North Soho was rebranded as Fitzrovia to distance itself from the Soho south of Oxford Street which plummeted in the respectability stakes when Soho became Europe’s most famous red-light district and England’s epicentre of organised crime. Here we meet War World II’s ‘Piccadilly Commandoes’ (or good-time girls) and those of their number who fell prey to an odious serial killer who the press dubbed the ‘Black-out Ripper’. We also meet the mobsters and racketeers who indiscriminately shred each other to ribbons attempting to maintain ‘territorial rights’ over the illicit gambling and after-hours drinking industry, and the vice barons running the sex trade. As if preserved in aspic there are still corners of Soho where the atmosphere is thick with a mixture of menace and titillation and here the stories from that tawdry world of gangland rivalries and the ‘white slave trade’ remain as vivid as ever. As we move deeper into Soho, amidst all the fug of deceit and double-dealing, answers to ‘who dunnit?’ questions become increasingly rare. Here those who came to a grisly end always had impossibly exotic nicknames or aliases as long as your arm and although silk stockings were regularly used for their intended purpose, they all too often doubled as murder weapons.
Shocked and unnerved as we may be by the tales from this melting pot of scandal, we will also be delighted by the vitality of present-day Soho and the colourful vibrancy of China Town as we pass through to our finishing point in Leicester Square where we find, just yards away, Leicester Square Tube.
A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.