London’s streets have always worn a variety of influences, reflecting the diverse crowds who live and work on them. Take a walk down any number of historic streets and an abundance of tales exist in the bricks and mortar, waiting to be told.
The Hidden Lives of London’s Streets takes the reader on a journey through Soho, Piccadilly, Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Chelsea, Kensington, Fitzrovia and Clerkenwell. A street map is provided for each area, marking out the streets and buildings in which the various activities – some forgotten, others well-remembered – took place.
Stories include those of courtesans such as the notorious Lola Montez and Theresa de Cornelys, who gave lavish balls at their home in Soho Square which were little more than orgies, during which a man playing the violin while on roller skates crashed through her plate glass window; Casanova and his quarrel with Marianne Charpillon after he taught a parrot to say she was a ‘whore’; clubs – great (the Gargoyle), the artistic (Muriel Belcher’s Colony), and the small (Royston Smith’s club for dwarves); the police; robberies; murder and executions; the nightclubs; cinemas and theatres; the villains and prostitution. Beyond mere gangs and criminality, the book will trace the social changes that have gradually unfolded on any given street. For example the metamorphosis of Old Compton Street as home to race gangs in the 1920s, to becoming an essentially Italian street, to being part of the gay community.