Wednesday 28 October 2009

Lost Streets - Bozier's Court


It's rare for London streets to vanish entirely these days, whereas building projects in the Victorian period removed a good number of slums and the alleys and roads in central London. You only have to look at the main railway stations, or the creation of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue in the 1880s. It's less usual, however, to find such changes in the heart of the West End. I came across this recently:

Of all the London streets which have disappeared, I seem to miss Bozier's Court the most acutely. Bozier's Court was opposite the Horse-Shoe, and led from Tottenham Court Road to Oxford Street; it was supposed to be a short cut, but for me it never was a short cut because it contained such fascinating second-hand book shops. I have an idea it had not the furtive air cultivated by Holywell Street . . .
W. Pett Ridge, A Story Teller : Forty Years in London, 1923
which reminded me of a lost road which I've always found interesting. Ever wondered why the southern end of Tottenham Court Road is strangely wide? It's because a whole (admittedly rather narrow) block of buildings and alley is missing. You can see it in the pic above, and read more here - it was demolished in 1900. Here's a map from 1862 (from Motco):

It was not a street entirely of booksellers in the mid-century. My 1856 directory lists just one:

3 Brittlebank William, hairdresser
4 Ridgway John, writer on glass
5 & 14 Westell Mrs. Jane, bookseller
6 Lear Henry, greengrocer
7 Marchand Maurice, hatter
10 Young William, coffee rooms
12 Ingram Thomas, butcher
13 Butler James, fishmonger
14 & 5 Westell Mrs. Jane, bookseller

Unfortunately, I don't have a later directory to check if more booksellers appeared. I find this in Notes and Queries from 1900 which, at least, shows that the Westells' shop survived for many years:

"The demolition of the block of houses at the junction of the Tottenham Court Road with Oxford Street reminds us that the little passage on the west side of the block, called Bozier's Court, is notwithout its associations. Here, fifty years ago, Mr. Westell, who, we believe, is now the oldest bookseller in London, had a shop which is mentioned in Lord Lytton's ' My Novel. In book vii. chap. iv. of that work we read: ' One day three persons were standing before an old bookstall in a passage leading from Oxford Street into Tottenham Court Road "Look," said one of the gentlemen to the other, " I have discovered here what I have searched for in vain the last ten years—the Horace of 1580, the Horace of the Forty Commentators!" The shopman, lurking within his hole like a spider for flies, was now called out.' The shopman who lurked was the esteemed Mr. Westell, who perfectly remembers seeing the Lyttons, father and son, walk into his shop one day, not to buy a 1580 Horace, but to inquire the price of some three volumenovel."

"Further up the road, in New Oxford Street, we find the shop of Mr. James Westell, whose career as a bookseller embraces a period of over half a century, having started in 1841. Mr. Westell first began in a small shop in Bozier's Court, Tottenham Court Road, and this shop has been immortalized by Lord Lytton in 'My Novel,' for it is here that Leonard Fairfield's friendly bookseller was situated. Bozier's Court was a sort of eddy from the constant stream which passes in and out of Oxford Street, and many pleasant hours have been spent in the court by book-lovers. After Mr. Westell left, it passed into the hands of another bookseller, G. Mazzoni, and finally into that of Mr. E. Turnbull, who speaks very highly of it as a bookselling locality. Mr. Turnbull added another shop to the one which was occupied by Mr. Westell; but when the inevitable march of improvements overtook this quaint place three or four years ago, Mr. Turnbull had to leave, and he then took a large shop in New Oxford Street, where he now is."
Looking at the Times, there's a court appearance for someone keeping a 'disorderly house' in the street in 1871, but nothing too remarkable in that for the West End. A waitress, living at no.13, who attempted to drown herself in the Thames in 1889. Then, finally, in the Era 1879 'Casey, Ball and Sterling' give no.11 as their correspondence address in an advert for an 'American Trio, Comedians and Dancers, Negro Acts. Great Success of their Roaring Sketch, entitled "PONGO."' Then another theatrical advert at the same address in 1882

WANTED for Hippodrome, Madrid, ACROBATS,
Knockabout Clowns, must be good Vaulters combinded. State
how many horses can vault. Apply by letter only. Three day's silence
a polite negative.
Address, PEDRO STERLING, 11 Bozier's-court, Oxford-street, London W.
Personally, I'd like to see Bozier's-court reinstated ... hmm, with the opposite corner being rebuilt for the Crossrail station, it's the perfect opportunity ... must get on the phone to Westminster Council. :-)


  1. A lost victorian street! How wonderful! Exactly when was this street demolished?

  2. Long ago that delightful little alleyway called Bozier's Court (Boozer's Court was how old Hobson always described it!) was demolished. It was formed by a row of old houses which stood before the pit entrance to the old "Oxford". The old "pound" also stood on this spot. Bozier's Court was a kind of arcade with tiny shops along it.... A warm little place to loiter in on a winter's evening when money did not permit a fire in the "digs"; a place of dim half-tones; a place of surprisals, encounters, escapes. There was a tobacco shop where one could buy penny packets of tobacco, and a pie shop which dispensed hot meat pies (two pence!) and a newspaper shop which was a rendez-vous for bold-eyed girls. Eh, dearie me! dearie me! All gone shops, pies, girls and the rest....It makes one feel veey lonely. But London soon forgets because it knows that in the scale of things such petty human tokens bulk very small...London's great heart never misses a beat whatever happens:

    Kings and comedians all are mortal found,
    Caesar and Pinkethman are under ground.
    What's not destroy'd by Time's devouring hand?
    Where's Troy, and where's the May-Pole in the Strand?
    Pease, cabbages, and turnips once grew where
    Now stands New Bond Street, and a newer square;

    1. That's interesting - what's the source?

    2. It's from 'This London: Its Taverns, Haunts and Memories' by R. Thurston Hopkins (1927).

      Hopkins was a strange chap. Worked in a bank in Pall Mall for decades. Was a close personal friend of the longest running governor of the BofE, Montague Norman; a true eccentric in his own right. Hopkins was also a onetime associate of the poet Ernest Dowson. He later retired to Brighton and wrote books on London, Kipling, old pubs and strange ghostly happenings.

      He wrote a superbly readable and amusing tome called 'Banker Tells All' about bank frauds and outre financial crimes, laced with bizarre anecdotes. Most of his books have been out of print for years now, but I would highly recommend them. The man was an indefatigable flaneur and a true Londoner. His writing style is humorously relaxed, subtly engaging and utterly charming.

      Oh, and, if I remember rightly, Hopkins was the original source for the story about the Devil walking down Tottenham Court Road in fin de siecle London!

    3. Thanks, I will look him up when I get a chance.

  3. It is mentioned several times in Tim Powers' "Hide Me Among the Graves" pre-raphaelite vampire(!) story.