Soho is so much more than restaurants, theatres and China Town. Arguably this centre of Theatreland is the most cosmopolitan of all London’s ‘villages’. Rich in a history of refugees, who came and settled, writers, who walked the streets and medical breakthroughs that changed lives.
Originally a collection of quiet rural grassland and fields, Soho was once a hunting ground belonging to Henry VIII and attached to the Palace of Whitehall. In 1677 after building permission was granted, the development started that marked the end of the area’s rural character.
The landowners intended Soho to become a fashionable area, attractive to the wealthy and influential cream of London. Neighbouring districts such as Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Mayfair had successfully bloomed into very desirable districts. However, the plan failed and the few wealthy aristocrats that had made their home in Soho eventually sold up and moved on. The area became inhabited by immigrants; the Huguenots from France founded the French Church in Soho Square in the 17th century. The character of Soho began to change as the money moved out and theatre houses and drinking dens moved in. Along with the music halls and theatres came prostitutes and by the mid 19th century Soho was firmly associated with the more colourful aspects of life.
In the 19th century Soho played a part in the advancement of science. During the cholera outbreak of 1854 Dr John Snow’s study of the Broad Street Pump lead to him identifying the cause of the disease. By the turn of the 20th century Soho’s character was established and the area began to attract writers, artists and intellectuals – all drawn to the unique flavour of Soho.
From the 1930s pubs and clubs sprang up in Soho and blues and jazz found a natural home in these. Soho’s association with the alternative side of music continued through the rock and roll years and it became a centre of the ‘Mod’ culture of the late 50s and early 60s. Musicians have continued to live and play in Soho even though most of the myriad independent record shops that were once the pride of the area are now all but gone.
Please join us for a private guided walking tour with City of Westminster guide and long-standing ANS member Lulu Martyn-David through this exciting neighbourhood with many interesting landmarks and stories, followed by a dim sum lunch in China Town.