Friday 5 December 2014

Oxford Circus: Don’t judge the place by its cover

If you think about Oxford Circus only in terms of crowds, shops that sell nothing out of ordinary, your daily commute and packed tube entrances then, think again. 

There are small but beautiful green spaces, inspiring churches, historical places and great coffee shops around Oxford Circus. You don’t have to walk far to feel a different vibe of this area. It doesn’t sound like I am describing the area between Oxford Street and Regent Street and Piccadily Circus but it is true. Whether you work around here, live nearby or just pass by from time to time you don’t have stay away anymore, because here comes a handy guide where to go to enjoy Oxford Circus. I’ll repeat: to ENJOY Oxford Circus. I would never think that one of my posts will be about the most touristic place in London, the place I usually avoid and every time I go there I get upset with the crowds that are not letting me to walk faster than one step per minute. But one of the busiest junctions in the world can be an interesting place to visit, have a walk, relax (sic!) and admire the architecture of Central London. 

I start the walk in Cavendish Square Gardens – at the north-west side of the circus. A friend of mine took me there once in the summer for lunch. Since then, every time I visit Oxford Street and I am looking for a place to unwind I go there. It is a small garden in the area that doesn’t have many green spaces and hidden just behind Debenhams is a perfect spot for people working in surrounding buildings to have their lunch or for you to have a rest after exhausting shopping. Cavendish Square Gardens are surrounded with great architecture and some noble institutions such as The King’s Fund, Medical Society of London, Royal College of Nursing and the Convent of the Holy Child. 
What always catches my attention though is the statue of William Duke of Cumberland, in a complete state of devastation. I have never seen such a pitiful statue that actually makes me smile. Great general towering over those small gardens is going to fall apart in a moment. Bizarre. Not that I know his military achievements but thanks to him I learnt how (some of) the monuments are built. I always thought they’re sculpted in the stone but it seems that’s not true, as you can see on the picture.

Monument of William Duke of Cumberland,in a very poor condition

Even without studying much of the history you can say that he went on many wars. This bizarre addition to very pleasant gardens leaves me smiling for the rest of the walk. 

I continue through Henrietta Place, Old Cavendish Street until New Bond St. I don't have any particular feelings towards expensive labels but sometimes it’s interesting to walk through such places and see what people are up to, especially at this time of the year when Christmas is fast approaching. Seeing few shops is more than enough for me, so as soon as I can, I turn into one of the side streets – Brook Street. George Frederick Haendel lived here in the 18th century and was making his way walking to a nearby St. Georges church in Hanover Square. At no. 25 there is now the Handel House Museum.

“Handel” street leads me to another small but pretty green space – Hanover Square. That is definitely a place to have rest – among palm trees, wooden benches and... abandoned bunch of flowers (one pictures). You can make your own story as to why it's there.

What caught my attention from afar is St. Georges Hanover Square, a temple in the place where people rather worship money than true God.

I follow narrow streets leading to Saville Row, place known for men's tailoring. However the street’s history has been varied. At some point in history the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society was at 1 Savile Row and significant British explorations to Africa and the South Pole were planned here. From more recent time, the Beatles gave their final performance at the roof of 3 Savile Row.

Today, you can find here almost nothing else but tailors workshops. You can actually see how they work if you look a bit down towards workshops in the basements. Handicraft hasn’t died but is definitely more expensive today. “Isn’t that exciting that you can watch tailors working” – one gentleman says to another. Yes, it is.
Tailors at work at Henry Pool & Co at Saville Row
I leave the world of Saville Row and turn to Vigo Street that leads me to Glasshouse Street and later Brewer St. I find myself almost at Piccadilly Circus and also running out of time. So I am trying to quickly find Nordic Bakery. If I see on the map a word “bakery” you can be sure that I’ll get there at some point. Now I know where it is and next time will pop in for coffee and a treat and take them to a bench in Golden Square to relax. It’s amazing what power green space, even very small, has. Even if everything around you is spinning, crowds are running, when you enter a small garden and sit on a bench you will travel into another world. I cannot stop being amazed at that and I’ll not stop loving and spotting those places, because we need to treasure them.

I head back to the heart of Oxford Circus via Carnaby Street passing an amazing coffee house where I tried coffee a day before. It’s Speakeasy. Make sure you try their a little bit bitter, fruity and thick cappuccino or latte. I finish at famous Oxford Circus underground station but richer in new experience. If I had a bit more time I would go and take a deep breath at All Souls at Langham Place just few steps north from the station. Next time.

There is something intriguing about discovering places that seem so obvious. I pass through Oxford Circus almost every day changing from Central line to Victoria on my way to work. It's mainly a changing point. Even if I want to see it in a different way, my prejudices has been winning. Many times I wanted to get off here for an after work walk but I was always thinking “There is nothing to see there and nowhere to go and I will only waste my time”. So I was either choosing to get off at another station or to just go straight home. Hopefully, I’ll not make that mistake again.

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