I love Fitzrovia; the area and the word. It’s named after Fitzroy Square*, a beautiful Georgian Square at its heart which was pedestrianised in the 1970’s and now attracts hordes of local workers for al fresco lunches on warm days. Fitz means “illegitimate child of” and “Roy” is derived from the French word roi for king. So Fitzroy means bastard son of the king. Think about that as you walk around the chichi area of Fitzrovia. Things are not always as posh as they seem.
Take T J Boulting, a very pleasant art gallery and publishing enterprise on Riding Hill Street. A perfect Fitzrovia business. Easy on the eye and nicely creative, it is right at home among the advertising, production and music companies of the area – and the watering holes and feeding stations that service them.
But the building points to a rather more earthy past. The gallery changed its name to T J Boulting when it took residence in the building that had previously been occupied by the more prosaic T J Boultings and Sons.
This earlier company was founded in 1808 but moved to this building in 1903 and decorated the front sides with beautiful green, gold and silver tiles picking out the name of the company and describing what they did. Clearly a business with strong self-regard and confidence. There are three types of work described in the tiles:
Range and stove manufactory
Sanitory and hot water engineers
Gas and electrical engineers
No doubt Mr Boultings and his sons and staff would have serviced the Upstairs and Downstairs of the imposing and equally self-regarding red brick Edwardian villas of the locality, workmen but upwardly mobile themselves.
The business closed many years ago. The gallery opened recently.
This transition from engineering to art and from manufacturing to retail and consumption is a perfect metaphor for changing London and indeed for the country at large.
*alternative theory is that the area is named after the Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street (which itself was named after the Square).