But where exactly is Fitzrovia? And why Fitzrovia? These were the questions I asked myself when I was invited on a tour of this hidden London area. Soon I would learn that Fitzrovia was once the bohemian hub of London, home to world famous writers, artists and political activists. So much art, culture and politics had thrived in this central London neighbourhood. I was surprised that it had remained hidden from me for so long. Here’s what I learned.
© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (A Fitzrovia mural at the local community centre)
The neighbourhood was built up when English aristocrat Charles Fitzroy came here in the mid 1700s. Although it had been built for the upper classes, they very quickly left for the areas of Mayfair and Belgravia. The houses were then divided up into flats and poor people and immigrants soon moved in. The streets became packed with pubs that still stand today. One of them was called The Fitzroy Tavern and it’s from this popular drinking spot that the name Fitzrovia eventually emerged.
© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (The historical Fitzroy Tavern pub)
In the 1800s, the neighbourhood became heavily populated with immigrants from France and Germany, so much so that you would often hear French and German spoken in the streets more than English. Many of these had fled their countries out of fear of being persecuted for their political beliefs – causes for workers and the poor. In fact, Fitzrovia became a home for French people who were in exile for taking part in the Paris Commune. A soup kitchen was set up for them on Newman Passage.
© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (Fitzroy Square)
Because of the German community here, Charlotte Street was nicknamed Charlottenstrasse. Karl Marx would often attend the Communist Club meetings on 29 Tottenham Street. The list of socialist organisations and workers rights groups that have existed in the area is endless.
The early 1900s saw new arrivals to the area; Greeks, Italians, Nepalese and Bengalis. Artists and writers had already been living here in the previous century, such as Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf, but new arrivals would come and by the 1920s, the name Fitzrovia first started being used. George Orwell would often drink in The Fitzroy Tavern, The Wheatsheaf and The Newman Arms. It was in these pubs where writers and artists would mix, and the Bohemian culture of Fitzrovia grew. The ‘proles pub’ in Orwell’s 1984 is believed to be based on The Newman Arms.
© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (The Newman Arms or Proles Pub from Orwell's 1984)
The BT Tower stands in the centre of Fitzrovia, was built in the 1960s and was the tallest building in the UK up till 1980. Its purpose was to support aerials, which is perhaps why it looks like something out of East Berlin. Unfortunately it’s no longer open to the public.
There is no London tube station called Fitzrovia which is probably why the area remains so unknown. Furthermore, Fitzrovia was never included on the London map until 1994. Due to its central location, big businesses are constantly moving in, the cost of living is rising and the Bohemian vibe is all but gone. However, about 30% of the local residents live in social housing which means the area hasn’t been completely lost to the super-rich. Nevertheless, Fitzrovia remains an incredibly interesting and beautiful pocket of hidden London, as well as a great place for bars, restaurants and historical pubs.
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