A film about the history of Fitzrovia and the campaign by local people to restore derelict buildings for social housing and affordable retail premises — and create public open space — has been rediscovered, 35 years after it was produced.
The 25-minute film was made for The Fitzrovia Trust by Channel 4 in 1986 soon after the Trust was set up in order to be used for publicity purposes. In practice, it wasn’t used very much and, as it was on tape, it was difficult to disseminate widely. It was never meant for broadcasting and was not broadcast.
It was later digitised and Fitzrovia News was given a copy of it because of its archive value as a source of information about community action in Fitzrovia since 1970.
It has footage of many buildings in Fitzrovia undergoing restoration and there are views of Fitzroy Square, Charlotte Street, Percy Street, Candover Street and Riding House Street, and many of the small businesses that add to the character of the area.
Presented by Veronica Hyks she first gives an overview and history of the area and its many famous former inhabitants before going on to meet local residents.
Nick Bailey (resident and author of ‘Fitzrovia’) is interviewed in a tailors’ workshop on the corner of Charlotte and Windmill streets where they stitched made-to-measure, one-off suits. This was one of a cluster of many premises at the time working in different sectors of what was known as the “rag trade” and “garment industry”. In the 1980s Fitzrovia was particularly known for the production of multiple copies of the same fashions for the retail market in the West End.
Bailey describes the district’s development as an area of skilled employment, trade union activity and radical activists. From the 18th century until the 1930s Fitzrovia developed as a dense urban village of craft and service workers living and working in the same area.
Hyks speaks to Andrew Westcott and Mike English of The Fitzrovia Trust who explain how the charitable organisation acquired empty and derelict buildings in Warren Street and put them back to use for social housing and affordable commercial premises.
Judy Dainton was a resident of Tottenham Street and the first chairperson of the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association (FNA). In the film she is seen standing outside the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Centre explaining how community groups put pressure on the local authorities to recognise Fitzrovia as a distinct community and to improve the lot of people living here.
Dainton had negotiated the acquisition of 39 Tottenham Street from the Middlesex Hospital special trustees in the early 1970s, after the hospital abandoned its plans to demolish buildings to expand eastwards. Camden Council took on the freehold of the building and the upstairs was let as short-life social housing.
The ground floor and basement of the building opened as the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Centre in 1975. The Centre closed in June 2019 — history repeating itself with the building, ironically, lying empty again, boarded up and derelict while Camden Council drags its feet on refurbishing it and bringing it back for housing and commercial use.
The film has views of Crabtree Fields public open space which was converted to a public park from a parking lot after a campaign led by the Charlotte Street Association. Referred to as Colville Park in the film it had opened shortly before the film was made.
Roland Collins is interviewed in the park about the role of the Charlotte Street Association (CSA) and its work in campaigning for social housing and public open space. As a result of pressure from the CSA and FNA, the Greater London Council (GLC) declared Fitzrovia a “community area” — one of several in inner and central London. Camden Council designated conservation areas and two housing action areas in the neighbourhood. (Westminster Council also set up conservation and housing general improvement areas.)
The film also features contributions from Nathaniel Goldenberg (retired waist-coat maker), Costas Antoniou (tailor), and H K Chowdury (resident). Max Neufeld (Charlotte Street Association) is listed as a consultant for the film.
You can watch the film below. It is copyright of Channel 4 Television and is published here because of its important historic value.
You can find out more about The Fitzrovia Trust on their website.