Oxford Street is Europe’s busiest shopping street, offering one and a half miles of shops, many of them flagship stores for high-street brands including Topshop, Zara and Gap, as well as several department stores including the original Selfridges.
It’s hard to imagine the Oxford Street of today as anything other than the centre of London’s shopping district, but it has a long and interesting history.
Here are 10 interesting facts about the famous street:
1. Oxford Street was once the road that connected Newgate Prison with the hallows at Tyburn. Condemned prisoners were driven down the street from the prison and hung from the Tyburn tree at Marble Arch. There is still a small round stone in the road, marking the original location of the hanging tree.
2. The Tyburn stream originally ran alongside Oxford Street and gave the street its original name of Tyburn Road. This stream now flows through underground conduits and the only place in the city it can be seen running freely is inside the basement of Grays Antique Centre on the junction of Oxford Street and Davies Street, complete with resident goldfish.
3. Oxford Street was hit repeatedly by bombers during the blitz of 1940. John Lewis, Selfridges, Peter Robinson and Bourne & Hollingsworth department stores were all badly damaged or destroyed.
4. The site of the Marks & Spencer branch at 173 Oxford Street once housed the Pantheon – an entertainment building designed to resemble the Pantheon in Rome. The building originally consisted of assembly rooms, followed by a theatre, then a bazaar and a wine merchant show room. Marks & Spencer was first opened in 1938 after the original building was demolished.
5. Oxford Street has only one remaining pub – the Grade II listed Tottenham at number 6 Oxford Street. The building was constructed in the 19th century and was originally known as The Flying Horse.
6. Oxford Street has its own square on the original Monopoly board game. Together with Regent Street and Bond Street, it forms the green set of properties
7. The original branch of HMV on Oxford Street played an important part in the discovery of the ‘60s pop sensation The Beatles. The band’s manager, Brian Epstein visited the store in 1962 to discuss turning the band’s demo tapes into discs. The disc cutter was so impressed with what he heard that he called down a music publisher from the top floor of the building, who in turn, called George Martin of Parlophone Records. The band were given a contract and recorded their first album within a few months.
8. Oxford Street contains a secret roof top garden – Brown Hart gardens, built on top of an old Victorian substation. The gardens were originally built in 1905 and were open until the 1980s when they closed until reopening in 2013.
9. Several people working in Oxford Street in the ‘80s and earlier have claimed there is a secret underground street beneath Oxford Street, complete with cobble stones and abandoned Victorian shops. This secret street can allegedly be accessed via the cellars and basements underneath the modern shops including Selfridges and Forever 21.
10. Topshop is now one of the best-known fashion names on the high street, but few people know it started off known as “Peter Robinson’s Topshop”. Peter Robinson was once a department store chain with a branch at Oxford Circus, which was destroyed in the blitz and then re-launched under the Topshop name in 1964. The flagship Topshop store can still be found at Oxford Circus today.