Carnaby Street is a pedestrianised shopping street in Soho in the City of Westminster, Central London. Close to Oxford Street and Regent Street, it is home to fashion and lifestyle retailers, including many independent fashion boutiques.
Swinging London, Carnaby Street, c. 1966
|Maintained by||Westminster City Council|
|Nearest Tube station||Oxford Circus|
|South end||Beak Street|
|North end||Great Marlborough Street|
|Inauguration||1685 or 1686|
|Known for||1960s fashion|
Streets crossing, or meeting with, Carnaby Street are, from south to north, Beak Street, Broadwick Street, Kingly Court, Ganton Street, Marlborough Court, Lowndes Court, Fouberts Place, Little Marlborough Street and Great Marlborough Street. The nearest London Underground station is Oxford Circus.
Carnaby Street derives its name from Karnaby House, which was built in 1683 to the east. The origin of the name is unknown. The street was probably laid out in 1685 or 1686. First appearing in the ratebooks in 1687, it was almost completely built up by 1690 with small houses. A market was developed in the 1820s. In his novel, Sybil (1845), Benjamin Disraeli refers to "a carcase-butcher famous in Carnaby-market".
This area is notable for a cholera outbreak in 1854 leading to an early application of fundamental epidemiological principles to resolve the crisis. John Snow, the physician who recognised the cases were concentrated near a pump on Broad Street communicated the finding on a map-based graphic. It led to the pump being locked and the reduction in cases of cholera was rapid.
The first boutique, His Clothes, was opened by John Stephen in 1957  after his shop in Beak Street burned down and was followed by other men's fashion retailers including Gear, Mates, Ravel, and more. Harry Fox and Henry Moss opened Lady Jane, the first women's fashion boutique in 1966 and later rented Foubert's Place to I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet, their first outlet in the area. Round the corner in Kingly Street, Tommy Roberts opened his gift shop Kleptomania. He moved to Carnaby Street in 1967 and went on to make fame in the King's Road, Chelsea, with his Mr Freedom shop.
By the 1960s, Carnaby Street was popular with followers of the mod and hippie styles. Many independent fashion designers such as Mary Quant, Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin, Lord John, Merc, Take Six, and Irvine Sellars had premises in the street and various underground music bars such as the Roaring Twenties opened in the surrounding streets. Bands such as the Small Faces, The Who, and The Rolling Stones appeared in the area to work (at the legendary Marquee Club round the corner in Wardour Street), shop, and socialise, it became one of the coolest destinations associated with 1960s Swinging London.
The Carnaby Street contingent of Swinging London stormed into North American and international awareness with the 15 April 1966 publication of Time magazine's cover and article that extolled this street's role:
Perhaps nothing illustrates the new swinging London better than narrow, three-block-long Carnaby Street, which is crammed with a cluster of the 'gear' boutiques where the girls and boys buy each other clothing...
In October 1973, the Greater London Council pedestrianised the street. Vehicular access is restricted between 11 am and 8 pm. A comparison of before and after number of pedestrians entering the area indicated a 30% increase in pedestrian flows as a result of the pedestrianisation. A campaign commenced early in 2010 to call for pedestrianisation in the adjacent area of Soho.
Westminster City Council erected two green plaques, one at 1 Carnaby Street dedicated to fashion entrepreneur John Stephen, who began the Mod fashion revolution and another at 52/55 Carnaby Street is dedicated to the Mod pop group The Small Faces and their manager Don Arden.
To celebrate the memory of Freddie Mercury after the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, the Carnaby Street arch is getting a rework with Queen's logo being put up until early 2019. Despite John Stephen closing his final business in 1975 (he died in 2004 aged 70) and the gradual movement to novelty shops with appeal to the ever increasing tourist trade, the boutique trade founded in Carnaby Street in 1957 by Stephen is still visible through the many shops of that ilk that still exist in the street today. Although featured in many books about London, the only book published which is exclusively about Carnaby Street and traces the history from the 1600s to 1970 is simply entitled Carnaby Street and was written by Tom Salter in 1970.
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In 1966 Lady Jane, the first ladies' fashion boutique opened, creating a public sensation when they had models getting dressed in the window, bringing Carnaby Street to a standstill. This typified the relaxed sexual attitude the era brought about.
Carnaby Street was satirised by The Kinks in their 1966 hit, "Dedicated Follower of Fashion", which contains the line "Everywhere the Carnabetian Army marches on, each one a dedicated follower of fashion".
It was mentioned in the 1967 film Smashing Time. One of the songs, "Carnaby Street", features the lyric: "You'll pay for the gear on display to appear on the scene/ It's no good being mean/ They'll have your every bean".
In 1969, Peggy March recorded an album called In der Carnaby Street, with a hit song of the same name.
Carnaby Street the Musical opened in 2013. The show is set in the 1960s.
The video game Heavy Rain has a location named Carnaby Corner North.
- Benjamin Disraeli (1845) Sybil, chapter 1
- Garvey, Amy Ashwood (1897–1969) Archived 22 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine, BlackPast.org
- Black History in Westminster, City of Westminster
- "Art & Hue presents The King of Carnaby Street - Stylish Pop Art - Bespoke & Custom Art". Art & Hue. Retrieved 21 May 2017.
- Childs, Peter (1999). Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture. p. 180.
- "London: The Swinging City". Time. 15 April 1966. Retrieved 2 March 2009.
- "You Can Walk across It on the Grass". Time. 15 April 1966. Retrieved 1 March 2009.
- Mark Stanley. "savingsoho.co.uk". savingsoho.co.uk. Archived from the original on 25 August 2010.
- "Decision - Commemorative Green Plaque for the former Lady Jane boutique, Carnaby Street". www.westminster.gov.uk. 27 September 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
- "Live models being dressed in the window of the Carnaby Street..." Getty Images. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
- "Welcome to Carnaby Street The Musical". carnabystreetthemusical.com. Archived from the original on 28 August 2013.
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