Saturday, December 20th 2014
Tigger had, as Tigger usually has, an idea as to where she wanted to go for breakfast. After a leisurely start, we found ourselves en route to Baker Street. Or perhaps I should say Marylebone Road because our destination partakes of both names.
Our breakfast place was the Metropolitan Bar which is accommodated within Baker Street Station, one of the original stations built by the Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground railway, which opened in 1863. Today, this part of the building is a member of the Wetherspoons pub chain and opens in the morning to serve breakfast. The pillared venue is magnificent and obviously designed by the Metropolitan to impress. The original station was made in 1863 but was largely remodelled in the 1920s. I believe it was intended to include a hotel and that this noble space would have been the dining room. The hotel never actually came into being but the pub has inherited this palatial space, giving the public an opportunity to enjoy it.
The cream and gold decor is enlivened with colourful coats of arms of the Metropolitan Railway itself and of the areas served by it. Above you see the crest of the company and those of Middlesex and Buckinghamshire. The four “quarters” of the Metropolitan shield represent London, Middlesex, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.
We went around the corner between the station and Madame Tussaud’s into Allsop Place and had a less usual view of the the station. Obviously intended as the administrative headquarters of the company, it combines a serious businesslike demeanour with decorative touches intended to impress the visitor and convey a sense of power and affluence.
This ceremonial doorway (now looking little used) displays the Metropolitan Railway monogram and, above the lintel, a sculpture group consisting of two putti supporting a shield with the company’s coat of arms. I suspect that few visitors arrive here on foot these days as the only way in is through an iron gate for vehicles whose opening is controlled remotely from inside the building.
Along the façade, above the second-floor windows, is a row of metal sculptures, some of which, such as the example above, are quite intricate and include representations of numerous objects associated with railways. The uniform dark colour of the metal made them hard to photograph especially as we could not enter the courtyard to gain a closer view.
We crossed Marylebone Road, heading south along Baker Street, and turned left along Dorset Street. Why? Well, why not? As well as main thoroughfares, London abounds in narrow streets, alleys, courts and yards, not to mention mews and “places”. One such is a cobbled road called Broadstone Place. I took this photo for no better (or worse) reason than that I liked the way the low winter sunlight was picking out the detail of the brickwork.
In Dorset Street we find the gateway of St Andrew’s Mansions. I do not know the history of this building but the presence of gates seems to indicate that it is a fairly exclusive kind of residence. A glimpse through the bars shows a small but pleasant courtyard and a curious little hut. A clue to the latter’s purpose may be found on the History page of Preedy Glass:
I also clearly remember the Head Porter at St. Andrews Mansion in Dorset Street. He was always very smartly dressed in an “Oxford Blue” uniform with trimmed gold braid and a matching peak cap. He was very grumpy and would spend most of the day blowing a whistle to summon taxies for his tenants from a nearby rank.
This little hut, then, was no doubt where the grumpy head porter took shelter from the elements between whistling for cabs. A plaque informs us that speed record holder Sir Henry O’Neil de Hane Segrave lived here during the years 1917 to 1920.
On the corner of Blandford Street and Manchester Street stands the Tudor Rose or, as some prefer to call it, the Lincoln Hotel. Originally home to Le Fevre’s Coffee House, the site has been occupied by a pub since no later than the early Victorian era. In its current incarnation, it the building might be described as “Tudorbethan” or “Tudoresque” because it is obviously not a genuine Tudor pub but was redesigned in the 1930s when such styles were popular. The name Tudor Rose was attached to the pub in the year 2000 and before that it was known by other names, including the apparently enduring one of Lincoln Hotel.
Continuing along Manchester Street, we came to another example of something I mentioned above, a small street or court nestling among the thoroughfares of the city. This one is cobbled too and is called Manchester Mews. Time was when those who today would have a car would have had a horse-drawn carriage of some sort. Tucked behind the streets of respectable houses would be the mews, rows of stables where the horses were kept, fed and groomed. The horses are long gone – and so is the dung that helped make London’s streets so dirty – and what were once the haunts of grooms and stable boys are now quaint upmarket dwellings for the affluent. There’s an irony there somewhere.
Manchester Mews is slightly unusual, perhaps, in that one end is closed off by the presence of a rather large church. We went to take a look at it.
The Catholic Church of St James Spanish Place is rather large and difficult to photograph because of the way it is squeezed in between the houses. (Or were the houses squeezed in around the church?) Built in the later Victorian era (1885-90), the church has been given a Grade II* listing, as much, I suspect, for its historical as for its architectural interest.
During the Cromwellian era, Roman Catholics were able to have recourse to the chapel of the Spanish Embassy, then in Spanish Place, off Manchester Square, in a building that now houses the Wallace Collection. When a new church was built in George Street, even though this is some way from what was once the Spanish Embassy, “Spanish Place” was included in the name of the church to recall this connection. The name also recalls Santiago, the Spanish St James and the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
The church interior is elegantly proportioned and richly decorated. Lights and vases of flowers added to the effect. Some see Spanish influence in the design.
I have noticed before that Catholic churches tend to be more colourful and richly decorated than Protestant ones, something that can add to the beauty of the design when not allowed to become garish.
There are many stained glass windows in this church and an example is shown above. The design tends to be traditional and the inscriptions in Latin but the window on the left gives the game away by including an aeroplane. The fact that it is a biplane suggests an early 20th-century date though that is conjecture on my part.
We found an effigy of St Jude, standing in front of a candle rack rather like a stall holder in the market standing in front of his display of goods. It seems a pity that in an otherwise gorgeously designed and decorated church the fittings are often cheap and nasty like this candle rack. Spoiling the ship for a h’a’porth of tar?
In Wimpole Street, made famous by Rudolph Besier’s play The Barretts of Wimpole Street, we found the Royal Society of Medicine. Outside the door is a handsome pair of lamps in the form of the caduceus, the snake-entwined staff of medicine.
Continuing down Wimpole Street leads you to Henrietta Place and a sight of this boxy little church. The name of the street and the fact that the church was once known as the Oxford Chapel is explained by its history. Designed by James Gibbs and opened in 1724, the church was decorated by Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford, and his wife Henrietta. The land on which it stood was at the time part of the Cavendish-Harley estate. Gibbs was also responsible for St Martin-in-the-Fields. According to several sources (e.g. the London Encyclopaedia), St Peter’s was once considered ‘the most beautiful edifice of its class in the metropolis’ (though none state who exactly said that). If so, then the church has fallen upon sad days, as the description in the London Encyclopaedia bitterly indicates.
Those who attended the opening of the church would no doubt still recognize the interior though probably find it somewhat changed. The church is at present occupied by an organization called the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (is that a bit like talking about ”modern antiques”?) which has no doubt adapted it for its own purposes.
I do not know the age of this colourful window though I note that the text is in Latin which does seem to indicate a certain antiquity.
We were now heading east into Fitzrovia and found ourselves in a hitherto unvisited street called Nassau Street. Numbers 17 and 18 comprise a single building called Titian House. I know nothing of its history but it is certainly Victorian, probably dating from about the middle or earlier part of that reign. Today it is an apartment block but there are records showing that in the 1850s businesses had premises here too. Still present beside the door of number 18 is a robust and perfectly preserved boot scraper, testifying to the muddy condition on London’s streets when many of London’s still existent houses were built.
As you go about in Fitzrovia, you often have the feeling you are being watched. Perhaps you are because, after all, who knows who is behind those windows at the top of the tower or what they are looking at? The BT Tower seems to follow you around like an urchin trying to get into tourists’ photos. Here it is peering over the Edwardian (1908) All Souls C of E School (Grade II listed) in Riding House Street.
Here are a couple of other views to complete the set.
Here there happened something that we often experience when taking photos. A passer-by stopped, curious to see what we were photographing and, struck by the view. took a photo himself with his mobile phone. It appears that we spot things that people who pass the same place day after day fail to notice.
We serendipitously arrived at the Tottenham Street branch of Yumchaa, “Curators of Immodest Tea”, and stopped off for a cup of proper tea.
Before returning home, we decided to pop into Heal’s in Tottenham Court Road. Heal’s was founded in 1818 and came to its present site in 1840. Part of its present premises was built in the 1850s but an extension, known as the Brewer Wing after its architect Cecil Brewer, was added in 1916.
As we explored the shop, my attention was caught by the staircase at one end of the Brewer Wing. I did not know at that point that it is quite famous. I was simply captivated by its elegant curves and proportions.
We looked down the stairwell, something I am always drawn to do, despite or perhaps because of my fear of heights, and our gaze seemed to plunge down to the centre of the earth. How could this be? We were on the ground floor and only the basement lay below. As you can see in the photo, the staircase ends there. The answer to the conundrum, of course, is that there is a mirror at the centre reflecting the upper levels of the staircase, creating the illusion that it continues downwards below the basement.
Here we are looking up the splendid stairwell, spiralling away until it is lost in the glow of the lamps, a magical view on which to end our visit.