How London's West End Has Changed

By Sponsor Last edited 20 months ago
How London's West End Has Changed

This is a sponsored article on behalf of SunLife.

Change is a constant in London. The city is seemingly reinvented from one generation to the next. These photographs, taken between the 1950s to 1990s, show familiar locations from the West End. Each has changed in the intervening years, either subtly or completely.

Here we see the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square, pictured in 1982. The Empire was built in the 1880s as a variety theatre, then refitted for cinema in the 1920s. The building boasts an elegant classical frontage, visible today, but here covered up with the cinema's name and bill. Just as interesting are the cinema's neighbours. An Angus Steak House stands to the left —  a company still trading, though not from these premises. To the right, the 'Electronic Game Emporium' appears to be an early version of a video game arcade.

The London Pavilion on Piccadilly Circus, pictured in 1961. Few aspects of central London change as rapidly as the famous advertising signs, which have been a feature of the Circus since 1908. The selection from the early 60s show still-familiar brands such as Wrigley's Gum, Gordon's Gin and Lemon Hart rum. The PAL Injecto-matic razor sounds painful. Top billing of all goes to Yul Brynner in the Magnificent Seven, on show in the Pavilion.

This photo of Charing Cross Road shows the seedier side of Soho in 1977. While the area is still noted for its adult entertainment, the adverts are perhaps now more discreet. The Bear & Staff pub still stands, but the erotic cinema is now a supermarket.   

A Thames view of Embankment from 1990. The most obvious feature is Charing Cross station, under construction beneath two tower cranes. To the right, Hungerford rail bridge lacks the spindly foot bridges that would be added a decade later (though pedestrians could still cross here thanks to a narrow footway on the downstream side of the bridge).  

At first, the location shown above is hard to identify. But then the tube station sign gives the game away. The view is from 1956 and taken on Tottenham Court Road, with New Oxford Street to the left, St Giles High Street ahead-left, and Charing Cross Road ahead-right. The junction was completely remodelled with the building of the Centre Point tower from 1963, and has now been further altered to make space for the new Crossrail station.

And finally, here is the British Museum, pictured in 1971. The museum itself looks just as the Victorians would have known it. The one jarring difference to a modern visitor, however, is the car parking. Until the 1980s, visitors could simply drive into the museum's grounds and park up.


See further past-and-present images of cities in the UK over on SunLife's website.

Images taken from London Metropolitan Archives's Collage collection, and used under licence.

Last Updated 28 September 2016