Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.
This photograph of the Griffin, on Villiers Street in London, is probably taken in the 1930s, but it shows a neighborhood that was often thought of as the worst street in 1920s London. Villiers Street runs alongside Charing Cross Station from the Strand down towards Embankment Tube Station. Despite — or, perhaps, because of — its proximity to the theatres, music halls, pubs and restaurants of the Strand, it acquired a reputation as a red light district in the decade after the Great War. Homeless men and women slept rough under the nearby Adelphi Arches and Charing Cross Arches, running odd jobs and begging on the street itself; wealthy men cruised and cottaged,picking up rough trade and taking them home or having sex under the Arches; prostitutes solicited and hawkers plied their trade; notorious hotels and lodging houses like Faulkner’s rented rooms to couples of all sorts by the hour; down and out in London, Orwell stayed at a place he later described as a notorious haunt of the ‘nancy boys.’ And through it all moved plainclothes detectives and uniformed officers from E Division, keeping observation on this vibrant cosmopolitan world along with patrolmen from the Public Morality Council and National Vigilance Association.