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Queues, Fumes, Crowds and Pickpockets – 100 Years of London’s Oxford Street

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30th October 1965: Traffic in Oxford Street, the main shopping centre of London. (Photo by Powell/Express/Getty Images)

30th October 1965: Traffic in Oxford Street, the main shopping centre of London. (Photo by Powell/Express/Getty Images)

Oxford Street, long before it became part of the A40, was once part of a Roman Road called Via Trinobantina which linked Silchster and Colchester via London. Between the 12th Century and into the 18th Century it was known variously as the Tyburn Road (named after the Tyburn river which ran just south of it and now flows underneath Oxford Street), Uxbridge Road, Worcester Road and Oxford Road. By 1730 the road became known as Oxford Street.

28th December 1951: Shoppers queuing outside Peter Robinsons in Oxford Street, London, for the start of the sales. (Photo by Monty Fresco/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

28th December 1951: Shoppers queuing outside Peter Robinsons in Oxford Street, London, for the start of the sales. (Photo by Monty Fresco/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

The street became popular with entertainers including bear-baiters, theatres and public houses. It was place shunned by the middle and upper classes due to the nearby Tyburn gallows and St Giles (the area around the junction of Oxford Street, Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road), then a notorious ‘rookery’ or slum. The gallows were removed in 1783, and by the end of the century, Oxford Street was being built up from St Giles Circus in the east to Park Lane on the west, containing a mix of residential houses shops and theatres.

30th June 1931: Rush hour traffic along Oxford Street, London. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

30th June 1931: Rush hour traffic along Oxford Street, London. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

 

Stanley Green by Sean Hickin near Oxford Street 1974

Stanley Green, Oxford Street in 1974. Photo by Sean Hickin.

 

New Oxford Street 1903

Postcard of New Oxford Street in 1903.

John Lewis started in 1864 as a small shop at No. 132, while Selfridges opened on 15 March 1909 at No. 400. By the 1930s, the street was almost entirely retail, a position that remains today. However, unlike nearby streets such as Bond Street and Park Lane, there has remained to this day a slightly seedy element that can never quite be shook off.

Oxford Street 1976 KH

Oxford Street in 1976, by Klaus Hiltscher.

 

Oxford Street Wallis 1976 KH

Oxford Street in 1976 by Klaus Hiltscher.

 

Oxford Street, London, England An 1887 stereoview image published by J.F. Jarvis and sold by Underwood & Underwood

Oxford Street, London, 1887. A stereoview image published by J.F. Jarvis and sold by Underwood & Underwood.

 

The scene on the day following an IRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army) car bomb explosion in Oxford Street, London, 20th December 1974. Three people were injured in the blast. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The scene on the day following an IRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army) car bomb explosion in Oxford Street, London, 20th December 1974. Three people were injured in the blast. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Swears and Wells at 374 Oxford Street 18th September 1939

Swears and Wells at 374 Oxford Street. Ad from just after the WW2 had began, 18th September 1939.

 

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Oxford Circus, April 1954.

Oxford street people 1976 KH

Oxford Street in 1976, by Klaus Hiltscher.

The Academy Cinema in Oxford Street 1945

The Academy Cinema in Oxford Street, 1945.

Queue for C & A's on Oxford Street 1950

Queue at C & A department store, Oxford Street, 1950.

Oxford Street HMV 1976 KH

The HMV store on Oxford Street, 1976.

Oxford Street Charing Cross Road 1982 Peter McGowan

Oxford Street Charing Cross Road, 1982. By Peter McGowan.

mod in oxford street 29th Dec 1964

Mod in Oxford Street, 29th Dec 1964.

Oxford Street, 1940. What's left of John Lewis on the left.

Oxford Street, 1940. What’s left of John Lewis on the left.

Oxford Street suffered not inconsiderable damage during the Second World War. During the night and early hours of 17 to 18 September 1940, 268 Heinkel He 111 and Dornier Do 17 bombers targeted the West End, particularly Oxford Street. Many buildings were damaged, either from a direct hit or subsequent fires, including four department stores: John Lewis, Selfridges, Bourne & Hollingsworth and Peter Robinson.

George Orwell wrote in his diary for 24 September that Oxford Street was “completely empty of traffic, and only a few pedestrians”, and saw “innumerable fragments of broken glass”. John Lewis caught fire again on 25 September and was reduced to a nothing but a shell. It remained a bomb site for the remainder of the war and beyond, finally being demolished and rebuilt between 1958 and 1960. Peter Robinson partially reopened on 22 September.

Selfridges was bombed again on 17 April 1941, suffering further damage, including the destruction of the Palm Court Restaurant. The store was damaged yet again on 6 December 1944 after a V2 rocket exploded on nearby Duke Street.

20th December 1937: Workmen demolishing the Pantheon in Oxford Street, London, warm up a Christmas pudding. By Reg Speller

20th December 1937: Workmen demolishing the Pantheon in Oxford Street, London, warm up a Christmas pudding. By Reg Speller.

H. Samuel in Oxford Street 1960

H. Samuel in Oxford Street 1960.

 

Christmas shoppers in Oxford Street 1964.

Christmas shoppers in Oxford Street 1964.

 

Oxford Street, London, Christmas Eve, 1965

Oxford Street, London, Christmas Eve, 1965.

 

hmv 363 Oxford Street, London - Customer browsing records 1950s

HMV, 363 Oxford Street, London – Customer browsing records 1950s.

My first paid job was delivering newspapers. The first paid acting job I got was dressing up as Edam cheese and handing out leaflets on London’s Oxford Street. I got pushed over by these little herberts and given a good shoe-in.
Jason Flemyng

 

London Oxford Street 1935 Jubilee

London Oxford Street, 1935 Jubilee.

 

17th August 1943: The ankle judging competition at Selfridges department store's annual sports meeting on the roof of the shop's building in London's Oxford Street. (Photo by Fred Morley/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

17th August 1943: The ankle judging competition at Selfridges department store’s annual sports meeting on the roof of the shop’s building in London’s Oxford Street. (Photo by Fred Morley/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

 

oxford st 1935

Oxford Street, 1935.

 

London 1966, Paul Huf working on a fashion shoot for Avenue Photo Sem Presser

Oxford Street, 1966, Paul Huf working on a fashion shoot for Avenue. Photo by Sem Presser.

 

London 1966, Paul Huf working on a fashion shoot for Avenue Photo Sem Presser

Oxford Street, 1966, Paul Huf working on a fashion shoot for Avenue. Photo by Sem Presser.

 

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Oxford Street, devestation outside the John Lewis store, 1940.

 

Bombed out John Lewis 1942

Bombed out John Lewis, 1942.

 

a Louis Levy postcard from about 1904 Oxford Circus towards New Oxford St

Louis Levy postcard from about 1904 Oxford Circus towards New Oxford Street.

On the telephone Oxford Circus 1968

Oxford Circus 1968

“I walk to Oxford Street and climb on the number 8. It’s freezing and it starts to rain and it’s the ugliest bus I’ve ever seen, rattling down the ugliest streets, in the ugliest city, in the ugliest country, in the ugliest of all possible worlds.”
― David Thewlis, The Late Hector Kipling

Oxford Circus 1958 ii

Oxford Circus, 1958.

“Whenever I tell people I’m a misanthrope they react as though that’s a bad thing, the idiots. I live in London, for God’s sake. Have you walked down Oxford Street recently? Misanthropy’s the only thing that gets you through it.” – Charlie Brooker

Oxford Circus 1958

Oxford Circus 1958

 

Oxford Circus 1963

Oxford Circus 1963

 

Oxford Circus c.1913

Oxford Circus c.1913.

“We are far from liking London well enough till we like its defects: the dense darkness of much of its winter, the soot on the chimney-pots and everywhere else, the early lamplight, the brown blur of the houses, the splashing of hansoms in Oxford Street or the Strand on December afternoons.There is still something that recalls to me the enchantment of children—the anticipation of Christmas, the delight of a holiday walk—in the way the shop-fronts shine into the fog. It makes each of them seem a little world of light and warmth, and I can still waste time in looking at them with dirty Bloomsbury on one side and dirtier Soho on the other.”
Author: Henry James

Oxford Circus postcard 1911.

Oxford Circus postcard 1911.

So, then, Oxford Street, stonyhearted stepmother, thou that listenest to the sighs of orphans, and drinkest the tears of children, at length I was dismissed from thee.
Thomas de Quincey

Oxford Circus tube station 1906

Oxford Circus tube station, 1906.

 

Peter Robinson department store Oxford Circus 1940.

Peter Robinson department store Oxford Circus 1940.

 

Oxford Circus c. 1953.

Oxford Circus c. 1953.

 

Oxford Street, 1949.

Oxford Street, 1949.

 

Snowy Oxford Street 1947

Snowy Oxford Street 1947.

 

Oxford Street 1962 Darren

Oxford Street in 1962.