Berwick Street in Soho has been there since 1703 and it wasn’t long before local traders figured out that this small street would be a good spot to sell fruit, vegetables and general goods. And despite the ever shifting tides of London life, the market, here in Berwick Street, is selling those very same things today. That’s over 250 years.
In the early years, the population was mainly Greeks (Greek Street is just a few hundred yards away) French Huguenots fleeing persecution, and Italians. So it was all pretty cosmopolitan and, as a result, Berwick Street Market was the first market in London to sell tomatoes and a few years later grapefruit.
Berwick Street and music
The most interesting for me, however, is Berwick Street and its adjoining streets’ history with the music business, and these links go back a very long way indeed. Those interested in music just seemed to be attracted to this part of Soho.
Berwick Street has always been a melting pot of rare record shops. There are still many here today, despite rising rents and it’s known as ‘‘The Golden Mile of Vinyl’. If you want rare vinyl, Berwick Street is for you.
At the end of the street where it joins Brewer Street, through an alley, is Madam Jo Jo’s. In 1964, David Bowie’s first band, Dave Jones and The King Bees, played here when it was called The Jack of Clubs. And it was that night David Bowie got his big break. At the very same time, T-Rex front man, Marc Bolan, worked on his mother’s stall in the market in the 1960s. I wonder if he sold David an apple or two?
Ian Brown filmed his video for his hit song F.E.A.R in Berwick street and of course the Oasis album’s front cover shot for ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory’ was shot here.
Berwick Street was even the home of a drumming record breaker. Raye du Val, held the record for marathon non-stop drumming between 1959 and 1969 and later wrote a book on drug addiction. Very Soho !
Finally, going even further back, an eight year old, Wolfgang Mozart (who lived around the corner), and his sister, used to give afternoon concerts on Brewer Street, as did Handle.
Painting Berwick Street, Soho
I originally came here and did a few drawings in the spring, and felt it would be a pretty decent view, to take to a final painting for a ‘Pintar Rapido, Painting in a day competition’.
On the due date, I returned only to find the view totally ruined by a massive building site in the middle of the road. The whole thing was wrecked and I had to paint elsewhere.
On the positive side, when the building site was swept away, my view was just as it was, and much of my preparation drawing was complete from the first visit.
It was a pretty good day too, with an art shop a hundred yards away, in case I needed a top up on paint and such like. And one of west London’s finest fish and chip shops even closer.
The only real issue was that one of my ideal views was on Broadwick Street, and this serves a bit of a rat run of traffic going west. So occasionally while drawing and painting, I nearly ended up beneath delivery vans and the more energetic taxis sailing through to Regent Street. Near fatal injury aside it was all pretty uneventful, which is a bit of an event in Soho.
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