Two of Soho’s most legendary characters have been spotted again in the vicinity.
Romantic writer Thomas De Quincey and his tragic consort – a sex-worker known
to posterity as ‘Ann of Oxford Street’ – are on display in a shadowy W1 side-street,
close to the area’s red-light district.

The artist Julie Goldsmith, Member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors,
has created a tribute to their story and to Soho’s history. She has made imaginary
portraits of the 17-year-old De Quincey and the 15-year-old waif whom he
claimed saved his life.

The works are part of a solo exhibition called Soho Faery hosted by rare book dealers
and literary cocktail bar The Society Club. Most of the works are housed inside the club
but a few – including Thomas and Ann – are on show in the adjoining Door, London’s
smallest art gallery.

As Soho is renowned as a vice zone, De Quincey and Ann seem to embody the spirit
of the place, one a drug addict, the other a prostitute. But the relationship had an innocence that has proved captivating. In 1802, De Quincey was not yet an ‘opium-eater’, merely a runaway schoolboy roughing it in the capital, hungry and homeless, nocturnal denizen of a derelict townhouse on Greek Street.

Recounting the friendship in his famous 1821 memoir Confessions of an English
Opium-Eater, his tone is very much ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’. It was a brotherly
sisterly passion. Anyway, he insinuates to readers, he could not have afforded Ann’s services. At their final parting in Golden Square there was much hugging and kissing and tears. Though they expected to meet again after De Quincey returned to London from
a short sojourn away, they never did. She didn’t turn up at their Oxford Street rendezvous,
and he had no luck trying to trace her address, or finding her among the crowd on the
“great Mediterranean of Oxford Street”.

The artist – a ceramicist and sculptor – has painted her miniature portraits onto clay, glazed them in a kiln, and mounted them in 19th century gilt-edged frames.

Goldsmith’s image of the young man, who was from a well-to-do Manchester family,
is baby-faced – but with bat-winged shoulders – perhaps suggestive of the gothic horrors
to come. The historian and critic Leslie Stephen, father of Virginia Woolf, saw De Quincey as flying like “a bat on the wings of prose… to the true poetic region”. Physically, De Quincey was less than five feet tall, a leprechaun of a man, but a giant of letters. His biographer Frances Wilson sees him as a Peter Pan figure who never grew up.

Goldsmith’s Ann is very modern and sultry, dark-haired and dark-eyed. You could imagine her as a Soho ‘model’ and/or as a ‘goth’ having a drink at the Intrepid Fox in its heyday. Her melancholy is not masked by heavily made-up eyes, one partially hidden, or her sexual allure.

De Quincey offered no physical description of Ann in his memoir. Her surname is unknown and she is thought to have died of TB. They met on Oxford Street, both streetwalkers, flaneur and kerb-crawler. Once, when he had fallen gravely ill on a doorstep in Soho Square, she ran to a nearby shop and bought him a reviving drink of spiced port. Had she not done so, he would not have lived to write his classic tale.

The Society Club – a supporter of pressure group The English Collective of Prostitutes –
has also commissioned a walk by the Irish poet Niall McDevitt. A Walk in Soho
with Thomas De Quincey takes place this Saturday 14 January, meeting 3pm at The Society Club, Ingestre Place, W1F OJF.

There is no permanent monument to De Quincey and Ann in Soho. Don’t miss this passing homage.




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David Gascoyne, one of England’s greatest 20th century poets, was born 100 years ago on Oct 10 1916.

A David Gascoyne Centennial is a free and open forum event to mark the occasion.

It is taking place at The Junction pub in Harrow-on-the-Hill, Gayton Road, the street that Gascoyne was born on.

Anyone who cares about Gascoyne is invited to participate. Just turn up on the night and a slot will be alloted.

The function room at the Junction has been booked from 8pm to midnight. At about 11pm we can stroll down Gayton Road to the house where Gascoyne was born.

Gascoyne is an enduring poet who will become a big presence in the 21st century. Public homages such as this are helpful, as they were helpful to Blake in 1927 (the 100th anniversary of his death).

Harrow on the Hill is not difficult to get to and from. It’s only a few minutes from Baker Street, and the pub is very near the train station.

Proceedings will commence at 8pm. Please forward to interested parties.

The Junction, 9 Gayton Road, HA1 2DH





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Chaucer mural

An inaugural Chaucer walk through the 600-year-ago London of England’s most celebrated medieval poet.

The route begins at Aldgate and ends at Southwark, the departure point for his own imagined Canterbury pilgrims.

Learn how Chaucer survived the Black Death, the Peasant’s Revolt and miscellaneous regime changes.

Meetimg at Aldgate tube, Sat 30 July, 1pm. (NB Not Aldgate East). 5 Groats

With Niall McDevitt.

The poet Robert Montgomery will read a new poem – THE KILLING OF ENGLAND ITSELF (BREXIT POEM FOR CHAUCER) – at a suitable point en route.

Sey forth thy tale, and tarie nat the tyme,
Lo, Depeford! and it is half-way pryme.
Lo, Grenewich, ther many a shrewe is inne;
It were al tyme thy tale to biginne.’


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call of participation (Mr. Niall)

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Work in Progress by Matthew Couper


Matthew Couper

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The Spirit of William Blake Kicks the Developers Out of Bunhill Fields


Christopher Twigg

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Urizen Heights 5

Dear Historic England

I’m writing to express my disappointment at your decision to support the development of more tower-blocks around Bunhill Fields.

It was a striking pose that you would not join other groups such as the Ancient Monuments Society, Blake Society, Georgian Group, Victorian Society, Blake Society, and John Wesley’s House in an outright condemnation of the plans.

I have read the Historic England statement in which you “acknowledge the increase in height but do not believe that this is excessive or harmful to the setting of the registered open space.” You also claim the current buildings will be replaced with “buildings of much higher quality”.

This is spin. Offices are being replaced with offices. Mediocre architecture is being replaced by mediocre architecture. The most important difference is that sky is being replaced by skyscraper, 10-storey and 11-storey towers. You write of “perceived harm resulting from the increase in height” and yet you cannot perceive the harm yourself.

Watching the film Selling an Icon, I was doubly surprised to see a man from Historic England again taking a different view from campaigners by arguing the case that the iconic white chimneys of Battersea Power Station should be demolished.

What kind of association is a Historic England that argues for skyscrapers to go up by a Grade 1 Listed Park and Garden and for the most distinguishing features of a Grade II Listed Building to be destroyed?

How much longer do you think the public will have any trust in a heritage organisation that keeps taking the side of construction companies rather than the public?

A petition has been started to ask Greg Clark to call off the development. So far 3000+ members of the public disagree with Historic England.

Yours sincerely,

Niall McDevitt

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