NW3: Come and make eyes at me.

NW3 is Hampstead and there is so much to say about the place and its famous residents of yesterday and today. It seems there is at least one blue plaque on every street in the centre of Hampstead village. In fact English Heritage lists over 60 blue plaques in NW3. So where do I begin?

I have decided to begin a little further down the hill in Belsize Park and walk though the village and end up at the old Bull and Bush, that pub immortalised in that old Music Hall song – although the story of that song is stranger than you might think.

Anyhow we start our walk at the Post Office which is in the middle of the parade of shops at 199 – 205 Haverstock Hill – opposite Belsize Park tube station. In fact this is our first stop.

Stop 1: Site of Haverstock Hill Odeon

This parade of shops, with flats above, was built in 1934. In the middle of it, where the Budgen supermarket and Post Office now stand, was once an Odeon cinema.


The cinema (variously known as Odeon Haverstock Hill, Odeon Belsize Park or Odeon Hampstead) opened on 29 September 1934. The art deco auditorium was unusual as it had no overhanging circle but was arranged in a stadium plan with 652 seats in the stalls and 892 in a rear raised balcony section.

The Odeon was badly damaged by a bomb in October 1941 and it did not reopen until December 1954. It carried on as an Odeon until it closed in September 1972. The cinema was demolished, leaving the rest of the parade of shops and flats remaining. A supermarket was built on the site. But in an interesting twist, one of the original shop units became the entrance to a new cinema in 1977 – initially called Screen on the Hill. This is still open although now called the Everyman Belsize Park.


Now walk up Haverstock Hill. It becomes Rosslyn Hill. Take the fourth turning on the left.

Stop 2: Number 6 Lyndhurst Road

Just to warn you Lyndhurst Road is numbered up one side and down the other. We are heading for Number 6 which is on the right hand side, a fair way (and beyond Eldon Grove).

This house was the home of the actor Richard Burton from 1949 to 1956.



This was a period when he was juggling a stage career with a Hollywood movie career – and before he met Elizabeth Taylor. She by the way called Burton one of the three loves of her life – the other two were her third husband Mike Todd and jewelry (sic). Elizabeth Taylor was actually born near here in 1932 at Heathwood, 8 Wildwood Road NW11 which is just on the edge of Hampstead Heath near the end of walk today. Her parents were american but they were living in London because of her father’s business.

Burton must have living here when he recorded “Under Milk Wood” for BBC radio in 1954. But by the time the film was made in 1972 he was long gone from here. Amazingly Elizabeth Taylor also featured in the 1972 movie version. I am intrigued to know what kind of Welsh accent she managed.

Retrace your steps as far as Eldon Grove and turn left down here.

Stop 3:  Number 3 Eldon Grove

Our next stop is just on the left, at Number 3, former home of artist Paul Nash.



Paul Nash (1889 – 1946) was not just a painter but also a photographer, writer and designer of applied art. He is regarded as one of the important landscape artists of the first half of the twentieth century and he played a key role in the development of Modernism in English art. He was a war artist in both the first and second world wars. Tate has over 30 of his works and quite a few of these are on display.


Go to the end of  Eldon Grove and turn right into Thurlow Road. At the end cross over Rosslyn Hill at the zebra crossing and turn left up the hill a short way. Then turn right into Pilgrim’s Lane.

Stop 4: Pilgrims Lane (Numbers 1, 2b and 8)

We have three interesting connections here. Number 1 on the left hand side was the home of painter Sir William Nicholson who lived here from 1904 to 1906.



Again the Tate has a lot of his work. They have a series of lovely lithographs from 1899 – here is his take on Queen Victoria:


Across the road (and well hidden) is the house of Sir William’s son, Ben Nicholson (1894 – 1982).


In fact this was his last home and he died here on 6 February 1982. He was a painter of abstract compositions, landscape and still-life. The Tate has plenty of his work too. Strange he should end up just across the road from what must have been a childhood home, although he was probably away at school most of the time. It is easy to miss this one as the blue plaque is almost invisible from the street. You have to stand in front of Number 2 and crane your neck over the fence and through the foliage to see it!


And just a little further on from Number 2b is another plaque at Number 8 – this time not blue. And it is on a house which has a ship’s figurehead sticking out from it!


It commemorates William Johnson Cory – author of the words of the Eton Boat Song, although the figurehead is more the size for an ocean going ship than a rowing boat on the Thames. The Eton Boating Song dates from 1863 and features these words in the first verse:

“Swing swing together, With your bodies between your knees.”

(This is of course is a rowing reference)


Although he was certainly a teacher at Eton from 1845 to 1872, he was known then as William Johnson. He was forced to resign as a result of an indiscreet letter. The Dictionary of National Biography says “No one can be quite sure of the exact circumstances of his resignation,” but adds: “There is no question that he was dangerously fond of a number of boys.” It was perhaps easier to keep out of the papers in those days, especially when you had old boys in high places. Wonder what David and Boris know?

He changed his name to Cory, the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, then left the country and married and had a son. He moved here in 1882 where he lived out his last days.

Walk to the end of Pilgrim’s Lane and then turn right when you reach the Heath. Our next stop is just on the right.

Stop 5: Numbers 1 – 3 Willow Road

We have already seen Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in W10, but this is what he built in part for himself. This is in fact a terrace of three completed in 1939. The middle one was Goldfinger’s and is now owned by the National Trust. It  is usually open Wednesday to Sunday http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/2-willow-road/


For me, this design of building is so reminiscent of growing up in Crawley, where a huge part of the town was built in the 1950s very much in this style. This block looks like the schools I went to and there are features which remind me of the houses I lived in, although they were somewhat smaller than this!.

I have a soft spot for this style although in practical terms they were not great. These buildings were cold in winter and hot in summer and you always seems to get condensation on the windows. But those metal window frames are so well proportioned. It is sad that most have been replaced by clunky pvc, although it is understandable if you have to live or work in the building concerned.


By the way have a look in the first floor window of Number 2 and you can just see a mug with the word “genius” on it. Exactly.


Return along Willow Road and where it forks take the right hand road, Christchurch Hill, go along this until you reach Well Walk where you turn left. Our next stop is a little way on the left.

 Stop 6:  John Constable’s House, Well Walk

John Constable (1776 – 1837) was an English Romantic painter. He was born in Suffolk and he is best known for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale – indeed that neck of the woods is now known as “Constable Country”.



Interestingly although he is most closely associated with Suffolk, he spent much of his life elsewhere including here in Hampstead and in fact he, his wife and two of their children are buried in the the nearby St John’s Church. He started coming to Hampstead in 1819 and leased this house in 1827. And he painted quite a lot here, much of which has ended up at the Tate:  http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/constable-hampstead-heath-with-the-house-called-the-salt-box-n01236

Continue along Well Walk and when you get to Willow Road there are two roads ahead. Take the right hand one which is Flask Walk.

Stop 7: Gardnor House, Flask Walk

By the way, Flask Walk and Well Walk are little reminders that Hampstead was once considered a spa. Though never up there with the big boys of Bath, Tunbridge Wells and Harrogate, I guess it was handy for London, as was Streatham which we saw in SW16.

Flask Walk widens out with a green in the middle.  On the right is the old bathhouse and on the left is a detached house in its own grounds. This is Gardnor House. Once home to two very different people – at different times I might add.


One was the writer Sir Kingsley Amis (1922 – 1995).  He wrote some 20 novels plus poetry, radio and television scripts and literary criticism. Although best remembered for novels such as Lucky Jim, he originally wished to be a poet, and turned to writing novels only after publishing several volumes of verse.  He was well known to like a drink. For many years he is said to have rigorously separated his writing and his drinking. He aimed to write a minimum 500 words in the mornings and only then at lunchtime would the drinking begin.

The other was comedy actor, Betty Marsden (1919 – 1998), best known for playing multiple parts in the 1960s BBC radio series “Beyond our Ken” and “Round the Horne”. She did pop up in other things and was in a couple of Carry On films. Apparently throughout the filming of Carry on Camping in 1969, she suggested to fellow actress Dilys Laye that she wanted to die with a glass of gin in her hand. In July 1998, soon after moving into a residential home for old actors, she collapsed and died in the home’s bar.

Keep walking along Flask Walk, past the delightful Flask pub (wonder if Kingsley Amis or Betty Marsden popped in here)


At the end turn right and at the corner you will see our next stop.

Stop 8: Hampstead tube station

The station was opened on 22 June 1907 by the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway, one of the three railways built by the american Charles Tyson Yerkes, and so has those distinctive red tiles.


It was originally going to be called Heath Street, being located at the junction of Heath Street and Hampstead High Street. The original tiled station signs on the platform walls had this name and although restored you can still read “Heath Street” on the platform wall.

The station platforms are the deepest on the London Underground network, at 58.5 metres or 192 feet below ground level. It has also the deepest lift shaft on the Underground at 181 feet. The staircase has some 320 steps – that’s quite a way.

Take the small side street opposite the tube station called Holly Hill. Use the right hand path passing the Sundial House. As the road widens out take the left hand road and then turn right and follow this road. Just after the road becomes Branch Hill you will see a gateway on the left. It looks like it is private but you can go down there.

Stop 9: location of Spedan Tower


Stick to the road and go past the big house. At the end you will see a sign for Spedan Close. (By the way the word Spedan is pronounced Speedan for reasons I will explain shortly)


Why Spedan Close? Well this is location of the mansion belonging to the store owner John Lewis. He was from Somerset and being orphaned at a young age was brought up by aunts, one of whom was called Ann Speed. Spedan is a word made up from reversing his aunt’s name. Hence it is pronounced Speedan. He not only called his house by this name but he also used it as a middle name for his eldest son, who was the one who really took the business forward.

John Lewis lived until his 90s and did not have the house modernised, so John Spedan Lewis found it old fashioned and gloomy. The house was therefore not kept and the land was sold for development, which is why you cannot see a big house here today.

Now if you do not mind a bit of a walk there is actually a plaque to Lewis father and son. It is not far from here but as the developments are gated you have to walk round a fair way to the other side.

From the Spedan Close sign follow the little lane to you right. This brings you back to Branch Hill. Turn left and continue to the junction with West Heath Road. If you want to skip this bit you would turn right here. But if you want to see the plaque turn left and follow the road until you reach Templewood Avenue on the left. You will come to Grange Gardens on the left. Go down here and ahead of you, you will soon see the sign for John Lewis and John Spedan Lewis.



Retrace your steps along Templewood Avenue and West Heath Road and keep following West Heath Road as it hugs the heath.  Keep the heath to your left and soon you will be by Jack Straw’s Castle, a former pub but now apartments and a lifestyle centre.

Stop 10: Jack Straw’s Castle

Jack Straw’s Castle was one of those landmark pubs. There was a pub here for a long time at least since 1713 but possibly since Tudor times. The building we see today dates from the early 1960s; its predecessor having been destroyed by a bomb in 1941, an interesting choice of bomb target, don’t you think.

Here it is today.


But there are some other interesting pictures on this link


Fascinating fact: Jack Straw was one of the leaders of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 along with Wat Tyler. This pub is said to have taken its name from a story that Straw addressed groups of rebels on the Heath from a hay wagon which became known as “Jack Straw’s Castle”.

Second fascinating fact: The politician we know as Jack Straw adopted the name “Jack”, allegedly after the rebel leader – he was called John Whitaker Straw by his parents.

Walk along the road in front of Jack Straw’s Castle, along North End Way. You will pass the former home of  William Hesketh Lever, the soap man.



There is also another blue plaque here to someone I have never heard of.


Sadly we do not have space to include either of them!

Keep going along North End Way. Before you get to the Old Bull and Bush, take the turn on the right called Wildwood Grove.


A little way along you will see a small road going of to the left. Go down that and soon on the left you will see a tall gaunt Victorian terrace with just a footpath in front. You will see the second house in has a blue plaque.

Stop 11: Wildwood Terrace

This little terrace was built in the 1860s. Pevsner called this terrace “surprisingly urban gothic” and he should know, as he lived here for some 47 years.



Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (1902 – 1983) was a German-born scholar of history of art and architecture. He is of course best known for his series of county-by-county guides – The Buildings of England (1951–74). These are usually referred to as “Pevsner” and they form one of the key reference texts if you want to know about a building. As a guide I find them invaluable, but because they have been revised since his death, you are never entirely sure whether the withering statement about a building is his or not.

But it is intriguing that he should live in this out of the way terrace – imposing, no doubt spacious but not very special.

Now retrace your steps to the main road which has become North End Road. Turn right. Almost immediately is the next stop.

Stop 12: The Old Bull and Bush

Here we have the Old Bull and Bush – a fine old pub. There has been an ale house a long time. It got a license to sell ale in 1721 and Hogarth is said to have been a visitor. Later it bacame a favourite destination for day trips out from built up London. However this building dates largely from the 1920s.



As I mentioned at the start, the Old Bull and Bush was immortalised in an old Music Hall song. It was popularised by one Florrie Ford- other songs she sang included “Hold your hand out you naughty boy”, “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag”, “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary” and “I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside”.

She was born in Australia but made her name in the UK on the Music Hall circuit.

There is actually a film of her singing “The Old Bull and Bush” in a medley dating I guess from the 1930s. She is a portly lady – stately as a galleon in black with a hanky which shes flourishes. The Old Bull and Bush is the last minute or so – from about 3 minutes 18 Seconds:

(you will probably need to click on the link that pops up to make this work)

The song “The Old Bull and Bush” seems such a quintessentially British song,

But it is not. It is actually american. It was commissioned in 1903 by the brewer Anheuser Busch and the original words were:

“Come, come, come and make eyes at me, down at the Anheuser Bush (sic)”

Here is a link to a 1904 recording of the original song

So you never can tell.

You can stop here but there is a little something just round the corner I cannot resist.

Post script:

Now continue walking along North End Road and take the first turn on the right. this is Hampstead Way.

Stop 12a: North End (Bull and Bush) tube station

As Hampstead Way turns to he left there is what looks like an electricity sub-station.



But if you look closely at the signs they are in the standard underground style and suggest there is some kind of emergency escape route here. In fact we are at the top of a shaft which goes down to the platforms of North End station.

You may be wondering why you have never heard of North End station – or Bull and Bush station as it is sometimes called. That is because it was never finished and so it never opened to the public. Why? Because before they could finish the station, legislation was passed to protect a further section of Hampstead Heath and so the Underground company concluded there would not be enough traffic to justify the cost of finishing the station

There is a description of a visit to the site here (it is in two parts):



As you stand here you may feel a rush of wind coming from the vent at the top. This is caused by a train passing by below you some three hundred feet.

So that brings us to the end of the NW3. There is so much more we could have seen. We did not get to Keats House, nor to Freud’s House, both now open to the public. We could not venture to the Isokon building, the former John Barnes department store nor to the Swiss Cottage. But I hope this has given a fair taste of NW3.

We are now around mid way between Hampstead and Golders Green stations, so you can go back to the former and forward to the latter. Or of course you could get a bus (268 to Hampstead or 210/268 to Golders Green)



W1: Hey big spender…

And so we start our journey through the W postcodes in W1. There is a lot to choose from in this postcode. W1 is synonymous with the West End. But not the West End of theatre – only 9 West End theatres are actually in W1 (Apollo, Dominion, Geilgud, Lyric, Palace, Palladium, Piccadilly, Prince Edward and Queen’s). Most West End theatres are in WC2.

But W1 is certainly the West End for shopping. As I am researching this in the run up to Christmas and publishing whilst the sales are in full swing, it seems only fitting I should focus the W1 walk on shops.

There are lots of Post Offices in W1 but I have chosen to start at a Post Office which is actually situated inside what used to be a department store. So we begin at the Post Office inside The Plaza, 120 Oxford Street.

Stop 1: The Plaza (former Bourne & Hollingsworth store)


Until 1983, this building housed a store called Bourne and Hollingsworth. Walter William Bourne and Howard E Hollingsworth started up in Westbourne Grove, only moving to Oxford Street in 1902. The building we see today dates from the 1920s. Bourne and Hollingsworth was never very grand or part of a big chain so far as I can establish, so that is probably why it has not survived.

In the mid 1980s, the building was gutted to create this mini shopping mall, called The Plaza.  This was then remodelled in 1997 when a sculpture of a girl by Michael Rizzello was added on the front.


There is a little reminder of the previous name if you look high up just below the pediment at each corner on Oxford Street. Oddly at the eastern end of the building, it says “B + H”, whilst the one at the west just says “BH”. Perhaps they are just slightly different sizes.

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Turn right out of the Plaza, and stay on the north side of Oxford Street.  As we walk along, do look at the former HMV flagship shore at 150 Oxford Street (on same side as the Plaza). This dates from the 1930s and was originally built for F W Woolworth & Co, but they moved out in the mid 1980s.


Our next stop is on the same side of the road between Winsley Street and Great Titchfield Street.

Stop 2: 162 – 180 Oxford Street (Former Waring & Gillow store)

This building is described by architectural historian, Pevsner, as “riotous Hampton Court baroque” and it certainly is. Not sure when this stopped being Waring & Gillow but the building itself was reconstructed in 1977/78 with offices on the upper floors. Today there are a number of shops on the Oxford Street elevation and it is only when you look up you can get a hint that once this block was a whole shop.

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Waring and Gillow had a long history. First as separate entities: Warings was from Liverpool and began in the mid 19th century whilst Gillows was from Lancashire and started even earlier in the 1760s. They were at the upper end of the furniture market and by the late 19th century both had showrooms in London. The two companies began a loose association in 1897 and merged to become Waring & Gillow in 1903. The first part of their new Oxford Street store opened in 1906 with the western part on Oxford Street and into Great Titchfield Street opening in 1933.

There is an interesting touch at the corners. Not initials like at Bourne and Hollingsworth but a sculptural ship’s prow. Perhaps this is a reference to the fact that Gillow did a lot of work providing furnishings for ocean going liners.


Now just across the road is our next stop at 173 Oxford Street.

Stop 3: Marks & Spencer Pantheon store

This sleek black granite facade dating from 1938 has a little clue to what was here before. If you look right up at the top in the centre, it has the name “The Pantheon”.

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The Pantheon was built in 1772 as a high class place of assembly, and was  so called because the main rotunda had a central dome reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome. Its fortunes declined in the 1780s. There were various failed attempts to use the premises for opera and theatre and in the end the building was reconstructed in the 1830s as a bazaar. In 1867 it was acquired by the wine merchants W and A Gilbey who used the building as offices and showrooms, until the 1930s when Marks and Spencer acquired the site.

A completely new building was put up, designed by Robert Lutyens (son of the more famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens). This building has been extended and rebuilt so many times since, I doubt there is much 1930s original apart of course from this distinctive facade.

Keep walking along Oxford Street, crossing to the south side when convenient before you get to Argyll Street.

Stop 4: Oxford Circus Station buildings (each corner of Argyll Street)

I know I said this was a West End store walk but I have to include the two original Oxford Circus tube station buildings as without them Oxford Street could probably not developed in the way it did. Until the tube came the only way to get to Oxford Street by public transport was by bus – the main line railways had been kept at a safe distance from the West End; the first shallow underground lines from 1863 onwards could not be extended to the West End because of the disruption that the cut and cover construction would have caused; and trams were never ever allowed in the West End.

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On the east corner of Argyll Street is the earlier of the two – the Central London Railway building of 1899/1901, all red brick and biscuit coloured terra cotta. On other corner is the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway’s building of 1905/06. This was on one of three lines developed by what became Underground Electric Railways of London, the main forerunner of London Transport. Almost all their early stations had the same distinctive dark red tiling on the ground floor level and they were deliberately built so that additional floors of offices could be built above, as happened in most cases. The offices above the Oxford Circus Station date from 1922.

We tend to forget these tube lines were built by different companies and in the early days the concept of interchange on the Underground was not well developed, so that is why the two lines at Oxford Circus each had their own station. We also tend to forget that the original deep level stations in central London were all built with lifts. So these buildings would have housed the lift machinery.

Oxford Circus had a major reconstruction in the 1960s when the Victoria Line was built. A new ticket hall was created underneath Oxford Circus itself which became the main way in. But part of these old station buildings continue to be used as exits.

Go down Argyll Street and ahead at the end is Liberty’s.

Stop 5: Liberty’s, Great Marlborough Street

Arthur Lasenby Liberty first set up in half a shop at 218a Regent Street in 1875, using a £2,000 loan from his father in law. The shop sold ornaments, fabrics and objets d’art from Japan and the East. Within 18 months Liberty had not only paid back the loan but had got the lease of the other half of the shop.

The Crown Estate owned the freehold of all the property in Regent Street and started a wholesale reconstruction in the early 20th century. The first world war intervened and so much of what we see today dates from the 1920s. In order to keep trading Liberty’s built a new store on Great Marlborough Street in 1922/23 whilst their main store in Regent Street was being rebuilt. The Regent Street building is now split up into various shops and so today people think of Liberty’s only as the Great Marlborough Street building.

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The two buildings were connected by a couple of bridges, which people rarely notice.


The Great Marlborough Street store is quite unique. It is built out of the timbers of two 19th Century Royal Navy ships: HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The length of the frontage on Great Marlborough Street is the same as that of the Hindustan. It was built in the traditional manner of a tudor building with no nails or glue. Sadly Arthur Lasenby Liberty did not live to see his new store as he died in 1917.

Pevsner by the way hated this building saying: “the scale is wrong, the symmetry is wrong, the proximity to a classical facade put up by the same firm at about the same time is wrong, and the goings on of a store behind such a facade (and below those twisted Tudor chimneys) are wrongest of all”

Before we leave Liberty’s, look out for a couple of nice touches. The weathervane atop in the centre is a galleon said to be modelled on the Mayflower.


And then above the main bridge is a clock and underneath a little homily about time: “No minute gone comes ever back again. Take heed and see ye do nothing in vain.”


Go the full length of the Liberty store and cross Regent Street when you get to it. Look back across the road and you will see the former Liberty building on Regent Street (with its lovely curving facade on the upper floors).


Our next stop is on the other (northern) corner of  Great Marlborough Street and Regent Street.

Stop 6: 224 – 244 Regent Street (former Dickens & Jones store)


This building was Dickens and Jones which closed in January 2006, having traded in Regent Street since 1835.  Back then it was Dickens, Sons and Stephens. Then in the 1890s it became Dickens and Jones when Sir John Pritchard Jones became a partner. The Regent Street side of the present building dates from 1919 /1921 and was part of the reconstruction of Regent Street.

The business was acquired by Harrods in 1914 as its first store beyond the original Knightbridge store. Harrods was itself taken over by House of Fraser in 1959 but both stores carried on under their original names. Harrods was subsequently demerged from House of Fraser but Dickens and Jones stayed as a House of Fraser store until it closed. The building is now spilt into a number of stores.

Walk up towards Oxford Circus but turn left into Princes Street. Go into Hanover Square and then right up Harewood Place. Cross Oxford Street when you get to it and go down Holles Street, stopping when convenient to look at our next stop.

Stop 7: John Lewis store

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John Lewis has been trading here on Oxford Street since 1864 – so no doubt John Lewis will have some sort of 150th birthday celebration in 2014.

By all accounts John Lewis was an autocratic employer and his management style led to disputes with his sons, John Spedan and Oswald. It was John Spedan Lewis who in effect gave the company away after his father’s death – first with profit sharing in 1929 and then to full employee ownership in 1950.

The store we see on Oxford Street dates mainly from the late 1950s and has a distinctive sculpture on the corner of Holles Street. What other department store chain would have commissioned leading sculptor Barbara Hepworth to create a work to go on the side of their new store. It is a stringed aluminium piece dating from 1963 called “Winged Figure” and it looks like it has had a bit of brush up for its 50th birthday.

Although the store had been virtually wiped out in the Blitz, the rear of the building is actually pre-war.


In the 1930s John Lewis had already rebuilt their Peter Jones store and were in the process of rebuilding the Oxford Street store when war intervened. They started at the Cavendish Square end of the store and this part of the store survived the Blitz. You can see the building changes as you get towards Cavendish Square.

Go round the back of John Lewis into Henrietta Place and the next block after John Lewis is the rear of the House of Fraser store.

Stop 8: House of Fraser (former D H Evans) store

This is a fine example of an inter war department store, dating from 1935/37, with streamlining fins making it feel taller than it is. What is interesting about this building is that it does not just have a decorative facade on Oxford Street. As you can see the side and the back of the building are properly finished.

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The man D H Evans was as the name suggests Welsh –  from Carmarthenshire. Dan Harries Evans having learned his trade as a draper in South Wales coming to London in 1878, first setting up business in Westminster Bridge Road but coming to Oxford Street in 1879. House of Fraser acquired this store in 1959 and it traded under its original name until 2001.

Useless fact: This was the first store in London to have escalators serving every floor.

Continue along Henrietta Place and then turn right into Wimpole Street. You will see the modern day Debenhams ahead of you but this will have to wait a while.


Go down Wimpole Street and cross Wigmore Street when you get to it. Turn left along the north side. Stop outside the Wigmore Hall

Stop 9a: former Debenham & Freebody store

Immediately opposite the Wigmore Hall is another former department store – this was Debenham and Freebody. You can see why this store has not survived. Wigmore Street could not compete with Oxford Street as a shopping destination.

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Debenham and Freebody had quite a history though. It originated with a draper’s business started in 1778 by William Clark. William Debenham became a partner in 1813 and the name changed to Clark and Debenham. In 1851, Clement Freebody became a partner and the name changed to Debenham and Freebody. Expansion occurred after the First World War under its then chairman Ernest Debenham when he acquired the Marshall and Snelgrove company, more of which anon.

The building on Wigmore Street dates from 1907/08 and is faced with white glazed tiles. Unlike other surviving shops from this era, the grand entrance in the middle goes straight to a staircase. In a minute, cross over the road and have a look though the main doors. I think this entrance tells us Debenham and Freebody was a very grand store indeed, unlike its modern day successor.


But before you that do we cannot ignore the Wigmore Hall, which was sort of a shop.

Stop 9b: Wigmore Hall

On the face of it this building is not a shop, but the Wigmore Hall was originally built as an adjunct to the piano showrooms of the German piano manufacturer, Bechstein. Designed by Thomas Edward Colcutt, the building was opened in 1901 as the Bechstein Hall. It is said to have near perfect acoustics. The external decoration is a of pale terra cotta and has similarities to one of Colcutt’s other buildings, the theatre in Cambridge Circus, now known as the Palace.

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Bechstein was forced to cease trading in June 1916 following the passing of the Trading with the Enemy Act 1916 – what a great title for an Act of Parliament. The property was seized and sold at auction. It was bought by Debenhams for £56,500 somewhat less than the £100,000 it had cost to build. It was rechristened the Wigmore Hall in 1917 and has been called that ever since. No sure when the Debenhams connection ended, but I assume it has.

The Hall today is run by a not for profit organisation but they do not own the freehold of the building. However according to this story this should not be a problem as they have got a 300 year lease starting from 2012! http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=a8Lh_ZwQ6Ayg&refer=culture

Now cross over (at a suitable safe location) and take a peek in the main door of  the Debenham and Freebody building. Then go along Wigmore Street and turn left into Welbeck Street.

As we walk down Welbeck Street, we pass number 1, which looks like it was actually part of the Debenham and Freebody building. This was until fairly recently used as the corporate headquarters of the Debenham group of companies. It is currently being refurbished but for now you can still see the Debenham name by the door.


Ahead of us at the end of Welbeck Street is the building which houses the modern day Debenhams.

Stop 10: Debenhams (former Marshall and Snelgrove store)

So back to Debenhams. This was originally Marshall and Snelgrove, the first store to be acquired by Debenhams. James Marshall started his store in Vere Street in 1837 and was joined by John Snelgrove in 1848. About this time the store moved to new premises on the corner of Vere Street and Oxford Street. Marshall and Snelgrove expanded into fashionable provincial towns like Scarborough and Harrogate. They did not fare well during the First World War and in 1916 started a working relationship with Debenhams which led to a full merger in 1919.

The current building dates from the late 1960s and in the early 1970s the store was rebranded as Debenhams. It was considerably rebuilt in 1987 when a huge atrium was created with escalators running through it. And just recently it has been undergoing a £40 million refurbishment which included cladding the building with 180,000 aluminium tiles which ripple in the wind.  However this is an improvement on what was there before.


Now go down Vere Street to Oxford Street and turn right. Our next stop is just across the road.

Stop 11: 363 Oxford Street (HMV)

This is the famous HMV store but all is not what it seems.

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There is a blue plaque at the front which proclaims this was the most famous music store in the world and was opened by composer Sir Edward Elgar in July 1921.  Well not quite, as that store burnt down in 1937 and the facade we see today dates from 1939.  And in 2000, HMV moved out so the building was home to a giant Foot Locker store for more than a decade. HMV only came back to 363 Oxford Street in October 2013, when it down sized from its previous flagship store at 150 Oxford Street (which we saw earlier). And by the way that old fashioned looking sign is a replica of what used to be here.

The blue plaque was unveiled by Sir George Martin when the original store closed in 2000. Martin famously produced most of the Beatles tracks and the plaque references a Beatles connection. The store used to have a recording studio and in February 1962 a certain Brian Epstein used the store’s recording facilities to cut a demo disc with a band he was managing – a little-known act named The Beatles. According the HMV store website, “the tracks were heard by publishing company Ardmore & Beechwood, based in the same building, who put the young Epstein in touch with Parlophone’s George Martin and…well, you know the rest.” 

It is hard to believe not so long ago there were two large HMV stores on Oxford Street plus two Virgin megastores not to mention Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus – which by the way was in the lower half of an old department store building (Swan and Edgar). Now this HMV is the last large music store standing. However I would not bet on this HMV store making it to its centenary year in 2021.

Continue walking along Oxford Street and you cannot miss our final stop.

Stop 12: Selfridges

We have to finish at Selfridges which is the largest store in Oxford Street and second largest store in the UK – only Harrods is bigger.

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Where do you begin to start to tell the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge – a man who made his money in department stores in Chicago plus marrying well, and then came to London to shake up the retail scene here. He also credited with coining phrases such as “the customer is always right” and “[x] shopping days to Christmas”.

Selfridge had a colourful life, as we have been seeing in the TV series, Mr Selfridge. And we have already heard in our SW15 walk that he ended his days in reduced circumstances with his daughter in a rented flat in Putney.

He lived life to the full and he loved to gamble. And this was not just at the clubs. In 1917 he and the managing director of Harrods made a bet that 6 years after the end of (First World ) War, Selfridge’s turnover would be greater than of Harrods. He lost and even today Harrods is still the bigger store. The bet was called in in 1927 and Selfridge’s forfeit was to have a model of Harrods made in silver. This can still be seen today in the middle of Harrods Bank. (NE corner of basement- ie the end of the store nearest the tube station).

Selfridges store was not built in one go. The eastern end was the first part to be built in 1909, but the rest was not built until the 1920s, by which time it was looking a little old fashioned.The focus in the centre is the clock and sculpture. The clock dates from 1931 but the sculpture called “Queen of Time” is perhaps a little earlier.


And so time has run out for our W1 walk which focussed mainly but not exclusively on shops and looked at some of the forgotten ones as well as some of the big names of today.

As we are in the heart of the West End, there are lots of buses for onwards travel – plus of course Bond Street station is just down the road.