One of the things I used to enjoy about working in London’s West End was the opportunity to wander around and explore the local sights at lunchtime. Just north of Oxford Street is the area known as Fitzrovia.
Let’s start with a pint.
This is the Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street, from whence Fitzrovia is said to derive its name. The pub’s name comes from Fitzroy the family name of the Dukes of Grafton who used to own much of what is now Fitzrovia. The first Duke of Grafton was an illegitimate son of Charles II and his mistress Barbara Villiers, I love a bit of Restoration Royal scandal.
This boozer has a great literary heritage, Dylan Thomas and George Orwell drank there together with the artist Augustus John, comedian Michael Bentine and even the Great Beast himself Aleistair Crowley. Sadly its been taken over by Samuel Smiths who despite doing a great job in preserving the interior only sell their own keg beers. The best bet is the Imperial Stout as the rest of their offering is pretty putrid in my opinion.
Carrying on up Charlotte Street you come to the neo-classical splendour of Fitzroy Square.
It’s quite lovely, having being designed by the great Scottish architect Robert Adam in 1792 and completed by his brothers James and William in 1798. Fitzroy Square has been home to the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Maddox Brown and the author Ian McEwan, while George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf both lived at no.29 though not at the same time. You can see Woolf’s blue plaque at no 29 below.
On the corner of the Square is this statue. I had often passed it before and wondered who he was, so I googled him.
Turns out he is Francisco de Miranda, a liberator of Venezuela. After supporting the French Revolution and traveling round Europe, Miranda lived in London for a number of years before heading back to Venezuela, overthrowing the Spanish governor, then surrendering to Spanish forces after a catastrophic earthquake hit Caracas. He ended his days in a Spanish jail after Simon Bolivar decided he had been a traitor to surrender and handed him over to the Spaniards.
However while he was in London he lived here with his housekeeper and their children between 1803 and 1810 at Grafton Street just off Fitzroy Square, where amongst others he received Simon Bolivar and Andres Bello who persuaded him to head back to Venezuela.
Appropriately today it’s now the Venezuelan Embassy.