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The church, the rocket and Round the Horne

It's strange, you think you know somewhere and then out of the blue a fact turns up and the location takes on a different vibe. Take the area in the middle of the map above. Whitfield Gardens is a small communal space bordering Tottenham Court Road and Tottenham Street and I know it well. However, I've always known it as the site of the Fitzrovia mural and the reason it's so familiar is that it's the first location on the first audio tour I ever wrote called Finding Fitzrovia. Not only is it a tour location, it's also the site of a lot of sitting and thinking. Still cutting my teeth on writing tours, things didn't always go to plan and I would grab a coffee take a seat on a bench and try and to work out what went wrong and how I was going to fix it. The one question I never asked myself was why was this area like it was? In one of the longest and most densely populated streets in London, why was this a small open space and why did the building with the sixty foot high mural painted on it abruptly stop? None out of ten for observation!

The answer comes from the OS map for 1896 when there was a large chapel on the site. This was the Whitfield Memorial Chapel built in 1756 for Evangelical preacher George Whitefield, who wanted to use the vaults below as the burial place for the Methodist preachers John and Charles Wesley, but that didn't happen and even Whitefield didn't end up there. The chapel was rebuilt twice until it's final incarnation around 1899.

On Sunday 25th March 1945, Palm Sunday, at 22.29 a V2 rocket was launched from the Hauge in the Netherlands. It covered the 400km distance in just over four minutes and landed directly on top of the chapel causing devastation to the surrounding area killing nine people and injuring thirty six others.

The site remained derelict until the late 1950s when the small public space was created and a new church was built adjacent to it. Today the Whitefield Memorial Church is now the American Church in London. It is a non-denominational, evangelical church.

So that takes care of the church and the rocket, but what of Round the Horne, which is a bit niche I'll admit. Round the Horne is a BBC Radio comedy programme starring Kenneth Horne, first transmitted in four series of weekly episodes from 1965 until 1968. From 1903 to his death in 1914, the church's charismatic minister was Silvester Horne, the father of the broadcaster Kenneth Horne. Now that's what I call a Bonar fact (if you don't know Google Julian and Sandy)

Kenneth Horne (L), Silvester Horne (R)

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