The shadow of St Giles
Even the most humdrum of street furniture sometimes warrants closer inspection. Take this lamp post on Great James Street on the north side of Theobalds Road. It bears the mark of one of London's lost localities, St Giles.
The Crossrail-bedevilled junction of Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road is known formally as St Giles Circus, though most would refer to the spot as Centre Point or simply as Tottenham Court Road tube.
The area takes its name from the wonderful eighteenth century Flitcroft-designed church of St Giles-in-the-Fields, itself simply the latest in a series of churches on this spot in a chain going back perhaps a thousand years. The church's website has a good account of the history of the building and of the area.
St Giles was known in the mid-nineteenth century as a rookery, an area of cramped and insanitary housing. It was also the home of skilled artisan trades and a hotbed of the radicalism associated with such occupations. Inside the church there's a blue plaque for a prominent radical George Odger, moved here when the nearby house on which it was initially installed was demolished.
The church and the adjoining (and warmly recommended) Angel Inn are about the only buildings of any antiquity on what remains of St Giles High Street, now sadly reduced to little more than a stub of the road it once was. I am surprised that St Giles ever had a Board of Works, and even more surprised that its remit extended to Great James Street, perhaps half-a-mile away and (I am fairly sure) in the parish of St Andrew's, Holborn.
Great James Street would, from 1900, have been part of the Borough of Holborn, which in turn became part of the London Borough of Camden in the mid-1960s. But it's so nice that this street souvenir of St Giles survives.
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