november 2018

Equipped to contribute to the next phase of Seven Dials’ community life

These days, much of Monmouth Street, in Covent Garden’s Seven Dials district, is home to fashion and beauty boutiques. The rest of the street seems to comprise non-chain restaurants, cafés and shops offering a wide variety of cuisine to the area’s locals and to increasing numbers of tourists.

Such creative and culinary respectability is a far cry from the street’s earlier reputation. Although the seven streets – including Monmouth Street - that comprise the area were intended to be highly fashionable when they were built in the late 17th century, the area soon degenerated into one that was dominated by slums and gin shops. It provided inspiration for William Hogarth’s engraving ‘Gin Lane’, published in 1751, which depicted a depraved street scene full of gin-fuelled Londoners causing mayhem.

By 1773, it was one of London’s most dangerous streets - notorious for petty crime, murder and a key meeting place for London mobs. Some 60 years later, in 1836, Charles Dickens was less than complimentary about Seven Dials in his work, ‘Sketches by Boz’. Even in the early 1880s, in one of the songs in the Savoy Opera, ‘Iolanthe’, WS Gilbert compared the area unfavourably with Belgrave Square. Yet, by then, Seven Dials was becoming ‘gentrified’, attracting craftsmen and their families as residents.

Its reputation improved and, much more recently, number 13 Monmouth Street was where the former Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, ran his management company, NEMS Enterprises, from 1965 until his death in 1967.

It’s in this historic and increasingly fashionable London street that ME Construction has been modernising, reconfiguring and refurbishing the former offices at number 65 to 75. Known as St Martin’s House, the property has now been transformed from offices into four one-bedroom flats, one two-bedroom flat; a courtyard; three commercial areas (or office suites), and two shops.

ME Construction’s project manager, Mark Box, explained, “The project involved all levels of the building – the basement, the four floors above ground, and the roof.

“We carried out repairs to the roof and fitted new plant on it – including new air conditioning equipment,” he added. “Inside, we carried out structural alterations, such as revising the position of the lift and installing a new lift, as well as a separate Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)-compliant
platform lift. We reduced the area where the stairs are situated and converted the apex area on the first, second and third floors, along with the whole of the fourth floor of the building into five residential flats.

“In reconfiguring and refurbishing the three office suites, we altered their general access areas and entrance lobby – and then built two shop units. Although I’m not sure what these shops will eventually sell, from the work we’ve carried out there, at least one of them is likely to be a café or restaurant.

“Then there were various, associated works, such as damp-proofing part of the basement and carrying out external repairs and decorations,” Mark said.

Taking just over a year, the project equips St Martin’s House to play a full and positive part in the next phase of Monmouth Street’s eventful and historic story.