From Mayfair to Soho, Shaftesbury Avenue to Fitrovia, the West End has always been the glittering heart of London’s social life, lit by cosy cafes, brothels, drinking dens and music venues. But these bright lights have also hidden a world of violence and immorality, a world familiar to Aleister Crowley and the Mafia.
Ed Glinert looks at the glorious triumphs of West End Life – from Rothschild’s zebra-drawn coach bringing Piccadilly to a standstill, to the Dorchester’s luxurious World War Two bomb shelters, as well as its dark core, concealing nineteenth-century cocaine addicts, murder and vice – each combining to show the famous hub of London in an entirely new way.
A companion book to EAST END CHRONICLES, here Glinert takes a look through the last 300 years of the history of the West End (defined as the area boundaried by Marylebone Road/Euston Road, Tottenham Court Road and Piccadilly).
Glinert spends a lot of time looking at the artistic and Bohemian history of the place but this basically boils down to giving potted histories of some of the artists, writers and musicians who lived there – including Francis Bacon, Jimmi Hendrix and Dylan Thomas – most of which come down to drinking stories, which lose their lustre very quickly. There’s also a good potted history of some of the criminal elements that controlled the West End, which interestingly brings in certain well known East End elements such as the Krays. The way in which the artistic and criminal fraternities inter-mingled is well depicted.
The best chapter is the one that deals with the experiences of the West End during World War II, which mingles the attempts to maintain glamour with the brutalities of the war experience.
Spirituality and mysticism also plays a big part in the book, with attention given to Crowley and others. Personally I found these less interesting, but if you’re into the occult then there’s value to them.
As with EAST END CHRONICLES there’s a comprehensive bibliography and index and it’s a good resource to dip in and out of.
It’s a decent primer to the history of the West End and a useful resource to dip into if you have an interest in the area.
Cross-posted to books and bookworming.