Showcards and ticket writers

Just north of Oxford Street is Marylebone Passage, a narrow secluded alleyway that helpfully cuts the corner off Wells Street and Margaret Street.

It’s typical of the many passages that crisscross central London – grime blackened walls with the faint smell of urine. Block out the hum of traffic and it’s easy to imagine a London of the peasouper and Hackney Carriage.

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The building that dominates this scene is an old workshop belonging to ‘Pring & Rose. Showcards, Ticket Writers & Printers‘.

Illustrated showcards were used to advertise goods and services and mounted in shops and restaurants. Showcards, and their theatrical equivalent, the bill poster, were produced by ticket writers, like the man appropriately nicknamed ‘Tickets‘ shown below who eked out a living in Brighton.

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Marylebone is famous for the elegant grid of streets and squares developed by Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford and the Portman family in the 18th century. But Marylebone Passage is a reminder of a less well known past; one of ordinary working people, of the workhouse, the doss house and of families crammed into single rooms. And also of crime.

The clearance of the St. Giles ‘Rookery’, the infamous crime-ridden slum between Bloomsbury and Covent Garden was blamed for shifting its thuggery and poverty to neighbouring areas, including Marylebone.

The excellent Proceedings of the Old Bailey certainly shows that Marylebone had its fair share of pick-pocketing, burglary and sometimes even murder.

Perhaps the most notorious murder was that of a local retired builder by his former employee, John Devine in 1864. Devine killed the old man for two gold sovereigns and was hanged a month later.

And maybe a ticket writer was employed to write up a poster of his execution similar to this one, circa 1800-1860.

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Bloomsbury and Holborn at Night

I’ve always loved the streets and squares of Bloomsbury, so a couple of years ago, having worked late at the office and needing some fresh air, I took the long way to Holborn Tube. Perhaps attracted by the museum,  the area is a centre of the occult and esoteric knowledge. Treadwell’s and Atlantis Books, famous occultist bookshops are both within walking distance, as is the Swedenborg Society and of course Freemasons’ Hall, headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England.

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The main entrance of the British Museum.

Despite the hotels and student accommodation, this area of central London, hemmed in between Euston Road to the north and High Holborn to the south, seems to get particularly empty at night.

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Lighting the way to the School of Oriental and Asian Studies

Approaching the entrance to the pedestrianised Sicilian Avenue, with its al fresco restaurants. A mile or two east of here is Saffron Hill and Clerkenwell, known as ‘Little Italy’ because of the thousands of immigrants from southern Italy that settled there in the mid-late 19th century.

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Closing time in Sicilian Avenue

And finally to Holborn Tube Station on the corner of Kingsway and High Holborn, the ‘end’ in the ‘West End’.

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The Kingsway entrance to Holborn Tube

I think the escalator at Angel is supposed to be the longest in London…but only just.

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The long trip underground