Soho facts for kids

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Greek Street Ronnie
Comptons Kingly CourtScott's Jazz Club
Soho Gardeners' Hut Soho Square
Soho Top from left: Greek Street, Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club. Middle from left: Comptons, Kingly Court. Bottom from left: View of Soho, Gardener's hut, Soho Square.

Soho is an area of the City of Westminster and is part of the West End of London, England. Long established as an entertainment district and the location for the headquarters of leading film companies. Since the 1980s, the area has undergone considerable gentrification. It is now predominantly a fashionable district of upmarket restaurants and media offices.

Soho is a small, multicultural area of central London; a home to industry, commerce, culture and entertainment, as well as a residential area for both rich and poor. It has clubs, including the former Chinawhite nightclub; public houses; bars; restaurants; and late-night coffee shops that give the streets an "open-all-night" feel at the weekends. Record shops cluster in the area around Berwick Street, with shops such as Phonica, Sister Ray and Reckless Records.

On many weekends, Soho is busy enough to warrant closing off some of the streets to vehicles. Westminster City Council pedestrianised parts of Soho in the mid-1990s, but later removed much of the pedestrianisation, apparently after complaints of loss of trade from local businesses.

Toponymy

The name "Soho" first appears in the 17th century. Most authorities believe that the name derives from a former hunting cry. James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, used "soho" as a rallying call for his men at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 6 July 1685, half a century after the name was first used for this area of London. The Soho name has been imitated by other entertainment and restaurant districts such as Soho, Hong Kong; Soho, Málaga; SOHO, Beijing; SoHo (South of Horton), London, Ontario, Canada; and Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires. SoHo, Manhattan, gets its name from its location SOuth of HOuston Street, but is also a reference to London's Soho.

Location

Soho - map 1
Map of Soho

Soho has an area of about one square mile (2.5 km2), and is now usually considered to be the area bounded by Oxford Street to the north, Regent Street to the west, Leicester Square to the south and Charing Cross Road to the east. However, apart from Oxford Street, all of these roads are 19th-century metropolitan improvements, so they are not Soho's original boundaries. Soho has never been an administrative unit, with formally defined boundaries. The area to the west is known as Mayfair, to the north Fitzrovia, to the east St Giles and Covent Garden, and to the south St James's. According to the Soho Society, Chinatown, the area between Leicester Square to the south and Shaftesbury Avenue to the north, is part of Soho, although some consider it a separate area. Soho is part of the West End electoral ward which elects three councillors to Westminster City Council.

History

Early history

In the Middle Ages, what is now Soho was known as Saint Giles Field, a farmland belonging to the Convent of Abingdon and the master of Burton St Lazar Hospital in Leicestershire, who owned a leper hospital in St Giles in the Fields. In 1536, the land was taken by Henry VIII as a royal park for the Palace of Whitehall.

In the 1660s the Crown granted Soho Fields to Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans. He leased 19 of its 22 acres (89,000 m2) to Joseph Girle, who gained permission to build and promptly passed his lease and licence to bricklayer Richard Frith in 1677. Frith began the development. In 1698 William III granted the Crown freehold of most of this area to William Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland. Meanwhile, the southern part of Soho was sold by the Crown in parcels in the 16th and 17th centuries, with part going to Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester.

Despite the best intentions of landowners such as the Earls of Leicester and Portland to develop the land on the grand scale of neighbouring Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Mayfair, Soho never became a fashionable area for the rich. Immigrants settled in the area, especially French Huguenots who poured in from 1688, after which the area became known as London's French quarter. The French church in Soho Square was founded by Huguenots in the 17th century. By the mid-18th century, the aristocrats who had been living in Soho Square or Gerrard Street had moved away. Soho's character stems partly from the ensuing neglect by rich and fashionable London, and the lack of redevelopment that characterised the neighbouring areas.

Soho's population increased rapidly, reaching 327 inhabitants per acre by 1851; then one of the most densely populated areas of London. Houses became divided into tenements with chronic overcrowding and disease. A serious outbreak of cholera in 1854 around Soho caused the remaining upper-class families to leave the area. A considerable number of hospitals were built to cope with the health problem, with six being constructed between 1851 and 1874.

In the early 20th century, foreign nationals opened cheap eating-houses, and the neighbourhood became a fashionable place to eat for intellectuals, writers and artists. Arthur Ransome has two chapters of Bohemia in London (1907) about Old and New Soho, and about Soho coffee-houses like the Orange, The Moorish Café and The Algerian.

From the 1930s to the early 1960s, Soho folklore states that the pubs of Soho were packed every night with drunken writers, poets and artists, many of whom never stayed sober long enough to become successful; and it was also during this period that the Soho pub landlords established themselves.

A detailed mural depicting Soho characters, including writer Dylan Thomas and jazz musician George Melly, is in Broadwick Street, at the junction with Carnaby Street. In fiction, Robert Louis Stevenson had Dr. Henry Jekyll set up a home for Edward Hyde in Soho in his novel, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Soho was part of the ancient parish of St Martin in the Fields, forming part of the Liberty of Westminster. As the population started to grow a new church was provided and in 1687 a new parish of St Anne was established for it. The parish stretched from Oxford Street in the north, to Leicester Square in the south and from what is now Charing Cross Road in the east to Wardour Street in the west. It therefore included all of contemporary eastern Soho, including the Chinatown area. The western portion of modern Soho, around Carnaby Street was part of the parish of St James, that was split off from St Martin in 1685.

Broad Street pump

John Snow memorial and pub
John Snow memorial, with John Snow pub shown in the background

A significant event in the history of epidemiology and public health was Dr. John Snow's study of an 1854 outbreak of cholera in Soho. He identified the cause of the outbreak as water from the public water pump located at the junction of Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) and Cambridge Street (now Lexington Street), close to the rear wall of what is today the John Snow public house.

John Snow mapped the addresses of the sick, and noted that they were mostly people whose nearest access to water was the Broad Street pump. He persuaded the authorities to remove the handle of the pump, thus preventing any more of the infected water from being collected. The spring below the pump was later found to have been contaminated with sewage. This is an early example of epidemiology, public health medicine and the application of science—the germ theory of disease—in a real-life crisis. Science writer Steven Johnson describes the 2006 appearance of places related to the Broad Street Pump cholera outbreak:

Almost every structure that stood on Broad Street in the late summer of 1854 has been replaced by something new – thanks in part to the Luftwaffe, and in part to the creative destruction of booming urban real estate markets. (Even the streets' names have been altered. Broad Street was renamed Broadwick in 1936). The pump, of course, is long gone, though a replica with a small plaque stands several blocks from the original site on Broad Street. A block east of where the pump once stood is a sleek glass office building designed by Richard Rogers with exposed piping painted a bold orange; its glassed-in lobby hosts a sleek, perennially crowded sushi restaurant. St. Luke's Church, demolished in 1936, has been replaced by the sixties development Kemp House, whose fourteen stories house a mixed-use blend of offices, flats, and shops. The entrance to the workhouse on Poland Street is now a quotidian urban parking garage, though the workhouse structure is still intact, and visible from Dufours Place, lingering behind the postwar blandness of Broadwick Street like some grand Victorian fossil. (…) On Broad Street itself, only one business has remained constant over the century and half that separates us from those terrible days in September 1854. You can still buy a pint of beer at the pub on the corner of Cambridge Street, not fifteen steps from the site of the pump that once nearly destroyed the neighbourhood. Only the name of the pub is changed. It is now called The John Snow.

A replica of the pump, with a memorial plaque and without a handle (to signify John Snow's action to halt the outbreak) was erected near the location of the original pump.

Restaurants

Many small and easily affordable restaurants and cafes were established in Soho during the 19th century, particularly as a result of Greek and Italian immigration. The restaurants were not looked upon favourably at first, but their reputation changed at the start of the 20th century. In 1924, a guide reported "of late years, the inexpensive restaurants of Soho have enjoyed an extraordinary vogue."

Music scene

The music scene in Soho can be traced back to 1948 and Club Eleven, generally regarded as the first venue where modern jazz, or bebop, was performed in the UK. The Harmony Inn was a hang-out for musicians on Archer Street operating during the 1940s and 1950s. It stayed open very late and attracted jazz fans from the nearby Cy Laurie Jazz Club.

The Ken Colyer Band's 51 Club, a venue for traditional jazz, opened on Great Newport Street in the early fifties. Blues guitarist and harmonica player Cyril Davies and guitarist Bob Watson launched the London Skiffle Centre, London's first skiffle club, on the first floor of the Roundhouse pub on Wardour Street in 1952.

In the early 1950s, Soho became the centre of the beatnik culture in London. Coffee bars such as Le Macabre on Wardour Street, which had coffin-shaped tables, fostered beat poetry, jive dance and political debate. The Goings On, located in Archer Street, was a Sunday afternoon club, organised by beat poets Pete Brown, Johnny Byrne and Spike Hawkins, that opened in January 1966. For the rest of the week, it operated as an illegal gambling den. Other "beat" coffee bars in Soho included the French, Le Grande, Stockpot, Melbray, Universal, La Roca, Freight Train (Skiffle star Chas McDevitt's place), El Toro, Picasso, Las Vegas, and the Moka Bar.

The 2i's Coffee Bar was probably the first rock club in Europe, opened in 1956 (59 Old Compton Street), and soon Soho was the centre of the fledgling rock scene in London. Clubs included the Flamingo Club, La Discothèque, Whisky a Go Go, Ronan O'Rahilly's The Scene in 1963 (near the Windmill Theatre in Ham Yard – formally The Piccadilly Club) and jazz clubs like Ronnie Scott's, which opened in 1959 at 39 Gerrard Street and moved to 47 Frith Street in 1965.

Soho's Wardour Street was the home of the Marquee Club, which opened in 1958 and where the Rolling Stones first performed in July 1962. Eric Clapton and Brian Jones both lived for a time in Soho, sharing a flat with future rock publicist, Tony Brainsby.

Soho was also home to Trident Studios at 17 St Anne's Court between 1968 and 1981 where recording artists included The Beatles, The Who, Elton John, Queen and David Bowie.

Although technically not part of Soho, Denmark Street is known for its connections with British popular music, and is nicknamed the British Tin Pan Alley due to its large concentration of shops selling musical instruments. The Sex Pistols lived beneath number 6 Denmark Street, and recorded their first demos there. Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Donovan have all recorded there and Elton John wrote his hit "Your Song" in the street. Gerrard Street in Soho is the location where a nascent Led Zeppelin first rehearsed/performed together in a secluded basement room upon their formation in 1968.

Recent history

AdmiralDuncan
The Admiral Duncan pub, Soho landmark and site of the Soho nail-bombing

On Valentine's Day 2006, a campaign was launched to drive business back into the heart of Soho. The campaign, called I Love Soho, features a website. The campaign was launched at the former Raymond Revuebar in Walkers Court, with such celebrities in attendance as Charlotte Church, Amy Winehouse and Paris Hilton. I Love Soho is backed by the former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, the Soho Society, Westminster Council and Visit London.

Landmarks

Streets

Notable streets include:

  • Berwick Street has record shops, fabric shops, and a small street market open from Monday to Saturday.
  • Carnaby Street was for a short time the fashion centre of 1960s "Swinging London" although it quickly became known for poor quality 'kitsch' products.
  • D'Arblay Street, formerly Portland Street, has The George public house, The Breakfast Club Cafe and a Pop up shop which recently held an art exhibition for the Mourlot Studios by King and McGaw.
Kingandmcgaw-popup-shop-london-may2015
Pop Up Shop on D'Arblay Street, London
  • Dean Street is home to the Soho Theatre, and a pub known as The French House which during World War II was popular with the French Government-in-exile. Karl Marx lived at numbers 54 and 28 Dean Street between 1851 and 1856. From 1948 to 2008 it was also the location of The Colony Club hosted by Muriel Belcher and frequented by Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, George Melly and later Damien Hirst.
  • Denmark Street was a music publishing centre and houses numerous musical instrument stores
  • Frith Street where John Logie Baird first demonstrated television in his laboratory, now the location of Bar Italia. A plaque above the stage door of the Prince Edward Theatre identifies the site where Mozart lived for a few years as a child.
  • Gerrard Street was home to Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, the 43 Club and the Dive Bar, under the Kings Head. It is at the centre of London's Chinatown.
  • Golden Square is a garden square which is now home to several major media companies.
  • Great Marlborough Street was once the location of Philip Morris's original London factory and gave its name to the Marlboro brand of cigarettes. It is also the former home of the London College of Music and a historic central magistrates' court famous for the trials of many celebrities arrested in the West End.
  • Great Windmill Street was home to the Windmill Theatre (see below) which used to claim, slightly inaccurately, that "we never closed" during the war; it was finally sold and reconstructed as a cinema in 1964. The principles of The Communist Manifesto were laid out at a meeting in the Red Lion pub.
  • Greek Street is famous for its restaurants, and formerly for its cosmopolitan residents
  • Old Compton Street was the birthplace of Europe's rock club circuit (2i's club) and boasted the first adult cinema in England (The Compton Cinema Club). Dougie Millings, who was the famous tailor for The Beatles, had his first shop at 63 Old Compton Street which opened in 1962. Old Compton Street is now the core of London's main gay village where there are dozens of businesses catering for the gay community
  • In Soho Square are Paul McCartney's office MPL Communications, and the former Football Association headquarters.
  • Wardour Street was home of the Marquee Club. Another seventies rock hangout was The Intrepid Fox pub (at 97/99 Wardour Street), originally dedicated to Charles James Fox (who is featured on a relief on the outside of the building), and more recently a goth pub where customers wearing ties would be denied service, as being improperly dressed.

Windmill Theatre

The Windmill Theatre which was open from June 1931 until October 1964, was famous for its nude tableaux vivants, in which the models had to remain motionless to avoid the censorship imposed by the Lord Chamberlain's Office until the Theatres Act of 1968 became law). It claimed that it was the only theatre in London which Never Closed during the War, (conveniently fogetting the twelve compulsory days between 4 and 16 September 1939). It stood on the site of a windmill that lasted for only a hundred years from the reign of Charles II until late in the 18th century, but gave its name to the street.

Culture

Soho scenes 1
Colourful shop windows in a typical Soho backstreet in London

Soho is near the heart of London's theatre area. It is home to Soho Theatre, built in 2000 to present new plays and comedy. Gerrard Street is the centre of London's Chinatown, a mix of import companies and restaurants (including—until 2015 when it closed—Lee Ho Fook's, mentioned in Warren Zevon's song "Werewolves of London"). Pinball Wizard, one of the most famous songs by The Who and subsequently covered by Elton John, contains the line "From Soho down to Brighton, I must've played them all", in reference to the locations frequented by the title character. Street festivals are held throughout the year, most notably on the Chinese New Year.

Soho is a centre of the independent film and video industry as well as the television and film post-production industry. The British Board of Film Classification, formerly known as the British Board of Film Censors, can be found in Soho Square. Soho's key fibre communications network is managed by Sohonet, which connects the Soho media and post-production community to British film studio locations such as Pinewood Studios and Shepperton Studios and other major production centres across the globe, including London, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Rome, New York City, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Wellington and Auckland. There are also plans by Westminster Council to deploy high-bandwidth Wi-Fi networks in Soho as part of a programme to further encourage the development of the area as a centre for media and technology industries. Recent research commissioned by Westminster City Council shows that 23% of the workforce in Soho works in the creative industries, making it one of the most creative square miles in the world.

Soho Radio commenced live broadcasting on 7 May 2014 on Great Windmill Street, next to the Windmill Club. Primarily a radio station, Soho Radio broadcasts 24 hours streaming live and pre-recorded programming from its premises, and also functions as a retail space and coffee shop. The station states on its website that it aims "to reflect the culture of Soho through our vibrant and diverse content."

Soho is home to numerous religious and spiritual groups, notably St Anne's Church on Dean Street (damaged by a V1 flying bomb during World War II, and re-opened in 1990), the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory on Warwick Street (the only remaining 18th century Roman Catholic embassy chapel in London and principal church of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham), St Patrick's Church in Soho Square (founded by Irish immigrants in the 19th century), City Gates Church with their centre in Greens Court, the Hare Krishna Temple off Soho Square and a small mosque on Berwick Street. The French Protestant Church of London, the only of its kind in the city, is found in Soho.

Transport

The nearest London Underground stations are Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Square and Covent Garden.

Westminster Council stated that the narrow footways can become very congested at night, particularly at weekends, with people drinking in the street, eating outside takeaways, queuing at entertainment venues or to use bank ATMs, and people passing through the area. There are a number of premises with tables and chairs located on restricted pavement areas and this can cause non-violent traffic/pedestrian conflict.


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