Great Windmill Street, W1F

Road in/near Soho, existing between 1665 and now

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Road · Soho · W1F ·
September
7
2018

Great Windmill Street has had a long association with music and entertainment, most notably the Windmill Theatre.


The street took its name from a windmill on the site which was recorded 1585 and demolished during the 1690s. In a parliamentary survey of 1658 the mill was described as "well fitted with Staves and other materials".

The area was developed around 1665 but the building was speculative and of poor quality; this led to a royal proclamation in 1671 that prohibited unlicensed development in "Windmill Fields, Dog Fields and Soho". Later that year, Thomas Panton, one of the original speculators, was granted a licence to continue his scheme with the condition that it was supervised and directed by Sir Christopher Wren who was the Surveyor General of the King’s Works. By 1682, maps show that both sides of the street were developed along their whole length.

In 1767 the Scottish anatomist and physician William Hunter FRS built a large house at number 16 after demolishing an earlier large dwelling. Hunter’s house incorporated a large library, a museum and an anatomical theatre. He gave lectures and anatomical demonstrations from the new house, the first taking place on 1 October 1776. After his death, in 1783 he bequeathed the school and his house to his nephew, Dr Matthew Baillie, who taught there from 1783 to 1803. The house was used for medical demonstrations until 1831. It now forms part of the dressing rooms and stage of the Lyric Theatre.

In the 1940s, the first regular paid modern jazz club for London musicians, Club Eleven, was run from a basement in Great Windmill Street featuring musicians such as Ronnie Scott, Hank Shaw, Johnny Rogers, Lennie Bush, Tony Crombie and Laurie Morgan. In the 1960s, the Scene Club in Ham Yard at Number 41 was associated with the mod youth culture and bands that appeared there included the Rolling Stones and The Who.

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Soho

Soho is a world-famous area of the City of Westminster and part of the West End of London.

The name "Soho" first appears in the 17th century. Most authorities believe that the name derives from a former hunting cry. James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, used "soho" as a rallying call for his men at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 6 July 1685, half a century after the name was first used for this area of London. The Soho name has been imitated by other entertainment and restaurant districts such as Soho, Hong Kong; Soho, Málaga; SOHO, Beijing; SoHo (South of Horton), London, Ontario, Canada; and Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires. SoHo, Manhattan, gets its name from its location SOuth of HOuston Street, but is also a reference to London’s Soho.

Long established as an entertainment district, for much of the 20th century Soho had a reputation as a base for the sex industry in addition to its night life and its location for the headquarters of leading film companies. Since the 1980s, the area has undergone considerable gentrification. It is now predominantly a fashionable district of upmarket restaurants and media offices, with only a small remnant of sex industry venues.

Soho is a small, multicultural area of central London; a home to industry, commerce, culture and entertainment, as well as a residential area for both rich and poor. It has clubs, including the former Chinawhite nightclub; public houses; bars; restaurants; a few sex shops scattered amongst them; and late-night coffee shops that give the streets an "open-all-night" feel at the weekends. Record shops cluster in the area around Berwick Street, with shops such as Phonica, Sister Ray and Reckless Records.
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