Wardour Street, W1F

Road in/near Soho, existing between 1585 and now

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Road · Soho · W1F ·

Wardour Street is a street that runs north from Leicester Square, through Chinatown, across Shaftesbury Avenue to Oxford Street.

Wardour Street is named for local 17th century landowners the Wardour family, and formerly was called Colmanhedge Lane after a nearby field. The section south of Brewer Street was formerly Prince Street prior to 1878, in parallel with Rupert Street.

There has been a thoroughfare on the site of Wardour Street on maps and plans since they were first printed, the earliest being Elizabethan. In 1585, to settle a legal dispute, a plan of what is now the West End was prepared. The dispute was about a field roughly where Broadwick Street is today. The plan was very accurate and clearly gives the name Colmanhedge Lane to this major route across the fields from what is described as "The Waye from Uxbridge to London" (Oxford Street) to what is now Cockspur Street. The old plan shows that this lane follows the modern road almost exactly, including bends at Brewer Street and Old Compton Street.

The road is also a major thoroughfare on Faithorne and Newcourt’s map surveyed between 1643 and 1647. Although they do not give it a name, it is shown to have about 24 houses, and additionally a large "Gaming House" roughly on the present-day northwest corner of Leicester Square. The map also shows a large windmill, about 50 yards to the west of what is now St Anne’s Church, roughly on the current alignment of Great Windmill Street.

The name Colmanhedge Lane did not last, and a 1682 map by Ogilby and Morgan shows the lane split into three parts. The northern part is shown as SO HO, the middle part Whitcomb Street and the remainder, from James Street south, is Hedge Lane. It is not clear from the map where the boundary between SO HO and Whitcombe Street is—probably somewhere between Compton Street and Gerrard Street.

Wardour Street was renamed and building began in 1686, as shown by a plaque formerly on the house at the corner with Broadwick Street. Sir Edward Wardour owned land in the area, and Edward Street was what is now the stretch of Broadwick Street between Wardour Street and Berwick Street, as shown by Roque. Neither side of the street was fully built up by 1720.

John Rocque shows both roads very clearly on his large-scale map of 1746. From Oxford Street south to Meard Street is now Wardour Street; then south to Compton Street is Old Soho; then down to Coventry Street is Princes Street. For the length of Leicester Square it is Whicomb Street and finally Hedge Lane, which now starts at Panton Street rather than James Street. The names are much the same on Greenwood’s map of 1827, although the area at the southern end had been redeveloped. The road now ends at Pall Mall East, and the boundary between Wardour and Princes streets may have moved north a little.

In the late 19th century, Wardour Street was known for (sometimes slightly shoddy) furniture stores, antique shops, and dealers in artists’ supplies.

In the 20th century the street became a centre of the British film industry, with the big production and distribution companies having their headquarters in the street. By the end of the century most of the big film companies had moved elsewhere, leaving some smaller independent production houses and post-production companies still based in the area.

By the 21st century, the street was home to many restaurants and bars north of Shaftesbury Avenue. South of Shaftesbury Avenue there are many Chinese restaurants, including the large Wong Kei at nos. 41-43. A London County Council blue plaque on Wong Kei’s commemorates costume designer and wigmaker Willy Clarkson whose business was based in the building.

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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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