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The Story of Carnaby Street

Carnaby Street today is known for its great role as the birthplace of Swinging London in the 1960s, and as a shopping haven for all today. However, there is a great history to this one street.


1600s: The street was first built in 1682 by Richard Tyler, given its name from Karnaby House, the first house to be built upon the street. Just behind Carnaby Street is Dufour’s Place, which in the 1600’s was the home of a pesthouse used to attempt to prevent the spread of disease during the great plague.

1700s: In the following century, the area was redeveloped to include a market for meat, fish and vegetables. It was known as Lowndes Market, and later renamed to Carnaby Market. On the corner of Carnaby Street and Foubert’s place there is a Shakespearean public house which was built in 1735.

1800s: Regent Street was completed in 1823 and became a defining border between Carnaby Street and Soho, and Mayfair. This street was built by John Nash and was the first purpose built shopping street in the world.

In 1854, there was an outbreak of cholera in Soho. Epidemologist John Snow identified that the contaminated water pump on Broadwick Street was behind the outbreak, and shut it down. In the place of the water pump, John Snow is commemorated with the John Snow pub.

1950s: Vince, considered to be the first menswear boutique in the Carnaby Street area, opened at 5 Newburg Street in 1954. It is around this time that John Stephen, who used to work at Vince, opened his own store ‘His Clothes’ on Beak Street. His Clothes mainly targeted teenagers, but attracted the likes of Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. With this great influence, John Stephens went on to open a further 5 shops on Carnaby Street.

1960s: Carnaby was known to be the place to go if you were seeking inspiration. However it was in the 1960s that the area really earned its recognition, with the vibrant colour, new cultures, and new music coming out of the area – unlike anywhere else in the capital. Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Brigitte Bardot, and Elizabeth Taylor were all regulars in the area.

In 1966, to promote the opening of the new boutique ‘Tom Cat’, the owner Irvine Sellar asked Tom Jones to walk down the street with ‘Casino Royale’ accress Christine Spooner and a cheetah. It is this same year that Time magazine first describes London as the ‘swinging city’.

1970s: By the 70s, Carnaby Street became pedestrianised and the iconic ‘Carnaby Street welcomes the world’ sign was installed. At this point new cultures are taking over the area, and Punk leads the way. The Sex Pistols were pictured on the street in 1976. The Jam released ‘Carnaby Street’ in 1977.

1980s: Following the emergence of new cultures, a new wave of designers flock to the area in the 80s. Vivienne Westwood, John Richmond, Mary Quant, to name a few. The area became the place to showcase a defiant, edgy style – whatever it was.

2000s: Deal Real, the legendary record store opened in 2002. The venue hosted the likes of Amy Whinehouse, Kanye West, Mark Ronson, John Legend, and more. It became known as the place for hip hop in London, and went on to build and nurture great talent in the scene. It was brought back to life in 2015 with a pop-up shop, with nights from Kano, Tinchy Stryder and Kate Tempest.

Today Carnaby Street is still a hub of bustling activities, great independent and edgy stores, and a very accepting and open part of London.