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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

London's West End: Centuries of Urban Development

Image: freedigitalphotos
The West End of London has been the UK's lively centre for retail and attractions since the beginning of the 19th century, and has been growing and gaining popularity to the point that it is now world-renowned for shopping and tourism.

Oxford Road was once a piece of an ancient Roman highway. This Roman highway attached Colchester to Hampshire and also allowed road access out of London, towards Oxford to the west. This road was north of the River Tyburn, originally having just fields around it, although it would become the boundary between the Parish of Marylebone and Westminster.

By the late 1700s, the Earl of Oxford believed it would be promising to use the Oxford Road area for a new recreation and retail district. While he began this transformation, other local landowners got involved with the development, mostly by building homes next to the road.

Regent Street was devised and constructed by John Nash, and completed in 1825. It boasted an extraordinary architectural style, which made it admired across Europe. This design was upscaled to the Beaux-Arts style in the early 20th century. Nash built the street for the Prince Regent, who requested a route between his St. James home in London and the recently built Regent Park.

Oxford Circus is a cherished historical landmark, because it reflects the earliest urban enhancements of London, although its earliest history includes multiple public hangings which occurred on the Tyburn Gallows until the mid-1750s. It is a road junction which encircles the Portland, Mayfair and Soho estates.

It was developed by Nash as part of his metropolitan improvements of 1813-20, but today the design of all of its quadrants is that of Tanner, resulting from renovations done between 1911 and 1925. Still, you can see one remnant of the original Nash design, the Marble Arch. This Arch was originally built as the western entrance for the Buckingham Palace grounds, but it was relocated to Oxford Circus in 1851, to be its western gateway.

Old Bond Street is one of the earlier developments, originally built in 1686, but which is no longer on the surface map. It is named after Sir Thomas Bond, who purchased the region from the Duke of Albemarle by pooling funds with various other wealthy entrepreneurs.

New Bond Street was built in 1721, to link Old Bond Street with Oxford Street. Both Old Bond Street and New Bond Street were lined with small shops to support the nearby residential communities, but by the early 18th century they were attracting so many fashion tourists from around London that many luxurious retail shops appeared on them. Even today, New Bond Street still hosts the original auction house for the famous auction company, Sotheby's.

The West End of the Georgian era mainly featured small shops that were positioned on ground level, had individually-sized widths and were in buildings of a domestic design and scale. Retailers like Asprey, on New Bond Street, have merged small shops together in order to create larger shops. Other than this, you won't find many examples of the historical architecture in the West End any more.

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