Saturday, March 09, 2013

Shopping in the West End: A brief history

The United Kingdom has many shopping hotspots, but the most famous of these and one of the busiest by far is Oxford Street, which can be found in London's West End. In total, the street is around one and a half miles long.

Originally, Oxford Street was called Tyburn Road, and it had this name because the river Tyburn ran underneath it. It first began to develop as a major thoroughfare when prisoners began to be transported from Newgate Prison so that they could be hanged at Tybrun Tree, which now goes by the name of Marble Arch.

English: Oxford Circus Busy transport node on ...
image credit: freedigitalphotos.net
Tyburn Road became known as Oxford Street in the eighteenth century, when the road was purchased by the Earl of Oxford and was developed into a shopping area. Although the street was bombed during the Second World War it has since recovered. In 1959 its now world-famous Christmas lights were introduced, whilst a redesign of pedestrian crossings at Oxford Circus in 2009 has helped to lessen congestion in the area.

Looking to Covent Garden, its Piazza was a keen centre of market trading from the eighteenth century onwards. In the nineteenth century, the Piazza was converted by Charles Fowler into a Market Building. The Market Building was not only neo-classical in style, but also ended the Piazza's open plan layout and introduced a series of buildings under one complex.

In the nineteenth century you could find residential arcades by Inigo Jones, although none of these can be seen today, in spite of attempts by the architect Henry Clutton to reproduce them in his buildings for the Duke of Bedford in the 1870s. Over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Piazza was redesigned and rebuilt numerous times, and now the focus of the Piazza is Charles Fowler's Market Building, which was restored between 1975 and 1980, and now includes a pub, shops, and restaurants.

The Market Building was designed by the GLC architectural department, and they found that they had to excavate the southern hall to meet fire safety standards, and so now you can find a floor of shops at basement level. The architects also added large lanterns to the building, which have pineapples on top of them, and this is a homage to the previous use of the building.

Any keen shoppers would also do well to go to the Seven Dials, which is in fact a collection of streets. These were originally named Little and Great Earl Street, Little and Great White Lyon Street, Queen Street, and Little and Great St. Andrew's Street, although they now go by the names of Earlham Street, Mercer Street, Shorts Gardens, and Monmouth Street respectively.

Edward Pierce, England's leading stonemason at the time, was commissioned to design and make the centrepiece of the Seven Dials, which was a sundial pillar that was constructed between 1693 and 1694. The pillar had six sundial faces, while the seventh aspect to the piece was considered the column of the sundial. It was considered to be one of the more admired public ornaments in London at the time.