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Regent Street, view north from Oxford Circus

Regent Street is one of the major shopping streets in London's West End, well known to tourists and Londoners alike, and famous for its Christmas illuminations. It is named after the Prince Regent (later George IV), and is commonly associated with the architect John Nash, although all his original buildings except All Souls Church have since been replaced.[1]

The street was completed in 1825 and was an early example of town planning in England, cutting through the 17th and 18th century street pattern through which it passes. It runs from the Regent's residence at Carlton House in St James's at the southern end, through Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus, to All Souls Church. From there Langham Place and Portland Place continue the route to Regent's Park.

Every building in Regent Street is protected as a Listed Building, at least Grade II status, and together they form the Regent Street Conservation Area.[2]

The street is one of the locations on the standard UK version of the Monopoly board game.

Contents

History

This section is a summary of the main historical facts, and necessarily simplifies some of the complex issues. Much more detail can be found on the online resources referred to.

Regent Street proposal, published 1813, titled "PLAN, presented to the House of Commons, of a STREET proposed from CHARING CROSS to PORTLAND PLACE, leading to the Crown Estate in Marylebone Park".
The Quadrant, Regent Street in 1837, seen from Piccadilly Circus. The buildings have since been replaced.
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Beginnings 1811 to 1825

Regent Street is one of the first planned developments of London. The desire to impose order on the medieval street pattern of London dates back to the Great Fire of London (1666) when Sir Christopher Wren drew up plans for rebuilding the city on the classical formal model, but that initiative was lost. It was not until 1811 that John Nash drew up plans for broad, architecturally distinguished thoroughfares and public spaces: Carlton House Terrace on The Mall, Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street and Regent's Park with its grand terraces. The plans were prepared under the authority of the Office of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues, who since 1793 invited designs for Regent's Park, and came to the conclusion that the Park must have a proper road connecting it with the fashionable area around Charing Cross. Nash's plans were submitted to Parliament for approval.

While the park terraces are residential, Regent Street was intended for commercial purposes and consequently did not need gardens or public spaces. The scale of the development was unprecedented in London. The street followed the line of existing roads, and detoured to make efficient use of land belonging to the government. Nonetheless, much demolition was necessary, and many freehold and leasehold interests had to be bought out at current property values. It is thought that the Treasure supported the proposal because, in the aftermath of the lengthy Napoleonic Wars, there was an urgent need to the government to create jobs. Government expenditure was low because the design relied heavily upon private developers, including Nash himself. The buildings were to be let on 99 year leases, and income could be recouped in the form of ground rent.

The design was adopted by Act of Parliament in 1813, and built between 1814 and 1825. The individual buildings were designed by Cockerell, Soane and Nash himself, among others. At first called New Street, it became a dividing line between Soho, which was considered less than respectable, and the fashionable squares and streets of Mayfair. [1]

Rebuilding 1895 to 1927

By the end of the 19th century, fashions in shopping had changed and the original buildings were unsuitable for their purpose. They were small and old fashioned, and consequently they were restricting trade. In the Edwardian era, department stores were principal commercial aspiration. Dickins & Jones, Garrard & Co., Swan and Edgar, Hamleys and Liberty & Co. date from this period although only the last two are still there.

Further, Nash’s buildings were not of the highest quality, using stucco render and composition to imitate stonework; and many of the buildings had been considerably extended and were now structurally suspect. As the 99 year leases came to an end, Regent Street was redeveloped between 1895 and 1927 under the control of the Office of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues (now the Crown Estate).[1][3]

Regent Street as we see it today is the result of this redevelopment. South of Oxford Circus, none of the original buildings survive.

Regent Street is an example of the Beaux Arts approach to urban design: an assembly of separate buildings on a grand scale, designed to harmonise and produce an impressive overall effect. Strict rules were put in place to govern the reconstruction. Each block was required to be designed with a continuous unifying façade to the street, had to be finished in Portland stone, and with a uniform cornice level 66 feet above pavement level, excluding dormers, turrets and mansard roofs. The first redevelopment was Regent House, just south of Oxford Circus. However, the stylistic tone for the rebuilding was set by Reginald Blomfield's Quadrant.

The Quadrant was the subject of considerable debate. The unity of Piccadilly Circus had been upset by the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue, and the first proposals were unsatisfactory. At the age of 73, the eminent architect Norman Shaw was brought in to resolve the design, and drew up proposals for the Circus and the Quadrant which were approved in principle, but still subject to indecision and dispute, both on property acquisition matters, and the retailers' demand for bigger display windows. Shaw's design for the Piccadilly Hotel was completed in 1908 with severe modifications. Reconstruction of the Quadrant was finally carried out by Sir Reginald Blomfield, who adapted and arguably watered-down Shaw's designs, with building works started in 1923 and completed in 1928.[3]

A limited number of architects were responsible for the design of the reconstructed Regent Street. Other architects involved were Sir John James Burnet, Arthur Joseph Davis and Henry Tanner.

The work was delayed by the Great War and it was not until 1927 that the completion was celebrated, with King George V and Queen Mary driving in state along its length.

Crown Estate redevelopment

Since the turn of the millennium, the Crown Estate has embarked on a major redevelopment programme in Regent Street and some of its side streets. Early 20th century offices, which typically have many corridors and small individual offices, are being replaced with modern, flexible open plan accommodation. Some of the smaller shops are being replaced with larger units. This is being done by completely stripping out the interiors and / or rebuilding behind retained façades.

The largest element of the plan is the reconstruction of the Quadrant at the southern end of the street close to Piccadilly Circus. In addition to shops and offices, a five star hotel and a small number of flats will be created here.[4]

The Crown Estate moved its own headquarters from Carlton House Terrace to Regent Street in 2006.

Selected shops and other places of note

All Souls church, at the top of Lower Regent Street, seen between Broadcasting House and the new BBC Egton Wing

All Souls Church

All Souls Church, Langham Place, at the top of Regent Street next to Broadcasting House, is a church with a distinctive circular portico surmounted by a stone spire. Completed in 1823 and consecrated in 1824, All Souls is the only surviving building in Regent Street that was designed by John Nash.

Apple retail store

Apple retail store on Regent Street.

The Apple retail store opened on Regent Street at 10am on 20 November 2004. At the time this represented the first such store in Europe, and only the fourth outside the United States (the preceding three are in Japan, and since then many more have opened outside the United States). As of June 2009, the Regent Street store is the largest Apple Retail store worldwide.[5]

Austin Reed

Austin Reed's flagship store is located at 103-113 Regent Street. The store has an atrium at its centre, housing glass lifts allowing viewing across all floors. The lower ground floor sells womenswear and also houses Austin's, the refurbished 1920’s Art Deco Barber Shop, offering a full range of hair, face and body treatments for both men and women.

Broadcasting House

The BBC's headquarters are in Broadcasting House, whose front entrance is in Langham Place, marking the top end of Regent Street. Several national radio stations broadcast from this 1930s Art Deco building. The modern Egton Wing

Café Royal

The Café Royal, located at 68 Regent Street in the Quadrant, opened in 1865 and became an institution of London high society. The present building, by Sir Reginald Blomfield, dates from 1928 and is grade 2 listed. The Café Royal closed in December 2008, as part of Crown Estate plans to redevelop this part of Regent Street.[6]

Dickins & Jones

In June 2005 owner House of Fraser announced that the department store Dickins & Jones, which traces its origins to 1803 and had been located in Regent Street since 1835, would close in January 2006. The store was making losses for several years and failed to keep up with more fashion-conscious rivals such as its neighbour Liberty. The building has been redeveloped with small shop units on the lower floors and flats and offices above. [1]

Hamleys

Hamleys toy shop is 100 metres south of Oxford Circus on the east side of the road. Originally located in Holborn and named Noah's Ark, the store has been at the present address since 1906. Until the 1990s it was the world's largest toy store, with six floors devoted to playthings (the largest is now Toys "R" Us, in New York).

Liberty

The Liberty department store was originally known for its role at the retail end of the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts Movement styles. Set up by the entrepreneur Arthur Lasenby Liberty, who took out a loan for £2000 in 1874 and purchased 218a Regent Street. The shop opened in 1875 with only three staff. Lasenby’s shop sold ornaments, fabric and objects of art from Japan and the East. In the 1920s the now iconic Tudor-style building was designed and built by architects Edwin T. Hall and his son Edwin S. Hall, constructed from the timbers of two ships, the HMS Impregnable, and the HMS Hindustan. Liberty has bridges over Kingly Street, connecting the Tudor building to the adjacent stone faced building on Regent Street. However it no longer occupies the latter, and access is now from Great Marlborough Street.

Oxford Circus tube station

Oxford Circus is the junction where Regent Street crosses Oxford Street, and the site of one of the busiest of London's underground stations. The Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines all meet here.

Events

There is a yearly Regent Street Festival when the street is closed to traffic for the day.[7]

The Christmas light displays are a London tradition dating since 1948, when the Regent Street Association decorated the street with Christmas trees. Lighting was not allowed until 1949, following lifting of wartime restrictions, and the first full lighting display was in 1953. There is a different display every year, switched on at an opening ceremony in the first week of November.

On 6 July 2004, half a million people crowded into Regent Street and the surrounding streets to watch a parade of Formula One cars.

2006 Christmas lights in Regent Street.
2008 Christmas lights in Regent Street.
The Williams Formula One team participated in a demonstration in London's Regent Street prior to the 2004 British Grand Prix
Regent Street Festival Stage.

Transport

The nearest London Underground stations are Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c Regent Street History and Construction
  2. ^ The Architecture of Regent Street
  3. ^ a b British History Online, Rebuilding of the Quadrant
  4. ^ The Quadrant development
  5. ^ Tellzen, Roland (2008-06-18). "Sydney Apple store to open". Australian IT. http://www.australianit.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23883420-15306,00.html. Retrieved 2008-08-16.  
  6. ^ Andy McSmith, Last orders at the Café Royal, The Independent, 23 December 2008.
  7. ^ http://[www.whatsonwhen.com/sisp/index.htm?fx=event&event_id=29867 Regent Street Festival].

Bibliography

  • The Architecture of Regent Street, The Crown Estate, London, 2005.

External links

Coordinates: 51°30′39″N 0°08′19″W / 51.5108°N 0.1387°W / 51.5108; -0.1387


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