8 Secrets Of Oxford Street

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 66 months ago

Last Updated 19 December 2018

8 Secrets Of Oxford Street
Photo: Anatoleya

1. How long is it?

Oxford Street follows the route of a Roman road which linked Colchester to Hampshire. These days it's part of the A40, which begins at Cheapside and runs all the way out to Fishguard in Wales — although it does skirt round the city of Oxford, making it the main road linking the two cities.

The stretch known as Oxford Street is 1.2 miles long, running from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road. The stretch east of Tottenham Court Road, to Holborn, is New Oxford Street.  

2. Tyburn Road

Oxford Street was previously known as Tyburn Road thanks to the now-buried Tyburn River which runs beneath it.

It also used to be the final journey for prisoners being transferred from Newgate Prison to the Tyburn tree at Marble Arch, where they would be hanged. Today, a stone marks the site where the tree stood:

Photo: Matt Brown

3. The secret street

It's long been rumoured that a secret — and perfectly preserved —  Victorian street runs underneath Oxford Street. Some blame Malcolm McLaren's 1991 film The Ghosts of Oxford Street for furthering these rumours.

Here, a man who managed Lilley & Skinner at 356-360 Oxford Street (now Forever 21) in the early 1980s claims to have seen this abandoned thoroughfare.

Beyond this, we have no proof of the street's existence, but our subterranean expert reckons it's most likely to be some sort of sewer running underneath the streets. Tales of preserved Victorian shopfronts might be a bit far-fetched.

4. A disastrous night

Like much of London, Oxford Street suffered during the Blitz. On the night of 17 September 1940, four of the street's biggest department stores — Selfridges, John Lewis, Bourne & Hollingsworth and Peter Robinson — were all badly damaged.

In particular, at Selfridges, a window which had been signed by many celebrity visitors to the store was smashed beyond repair.

Selfridges was one of the buildings damaged. Photo: Damien du Toit

5. The basement broadcast studio

The basement of the Peter Robinson store on Oxford Street (now Topshop — and a listed building) was used by the BBC as a broadcast studio in the latter part of the second world war.

Ex-BBC employee Trevor Hill shares his memories of working in the studio. George Orwell was among the names who made broadcasts from the basement.

Similarly, the US Army took over Selfridges' basement, while John Lewis had a basement air raid shelter which could house 200 people.

6. HMV's history

Photo: J. F. Sebastian

Several shops are long term residents of the Street, but HMV has its own story.

The first HMV store opened at 363 Oxford Street in 1921, and although it temporarily moved in the second world war due to bomb damage, it remained at those premises until 1986, when a new flagship store was opened further down Oxford Street. However, in 2013, HMV moved back into 363 Oxford street, where it's been ever since.

In 1962, the store's recording equipment was used by Brian Epstein to record a demo by a then-little-known band called The Beatles — and we all know what came of that.

7. Reaching new levels

House of Fraser's flagship store — previously known as D H Evans, opened on Oxford Street in 1932, and was the first department store in the UK to offer escalators serving every floor.

8.What's JFK got to do with it?

Oxford Street Christmas lights, winter 2015-2016. Photo: James Beard

Oxford Street's (and neighbouring Regent Street's) Christmas lights are world-famous. Oxford Street began the tradition in 1959, after the success of Regent Street's lights which began in 1954.

The lights were switched off for several years in the 1960s and 1970s due to the economic recession.

Twice, the switching on of the Oxford Street lights has been postponed: in 1963, as a mark of respect to the recently deceased JFK, and in 1989, to accommodate guest star Kylie Minogue's touring schedule.

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