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Pizza excess: day the square got a taste of rock chaos

On this week's virtual ramble, Diary meets Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard, visits a toy museum, and gate-crashes an infamous festival

26 June, 2020 — By The Xtra Diary

Fitzroy Square. Photo: Mahlum

HELLO, readers! Diary trusts you’re all well, and looking forward to getting some London fumes in the old lungs after three months of staying indoors.

While lockdown may be easing up, not all of us will feel we are ready for an actual, real-life walk in the actual, real-life outside – so for those of you who miss Westminster’s gilded pavements but are still quite comfortable on the sofa thank you very much, Diary will continue with our virtual meander through the borough, as we have done now for 11 (still counting? – Ed) weeks.

We last parted company in Great Portland Street, musing on its seedy past, its former reputation for car showrooms, and how today it is home to a maternity hospital where Anneka Rice, among others, called for air as she pushed out a sprog.

We are going to dip eastwards for a moment, and admire the Robert Adam-designed Fitzroy Square (OK, he did the east and south sides).

Fittingly, The Georgian Group are located here, while it was also the scene of a more bizarre complaint made to the Boys in Blue.

One day, in the mid-1990s, a heavy rock band called Slow Boat were booked to play at a community festival in the square. Cranking their amps up to 11 at a summer street party made up predominantly of children and older people was a brave move.

The strange atmosphere was added to when a group of rock enthusiasts appeared from nowhere and started “dancing”, in the loosest possible sense of the word.

Later, a statue of Venezuelan revolutionary General Francisco de Miranda, who had lived in nearby Grafton Way between 1802 and 1810, was covered in half-eaten slices of pizzas and beer bottles – the suspects being the group of gate-crashing revellers.

Two rookie PCs on duty that day, reacting to complaints from more strait-laced attendees, began questioning possible suspects but to no avail. Eventually, under pressure from party-goers, the coppers scaled a fence and cleaned the general up themselves, and never lived it down back at the station, we’re told.

From uneaten pizzas to plates of crocodile: off we trot down Cleveland Street, to pause briefly outside the famous Archipelago restaurant.

Much fun can be gleaned from this eaterie’s à la carte offerings of exotic meat. Starters include crocodile wrapped in vine leaves served with honey-poached plums and pickled samphire. If that sounds a bit chewy, how about pan-fried crickets with quinoa and spinach, or a crispy zebra jerky? Make sure you save room for the mains, where you’ll find more crocodile, ostrich, kangaroo and something called Durban Bunny Chow.

From here, we’ll nip along Fitzroy Street, pausing briefly to scowl at the home of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard. He lived there in the 1950s, and the building houses objects relating to his world.

At number 19, artist Walter Sickert rented a studio along with some other arty friends, thus founding the Fitzroy Group of painters, who would later morph into the Camden Town Group.

If you wiggle your way southwards through the back streets of Fitzrovia, you may stumble across Scala Street, home to Pollocks Toy Museum.

This charming private collection has a nice back story. It was founded by Marguerite Fawdry, daughter of a French dad and English mum.

She graduated from the University of Lille and then became a journalist, working for the French section of the BBC and then as General De Gaulle’s press officer.

Her husband Ken was a school teacher. The pair had radical political beliefs and a love of the arts – and were toy theatre enthusiasts.

They used to buy stock from the famous Benjamin Pollock’s store – and when the business went bust in 1954, Marg was upset she could no longer buy sliders to move characters about the miniature stages at 2p a time.

She spoke with the receiver, who was pricing up the stock when she arrived, and was told: “I believe there are hundreds of thousands in the warehouse, madam, but there’s no one who could look them out for you. Of course, you could, I suppose, buy the whole lot if you wanted them.”

She did – and turned Pollocks into a much-loved celebration of all things connected to our innate desire to play.

Onwards we go, now heading to rest once more in Colville Place and Crab Tree Fields.

Crab Tree Fields recalls the name of the land that carpenter John Goodge gained when he married a wealthy young woman in 1718. His sons developed the land around – but German bombs altered its original face. Crab Tree Fields, a tiny splash of green and shade, was actually created in 1985 by the GLC: it is on the spot where a high-explosive bomb landed and was used as a car park for many years afterwards.

The delightful terrace of Colville Place, a set of modest workers’ cottages dating from the 1760s, was also fairly knocked about by the bomb.

At number one, designer Max Neufeld built a Modernist masterpiece, which is now listed. He lived in Colville Place for more than 40 years, and helped found the Charlotte Street Association.

On that note, ta-ra for now. Stay well, and keep safe.

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