Oxford Street, W1C

Road in/near Oxford Circus, existing until now

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MAPPING YEAR:1750180018301860190019302019Fullscreen map
Road · Oxford Circus · W1C ·

Oxford Street is Europe’s busiest shopping street, with around half a million daily visitors, and as of 2012 had approximately 300 shops.

Oxford Street follows the route of a Roman road, the Via Trinobantina, which linked Calleva Atrebatum (near Silchester, Hampshire) with Camulodunum (now Colchester) via London and became one of the major routes in and out of the city.

Between the 12th century and 1782, it was variously known as Tyburn Road (after the River Tyburn that ran just to the south of it, and now flows underneath it), Uxbridge Road (this name is still used for the portion of the London-Oxford road between Shepherds Bush and Uxbridge), Worcester Road and Oxford Road. On Ralph Aggas’ "Plan of London", published in the 16th century, the road is described partly as "The Waye to Uxbridge" followed by "Oxford Road", showing rural farmland where the junction of Oxford Street and Rathbone Place now is.

Despite being a major coaching route, there were several obstacles along it, including the bridge over the Tyburn. A turnpike trust was established in the 1730s to improve upkeep of the road. It became notorious as the route taken by prisoners on their final journey from Newgate Prison to the gallows at Tyburn near Marble Arch. Spectators drunkenly jeered at prisoners as they carted along the road, and could buy rope used in the executions from the hangman in taverns. By about 1729, the road had become known as Oxford Street.

The street began to be redeveloped in the 18th century after many of the surrounding fields were purchased by the Earl of Oxford. In 1739, local gardener Thomas Huddle began to build property on the north side. John Rocque’s Map of London, published in 1746, shows urban buildings as far as North Audley Street, but only intermittent rural property thereafter. Buildings began to be erected on the corner of Oxford Street and Davies Street in the 1750s. Further development along the street occurred between 1763 and 1793. The Pantheon, a place for public entertainment, opened at No. 173 in 1772.

The street became popular with entertainers including bear-baiters, theatres and public houses. However, it was not attractive to the middle and upper classes due to the nearby Tyburn gallows and St Giles, then a notorious rookery, or slum. The gallows were removed in 1783, and by the end of the century, Oxford Street was built up from St Giles Circus to Park Lane, containing a mix of residential houses and entertainment. The Princess’s Theatre opened in 1840, and is now the site of Oxford Walk shopping area.

Oxford Street changed character from residential to retail towards the end of the 19th century. Drapers, cobblers and furniture stores began to appear on the street, and were later expanded into the first department stores. Street vendors began to sell tourist souvenirs on the street during this time. A plan of Oxford Street in Tallis’s London Street Views, published in the late 1830s, remarks that almost all the street, save for the far western end, was primarily retail. John Lewis started in 1864 as a small shop at No. 132, while Selfridges opened on 15 March 1909 at No. 400. Most of the southern side of Oxford Street west of Davies Street was completely rebuilt between 1865 and 1890, allowing a more uniform freehold ownership. By the 1930s, the street was almost entirely retail, a position that remains today.

Oxford Street suffered considerable bombing during the Second World War. During the night and early hours of 17 to 18 September 1940, 268 Heinkel He 111 and Dornier Do 17 bombers targeted the West End, particularly Oxford Street. Many buildings were damaged, either from a direct hit or subsequent fires, including four department stores: John Lewis, Selfridges, Bourne & Hollingsworth and Peter Robinson.

Every Christmas, Oxford Street is decorated with festive lights. The tradition of Christmas lights began in 1959, five years after the neighbouring Regent Street. There were no light displays in 1976 or 1977 due to economic recession, but the lights returned in 1978 when Oxford Street organised a laser display, and they have been there every year since.

Citations and sources

Gillian Bebbington's 1972 work on street name derivations

Links and further reading

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The 1750 Rocque map is bounded by Sudbury (NW), Snaresbrook (NE), Eltham (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1750 map does not display.

The 1800 mapping is bounded by Stanmore (NW), Woodford (NE), Bromley (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1800 map does not display.

The 1830 mapping is bounded by West Hampstead (NW), Hackney (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Chelsea (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1830 map does not display.

The 1860 mapping is bounded by Brent Cross (NW), Stratford (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Hammermith (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1860 map does not display.

The 1900 mapping covers all of the London area.


Oxford Circus

Oxford Circus, designed by John Nash in 1811.

Oxford Circus, the busy intersection of Oxford Street and Regent Street, was constructed in the beginning of the 19th century, and was designed by John Nash. Regent Street had been commissioned by Prince Regent, who was later to become King George IV, as a grand scheme to connect the Princes home at Carlton House with his newly acquired property at Regents Park. Nash designed a wide boulevard with a sweeping curve that became a clear dividing line between the less respectable Soho and the fashionable squares and streets of Mayfair. Born from the concept of Nash’s layout of the New Street in 1812, frontage alignments remain, with the rebuilt listed architecture of 1920s buildings.

The surrounding area contains important elements of the Nash heritage. All frontages on the Circus are Grade II Listed. The entire of Regent Street is also listed and sits within a conservation area.

The circus is served by Oxford Circus tube station, which is directly beneath the junction itself.

Oxford Circus station has entrances on all four corners of the intersection. The station is an interchange between the Central, Victoria and Bakerloo lines. It is the fourth busiest station on the network and the busiest without connection to the National Rail service. It opened on the Central London Railway on 30 July 1900, with the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway's platforms opening on 10 March 1906. The two companies had separate surface buildings and lift shafts. The station buildings, which remain today as exits from the station, were constructed on very confined plots on either side of Argyll Street on the south side of Oxford Street, just to the east of the circus itself. The stations were originally built as entirely separate, but connecting passages were swiftly provided at platform level. The surviving Central London Railway building to the east of Argyll Street is the best surviving example of the stations designed by Harry Bell Measures, and the Bakerloo line building to the west is a classic Leslie Green structure. Both station buildings are Grade II listed.

Almost from the outset, overcrowding has been a constant problem at the station and it has seen numerous improvements to its facilities and below-ground arrangements to deal with this difficulty. After much discussion between the then two separate operators, a major reconstruction began in 1912. This saw a new ticket hall, dealing with both lines, built in the basement of the Bakerloo station, the Bakerloo lifts removed, and new deep-level escalators opened down to the Bakerloo line level. Access to the Central line was by way of existing deep-level subways. The new works came into use on 9 May 1914 with the CLR lifts still available for passengers. By 1923 even this rearrangement was unable to cope, so a second rebuilding commenced. This saw a second set of escalators built directly down to the Central line, the CLR station building becoming an exit only. Then, on 2 October 1928, a third escalator leading to the Bakerloo platforms was opened. Unusually, lifts came back into prominence at an Underground station when, in 1942, a set of high-speed lifts came into use, largely used as an exit route from the Central line platforms directly to the Argyll Street exit building.

The Victoria line opened on 7 March 1969. To handle the additional passenger loads, a new ticket hall was constructed directly under the road junction. To excavate the new ticket hall below the roadway, traffic was diverted for five years (August 1963 to Easter 1968) on to a temporary bridge-like structure known as the 'umbrella' covering the Regent Street/Oxford Street intersection. Services tunnels were constructed to carry water mains and telecom cables past the new ticket hall. Construction of the Victoria line station tunnels with their platforms, the new escalator shafts and the linking passages to the Central line platforms was carried out from access shafts sunk from nearby Cavendish Square, Upper Regent Street and Argyll Street. To this day, traffic passing through the Oxford Circus intersection literally travels over the roof of the ticket office.
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Cruchley's New Plan of London Shewing all the new and intended improvements to the Present Time. - Cruchley's Superior Map of London, with references to upwards of 500 Streets, Squares, Public Places & C. improved to 1848: with a compendium of all Place of Public Amusements also shewing the Railways & Stations.
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