Why The Borderline is where it is seems to fit right into the area’s history going back to the development of Soho in the late 1580s. The area’s character has always been that of frivolity and creativity. Kings Square [now Soho Square] was as regal as its name suggests, with houses for the gentry of the age providing accommodation for dignitaries, captains of industry and nobility.
Literally just around the corner was Hogs Lane [later Crown Street, now Charing Cross Road], described as ‘a place neither well built nor inhabited’. It slowly became bustling by the 1700s due to the large amount of taverns and inns, including The Crown Inn which became a namesake when the street was renamed, and had been assigned with its tiny tributary Rose Street [now Manette Street], allegedly taking its name from the Rose and Crown pub which stood on the corner now occupied by Foyle’s Bookshop. Rose Street was a cultural centre for anarchists and radical thinkers of the Victorian age, with several cultural groups having offices in its narrow confines that lasted all the way to the final redevelopment of the street into its present layout in the 1950s.
Rose Street was renamed Manette Street in 1895 thanks to Charles Dickens’ fictional resident character Doctor Manette from his famous book ‘The Tale Of Two Cities’. Orange Yard was the actual entry yard belonging to stables from No.22 Soho Square that had long stood on the area and once ran through to George [now Goslett] Yard – thanks to the George Tavern – still in existence as The Royal George today.
The ground on which the venue stands was developed in 1835 into one of the largest building merchants in the area, A. Goslett and Co, on the main thoroughfare of Crown Street [Charing Cross Road was built in 1887]. A. Goslett and Co.’s plate glass and sanitary ware premises burnt down in 1903 and the name marks the rear aspect of the property, Goslett Yard. Messrs. Goslett remained proprietors through to redevelopment into the existing structure.
The existing building was built in 1976 and was recently refurbished after accommodating EMI Publishing for some 15 years, with the British Film Institute being the previous tenant. Originally opened by Ian Howard [who went on to own the Brixton Academy among others], The Borderline quickly gained a name for attracting the top stars of the day as well as new up and coming stars. The UK had been in a wave of underground music for over a decade that had seen the birth and passing of punk, new wave, NWOBHM and post punk. In the years around the time that The Borderline opened, there was a move towards guitar based pop and indie music, away from the electronic scene that had dominated the pop scene to date.
Britpop was born and The Borderline became an essential notch in the circuit for aspiring artists of the genre. Not to be overtaken by the burgeoning scene, The Borderline also played host to some of the most famous names in country and Americana as the style befitted by the TexMex restaurant ‘Break For The Border’ to which it was attached until early in the new millennium. In 2003, The Borderline was acquired by Vince Power and joined the Mean Fiddler portfolio of venues, which itself was soon to be acquired by Live Nation in 2005 and then by its present owners MAMA & Company (formerly MAMA Group) in 2007.
We like to think of the venue as an institution that continues the tradition of providing a space for free thinkers and unique performers from wide and far, whilst reflecting on the fact that we have and always will have the charm of an intimate Soho basement venue.