This chapter is in the main for the stage and for markct gard producefor Covent Garden. If you start at St Martin’s Lane, the first emphasis is on stage, but there is a curious prelude. St Martin’s Lane is the old direct route north from the hub of Charing Crons, and was built up by 1613.
Its southern end was however chopped about first by the creation of Trafalgar Square and then in 1887 by the wide surgery that opened up Charing Cross Road, which both took over St Martin’s Lane’s function as a main road and to some extent preserved it, like a subsidiary canal.
On the island in the wide irregular space north east of Trafalgar Square which the junction of these two roads created, between St Martin’s in the Ficlds and the front of the National Portrait Gallery, one might start this perambulation with a salute to the spirit of the latter day English martyr, Edith CaveU, the Red Cross nurse who at dawn on 12th October, 1915, was shot by a German firing squad in Brussels. In heroism she is not alone, but in her dying she welded herself into the living consdcnce of English history with four words Patriotism is mot enough.
Into the fabric of London itself she is also welded in a monument of some incongruousness (by Sir George Frampton, 1920)it has been claimed as the ugliest in the city. She, in pale stone, in the severe fall of her nursing cape, is impressive, but she is set against a lumpish cross of grey granite, that challenges the form seeking eye, and defeats it. If you look down through an iron grille in the pavement by her, you will find a caption of surreal matter of factness printed black on white on a sort of brick vault belowit says nurse Cavellno smokeino but a suspicion that just under the surface of London there hums a busy if non smoking breed of illiterate troglodyte gremlins can be dispelled by reflectionthis is simply pan of the drainage sistem built into Charing Cross Road when it was first made. Yet sitarion is not enough either.
Over thc road east of the the new main West End Post Office, not entirely happily adjoined to the school that flanks the churchyard of St Martin’s and thathas a facade of elegant Regency dignity; but inside, the Post Office is a huge improvement to London’s amenities with the longest post office counter in Europe and open all through the twenty four hours (even if it is still poarible to queue there just as long as at the Martin’s Lane itself is fairly narrow, its west side mainly recent (a backside of Charing Cross Road) but on its right, east, side, despite the brash galumphery of the Coliseum, there is still1 in the middle stretch eighteenth and early nineteeth century brick of domestic scale (No. 31 is even late seventeenth century) over the shop fronts, and there tends to be a nice coming and going around St Martin’s Lane.
The Coliseum is the first thing that hits you, all columns and terra cotta stucco and a big globe heaved high in the sky (the globe was made to revolve, but owing to legal niceties is only allowed to give the illusion, with the aid of lights, of revolving). It was built in 1903, and big, to beat Drury Lane, with a three part revolving stage, three tea rooms, a roof garden, even a pillar box in the hall; it was for variety and spectacle, for shows like the White Horse Inn, and even for DiaghilefT (whose ballet ran three seasons here)but London’s biggest theatre seems to have finally sold out, and is Cinerama. The other theatres cling still to real live actors and a waft of grease paint over the footlightsthe Duke of York’s, the New Theatre (and through in Charing Cross Road, thc Garrick and Wyndham’s)with a supporting caste of eating places ranging from a Lyons to classy Italian (Brusa, on the right at No. 50), English traditional (Gow’s, No. 37); French (Bcoty on the left beyond the New Theatre; Che Solange in Cranbourn Street), and the famous fish of Sheekcy’s in St Martin’s Court. But the gem of St Martin’s Lane is a pub, the Salisbury, generally fcirly loaded with theatrical and literary types or people who look as though they ought to be theatrical and literary types (there is a kind of cool assessing sure I associate with the Salisbury); the Salisbury is a national monumentand is, .1 hope, officially listed as suchof the late Victorian pub, all glass and glister, with quilted alcove seats scooped into the walls, svelte bronze nymphs flowering But DOS. 40 49 Ml to thc demolition ia June 1964.
Into dectric light bulbs, Guinness on draught and a good cold counter.
The Lane is further fed by its tributary alleys and courts, from Brydges Place just by the Coliseum, unremarkable in all except its sheer blank narrowness, to Cecil Court on the left, a pedestrian precinct for book browsers and bric & brac addicts. On the right of the Lane, Goodman’s Court, an alley containing a little row of late eighteenth or early nineteenth century shop fronts with potted bay trees; then a plaque marks the site of Chippendale’s workshops, activc here between 1753 and 1813, setting a coolly elegant standard of furniture that was to become, perhaps a little misleadingly, the symbol of a whole civilisation. New Row, also on the right, is the local shopping street, in shabby brick and with a roadway one car wide, with ironmonger, butcher, etc., but also the Jazz Centre and a shop where they sell carnival masks and a super coffee shop; it expands into the glossy windows of Moss Bros, at its far end, proverbial for hired formal clothes, whether tails or morning coats, hunting pinks or court brcechcs.