Coventry Street

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Looking eastwards on Coventry Street towards the Trocadero shopping centre

Coventry Street is a short street in the West End of London, connecting Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square. It was built in 1681 and named after the politician Henry Coventry. During the 18th century, the street had a shady character with numerous gambling houses. During the 19th century, it transformed into a popular area for restaurants, while in the 20th it attracted nightclubs. The Prince of Wales Theatre and the Trocadero are both on Coventry Street.

Geography[edit]

The street is a one way street for motor traffic around 0.2 miles (320 m) long and runs east from Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square via Haymarket and Wardour Street. The nearest tube stations are Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.[1] No buses run along Coventry Street but there is access to numerous routes from Piccadilly Circus or nearby Charing Cross Road.[2]

History[edit]

The road was constructed in 1681 as a thoroughfare between the two places and was named after the politician Henry Coventry, secretary of state to Charles II.[3][4] Coventry had previously built a house in this location, and renamed it to Coventry House in 1670.[5]

The street had been designed for commercial and entertainment purposes, rather than a place of residence. The goldsmiths and jewellers Lamberts were based at Nos. 10–12 Coventry Street in 1803 until the premises were demolished shortly after World War I. For much of the 18th and early 19th century, there were a number of gambling houses along the street, contributing to a shady and downmarket character. [4] Charles Hirsch, a French bookseller, sold French literature and ran a clandestine trade in expensive pornography from his bookshop "Librairie Parisienne" in Coventry Street between 1890 and 1900.[6][7][8]

Diners at the Lyons Corner House on Coventry Street in 1942

The street has been a centre for high-volume food outlets.[9] The first (1909) J. Lyons and Co. Corner House was on the west corner with Rupert Street.[10] Scott's Restaurant first operated in Coventry Street. Originally opening as an oyster warehouse in 1872 at No. 18 as part of the London Pavilion Music Hall, it moved to No. 19 in 1891, expanding as a full restaurant. It moved to Mount Street in Mayfair in 1967.[11] In 1887, the Leicester, a public house, opened at the corner of Wardour Street. It closed in 1927 so the neighbouring department store could expand.[12]

In the 1920s, the street became a centre for nightclubs, attracting clientele such as Edward, Prince of Wales, Rudolph Valentino, Noël Coward, Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin. The Café De Paris opened in 1924 in the basement of the Rialto Cinema (which had opened in 1913) and became a popular club through the rest of the decade due the owner Martin Poulsen's friendship with the Prince of Wales.[13] On 8 March 1941, the Cafe and much of Coventry Street suffered significant damage from bombing, killing 84 people including Poulsen, though former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, visiting the cafe, survived. Owing to a lack of water, a leg wound had to be washed with champagne as it was the only suitable substance to hand. The restaurant was rebuilt after the war and closed in 1991.[14][4]

The Prince of Wales Theatre is on Coventry Street as is the Trocadero shopping centre.[4] The Swiss Centre, at the far eastern end of the street adjoining Leicester Square was constructed between 1963–66 and designed by David du R. Aberdeen and Partners.[12]

Cultural references[edit]

The street is in a group on the British Monopoly board with Leicester Square and Piccadilly.[15]

References[edit]

Citations

  1. ^ "Conventry St London W1J". Google Maps. Retrieved 14 January 2016. 
  2. ^ "Buses from Piccadilly Circus" (PDF). Transport for London. Retrieved 14 January 2015. 
  3. ^ Moore 2003, p. 97.
  4. ^ a b c d Hibbert & Weinreb 2010, p. 215.
  5. ^ Wittich, John (1996). Discovering London Street Names. Osprey Publishing. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-747-80309-6. 
  6. ^ Chris White, "Nineteenth-century writings on homosexuality: a sourcebook", CRC Press, 2002, ISBN 0-203-00240-7, p.285
  7. ^ Matt Cook, "London and the culture of homosexuality, 1885–1914", Cambridge studies in nineteenth-century literature and culture, Cambridge University Press, 2003 ISBN 0-521-82207-6, p.28
  8. ^ Joseph Bristow, "Remapping the Sites of Modern Gay History: Legal Reform, Medico‐Legal Thought, Homosexual Scandal, Erotic Geography", Journal of British Studies 46 (January 2007) 116–142. doi:10.1086/508401
  9. ^ Marc Jacobs, Peter Scholliers, "Eating out in Europe: picnics, gourmet dining, and snacks since the late eighteenth century", Berg Publishers, 2003, ISBN 1-85973-658-0, pp.306–307
  10. ^ Museum of London "London The Illustrated History" ISBN 978-0-141-01159-2 p243
  11. ^ Hibbert & Weinreb 2010, p. 828.
  12. ^ a b F H W Sheppard, ed. (1966). "Leicester Square, North Side, and Lisle Street Area: Leicester Estate, New Coventry Street". Survey of London ((London). 33 – 34, St Anne Soho: 486–487. Retrieved 9 January 2016. 
  13. ^ Moore 2003, pp. 98–99.
  14. ^ Moore 2003, p. 104.
  15. ^ Moore 2003, p. 86.

Sources

Coordinates: 51°30′37″N 0°07′58″W / 51.5102°N 0.1328°W / 51.5102; -0.1328