On a building near Leicester Square is a coat hook that is pointed out by every tour guide, as a special coat hook for the police to hang their heavy cloaks on — but not any more.
The current owners of the building on Great Newport Street that the coat hook is attached to appear to have despoiled it. The hook is still there, but the sign is missing. And it’s the sign that made the hook famous, with its memorable notice that it’s not just any random coat hook, but one specifically for the Metropolitan Police.
Now, I have pointed out that the oft-told tale about how the hook was added to a construction site in the 1930s so the traffic police could hang their cloaks on during hot days… is a myth, and likely no more than a few decades old.
The police sign is probably a joke added by someone in the 1990s.
But that doesn’t matter, and for a very good reason…
The hook and sign are part of the mythic legends of London, they are tales we tell to give us a sense of place in any city and help to give us a foundation in an ever changing world.
We rely on the tales, that we know might not be entirely true, to be the genius loci that become integral to a building and acts as its protective spirit. Removing the coat hook sign is to despoil a much loved local curiosity and attraction. It reduces the heritage of the area. It diminishes us to lose it.
I’ve asked the building owners a couple of times what’s happening, but they didn’t reply.
The hook is there, but the sign is missing. The sign is what turned A coat hook into THE coat hook. It was the sign that made people stop and share the story of the mythical 1930s traffic police getting a bit hot one summer and a nearby building site offering respite in the form of a hook for their coats.
No, the coat hook isn’t a listed heritage item, nor frankly an authentic piece of history.
But the story it generated made people smile when they heard it.
We’re smiling a bit less today.