FROM REGENT STREET TO THE SHADOWS OF SOHO
NORTH of Trafalgar Square stands St. Martin-in-the-Fields, on the foundations of an older church which Henry VIII. built liter‑ally in the fields. Henry VIII., living at Whitehall, objected when the people of the parish of St. Margaret's at Westminster had the bodies of the dead carried by the palace. So he had St. Martin's built. The first church was a small one and being found quite too small the present St. Martin's took its place. The burial ground that once surrounded the church was gradually encroached upon to make way for the widening of the street and was done away with in 1829. Francis Bacon was christened here and in the old burial ground were laid to rest many whose names are familiar—Jack Sheppard, John Hunter, famous as a surgeon, Nell Gwynne, and Lord Mohun, a duellist, concerning whom much may be read in Thackeray's "Henry Esmond." It was beside St. Martin's that David Copperfield one wintry night came upon Martha Endell who had once been the companion of little Em'ly at Mr. Omer's.
St. Martin's Lane leading from Trafalgar Square to Long Acre was famous when it was called Crooked Lane. Here at different times lived Sir John Thornhill whose decorations adorn the interior of St. Paul's and whose daughter married Hogarth; Fuseli, a famous artist; Sir Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith, Roubiliac, the French sculptor; and Thomas Chippendale the cabinet maker who published "Gentlemen and Cabinet Makers' Directory."
The Music Hall centre, Leicester Square, has gradually grown out of Leicester Fields the garden of Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester whose mansion stood close by where Daly's Theatre is now. On a house facing the square on the west is a tablet telling that Sir Joshua Reynolds once lived there; and another on the east side shows where Hogarth lived.
Around the corner from Leicester Square in Rupert Street Robert Louis Stevenson, in the "New Arabian Nights," places the Bohemian Cigar Divan conducted by Theophilus Godall, the Prince Florizel, formerly one of the magnates of Europe, whom a revolution hurled from the throne of Bohemia in consequence of his continued absence and edifying neglect of public business, and who, exiled and impoverished, embarked in the tobacco trade.
The plain brick building numbered 37 Gerrard just to the south of Macclesfield Street now occupied by a restaurant was long the home of Edmund Burke the philosopher and statesman. On the house-front is a tablet reading:
Author and Statesman
Close by at No. 43 Dryden lived for fourteen years until his death in 1701. Within a few doors on the same side of the way Dickens places the home of Jaggers, the criminal lawyer of "Great Expectations." The street itself takes its name from Gerrard, Earl of Macclesfield, whose mansion stood on the south side facing the present Macclesfield Street. Here in 1694 he died. The house was afterwards occupied by Lord Mohun and his body was brought here after the fatal duel with the Duke of Hamilton.
The Turk's Head Tavern was to be found in Gerrard Street at the Greek Street corner. In the tavern, in 1764, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr. Samuel Johnson founded the Literary Club, an association of scholars, authors and statesmen which has been called "the formidable power in the commonwealth of letters." The club met here until 1783. In its early days it was limited to forty members among whom were Boswell, Gibbon, Oliver Goldsmith and George Colman the elder. It was most exclusive in those days and for years David Garrick struggled for admittance but finally became one of them. Many men of note were blackballed, including the Bishop of Chester and Lord Camden.
Just off busy Shaftesbury Avenue in Wardour Street is the square brick church of St. Anne's, seeming for all the world to be passing a contented old age. Well up from the street, behind a wall and an old iron fence, there is about it still a remnant of green sward but hemmed in by asphalt spaces that have engulfed the few tombstones. One tablet tells that William Hazlitt, painter and critic, was buried here in 1830; another how Theodore, King of Corsica, found a last resting place in 1756 beside the church near which the last years of his life had been spent in poverty. On the outer wall of the church the tablet erected by Horace Walpole can yet be deciphered:
Near this place is interred Theodore, King of Corsica, who died in this parish, December 11, 1756, immediately after leaving the King's Bench Prison, by the benefit of the Act of Insolvency, in consequence of which he resigned his kingdom of Corsica for the use of his creditors. His funeral expenses were paid by an oilman who declared himself willing for once to pay the funeral expenses of a king.
Regent Street was at first part of an elaborate plan to provide a wide and systematic street system for London—a plan that failed and left to time merely a name for this thoroughfare and for Regent's Park in honour of the Prince Regent who afterwards became George IV.
Golden Square a space of commonplace residential houses now given over to business is hidden away in the labyrinthian streets to the east of Regent Street. It was here that Dickens placed the home of Ralph Nickleby, in the house No. 2 on the east side, now a small hotel.
Hanover Square was first laid out in 1731 and was the cause of changing the place for execution of criminals from Tyburn to Newgate. The square and its surroundings being intended for the homes of wealth and fashion it was feared that the sight of the criminals passing in carts from Newgate to Tyburn would be annoying to them.
In Brook Street near Bond Street is a tablet on he house numbered 25 marking it as the one time home of George Frederick Handel. Here he rehearsed his oratories. Brook Street is a reminder of the old Tye Bourne Brook the course of which followed its direction.
Lord Byron was born in 1788 at No. 28 Holies Street, between Oxford Street and Cavendish Square, in a house now given over to trade.
So high above the roadway that its inscription can hardly be made out is a tablet on the house numbered 50 Wimpole Street on the west side above New Cavendish. It sets forth that this was the house of Mrs. Browning's father, from which she went secretly to marry Robert Browning. In this house she wrote her "Cry of the Children" and other poems.
A narrow dingy thoroughfare of small shops called Poland Street extends south from Oxford Street. In 1811 Percy Bysshe Shelley then a young man lived hereabouts attracted to the street by Hogg his biographer who liked it because of its name which reminded him of "Thaddeus of Warsaw" and the cause of freedom. William Blake, the painter-poet, also lived in this street when he depicted "Visionary Portraits" and wrote the "Songs of Experience."
The "Berners Street Hoax" carried quiet Berners Street into history. This was brought about by Theodore Hook, a novelist, dramatic writer and celebrated wit, in this wise. He laid a wager that he could make the quiet dwelling No. 54, occupied by a demure widow, Mrs. Tottingham, the talk of the town. Then he wrote hundreds of letters to merchants of every line, ordering everything from candles to a hearse, and all reached the street at the same hour. The thoroughfare was blocked and the story stirred London for a day. Hook after a meteoric career, at times the friend of royalty and fashion, finally died in 1841 lonely and miserable. Berners Street was long the home of artists. John Opie, Royal Academician, author, and painter of "The Slaughter of James I. of Scotland," lived at No. 8; at No. 13 lived Henry Fuseli the famous portrait painter and critic of the early part of the 29th century; Henry Bone the painter of miniatures lived at No. 15. It was here, too, that the painter of cathedrals David Roberts suffered the apoplectic stroke that resulted in his death.
In Newman Street jutting from Oxford to the north Benjamin West the Anglo-American painter lived at No. 14 and here he died. Fanny Kemble the actress was born in this street.
The Soho neighbourhood lies enclosed by Charing Cross Road, Leicester Square, Warwick Street and Oxford Street. The name is a reminder of the old cry of the harriers—Co, ho! The Square of Soho was part of the garden of the Duke of Monmouth whose home was what is now the south side of the square and occupied almost the entire space between the present Greek and Frith streets.
Frith Street extending south from Soho Square has an air of genteel poverty. In the block below the square on a low house of brick numbered 6 is a tablet:
Here he wrote some of his most notable essays and it was from this house that his body was taken to the quiet little churchyard of St. Anne's in Wardour Street.
In the block below the Hazlitt house at No. 7 Mozart lived when eight years old during the two years he remained in London with his father.
Beyond New Oxford Street to the south in High Street is the church of St. Giles-in-the‑Fields. The fields of this day are the massed and dreary houses standing so close about the old church that they seem like to crowd it out of existence. But there is still a bit of green in the churchyard and among the tombstones a most interesting one telling that the body of Richard Pendrell lies buried here since 1671, and further reciting the story of how this Richard Pendrell was the preserver of the life of King Charles II. after the Battle of Worcester. St. Giles was built in 1734 and its spire Hogarth has put in his picture of "Beer Street."
Bloomsbury the heart of the boarding house district where Americans most congregate is enclosed by Tottenham Court Road, Southampton Road, Euston Road and on the south by Oxford Street and High Holborn. The name is a corruption of Blemundsbury, which was the manor of the de Blemunds when Henry III. was king.
There was formerly a graveyard beside St. George's church in Hart Street but it has been made into a recreation ground. Munden the actor whom Charles Lamb wrote of was buried here. It was the spire of this church that Hogarth incorporated into his fearful picture of "Gin Lane." The statue on the steeple top is a representation of George I., and inspired the lines:
When Henry the Eighth left the Pope in the lurch, The Protestants made him the head of the Church; But George's good subjects, the Bloomsbury people, Instead of the church, made him head of the steeple.
Great Russell Street on which the British Museum borders has been the home of many well-known men. John Philip Kemble the great actor lived here in the years after 1790 when Drury Lane came under his direction. His house was demolished when the west wing of the Museum was added.
Gower Street, monotonous in the regularity of its houses, is where, in the building numbered 110, Charles Darwin lived and where he wrote about "Coral Reefs." Peter de Wint the painter of English cornfields lived at No. 4o and Millais at No. 87.
When Sherlock Holmes first came to London by invitation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle he lived in one of the staid looking brick houses with a prim stoop in Montague Street opposite the British Museum. The house is mentioned in the "Musgrave Ritual."
To Bloomsbury Square in 1780 the Gordon rioters dragged the documents, paintings and books of Lord Mansfield and made a bonfire of them. The house, too, of the famous judge which faced the square was burned. It was a fashionable locality in those days, unlike today when for the most part the houses are used for business offices. The founder of the British Museum Sir Hans Sloane long lived in this square; and at No. 6 Isaac d'Israeli wrote his "Curiosities of Literature."
In broad Kingsway just a few steps south of High Holborn is the church of Trinity, contracted and ill kempt. There is nothing pleasant or romantic about its appearance and it is noteworthy only because of being on the site of the home in which in 1796 Mary Lamb while temporarily insane stabbed her mother to death.
Dingy Red Lion Street near by the square of the same name in the house numbered 9 William Morris started to make the furniture that was to leave its mark on all such work in future times. Rossetti and Burne-Jones lived at No. 15.
At 48 Doughty Street Charles Dickens lived and here he finished "Pickwick Papers" and "Oliver Twist," wrote "Nicholas Nickleby, and began to write "Barnaby Rudge."