Weird & Wonderful London 8
Wey-hey, music, laughter, booze and a glitter-covered boy in a big frock – it must be another party in London! Yes, except this one was in 1936, at the Chelsea Arts Club Ball. It could have been taken last weekend.
There used to be four pillars on Chelsea Bridge prior to its rebuilding in 1934, and they were lived in. This is Mrs May in her garden. She had been here for 30 years – I hope they moved her out somewhere nice.
Time for a quick troll around the West End, starting in Leicester Square. The year is 1910, and the Empire Theatre was a lot more elegant then that its building is now. It was decorated for the Coronation of George V. Key London buildings were always garlanded for royal occasions.
To the side of the Empire, before the sleek deco modernism of the Odeon arrived, stood the notorious Alhambra Theatre, with its Moorish minarets. There would probably be an outcry if you built it now. Never a particularly attractive building, it was originally known as the Royal Panopticon, then became a circus and music hall, always with a slightly dodgy reputation attached.
The popularity of the Alhambra was largely due to their lengthy performance intervals, when the showgirls met the swells and hi-jinks ensued. There was another entrance on Charing Cross Road for fast escapes. Leicester Square was always a rowdy-boy spot, but is more sedate these days – although it still has its moments.
Meanwhile, up on Oxford Street here was Selfridge’s department store, illuminated at night with an astonishingly elaborate frontage that’s long gone. This was in 1936. Oxford Street is much the same although it now reflects the new austerity, being largely full of mass-produced cheap clothes. Selfridge’s has changed dramatically, dumping its traditional housewares and filling the place with eye-wateringly expensive bling for our delightfully gauche Russian and Chinese visitors.