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Middlesex Voices

Middlesex Voices

Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Ross Becker

“I want it to be immersive and to resonate. I want people to feel something…”

Voice by voice, Fitzrovia has come to reveal much about itself in recent years. Independent, creative, and far from the madding crowd: this is the Fitzrovia we know today. Among the many voices of today’s Fitzrovia, though, many of us have also heard those of its history – a history often bound up with medicine and healthcare, and especially with the Middlesex Hospital. It was a place that took on a deeply personal significance for many people, both local and from afar, and now the past of the hospital and its many stories are set to come back to life. This June will see the launch of a new annual Fitzrovia-based music festival called FitzFest, helmed by festival director, Fitzrovia resident and musician Daniel Bates. Through the musical talent of Robin Rimbaud, alias Scanner, the memories of people whose lives were intertwined with the Middlesex Hospital will be explored through an installation at the recently restored Chapel.

Scanner has created a body of work that explores the connection between sound, space and image. He makes absorbing, multi-layered sonic pieces that manipulate technology in bewildering ways and across a range of genres. Since the early 1990s, he has been involved with producing various concerts, installations and recordings, often collaborating on projects with the likes of Bryan Ferry, Wayne MacGregor, Steve McQueen and many more, as well as putting out acclaimed albums of contemporary electronic music, such as Mass Observation (1994), Delivery (1997), and The Garden is Full of Metal (1998). Now, turning his attention to Fitzrovia, he is creating a work for FitzFest that will evoke memories of the now demolished hospital that stood for so long at the area’s heart and bring its only surviving building back to life.

Following the closure of the Middlesex Hospital 11 years ago, the future of its grade II listed chapel looked uncertain. Now, with the Fitzroy Place development finalised and the chapel incorporated into the design of the new structure, what once stood at the centre of the hospital will be open to visitos again, having benefitted from a thorough £2m restoration. The chapel was built and designed by one of the great Victorian architects, John Loughborough Pearson (1817-1897), after whom the newly unveiled Pearson Square is named. Built in red brick and decorative marble, with later mosaic additions, the chapel was completed in the mid-1920s. It is laid out as a simple rectangular nave with a small ante-chapel at the west end, lined with white marble memorial tablets with incised inscriptions that provide a valuable record of the building’s past. As you enter today, a newly added plaque greets you – a prominent reminder of the Middlesex Hospital. Now, the trustees of the Chapel Foundation will ensure that its long history, which began over a century ago, is preserved for the future.

Originally opening as an 18-bed infirmary on Windmill Street, the Middlesex Infirmary moved to Mortimer Street in 1757, where it became the Middlesex Hospital. Various extensions were added to the original building, but by 1924 the building was found to be structurally unsound. It was replaced by a completely new building (constructed in stages to avoid having to close the hospital), which was completed in 1935. Back in the hospital’s heyday, many nurses, nuns and hospital staff lived locally in Fitzrovia. In December 2005, after almost 250 years of being based on Mortimer Street, Middlesex Hospital finally closed its doors, with the main building and three-acre site earmarked for sale to developers. When the hospital was demolished in Spring 2008, the unconsecrated 1890 chapel was preserved, along with the historic facade on Nassau Street and corner building on Mortimer Street.

The work that Scanner plans to create for his installation will be an attempt to evoke the past, present and future of the chapel and the memories and voices of all those for whom the Middlesex Hospital was an important place. The piece will grow out of a series of recorded interviews with people connected to the hospital, prepared by festival director Daniel Bates, forming the basis of a soundscape which will run 24 hours a day throughout the festival. Launching on the first evening of FitzFest, the soundscape will be accompanied by improvisations from a variety of musicians throughout its tenure, responding to the music composed by Scanner. The musicians will work continuously in shifts throughout the day, true to the working patterns of the medical staff of the former hospital. Open to the general public up until the closing concert several days later, this is likely to be the longest period for which the chapel will ever be open to visitors.

For Scanner, events in his recent family life have made the atmosphere and acoustics of hospitals significant, transforming the Middlesex Voices project into something much more personal: a reflection on the beginning and end of life. “It is interesting how sound works: you sort of listen to it, but you kind of don’t,” he tells me. “I want to create something that is contemplative. I would still argue that music today is something that is crucial in life – something that has to be experienced. Whether you buy music, whether you attend concerts, it still plays such a vital role in the well-being of people and in bringing them together,” says Scanner. “Hospitals are very much about allowing space for people to heal. I want to use a combination of voices that tell stories, but with the use of electronic and acoustic instruments, which I record and process, that will actually be very warm. To me, it needs to be engaging, it needs to draw you into the space, it needs to keep you there… in a sense, it won’t have any sharp edges. I want it to be immersive and to resonate. I want people to feel something. I want it to resonate with the passion people felt for the hospital. I want it to touch the heart and the mind. I want it to make people think about time.”

As a creative response to a building with many emotive memories and associations, a place at the beginning and end of many peoples’ lives, Middlesex Voices will be very much be at the centre of the festival. Both Daniel and Scanner express hopes that the installation could even become a regular feature during what will hopefully be an annual event.

FitzFest kicks off in June, and as well as Middlesex Voices will include a performance by celebrated German clarinettist Jörg Widmann of Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Quintet – in the very room on Great Portland Street in which Weber is thought to have died. Supported by the Arts Council of England and backed by a number of local businesses, organisations and partners, the festival is set to become an annual addition to the Fitzrovia calendar, staging a series of concerts and events that will celebrate the music and art of the neighbourhood. In addition to the festival’s musical focus, a number of community-led events, including workshops at All Souls Primary School, talks, exhibitions, and guided walks highlighting the cultural history of Fitzrovia, will be added to the schedule.

Percy & Founders

Percy & Founders

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Laurie Fletcher & James Brown

“We want to be the natural social hub that people want to go to not once a week, but two or three times a week.”

Peer and landowner, Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, is a name which is quietly synonymous with Fitzrovia. About the streets, subtle references to a man who developed and built on the name of our region from Percy Street to The Northumberland Arms are evenly spread. In 1755, Hugh Percy and a group of philanthropists came together and founded the Middlesex Hospital. Forward to today; for many, Percy and his founders would appear as but names in history. Now, on the site of the former Middlesex Hospital, a new reference to their legacy and the heritage of Fitzrovia has come to light. Sure to become as synonymous with the neighbourhood as Hugh Percy himself, Fitzrovia’s newest social destination Percy & Founders is a restaurant and bar which takes its name from Hugh Percy and the men who founded the Middlesex Hospital.

Having opened this spring, Percy & Founders is situated within the new Fitzroy Place development at a prominent corner where Berners Street and Mortimer Street meet, backing onto the soon to be unveiled Pearson Square. The restaurant is the first creation of Open House, the recently formed sister company to Cubitt House, renowned for its award-winning beautifully designed public houses in Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Pimlico and Marylebone – The Orange, Pimlico, being a particular favourite of mine. The formation of Open House marks the group’s evolutionary jump from a traditional pub to a contemporary, all-day dining venue.

Percy & Founders’ modern all-day dining is complemented by the different areas of the restaurant being tailored to a variety of needs at different times of the day – with a notable focus on ease and accessibility. Welcoming both reservations and casual walk-ins, the restaurant itself offers residents and visitors alike everything from morning coffee and breakfast through to lunch, dinner and evening cocktails. Alfresco dining is offered for the warmer months. Each section of Percy & Founders is purposefully designed to flow effortlessly into the next, thus making for a reassuringly comfortable venue. “We want to be the natural social hub that people want to go to not once a week, but two or three times a week,” says Open House Director Stefan Turnbull.

Great emphasis has been put on the design and finish of Percy & Founders, with the interior of the restaurant sympathetic to the heritage of Fitzrovia and its surrounding architecture. The logo of the restaurant is inspired by elements of the Percy family coat of arms. The Middlesex Hospital, and adjoining Grade II listed Fitzrovia Chapel at the rear, are echoed throughout the restaurant and bar with subtle nods to their respective styles: from bold colours, to patterns, textures and unique marble detail. The design philosophy of the restaurant appropriately centres on traditional craftsmanship with bespoke, handcrafted joinery throughout. The perfect combination of glass, brass and wood panelling paired with oak and terrazzo flooring make for a custom designed feel with surfaces hand-finished by oiling, brushing and oxidising – bespoke furniture honours both the style and substance of high modernism without being mistaken for nostalgic or retrograde.

Walking about the restaurant from the centre bar to the view directly into the restored Fitzrovia Chapel, the array of art collections by notable artists and illustrators is striking. Hanging from the ceiling above the central circular bench is a tailored piece by Alex Randall titled ‘The Butterfly Domes’, acting as a crossroads where a tree rests. When entering through the main entrance, directly on the left is the well-lit and traditionally styled cocktail bar for which there is a capacity of 65, with a mix of high and low level seating with four large Chesterfield sofas at the centre, and a marble topped bar. For the summer months, the large concertina windows can be folded open with comfortable window seats below each. On the far wall of the bar is another nod to the heritage of The Middlesex Hospital; ‘Acts of Mercy’ (Frederick Cayley Robinson 1916-1920), a collection originally commissioned and hung in the hospital itself. In part, Robinson’s collection represents the traumatic effects of conflict on patients sent back from the First World War.

To the right of the main entrance, adjacent to the cocktail bar, capable of seating 25 is The Reading Room. The casual feeling here is complemented by low furniture and window seats from which to work and relax: sumptuous fabrics, eye-catching glass light wall fittings and bookshelves (even some neatly tucked away copies of Fitzrovia Journal). On into the restaurant where there sits a series of dining spaces, again each tailored to different needs – all tables are centred around the central division bar. Here the Fitzrovia Chapel’s arresting interior can be viewed through a glass door – rest assured, a table here by the chapel is a real view to a kill. These areas are designed to host a variety of flexible private functions; from canapé receptions to sit down dinners.

Laid out along the left wall of the restaurant toward the stairwell, hangs the original 16 piece ‘A Rake’s Progress’ by British painter David Hockney (a 1960 adaptation of William Hogarth’s 1733 ‘A Rake’s Progress’), drawing attention to the challenges of social mobility and of maintaining one’s personal identity. At the far end of the restaurant it is difficult to distract yourself from the endearing pose of ‘Sick Dog’ by German painter, Michael Sowa, hung above the staircase. Where dogs were once as in abundance as guests in public houses, it seems appropriate for this be placed within the restaurant; Percy & Founders is a dog-friendly establishment.

Toward the far end of the restaurant, quickly stealing your attention is the superb open kitchen. Standing within this arena of creativity and buzz is a 1.5 tonne Maestro Venetti oven, custom designed for/by wonderful Executive Chef, Diego Cardoso. Standing before the kitchen are two high level sharing tables which allow for guests to experience the atmosphere and excitement of the kitchen through the Pyrolave pass, which is a glazed volcanic lava stone; past the kitchen, to the left and down the bespoke terrazzo and brass staircase leading to the lower ground floor, is the private dining room. Capable of seating 20 guests, and complete with its own bar, the dining room launched just last month. The versatile design of the space will be able to tailor to a number of different private functions such as drinks receptions, presentations, board meetings and family celebrations.

Percy & Founders Executive Chef, Diego Cardoso, has brought his wealth of experience to Fitzrovia, having previously worked in an array of some of the world’s most creative and exciting kitchens; most recently having worked as Head Chef at Angela Hartnett’s Murano. The all-day menu he has created features a fusion of simple British and modern European delights. There is a concise list of six starters, six mains, salads, sides and a dry-aged beef section. Mains such as the Sea Trout and Middle White Pork are delicious. There is also an all-day bar menu, including bar snacks – note the courgette wafers, cream cheese and Iberico ham, which are mesmerising. The restaurant is also open for breakfast at 7:30 throughout the week and has a weekend brunch menu – not forgetting a traditional Sunday Roast. Hand-in-hand with the menu itself, staff in the restaurant and bar are polite and informal, adding to the overall relaxed and casual setting at the heart of the neighbourhood.

Starters straight from Cardoso’s menu, such as the Lobster & Prawn Scotch Egg or Crispy Short Rib, make for a refreshing start to dinner, however, I was won over by a daily special; asparagus with quail eggs. Main dishes include Rib of Dry-aged Beef with baked bone marrow to share, Hand-made Linguine and Lamb Burger (harissa spiced mayo and sweet potato fries).

The restaurant’s salads include Grilled Chicken with crispy skin and Hot Smoked Salmon, with the options of sides in the form of Truffle Fries, Charred Greens and Mac & Cheese. Puddings are all presented with paired wines if desired and include Percy’s Mistresses (maple syrup butter), Yorkshire Treacle Tart and Lemon & Yoghurt. In switching between the traditional Old Fashioned fare and Percy & Founders’ own New-Old Fashioned, the drink offerings are respectably affordable, pairing wines from small grower labels alongside established producers, all of which are served by the glass, carafe and bottle.

From its attachment to the heritage of the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, and its respectful nods both in design and interior toward the site of the former Middlesex Hospital, Percy & Founders becomes as synonymous with the area as Hugh Percy himself. With summer now well on the rise, Fitzrovia’s newest all-day social destination is set only to flourish.