Is Soho in New York named after Soho in London

01:00 Mon 28th May 2001 |

A. No. But they both have interesting origins to their names.< xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Q. And I expect you want me to ask you what they are

A. Yes please.

Q. Oh all right then. What are the interesting origins

A. I'm glad you asked me that. Soho is an old hunting cry announcing the appearance of the hare and the Soho area of London was an area known for hunting. Simple as that. SoHo in New York (note capital H) is the word formed from South of Houston (Street).

Q. Rather a contrived word from our Colonial cousins

A. A little, perhaps, but nothing in comparison with the adjoining New York area of TriBeCa. That's an amalgam of the words Triangle Below Canal.

Q. Back to Soho, London, England, please.

A. Right-ho. The modern boundaries of Soho are Oxford Street to the north, the southside of Leicester Square to the south, Charing Cross Road to the east and Regent Street to the west. Before the Great Fire of London in 1666 Soho was almost entirely fields - where those hare-hunters roamed. Development started after the fire. All this land was owned by Westminster Abbey and many wealthier and homeless citizens began building there.

Q. Anyone famous

A. Many eminent people including dukes, duchesses, politicians and churchmen, lived around Golden Square and Soho Square. By the early 18th Century, many homes were converted for business use and tradesmen moved in - the furniture-maker Sheraton had a workshop in Wardour Street; the great chinaware manufacturer Wedgwood was in Greek Street. Crosse and Blackwell, renowned for pickles and jams, started in Soho Square in 1806. Doctors and solicitors moved to Golden Square, and some of the houses were turned into hotels and boarding houses.

Q. Now it has a bit of a sleazy reputation ...

A. Oh yes, from the late 18th Century. Hoopers Hotel in Soho Square offered rooms for pleasure. There were also a number of gaming houses. Soho street-walkers were numerous until the 1959 Street Offences Act imposed much heavier penalties. The vice trade left the streets - but entered the first-floor windows with prostitutes' cards left above doorbells offering 'French lessons'.

Q. So it was quite an open business

A. Yes. In 1959 the prostitutes even advertised their services in a booklet. The publisher argued at his Old Bailey trial that he was providing a public service, but he was jailed. Much of the sleaze has been cleaned up and the area is now better known for its many restaurants and pubs - and, of course, the many theatres around Leicester Square and nearby Shaftesbury Avenue.

Q. What about the New York version

A. It's best known for its art and architecture. This part of Manhattan was settled after 1775, when the Dutch extended Broadway north of Canal Street. Many new homes there became country retreats for these early settlers. Elegant houses began to spring up there by the early 1800s. The neighbourhood was first inhabited by the rich and then by the middle class. Development attracted many businesses including hotels and theatres, stores, mansions, music halls, casinos ... and brothels.

Q. So there is something in common with the London version

A. Got it in one. SoHo was the Fifth Avenue of the day. As it became more popular, the city's first red-light district was soon established ... and guidebooks to the bordellos were published.

Q. Without the publisher ending up in the clink

A. So it would seem. One entry in an 1859 directory speaks of the establishment at 119 Mercer Street: 'We cannot too highly recommend this house. The lady is a perfect Venus: beautiful, entertaining, and supremely seductive. Her aides de camp are really charming and irresistible, and altogether honest and honorable.'

Q. Phew! What's it like now

A. It very nearly was demolished. By the 1950s it had become a creative and artistic colony often known as the Valley and Hell's Hundred Acres. A 1962 report said it was a commercial wasteland - a slum that should be redeveloped. It was, however, reprieved and a renovation programme begun in earnest. It is now a landmark district - particularly known for
the cast iron decorations on its many elegant buildings.

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By Steve Cunningham

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