This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.

Streets ahead A

cart trundles along a pitted London street. The journey is far from smooth as the road surface alternates between flags, cobblestones, oyster shells and

mud. It has been largely unchanged, except by neglect, since the Roman army built it as Via Trinobantina over a thousand years ago. The driver is stern, the passenger

in a trance brought about by alcohol and fear. The crowds – several thousand people – are reminiscent of those at a Mardi Gras parade. They drink and dance and shout and occasionally throw things. This street is not just a street. It is a destination. The thronging crowds know this

thoroughfare as Tyburn Road – the two-mile stretch between the prisons on the Fleet to the hanging tree at Tyburn, on the northeastern tip of Hyde Park. Some 400 years later, the crowds

are still there. In fact, they have multiplied. The street is still a destination, as it always has been.

Only now we call it Oxford Street. Ask an historian what makes Oxford

Street special and they will point to this curious continuity of popular appeal over the best part of 2,000 years. Ask a practitioner of English Wicca

(we did) and they will tell you that it is because it is built on an ancient ley line. Ask a lettings agent what makes

Oxford Street special and you get a more prosaic answer. They will tell you about retail density and footfall and overseas visitor numbers and brand and top grade-A quality retail space. “But the thing about Oxford Street is

the sheer volume of people,” says Mark Smith, head of central London retail at Jones Lang LaSalle. “Regent Street is a great shopping street, but it doesn’t have the numbers.” Indeed, Regent Street’s footfall

is estimated at around 90m people annually, and growing. When compared with, say, Westfield White City’s 25m, that is truly impressive. There are no accurate figures for Oxford Street, but estimates start at 200m.

“It is the dominant commercial street in the UK,” says Smith. He is being coy.

According to research by his own firm it is the dominant commercial street in Europe, and in the global top five. Oxford Street has been a shopping

street since it first took the name in the 19th century. But the shops were really showrooms, or parlours, for merchants next to their townhouses. It was also popular for bear-baiting and what industry historians coyly refer to as “pleasure”. It was not until Selfridges opened its

doors in 1908 that the modern tone of the two-mile mall was set. As FHW Sheppard’s Survey of London puts it: “The impact of the unified department store was felt, and commercial pressures began to build up.” Today, the department store is king.

Between Oxford Circus and Marble Arch there are no fewer than six giant department stores, as well as a score of flagships. “It is best to think of Oxford Street as a charm bracelet, not a string of pearls,” says Smith. While Selfridges and John Lewis

may dominate the street, with Zara and Primark rapidly closing the gaps, Oxford Street is not about high-end fashion, luxury, or even particularly high


Summer 2013

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49