The Elegance of Fitzrovia

"Fitzrovia?" so many people ask me.  "Where is it exactly?"  Not high on the list for tourists and a bit of a hidden neighbourhood even for Londoners, I love this area.  Just north of Soho, and not far from Bloomsbury or Marylebone, it has wonderful squares, great pubs and a rich literary past (but more of that later).  From the 1930's onwards, the area between Gower Street (today home of the University of London) and Great Portland Street became known as Fitzrovia, but its history goes back as far as the 1750's, when Lord Charles Fitzroy began developing the land.

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Named after him, today's elegant Fitzroy Square (designed by Robert Adam) was built in the hope that aristocrats would flock there but they did not - they decamped instead to costly Mayfair and even more costly Belgravia.  As a result, the huge houses that had been constructed had to be divided up and sub-let...which led to the area taking on a much more 'immigrant' feel.  European workers arrived in their thousands and Fitzrovia soon became a hub for the furniture industry.  Indeed, for a time, it's most famous street - Charlotte Street, - became known as 'Charlottenstrasse' so many Germans were living there.

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The area has always had an artsy feel to it though - over the years William Blake, John Constable, Virginia Woolf and George Orwell all took up residence there over the years...    

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There's something new on every street too - neo-classical meets Edwardian meets Victorian brick; tiny passageways meet winding alleys meet charming mews.  And the area still has a somewhat Bohemian feel today, with lots of media organisations (clustered around Charlotte Street).  Part of its attraction, I think, of Fitzrovia (for both its residents and its daytime workers) is that whilst it's still very much a West End neighbourhood, many, like myself, find it to be more peaceful than Soho as well as less snobby than Mayfair.

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The area is packed with coffee shops, bars, pubs and restaurants - you'll never be short of a place to grab a drink or a bite.  There's also a few good hotels in the neighbourhood, including the very elegant Charlotte Street.  

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Of course, you can't walk in Fitzrovia without stopping at one of the pubs there, and one in particular that I like is the Fitzroy Tavern (which began life about 180 years ago or so as the Fitzroy Coffee House).  There's a great World War II sign hanging on the pub wall, reading: "Business as usual during Alterations to Germany."  Isn't the British sense of humour wonderful?

Fitzrovia's an incredibly central area (flanked by Marylebone, Bloomsbury, Soho and Camden) but the best way to begin a walking tour there, in my opinion, is to get off at Warren Street tube (Northern and Victoria lines), turn right and right again and start wandering.