A Journey around Fitzrovia, Central London’s Former Bohemia, a set on Flickr.
On August 31, 2012, after I took part in a demonstration against the involvement of the multinational corporation Atos Healthcare in the government’s disgraceful disability reviews, designed to find disabled people for work when they are not, I cycled from Triton Square, where the protest had taken place — a small but highly corporate private development on the northern side of the Euston Road — through Fitzrovia — the area south of Euston Road, and north of Oxford Street, bounded by Gower Street to the east and Great Portland Street to the west — to Oxford Street, and then on to Trafalgar Square, across the river to Waterloo and back to my home in Brockley through Bermondsey.
I still have many hundreds of photos to post of trips I made in July and early August (before my family holiday in Italy) as part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike, but in an effort to try and keep up with the trips I have made since returning from Italy, I’m making a concerted effort to post the most recent photos first, beginning with these.
Fitzrovia — given its name in the years between the world wars of the 20th century — is an area that I have known for many years. Weirdly, I worked from 1989 to 1991 in the accounts department of the consulting engineers Ove Arup and Partners (now Arup) on Charlotte Street, before escaping to India, and for many years now I have regularly met an old friend for lunch at the Indian YMCA, next to Fitzroy Square, which we refer to as a dependable oasis of calm in a generally fraught world.
These photos, which begin just outside Fitzrovia, around the glass and steel towers beside the Euston Road, only capture a few fleeting glimpses of Fitzrovia’s still-existent charms, where traces of its bohemian past survive, and small businesses are still well represented in the face of the twin evils of corporate retail chains and developers’ desire to build “luxury” housing everywhere.
Unfortunately, although Fitzrovia is immune to proposals for skyscrapers, it is not immune to pressure from developers anxious to build new developments — all on a scale that is larger than Fitzrovia merits — and which will only contribute to a further dissolving of its character. One of these is Fitzroy Place, on the site of the former Middlesex Hospital, but a struggle is still ongoing to prevent an inappropriate development of Saatchi’s headquarters, and residents of the entire area are also gearing up for a fight against the ramifications of the decision to designate Fitzrovia as a Business Improvement District (BID), a piece of nonsense railed against by Fitzrovia resident Griff Rhys Jones for the blog Fitzrovia News in July 2012, in which he identified a business-driven plan in which, “in order to have a say at all on this ‘regeneration’ of the area you have to be a business with a rateable value of £100,000 and in order to feature on the board you have to pay £10,000 or over.” He added, “This is a very old fashioned view of political power. It is represents a return to eighteenth century property rights oligarchy.”
As he also explained, “Fitzrovia is pure inner-city London. Jonathan Meades is not the first to point out that there is a European feel to this part of town. We have still a mixture of work places and living places, institutional places, art places, entertainment places, and some mad people who live in the middle of all of this in house and flat places. But they are all mostly small places. Small houses and flats too.” He adds, “Above all, the shops, except on the main thoroughfares, are quirky, small, lively and unobtrusive. They do not dominate. Retail is not king here. It is part of the court, the balance is right.”
I’ll be back in Fitzrovia soon, all being well, but for now I hope your appetite has been whetted, and if you’re in London or visiting, please pay the area a visit. You may even want to check out this map, which also shows its 46 pubs.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Rachel’s Page wrote:
loving your work Andy , i’m hoping to get some shots of modern architecture when i’m in London later this month
Thanks, Rachel. There’s a lot of interesting new architecture, that’s for sure, even though, unfortunately, a lot of it involves corporations, banks and foreign investors showing off, and speculators creating generally unaffordable “luxury” housing. But checking it out is fascinating …
Jennah Solace wrote:
Building in Warren Street, is my favourite! Reflection in the Haunch of Venison and The BT Tower and a stunted tree are runners up. I like the contrast in the Warren Street photo – the new and the fixer upper – side by side. The sad tree, next to the motorcycles and the housing with the fancy tower – doesn’t that say it all! The Reflections in the windows – the ghostly figures passing by – reflections of our time. But I see all the modern buildings and I want to run away – too cold and lifeless for me!
Thanks, Jennah! I love your analysis. Running away from the cold modern buildings – definitely a good idea. We should start a club!
Jennah Solace wrote:
Good idea, what should we call it?
I’m tempted by “Coming in from the cold,” one of my favourite Bob Marley songs!
Jennah Solace wrote:
Tempted? That’s a word I like Is that the new name of our club? “Coming in from the cold” — from the traps of modernity (I love Bob Marley too) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8GCc8OhTz8&feature=related
We’re onto something here …!
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