5 Weird Facts About Oxford Circus

Hari Mountford
By Hari Mountford Last edited 15 months ago
5 Weird Facts About Oxford Circus

Tourists may expect to find trapeze artists and clowns at this central London destination, but the meeting of Oxford and Regent Street, alas, has no Circus. Pretty much at the centre of the tube map, Oxford Circus may just seem like a contender for the city's busiest platforms or the source of all your interchange misery, but it also has a wealth of trivia.

1. The Queen once drove a train to the station

Photo: British Pathe

She may not seem the most obvious of choices, but the Queen — yes, our very own Elizabeth II — once drove a tube train into Oxford Circus station. In 1969, to celebrate the opening of the new Victoria Line, she 'took the wheel' of a train from Green Park to Oxford Circus. Queen Elizabeth II is the only reigning monarch ever to have travelled on the Underground. Dubious about the fact HRH actually drove one of our trusty tube? You can see the event for yourself here.

2. Oxford Circus prompted the smoking ban at stations

Photo: Urban 75

On the 23 November 1984, at 9.50pm, a small fire started at Oxford Circus in the stores cupboard at the end of the Victoria line platform, soon spreading to the Bakerloo line platform opposite. When the thick smoke meant that the station inspector couldn't actually use the phone to call for help, he evacuated the platforms. The London Fire Brigade had extinguished the fire by 3am the next day, and the only injuries were 14 people suffering from smoke inhalation. Ironically, just a few months earlier in July, smoking on London Underground trains had been banned, precisely to avoid such fires. After the Oxford Circus blaze, a ban on smoking in all sub-surface stations was initiated.

3. There was once a temporary steel umbrella over the Regent Street interchange

You can't fault them for being insanely practical back in the day. In 1963, when major works were being done to Oxford Circus station, there needed to be a way for traffic to get over the junction, despite the roads being closed.  The solution was a giant steel umbrella which acted as a bridge for four-way traffic while works on a new concourse for the station were completed.  The roads were sealed off in just 65 hours, which was no mean feat seeing as the steel structure weighed in at 850 tons. The 'umbrella' was essentially a mini-flyover, and stood until 1968 when the station's works were finished and the roads could be reopened.

4. The 'circus' was designed by Buckingham Palace's architect

Regent's Circus traffic in 1900s. Photo: unknown

The point at which Regent Street intersects Oxford Street is the actual 'circus'. It was designed by a certain John Nash, an architect best known for the design of Regent Street, but among his other claims to fame are Brighton Pavilion and Buckingham Palace. The circus was designed for 'shops appropriated to articles of fashion and taste', according to Nash: in that sense, not much has changed since the early 1800s, apart from the name; it was originally known as Regent Circus North.

5. The diagonal pedestrian crossing is modelled those in Tokyo

Photo: E-Architect

The 'X' crossing that allows pedestrians to forge a diagonal route when negotiating Oxford Street and Regent Street was opened in 2009, having been inspired by innovative crossings in Tokyo. The then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, described the design as 'common sense', and at a cost of £5m, the reworking of the junction aimed to significantly reduce overcrowding.  Apparently another objective was to ensure that the exits of the Underground station were clearer — we're not sure this has worked entirely, but you can't knock them for trying.

Last Updated 15 November 2016