London’s Denmark Street

Downtown spaces change, and sometimes the results are a bit sad. This sad news is from London via the Guardian

St Giles, the patch of urban space that nudges Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, is to be redeveloped. In the early 1750s it was the setting for Hogarth’s Gin Lane; two centuries later, it had become an outpost of creative Soho, with Denmark Street recast as Tin Pan Alley (a name borrowed from the New York haunt of songwriters and music publishers), and the alliance of artistes, chancers, impresarios and dreamers we now know as the music industry in full-time residence.

This is just part of a much larger gentrification trend that is at work in all of the great cities. And this bit from the article brings out the unique challenge faced by champions of Soho

Since November, a group called Save Soho, co-fronted by Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch, has been pushing for something to change. Its founders want English Heritage to step in and honour Soho as a conservation area; they also want its warren of streets declared a Special Policy Area, an instrument already used to protect the tailoring trade in Savile Row and the art business in St James’s. The group’s co-founder, a musician called Tim Arnold, tells me that he is in conversations with the Greater London Authority; he has raised the latter proposal, only to be told Soho is “too diverse”. His bafflement is obvious. “So they’re telling me that what should be protected amounts to the reason it can’t be protected,” he says.

This image from the above Guardian article is of a bash Carnaby Street bohemian. Carnaby Street has already been gentrified from its swinging days

Carnaby Street, 1968

There are many stories from the area and some go way, way back.  St. Giles in the Fields is a rather old church  just nearby where the first victims of the 1665 plague were buried. From wikipedia

St Giles was also the last church on the route between Newgate Prison and the gallows at Tyburn, and the churchwardens paid for the condemned to have a drink (popularly named “St Giles’ Bowl”) at the next door pub, the Angel, before they went to be hanged, a custom that had started in the early 15th century.

It was, shall we say, a rough and tumble area.


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