Visit areas of London that are renowned for their nightlife and theatres, including Soho, Covent Garden and Leicester Square.
See popular London tourist attractions such as the Theatre Royal, the Royal Opera House and Chinatown.
This is a circular walk, starting and ending at Leicester Square tube station
On arrival at Leicester Square tube station, take the exit marked Charing Cross Road (South).
Turn left down Charing Cross Road until you reach Cecil Court. Go down Cecil Court to St Martin's Lane and turn right. Continue along St Martin's Lane until you reach Brydges Place, a small alleyway on your left, almost at the end of St Martin's Lane.
St Martin's Lane and the Coliseum Theatre
For centuries St Martin's Lane was the only road north from Whitehall. The original road was built in 1610 and for many years it was a fashionable area to live in. Thomas Chippendale, the famous cabinet maker, had a home here and Mozart stayed in nearby Cecil Court as a child.
Cecil Court is now home to a number of antiquarian bookshops.
The Coliseum theatre is London's largest. It is home to
National Opera. The theatre was built in 1904 and was the first in
London to have a revolving stage.
The globe on top of the theatre used to revolve but this practice was stopped by Westminster City Council. Famous actors who have performed at the theatre include Lillie Langtry, Ellen Terry and Sarah Bernhardt.
Brydges Place is the narrowest alley in London. Only one person can walk down it at a time.
The Marquis of Granby pub backs onto the alley. This pub was a haunt of Dickens when he worked at a blacking factory nearby, and was originally known as the Hole in the Wall. It has been here since the 1600's, when it was notorious for its criminal regulars. In 1669, the original romantic highwayman, Claude Duval, was captured here. (He was later hanged at Tyburn and is buried in the grounds of nearby St Paul's church in Covent Garden.)
Did You Know?
In 1642, the Puritans closed down all London's theatres, many of which were located on the south bank, as they feared that plays were corrupting morals.
Two were subsequently re-opened by Charles II, who granted Royal patents for presenting spoken drama to playhouses in Drury Lane and Covent Garden. These could not cope with the demand from Londoners for theatre and as a result, minor theatres operated outside the law until 1843, when the law was abolished.
By 1850, London had around 20 theatres, mainly located around Covent Garden, Drury Lane and the Strand. Many of these still exist today.
go down Brydges Place and, at the end, straight ahead along Chandos Place. Follow it until you reach the junction with Southampton Street. Turn left, then stop at the edge of Covent Garden market.
Covent Garden was originally called Convent Garden, as it was where the fruit and vegetables for the Monks of Westminster were grown.
London's first square surrounded by houses was built here in 1631 by Inigo Jones, one of London's most famous architects. The houses were intended for "gentlemen and men of ability" and up until the Great Fire of London in 1666, Covent Garden was the most fashionable London address to live at.
The original market started in 1670 and by the 1700's the area was famous
for its coffee houses, where literary men met and discussed events of
the day. The area was also popular with artists and actors, and by 1722
was home to 22 gambling dens.
The only remaining building from the original Covent Garden is St Paul's church, known as the actor's church. It was the first Protestant church in London and, mainly due to its proximity to the Theatre Royal (in Drury Lane), every wall in the church is covered with memorials to actors. Ellen Terry's ashes are here. There is also an "avenue of the stars", opened in 2005 in the grounds of the church.
The Central Market building was built around 1830 and the original market operated until 1974.
Maiden Lane was originally a country lane, and provides access to the back doors of various theatres in the Strand, including the Adelphi. Queen Victoria used this entrance in order to avoid the crowds at the front entrance, an event which is commemorated by the royal coat of arms displayed on the door. The pub at no 13 has been here since 1692.
Did You Know?
oldest restaurant, Rules (in Maiden Lane), has been trading since 1798.
Many famous people of the nineteenth century have dined here, including
Charles Dickens. To the right of the main entrance is a side door built
for Edward VII so that he could entertain his lady friends in private.
turn right and walk around the outside of the market, passing the London Transport Museum. At the front of the museum
turn right along Russell Street. Continue along Russell
Street to the corner
with Catherine Street.
The Theatre Royal, in Drury Lane, is London's oldest theatre. It has been on this site since 1663, though the present building dates from 1811 - all previous buildings having been destroyed by fire. Samuel Pepys attended the first play here. The theatre has its own ghost - The Man in the Grey Suit- who is known as Arnold.
Russell Street was in the heart of London's clubland for a hundred years until around 1815. The whole of London Society used to come here to exchange news and gossip at three coffee-houses: Tom's, Button's and Will's.
Henrietta Street was first built in 1631 and is named after Charles I's queen. Jane Austen used to stay with her brother in No 10, and St Peters Hospital for Stone has been at no 27 for over a century. It is a relic of the days when hospitals specialised in certain diseases, and still specialises in urinary problems.
Did You Know?
By 1861, there were 80 hospitals
in London, including specialist hospitals dealing either with particular
ailments (such as eyes) or certain types of patients (such as women or children).
However, these tended to treat wealthier patients and the poor were not
helped until 1867, when the public hospital system was introduced.
The first hospital for the poor was opened in 1870 to treat paupers suffering from scarlet fever and smallpox, and by 1890, there were several more "Poor Law" hospitals across London.
return to Bow Street and turn right.
Did You Know?
In 1801, the
population of London was just over one million people, but by 1911 it had
increased to over seven million. To support this growth, new forms of public
transport emerged: horse-driven buses after 1829, railways in the 1830's,
the underground from 1860 and trams in the 1870's.
Access to public transport was linked to the ability to pay and as a result, the working classes tended to live in the innner city areas of London (so they could walk to work) and the more wealthy moved out to leafier, suburban areas as they could afford to pay to commute back into London to work.
continue to the corner with Floral Street, and turn left. At the end, turn right along Garrick St
then left to Charing Cross Road. At Charing Cross Road, turn right.
Follow it to Litchfield Street and turn right. Turn left in front of St Martins Theatre then follow it around to rejoin Charing Cross Road at Cambridge Circus.
Did You Know?
suffered four major epidemics of cholera between 1832 and 1866. People
washed down roads in an attempt to clear away rotting garbage and excrement,
which they believed spread the disease. In fact, cholera is mainly water-borne
and attempts at cleaning away waste only made subsequent epidemics worse
than previous ones.
In 1854, a cholera outbreak in soho resulted in the deaths of over 10,000 people. The local doctor, John Snow, realised that all the victims of one particular street had been drinking from the same street water pump. When the handle was removed, the death rate quickly fell. This led him to the discovery that cholera was a water-borne disease.
Turn left along Romilly Street and continue to the junction with Dean Street.
Turn right, and cross Old Compton Street.
Italia, in Frith Street, is a famous Italian coffee shop and reputed to be a favourite of
Robert De Niro's when he is in London.
Ronnie Scott's world famous jazz club opened in nearby Gerrard Street in 1959, and moved to its location in Frith Street in 1965.
Opposite Ronnie Scott's is the site of a house where Mozart lived between 1756 and 1791.
Did You Know?
At the end of
Romilly Street, just before the corner with Dean Street, is a pub called
the Golden Lion. This is where the serial killer Dennis Nilson met
several of his rent boy victims. He was found guilty of murder in 1983.
Frith Street and turn left at Bateman Street then
left again down Dean Street. Turn right at the junction with Old Compton
Street. At the end of Old Compton Street, turn right on Wardour Street
then almost immediately left along Brewer Street. Turn left again at Rupert Street.
Did You Know?
In the late 17th century, the area of Soho was settled by foreign immigrants including
many from France, and the area continues to have a distinctly foreign
feel with many European cafes, businesses and place names scattered throughout.
continue along Rupert Street to Shaftesbury Avenue.
Did You Know?
are probably aware that London was bombed during the Blitz of the second
world war, but fewer may know that it was also bombed
in world war one.
In world war two, the first bombs of the Blitz were dropped in September, 1940 and over the next 6 months, 71 raids were made by German bombers, who dropped 18,000 tons of bombs, killing 20,000 Londoners. Bombing ceased on May 10th, 1941, but then re-commenced in June, 1944 and continued almost until the end of the war in 1945. Though less damaging than during the Blitz, 9,200 people were killed.
In world war one, on June, 1917, 14 German bombers dropped four tons of bombs, most falling near Liverpool Street Station. Bombing continued until the following May.
turn left along Shaftesbury Avenue then right along Wardour Street, to the junction with Gerrard Street
Did You Know?
been a place of opportunity and refuge for many people from other countries
since medieval times, firstly for people from mainland Europe and later
for those from Commonwealth countries.
Jewish traders came to London with the Normans (only to be expelled in 1290), and were later followed by merchants from northern Germany and Flemings, Dutch and French.
In the 1650's, Oliver Cromwell allowed persecuted Jews in Europe to come to England again. Huguenots (Protestants) also fled to London from France in 1685, settling in Spitalfields and Soho.
As the British Empire rapidly grew in the late eighteenth century, people from the colonised countries began flocking to London. This included Chinese, Indians and Afro-Caribbeans.
Immigration in the nineteenth century, however, was due to new factors including poverty and political unrest in homelands. The Great Irish Famine of the 1840s led to many Irish people coming to London. And the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 led to many Jews fleeing Russia and Poland, settling in the East End of London.
continue along Gerrard Street, then turn right along Newport Place to Leicester Square
First laid out as a square in the 1670's, Leicester Square is synonymous with London's nightlife. Originally a fashionable residential area, by the mid 19th century it had started to become a commercial district.
The square enjoyed its most popular days between 1860 and 1914 when various theatres, including the Empire, attracted audiences from across London. These days, many of the theatres have been replaced with cinemas.
The Empire stands on the site of the old Empire theatre, which closed in 1927. Its final performance featured Fred Astaire.
The Odeon cinema is on the site of the Alhambra theatre, famous for a man named Mr Leotard who amazed audiences with his flying trapeze skills and gave his name to the costume. He was the original "Daring young man on the flying trapeze".
Did You Know?
Many women worked
in London's theatres as fruit-sellers, the equivalent to modern day ice
cream and drinks vendors.
As fruit was often thrown at the actors on stage, sales were eventually restricted to people seated in lower tiers only.
you have now completed this walk ...... I hope you enjoyed it
Continue through Leicester Square towards Charing Cross Road and Leicester Square tube station