A wry view of life for the world-weary

The Streets Of London – Part Thirty Seven


Wardour Street, W1

Situated in the heart of Soho, Wardour Street links Oxford Street to the north with Shaftesbury Avenue to the south and ends up at Leicester Square. The earliest printed map of London of London, produced in 1585 to settle a legal dispute, shows our street as Colmanhedge Lane and described as the “Waye from Vxbridge to London”. The lane almost exactly follows the course of the modern road, including the bends by what are now Old Compton Street and Brewer Street.

By the mid 17th century the road appears on maps as a major thoroughfare, although not one bearing a name. There were some two dozen houses dotted along it including what is described as a large Gaming house on the site of what is now occupied by the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square. For those of you wondering how Great Windmill Street came upon its name, yes, you’ve guessed it, there was a large windmill there at the time.

A map produced in 1682 showed that the road had now been split into three sections – the northern part was shown as So Ho, the middle part as Whitcomb Street and the southern end as Hedge Lane. The land through which the street ran was owned by one Sir Edward Wardour and when the area was redeveloped once more starting around 1686 the main thoroughfare assumed his name, as did Edward Street which is now the part of Broadwick Street between Wardour and Berwick streets. As London grew and developed what was part of Wardour Street and what was not changed regularly but by the 1870s the cartographers had settled on Wardour Street as running from Oxford Street to Coventry Street and Whitcomb Street to the south and so it as remained ever since.

In late Victorian times the street was known for its furniture stores, antique shops and dealers in artists’ supplies. But not was all that it seemed because the establishments soon developed a reputation for the shoddiness of their goods and mock antiques. So notorious was the street for the inauthenticity of its goods that it gave its name to Wardour Street English which the Collins English dictionary defined as affectedly archaic speech or writing.

A prominent family were the Wrights who between 1827 and 1919 occupied a number of premises in the street. They were framers to the National Gallery from at least 1856 and their frame for Veronese’s Adoration of the Magi is still in use today. So not all was shoddy!

In the 20th century Wardour Street became associated with the cinema. The Pathe Company who produced the first newsreels for cinemas in 1910 had their British office in 114 and at number 82 Charles Urban promoted Kinemacolor, the first successful means of shooting and producing colour film. At numbers 113 to 117 in the 1950s and 60s were to be found Hammer Horror films.


As well as films, Wardour Street was famous for its music venues, none more so than the Marquee Club, hosted at number 90. Many bands started out on their road to fame from there and I visited it occasionally in the late 70s and early 80s to see some punk bands. From 1957 to 1967 you would find the Flamingo Club at 33 to 37 where many jazz and blues artists, including Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday performed. At the turn of the 20th century the street was also the centre for the British violin making industry.

The Jam name-checked the street in their ditty, A-bomb in Wardour Street and today it is famous for its wide range of restaurants. Hard to think that once it was a country lane bisecting fields.


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