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Dr Stephen King introduces us to some extraordinary characters you will hear about on his Soho tour.

To book on the tour of click here Soho: scandals and scoundrels

Soho Square is the oldest part of Soho. Once there stood a grand house to the north home to Charles II son.  Unfortunately, as with all of Charles II children he was illegitimate and when he led a rebellion to claim the throne he lost not only the house but also his head.

To the east of the Square is the catholic church of St Patrick’s. This was once the site of Carlisle House, another large mansion facing the square. In 1760 the building was rented by a recently arrived enterprising women. She went by various names but by the time she arrives in London she is calling herself Teresa Cornely. Born in Venice, the then 37 year old has had a number of husbands and lovers, including Casanova. Clearly an innovative businesswoman (although it turns out hopeless with money) at one stage she ran all of the Netherland’s Opera houses.

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At Carlisle House on fashionable Soho Square Teresa set up London’s most fashionable entertainment establishment. Here you could have an evening of cards, music, dancing and dine in the banqueting hall seating 400 people. Once Parliament closed early so the MPs could make it one of Teresa’s balls. The newly invented roll-skates where demonstrated (did not end well for a valuable mirror) and crowds formed in the square to see which of the rich and famous would stepping out of their carriages to enter Carlisle House.  

The rooms were opulent, and the great Fanny Burney writing in 1770 remarked on the “splendour of the illuminations and embellishments”. Casanova came to London to rekindled his affair with Teresa.  But all was rented, the expenses mounted and the competition from other establishments eat into the business. Teresa ends in debtor’s prison and eventually in 1772 Carlisle House and its contents are seized. 

Her life goes through a series of (mis)adventures including escaping a prison after it gets burnt down in the Gordon Riots, as well as turning up selling asses milk out of a window on the site of what is now Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge. The wonderful Mrs Cornely dies in the Fleet Prison aged 74.  

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Off Carnaby Street is the huge Spirit of Soho mural. In the middle is a clock, where on the hour Casanova blows Mrs Cornely a kiss, and she returns a wink.  

Just one of the amazing characters of Soho that will be uncovered in my tour.