In 1997 artist Rick Buckley decided to stage a protest against the appearance of CCTV cameras across the streets of London.
These surveillance cameras were drawing an awful lot of criticism, since many people were starting to view them as a huge step closer to a Big Brother state.
Whereas the less artistic amongst us might choose to protest with acts of wanton vandalism, Rick Buckley decided to go for a far more subtle and, it must be said, humorous approach.
And thus it came to pass that the concept of The Seven Noses of Soho was born.
A Situationist Inspired Artwork
Inspired by the activities of the Situationists – artists and writers who would perform sporadic, illegal actions – Rick decided to, quite literally, put his nose to the grindstone, and set out to place plaster of Paris and polymer casts of his own nose on various structures across London right under the noses, so to speak, of the liberty threatening CCTV Cameras.
The Noses Turn Up In London
Thus it was that, armed with nothing more than models of his own conk and a toothpaste tube of glue, this urban (and urbane) guerilla set out on his covert mission to attach casts of his own schnozzle to around 35 landmarks across the capital and, having obtained photographic evidence of the mission accomplished, he sat back and waited, hoping that his cover would not be blown.
As he told the London Evening Standard when, under pressure from his girlfriend, he finally decided to come clean, and blow the whistle, about his past in October 2011:-
“I wanted to see if I could get away with it without being detected. The afterthought was that it would be great if these protrusions would become part of the structure themselves.”
Some of the noses were sniffed out and removed within a matter of days or weeks.
But others survived and, since Rick chose not to publicise his protest, all manner of urban myths began dribbling out concerning the origins of the mysterious protuberances.
Find Them All And Great Wealth Is Yours!
One of the most oft quoted of these myths is that if you can locate all seven of the seven noses of Soho (despite the fact that, at least one of them is not actually in Soho) then great wealth will come your way.
Who can resist the possibility of such a reward for performing the, seemingly simple, task of picking a few noses in Soho?
My Hunt For the Seven Noses Begins
Thus it was that, on a bitterly cold January day, armed with my trusty camera and a generous supply of tissues (well, it was cold and I didn’t know how life like my prey would be!), I headed for Trafalgar Square to begin my quest to sniff out the Seven Noses of Soho.
Nose One – Admiralty Arch
First stop, was Admiralty Arch, where the protruding nose on the wall of one of its arches has given rise to several very tall, though seemingly plausible, theories as to its purpose and origins.
One tale holds that it is a tribute to the Duke of Wellington, a man so renowned for his stonking hooter that his troops claimed his silhouette was always visible from afar, even in the heat of the fiercest of battles.
Since the nose is at waist height for somebody riding past on horseback, mounted soldiers, so the story goes, would rub Wellington’s nose for good luck as they rode through Admiralty Arch.
Another explanation is that the Admiralty Arch nose is, in fact, a spare for the statue of Nelson atop his column in Trafalgar Square opposite.
Whatever its origins, finding and photographing it proved something of an onerous task.
A constant stream of traffic drives through the arch and, several times, I was almost run down by approaching motor bikes and cyclists to whom a camera toting nose hunter was nothing short of an annoying obstruction to be cursed at fluently in several different languages.
I scoured every inch of the rough stone of Admiralty Arch, looking for any bump or protrusion that might hint at the nose's presence.
Eventually, my eyes closed in on my prey and, cautiously raising my camera with tremulous hand, I pressed the button and bagged my first nose of the day.
A Sniveling Failure – I Thought
Buoyed by the ease with which I’d achieved the first mission (these things always look better with hindsight) I headed for Soho and continued my nose hunt in the outback wilderness that is Great Windmill Street.
Up and down I went, scrutinising every square millimeter of every single wall, but this nose was having none of it.
Any small bump in the fabric of a building, or misaligned segment of concrete wall, was soon taking on nasal features.
A glimmer of hope came when I spotted a protuberance on the wall of the former Windmill Theatre.
But, on closer inspection, I couldn’t work out if this was a nose that had been given a coat of paint so thick that it had been made to look distinctly un-nose like, or whether it was just the remains of an old pipe that had been painted over?
Anyway, after 35 minutes of searching, I concluded that one of two things had happened. Either the building site half way along the Street and the demolition of the building that had once stood on the site had wiped away any traces of this particular nose, or I had, in fact, actually succeeded in finding the nose on the wall of the Windmill Theatre.
But, the problem was it just didn't look that nose-like.
I WAS SNIFFING AROUND THE WRONG PLACE
But then fortune smiled upon me.
I suddenly realised that I had forgotten the extension of Great Windmill Street that runs alongside the Trocadero.
Over I went, and began walking up and down both sides of the street scouring every bit of stone with my eyes as I went.
I did find a particularly fine pair of lips, or at least an impression of a pair of lips that a nameless woman (I presume it was a woman) had taken the trouble to impress upon the outer fabric of the Trocadero in a vibrant shade of red lipstick.
Given the fact that this wall was absolutely filthy and was, no doubt, home to all manner of nasty bugs and bacteria that you wouldn't want lingering anywhere near the palate under any circumstances, I couldn't make up my mind whether to admire the sheer bravery, or lament the utter stupidity, of the anonymous somebody who had taken the trouble to snog the wall as she walked past!
But, as any doctor will tell you, lips 'aint noses and so, having snapped the lips for posterity (there's a joke there somewhere!) I continued moving along Great Windmill Street, desperate to find my elusive nose.
So I moved my hunt to the narrow pavement that runs along either side of Great Windmill Street.
Approaching the Coventry Street end, I happened to glance across the road and, lo and beh0ld, joy of joys, there it was - the Great Windmill Street nose.
Dodging through the traffic, like one of those fleeing criminals in Law and Order who you just know is going to get mown down by an approaching truck or taxi, I raised my camera, pointed and, with one click, almost an hour's worth of searching at last came good!
So, the moral of this story is that, if you are going to search for this particular nose, keep in mind that there are two sections of Great Windmill Street and focus your attention on the section that runs alongside the Trocadero between Shaftesbury Avenue and Coventry Street.
Also, be very carful as the pavement is narrow and the motorists take no prisoners!
The Meard Street Nose
Jubilant that my nose hunting abilities were starting to pay dividends, I headed over to Meard Street where my faith in my nose picking abilities was dramatically increased as, within seconds of my arrival, I beheld a gloriously large white hooter sticking out from the wall.
Now, apparently, this fine example isn’t linked to the others.
One story holds that it was put there as a protest to make a point during a long ago property dispute.
Another claims that it dates from a 2005 "Living Streets" social awareness project, which saw street items, such as paving stones and signs, "talking" back to passers-by, with the nose issuing a sneezing sound.
Sounds plausible to me.
But, then again, so did the story about Wellington at Admiralty Arch. Which, if any, of these is true, who nose?
Nosing Around Bateman Street
Still, my faith in my abilities firmly established, I headed over to Bateman Street where, I was reliably informed, another nose awaited my discovery.
This one proved extremely difficult to find.
Up and down Bateman Street I walked.
First perusing every wall and doorway on the left side.
Then doing likewise on the right side.
I took my time and slowly moved along the street.
Having eliminated the first section of Bateman Street, I decided to focus my hunt on the other section, beyond the Dog and Duck Pub.
Starting with the building on the right at its far end, I inspected the wall and doorway, blissfully oblivious to the delights of the “Friendly Sexy Girl” who was available on the second floor.
Goodness knows what passers by must have thought of my furtive sniffing around this spot!
But then, there it was – the nose that is.
For, just a few doors away, my eyes focused upon a small nose on the wall and, snap, the deed was done.
The problem with the Bateman Street nose is that it’s painted the same colour as the wall, so it is extremely easy to miss it.
The Quo Vadis Nose – Whiffer Goest Thou!
So, four noses now bagged, I headed off to Dean Street in search of my next challenge.
I did have to "look" a little as the Dean Street nose is not immediately apparent.
But, then again, nobody said it was going to be easy and I did set myself this challenge, so it's no use sniveling over it.
So, with a little dedication, and a keen eye for my surroundings, I eventually found my fourth nose on the wall of Leonis Quo Vadis.
This one isn't as difficult to find as some of them, but it is still a challenge.
As it happened, the Dean Street nose was right by a strip club next door to Quo Vadis.
A pattern appears to be emerging here!
Another Fruitless Search
My next search proved as fruitless as the Great Windmill Street fiasco almost had.
I walked up and down D’arblay Street, but to no avail.
I did find a skull on the wonderfully eccentric looking tailor’s shop Sir Tom Baker.
But do skulls have noses? That is the question.
It was apparent that my D'arblay Street dabble was going nowhere so, with my nose out of joint, I decided to accept defeat and head off for another thoroughfare where I hoped to have better luck.
ALL ENDS WELL IN ENDELL STREET
Picking my way along the crowded sidewalks of Soho, I made my way to Endell Street, the bustling shop and pub lined street that stretches northwards from Covent Garden's Long Acre.
By now I had come to the conclusion, based on ample evidence, that the noses were all at about shoulder height.
So, my nose radar scanning the walls of the buildings, I set off along the left side of Endell Street, my head moving up and down in a manner reminiscent of C-3PO from Star Wars.
Based on my previous experiences, I fully expected to have to go up and down the street a few times before I bagged my elusive quarry.
But, this one proved a surprisingly easy catch.
For, as I approached the top of Endell Street, there it was poking out from the wall of Service Point.
Raising my camera I clicked, and yet another nose was in the bag.
EAR WE GO AGAIN
The fabled noses of Soho, had most certainly given me plenty to think about and, even though I had failed in my attempt to locate all seven, seldom has failure proved such a fun experience!
However, I suddenly found myself intrigued by the possibility that other body parts might be hiding in plain view on various walls around the streets of London.
But, had any other artists actually taken the trouble to place anatomical artworks on other walls around London?
To the rescue came London based designer, artist and illustrator Tim Fishlock who has done for aural pursuits what Rick Buckley has done for pursuits nasal.
Now, it transpires that, a few years ago, Tim decided to give an artistically literal slant to the old saying that "walls have ears."
How did he do it?
Well, since you asked, he headed off around town attaching casts of ears to walls across London. Simples!
Whereas Rick's noses were a protest at the intrusion of the Big Brother state into the everyday lives of ordinary citizens, Tim put the ears up for no particular reason, other than that it just seemed like a fun thing to do. Or, at least, that's my reading of his motivation.
Since the ears are to be found London wide, the majority of them were outside the remit of my Seven Noses safari
Two, however, are reasonably close to Soho, being located in nearby Covent Garden, and so off I traipsed to Floral Street, in search of two ears to go with my six noses and one pair of lips.
Ears, being ear-shaped, don't tend to protrude from their surroundings in the same way that noses do.
So, locating the Floral Street ears proved something of a challenge.
I passed up and down a few times before my eyes fixed upon a very well camouflaged ear on a wall close to the Ted Baker shop.
Wohoo, one down, one to go.
Back and forth I went, examining every inch of every wall in search of the second elusive lug.
And suddenly, there it was, on the wall by the Tin Tin Shop.
Job done, ear found.
My task accomplished I headed off into the gathering dusk grinning from ear to ear at the fact that my keen eye and acute observational powers had proved an adequate match for the concealment skills of Messrs. Buckley and Fishlock.
Is all that I needed now was to find one more nose, and a few eyes, to complement my ears, lips and six noses, and I'd have the full set of facial and head adornments. In fact, it struck me that I was becoming like Mr. Potato head on steroids.
But, with night now well and truly upon me, and the temperature plummeting, I decided that they would have to be saved for another day, and so I headed off to the Lamb and Flag to warm myself with a well-earned snifter.
Find the Seven Noses of Soho
I can highly recommend seeking out the Seven Noses of Soho, as, despite the curious stares you get from passers by, you really do start looking at London and seeing many things that you might otherwise miss. It makes a great way to while away a few hours and, if you are lucky enough to find all seven, and do acquire infinite wealth, then please remember who it was that alerted you to their existence.
So, is it really possible to find all seven of the Soho Noses? Well, to paraphrase Hagrid in Harry Potter, most certainly – if you nose where to look!