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London’s all-time greatest residents

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From William Shakespeare in Southwark to Bob Marley in Neasden, London’s been home to the greatest of the great

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde once said: “The man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.”

Could he have imagined the dominance he would have over the city’s literary scene a century later?

The playwright lived at 16 Tite Street in Chelsea with wife Constance and their two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan, after the couple got married in St James’s Church, Paddington in May 1884.

London not only enjoys Wilde’s plays today but also celebrates his infamous brushes with the law.

His arrest in 1895 is glorified through a special package in room 118 at Cadogan Hotel.

Named “Green Carnation”, after the dyed buttonhole which was Wilde’s wardrobe essential, the package lets you stay in the exact room where he sat, drunk, waiting for the police to arrive, having been caught “in the act of gross indecency with another man”. He subsequently spent two years contemplating his crimes in Reading Gaol.

Guests at the Cadogan can spend a day Wilde-style wearing a replica of his smoking jacket, drinking a bottle of his favourite pink Perrier Jouet and feasting from a menu dedicated to his favourite treats, including absinthe and Victoria sandwich sponge cake. You can still buy a pack of smokes from James J Fox Cigar merchant on St James’s Street, which supplied cigarettes to Wilde, a 100-a-day smoker.

Anyone eager to follow in Wilde’s stride can relive the drama of his life with the London of Oscar Wilde walk every Saturday, which starts outside Green Park Tube station.

Florence Nightingale

From her childhood slate at the Florence Nightingale Museum at St Thomas’ Hospital to South Street, off Park Lane, where her house once stood, London in itself is a museum of The Lady With The Lamp.

Despite the silver spoon wedged in her mouth, Florence wasn’t interested in the affluent Mayfair society and went onto be a “ministering angel” for soldiers in Scutlari, Turkey in 1854.

She laid the foundation of her nursing school at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital, now part of King’s College London, in 1860.

Known to be finicky about cleanliness, Nightingale bought nosegay to keep bad smells at bay from a Saville Row perfumery that is still around today. It’s amazing to think Florence is behind the “Always wash your hands” advice we see plastered all over our hospitals.

She died in her sleep in her room at 10 South Street. Her relatives declined an offer of burial in Westminster Abbey, deciding to honour her simplicity with a far more low-key affair.

As her statue stands in Waterloo Place, Westminster, Florence Nightingale will always be one of London’s all-time greatest residents.

Bob Marley

He regarded the capital as his second base and “spiritual home”, but few know of Bob Marley’s jam sessions in London.

Marley and his band, The Wailers, came to London in 1971 after signing a publishing deal with singer Bobby Nash.

The band first stayed in one room at a Bayswater B&B-style hotel. But happily they were soon signed by CBS and, with a bit of money at their disposal, they moved to The Circle, a far more luxurious abode, in Neasden.

Desperate to make it, Marley and the Wailers performed at the gym at Peckham Manor School, Cator Street where Island Records head honcho Chris Blackwell spotted the band and they rose to fame.

The Wailers also performed at the Lyceum Ballroom at Wellington Street, today flooded with families watching The Lion King. The gig sold out in two hours and was described by members of the audience as “a religious experience”.

By 1977, Marley had become a reggae legend and hung out in a swanky house in Oakley Street, Chelsea, on one of his last stays in London.

He may have been dead for 30 years, Bob Marley’s songs still echo in pubs, theatres and the headphones of countless Londoners.

William Shakespeare

Stratford-upon-Avon remains Shakespeare’s birth place but the British playwright loved London. From the Castle Inn (today’s Anchor) to the Elephant at the end of Horseshoe Lane, landmarks of London made many a guest appearances in his plays.

By 1594-5 he was penning his masterpieces very much as a Londoner. Once the cash started rolling in he moved to a house in Bishopsgate.

Shakespeare also stayed in Paris Gardens, Southwark, where he and Francis Langley, the owner of the Swan Theatre, were named in a summons for violence. By spring 1599, he was living in a house on the construction site of the Globe theatre, Southwark, and he may have also lived in Liberty of the Clink, near the Borough Market.

London may seem too preoccupied for love but Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet here – there must be romance in the air!

Karl Marx

Now resting in London’s Highgate cemetery, Karl Marx never saw his philosophies being practised.

Marx moved to 28 Dean Street, London in 1849 and paid £22 a year as rent. He and his family lived in poverty as Marx made little money through contributions to various newspapers, including the New York Tribune.

He got heavily involved with the socialist German Workers’ Educational Society who held their meetings in Great Windmill Street, Soho.

After a long day planning the blue-collar revolution, Marx would enjoy a drink or ten at the Mueseum Tavern, a pub opposite the British museum. Marx was often part of wild pub crawls in London with visiting German revolutionaries.

Known as “the bible of the working class”, volumes II and III of Das Kapital were published posthumously by Marx’s confidante, Friedrich Engels. After the death of his wife Jenny, Marx kept to himself and succumbed to bronchitis in1883.  

<arx has ‘Workers of all lands unite’ engraved on his tombstone, topped by a bust of himself. Quite fitting for someone who has left an indelible mark on London.




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