Weird & Wonderful London 3
A friend of mine recently moved into Petticoat Lane without realising it.
It’s not her fault; the lane doesn’t technically exist. Petticoat Lane Market was started over 400 years ago by the French Huguenots who sold petticoats and lace from the stalls (there are still lace sellers there). The prudish Victorians changed the name of the lane and market to avoid referring to woman’s underclothes. Although the street was renamed Middlesex Street two centuries ago it’s still known as Petticoat Lane, and was called that because of a saying that you could be robbed of your petticoat at one end of the lane and have it sold back to you at the other. It was still famous for its songbirds when I was a child.
Who remembers this disastrous 1973 look for Carnaby Street? After its largely accidental eruption as a centre for dedicated followers of fashion in the late 1950s the street fell out of fashion, favour and fortune. In an effort to revive it Westminster Councillors, never the hippest of civil servants, had it pedestrianised and then covered it in a weird rubber coating that slowly became caked with chewing gum.
You would never have known there was a war on. In 1943 a lavish production of ‘Peter Pan’ at the Cambridge Theatre had some pretty hefty fairies flying about, courtesy of the man who had patented the first theatrical flying machine back in 1898. JM Barrie tested the harnesses himself during rehearsals. London’s theatres stayed open as much as they could during the war. There was a big classical revival and renewed interest in Shakespeare (esp. Henry V, understandably).
I remember throwing up after doing this. The Rotor at Battersea Fun Fair was coated in red rubber and slung you against the wall with the centrifugal force of the spinning drum before dropping the floor away from you. It was not a remotely pleasant experience, and like several other things in Battersea’s pleasure gardens, felt distinctly dangerous. The place was shut in the mid-1970s after a fatal crash on the Big Dipper. It also turns up in Peter Walker’s serial killer film ‘Frightmare’.
Look out, debs on the march. What a weird ritual this was. If you were an upper crust female ripe for the plucking you could be introduced to royalty at a formal ball and then sent out into the ‘season’, a set of toff events where you could be shoved into the arms of the nation’s most eligible (ie richest) chinless landowners. It had started in the middle of the 18th century and was still going when this photograph was taken in 1955, but it was only three years away from being abolished – by the Queen herself, who deemed the ritual outdated.
Finally an old favourite of mine; sheep being driven from Hyde Park, along Piccadilly, to Green Park in 1931. Up until 1935 you could find sheep all over London, being led from one green site to another, or to a livestock market. It was common to see them wandering across Waterloo Bridge and on Holborn Kingsway. Surely it’s time to bring them back?