London tour that walks you through Soho and Seven Dials
A CHARLES DICKENS LONDON WALK IN SOHO
Leave the station via exit 1 (Oxford Street South) and turn right along Oxford Street. Go right into Charing Cross Road and take the fourth turning right (Foyles Bookshop is on the opposite corner) into Manette Street.
This was formerly Rose Street but has been re-named after Dr Manette, who lived hereabouts in A Tale of Two Cities: ‘In a building at the back, attainable by a courtyard where a plane tree rustled its green leaves, church organs claimed to be made, and likewise gold to be beaten by some mysterious giant who had a golden arm starting out of the wall… as if he had beaten himself precious…’ The golden arm referred to is now preserved at The Dickens House Museum. However, a modern replica of it can be seen protruding from the wall a little way up on the left, whilst Artists’ House, No 10 on the right, is a possible contender for the Manette residence.
Continue ahead as the road passes under the buildings and turn right onto Greek Street, passing to the left the Pillars of Hercules pub, an old-fashioned Soho hostelry, that was almost certainly the Hercules Pillars mentioned in A Tale of Two Cities.
Continue to the junction with Soho Square and pause outside:-
The House of St Barnabas, another possible contender for ‘The quiet lodgings of Dr Manette’. According to Dickens, ‘A quainter corner than the corner where the doctor lived was not to be found in London… It was a cool spot, staid but cheerful, a wonderful place for echoes, and a very harbour from the raging streets.’ Nowadays, this mid-18th century building provides a temporary hostel for homeless women, although it is open to the public on Wednesday afternoons, and visitors can admire its intricately carved woodwork, rococo plasterwork and wrought-iron staircase.
With your back to the House of St Barnabas, cross over Greek Street and turn next left along Frith Street. Hazlitt’s Hotel, a little way along on the left, occupies a premise built in 1718 where painter turned critic and essayist William Hazlitt (1778–1830) died with the words, ‘Well, I’ve had a happy life’.
Continue to the junction with Bateman Street where on the corner is:-
The Dog and Duck pub, established here in 1718 and so little changed since the 19th century that the Victorian Society have applauded it as ‘a rare if not unique survival of a small Victorian town pub’. The pub's name recalls the rather cruel sport of duck hunting, which had been popular when this was a far more rural area. George Orwell came to the Dog and Dick to celebrate the fact that the American Book-of-the-Month Clubselected his Animal Farm.
The building on the opposite corner sports a blue plaque on its Frith Street faÁade remembering Dr John Snow (1813–58), who lived in a house on this site whilst developing a theory that would save the lives of millions. Between 1831 and 1860 there were four major outbreaks of cholera in London. In the epidemic of 1849 53,293 people died, and John Snow became certain that infected water was to blame. In August 1854, there was a particularly virulent outbreak and Snow began plotting on a map where the deaths were occurring. It became clear that the majority of the victims were drawing their water from the pump in nearby Broad Street. He also noticed that not one of the workers at the local brewery, who drank beer rather than water, died of the disease. On 7th September, Snow persuaded the authorities to remove the handle of the pump to render it unusable and, almost immediately, the epidemic ended.
Go right along Bateman Street, then over Dean Street and pause outside:-
Royalty House, which stands on the site of the Royalty Theatre, better known in Dickens’s day as Miss Kelly’s Theatre. It was here in 1845 that Dickens brought together a group of friends, including his brother Frederick, Mark Lemon and John Forster to perform Ben Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour (1598). Dickens acted as stage manager and director as well as playing the part of Captain Bobadil. The play was performed before a specially invited audience on 21st September with, according to John Forster, ‘a success that that out-ran our wildest expectation; and turned our little enterprise into one of the small sensations of the day.’ Not everyone, however, was impressed. ‘Poor little Dickens!’ exclaimed Thomas Carlyle, ‘all painted in black and red, and affecting the voice of a man of six feet.’
Facing Royalty House, turn right along Dean Street, passing on the right:-
Leoni’s Quo Vadis, one of Soho’s most famous restaurants, which was established by P.G.Leoni in 1926. Itoccupies the house where Karl Marx (1818–83) and his family lived from 1851 to 1856 in two small upstairs rooms. They subsisted on a small weekly sum given to them by their friend Frierich Engles. Marx claimed that he rarely went out "because my clothes are in pawn." His life was marked by tragedy during his tenure as three of his children died here.
A little further along on the left, the cream and redbrick offices of solicitors Allen and Fraser appear to have changed little since they first occupied the building in 1833.
Turn second left into St Anne’s Court, once a haven for political refugees from France and Switzerland. You can read a history of the court on the wall of Clarion House a little way along on the left.