London Spring 2021 | The Jigsaw Project | Part 4

Tuesday 1st June

A very productive day project wise. For those just joining and wondering about the title, a look at Parts 1,2 & 3 should help, along with THIS blog post on my non-caravanning blog which might just help explain what an earth I’m on about for the next few minutes.

Once again the early morning cuppa coaxed the grey matter into life as I consulted Google Maps to determine my starting point for the day. I had no target as such, nor much of a plan but with so many in Central London close together I would trudge for as long as the knee and heat would allow.

The usual No. 3 took me to Brixton, changing to the No. 59 which would cross the Thames via Waterloo Bridge, depositing me on Aldwych for a short walk up and across Kingsway to Portsmouth Street, just south of Lincolns Inn Field which, along with Temple to the South is London’s historic - and current - legal quarter.

The Old Curiosity Shop, on a quiet street away from the hustle and bustle, sits defiantly amongst modern characterless developments thanks to its’ listed status. Built in the 16th century and surviving the Great Fire it was originally a dairy, later a bookstore and now a swanky shoe shop. Development around was in full swing so another that will need a return visit in due course.

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Back across Kingsway and towards the centre I spotted this, once The infamous Blitz Club. Not on the list but worth a snap.

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At 22 Great Queen Street used to be L. Cornelissen. ‘Artists colourmen’ said to have been founded by a Belgian lithographer, initially at Drury Lane and reportedly moving to Great Queen Street in 1855, it’s home until 1977 when it closed following the death of the last of the Cornelissen’s. The name re-emerged at 105 Great Russell Street in 1979, where it continues to this day. The most recent occupants were Estate Agents but as you can see, the unit is now empty. Please forgive the photo but thanks to a delivery vehicle being directly in front, the phones’ wide angle lens was deployed.

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Close by was Drury Lane, at the southern end of which was No.68, once home to Brodie & Middleton; theatrical and scenic supplies and, given their location in Theatreland, certainly in the right place. Moving from Long Acre in 1981 and from 1999 they shared the premises with canvas supplier Russell & Chapple and moved to Store Street in 2015 where business continues today under the Russell & Chapple name. An office of some sort behind the frosted glass and there has clearly been much redevelopment since the original photo was taken,

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One street across from Drury Lane was Catherine Street and a chance to bag two more addresses. At No.29 was the Nell of Old Drury pub. First licensed in 1835, rebuilt in 1883 and renamed in 1965 after Nell Gwynne, mistress  of King Charles II, although it’s also reported that there has been a pub on the site since at least 1660. A tunnel running between the pub and the Theatre Royal opposite was reportedly used by the King to visit Nell. Lots of original features remain. I love the bow window.

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A few doors along at No. 23 is The Opera Tavern. A Blue Plaque gives the date as since 1879 but records indicate there has been a pub here since the 1791, initially the Yorkshire Grey, then the Sheridan Knowles, back when it was still Brydges Street. The name change to The Opera Tavern appears to have occurred in 1861. The name remains but became a tapas bar and restaurant in around 2011. I much prefer the original facade.

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Next it was a trudge north up Drury Lane past the Travelodge where I stayed in London for my 40th just a few, ahem, years ago. Not the most comfortable of walks - previously I’d been heading roughly west to east, keeping to the shady side like a vampire wary of the sun. No matter, the destination was worth it - 53 New Oxford Street has been home to the business of James Smith & Sons for nearly 200 years, providing the capitals’ populace with umbrellas, walking sticks, seat sticks and associated accessories. Much unchanged as you can see. Fabulous.

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A trudge back south and just off Seven Dials was Neal Street. at No. 33. Ellen Kelly barrow makers were established in Ireland in 1830, the family coming over to England at the time of the potato famine. Likely at Neal Street from 1900-1982, the company, whose customers were mainly market traders', branched out in the 60’s hiring out to the film industry. Keely Hire exists today in Hertfordshire as a supplier of props to the film, television and events sector. Research in the winter revealed the premises to be occupied by a jean store but the current tenants dispense face coverings and sanitiser. Most definitely a sign of the times.

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A short walk across the other side of Seven Dials was Earlham Street and its’ worth mentioning that this part of London, whilst not exactly quiet, was far from busy and much more pleasant to walk around than usual. No dodging of camera wielding tourists - or should I say OTHER camera wielding tourists….

No. 14 was home, in the original pic, to F.W Collins & Sons. Ironmongers established in 1835 and owned by the Collins family for seven generations. The shop closed in 2008 and was occupied since 2009 by The Vintage Showroom - specialists in vintage clothing and accessories. They even named their in house clothing line F. W. Collins in honour of the previous occupants but this branch closed recently. Grade II listed. Again the necessary wide angle lens on the mobile has skewed the image a bit.

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From the relative quiet of Seven Dials and on to the traffic choked Charing Cross Road, once home - and still is to a degree - a plethora of book sellers, but first was a former tobacconists - G. Smith & Sons at No.74. Established in 1869, they offered a walk in humidor for cigar fans and and numerous blends of loose tobacco and snuff too. It seems to have finally closed in 2011. Now occupied by waistcoat, tie and jewellery specialists Andy & Tuly. Some nice cufflinks in the window and nice to see the original name still visible.

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No 70, at the time of the photo was home to M.B. Newman. Online research reveals the business there in 1967 but more recently Cards Galore occupied the premises, which is now empty.

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There used to be another bookshop at 48A - E. Joseph. At Charing Cross Road from around 1900, It became Quinto bookshop in 1983 until 2010 when they moved further up and since 2020 now operate solely online. Patisserie Valerie currently occupy the unit.

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It was proving to be a very fruitful day and was rapidly approaching lunchtime, however there was one more to knock off before delving into the backpack. A stroll through St Martins’ Court and across St Martin’s Lane brought me to Bedfordbury, at No. 26 which was a barbers. No, I didn’t need a haircut - that’s largely DIY these days - but another business featured on the jigsaw which, although it may well have changed hands, was still operating over 40 years later. Originally Peter’s Gents Hairdressers - although apparently no-one called Peter has ever ran it - but since the eighties was run by younger family members and known as George the Barber.

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Lunch - home cooked gammon baguette and a banana for the record - was wolfed down in the shade overlooking Trafalgar Square after a visit to the facilities there. 20p to pee and contactless was accepted at the barrier - except it wasn’t working and I had no cash. Said pee turned out to be free after being let in by the attendant.

A very short diversion from Whitehall and the start of the No.3 back to site was 10 Northumberland Street and the Sherlock Holmes pub. A pub since 1846 and rebuilt in 1883, it was called The Northumberland Arms until 1957 when, then owners Whitbread recreated Holmes’ sitting room at 221b Baker Street with items rescued from the Holmes exhibition, part of the 1951 Festival of Britain. The sitting room can still be viewed through glass from the upstairs dining room.

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And that was it for the day. Back to the site on the good old No.3, hopping off at Brixton for beer and nibbles. As per, a beer in the recliner and the eventual unbuckling of boots and peeling off of the leather trews preceded a nap before getting to work on Part 3, dinner and TV following soon after. Having Just finished Series 4 of the excellent French cop drama Spiral, I’m currently mid way through ‘The Killing’, billed as the original Scandi-noir. At twenty episodes it’s a slow burner but definitely engrossing. No, I can’t understand French or Danish - English is a struggle after a few - but they’ve certainly been worth watching.

Part 5 coming soon…

  • For the record, public transport used: Bus 3 to Brixton, Bus 59 to Aldwych, Bus 3 to Crystal Palace. Total cost (uncapped): £3.10.

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