London: lost and found

In some ways, London is a figment of its inhabitants' imaginations. Changes occur continually to street names, boundaries and districts. Some ancient areas disappear, new ones are created by accident or by design. Monasteries, the Inns of Court, the railways and politics have all played their part in redrawing the map of the city.

But it is the citizens who have the final say, especially those who have an economic stake in a desirable address. Some decide it would be better to be located in 'Fitzrovia' than 'behind Tottenham Court Road', others want to live in 'Islington'. Once we convince ourselves that we live or do business in a certain area and advertise that fact, the area begins to assume an identity of its own.

Here is a snapshot of some likely candidates for the next Ordnance Survey map of London and of some of the disappeared and the endangered.

NEW LONDON

ANGEL

Angel does not appear as an area on the map, just as a Tube station on the Northern Line. Gradually the station has lent its name to the busy junction it serves, but unlike Islington proper, which has undergone expansion and gentrification in the past 30 years, Angel had a downmarket image. Until about a decade ago, that is, when people suddenly became happy to let it be known that they were meeting at the Angel.

Some still cling to Islington proper, especially now that it is about to become the home of a new political philosophy - Blairism.

CLERKENWELL

Notorious in the 18th century for the Prison and Detention House from which inmates were released by rioters in the Gordon Riots of 1780. Old hands at the Guardian remember the area being known as Farringdon, thanks to the Tube station there - but now a clutch of PR agencies have arrived on the Green, with magazine offices and Janet Street Porter's house near by, the place is resurgent. As a doorman at Turnmills club puts it: 'We were Farringdon when we first started in 1989 - but we're definitely Clerkenwell now.'

SEVEN DIALS

'I went to see the buildings near St Giles's where seven streets make a star from a Doric pillar placed in the middle of a circular area . . . ', wrote the London diarist John Evelyn in 1694. Gradually the surrounding warren of streets took the name Seven Dials. Then the Victorians drove Shaftesbury Avenue and

Charing Cross Road like motorways through the neighbourhood and demolished the column. Later, it became known as the slightly tatty part of Covent Garden.

In the late Eighties, however, an imitation Doric column was restored to the site but has been shrouded in billboards since. There is now an appeal for funds to complete the work. Locals in the shops and restaurants that line the streets consider it a discrete area. Peter, at Obsessions in Monmouth Street, says: 'We're Seven Dials, it's a recognised place'

SPITALFIELDS

In the 18th century, the few houses in London's rural hinterland became a built-up suburb. Later, Jewish, Eastern European and finally Bangladeshi immigration left its mark on the area, and gradually over the past 100 years it became poorer, centred on the huge fruit and vegetable market.

By the early Eighties, the market building and the surrounding streets were considered too small to accommodate lorries and trucks. In 1986, the market was moved to Temple Mills in Hackney. Unlike Covent Garden, Spitalfields was neither chic nor central enough to attract cappuccino society.

Recently though, its fortunes have changed with the recognition that here was one of the most perfectly preserved Georgian districts in the capital. A mammoth City office project was blocked by a combination of local protest, Prince Charles and the recession, and the area now has a festival, development money and is rapidly becoming fashionable.

'The consiglieri liked the sound of it, the authentic whiff of heritage, drifting in like cordite from the razed ghetto. But please do not call it 'Whitechapel' or whisper the dreaded 'Tower Hamlets'.' - Iain Sinclair, Downriver, 1991

TOWER BRIDGE

Once upon a time there was Bermondsey to the south, Tower Hill on the north bank of the Thames and Tower Bridge was just a bridge. So it remained for 100 years, until Sir Terence Conran's Design Museum and Gastrodome project fully opened in 1990 and the area acquired a cachet of its own. Pont de la Tour, one of the restaurants in Gastrodome says it is located at Tower Bridge. But Lisa Mountsteven, PR spokesperson for the complex, prefers it to be identified with Butler's Wharf. 'If people don't know Butler's Wharf, we say we're near Tower Bridge, we rarely say we're in Bermondsey.' A new district in the making.

WAPPING

In the Sixties, most popular walking guides to London failed to mention a district by the river between Tower Hill and Limehouse. The community had been decimated between 1801 (pop 6,000) and 1881 (pop less than 2,000) by construction of the London Docks. Then the Luftwaffe finished off Wapping High Street.

There it lay until January 1986 and the relocation of News International from Gray's Inn Road and Bouverie Street to a new plant. Now the area hopes for better things with the Tobacco Dock luxury shopping, the Thomas More Shopping centre and is forever engraved in the collective memory of certain unions.

WEST SOHO

'Sounds like the invention of a bad estate agent,' a Westminster council spokeswoman said of West Soho. Defined by the elegance of Liberty, the Jean-Paul Gaultier and John Richmond shops, among others. West Soho invented cafe society while Soho proper, its older neighbour, was still struggling with sex clubs and massage parlours.

But West Soho has no history of its own. In about 1986 a group of local businesses came up with the name to combat Carnaby Street's faded Sixties image. The name now appears on litter bins and lamposts in the area.

WORLD'S END

A tavern and tea gardens bearing this name stood in what was open fields in the 17th century; the cluster of houses around it took the same name. Later, it was engulfed by Chelsea. Punk inspired its rebirth; it became the place to buy and wear wild fashions, and became forever a part of the Sex Pistols' mythology. Some say it's the only distinctive part of the King's Road left.

LOST LONDON

BROMPTON

In 1294 the area was known as Broom Farm. Brompton Park Nursery was founded there in 1681 (it is now a part of the V&A site) and this contributed to its reputation as one of the healthiest spots in England. In 1871 the district health inspector reported that the air was better than in Cheltenham; 10 years later the Brompton Hospital was built there. Now absorbed by South Kensington, only the Oratory and the secluded Brompton Square remain.

'I unfold the map of my Bradshaw's Railway Companion for 1841. London shrinks to its size a hundred and nine years ago. . .Chelsea and Brompton and Kensington still had separate personalities.' - John Betjeman. First and Last Loves (1952)

HAGGERSTON AND HOXTON

As recently as the 19th century, both were rural retreats. They were popular areas for medical practitioners, among them James Parkinson, of No 1 Hoxton Square.

Parkinson wrote An Essay on Shaking Palsy in 1815, which identified the disease that bears his name. Haggerston was the residence of Edmund Halley (of comet fame) and Kate Greenaway. The proximity of Haggerston and Hoxton to central London led to their growth during the 19th century, but few could have foreseen their explosion into cohesive working class districts and centres of popular culture. Hoxton was home to the Britannia Music Hall where Marie Lloyd and many others performed.

The Blitz destroyed the hall and with it a whole culture; now council blocks pierce the skyline. But traces of what the area once was can be detected in the narrow streets around Hoxton Market.

The final insult came in 1965, when what had been the historic borough of Shoreditch was wiped off the map. Now the Islington/Hackney borough boundary runs like a fault-line through the district.

PENTONVILLE

London's first planned suburb, the creation of Captain Henry Penton, MP for Winchester. By 1820, his vision of a community with tree-lined avenues and green squares was complete. It was to be like Hampstead, a fashionable suburb set on a hill that afforded views over the City and St Pauls, with Penton Street and the glorious Palladian St James's church (now converted into flats) at its heart. Chapel Street, now the site of Chapel Market, formed the eastern boundary and a few of the original houses can be still seen between the market stalls.

Within three decades of its completion, the area had been swallowed up by London proper. Apart from Pentonville Road, which marked its southern boundary, Pentonville prison is the only place that still bears the name and that is actually in Barnsbury.

SOMERS TOWN

Should someone start a campaign to make Somers Town the official postal address of the new British Library? Its boundaries lay between St Pancras station, Hampstead Road, Euston Road and Crowndale Road. Charles Dickens lived on what is now Cranleigh Street when it was newly built in 1824. It had a pleasant suburban atmosphere and views over the fields north to Hampstead and east to Battle Bridge (King's Cross).

The construction of the viaducts and tunnels needed to carry trains to the new stations along the Euston Road eradicated its distinctive identity. A few older traffic and cyclists' signs still direct the traveller to Somers Town, but for most Londoners, it remains 'the bit before Camden Town'.

WHITEFRIARS

So called because of the white mantle worn over the brown habit of the order that became the Carmelites. The monks lived as hermits until 1247, when Pope Innocent IV changed the rules and granted them the right to live in the City and give alms and shelter to the poor. A large new priory was built, part of which was given over to a House of Sanctuary, a hostel for the homeless.

The buildings were located on a site between what is now Fleet Street, Carmelite Street, the river and New Bridge Street. The site was destroyed in the upheavals of the Reformation.

In 1927 remains, including tiled paving and parts of the crypt, were discovered under the News of the World building in Bouverie Street. Above ground, Whitefriars Street is the only reminder.

(Photographs and map omitted)

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