A Letter from the Editor
October 21st 2014
Welcome to our special Fitzrovia Atlas issue of StepAway Magazine.
I was delighted when Professor John Beck asked us to contribute to the University of Westminster’s Fitzrovia Atlas project. Our mission would be to celebrate the streets that flank the Regent Street campus, home to the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Humanities. So, in true StepAway style, we asked writers to slip on a stout pair of walking shoes and tread the same footpaths as George Orwell, Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw before reflecting upon their walk in poetry or prose.
Fitzrovia has one of the richest literary and artistic histories in London. We thought that our writers may go hunting the ghosts of past luminaries, visiting their famous haunts, hoping to steal a glimpse of those bygone bohemian lives. We also wondered if they would find interest in the Fitzrovia of today, described recently by one of its most famous residents, Griff Rhys Jones, as a “walking space between four great arteries of London”.
Wandering eastwards, away from the hubbub of Regent Street, I could immediately discern why this area of London could be considered as ‘walking space’. The pace of the city became slower, allowing the purposeful metropolitan strut to melt into a stroll. The arterial roar of traffic noise became somewhat muted and a more relaxed path could be taken — meandering down alleyways and lingering in the very middle of narrow thoroughfares without the immediate expectation of angry honks from passing cars.
Moreover, this area felt like a true neighbourhood. Not only because it had small corner shops and pubs with rosy-faced regulars. There seemed to be an esoteric Fitzrovia way of doing things that seemed to be perpetuated and preserved by its inhabitants. It felt as though it was, in some unspoken manner, pressing against the mode of living that existed beyond its boundaries.
Jones describes the “all encompassing grey of Fitzrovia” as a place of “undiscovered nurses’ swimming pools and obscure modern art galleries, flute shops, play-script vendors and Cypriot tailors”, where “several wrecks that feature every year on the English Heritage “Buildings at Risk Register” lean precariously close to millionaire mansions” and “prostitutes and brothels discretely hide in basements”.
Fitzrovia opens itself only to those in the know. It appears inscrutable to the walker passing through, which makes it all the more fascinating. Will Self wrote recently that “when we read a description of a place we get whether or not the writer truly knows that place, even if we have no familiarity with it ourselves”.
The writers that we have published in this issue know Fitzrovia to varying degrees. As I read through their work I am captivated by what it means to see Fitzrovia with the new eyes of a tourist, or as a business visitor, or a commuting Londoner. Their gazes penetrate to varying depths but each offers a unique recording or remembering of a specific moment in this particularly special patch of London.
I hope that you enjoy discovering Fitzrovia along with us.
Darren Richard Carlaw