Monday, March 12, 2018

Soho Square, London


Last weekend I was due to drive down to Somerset to teach a course on Tudor and Stuart architecture. Somerset was one of the parts of Britain to receive the rare ‘red weather warning’, so the course was cancelled and none of us got stuck in the snow. One of the things I was going to talk about was the impact of the Great Fire of London and the fact that very few timber-framed buildings have been constructed in the capital since 1666.

Here is one exception, the hut in the middle of Soho Square. It might look like a survivor from the pre-fire era, but in fact it was built in 1925. Its original purpose was to disguise the entrance of an underground electricity substation, built for the Charing Cross Electricity Company. The substation is no longer active and the subterranean space was used as an air-raid shelter during World War II. Now the building is a gardeners’ hut, full of spades and the like. I’m not sure how the upper floor is used.

This little building feels visually generous – the arcades, pointed roof, bits of carving, and fancy bargeboards were hardly necessary, but provide just the right sort of fun for the centre of a busy square that’s now a popular place to relax. It’s here on the blog as a reminder – to me, to talk to the organisers about rescheduling my course, and to all of us, that after the snows, spring cannot be far away.


bazza said...

I lead several of my walks though Soho Square. The Rock 'n Roll London Part One walk features a bench in that square where Kirsty McColl wrote her song Soho Square. You have given me some useful info about that building that I will 'pinch' from you.
There is also a disintegrating statue of Charles I(?) in the square made from Portland Stone - bad choice!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s mostly harmless Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Hels said...

Nahhhh it is here in the blog to remind us that even after the Great Fire, timber buildings might have served an important purpose and survived :) Who knew?

Michelle Ann said...

I thought that after the great fire of London, all timber buildings (except for small isolated ones) were banned by the Building Regulations until quite recently. I remember being told that the thatched roof on the Globe Theatre was the first in London since the fire, and only allowed because it was doused in fire retardants.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Michele Ann – Yes, an exception was made for the thatched roof on the Globe - there are sprinklers there as well of course. But although timber-framed buildings have been unusual in Londond ever since the Great Fire, there are in fact quite a lot of modern timber-framed buildings in London – but the timber framing is usually concealed beneath cladding. This form of construction is widely accepted but there is some controversy about it – rightly, I think.