By Linus Rees
Robert Elms described Fitzrovia as “one of London’s forgotten little communities” as he chatted with artist Kristina O’Donnell on his BBC London radio show today, ahead of a fund-raising guided tour which will take place tomorrow evening (Thursday 16 June).
Kristina was a guest on the show to talk about the project supported by the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association to restore the Fitzrovia Mural. Kristina’s father is featured in the mural along with other people of Fitzrovia who worked in the nearby shops and cafes.
Kristina explained that Mick Jones (not the guitarist in the Clash, but the son of trade unionist Jack Jones) painted the top half of the mural which describes many of the issues and challenges facing Fitzrovia in the 1970s, and that Simon Barber painted the bottom half of the mural which features some of the characters who lived and worked in Fitzrovia.
Kristina remarked that Fitzrovia has a great feeling of community. Robert described it as “one of London’s forgotten little communities, yet it’s very residential and quite working class”. The radio presenter is no stranger to Fitzrovia as guests on his programme have talked about the Strand Union Workhouse and books about Fitzrovia. His radio show has a loyal following of London listeners.
Robert Elms commenting on his Facebook page seemed to be unaware that Fitzrovia extends east to Gower Street and its boundary with Bloomsbury. Large numbers of Fitzrovia’s population live in the terraced streets and mansion blocks around Huntley Street which is east of Tottenham Court Road and hidden behind the bustle of shops and pressed up against the institution buildings to the east. It was from these streets that many of the organisers of the first Fitzrovia Festival in 1973 lived and wanted to say “The people live here!” as the area was threatened by building developers and further commercialisation.
Gower Street’s eastern side of university buildings very much divides Fitzrovia from neighbouring Bloomsbury. Books about London acknowledge Fitzrovia as extending from Great Portland Street to Gower Street.
But there’s some truth in Robert Elms’ comment that Fitzrovia is often forgotten, at least parts of it. Time and again people assume it is just a commercial area and wonder why residents are sometimes defensive about it.
Much of the fun of tomorrow tonight’s (Thursday 16 June) guided tour will be about discovering where Fitzrovia is. The tour will be led by author and historian Mike Pentelow who is a recognised authority on the history of Fitzrovia and its people. He will be joined by long-standing residents Fiona Green and John Fisher who will talk about African National Congress (ANC) exiles in Fitzrovia.
The campaign to restore the mural was started in September last year when local people got together after concerns it was deteriorating and part of it was covered in graffiti. The London Mural Preservation Society is also supporting the restoration efforts.
A Guided Tour of Fitzrovia. Meet 7pm, Thursday 16 June, Fitzrovia Mural, Whitfield Gardens, corner of Tottenham Court Road and Tottenham Street (map). Cost £10 in aid of the mural restoration. Tube: Goodge Street; Buses to Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street; several TfL Cycle Hire Stations.
Listen to Kristina O’Donnell talk about the mural on the radio (at 1:16:00)