The Soho Society, a charitable organisation dedicated to making Soho a better place to live and work in is about to be kicked out of its humble office in the tower of St. Anne’s Church.
The Society was formed in 1972 when the square mile was under threat from developers who wanted to demolish and redevelop the whole area. I’ve been a member for a while and I had always believed that their office in St. Anne’s tower was the Society’s permanent home. It’s a tiny room up a narrow staircase with an entrance through a deceptively elegant door at number 55 Dean Street. I wouldn’t fancy trying to get up there in a wheelchair. There’s a bit of history; on September 24th 1940, the Luftwaffe dropped a 1,000 kg parachute mine which detonated on the south side of Old Compton street It killed twelve people and destroyed the nave and chancel of St. Anne’s. Soho suffered cruelly in the Blitz and almost every street was hit at one time or another. There was a direct hit on St. James’s residences in Brewer street in October 1940 killing five people and wounding 45. In March 1941 The Café de Paris was destroyed and thirty four bodies removed from the wreckage while at almost the same time on the same night a bomb obliterated the Madrid Restaurant in Dean Street killing another seventeen.
By the end of the war Soho was little more than a bombsite bereft of its cosmopolitan population and left to rot in the aftermath of the war. Most of the German and Italian families who had worked there in the twenties and thirties had been interned in the Isle of Man and their property stolen from them. Into this urban wasteland crept the pimps, gangsters and corrupt policemen who were to control it until Robert Mark started to clean it up in the 1970s. The Soho Society arrived at a time when vice, corruption and political indifference had reduced the area to a slum.
The Society became the champion of a damaged community and reminded us of the rich historical and artistic heritage of the area. For a while with Rachman and Commander Wally Virgo in retreat, the pimple on the arse of the Metropolis became an exciting and vibrant place to be. The Society’s opposition to countless architectural excesses was unrelenting and today their opinion continues to be taken seriously by planners and architects. For instance, the Society successfully opposed the scheme to replace the old police section house in Beak Street with a glass splinter. They understand the unique character of the place and guard it with passion. Soho is now a community with at least 5,000 residents and it is the Society not the church which has achieved this. The Parish authorities have not even been able to organise a memorial for those who died when St. Anne’s was bombed 70 years ago.
Now the Reverend David Gilmore, Rector of St. Anne’s has given them notice to quit by the end of November. “The Society’s license has ended and they must be treated in line with all other tenants,” he says, and you can almost hear him saying it. Gilmore is not the sort of man who nips out from the Sacristy during Sunday Service and dives into The French for a quick one as one of his predecessors did. He’s a full on happy-clappy fuckwit with an extra bladder full of resentment for a charitable concern which truly has the welfare of the community close to its heart. Gilmore wants to “maximise full market value” for this tiny room. No wonder five Bishops have defected to the Catholic Church.
Of course Gilmore is correct in planning law. I know this because next to a feature on the dispute in the “West End Extra” website next to a photograph of the Reverend Gilmore is a series of informative ads for tenant eviction companies and bailiffs. There is sometimes a difference between ‘correct’ and ‘right.’
Incidentally, a word of caution to the Rector. The room in question will only hold one bailiff at a time.