Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hollen Street and Wardour Street, London

Five early pieces: 3

Here is a further re-posting, part of my series to mark this blog’s fifth birthday. Perhaps my readers will forgive my for including another one relating to printing and publishing – after all, such businesses have been central to my life for a long time.

High above Hollen Street, in one of Soho’s unregarded corners, a group of putti are making music. It seems a strange decoration for this otherwise industrial-looking building in a Soho side street. But this plaque, and another up the street that depicts putti churning out pages on a printing press, are a clue to the building’s origins. This was the printing works of the music publishers Novello’s, just around the corner from their offices (now Chappell’s) in Wardour Street.

Both these buildings were designed by Frank L Pearson, who was the son-in-law of the company chairman and the obvious choice for the job. The printing works came first, in 1898, and were followed in 1906 by the offices, all in brick with stone dressings. The office building has a beautiful small concert room on the first floor, done out in the style of a 17th-century hall – the kind of oak-panelled room you find in a country house or Oxbridge college of the Commonwealth period or just after. It’s not normally open, but can be glimpsed, often lit up, from the comfort of the pub opposite in Wardour Street. Among the neon-lit media offices and restaurants of Soho, the concert hall and the charmingly decorated printing works form a throw-back to another time.

                                         The George, Wardour Street

Postscript 2012 Novello’s (now part of the Music Sales group) is a 200-year-old company that found success in the Victorian period by selling affordable editions of music, championing British music, and selling scores of work by European composers from Berlioz to Wagner. Although I’m no musician, I’d long been aware of their publications, but first noticed their building when drinking in the George, the pub opposite in Wardour Street, one evening. To commemorate this I add a photograph of the pub, with its plaster relief of the Prince of Wales and its stripy walls and elaborate window bays – very much in the late-19th century fashion and no doubt influenced by buildings designed by Norman Shaw and Ernest George. Here’s to it.


Anonymous said...

I too worked in publishing in London for some years. When working - briefly - in children's book production, we used a company called Hollen Street Press. I think they printed book covers. They were by then not based in London but Slough or somesuch in the Thames Valley. I assume they may have devolved from the music publishing business you mention.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Anon: Thank you. It's funny, but that company name rings a bell. I think when I was an editor some of my colleagues sent things to the Hollen Street Press to be printed. Our books and covers were nearly always printed abroad, so I think this company must have been printing catalogues, promotional material, or the like. A connection is very likely. Apart from anything else, Hollen Street is very short and could never have had that many businesses in it.