12 Secrets Of Regent Street

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 16 months ago
12 Secrets Of Regent Street
If only it were always this empty, but alas this photo was taken on Christmas morning. Photo: Lisa

1. It's named after the Prince Regent

...who later became King George IV. He ruled as Prince Regent for 10 years (1810-1820) while his father George III was too ill to go about his kingly business.

In this time, the Prince Regent lived at Carlton House (which stood where Carlton House Terrace now stands, but was demolished in 1829). He was planning to build himself a nice new palace in Regent's Park — which at the time was considered the countryside outside of London — and wanted a new road built to join his two palaces.

As we've already covered, Regent Street is mostly owned by the Crown Estate to this day.

2. It's all listed

Every building on Regent Street is Grade II listed. Collectively they form the Regent Street Conservation Area (PDF), which also encompasses other neighbouring streets

The original Regent Street was designed by John Nash, although the only surviving Nash building to this day is the church All Souls Langham Place. As well as being intended as a royal thoroughfare, it was also the world's first purpose built shopping centre.

"It will quite eclipse Napoleon." - the Prince Regent on seeing Nash's plans in 1811.

Many of the buildings were rebuilt between 1904 and 1925, when larger department stores (including Liberty of London) began moving in and the existing buildings were deemed unsuitable for modern purposes in terms of size or layout.

During the development, restrictions were still in place to keep the buildings all uniform, including the use of Portland Stone on exteriors, and the restriction on buildings being five storeys tall. Architects including Richard Norman Shaw, Reginald Blomfield and Henry Tanner were involved in the redesign.

All Souls Langham Place is the last remaining Regent Street building designed by John Nash. Photo: James Beard

3. It's curved for a reason

So if it was designed as a direct route between two palaces, why isn't it a straight road, as was the fashion for French boulevard style roads at the time? Nash encountered land ownership issues when designing the street, so had to build round some building that already existed.

It was also thought that aligning Regent Street to go directly through Piccadilly Circus would position it too far east to draw in customers from the neighbouring wealthy area of Mayfair. As it is, Regent Street formed a barrier between the affluent Mayfair and the less respectable area of Soho.

4. Working girls

The original street featured a covered walkway known as Quadrant Colonnades. A decision was made to demolish it in 1848, due to the prevalence of 'working girls' plying their trade in the area.

5. No skyscrapers allowed

Apart from the fact that the entire area is listed which prevents any development, tall buildings are banned for another reason.

An information leaflet (PDF) about the Regent Street Conservation Area states the following:

Strategic Views: The entire Conservation Area from the south end of the Quadrant to Waterloo Place is affected by the Primrose Hill to the Palace of Westminster Strategic View.

In other words, views of the Palace of Westminster are protected in the same way that views of St Paul's Cathedral are.

6. (Not) for sale

Anyone wanting to put for sale or to let boards up on Regent Street has to get permission from Westminster City Council first. This covers houses, flats, offices and shops. Come to think of it, we don't recall ever seeing a for sale board among the luxury shops, so maybe WCC are pretty stingy about giving permission.

There are also restrictions on the sizing, colour and position of lettering that shops can have on their façades.

7. The oldest shop

...is actually a cafe. Cafe Royal opened at 68 Regent Street in 1865, staying at the same premises right through until it closed down in 2008, serving royalty and celebrities throughout this period. For four years, the property was redeveloped, and the Hotel Cafe Royal now sits on the spot.

Hotel Cafe Royal, as it now is. Photo: Jerome Scott-Blount

8. The second Hamleys

For many, world-famous toyshop Hamleys is synonymous with Regent Street — but did you know the store originated elsewhere?

William Hamley founded a toyshop originally known at Noah's Ark in High Holborn in 1760, before it moved to Regent Street over a century later in 1881.

9. Late night shopping

According to Tim Moore's book, Do Not Pass Go, Regent Street was the pioneer of late night shopping in Britain. As far back as 1850, shopkeepers agreed to keep their doors open until a shocking 7pm to satisfy the retail needs of busy Londoners.

The 2014 Christmas lights. Photo: Daniel Coyle

10. Christmas lights

When we recently asked for your earliest memories of London, plenty of you mentioned seeing the Christmas lights in Regent Street and Oxford Street.

The first full Christmas light display lit up Regent Street in 1954, as a result of a Daily Telegraph article which criticised London for being too dreary over the Christmas period. Prior to this, part of the street had been lit up from 1949, and Christmas trees had lined the street over the festive period in 1948.

A lack of funding meant that there was no Christmas light display in the years 1972-1977.

11. Regent Street station

No, we're not going mad, Regent Street station really does exist... in Australia:

Regent Street Station in Sydney, Australia. Photo: Grendelkhan under a Creative Commons license

There are plenty of other Regent Streets around the world, including in Pennysylvania, New York and Nova Scotia, although how many of them are named after our own Regent Street, we don't know.

12. The Salviati Mosaic

Next time you walk past the Apple store, look up. Photo: shadow_in_the_water

235 Regent Street, now home to the Apple store, was once occupied by Salviati, a glassmaking and mosaic firm hailing from the island of Murano in Venice. In 1898, the company adorned the outside of its Regent Street premises with an intricate mosaic, incorporating two lions and four coats of arms, representing the cities of London and Westminster, and the Venetian islands of Murano and Burano. The mosaics were restored in 1999 and can still be admired today.

See also:

Last Updated 18 August 2016

Giles Cudmore

I am gutted I've not seen the mosaic as I like to around to see what others may miss, my excuse for this one is that I try to race past all Apple stores!

Juno

"The world's first purpose built shopping centre"... you're kidding. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul started building in 1455, as a purpose-built shopping centre, which it still is. There may be older ones; some of the hans on the Silk Roads are still going, I think.

Sally

Regent Street Station in Sydney was built in the mid-19th century and used as a departure point for funeral trains to travel to Rookwood Cemetery, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. It is still possible to visit it on special open days as historical architecture (it is no longer used for its original purpose).

Fabio Tadashi

Just to warn that you guys got the church name wrong in the text: it's All Souls, not All Saints. ;-)

Thomas Sutcliffe

A small addition to the above - the Bakerloo line between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus exactly follows the curve of Regent Street, a move originally made to avoid having to make 'easement' payments to owners of properties on either side of the road which means that speed is severely restricted due to the tightness of the curve between these two stations.

Bradley

Don't think that photo was taken on Christmas day as there's no Christmas decorations..