Is Holborn Becoming The New Shoreditch?
My mother and father both worked in High Holborn, the odd no-man’s-land between New Oxford Street and Gray’s Inn Road (roughly speaking; the boundaries were changed in 1994). It was filled with sturdy, wealthy insurance offices, law firms, accountancy, marine and travel companies, and the head offices of the Empire’s manufacturing outlets.
It’s a pretty old area. The first mention it gets is in a charter of Westminster Abbey by King Edgar (no, me neither) dated at AD 959. This mentions “the old wooden church of St Andrew”. The name Holborn is supposed to be derived from the Middle English word “hol” for hollow, and bourne, a brook, referring to the River Fleet, which runs to its east side.
The extraordinary building Holborn Bars is the former site of Staple Inn. It used to be the Prudential Assurance Building (‘The Pru’). Pip from ‘Great Expectations’ was based here, and there’s still a statue of Dickens inside the courtyard. On the other side is the stunning neoclassical Pearl Assurance Building, now the Holborn Dining Rooms and a rather swish cocktail bar.
Now the Hoxton Hotel has opened its newest branch here with the confusingly-named ‘Hoxton Holborn’. We cancelled a table in its restaurant because the music was cranked so high that the five of us, wedged at a tiny table, couldn’t hear each other speak – but others clearly liked it.
Holborn’s grand old buildings are no longer fit for purpose, so they’re being redesigned for oligarch buy-to-leave penthouses, hotels and restaurants. But there’s a bit of a funky vibe creeping in too, with the lovely Holborn Whippet in Sicilian Avenue doing cracking business.
So could this be the new upmarket destination for those sick of the disastrously overcrowded Leicester Square? It certainly has the right buildings, and is the connective tissue between the Square Mile and the West End. And the area, pretty as it is, was always dead at night. Also, it’s not covered by Westminster Council, and may stand a chance of keeping its elegance. Let’s hope that a new generation of visitors can enjoy these lovely buildings.