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Fitzrovia

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From the 1930s the area between Great Portland Street and Gower Street became known to its denizens as Fitzrovia. The district was first developed by Charles Fitzroy, lord of the manor of Tottenhall from 1757. The east and south sides of Fitzroy Square were designed by Robert Adam in 1794 and survive in their original form, in Portland stone. Fitzroy built for the upper classes, but they soon migrated south-westwards to Belgravia and Mayfair, forcing subdivision of the aristocratic houses into workshops, studios and rooms to let. Immigrants from France and neighbouring countries crowded in and helped establish the district as a centre for the furniture trade by the end of the eighteenth century. Chippendale was among the craftsmen who set up shop here. The artist John Constable maintained a local residence, although he spent most of his time in Hampstead. Greeks and Italians brought new vitality to the area after the Second World War, followed later by Nepalese and Bengalis, but the area’s originally jocular name began to fade from use, except by estate agents. Residents later revived it and their pressure resulted in the inclusion of Fitzrovia on Ordnance Survey maps from 1994. Today, around 6,500 people live in the area, while 50,000 work here. Fitzrovia’s best-known thoroughfare is Charlotte Street, a focus for media companies and their favourite restaurants.

George Bernard Shaw lived with his mother at 37 Fitzroy Street in the early 1880s and then in Fitzroy Square from 1887 until his marriage in 1898. The former address was the London base of the writer – and founder of Scientology – L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s. The house now hosts an exhibition of Hubbard’s life and work, and is open to the public by appointment.

Early in the twentieth century Walter Sickert and friends formed the Fitzroy Street Group, based in Whistler’s former home at 8 Fitzroy Street. In the years before the Second World War Augustus John and Dylan Thomas helped earn Fitzrovia a Bohemian reputation. John is widely credited with inventing the name ‘Fitzrovia’ in honour of his favourite hostelry, the Fitzroy Tavern. However, in his excellent recent book London Calling, Barry Miles credits the coinage to the Ceylonese publisher and editor Meary J. Tambimuttu, with the same boozy inspiration.
click for area map (opens in a new window)
Redecoration work in progress on the Fitzroy Tavern, after which Fitzrovia was named


Recent attempts by property developers to rebrand Fitzrovia – or at least its southern part – as Noho (for north Soho, imitating New York nomenclature) have met with residents’ resistance and ridicule, a reaction that Hidden London wholly endorses.
Postal districts: W1 and WC1 (the part between Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street is WC1)
Station: Northern Line (Goodge Street, Zone 1)
Further reading: Michael Bakewell, Fitzrovia: London's Bohemia, National Portrait Gallery, 1999
Further viewing: Paolo Sedazzari’s evocative and informative short film Viva Fitzrovia

Fitzrovia News
Viva Fitzrovia

 
Text and selected images are reproduced with the permission of Chambers but may differ from the published versions
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