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The Soho Bazaar

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London is full of hidden history. Take Soho Square for example, which lies behind the junction of Charing Cross Road and New Oxford Street. Today it is part of London's media district, housing the offices of many leading media companies. The office workers and tourists, who lunch in the gardens at the centre of the square, are unlikely to know that it was once the location of one of the sensations of Regency and Victorian London.

Stand and look at the building that comprises numbers 4, 5 and 6. What can you see now? The offices of an apparently nameless media company. If you had stood here at the turn of the 19th Century, you would have been looking at a large and spacious building housing the Soho Bazaar. The Bazaar was owned and built by John Trotter, who was one of the many men who had spotted the business opportunities of war. Trotter made his fortune supplying the British Army during the Napoleonic wars and he became concerned with the plight of the widows and daughters of Army Officers, who were often left financially destitute. His answer was to turn one of his warehouses into an indoor market, thus enabling these ladies to hire stalls, sell homemade goods and provide themselves with a much needed income.

In the early years of the Bazaar, the sort of goods that could be purchased were those that could be easily manufactured from home, for example, accessories such as hats, gloves, handkerchiefs, shawls and lace. However, as the success of the venture grew, so did the range of goods and soon all manner of curiosities could be purchased there. Amelia B Edwards, the Victorian novelist and adventuress, wrote in her travel book, Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys;

Everything in the room in short, is pine-wood, except the grate. There are certain toy-stalls in the Soho Bazaar where, at the cost of a few shillings, one may at any time buy just such wooden furniture, in miniature.

Another frequenter of the Bazaar was the artist JMW Turner. He was a pupil at the Soho Academy, a boarding school to be found at 8, Soho Square. Turner must have popped next door on a regular basis as he is quoted as reminiscing;

As a boy, I used to lie for hours on my back watching the skies, and then go home and paint them; and there was a stall in Soho Bazaar where they sold drawing materials, and they used to buy my skies. They gave me 1s6d for the small ones and 3s6d for the larger ones.

The Soho Bazaar was so successful that many other bazaars were opened in the surrounding areas, such as Oxford and Regent Streets. Soho, however, was always considered to be the cream of its type. In 1885, the Bazaar closed and the celebrated publishers, Adam and Charles Black, purchased the buildings. They remained there until quite recently, eventually moving to 35 Bedford Row. But the legacy of the Soho Bazaar lives on. Ever wondered why the Christmas fairs that sell homemade goods are called Christmas Bazaars? Well now you know!

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