Regent Street, London. We all know the elegant curve of its Georgian facades – it’s the famous shopping heart of this city, crossing with Oxford Street at Oxford Circus. Regent Street has the huge flagship Apple Store, the famous Hamleys toy shop, and Liberty department store. It’s so crowded before Christmas that you can hardly move along its pavement. But do you know its history?
Did you know it was designed in 1811 for King George IV when he was Prince Regent running the country while his father literally went mad? The Prince Regent liked fine design and liked to spend money so he repossessed some farmlands and created Regent’s Park. Then he needed a road to link his home Carlton House to the new park. John Nash designed Regent Street, cutting through an area of narrow little streets which linked wealthy Mayfair and working-class Soho, and created the most fashionable street in the world.
Mind you when Regent Street was finally finished in 1825, George’s interest had moved on to refurbishing Buckingham Palace from a cosy little house into his new palace. To get the money, he tore down Carlton House and built the grand apartments of Carlton House Terrace. So Regent Street’s whole reason for being and fine visual end point was gone! Now there is only Duke of York Column standing in a car-filled square between the halves of Carlton House Terrace. It’s still worth walking the length of Regent Street though. Starting from Regent’s Park you see the fine white stucco townhouses John Nash designed for the Regent’s favourite wealthy citizens.
Regent Street proper begins in Portland Place lined with embassies and fine buildings, then there is a kink in the road with the lovely All Souls Church. This kink is because the wealthy owner of Langham House (now a hotel) would not sell his garden to the crown! Next, head down and across Oxford Circus. On this section of Regent Street there were once graceful colonnades to protect shoppers from rain but the ‘ladies of the night’ also found them useful so they were demolished. Then the elegant curve around to Piccadilly Circus and on down to The Mall and St James’s Park. It’s a lovely walk, full of history and glamour and the most amazing thing: the whole lot is still owned by one person: The Crown Estate, ie the Queen.