“Transport us to Hanover Square”

John Bourne wrote in The Guardian of 3 February 1960:

“Although it looked – as they all do – like a cross between a Baptist chapel and a Victorian summer-house, and was lapped by the noisy tide of Piccadilly traffic, it served the finest haddock-and-eggs in the land. Or so the taxi-drivers would tell you. No one knows whether this was the attraction which brought in the social flowers of Mayfair and the clubmen from St James’s in the early hours of the morning. It could equally have been the prospect of talking to the muffled cabmen and studying their cockney faces, some of them sharp and knowing, others as world-weary as those in a Belcher cartoon.

The significant thing was that they came. They came wearing evening dress, the women in furs and the men perhaps smoking cigars, and all of them just remembering, with a pang, the dinners they had eaten four or five hours before. They sat on the scrubbed benches at wooden tables and either played dominoes or ordered their haddock, steak or chops grilled on the glowing coke stove. They were charged 2s 6d, a shilling more than the drivers.

From well before the First World War, when these unusual customers included “Teddy,” Prince of Wales, and Scott of the Antarctic, and Shackleton, that green hut on the pavement near the Ritz was the most famous of London’s cabmen’s shelters. Its tradition of being one of Britain’s most exclusive supper clubs continued until the night when partial destruction came in the shape of a Luftwaffe bomb, the job being completed a few hours later by what the cabmen described afterwards as “a lady driver on the pavement.”

To the drivers the hut was known as “The High Ground” because it was at the top of the rise which begins at Hyde Park Corner. (How many people realise that Piccadilly is a hill?) To the “swells” it was the Junior Turf Club, named after the senior establishment across the road.

Mr Bob Rogers, who now keeps the shelter in Hanover Square, still recalls with pride his nights of cooking and serving at The High Ground. Apparently the height of its fame was reached in the late twenties and thirties. In those days your driver might possibly have just finished a steak with the Prince of Wales (now the Duke of Windsor) or a cup of tea with Jimmy White, the legendary financier who later committed suicide. Lord Derby also went there, and a number of Harley Street surgeons. So did Mr Lobb, the famous bootmaker of St James’s, and Sargent, the portrait painter.

The irony of it was that under the rules of the charity which built the huts – the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund – the rich and the famous should not have been there at all…”

(Exploring London): “They have various nicknames assigned to them by London’s cabbies – one on Kensington Road, for example, is apparently known as ‘The All Nations’ thanks to its proximity to the site of the Great Exhibition of 1850, while another at Temple Place is simply known as ‘The Temple’.”

(Flickr.com): “Albert Bridge Shelter is called “The Pier” as it is near to Cadogan Pier. It was also in the 70s called “The Kremlin”, as it used to have a clientele of left-wing cabbies.”

From the Hidden London website:

“Named in honour of George I, the Elector of Hanover, the square was laid out in the late 1710s. Soon afterwards, St George’s church was built to its south – on St George Street – as one of London’s planned ‘fifty new churches’ (only around a dozen of which actually came to pass).

The effect of the church’s imposing portico is impaired by the narrowness of the street – a grand approach or a site on the square itself would have done it better justice. Nevertheless, St George’s became the capital’s most fashionable venue for society weddings.

O could I as Harlequin frisk,
And thou be my Columbine fair,
My wand should with one magic whisk
Transport us to Hanover Square:
St George’s should lend us its aid.

W. Spencer: Rejected Addresses, ‘The Beautiful Incendiary’ (1812)

The church is nowadays best known for hosting the main performances of the annual London Handel Festival, which honours the great composer’s 35 years as a parishioner and worshipper here.

Hanover Square itself is graced by several statues and sculptures – both old and new, in and around the garden – and also by a cabmen’s shelter on the north side (see image). The perimeter of the square was originally lined with fine terraced houses, occupied by some of London’s most celebrated society figures. Most of these structures have since been replaced by fairly tasteful and compact office blocks, though some from the mid-20th century cannot be so generously described.”

Published on the City of Westminster website on 16 September 2021:

“The gardens on Hanover Square have reopened to the public following an extensive redesign, which sees its original 300-year-old vista recovered to create a green oasis in the heart of London’s West End. The gardens are part of a wider transformation of Hanover Square, which heralds a new approach to the district’s historic townscape, its integration with new transport infrastructure and the restoration of a beautiful amenity space.

The project has been delivered by Westminster City Council to concept designs for the public realm by urban design consultant Publica and for the garden, by landscape architect Todd Longstaffe-Gowan. The designs were developed by engineers and landscape architects WSP and delivered by FM Conway. Westminster City Council is the main funder for the project.

Commissioned by the council in 2016, the garden redesign is the first of a series of public realm improvements for the Square. Together, these improvements will transform the area and bring a revitalised setting for buildings, businesses, monuments and new public art, supporting the promotion of the wider West End as a retail environment, place to do business and area to visit. The remainder of the project will be unveiled once the new Elizabeth Line has been completed.”

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