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  • Writer's picturePeter Berthoud

How Fitzrovia Got Its Name

Before this poster was created hardly anyone had seen the word "Fitzrovia" in print and virtually nobody would have recognised "Fitzrovia" as the name of a London neighbourhood.

The 1973 Fitzrovia Festival Poster - Nancy Fouts of Shirt Sleeve Studio

The origins of Fitzrovia's name begin in the late 1700s when Charles Fitzroy began developing family land in Fitzroy Square and surrounding streets.

The Fitzroy Tavern, took its name from Charles Fitzroy's developments. It became popular

with the artistic and literary crowd that drank there and in numerous other local pubs during the 1930s and 40s.

The name Fitzrovia may have been first used by the founder and editor of Poetry London M. J. Tambimuttu who used the name to describe a crawl of pubs from Soho to Charlotte Street in the 1930s. It first appeared in print in a newspaper column by Tom Driberg in 1940 but was later popularised by the chronicler of 1940s Fitzrovia life Julian Maclaren-Ross who sometimes referred to a planned pub crawl in the area as a visit to "Fitzrovia".

By the 1950s and 60s the name "Fitzrovia" had fallen out of use but in 1973 the name "Fitzrovia" was revived.

In 1973 the organisers of the first street festival in Charlotte Street wanted to create a title for the Festival. The name Fitzrovia Festival was suggested by Eric Singer a German immigrant who recalled the use of the name in the 1940s. So the name Fitzrovia came back into common currency reinforced by the annual Fitzrovia Festival and people now had a name from which to try to define their neighbourhood.

Fortunately the poster promoting the first annual Fitzrovia Festival was produced by an award winning artist with a gift for communication. A cheap and cheerful amateur design surely wouldn't have had the same impact.

The Tate Gallery by Tube

The poster was the work of fine artist Nancy Fouts (1945-2019). In the 1960s Nancy Fouts had painted Carnaby Street shop fronts and also designed the world famous Pizza Express logo.

In 1973 Nancy Fouts and her then husband, Malcolm Fowler (1943-2012) , jointly owned the locally based Shirt Sleeve Studio, one of the foremost graphic and art design companies in London.

Shirt Sleeve made the paint tube model for London Underground's most popular poster, The Tate Gallery by Tube and won the 1973 D&AD Gold Award for their stamped and addressed egg for the Post Office's Properly Packed Parcels Please! campaign. Other projects included, celebrated work for Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut and many album covers.

Nancy Fouts' Fitzrovia festival poster conveyed the first Fitzrovia Festival's theme "The People Live Here!" with warmth, humour and style. It was a memorable, celebratory image that residents could identify with and proudly project to a wider public. Without Nancy Fouts' input I doubt whether the name "Fitzrovia" would ever have evolved from an obscure literary in-joke to become both a locally used and a mainstream description of this distinctive London neighbourhood.

In the 1980s Nancy Fouts and Malcolm Fowler set up Fouts & Fowler Gallery in Tottenham Street. Next time you are passing, look out for some surviving traces of their time there, an upturned resin ice-cream cone (now sadly repainted in pub-refurb grey) and a pair of creative hands.

Sculpture on the front of the former Fouts & Fowler Gallery on Tottenham Street, Fitzrovia, London.

There is a celebration of Nancy Fout's life and work at Hang-Up Gallery's site and Malcom Fowler's obituary can be found at The Independent.


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