Someone once said that London's streets are paved with gold. Well here are five that are paved with metaphoric turd — ranked by sheer awfulness.
5. Euston Road
For millions of Northerners — and, indeed, Parisians and Bruxellois — Euston Road and its mainline stations offer a first taste of London. And what a taste. Unless you love the smell of incomplete combustion in the morning, then this growling thoroughfare is one of the most obnoxious in the capital. It's what Peter Ackroyd would insist on calling 'noisome', even though he's already used the word eight times in the previous paragraph.
Euston Road was built in the 1750s as part of London's first bypass. It still has that lack-of-air about it, rumbling to traffic at all times of day and night. Pedestrians are poorly served, particularly at this junction near Euston Station, which — moronically — lacks a pelican crossing for those visiting the Wellcome Collection.
Euston Road would appear much higher up this list were it not for the surprising amount of world-class sculpture dotted around. 'Where's that then?', you might ask. Follow our guided walk to see this unloved road in a different light.
4. Oxford Street
What kind of road has half a million visitors every day, but only one pub? Why do so many choose to shop here, when more pleasant alternatives are widespread? What species of street needs three branches of Carphone Warehouse? What is a carphone anyway?
Oxford Street could use a good kick up the arse. It is grotesquely mal-loaded with people and vehicles; a capitalist moshpit in which a hurled bottle of urine would actually enhance the culture.
Improvements to the street are rare. When a new pedestrian crossing opened in 2009, a triumphant Mayor Boris Johnson inaugurated the thing with a giant gong. Every major newspaper covered this epoch-making event. Many commissioned videos. Even the po-faced Londonist ran a thousand-word story on a potential threat to said crossing. Imagine the rejoicing if something significant got done.
Plans are now afoot to rekindle the street. Mayor Sadiq Khan wants to pedestrianise or part-pedestrianise this wretched thoroughfare. Perhaps then we can all stop colliding and take the time to appreciate Oxford Street's hidden beauties and secrets.
3. Beech Street
There are no beech trees on Beech Street. Nothing grows here except unease. The long, choking tunnel beneath the Barbican is one of the few places in the City where cars can get up some speed beside an unprotected footpath. It's not a comfortable walk.
Nor is it a dainty one. The chosen colour scheme is 'bodily fluids that have gone a bit ill'. Woebegone panels of yellow, brown and cream clash on a background matte of jaded phlegm. It is vile.
The City of London wants to transform this street into part of a Culture Mile. Let's hope so, because even a bacterial culture wouldn't be caught growing down this wretched street right now.
2. Downing Street
Downing Street is a public highway and a public right of way, yet it isn't open to the public. That makes it a pretty wretched kind of street in our book.
Since 1989, general access has been barred by a set of gates and some friendly but well-armed coppers. You can get in if you have a good enough excuse — journalist, window cleaner, petition dropper-off-erer, even Michael Gove — but random punters will be turned away. The public right of way has never been retracted. It is sealed up with powerful juridical magic, woven from 'breach of the peace' and anti-terrorism spellbooks.
Get inside and you'll find that the street is doubly wretched for its superficiality. That beautifully constructed, black-brick Georgian terrace is none of those things. The houses date back to the 1680s, three decades before the Georgian era. The bricks were originally yellow, only turning black through centuries of grime. Churchill described the row as 'shaky and lightly built'. You can see it in the brickwork. Look close and you'll notice that those neat, white mortar lines don't perfectly follow the bricks. The walls of 10 Downing Street are 'tuckpointed' — built in a hasty, slipshod fashion, then made to look good by a well-paid specialist. There may be a metaphor lurking in there somewhere.
1. Sloane Street
You don't get many pedestrians on well-to-do Sloane Street. Most people arrive in either a limo or a getaway vehicle. The road runs between Knightsbridge and Sloane Square tube stations, though nobody who lives here has ever ventured into either.
If you pride yourself on kind-hearted tolerance and lack of prejudice, take a walk along this canyon of extreme privilege. A keen facility for inverse snobbery will quickly foment in your breast. This is the place to come if you want an ermine-trimmed tablecloth, an Italian leather butt plug, a servant made of ivory or a pullover spun from diamond. Or so we suspect. We dare not look directly into those plate glass windows for fear of setting off the pleb alarms.
Sloane Street has one saving grace. The Gloucester pub offers an island of normality among the Versaces and the Guccis. This rough among the diamonds is so remarkable that the pub makes a big thing of it over its doorway.
It is the only pub on Sloane Street and, indeed, the only building many of us will ever go into on this most wretched street in the capital.