The vibrant district of Soho, in the West End of London, has been one of the capital’s main entertainment areas since the 19th century. Part of the City of Westminster, it boasts an exciting and fashionable combination of lively nightlife, fine dining and fascinating shops.
Among the most famous attractions is the long-running Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. Theatre fans flock to Shaftesbury Avenue and shoppers head to Oxford Street, Carnaby Street and Regent Street. Many of the shops are retro and indie, while others represent the best independent fashion labels.
History of Soho
The first urban development of Soho took place in the 17th century. Prior to this, the land was open fields. The transformation began in the 1670s and by the end of the century, Golden Square had become a development of houses for the gentry, aristocrats and ambassadors.
During the 1680s, Wardour Street, Old Compton and the surrounding streets were developed. Soho Square was called King’s Square when it was first developed, and early residents included the Duke of Monmouth, the Earl of Fauconberg and the Countess of Carlisle.
Today, the small mews behind Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street is known as Fauconberg Mews after the original Fauconberg House, while the countess’s residence gave its name to Carlisle Street. Berwick Street was developed between 1688 and 1689 by James Pollett, who named it after his patron, the Duke of Berwick.
Many of today’s modern streets are named after the people who developed them, or of those who lived there in the early years of the urban development.
By the 19th century, many of the gentry had moved out of Soho to areas such as Mayfair, and it became better known for its music halls and theatres. The population grew rapidly during the 1800s, when it became one of London’s most densely populated areas.
Shops began to spring up to cater to the population’s needs, while six hospitals were built between 1851 and 1874 to cope with growing demands.
During the early 20th century, the restaurant business expanded, while new theatres were built on Shaftesbury Avenue – the area became popular for trips to the theatre and a meal. Pubs also grew in popularity and in the 1930s, Soho became a meeting place for would-be poets, artists and authors.
Present day Soho is a haven for “foodies”, with restaurants that cater to every possible type of world cuisine being dotted amid the shops and nightlife venues.
Some of the most famous shops today include the designer lingerie brand, Agent Provocateur, the retro menswear brand, Albam, and the amazing three-tier complex, Kingly Court, which is home to established chain stores, independent retailers, vintage stores and gift shops.
Soho has been home to some world-famous venues, such as the Windmill Theatre which was established in 1931 on Great Windmill Street – well-known comedians such as Jimmy Edwards, Harry Secombe and Tony Hancock started their careers there. The Windmill closed as a theatre in 1964.
Raymond Revuebar on Walkers Court opened in 1958 – it became the Boulevard Theatre in the early 1980s. New, alternative comedians would present their show, known as The Comic Strip and household comedy acts such as Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Alexei Sayle, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders started their careers there.
Still in the heart of London’s theatre district, Soho presents some of the greatest shows on earth. The Soho Theatre on Dean Street presents a mixture of new theatre productions, cabaret and comedy shows across three performance spaces. It also houses a writers’ centre to help newbies to develop their craft and there is also a fringe programme of comedy, theatre and writers’ events.
Launched in 2000 by the Soho Theatre Company (a group originally formed in 1969 by Fred Proud and Verity Bargate), the company’s original venue was in Old Compton Street, but it moved to the Cockpit Theatre of Marylebone in 1993 and went on to establish today’s Soho Theatre seven years later.
The purpose-built venue comprises the main Soho Theatre, the Soho Upstairs, the cabaret venue Soho Downstairs and the Soho Theatre Bar.
The Soho Theatre has staged many critically-acclaimed shows over the years, such as the London debut of Theresa Ikoko’s passionate play, Girls, in 2016. Produced by Talawa Theatre Company, it chronicled the enduring friendship of three teenagers.
Adrian Edmondson and Soho Theatre’s artistic director Steve Marmion also premiered Bits of Me are Falling Apart, which was adapted from William Leith’s comic and darkly satirical bestseller about a man who wonders where his life went wrong, as he prepares to visit his estranged partner and their child.
Shows lined up for 2018 at the Soho Theatre include stand-up comic Tom Allen performing his show, Indeed, from April 10th to 21st, with his own brand of biting, waspish wit. Allen is fresh from his TV appearances on Live at the Apollo and Eight Out of Ten Cats Does Countdown.
Unpolished Theatre and Eastlake productions present the award-winning Flesh and Bone from July 3rd to 21st – the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s sell-out show of 2017 and winner of the Holden Street Theatre’s Award and the Pleasance’s Charlie Hartill Award. The show is a fast-paced ride through a working class estate, with a mix of depravity, triumphs and hilarity.
Staging a total of 109 productions across its three venues throughout 2018, the Soho Theatre puts on a show for everyone!
Automatic Access is delighted to be associated with the Soho Theatre.
As a market-leading supplier and installer of high-quality automatic door systems, we completed a recent project for the Soho Theatre, when we fitted a double set of replacement fire exit doors at the venue.