Sunday, 22 May 2011

17 Duke Street, Manchester Square W1: home to The Peasant Arts Guild

I tried to find this address last week and was a little disappointed to see that it no longer exists.  I have since discovered that the block of houses where the Peasant Arts Guild was based was bombed during World War 2.

Duke Street runs alongside Selfridges off Oxford Street and leads to Manchester Square, where at the top of the Square, the Wallace Collection, in Hertford House, has been open to the nation since 1897.  Greville MacDonald lived a few minutes walk away, at 85 Harley Street, until 1919.
17 Duke Street, W1 must have existed where the 'Coll' appears on the map above,
on the section of Duke street just below Wigmore Street

site of 17 Duke Street, W1 in 2011

Work is currently taking place on the site where 17 Duke Street must have stood.  At the end of this block, the first older style property is 27 Duke Street, which possibly could be similar in style to the original no. 17.  The Selfridges store ends diagonally opposite where 17 Duke Street must have stood.
27 Duke Street, W1 in 2011
The other side of Duke Street, the corner of Selfridges in 2011

I have found some interesting accounts of the bombings at Selfridges online.  The Selfridges website says "the store survived the war comparatively unscathed - although the Blitz destroyed the famous roof gardens, which never re-opened to the public again.  Flooding put the lifts out of action for the duration, while further bombing destroyed the Palm Court Restaurant.  The ground floor windows – deemed too dangerous to be exposed – were bricked up.  A Doodle Bug (V.2 bomb) smashed into Duke Street in 1944, narrowly avoiding the main store. Flooding impacted on the activities of the top-secret U.S. Army Signal Corps Telecommunications system code-named SIGSALY, installed deep in Selfridges sub-basement." 

Selfridges with bricked up front windows, sometime after 1940,
from Selfridges website

The fascinating West End at War website recounts the bombings of 1940, 1941 and 1944 at Selfridges, all of which must have impacted upon 17 Duke Street, and presumably one or more resulted in it no longer standing!  "On 18 September 1940 – in the same raid which destroyed John Lewis’s further east along Oxford Street – Selfridges was hit by a single high explosive bomb and by several incendiaries. The store’s elegant roof gardens – popular in the 1920s and 1930s as a place for strolling after shopping – were badly damaged. They were closed, never to open again. Broken glass from Selfridges’ many upper storey windows fell into surrounding streets. Owner H.Gordon Selfridge’s own prized signature window - autographed by dozens of celebrity visitors to the store since its opening in 1909 - was shattered. The sight reportedly reduced the 84-year-old American retail magnate to tears.

V2 strike on Duke Street, 1944 (view from Selfridges Annex)
Copyright Westminster City Archives

...After the 18 September raid, the ground floor windows – normally used for the store's world famous shop front displays - were bricked up for the war’s duration... St Marylebone Civil Defence records detail further incendiary bomb damage inflicted in a night raid of 17 April, 1941. In this attack, fire destroyed the store's Palm Court Restaurant, venue for the rich and famous...

One of Selfridges’ sub-basements was converted to hold a secret Bell Telephone ‘X-System’ communications system. Codenamed ‘Sigsaly’, and operated by US Army technicians, specialist cryptographic signal equipment scrambled top-secret phone calls between Britain and her Allies.  From 1943, this system – linked from Selfridges to the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall - provided Prime Minster Winston Churchill with a secure telephone link to his US counterpart, President Franklin D. Roosevelt....

V2 strike opposite Selfridges, 1944 (Duke Street/Barrett Street).
Copyright Westminster City Archives
At 11pm, 6 December 1944, a V2 rocket hit the Red Lion pub on the corner of Duke Street and Barrett Street, just yards from Selfridges. A canteen situated in the Selfridges Annex building – bordering Somerset, Wigmore and Orchard streets and nicknamed the SWOD - was massively damaged. Eight American servicemen were killed and 32 injured. Ten British civilians - some in passing vehicles - were killed and seven injured. Selfridges’ shop-front Christmas tree displays were blown into Oxford Street. "


  1. Good detective work and an enthralling piece.

  2. Thanks Dunc. I'm a big Selfridges fan, so it was quite exciting to find that the Peasant Arts Guild was just across the road! I wonder if it was a fashionable location too?


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