The 17th Century Forge by Tottenham Court Road 

As you exit Tottenham Court Road Tube Station, amidst the towering screens of Outernet’s Now Building, this would seem the last place to find something historic.

The 17th Century Forge by Tottenham Court Road | Look Up London

It might come as a surprise then to learn about a 17th century forge hiding in plain sight behind Denmark Street.

The 17th Century Forge by Tottenham Court Road | Look Up London

You can find it inside the tiny music venue, The Lower Third.

History of Denmark Street

The St Giles Circus Project was a £150m scheme to redevelop the area of Denmark Street, Charing Cross Road and St Giles High Street.

However St Giles has a far longer history, mentioned as the location of a leper hospital founded in 1108 by Queen Matilda. Today the 18th century church of St Giles-in-the-Fields stands on the site.

St Giles-in-the-Fields as seen on the ‘Agas’ map 1540-1621, www.layersoflondon.org

The area around the church started to be developed in the 17th century and Denmark Street was laid out c.1687. The name comes from Prince George of Denmark who married the future Queen Anne in 1683.

Originally it would’ve been residential and 20 houses were complete by 1690, just a couple of the originals survive.

There was also a service street behind the fancier Denmark Street known variously through history as Dudley Court, Denmark Court and Denmark Place.

Blome & Strype (1694-1720), www.layersoflondon.org

Like other mews streets across London these buildings were first used as stables but then later became manufacturing hubs.

By the 19th century the whole street was mainly commercial and the 1887 Goad insurance maps show a ‘smith’. The blue box indicates a skylight for natural light and behind the blue circle is a water hydrant.

Goad 1887, www.layersoflondon.org

An incredible picture, taken in 1914, captures the forge as a busy, working site.

‘Plate 60: Denmark Passage, Blacksmith’s Forge’, in Survey of London: Volume 5, St Giles-in-The-Fields, Pt II, (London, 1914) pp. 60

Later in the 20th century the street becomes a centre for the music industry. Pre 1950s successful songs were measured by copies of the sheet music sold and almost all the major publishers were based on Denmark Street.

As recorded music became more popular, New Musical Express (NME) whose offices were on Denmark Street compiled the first UK singles chart. If you’re curious what was playing then, have a look here.

The music connections just keep coming, with the street boasting links with the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, David Bowie, The Sex Pistols and more. Peter Watts has a whole book on the musical history of the street here.

26 Denmark Street

In 1994 the 17th century forge was just a dilapidated brick room behind 26 Denmark Street but it became famous as the 12 Bar Club, a tiny gig venue that could only hold 100 people.

Image Credit: Public Domain

Sweaty, definitely unsafe and covered in graffiti, this cult music venue hosted early performances by Adele, The Libertines, Keane and James Blunt.

It permanently closed in 2015 ahead of the St Giles Circus development.

The problem – engineering wise – was that this 17th century smithy was in the way of the huge foundation piles needed to stabilise the new Outernet buildings.

Incredibly, the whole forge and its building was temporarily relocated!

It was incased in steel beams and connected to a slab underneath, then lifted by a 750 tonne crane (the smithy and slab weighed 150 tonnes!) 25 metres away in August 2017 then moved back into its original place in October 2018.

You can watch a video about the move here.

Today it is still a live music venue but has been tidied up, sanitised (and presumably passed a health and safety check) so is now known as The Lower Third.

The 17th Century Forge by Tottenham Court Road | Look Up London
The 17th Century Forge by Tottenham Court Road | Look Up London
The 17th Century Forge by Tottenham Court Road | Look Up London

It’s one of the stops on my Sinful Seven Dials walking tour if you’d like to learn more about the area.


Related Blog Post

In Soho a tiny plaque above a red door records that Josiah Wedgwood, one of the 18th century’s greatest businessman and pioneers had his workshop on this site. Read about it here.

Josiah Wedgwood Soho Plaque, Greek Street | Look Up London

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