It’s all glass here now – the taming of St Giles and death of the West End

I have a piece in today’s Guardian about the disappearing London district of St Giles, for centuries a hive of villainy and low entertainment but which is now, finally, being aggressively domesticated by developers with no love of vernacular architecture or fun.

Last year, while walking round this junction of Tottenham Court Road, Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street, I was assailed by pneumatic drills, wrecking balls and nostalgia. This used to be my territory, where I’d play after working at Time Out on Tottenham Court Road, and now much of it was unrecognisable. The cafes, bars, restaurants and clubs that I’d known so well were gone. But this wasn’t simply a case of the passage of time and changing fashion causing old haunts close down – that I could accept, more or less. Here the buildings themselves had been pulled apart so nothing new or interesting could take their place.

Even Time Out‘s old office had been demolished, developers deciding that rather do any actual developing and modernise the entirely usable existing structure, it was easier to knock it down and start again. This was happening over and over, wherever I looked. It was like armaggedon, a building site several miles square, pouring concrete over memories and salting fertile ground.

With this wholesale demolition, the character of an entire area was being irrevocably and deliberately erased. People have been saying the West End was dead for decades, but in the borderland of St Giles something of the old  Soho and Covent Garden still lingered. Now, it’s gone. If it’s fun you want, give Zone One a skip. It’s all glass here now.

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12 responses to “It’s all glass here now – the taming of St Giles and death of the West End

  1. Jason Hazeley

    Peter –

    Not that it matters, but I simply LOVE The Great Wen. It’s endlessly interesting and I thought you ought to hear that said.

    Good work deserves applause. CLAP CLAP CLAP.

    Power/elbow,

    JH

    >

  2. Great article and its happening all over London. The interesting, historic, beautiful, breathing London is rapidly disappearing and being replaced by an average boring city. It’s dreadful ! Shameful! Her pain is tangible as she is pulled to pieces. People will only see it when its too late, otherwise it would never have happened.

  3. Karen Millyard

    Hideous news. How can this be allowed? So much history and character being erased! What on earth do the fools think people come to London *for*? I hope Londoners are besieging the Council!

  4. It is happening all over the place, and particularly sad along the river and developing creative areas where so much of London’s precious land is being used to create rabbit hutch and insanely overpriced developments aimed at foreign investor buyers who don’t want to live in them but aim to sell them on at a profit or park laundered money in them out of reach of their own governments. The only thing these dreary developments have going for them is newness and the inflated housing market. Sadly it comprises much of the “housing” and “investment” that is being proudly touted by the government, even though it’s not housing that most Londoners want need or can afford and.it’s not investment in anything that will benefit the country. Grrr.

    However, let me pause in my rant to point out that the demolition around St Giles is largely caused by Crossrail works. In order to build this new railway many old buildings in that area have had to go, much to many peoples’ dismay – but it actually is necessary.

  5. Peter, I agree, I spent 1973 to 2007 in Tottenham court, Scrutton st ares and saw it last in2015 and did not recognise the area, such a change to glass high rise buildings. Well written as usual.
    Dad

  6. This wholesale destruction is one of the reasons I no longer want to visit London, not that it’s so easy these days from Crete! It saddens me more than I can say.

  7. Pingback: No one should mourn a coffee shop | Richly Evocative

  8. This really is a wonderful resource. I love it! Thanks!

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