Regent Street is one of the major shopping streets in the West End of London, well known to tourists and locals alike and famous for its Christmas illuminations. It is named after the Prince Regent (later George IV) and is commonly associated with the architect John Nash, whose street layout survives, although all of his original buildings except All Souls Church have since been replaced.
The street was completed in 1825 and was an early example of town planning in England, cutting through the 17th and 18th century street pattern through which it passes. It runs from the Regent's residence at Carlton House in St James's at the southern end, through Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus, to All Souls Church. From there Langham Place and Portland Place continue the route to Regent's Park.
Although none of the original 1825 Nash buildings (save for the church) remain (the Regency buildings were all demolished between 1897 and 1925) every building in Regent Street is protected as a listed building with at least Grade II status, and together they form the Regent Street Conservation Area.
Regent Street is one of the first planned developments of London. The desire to impose order on the medieval street pattern of London dates back to the Great Fire of London (1666) when Sir Christopher Wren and John Evelyn drew up plans for rebuilding the city on the classical formal model, but plans were slow to develop and houses were rebuilt on the old street network anyway.
In 1766, John Gwynn complained in his work London and Westminster Improved that were was a lack of planning throughout the West End and that it would be useful to construct a thoroughfare linking Marylebone Park (now Regent's Park) with the Prince Regent's Carlton House. In 1793, the civil servant John Fordyce was appointed as Surveyor-General to the Department of Woods and Forests and concluded that there should be a suitable road in place by 1811, when the lease for Marylebone Park ran out and ownership reverted to the Crown. It was hoped the road could link Pall Mall and the Haymarket, which though under Royal ownership had become increasingly downmarket. A further problem was increased congestion around Charing Cross, which would benefit from road improvements.
The street was designed by John Nash. Nash had been appointed to the Office of Woods and Forests in 1806 and had previously served as an adviser to the Prince Regent. He put forward his own plans for the street in 1810 following the death of Fordyce, envisioning broad, architecturally distinguished thoroughfares and public spaces: Carlton House Terrace on The Mall, Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street and Regent's Park with its grand terraces. The Regent's Development is considered one of the first garden suburbs and involved extending London into its rural periphery by combining residential development, with public open space, and new infrastructure in the form of a system of canals.
Nash's design put the road further west than previous plans, and believed the road would run down a de facto line separating the upper classes and nobility to the east with the working class to the west. The road was designed to curve east between Oxford Street and Piccadilly so it would not run into St James's Square, and the circuses allowed visual continuity down the street. This central section, known as the Quadrant, was designed for "shops appropriated to articles of fashion and taste", and was Nash's centrepiece design of the entire street. It was built with a colonnade made out of cast-iron columns, allowing commuters to walk along the street without having to face bad weather. The various buildings along the Quadrant had different facades, which was a deliberate choice by Nash to break away from the uniform design of the previous century, as well as a pragmatic means of using what building materials were available and what clients wanted.
The design was adopted by an Act of Parliament in 1813, which gave the commissioners permission to borrow £600,000 for building and construction. The street was intended to have commercial purposes and it was expected that a majority of the income would come from private capital. Nash took responsibility for design and valuation of all properties. Construction of the road resulted in demolition of numerous properties, disrupting trade and polluting the air with dust. Existing tenants had first offer to purchase leases on the new properties. The Treasury supported the proposal because, in the aftermath of the lengthy Napoleonic Wars, there was an urgent need for the government to create jobs. Government expenditure was low because the design relied heavily upon private developers, including Nash himself. The buildings were to be let on 99-year leases, as was common at the time, and income could be recouped in the form of ground rent.
Although Nash was responsible for the street's development generally, some individual buildings were designed by Charles Robert Cockerell, Sir John Soane, amongst others. By 1819, rents were started to be paid regularly to the Crown and the street was becoming established.  At first called New Street, it became a dividing line between Soho, which had become less than respectable, and the fashionable squares and streets of Mayfair to the west.
By the end of the 19th century, Regent Street had become established as the "centre of fashion". Shops expanded into two or more properties and sold imported and exotic products to appeal to a niche consumer. However, fashions in shopping had changed and the original buildings were unsuitable for their purpose. They were small and old fashioned, and consequently they were restricting trade. A colonnade constructed by Nash was demolished in the mid-19th century for fear it might attract "doubtful characters".
Further, Nash’s buildings were not of the highest quality, using stucco render and composition to imitate stonework; and many of the buildings had been considerably extended and were now structurally suspect. As the 99-year leases came to an end, Regent Street was redeveloped between 1895 and 1927 under the control of the Office of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues (now the Crown Estate).
The modern Regent Street is the result of this redevelopment. South of Oxford Circus, none of the original buildings survive except for some Nash-designed sewers. The current street's design is an example of the Beaux Arts approach to urban design: an assembly of separate buildings on a grand scale, designed to harmonise and produce an impressive overall effect. Strict rules were put in place to govern the reconstruction. Each block was required to be designed with a continuous unifying façade to the street, had to be finished in Portland stone, and with a uniform cornice level 66 feet above pavement level, excluding dormers, turrets and mansard roofs. The first redevelopment was Regent House, just south of Oxford Circus. However, the stylistic tone for the rebuilding was set by Reginald Blomfield's Quadrant.
Regent Street became the first shopping area in Britain to support late night opening in 1850, when shopkeepers agreed to keep stores open until 7pm.
The Quadrant was the subject of considerable debate. The unity of Piccadilly Circus had been upset by the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue, and the first proposals were unsatisfactory. At the age of 73, the architect Norman Shaw was brought in to resolve the design, and drew up proposals for the Circus and the Quadrant which were approved in principle, but still subject to indecision and dispute, both on property acquisition matters, and the retailers' demand for bigger display windows. Shaw's design for the Piccadilly Hotel was completed in 1908 with modifications. Reconstruction of the Quadrant was finally carried out by Sir Reginald Blomfield, who adapted a Shaw's designs. Building works started in 1923 and completed in 1928.
A limited number of architects were responsible for the design of the reconstructed Regent Street. Other architects involved were Sir John James Burnet, Arthur Joseph Davis and Henry Tanner.
The work was delayed by World War I and it was not until 1927 that the completion was celebrated, with King George V and Queen Mary driving in state along its length.
Most of Regent Street, apart from two blocks at the northern end near Langham Place, is owned by the Crown Estate. In 2013 the Crown Estate sold 25% of the 270,000 sq ft Regent Street Quadrant 3 building to the Norwegian Oil Fund. Since the turn of the Millennium, the Crown Estate has embarked on a major redevelopment programme in Regent Street and some of its side streets. Early 20th century offices, which typically have many corridors and small individual offices, have been replaced with modern, flexible open plan accommodation. Some of the smaller shops were replaced with larger units.
The largest element of the plan is the reconstruction of the Quadrant at the southern end of the street close to Piccadilly Circus. In addition to shops and offices, a five star hotel and a small number of flats will be created here. The Crown Estate moved its own headquarters from Carlton House Terrace to Regent Street in 2006.
The department store Dickins and Jones was established at No. 54 Oxford Street as Dickins and Smith before moving to Nos. 232-234 Regent Street in 1835. It was renamed to Dickins and Jones in the 1890s after John Pritchard Jones became a business partner, and by the turn of the 20th century employed over 200 people. It became part of the Harrods group in 1914, and expanded to cover Nos. 224-244 in 1922, in a new building designed by Sir Henry Tanner. In 1959, House of Fraser took over the store by buying the Harrods group. In 2005, House of Fraser announced that the store would close the following year, after it had been making a loss for several years and not kept up with more fashion-conscious department stores elsewhere. The building has been redeveloped with small shop units on the lower floors and flats and offices above.
The Liberty department store was originally known for its role at the retail end of the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts Movement styles. Set up by the entrepreneur Arthur Lasenby Liberty, who took out a loan for £2000 in 1874 and purchased 218a Regent Street. The shop opened in 1875 with only three staff. Lasenby’s shop sold ornaments, fabric and objects of art from Japan and the East. In the 1920s the now iconic Tudor-style building was designed and built by architects Edwin T. Hall and his son Edwin S. Hall, constructed from the timbers of two ships, the HMS Impregnable, and the HMS Hindustan. The original building is on Great Marlborough Street, not on Regent Street. There are bridges across Kingly Street, connecting to the adjacent stone-faced building which once gave Liberty a frontage on Regent Street, but the store no longer occupies this annexe. Liberty's shop windows are famous for their inventive window-dressing, especially the annual Christmas displays.
Hamleys toy shop is 100 metres south of Oxford Circus on the east side of the road. Originally located in Holborn and named Noah's Ark, the Regent Street store opened in 1881 and has been at the present address since 1981. It claims to be the largest toy shop in the world.
The Apple retail store opened on Regent Street on 20 November 2004. At the time this was the first such store in Europe, the others being in the United States and Japan. It was the largest Apple store worldwide until the opening of the even larger Covent Garden store in August 2010.
The Superdry store was originally Austin Reed's flagship store for more than 85 years was located at 103–113 Regent Street. The store had an atrium at its centre, housing glass lifts allowing viewing across all floors. The lower ground floor sold womenswear and also housed Austin's, the refurbished 1920s Art Deco Barber Shop, offering a full range of hair, face and body treatments for both men and women. In May 2011, reports surfaced that British fashion retailer Superdry was to move into the building occupied by Austin Reed, which in turn was to move across the road into Aquascutum. Superdry reportedly paid £12m for the lease. In late 2011, Austin Reed re-launched at 100 Regent Street, while Superdry officially opened at 103–113 Regent Street on 17 December 2011.
The original occupier of the Abercrombie & Fitch Hollister Co. and Gilly Hicks store was a flagship National Geographic shop at 83–97 Regent Street, it is a flagship store for Hollister Co. and Gilly Hicks first international flagship store.
The BBC's headquarters are in Broadcasting House, whose front entrance is in Langham Place, marking the top end of Regent Street. Several national radio stations broadcast from this 1930s Art Deco building. The exterior, built of Portland stone, features a sculpture by Eric Gill over the front entrance. The new BBC Egton Wing, designed by MacCormac Jamieson Prichard, is the most visible face of a large-scale rebuilding project to modernise the site and replace earlier extensions to Broadcasting House.
The Paris Theatre was located in a converted cinema in Lower Regent Street, near other BBC buildings. Several rock groups performed live concerts here, including The Beatles, Queen and Pink Floyd, which were then recorded for broadcast. The BBC stopped using the theatre in 1995.
Oxford Circus is the junction where Regent Street crosses Oxford Street, and the site of one of the busiest of London's underground stations. The Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines all meet here.
Main article: University of Westminster
Founded in 1838 under George Cayley and rebuilt under Quintin Hogg (merchant) in 1911, the University of Westminster's flagship Regent Street campus stands as one of the oldest educational institutions of the city. Historically, the University was once also titled as the Royal Polytechnic Institution (after a royal charter had been formally received in August 1839 and Prince Albert became a patron to the institution). Other names include, "The Polytechnic at Regent Street" and the Polytechnic of Central London (PCL). The University houses the Regent Street Cinema which acted as a platform for many major scientists, artists and authors such as Charles Dickens, John Henry Pepper, and The Lumière Brothers (Auguste and Louis Lumière) where public and private screenings of Cinématographe were shown to an audience. The cinema has undergone restoration and is open to the public again as the Regent Street Cinema.
All Souls Church, Langham Place, at the top of Regent Street next to Broadcasting House, is a church with a distinctive circular portico surmounted by a stone spire. Completed in 1823 and consecrated in 1824, All Souls is the only surviving building in Regent Street that was designed by John Nash.
The Café Royal, located at 68 Regent Street in the Quadrant, opened in 1865 and became an institution of London high society. The present building, by Sir Reginald Blomfield, dates from 1928 and is grade 2 listed. The Café Royal closed in December 2008, as part of Crown Estate plans to redevelop this part of Regent Street.
There is a yearly Regent Street Festival when the street is closed to traffic for the day.
The Christmas light displays are a London tradition dating since 1948, when the Regent Street Association decorated the street with Christmas trees. Lighting was not allowed until 1949, following lifting of wartime restrictions, and the first full lighting display was in 1953. There is a different display every year, switched on at an opening ceremony in the first week of November.
On 6 July 2004, half a million people crowded into Regent Street and the surrounding streets to watch a parade of Formula One cars.Transport The nearest London Underground stations are Oxford Circus (Bakerloo, Central and Victoria lines) at its northern end, and Piccadilly Circus (Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines) at its southern end.
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