7 Secrets Of Shaftesbury Avenue

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 25 months ago
7 Secrets Of Shaftesbury Avenue

Shaftesbury Avenue lies in the heart of the West End. It's packed full of theatres, starts in Piccadilly Circus and includes the boundary of Chinatown. Find out some of the street's secrets below:

Photo: David Bank

Rainbow Corner

London was packed with American soldiers during the second world war. While they were waiting to be shipped abroad to join the fight in Europe, many of them were partying the nights away on Shaftesbury Avenue. The street was the home to Rainbow Corner, which aimed to give American soldiers some wartime home comforts.

It became one of London's hottest party spots, not only with "Yanks", but also British youths. This was their first taste of the American youth culture they'd seen up on the silver screen. The party regularly spilled out onto Shaftesbury Avenue itself, which was lined with GIs looking to meet British women.

Cat Stevens

Living in the West End is extortionate these days, but back in 1948 that wasn't the case. Enter: Steven Demetre Georgiou, better known as Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam. The singer was born and grew up above the cafe owned by his parents, Moulin Rouge on Shaftesbury Avenue. After he converted to Islam, he stopped performing music for twenty years, but in recent times he's done the odd show. One just happened to be down his old street.

Drunken beginnings

A plaque at Harrow school, commemorating what Cooper witnessed.

It's reasonably well known that Shaftesbury Avenue is named for the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper. He was popular for his tireless dedication to charitable causes, a philanthropy which was inspired by a particular incident in his youth.

Cooper saw two drunkards lugging about a coffin in the most disrespectful way imaginable — staggering around, laughing and occasionally dropping it on the ground. It was from that moment onwards that he dedicated himself to charity, so Shaftesbury Avenue wouldn't have that name if it weren't for some drunks having fun with a coffin.

Drama through the ages

Ever felt that the Covent Garden Odeon on Shaftesbury Avenue looks a little too grand for a cinema? Well you'd be right; it's formerly the Saville Theatre, and Beatles manager Brian Epstein turned the place into a Sunday night music venue. Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix and The Bee Gees are among those who have performed here. The sculpture that lines the building is by Gilbert Bayes, and is titled Drama Through The Ages.

Photo: shadow_in_the_water

Collapsing roofs

You might remember the roof of the Apollo Theatre collapsing in 2013, but it wasn't the first time a Shaftesbury Avenue theatre roof collapsed. In 1973, a performance of Hair in Shaftesbury Theatre was interrupted by a similar incident, which brought the long running production to an end after 1,998 performances. Maybe the Edwardian building had finally had enough of seeing all those naughty bits night after night.

The missing shaft

Let's dispel an urban myth. The archer in Piccadilly Circus is missing his arrow, leading people to believe that he must have buried his shaft somewhere nearby. It's not buried down Shaftesbury Avenue, so please don't go digging the street up.

Photo: Adam Lister

Piccadilly Circus advertising

Did you know that it was actually Shaftesbury Avenue's creation that led to the advertising boards that adorn the Piccadilly Circus  junction? Before Shaftesbury Avenue was created in 1886, Piccadilly Circus was a true circus, a circular interchange. There were buildings where Shaftesbury Avenue is now, which were demolished to make way for the road. The remaining residents on the north side facing directly onto the circus realised they had a great opportunity to make a profit, and so the world-famous light advertising boards were born.

Last Updated 16 January 2017