Carnaby Street
Swinging London, Carnaby Street, c. 1966
Carnaby Street is located in City of Westminster
Carnaby Street
Shown within City of Westminster
NamesakeKarnaby House
Maintained byWestminster City Council
Length250 m (820 ft)
LocationSoho, London
Postal codeW1
Nearest Tube stationLondon Underground Oxford Circus
Coordinates51°30′48″N 0°08′20″W / 51.51333°N 0.13889°W / 51.51333; -0.13889
South endBeak Street
North endGreat Marlborough Street
Inauguration1685 or 1686
Known for1960s fashion

Carnaby Street is a pedestrianised shopping street in Soho in the City of Westminster, Central London. Close to Oxford Street and Regent Street, it is home to fashion and lifestyle retailers, including many independent fashion boutiques.

Streets crossing, or meeting with, Carnaby Street are, from south to north, Beak Street, Broadwick Street, Kingly Court, Ganton Street, Marlborough Court, Lowndes Court, Fouberts Place, Little Marlborough Street and Great Marlborough Street. The nearest London Underground station is Oxford Circus.


Irvine Sellars and other boutiques, Carnaby Street, 1968

Carnaby Street derives its name from Karnaby House, which was built in 1683 to the east. The origin of the name is unknown. The street was probably laid out in 1685 or 1686. First appearing in the ratebooks in 1687, it was almost completely built up by 1690 with small houses. A market was developed in the 1820s. In his novel, Sybil (1845), Benjamin Disraeli refers to "a carcase-butcher famous in Carnaby-market".[1]

This area is notable for a cholera outbreak in 1854 leading to an early application of fundamental epidemiological principles to resolve the crisis. John Snow, the physician who recognised the cases were concentrated near a pump on Broad Street communicated the finding on a topographical display. It led to the pump being locked and the reduction in cases of cholera was rapid.

20th century

In 1934, Amy Ashwood Garvey and Sam Manning opened the Florence Mills Social Club at number 50,[2] a jazz club that became a gathering place for supporters of Pan-Africanism.[3]

Carnaby Street in the early 1950s was a shabby Soho backstreet consisting of "rag trade sweat shops, locksmiths and tailors, and a Central Electricity Board depot practically took up one side of the street."[4] The genesis of Carnaby Street as a global fashion destination began with Bill 'Vince' Green, a male physique photographer.[5] In 1954 he opened a small clothing boutique 'Vince' in adjoining Newburgh Street, to capitalise on the homosexual body-building community that congregated around the Marshall Street baths.[6][7] Those who modelled for the Vince catalogue and advertisements, and boosted its popularity, were the then barely-known Sean Connery and the hugely popular handsome boxer Billy Walker.[8] To further attract custom, Green hired pretty young men as sales assistants, one of whom was the Glasgow-born John Stephen, later to be known as 'The King Of Carnaby Street'.[9][10]

Stephen opened the boutique His Clothes, in 1957 [11] after his shop in Beak Street burned down. As Mary Quant later stated of Stephen, "He made Carnaby Street. He was Carnaby Street. He invented a look for young men which was wildly exuberant, dashing and fun."[12] According to James Gardiner, who at one stage made ties for the Vince boutique, at this period Carnaby Street "was essentially a gay thing...The clothes, including pink shirts and skin-tight white pants, were designed to appeal to gay men, but soon went mainstream."[13]

Stephen was followed by other men's fashion retailers, including Gear, Mates and Ravel. In 1966, Harry Fox and Henry Moss opened the first women's fashion boutique, Lady Jane, and later rented Foubert's Place to I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet, their first outlet in the area. Round the corner in Kingly Street, Tommy Roberts opened his gift shop, Kleptomania. He moved to Carnaby Street in 1967 and went on to make fame in the King's Road, Chelsea, with his Mr Freedom shop.

By the 1960s, Carnaby Street was popular with followers of the mod, hippie and peacock revolution styles.[14] Many independent fashion designers, such as Mary Quant, Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin,[15] Lord John, Merc, Take Six, and Irvine Sellars, had premises in the street, and various underground music bars, such as the Roaring Twenties, opened in the surrounding streets. Bands such as the Small Faces, The Who and The Rolling Stones appeared in the area, to work (at the legendary Marquee Club round the corner in Wardour Street), to shop, and to socialise, so it became one of the coolest destinations associated with 1960s Swinging London.

The first Cranks restaurant was opened at 22 Carnaby Street in 1961 by David and Kay Canter and Daphne Swann. Cranks grew into a chain and has been seen as a major factor in the spread of vegetarianism in recent decades[16]

The Carnaby Street contingent of Swinging London stormed into North American and international awareness with the 15 April 1966 publication of Time magazine's cover story[17] that extolled this street's role:

Perhaps nothing illustrates the new swinging London better than narrow, three-block-long Carnaby Street, which is crammed with a cluster of the 'gear' boutiques where the girls and boys buy each other clothing...[18]

In October 1973, the Greater London Council pedestrianised the street.[19] Vehicular access is restricted between 11 am and 8 pm. A comparison of pedestrian traffic before and after the change revealed that there had been a 30% increase in the number of pedestrians entering the area. In early 2010, a campaign was commenced for the pedestrianisation in the adjacent area of Soho.[20]

Westminster City Council erected two green plaques, one at 1 Carnaby Street, dedicated to fashion entrepreneur John Stephen, who began the Mod fashion revolution, and another at 52/55 Carnaby Street, dedicated to the Mod pop group the Small Faces and their manager, Don Arden.

21st century

The Rolling Stones shop in Carnaby Street, 2012

To celebrate the memory of Freddie Mercury after the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, the Carnaby Street arch got a rework with Queen's logo being put up until early 2019.

Despite John Stephen closing his final business in 1975 (he died in 2004 aged 70) and the gradual movement to novelty shops with appeal to the ever increasing tourist trade, the boutique trade founded in Carnaby Street in 1957 by Stephen is still visible through the many shops of that ilk that still exist[citation needed] in the street today[when?]. Although featured in many books about London, the only book published which is exclusively about Carnaby Street and traces the history from the 1600s to 1970 is simply entitled Carnaby Street and was written by Tom Salter in 1970.

Cultural impact

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Carnaby Street in 2006

In 1966 Lady Jane, the first ladies' fashion boutique opened, creating a public sensation when they had models getting dressed in the window, bringing Carnaby Street to a standstill.[21][22] This typified the relaxed sexual attitude the era brought about.

Carnaby Street was satirised by The Kinks in their 1966 hit, "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," which contains the line "Everywhere the Carnabetian Army marches on, each one a dedicated follower of fashion."

It was mentioned in the 1967 film Smashing Time. One of the songs, "Carnaby Street," features the lyric: "You'll pay for the gear on display to appear on the scene/ It's no good being mean/ They'll have your every bean."

In 1969, Peggy March recorded an album called In der Carnaby Street, with a hit song of the same name.

A song by The Jam, "Carnaby Street," was written by bassist Bruce Foxton. It was the B-side of single "All Around the World."

Carnaby Street the Musical opened in 2013. The show is set in the 1960s.[23]

See also


  1. ^ Benjamin Disraeli (1845) Sybil, chapter 1
  2. ^ Garvey, Amy Ashwood (1897–1969) Archived 22 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine,
  3. ^ Black History in Westminster Archived 21 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine, City of Westminster
  4. ^ Paul Anderson, Mods: The New Religion, Omnibus Press, London 2014.
  5. ^ Carnaby Hails Vince: Plaque For The Iconic Men’s Boutique
  6. ^ James Gardiner interviewed by Clare Barlow. 12 April 2019, Wellcome Collection. [1]
  7. ^ Paul Anderson, Mods: The New Religion, Omnibus Press, London 2014.
  8. ^ Paul Anderson,Mods: The New Religion, Omnibus Press, London 2014.
  9. ^ Jeremy Reed, The King of Carnaby Street: The Life of John Stephen, Haus, London 2010
  10. ^ Sixties Icon: As Carnaby Street celebrates 50 years, the extraordinary story of how a shy, young man from Govan began it all, The Scotsman, 14 September 2010.
  11. ^ "Art & Hue presents The King of Carnaby Street - Stylish Pop Art - Bespoke & Custom Art". Art & Hue. Retrieved 21 May 2017.
  12. ^ Sixties Icon: As Carnaby Street celebrates 50 years, the extraordinary story of how a shy, young man from Govan began it all, The Scotsman, 14 September 2010.
  13. ^ James Gardiner interviewed by Clare Barlow. 12 April 2019, Wellcome Collection, : 60 min mark [2]
  14. ^ Bolton, Gay. "Swinging 60s men's fashion on show at Derbyshire museum". Derbyshire Times. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  15. ^ Childs, Peter (1999). Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture. p. 180. ISBN 9780415147262.
  16. ^ Russell, Polly (5 November 2021). "The secret history of Britain's favourite dishes". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 10 December 2022. Retrieved 24 February 2022.
  17. ^ "London: The Swinging City". Time. 15 April 1966. Archived from the original on 17 January 2007. Retrieved 2 March 2009.
  18. ^ "You Can Walk across It on the Grass". Time. 15 April 1966. Archived from the original on 30 March 2008. Retrieved 1 March 2009.
  19. ^ "Museo del Camminare - London". Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  20. ^ Mark Stanley. "". Archived from the original on 25 August 2010.
  21. ^ "Decision - Commemorative Green Plaque for the former Lady Jane boutique, Carnaby Street". 27 September 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  22. ^ "Live models being dressed in the window of the Carnaby Street..." Getty Images. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  23. ^ "Welcome to Carnaby Street The Musical". Archived from the original on 28 August 2013.