hinde brothers put up the ground rents of the completed development for auction in 1898, but in the event the freehold was sold by private treaty next year to Balliol College, Oxford, which retained it till 1972. Only in 1901 was the eastern flank opened up to view by the removal of the Bozier’s Court island. Since then the corner block (4 Oxford Street) has seen many vicissitudes; in the second quarter of the twentieth century it was a prominent branch of the tailors Horne Brothers, and sported a shop front installed around 1923 by the fitters Stanley Jones & Co.

The Flying Horse, fireplace detail (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Next north is 1 (originally 1a) Tottenham Court Road, built soon after Tottenham Chambers in 1893–4 and in a likewise lively style but by different architects, Wigg, Oliver & Hudson (Walter Gladding, builder), all Whitechapel based and working for the executors of a James Henderson. It has two multi-storey bays inset within arches, topped by a pretty open timber cupola over a gable. The southern half and back premises housed Malzy’s, a billiard and supper room, latterly a fish restaurant, which had been on or near the site since 1875. It was probably much patronized like the Tottenham by habitués of the Oxford Music Hall, whose back entrance came next north. The front shop was originally occupied by a tobacconist.

Please visit the Historic England website to find out more about London History Day and how to follow the festivities online.

The Flying Horse, woodwork detail (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The Flying Horse, mirror decoration (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The Flying Horse, painted ceiling roundel (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The Flying Horse, mirror detail (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Former Mappin & Webb building, 156–162 Oxford Street

the Survey of London15 May 2020

To mark the publication in April of the Survey of London’s volume 53, on Oxford Street, and recognising that the volume itself is not as accessible at present as we would like, we will be posting extracts about particular Oxford Street sites here in the coming weeks.

156–162 Oxford Street, mostly erected for the silversmiths Mappin & Webb in 1907–8 to the nominal designs of John Belcher but always attributed to his assistant and partner J. J. Joass, may be claimed as Oxford Street’s most distinguished piece of architecture. It was originally called Sheffield House, later Mappin House.

156–162 Oxford Street, former Mappin & Webb building, in 2013 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Please refer to the Historic England Archive for photographs of the building in 1908 shortly after completion (HEA, BL20231/001BL20231)

Mappin & Webb derived from a successful manufacturing business started by the Sheffield cutler Joseph Mappin in 1825 and much expanded as Mappin Brothers by his four sons. In 1845 that company opened its first London shop in the City, benefitting like other Birmingham and Sheffield firms from the introduction of electroplated cutlery to widen the availability of smart tableware. The youngest of the four brothers, John Newton Mappin (1835–1913) – not to be confused with his uncle of the same name, a brewer who left money for the founding of the Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield – joined Mappin Brothers in 1857. But following disputes between the partners he elected in 1859 to start his own firm, originally Mappin & Company, with separate works in Sheffield and a shop at 77 and 78 Oxford Street (old numbering), next to the corner with Winsley Street. Early advertisements for this establishment offered to supply cutlery, electro-silverplate, dressing bags and cases, razors, penknives and scissors at Sheffield prices. Mappin Brothers took the new firm to court in 1860 for using the family name, but lost. Soon however the junior company adopted the name Mappin & Webb, J. N. Mappin having always acted in partnership with George Webb of Clapham, whose sister he married just after the lawsuit. For years the rival firms co-existed, both running works in Sheffield, trading from City and West End branches plus a few provincial shops and exhibiting separately, until Mappin & Webb absorbed Mappin Brothers in 1903.

Mappin & Webb made extensive alterations to its Oxford Street premises in 1867, the year of a Paris exhibition at which its displays were commended. This may have been when the so-called Winsley Works were added. In due course it also grew eastwards by one shop, taking over the former No. 76 (after 1880 No. 158), so giving the firm the whole of Nos 158–162; this address was rebuilt to designs by Augustus E. Hughes in 1889–90. Meanwhile in 1870 Mappin & Webb opened conspicuous City premises at the apex of Poultry and Queen Victoria Street. That building, designed in a bold Victorian Gothic by the architects J. & J. Belcher, was to be the most prominent casualty of the so-called Mansion House Square redevelopment, later ‘Number One Poultry’, championed by Lord Palumbo towards the end of the twentieth century (HEA, DD000378).

A link with the younger Belcher must have been maintained, for it was to him that J. N. Mappin turned when a total rebuilding of the Oxford Street shop at Nos 158–162 was contemplated. That followed the two Mappin firms’ amalgamation and Mappin & Webb Ltd’s inauguration as a public company with strengthened finances in 1903. Minor works took place to the Oxford Street premises around then, but the first evidence of Belcher’s involvement comes in 1906, when a perspective of the building much as built was shown at the Royal Academy, drawn by J. J. Joass, his chief assistant.

164–182 Oxford Street, former Waring & Gillow store, in 2019. R. Frank Atkinson, architect, 1904–6. The former Mappin & Webb store is visible to the far right (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Joass had been recently taken into full partnership; his Scottish training in classical masonry added force and rigour to the Belcher practice, along with a Michelangelesque twist to the mixed menu of so-called Edwardian Baroque. Here and in his contemporary Royal Insurance Building on a similar corner site in Piccadilly, Joass sought to endow the space-saving frame with glamour and energy coupled with a structural logic absent from the exuberant Waring & Gillow block, brand new and immediately next west. Uniting movement with astringency, his architecture sets up (in Brian Hanson’s words) a ‘delicious tension between the transparency of glass and the apparent weight of stone’. [1] The elevation is deliberately top-heavy, divided between a hefty attic and mansard level surmounting three main storeys gathered under arches and then to all appearances propped on single elongated monolithic columns, isolated against the glass expanses of ground and mezzanine floors. Each storey is differentiated in detail, combining tripartite fenestration of American derivation with the language of the Laurentian Library. The whole is clad in Pentelic marble, allegedly the first occasion this famous material had been specified for the complete exterior of a British building. The bronze shopfronts were made by Frederick Sage & Co., and the first-floor balconies, since removed, by J. W. Singer & Son of Frome.

Mappin & Webb, ground and first floor plans, c.1910 (drawn by Helen Jones for the Survey of London)

In plan the building was straightforward and open, with central access to the shop from Oxford Street and an entrance to the upper floors from a side door in Winsley Street marked Sheffield House (HEA, BL20232BL20232A). The structural frame combined steelwork for the stanchions contributed by Edward Wood & Co. with floors and roof constructed according to the Kleine patent floor system, which combined tension rods and brickwork. The premises, erected by Belcher’s favourite builders, Godson & Sons of Kilburn, took a full twelve months to build, starting with the new basement before the old premises were destroyed, so that trading could continue. Mappin & Webb occupied only the ground and mezzanine for their own purposes, the latter being taken up by a board room (HEA, BL20236) and counting house; the upper floors were let (HEA, BL20237). The main shop interior was divided into open compartments featuring showcases spaciously deployed so that wares could be seen from all sides (HEA, BL20233BL20234BL20235). It was partly lit from a central circular light well, and lined with Carrara and Sienna marble supplied by Farmer & Brindley. The electroliers were made by Oslers of Oxford Street to the Belcher firm’s designs. Heraldic stained glass was contributed by A. J. Dix.

The street front of the former Mappin & Webb store in 2013, showing the extension of 1929 carried out in an identical style (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

In 1912 Belcher & Joass (as the Belcher firm was by then formally called) extended the building to include 2 Winsley Street at the back, as had already been contemplated. It was further enlarged in 1929, when Joass returned to add in No. 156 on the east flank in an identical style – the addition is almost imperceptible. Finally in 1936 Yates, Cook & Darbyshire took in 4 Winsley Street, adopting a plain stone elevation. By then the whole building was known as Mappin House. A thorough refurbishment of the premises took place in 1952–3. But the nearby Regent Street branch (inherited from Mappin Brothers and rebuilt to quieter designs by Joass in 1914–15) was by then proving more successful. A fresh board imposed more entrepreneurial policies, using Mappin & Webb’s assets to buy other concerns and go into property speculation. So the headquarters shop was let in 1956 to Swears & Wells, the furriers, on the grounds that ‘the character of this particular part of Oxford Street having changed so much since the War, it had become manifestly unsuitable for our class of business’. [2] Thereafter Mappin & Webb’s London outlets were their Regent Street, Queen Victoria Street and Brompton Road branches. But the board continued to meet at Mappin House until the firm was sold to Charles Clore’s Sears Holdings in 1959. Mappin & Webb continues today in various locations as an up-market dealer in watches and luxury goods, but is no longer represented in Oxford Street.

[1] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[2] Financial Times, 6 January and 18 June 1956.

Survey of London volume on Oxford Street

the Survey of London3 April 2020

The Survey of London team is continuing with its work in isolation due to the current public health crisis. While it has been unfortunate but necessary to postpone two major events in our calendar, the launches of the Jewish East End Memory Map and a new volume on Oxford Street, these milestones can still be marked. Other projects in South-West Marylebone and Whitechapel continue to move forward.

Cover of Oxford Street, Volume 53 in the Survey of London’s main series. Published by the Paul Mellon Centre for the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

We are looking forward to the publication of Oxford Street, the fifty-third volume in the Survey of London’s main or parish series, on 14 April 2020. In the Survey’s 126-year history, Oxford Street is the first volume to focus on the development and architecture of a single street. In recent weeks images of Oxford Street have proliferated in the news, showing closed stores and pavements cleared of the vibrant street life and crowds that usually attract and repel visitors in equal measure – a reflection of these extraordinary times. The volume charts the history of the remarkable and enduring success of Oxford Street as a magnet for shoppers, examining its buildings and transport links as well as its social and cultural life.

Oxford Circus, buskers and Hare Krishna followers at entrance to the tube station, 2016 (© Lucy Millson-Watsons for the Survey of London)

The Survey’s new volume offers insights into the history and growth of shopping in London, along with the reasons for Oxford Street’s unique and enduring success – initially, its advantageous position between Mayfair and Marylebone, and later the fast and convenient transport networks that brought customers to its shops from the suburbs and beyond. Oxford Street is organized in a linear format, covering both sides of the street from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch. Twenty-two chapters cover discrete chunks of Oxford Street between the cross-streets, with an interest in existing buildings and those that have been demolished.

Looking west from Oxford Circus in 2016, with 242–276 Oxford Street and tower block at 33 Cavendish Square in centre, John Lewis beyond (© Lucy Millson-Watkins for the Survey of London)

The Survey’s research on Oxford Street followed on from the publication of two volumes on South-East Marylebone in 2017. That study covered an extensive portion of the West End north of Oxford Street, or the area bounded by Marylebone Road at the north, Cleveland Street and Tottenham Court Road at the east, and Marylebone High Street at the west. A fourth volume, South-West Marylebone, is currently in progress, examining the area immediately west as far as Edgware Road. This research on the West End is balanced by ongoing work towards two volumes on Whitechapel that are expected to be published in 2022.

As one of the longest continuous shopping streets in Europe, stretching for more than a mile in length, Oxford Street has a distinctive topography and character. It has been a major road since the Roman times, when it formed part of an arterial route leading westwards from the City. This highway came to be known as the Tyburn Road, a name derived from a brook (the Tyburn or Ay Brook) that has long since been overrun by urban development. By the time of the Norman Conquest, a hamlet had sprung up near the brook. In 1200 there was a small roadside church on the north side of the highway; its site may be identified today as somewhere between the two arms of Marylebone Lane.

Schematic map of Oxford Street and Edgware Road, c.1500–1700 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

Tyburn as a place name was eventually replaced by Marylebone, after the dedication of the church following its relocation to a site further north in the fifteenth century. Tyburn carried dreadful associations of the public executions that were carried out on the site of the present junction at Marble Arch from 1196 to the 1780s. The highway served as the last route of condemned prisoners, who were often accompanied by riotous and drunken crowds of onlookers. By the seventeenth century the name Oxford Street was in common use, reflecting the highway’s status as the main route to Oxford. The emergence of the alternative name preceded the beginnings of bourgeois development on the estate of the Cavendish–Harleys from the 1710s, yet its use and adoption conveniently helped to shake off the notoriety associated with the gallows at Tyburn.

Today Oxford Street is better known as a popular centre for shopping, drawing in crowds of tourists and shoppers from the capital and its suburbs. Through the research towards the volume, it has been possible to pinpoint Oxford Street’s transition into a major shopping destination to the 1770s. By this time, the executions at Tyburn had ended and the road was resurfaced with granite blocks. The street lighting was also enhanced by increasing the number of lamps. Shopkeepers were attracted by the opportunity to establish shops on a major road within reach of the upmarket residents of Mayfair and Marylebone. Many entrepreneurs were connected with the drapery trade and set up in small shops based in single houses, often with staff accommodation on the upper floors.

Site plan showing properties purchased for John Nash’s circus of 1816–21 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

Shopfront of Marks & Co., 395 (old numbering) Oxford Street, design by R. Norman Shaw, 1875 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

In the nineteenth century the dominance of small shops was challenged by the rise of covered bazaars for small traders, often tucked into former yards or stable areas behind modest street fronts. The bazaar has often been understood as a precursor to the department store, which began to appear in Oxford Street with the rebuilding of Marshall & Snelgrove in the 1870s. Other major department stores of the late nineteenth century included John Lewis and D. H. Evans, which started as small drapery businesses before gradually engulfing entire blocks. These household names were joined by Bourne & Hollingsworth, Waring & Gillow and Selfridges in the Edwardian years. Department stores were furnished with comfortable amenities such as restaurants and rest rooms for customers, while staff were increasingly transferred from ‘over the shop’ accommodation to separate homes. Selfridges in particular represented a new scale of ambition, consumption and glamour among department stores in London and internationally.

Plan of the ground floor of Bourne & Hollingsworth, c.1905. The store was then in possession of most of the block but had yet to unify the premises, which had been designed in 1898–1901 for separate occupation by smaller shops (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

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

Queen of Time figure above the entrance of Selfridges in 2018. Gilbert Bayes, sculptor, 1931 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

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)

The arrival of improved transport links in the Edwardian period extended Oxford Street’s appeal to shoppers, securing its status as the capital’s most continuously successful shopping street. Oxford Street was serviced by a range of underground lines connecting to four stations at Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus, Bond Street and Marble Arch. The Central Line was opened in 1900, followed by the Bakerloo Line in 1906. In the following year, the Northern Line opened at Tottenham Court Road. In 1969 the Victoria Line opened at the newly remodelled Oxford Circus Station, boasting a new concourse accessed from each quadrant of the circus. With the impending arrival of the Elizabeth Line, connections will be further improved.

Tottenham Court Road Station, vestibule with mosaics by Eduardo Paolozzi in 2018 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Despite the concentration of shops and stores, Oxford Street has also long been a hub for entertainment, including restaurants, music halls, theatres and cinemas. The celebrated Pantheon, an entertainment venue first built to designs by James Wyatt in 1769–72, is the focus of a chapter that was written by the late Francis Sheppard and first published in Volume 32 on St James Westminster (1963). From the 1890s onwards tearooms and cafés sprung up at street level, led by the J. Lyons chain. Another well-known establishment was Frascati’s Restaurant, which operated in spacious and elaborate premises between 1892 and 1954. An early picture house was established at No. 165 in 1906, followed by Cinema House at No. 225 in 1910, when it was hailed by the Building News ‘the last word in living-picture theatres’. Social and cultural life continued to develop in Oxford Street during the Second World War, with bars, clubs and exhibitions along the street. The future 100 Club was established in 1942 as a venue for live jazz in the basement of 100 Oxford Street, where it continues today. Another remarkable survival is the Flying Horse, the last true pub in Oxford Street. The volume includes an appendix of Oxford Street pubs that conveys the extent of the pubs formerly in the street.

The Pantheon, plans. Left, ground plan as originally designed by James Wyatt, 1769–72. Right, ground plan in 1831 showing N. W. Cundy’s theatre of 1811–12 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

311–317 (left to right) Oxford Street in 2016. Left, former Woolworth store at No. 311; centre, former Noah’s Ark pub at No. 313; right, part of Nos 315–319 (© Lucy Millson-Watkins for the Survey of London)

Flying Horse pub, interior detail, showing painting of Spring (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Pavilion Cinema, plan and elevation to Oxford Street, 1913. Frank Verity, architect (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

The 100 Club in the basement of 100 Oxford Street, 2018 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Oxford Street contains more than 350 illustrations, including drawings and maps by Helen Jones, the Survey’s architectural illustrator, and a variety of historic photographs. New photography has been carried out by Chris Redgrave of Historic England with support from the Portman Estate. The volume also contains photographs of the sights and atmosphere of Oxford Street, recorded by Lucy Millson-Watkins in 2016. The volume has been edited by Andrew Saint and produced in the Survey’s current house style, designed by Catherine Bankhurst under the supervision of Emily Lees at the Paul Mellon Centre. The volume is now available from Yale Books for £75. The draft chapters have been made available online via our website, in advance of a fuller online version in the future.

Park House, 455–497 Oxford Street, looking east from Park Street in 2018 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Oxford Street

the Survey of London29 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 of London17 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 of London22 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 of London21 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 of London4 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 of London29 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.