There’s Lots to see Around Piccadilly.
I love exploring London. There are surprises tucked away around every corner. This trip I concentrated on the Piccadilly area.
Piccadilly is supposedly named after the lace collars called piccadils that were made there in the 1600s by Roger Baker, a tailor who lived there and made a fortune from them.
Devonshire House was there. It belonged to The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and was a popular meeting place with Royalty and Politicians.
Devonshire House was the setting for a brilliant social and political life, in the circle round William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire and his duchess, Lady Georgiana Spencer, Whig supporters of Charles James Fox. The couple celebrated Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee with a lavish fancy dress ball, known as the Devonshire House Ball of 1897. The guests, including Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and the Princess of Wales, were dressed as historical portraits come to life. The many portrait photographs taken at the ball have illustrated countless books on the social history of the late Victorian era.
It was ruthlessly demolished in 1924 and now an ugly office block stands in its place.
Its fireplaces and other fittings were sold to other stately homes all over the country and its magnificent iron gates stand at the entrance to Green Park.
For many years the Flower Girls sold their bouquets and buttonholes around Eros, the statue and fountain. The real name of the fountain is the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain and the statue is really Eros’s brother, Anteros.
They were known as the Flower Girls even though some of them were in their 60s and 70s. They never changed their clothes with the fashions. They were always dressed in long black skirts, shawls and battered hats.
Everyone used to buy flowers. All the Cabbies wore buttonholes, and so did most men. Those were the days when gentlemen used to buy posies and wait outside the stage doors to present them to their favourite actress.
Alterations took place in the area and the Flower Girls were moved to street corners and they gradually drifted into other jobs as their trade dropped off.
Now the area is packed with tourists but there are still people earning a living there, street performers, buskers, artists, human statues, and sadly, immigrant beggars sprawled right across the pavements. Somebody’s going to have a serious accident, tripping over them.
Body Worlds Museum is across the road, displaying real human bodies. I’ll go and see it another day, when I have more time.
Just off Piccadilly, before Chinatown is Leicester Place. On the right is the Notre Dame de France Church.
I walked up the steps and opened the doors that led into the circular building.
It was bought in 1865 and consecrated in 1868.
On the 6th November 1940 two bombs badly damaged the church. But it was repaired and reopened a year later.
In 1960 the artist Jean Cocteau decorated the Lady Chapel, and that’s what I had come to see.
He used to arrive every morning, light a candle in front of the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, and then he’d talk to his paintings!
There’s a self-portrait of the artist on the left.
In the middle, Mary stands at Jesus’ feet. Only his legs are shown.
The paintings are covered with glass now, since they were vandalised.
Behind the main altar is a tapestry by Dom Robert, a Benedictine monk of the En Calcat abbey.
I expected to enjoy the usual peace found in churches, but the air was filled by loud snores from the immigrants asleep in the pews. Rubbish was stored underneath a lot of the pews, the owners gone elsewhere.
Next I went back to the Fountain, turned right and walked along Piccadilli street.
My feet were killing me by this time, but on the left I found one of the little green parks that are scattered all over London. Relieved, I sat down. It was cool under the trees. This is Southwood Garden, donated to the Church next to it by Viscount Southwood.
For over 200 years, this plot to the West of the Church was the graveyard for the parish. After the war of 1939–45 Viscount Southwood donated money for the ‘green’ churchyard to be made into a garden of remembrance ‘to commemorate the courage and fortitude of the people of London’.
The garden was opened in 1946 by Queen Mary. There’s a memorial, designed by Alfred F Hardiman, to Viscount Southwood (1873–1946) and his wife (1865– 1951) There’s a statue of Peace also designed by Hardiman, in the garden.
St James’s Church, Piccadilly also called St James’s Church, Westminster, and St James-in-the-Fields, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The church was badly damaged in WW2, but completely restored.
I opened the doors and walked in, and was again greeted by loud snores. This time, immigrants were stretched out along the pews. I didn’t stay there long.
Exiting out of the church, I walked to St James’s Square. A blue plaque says that Lady Nancy Astor lived in one of the houses. She was Britain’s first lady MP.
Opposite is St James’s Garden, another green space. A memorial stone outside it is dedicated to PC Yvonne Fletcher who was shot from the Libyan Embassy on the 17th April, 1984.
I walked on to Regent Street and back to Piccadilly as I was going to the Ham Yard Hotel, a five star hotel in Soho, just a 5 minute walk from Piccadilly.