Episode 26: The Seven Noses of Soho

Learn about the varied history behind some of the best of Soho's architecture along with artistic facial features in an ever-changing community.

Join Hazel Baker, London Tour Guide, in A Nosey Around Soho.



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Full Transcript

Hello and welcome to our London History Podcast, where we share our love of London, its people, places and history in 20-minute espresso shot episodes served with a dash of personality. I am your host, Hazel Baker, London Tour Guide and CEO of London Guided Walks, providing private tours, treasure hunts, guided walks, and live London quizzes to Londoners and visitors alike.


To accompany this podcast, we also have hundreds of London history related blog posts for you to enjoy, absolutely free. And don't forget we've launched The Daily London, providing you with a couple of minutes of daily inspiration of things to do in London for Londoners. You can listen on iTunes, Spotify, or even add it to your Alexa flash briefing. All you need to do is go to londonguidedwalks.co.uk/flash.

Today, we're going to be talking about The Seven Noses of Soho. You may be surprised that 12.5% of Britain CCTV surveillance cameras are dotted around Central London. With the average Londoner being caught on camera 300 times a day.

If you work that out, that's half a million CCTV cameras. There are 15,516 cameras in action on London Underground alone with the most being in King's Cross and St. Pancras. How many? 408. And they monitor roughly 81 million people per year. The two London boroughs with the most amount of cameras per 1000 people are Wandsworth and Hackney.

Now Hackney, yeah, I can understand. But I must admit, I was surprised with Wandsworth being up there. I mean, especially as the borough has the lowest crime rate in Central London, but maybe that's something to do with the CCTV cameras. What has this got to do with today's podcast? All should be revealed.

So the first question to ask really is what are The Seven Noses of Soho? And basically they're casts of noses stuck onto buildings in Central London. And it's said that there are seven of them. And if you find all of these noses, then you will find infinite wealth. I however have found them several times and I'm still waiting.

The noses appeared in 1997. And no one knew who had put them up or why. But after 14 years, the truth came to light. An artist by the name of Rick Buckley claimed responsibility for attaching not 7 but 35 casts of his own nose, onto external walls of buildings in Central London. These included The National Theatre, St. Pancras Hotel, and even Nelson's Column.

So what causes a man to stick his own nose casts onto buildings? Well, he had been inspired by Situationist Internation, which is an organisation of social revolutionaries involving artists, intellectuals, and political theorists. And he wanted to protest against the ever-growing popularity of the use of CCTV.

He went around Central London at night with a stepladder and glue hidden in a tube of toothpaste and under the noses of the CCTV cameras, he embarked on his artistic but silent statement against big brother. And most of the noses over time have been removed. And yet, despite the ever changing nature of London, a few remain.

So I'm going to guide you through the history and the nasal passage ways of Soho and the West End. The glue that sticks all of them together, are The Seven Noses of Soho.


First up is Admiralty Arch, which is an imposing piece of Edwardian architecture and linked Buckingham palace and The Pall Mall. You know, that red road in front of Buckingham Palace and all the way to Trafalgar Square. It's been used in countless films, including Men in Black and Children of Men.

The area surrounding the Admiralty Arch is popular for films as well. So in 2012, you had the New Sweeney film with Ray Winstone and that is shot there where the Trafalgar St. James Hotel is, that's the private bank in the movie, and then the shootings of spells out into the streets. And in three years later in 2015, we have Daniel Craig and his James Bond's Spectre, which is filmed on the other side of Admiralty Arch. And that's where he gets dumped.

Unfortunately, the Admiralty Arch nose can't be seen at the moment as it's undergoing a hundred million pound renovation to create a 96-bedroom Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and Private Member's Club. Will the nose survive? Who knows? Perhaps we'll just have to wait until the hotel opens in 2022.

Admiralty arch was commissioned by Edward VII, AKA dirty Bertie, in memory of his dear mama Queen Victoria. It's designed by sir Aston Webb, who also designed The Mall, the main road leading to Buckingham Palace, and also the Queen Victoria Memorial, and the East facade of Buckingham Palace. He didn't stop there. Oh no. He also did the restoration of the Medieval Church St. Bartholomew-the-Great in Smithfield's, which we cover on our Bleeding Hearts and Body Parts Walk. And also the Imperial College London and Victoria and Albert Museum's main building. And also the Gothic French Protestant Church in Soho Square, which we see on our Jekyll and Hyde tour. And Soho Square comes back into the story a little bit later on.

For the 14 years that the noses were on the streets of London without anybody knowing who was behind them or indeed why, then it's natural for urban legends to build up around them. And the one for Admiralty Arch is a little bit of a strange one.

The nose is quite high, but it's waist height if you're sitting on a horse. And people did say that the nose was a tribute to the Duke of Wellington, a man, so renowned for his stonking great hooter and that the troops claimed that his silhouette was always visible from afar and even in the heat of the fiercest battle. And so mounted soldiers would go through the Arch. They'd be able to rub on the nose for a little bit of good luck.

Another story is that the nose is in fact a spare for the statue of Nelson on top of his column, just round the corner in Trafalgar Square. Knowing the truth about the nose of Admiralty Arch however, makes the story seem a little silly now.

And when you're there, look around at the gorgeous lampposts surrounding the area with the beautiful ships, because of course, Admiralty Arch is attached to the Admiralty.


If you're in Covent Garden, maybe one day to pop to Endell Street, which is where a another nose is on the North End. Endell Street connects Shaftesbury Avenue by the Shaftesbury Theatre all the way down to Long Acre in Covent Garden.

Endell Street was built in 1846 and was once the home to the Endell Street Military Hospital, the first British Army Hospital, efficiently staffed and managed entirely by women. The hospital existed largely to the efforts of Dr. Flora Murray and Dr. Louisa Garrett Anderson. And we've talked about her in our episode of London Statues of Medical Women.

The hospital's location was an old work house, so nice and big and functional. They had to do a lot of work for it to work as a military hospital, but it was all worth it in the end. The quality of care provided and also the invention of Bipp paste. BIPP, it was a new compound which dramatically reduced the frequency needed to change surgical dressings, it could no longer be ignored.

And Queen Alexandra visited in 1917, both Murray and Garrett Anderson, both were awarded the CBE for their war work later that year. Two years later, the 573 bed hospital had treated 24,000 soldiers and it closed its doors for good.

Little evidence of this old work house and hospital remain, but there is a plaque if you look by Dudley Court. And if you're in the area, perhaps you'd like to stop for some really good fish and chips. And this is the best place that I found in London and quite conveniently I lived around the corner from there for good couple of years. And it's called Rock & Sole Plaice as in plaice, as in the fish. They use 145 year old recipe and it's really worth trying it out. Small chips should set you about £9.50 and don't forget the mushy peas.


There's another nose on Great Windmill St. No points for guessing how this street is named. And the nose is on the southern side of the road, between Shaftesbury Avenue and Coventry St. In 1585, the land was in the possession of a Widow Golightly. And then in 1612, it was acquired by Robert Baker and he built his famous Piccadilly Hall, which is where we get the area name of Piccadilly from now. It wasn't only a shop, it was also where he received lodgers. And when Robert Baker died, the estate was handed to his wife, Mary who in 1636 was infected with the plague with the other occupants and had to be shut up for four weeks, with a guard set before their doors to prevent them from leaving.

And we think that the whole COVID scenario was rather grim at the moment. But imagine this in 1636, there's no running water, there's no flush toilets, there's no refrigerator or freezer, no TV, no electricity, and no internet.

Fast forward to 1896. And the new baroque restaurant is opened. It's called the Trocadero. It had a marble staircase leading up to a large banqueting hall and private dining rooms. It was run by Lyons of Lyons Cornerhouses.
In the 1990s, when the knives was attached, the building had changed again. And its use this time was for shops, a cinema, and the arcade known as Trocadero. The external arch walkway, where the nose is attached on Great Windmill St. was also used in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I. This is when the friendly trio operate after the dementors crash, Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour's wedding. And if you are brave enough to walk through this arch, which is rather glum and dark, you may also want to hold your nose.


There's another nose on Meard St. I think we're now up to nose number four. Meard. M E A R D. The nose is large and whitened. It doesn't look like any of the ones that I've talked to you about and that's because it's not a Rick Buckley original. It dates back to a project in 2005 called Living Street, which is as a social awareness project run by charity, whose mission is to achieve a better walking environment and to inspire people to walk more.

Meard St. is a part pedestrian street in Soho interlinking Wardell St with Dean St. And it was built between 1720 and 1732 by expert carpenters, father and son team, John and John Meard. And the terrace houses at Meard St. are really so beautiful. There aren't any quite like these ones surviving in London that I know of. And I simply love them. John Meard Jr. who's masters of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters in 1735. Just after these houses have been built, in fact, and he had also previously worked with Sir Christopher Wren on the rebuilding of St. Paul's Cathedral. Imagine that on your CV.

And I'm so glad that these houses on Meard St. have for most of the part remained unspoiled. Yes, there's some people that have done a little bit more restoration that's really required with these houses, but they do have an understated elegance when you look at the slanted doors and the window frames, you can see how they creak with age.


Round the corner from Meard St. is Dean St., where there are two noses lurking, and they are actually pretty close together.

One is hiding behind a potted olive tree outside Quo Vadis restaurant in private members club and this occupies 26-29 Dean St. Karl Marx the German philosopher and a socialist revolutionary and his family lived in two small rooms at number 28, between 1851 and 56. And it's here where he worked in his first volume, Das Kapital. He earned a small income from 1851 as the London correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. But the family lived in considerable poverty. Two of his seven young children died whilst living here, but also his daughter, Eleanor Marx, who became a socialist campaigner, she was born here as well. Jenny Marx, his wife, she describes the lodgings as the evil frightful rooms which encompassed all our joy and all our pain. And imagine having seven young children and a wife at home in two rooms when you're also trying to work in the same space. So eventually they rented out a third room in the lodgings, and that was used as a study.

The second nose is a little higher and it's purple. And it's above the Sunset Strip Club. So if you're counting you know now that we have completed six noses of Soho, so let's get on with the seventh.


And around from Dean St is Bateman St. This links Greek St and Frith St together. And this nose is so obvious that it's often missed by the caffeine loving clientele of the coffee bar that it's attached to.

And also there's some really lovely, great film inspired graffiti by Paul Don Smith around here too, so keep an eye open for that. Now Bateman St was the Southern boundary of Monmouth House, which was a 17th century mansion on the South side of Soho Square. And it was built for the Duke of Monmouth, the oldest illegitimate son of Charles II. During that time Soho Square was known as King Square and Bateman St was known as Queen St.

After the Duke's execution at the Tower of London in 1685, due to his rebellion against his uncle James II, he was tried with treason. James Bateman took on the house. James Bateman was one of the founding directors of the Bank of England and a founding director of the new East Indies Company.

In 1711, he resigned as director of the Bank of England to become a sub governor to the South Sea Company. And he was also Lord Mayor of London in 1716. He died in 1718, two years before the South Sea Bubble. And that's going to be one of the topics for a future episode.


So if you've been counting than you counted that we have now completed seven noses of Soho. And hopefully by the descriptions that I've given you, you'll be able to go onto the streets of London and hunt them down yourselves.
If you're a little bit lazy or you want to know more information about the street you're walking through, then I am more than happy to take you on Private Nosey Around Soho, which is bookable online on our website. I hope you've enjoyed today's episode.

If you're wanting photos of the noses, then please check out the show notes on londonguidedwalks.co.uk/podcast. And also there's a transcript there as well to help you navigate your own way. If you have already then thank you very much for leaving a 5 star review. If you haven't already, shame on you! Just click the five stars it's that easy. Or if you do have a little bit of more time, then please do write to us and let us know what you enjoy in your review.
Also, I'd like to do shout out to Hector, Horace, Howard and Ben, as you do your weekly walk and listening to our podcast, it's lovely to have you with us.

That's all for now. I'll see you next week.

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