Fitzrovia wasn't always so. It was once plain North Soho, though it was far from plain. The poet and chronic Sohoitis victim J. Meary Tambimuttu Christened the area 'Fitzrovia' after the Fitzroy tavern on Charlotte Street, where he frequently became pissed and, in his intoxicated state, hired nubile young receptionists.
There have been repeated failed attempts to rename the area Noho (NOrth of soHO), in the New York fashion. This is silly, as SoHo and NoHo in Manhattan are abbreviations of SOuth of HOuston Street and, conversely, NOrth of HOuston Street. Someone once claimed that Soho was so named because it is SOuth of HOlborn, which can't possibly be true, as Soho is neither south of Holborn (it is to the west) nor in fact anywhere near it. There's a whole New Oxford Street and Covent Garden in between.
Of course, we remember when this was all fields. As is common knowledge, the name Soho supposedly derives from the hunting call, "So-ho!" (Akin to "Tally-ho!" which is, of course, in Finchley.) On the fields north of Leicester Square the bourgeoisie redcoats would congregate and hunt foxes.
There's that heart-rending quote from Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, the one in which Bernard puts it to the audience that if they don't know why he bothers to stay by the bedside of "dying Soho" holding its hand, "then you didn't know it when you could be drunk, penniless and alone on less than a pound."
Of course, this is all subjective. In his alarming and unique autobiography, Quentin Crisp wrote that even by the 1920s, when he first discovered the Soho cafés, certain older male prostitutes were declaring that "nothing was what it used to be."
As of last night, the Intrepid Fox on Wardour Street refused service to its last customer. Never again will one be turned away for not being goth enough. It has been sold along with 21 other London pubs and is due to be converted, as you may be aware, into 'luxury' flats.
We shall miss the Fox. Not that we ever drank there; but that is hardly the point. It is one less grimy Soho pub to be refused service in. One less grimy Soho pub to be chucked out of, to avoid, to complain about. This is not necessarily a Good Thing. (This same rhetoric is found in militant pedestrians who claim that the pedestrianisation of town centres could be a Bad Thing. "But what will we complain and rail against when the cars are all gone?" they cry.)
There are now plans afoot to make Soho a safer, cleaner and more welcoming place. Westminster council has published a draft action plan on the theme "One Soho" with this aim in mind. Something sinister this way comes...
Image from Matt Rogers' photostream
Thenicepeople at thelondonpaper were good enough to point us in the direction of this video interview they recorded with some of the regulars and the landlords of the Intrepid Fox: