SI SPENCER, AUGUST 2017
Unlike Phyllis Pearsall’s A to Z (or at least the interesting version), the story of London’s Monopoly board relies on more on a single hectic and seemingly random taxi ride than on diligent legwork. When Leeds-based printers Waddingtons picked up the franchise from America, their managing director Victor Watson and his secretary Marjory Phillips went to London to scout locations, getting a cab at St. Pancras and driving round all day.
Although to the seasoned Londoner, the streets of the different coloured groups look fairly random, they are chosen according to the social structure of 1930’s London. The browns represent the poor criminal classes, the blues the working class artisans. The purples are government offices, the oranges the sites of police stations or courts. The red streets are associated with the press, the yellows with West End theatre land and the greens and blues represent the shops and hotels of London high society.
The Old Kent Road is the only property on the board that lies south of the river. One can only assume that they recoiled in horror and asked to be taken somewhere nicer – only to wind up in Whitechapel. The Angel Islington is the only property (stations aside of course) that isn’t actually a street, being named after the nearby and no longer standing Angel Inn. They finished their journey in a Lyons Corner House (the Starbucks of their day, except of course being thoroughly English, they largely sold tea and cake). Today it’s a Co-operative Bank with a plaque commemorating the event. Pall Mall takes its name from the seventeenth century sport of ‘pell-mell’, a kind of cross between croquet and cricket but with more drinking. Vine Street is the shortest and most redundant property on the board in real life being a 21 metre long dead end. Rather pleasingly though it does lead to Swallow Street and Man in the Moon Passage. Bow Street was of course the home of the Bow Street Runners, London’s first police force established by the novelist Henry Fielding. Many of Fielding’s novels were fairly bawdy affairs to begin with, but the magistrate and founder of the modern police also published politically scandalous work and pornography under the pen name Captain Hercules Vinegar. Marlborough Street doesn’t exist, but Great Marlborough Street wouldn’t fit into the square. Coventry Street is a fairly dull and short thoroughfare today but in the 19th century was the hub of London’s pornography production and in 1922 was the site of an infamous vampire attack.