Trace luxury and decadence through time on this whirlwind tour through two of London’s most famous districts: Soho and Marylebone, with historian and broadcaster Dr Matthew Green.
On this enlightening tour, you will learn about the rise of the West End and the revolution in urban living that it entailed, taking in some of the finest architecture in London.
From the 1660s, something extraordinary happened to London. A series of gorgeous, lantern-lit squares of tall, neoclassical townhouses fronting onto communal gardens emerged to the west of the City. Galvanised by the Great Fire, they soon filled up with the lordly and the louche, and in time coalesced into the West End, the jewel in London’s crown.
In Mayfair, we will explore some of the most gilded squares in the world — the untrammelled splendour of Grosvenor Square, for example, and Berkeley Square, a Mecca of exclusive gentlemen’s clubs — and also seek out some of the more villagey backstreets and mews, harking back to Mayfair’s rustic origins as an annual fair. We will saunter past the seductive glass shopfronts of Mayfair’s unofficial high street, Bond Street, the most fashionable shopping street in 18th-century Britain, and explore the courtyard of Burlington House, the area’s sole surviving nobleman’s palace, home to the Royal Academy.
Soho was less august and more cosmopolitan than its western neighbour, absorbing immigrants, refugees, artists, writers, actors, musicians, and prostitutes who leant it a raffish air. Tucked away in its narrow, twisting streets we’ll seek out some wellsprings of bohemian energy: the rock ’n roll espresso bars that rejuvenated Soho after the war; the concrete monstrosity on Broadwick Street where William Blake was born; and the recording studios off Wardour Street where David Bowie recorded Ziggy Stardust. Amidst the gorgeous auburn townhouses, we’ll consider the rise and fall of Soho’s sex industry.
Today, Soho’s countercultural pulse beats fainter thanks to skyrocketing rents, and once-residential Mayfair has been colonised by hedge funds. So as well as teaching you about the origins and evolution of the West End, the tour will generate a tinge of nostalgia for a vanishing world.
The tour includes a dish of luxury hot chocolate, the drink of choice for the Georgian bon ton.
Dr. Matthew Green is the author of the acclaimed book London: A Travel Guide Through Time, which has been described by the Londonist as ‘easily the best social history of London for a decade’. He also writes historical features for the Guardian and Financial Times among others, and has contributed to many TV and radio documentaries. He’s the founder of Unreal City Audio and tweets as @drmatthewgreen.
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