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Victorian Society fights Radisson Edwardian plans to demolish historic buildings by Leicester Square

The Society objects to hotel chain's proposed demolition of an entire block of Conservation Area

The Hand & Racquet, Whitcomb Street, London Photo: Tim@SW2008/flickr

The Radisson Edwardian hotel group has applied to Westminster City Council to demolish a substantial block of 19th and 20th century buildings standing on the south west side of Leicester Square and replace it with a huge hotel and cinema complex.     

The plans involve the demolition of a handsome 1865 Victorian London pub, the ‘Hand & Racquet’ on the corner of Whitcomb and Orange Street.  The name refers to the tennis court and the national headquarters of the game which had been located across the street until 1866.  A plaque, now removed, on the pub recorded its more recent history as a haunt of comedians Tony Hancock, Sid James and Tommy Cooper.  The pub’s façade is finely-detailed and well preserved despite being closed for several years.  

Also to be demolished are Broadmead House, an elegant Queen Anne-style building with gentle bows just along from the Odeon West End on Leicester Square and Westcombe House on Whitcomb Street, a fine Edwardian building.  

James Hughes, the Victorian Society’s caseworker, commented:  

“This area is important both in terms of the history of the West End and the entertainment industry, as well as being a magnet for tourists from around the world.  

This is a very large site which offers scope both for saving the best historic buildings and sympathetically redeveloping the rest of the block.  We urge Westminster City Council to hold out for a scheme that enhances Leicester Square with the best of modern architecture whilst respecting its historic streetscapes.”

The Victorian Society, the Twentieth Century Society, English Heritage and the Cinema Theatres Trust have written to Westminster City Council to object on the grounds that the destruction of so many high quality Victorian, Edwardian and twentieth century buildings will cause great harm to the character and appearance of the Leicester Square Conservation Area.

Note:

Until recent years the Hand & Racquet Pub bore a sign stating (www.londonremembers.com/memorials/hand-racquet):

“The Hand & Racquet has been around in different forms since the Tudor times (1600s) - originally founded as a brewery by William Whitcomb who gave his name to the street and to the surrounding streets. They were named after some of the local brews i.e. 'Panton Ale' and 'Oxen Ale'.

The Pub stayed much the same until 1827 when it moved, quite how no one knows but it moved from 21 Whitcomb Street to 48 which it is still at!

In 1865 the upstairs bar/restaurant was added by the Oldbury Family who ran the pub for over 50 years. The upstairs became a Mecca for comedy, artists such as Tony Hancock, Sid James and Tommy Cooper were often seen quaffing ale or two!

Tommy Cooper, when the bar was split into 2 bars would use his height to peer to through the windows to see if anyone he knew was in the bar, as he always tried to avoid buying other people drinks. The problem was everyone would see the fez and follow him in.

Tony Hancock's 2 writers Galton and Simpson used the pub, which gets a mention, in many of the famous Hancock's Half-Hours.”

Thursday 19 September, 2013

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Earlier item: Obituary: Norman Routledge

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