Inside No 26 Denmark Street

In May, Strike sleuth @LudicrousMonica posted a London Borough of Camden planning application for 26 Denmark Street, allowing fans a first look at the plans and history of the London Office.

No 26 Denmark Street has had two quite major planning applications submitted since Robert Galbraith first started to publish the Strike novels. The first in 2014 to convert the three separate dwellings on the first, second and attic floors (second, third and fourth in US parlance) into one triplex dwelling. And now the application is to extend the ground floor into 22 and 23 Denmark Place to increase the size of the venue. Join me after the jump to take a look at the history of the building and a look at the plans from 2014 using the documents from the council website.

History

Number 26 was originally built as a town house between 1686-89 when Denmark Street was created as part of the great rebuilding following the Great Fire of London in 1666. Nicholas Barbon the economist and early proponent of the free market, developed the area around St Giles, despite it being against several Acts of parliament, to build between the City of London and the City of Westminster. Denmark Street is unique within central London in that it has no less than eight surviving houses from the original construction of the street.

The original house as built (left) would have appeared somewhat different to the building today (right). The roofline would have come down to almost the level second floor windows, and ended in wooden eaves with a timbered cornice. These were removed and the front elevation built up into brick parapet after the Fire Prevention Act of 1707. The original flush casement windows were replaced with recessed sash windows after the London Building Act 1709. Both of these modifications were intended to reduce the likelihood of fire passing between building after the disaster of 1666.

 

Denmark Street remained residential for more than a century, but during the nineteenth century much of Central London became industrialised and the area developed into a centre of manufacturing, particularly metalwork. An example is 5 Denmark Street which is listed in the Goad Fire Insurance map of 1888 as a sword cutler. Small workshops sprung up at the back of properties, and at the back of Number 26 (a Printer) is the workshop at 22 Denmark Place (a Coach Smith). It is perhaps during this time that the façade of No. 26 was re-built with a different brick to the other original survivors. The ground floor façade was replaced with a timber shopfront.

By the early twentieth century Denmark Street had emerged as a centre of music publishing, pioneered by the founder of Melody Maker magazine Lawrence Wright when he opened a sheet music business in the basement of No. 8 in 1911. No. 26 survived the redevelopment which substantially changed Nos 21, 23,24 and 25 by the modernising developer Walter Fryer in the 1930s. By 1938 Denmark Street had acquired the nickname ‘Tin Pan Alley’ after the equivalent street in New York. After the Second World War, changes in the music business saw Denmark Street diversify into artist management, recording and rehearsal facilities and instrument repair and sales. It is period which gives Denmark Street its greatest claims to fame.

 

The Building Today

The building is recognisably Strike’s, although the 12 Bar Club has now moved to another location.

She consulted her watch. Having allowed her usual margin of time for getting lost, she was a quarter of an hour early. The nondescript black-painted doorway of the office she sought stood to the left of the 12 Bar Café; the name of the occupant of the office was written on a scrappy piece of lined paper Sellotaped beside the buzzer for the second floor. On an ordinary day, without the brand-new ring glittering upon her finger, she might have found this off-putting; today, however, the dirty paper and the peeling paint on the door were, like the tramps from last night, mere picturesque details on the backdrop of her grand romance.

The Cuckoo’s Calling Chapter 1

The interior however is somewhat different, the staircase inside is a remaining period feature from the 17th century house, complete with wooden barley twist balustrades. In the novels these stairs have been replaced by a metal staircase paired with an old birdcage lift. This may have been influenced by 25 Denmark Street, which does appear to have stairs surrounding a lift.

Robin caught the door before it closed on the dingy stairwell. An old-fashioned metal staircase spiralled up around an equally antiquated birdcage lift. Concentrating on keeping her high heels from catching in the metalwork stairs, she proceeded to the first landing, passing a door carrying a laminated and framed poster saying Crowdy Graphics, and continued climbing. It was only when she reached the glass door on the floor above that Robin realised, for the first time, what kind of business she had been sent to assist.

The Cuckoo’s Calling Chapter 1

In the 2014 plans the second floor of Strike’s office is a single bed-sit apartment, but we can imagine the layout with the private office facing the street and reception area somewhat gloomy with only one window facing the rooftops of Denmark Place.

The weekend stretched ahead, warm and empty. Strike sat at his open window again, smoking and watching the hordes of shoppers passing along Denmark Street, the case report open on his lap, the police file on the desk, making a list for himself of points still to be clarified, and sifting the morass of information he had collected.

The Cuckoo’s Calling Chapter 4

The attic is likewise shown as an apartment and perhaps a bit more generously proportioned than Rowling describes with the kitchen separated from the living/bedroom. We could however imagine the addition of a lift with associated machinery could drastically reduce this space in the literary building.

Strike let himself in through the black outer door beside the 12 Bar Café and began to climb the metal staircase that curled around the broken birdcage lift inside. Up past the graphic designer on the first floor, past his own office with its engraved glass door on the second; up to the third and smallest landing where his home now lay.

The space under the eaves was small by any standards, and especially for a man of six foot three. He scarcely had room to turn around in the shower; kitchen and living room were uneasily combined and the bedroom was almost entirely filled by the double bed.

The Silkworm Chapter 2

Comments

  1. Brilliant sleuthing and exposition, Nick, especially the find that Rowling-Galbraith combined the interiors of two buildings (and her imagination) to create the Agency offices and Strike flat we ‘see’ in the novels. Thank you for this deep background, especially the 17th century material and the history of Denmark Street as an ‘industrial center’ complete with sword makers!

    I have two questions I hope you will follow-up with more posts along these lines. Denmark Street may be ruled out as a potential killer of Leda Strike, but the place is definitely, as is all of London, a character in the Strike mysteries.

    First, the chief mystery of Rowling’s Denmark Street I encountered on my visit there five years ago is the non-presence in her story-telling of the architectural structure that is visible from Strike’s window and rather dominates the area, namely, The Church of St Giles in the Fields. It is a very beautiful and edifying space; why has Rowling elected to completely overlook it in these novels? Does the church have contemporaneous origins with Denmark Street after the 1666 fire?

    Last, Serious Strikers are speculating (a) that Rokeby may have recorded an album on Denmark Street, even that it was the location of Strike’s first meeting with his biological father (note Rowling’s near-promise that Robin will be discussing this with Strike sooner than later), and (b) that we’ll be saying good-bye to the location in Ink Black Heart because Strike and Robin were supposed to renegotiate their lease with new owners in Troubled Blood but never got around to it (Talgarth Road, here we come!). On my visit in late 2016, there was construction all around the Street but not on it. Can you fill us in on the happenings on this short street in the years of Ink Black Heart and pre-Covid? Not that Rowling-Galbraith will honor real-world developments any more than she did the interior of 26 Denmark Street, but it would be fun to know! An update to your ‘Before the Construction’ post?

    Many thanks again for this invaluable history of Denmark Street, and thanks in advance for whatever consideration you give to answering my questions!

  2. Louise Freeman says

    I wouldn’t be so quick to rule out a murderous building. Remember the school building from the Peanuts strip that had a nasty habit of dropping bricks on its enemies?

    https://twitter.com/drskyskull/status/1036800589827469312/photo/1

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