During an afternoon walk in the West End on Saturday, I turned off Goodge Street and down Goodge Place. Goodge Place is a dead-end canyon peppered with shabby genteel Georgian homes and slabs of uber-modern apartments where the Luftwaffe randomly, and thoughtfully, peppered the city. Two unnerving things happened next.
The first was a community mural, featuring Fitzrovians of stature, past and present. Someone had painted an astonished looking Virginia Woolf next to the BT Tower (“To The BT Tower Lighthouse”, anyone?), an anaemic looking Bernard Shaw, Marie Stopes and unsettlingly, a series of “Bengali dancers”, which I initially misread as Bengal Lancers. The second was a massive, fuck off space to our right which was 3 acres in size and which, quite simply didn’t exist.
The Middlesex Hospital, which previously lay at the junction of the bottom of Cleveland Street and along Mortimer Street was sold off in 2007 following its closure in December 2005. The NHS rubbed its (sterilized) hands with glee when they netted a humungous £180million (cor!) for the site and used it to build the spanking new University College Hospital on Euston Road, which unfortunately was tainted almost immediately after opening by the arrival of a radioactive Russian called Alexander Litvenenko who probably poisoned all the wards before being removed in a lead coffin. The version of the Middlesex Hospital that was demolished – grimy, black and a little forbidding – had only been built in 1935, although the hospital had existed in various forms since 1746, when the area west of Kings Cross was the bucolic fields of Middlesex. The proposed new development on the old Middlesex Hospital site was christened NoHo Square by Candy and Candy, the property developing brothers. It was called NoHo because the people who named it wanted the people who were going to live in it to sound like twats. “Where do you live, mate?” “Cab to NoHo Square please.” “Oh ho, No-o-o? what ho? Sorry love, you’re not from round ‘ere are you?” NoHo Square was a vastly abhorrent concept based on a New York property estate. It triumphed on the American system that their Manhattan SoHo (referencing South of Houston Street) could be translated to the northern slopes of London lying directly above our Soho (depicting at 16th century hunter’s cry of “So – ho!” and having nothing to do with Houston ; Street, Texas, Whitney or otherwise). Just as the New Yorkers developed a penchant for shoving capital letters into names where they didn’t belong to make nonsense words (TriBeCa – Triangle Beneath Canal Street), the Dandy Candy Brothers decided to create London’s NoHo, but no one was sure what it meant (North of Horsham?) . Similarly, no one actually knows that The CaNDy brothers references Callous Neanderthal Dickheads, you know.
You can see where this is going, dear readers? This was back in the heady days of 2007, when children would frequently get letters through the post and hold them up with sticky, Playdoh fingers, before shouting : “LOOK Mummy! Now I’ve put that £5 in the Post Office savings account this letter says I can have a credit card for £1,000,000 on standard 17.9% APR can I have a biscuit now, Mummy?” This was a world in which, when one of my brothers turned up to the hospital where another brother had a new baby with a cheque for £200, which was meant for the baby girl’s savings account, the recipient brother of the cheque said : “£200? Nah. This is England! Never mind her savings account. With £200 you can get a mortgage.”
The NoHo Square concept was immediately hated by the residents of Fitzrovia. The hospital was bulldozed down, with the eerie remains of the Grade II listed Victorian hospital chapel left in the middle of the site, like a long lost Victorian relative, crying out for a decent God-fearing flock. Then the Candy Brothers remembered they had engineered funding for the site through the Kaupthing Bank which melted when the rest of the Icelandic banking system did. Swiftly, the Candy Brothers swapped their 33% stake in Noho Square into Beverly Hills luxury apartments, a world in which their crassness and creepiness of name would be more fitting. The NoHo Square name now appears to be consigned to the dustheap, and the only certainty that remains is that Aviva and Exemplar are now the minority investors of the site. Urban myths abound as to what will happen next, and include: a parkland site with vegetable gardens, an orchard, an environmental education centre complete with horticultural workshop, or zero-carbon affordable housing, or a series of burlesque dancers, hopping and skipping about daily wearing nothing but smiles and red nipple tassles. It’s all up for grabs. All that remains of it’s former self is a sinister, red brick 1920s wall, currently being held up by a vast, strong, wooden structure, and which contains the old-1930s Radium Department label in large, beige, cement letters. So, what will become of this, frankly, enormous slab of Central London real estate? Will it continue to be dogged by lending crunch funding problems? Will we wake up to a caravan site? Will it be some much needed green space for this particularly built up section of town? Who will maintain the former, listed hospital chapel? (I’m not doing it. I’ve had beef with the Lord before – and anyway, hassocks ain’t how I roll). Personally, I think an orchard would be spectacular. With a circus in the middle. Or something. With a spectacular opening night party featuring brass bands, fireworks and a finale in which Jamie Theakston is fired out of a cannon and to which the Candy Brothers will not be invited.
Please return to the London Bluebird if you enjoyed this. This blog is updated every Thursday.