Many of these new arrivals opened shops and restaurants serving native cuisine, while the rooms above were subdivided to such an extent that by 1851 Soho was the most densely populated area of London, with 327 inhabitants per acre. In The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy described Soho as “untidy, full of Greeks, Ishmaelites, cats, Italians, tomatoes, restaurants, organs, coloured stuffs, queer names [and] people looking out of upper windows”.
The population declined during the Second World War but kept a cosmopolitan atmosphere, spiced by drinking clubs, dance halls, theatres, music venues and, increasingly, the sex trade. The sex trade has since been driven out – or at least, become much less conspicuous – replaced by media firms and boutique hotels.
Even Walker’s Court, a tiny alley at the end of Berwick Street and one of the last avenues of traditional Soho sleaze, has been transformed. The mixed-use complex includes shops and theatres, designed by SODA and MATT Architecture. It was developed by Soho Estates, one of the area’s biggest landowners, founded by Paul Raymond, a porn publisher who ran numerous Soho sex shops and strip clubs.
Soho’s reputation for filth made property cheap, and Raymond bought much of it. When Crossrail started tearing chunks out of Soho’s north and eastern fringe, a ripple of development spread through the quarter. In normal circumstances, there’s a construction site on every corner, but these have been silenced in recent weeks.