One of the wonderful things about blogging is the people that you meet. Katie Wignall not only blogs at Look Up London she also guides walks around London. She has come up with a new route, Alternative Christmas Shopping and last week she asked me to be a guinea pig. We met in Soho Square and straight away the facts began. That Tudor building in the middle of the square, it was built in 1925 to hide an electricity substation, now it is just used to house gardening equipment.
Not everything that you look up to see is old. As we left Soho Square we could see a large sculpture of an Angel adorning a building. Turns out that the Angel is in fact Selene, the Greek Goddess of the moon. The Nadler Hotel, for that is the building on which she stands, wanted a representation of sleep. Hew Locke came up with this star strewn goddess.
When I used to work in Portland Place, the black art deco Marks and Spencers on Oxford Street was my local Marks. I have always assumed the architecture and the name of building to be left over from when it was a cinema. Wrong! The Pantheon, refers to an exclusive members club that used to stand on the site in the eighteenth century that was built to resemble the Pantheon in Rome. Fire claimed the original building many years ago and M&S bought the site in 1925 and had the current store built.
Katie calls her tours Look Up London and we spent lots of time looking up, seeing all sorts of incredible things. Most beautiful of all was on another Art Deco building, this time opposite Liberty on Great Marlborough Street. It was built for the American Radiator Company and is a scaled down version of their New York headquarters. The radiators are long gone but the impressive mosaics remain, quite a fancy building for a pasta restaurant.
When we stood on the traffic island in the middle of Regent Street I thought that it was probably all the better to admire the magnificent Angel Christmas lights, turns out that what looks like a sawn off lamp post was the focus of our attention. It is in fact a stench pipe, built to let the noxious gases escape from the Victorian sewers below.
This is a part of London that I have lived in and worked in for over thirty years and I came away with several new facts. What’s more, when the tour finished I was ideally placed for a spot of Christmas shopping. The Alternative Christmas Shopping walk is £12 (£8 children). If you fancy going on one of Katie’s tours click here
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