With its cosmopolitan mix of people and its many diverse bars, restaurants, clubs and cafes, Soho is one of the most interesting corners of London. It is also one of the oldest areas of the city.
Soho was part of Westminster Abbey’s lands until was appropriated by King Henry VIII as a hunting ground. The name comes from the hunters call to signalthe sighting of a prey.
The first Soho settlers were aristocrats, driven from the city of London by the Great Fire of 1666. As its popularity with the gentry declined, Soho saw its first wave of migration, mainly from economic and religious refugees, like the French Protestant Huguenots who settled there in 1685. By the 1800s, Soho was home to many different ethnic groups from all parts of Europe, as well as political fugitives like Karl Marx. Many of the descendants of these first settlers still live in Soho and new migrants have continued to arrive over the ensuing centuries to make their homes alongside them.
The prettiest and most peaceful part of Soho is undoubtedly Soho Square. The Square centres on a shady green pocket handkerchief park, with a statue to Charles II and a wooden summer house, built in 1875. The first houses on the square were built by the city aristocrats. St Patrick’s and the French Protestant Church, both established in 1893, are the legacy of 19th migrants.
Greek Street, named after Greek refugees from the 17th Century Ottoman invasions, still has buildings which survive from that period. Also sited here is the House of St Barnabas for destitute women, which dates back to1746. Soho’s most famous establishment is La Maison Bertaux. Established in 1871, it is the oldest patisserie in London. 1663
Gerrard Street, now the location of London’s China town, was originally won in a duel by Baron Gerard of Brandon and developed as part of the first aristocratic settlement. As they drifted away to the more fashionable West, rents dropped and migrant communities, including French, Italian and Jewish moved in. After World War II, thousands of agricultural workers from Hong Kong arrived. In 1985, in recognition of the significance the Chinese Community the City of Westminster renovated Gerrard Street in oriental style and made it a pedestrian zone.
Old Compton Street is Soho’s high street. The buildings, bars and restaurants in and around Compton Street are steeped in history and in stories of the people who lived and visited there, including great artists, writers and musicians. Its oldest shop, now the Algerian Coffee Stores is here. Next door to Bar Italia, in Frith Street, is the house where Mozart stayed with his family from 1764 to 1765. Above it is the room where John Logie Baird first demonstrated television in 1926. Ronnie Scott’s, over the road, has been the venue for nearly all the big names of jazz since it opened in 1959. The French house in Dean Street was a haunt of Maurice Chevalier and General De Gaulle.
Soho is a fascinating area, easily walkable and with hundreds of great spots to take a break, both indoor and outdoor, when you can walk no more . There is always something to do, see and learn in Soho.