FromOxford Street in Ondon is undergoing a painful renovation as some of the biggest names are closing their doors. House of Fraser is expected to leave in January, while Debenhams, Topshop, French Connection and Gap businesses have already closed. While there are no guarantees for the future, there is hope in the fact that the country’s retailer has undergone multiple inventions. Here we walk through 300 years of Oxford Street history, through the evolution of five great buildings.
150-154: From Diorama to Sports Drama
Billionaire Mike Ashley has spent Sports Direct £10m to set up a London store designed to lose its sporty, relaxed image and wow fans when it opens this summer.
The chosen location was involved in the drama from the beginning. When the Royal Bazaar opened in 1827, it offered a mixture of entertainment and retail with artwork and other goods for sale alongside dioramas, while the audience stood on a rotating platform with semi-transparent panels illuminated to give the impression of the changing of the seasons. Or shifts from day to night. The dioramas caught fire, and by 1840 the Princess Theater opened in its place, showing Shakespeare’s high-profile plays and popular melodramas, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Andrew St. Lunden Survey It is placed in front of the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London, and it tells of our history on the streets.
It wasn’t until 1931 that new owners set up Princess House, a modern building housing offices, workspaces and outlet for a relatively newcomer, Woolworths, which occupied the basement and ground floor with a cafeteria and lunch bar for 500 people.
Woolworths left in 1977, 32 years before the British company went bankrupt and disappeared from Britain’s main streets, turning the site into a shopping center called Oxford Walk. Then in 1986, HMV came forward and claimed that the three-story, 55,740-square-foot store was “the largest music store in the world.”
This space has become increasingly obsolete as new technology reduced the demand for vinyl records, and when CDs, DVDs and HMVs entered management in late 2013, it made way for low-cost fashion chain Sports Direct to move into it.
214 Oxford Street: From the bazaar to IKEA
The shining jewel of British street fashion, the former Topshop label on Oxford Street, is still empty. This northeastern corner of Oxford Circus is now being renovated to bring the Ikea furniture chain to Main Street, and it includes the history and future of British shopping in one place.
In 1858 the place first appeared as Crystal Palace Bazaar, an iron-and-glass-roofed shopping plaza selling toys, jewelry, and other goods, in a building designed by architect Owen Jones who co-founded Crystal Palace. The illustrious shop only had a small entrance on Oxford Street, which was not a major shopping destination at the time. When trade declined, Peter Robinson purchased the building in 1876 as part of an expansion of his apparel business.
In 1912, a building was constructed that occupies the entire building, Peter Robinson had on the lower floors and a restaurant topped with vaulted ceilings decorated with murals, which still exist today. In 1965, the department store’s basement became home to Topshop, who acquired the building in 1994, and which houses hairdressers and a nail bar as well as massive locker rooms. Sportswear brand Nike took over the staple in 1999. Topshop finally took off the streets last year after it came into management and was bought by online specialist Asos.
252-258 Oxford Street: Pigsty to BHS and Miniature Golf
The closure of BHS on Oxford Street in 2016, and dozens of other outlets across the country, was at the center of the shopping scandal. The collapse of the struggling store, just a year after it was sold for £1 in a series of bankruptcies by retail magnate Sir Philip Green, has led to thousands of layoffs and a major pension shortfall that the Green family has only covered after public protests.
The department store’s sloppy finish came after a sloppy start, as Saint also claimed there was a stable yard nearby, along with the Phoenix Tavern.
Redevelopment began during the reign of George I and by the 1780s there was a group of shops including a saddle seller and printmaker. The passengers were eventually purchased in 1928 by Speedan Lewis, John Lewis’ boss.
After John Lewis came the thriving BHS, which opened its flagship store there in 1961.
The site has now been split into a series of select and mixed uses, including a reserved Polish fashion series! However, one name has remained consistent over the past 300 years: the building still houses a pub called Phoenix.
456-464 Oxford Street: From Shoemakers to Controversy
The Marks & Spencer Marble Arch flagship store is located at the end of the reinvention of Oxford Street.
The retailer wants to demolish its current plot, which includes Orchard House, completed in 1930, to make way for a building that will cut retail space in half, from five floors to just two and a half stories, with several floors of offices above. The development includes a shopping plaza, a small park, and potential recreational facilities such as a gym.
While the plan was approved by Westminster Council, pending approval by the Mayor of London, activists pushed for a reconsideration, criticizing the plan for potential carbon emissions and the destruction of a historic building.
However, the loss of retail space dates back to the 19th century on Oxford Street.
Like most streets, this sprawl began as terraced houses. By the 1830s they all had shops on the ground floor, with houses above them or small corporate buildings, such as hat makers or tailors.
Orchard House was commissioned by tea room operator Lyons & Co, who used the upper floors as training rooms until the late 1960s. M&S opened its first store in London in 1899, and it grew out of a small bazaar in Leeds and initially occupied the ground floor and basement of the new building.
Marks & Spencer gradually expanded to occupy more of the building, before the advent of online shopping rendered this space obsolete.
499 Oxford Street: Edward Lutyens to Primark
The 100,000-square-foot Primark store near Marble Arch caused chaos when it opened in 2007, as shoppers lined the streets for two hours as they struggled to get hold of discounted fashion at the chain’s first outlet in central London. Primark had a rough few years during the pandemic, when it had to close its doors for months without reversing its online sales. But this is nothing compared to the hideous fortunes of the former shop owners of the place.
Formerly the site of several large homes in Hereford Gardens on the Grosvenor Estate, it was purchased in 1928 by the Gamages Group of Stores, who wanted to expand from their base in Holborn to a new store with apartments above. At a cost of more than £1 million, the building was overseen by the star architect of the Arts and Crafts era, Sir Edward Lutyens. While the luxury apartments were a success, the store, which opened in 1930 at the height of the Great Depression, closed just eight months later.
In 1938 it was purchased and became the headquarters of C&A in the UK, using the upper floors as an office. The Dutch fashion chain opened its first outlet in the UK just eight years ago, along Oxford Street, and was in circulation until 2001 when the rainbow logo and cheap fashion fell into its favour. The site was later acquired by Allders Store, but by 2005 this group had collapsed in management with huge debts, paving the way for the grand Primark entrance.
“Travel specialist. Typical social media scholar. Friend of animals everywhere. Freelance zombie ninja. Twitter buff.”