This splendid fellow has recently appeared on the corner of Beak Street and Bridle Lane. He reminds us that in the 16th century fox hunting used to take place in the area and since ‘SoHo!’ is an ancient hunting cry, is no doubt the origin of the name by which it became known. As to Bridle Lane, you might think it was so called because of some connection with horses, suggesting a shaded ancient thoroughfare. It is in fact a good deal older than the surrounding streets and the name comes from a local carpenter, Abraham Bridle, who built houses in Gelding Close which backed on to the Lane in the 1680s.
Walking down Great Pulteney Street you’ll see a blue plaque commemorating John William Polidori, poet and novelist and author of what is thought to be the first published story about vampires, The Vampyre. He was born and died at number 38.
He was the eldest son of an Italian political émigré and an English governess, Anna Marie Pierce. His sister, Frances, married the exiled Italian philosopher Gabriele Rossetti, so Polidori was the uncle of the Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriele and William Michael Rossetti, and their sister, the poet Christina, though they were all born after his death. Polidori studied medicine at Edinburgh University, where he wrote his thesis on sleepwalking, and for a time he was Lord Byron’s personal physician. Legend has it that he was inspired to write The Vampyre on the same evening that Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein. ‘We will all write a ghost story,’ announced Lord Byron and it was indeed a dark and stormy night as they sheltered from thunder storms at his home, Villa Diodata, on Lake Geneva.
John William Polidori (1795-1821)
Polidori died in 1821 after long bouts of depression and considerable gambling debts.
In 1828 The Vampyre was turned into an opera in two acts by Heinrich Marschner. Apparently it was quite a hit.