Monday, 3 August 2009

2 Little Crown Court, Soho

If the majority of workers and tourists marching or strolling through Rupert Street would pause and look up as they head from Soho to Chinatown, they would discover behind the grime that covers most of the facades of the area one of the capital's oldest painted signs, certainly dating back to the late 19th century. If they would look at it for a bit longer, they would marvel at the combination of images and text, and if they were patient enough they may be surprised to see that only half of it is written in English. Indeed the rest is in French. Yet this is hardly surprising given the location and its history...
Discriminations endured by French Protestants under Louis XIV, which culminated in the 1865 revocation of the Edict of Nantes, pushed many to cross the Channel. In London they settled around Threadneeddle Street, Spitalfields, and Soho, where around 1680 Huguenots had taken over a church built originally for the Greek community (the settlement around the Threadneeddle Street chapel did not expand much as tradesmen there were subject to the regulations of the City companies). The presence of a French community in Soho acted as a magnet for those who came later, even if as noted in A Survey of London, edited by F. H. W. Sheppard and published in 1966,

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century the foreign element in the population of Soho ceased to be primarily French and became cosmopolitan. The original Huguenot immigrants and their descendants had gradually become to a large extent anglicized, and by 1800 only two of their chapels survived in the area. After 1789 more refugees from the various political commotions which have characterized subsequent French history probably settled in Soho. In the 1860's, when Cardinal Wiseman wished to establish a church for French Roman Catholics in London, Soho was still evidently thought to be the centre of the French colony, but had long ceased to be distinctively Huguenot. Shortly after the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune of 1870–1 Soho was said to have 'now a greater French population than it has had for years', and the Marseillaise was the most financially rewarding tune for the organ-grinders of the locality.

During the 1860s and 1870s, large numbers of Germans, Italians, and Swiss also settled in Soho. In the 1890s, they were joined by Polish and Russian Jews, many of whom had previously been living in Whitechapel. However the southern part of Soho, immediately behind Leicester Square, still kept a French character, largely thanks to the genuine French shops, cafes, and restaurants, “like those near “the barrier” in Paris” wrote Walter Thornbury in the third volume of London Old and New, published in 1878.
Sheppard also mentions them in his study:

French eating-houses, catering specifically for the local French residents, must have existed in the area ever since the arrival of the first refugees in the 1680's but the first known reference to Soho as a resort of English gourmets does not occur until 1816, when the Sablonière Hôtel on the east side of Leicester Square was commended as a French house where 'a table d'hôte affords the lovers of French cookery and French conversation, an opportunity for gratification at a comparatively moderate charge'. The Sablonière had been established in a house on the east side of Leicester Square in 1788, and was the first of a group of foreign hotels and restaurants, mostly French, which existed there for very many years. In the mid nineteenth century the clientèle of these establishments was predominantly foreign, and their respectability had become questionable in English eyes, for the author of a guidebook to London published in 1869 advised his readers, in choosing a hotel or dining-room, to 'avoid Leicester-square'.

The arrival of theatres to Leicester Square and along the newly-opened Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road in the 1880s drew a new clientele to the restaurants and hotels of southern Soho. French restaurateurs enjoyed a virtual monopoly and it was in a French restaurant located in Gerrard Street that Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton first met. Changes in the social habits of the London society also led to increased patronage: from the turn of the 20th century, restaurants started catering for supper or dinner parties, which would have been previously been held at home. The heyday of French Soho was before and just after the First World War. From the 1920 growing numbers of Italian cooks settled in the area and they were followed by a myriad of other nationalities, who all brought their distinctive flavours to Soho.

It was the presence of these French-owned restaurants and hotels that explains why half of this ad is in French. Click on the picture for a larger version.

2 Little Crown Court
Dress Coats From 6 1/6
The Noted House
For Waiters
Cafe Jackets
Dress Coats
Trousers Vests
And All Articles & Wear
Hotel Employees
La Maison
Est Renommée Pour les Effets
De Tous Genres
Pour Garçons de Café
Et Tous Les Articles
Pour Employés d'Hotel
Cafe Jackets from 5 1/6

The address 2 Little Crown Court does not exist anymore. Maybe Little Crown Court was just off Crown Court and disappeared when the area was redeveloped?

A very classy waiter holding a tray

The scroll, half in English, half in French. It looks though as if the French part was written over some English text.

Far too much grime covers this waiter...

Location: Tisbury Court / All pictures taken on: 31/03/2008


Sam Roberts said...

According to this, Little Crown Court was renamed Tisbury Court at some point. The date of this would be interesting to identify...

Sam Roberts said...

Westminster archives have informed me that Little Crown Court became Tisbury Court in 1937, dating this sign to before then.