Oxford Circus, the busy intersection of Oxford Street and Regent Street, was constructed in the beginning of the 19th century, and was designed by John Nash. Regent Street had been commissioned by Prince Regent, who was later to become King George IV, as a grand scheme to connect the Princes home at Carlton House with his newly acquired property at Regents Park. Nash designed a wide boulevard with a sweeping curve that became a clear dividing line between the less respectable Soho and the fashionable squares and streets of Mayfair. Born from the concept of Nash’s layout of the New Street in 1812, frontage alignments remain, with the rebuilt listed architecture of 1920s buildings.
The surrounding area contains important elements of the Nash heritage. All frontages on the Circus are Grade II Listed. The entirety of Regent Street is also listed and sits within a conservation area.
The circus is served by Oxford Circus tube station, which is directly beneath the junction itself.
Oxford Circus station has entrances on all four corners of the intersection. The station is an interchange between the Central, Victoria and Bakerloo lines. It is the fourth busiest station on the network and the busiest without connection to the National Rail service. It opened on the Central London Railway on 30 July 1900, with the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway’s platforms opening on 10 March 1906. The two companies had separate surface buildings and lift shafts. The station buildings, which remain today as exits from the station, were constructed on very confined plots on either side of Argyll Street on the south side of Oxford Street, just to the east of the circus itself. The stations were originally built as entirely separate, but connecting passages were swiftly provided at platform level. The surviving Central London Railway building to the east of Argyll Street is the best surviving example of the stations designed by Harry Bell Measures, and the Bakerloo line building to the west is a classic Leslie Green structure. Both station buildings are Grade II listed.
Almost from the outset, overcrowding has been a constant problem at the station and it has seen numerous improvements to its facilities and below-ground arrangements to deal with this difficulty. After much discussion between the then two separate operators, a major reconstruction began in 1912. This saw a new ticket hall, dealing with both lines, built in the basement of the Bakerloo station, the Bakerloo lifts removed, and new deep-level escalators opened down to the Bakerloo line level. Access to the Central line was by way of existing deep-level subways. The new works came into use on 9 May 1914 with the CLR lifts still available for passengers. By 1923 even this rearrangement was unable to cope, so a second rebuilding commenced. This saw a second set of escalators built directly down to the Central line, the CLR station building becoming an exit only. Then, on 2 October 1928, a third escalator leading to the Bakerloo platforms was opened. Unusually, lifts came back into prominence at an Underground station when, in 1942, a set of high-speed lifts came into use, largely used as an exit route from the Central line platforms directly to the Argyll Street exit building.
The Victoria line opened on 7 March 1969. To handle the additional passenger loads, a new ticket hall was constructed directly under the road junction. To excavate the new ticket hall below the roadway, traffic was diverted for five years (August 1963 to Easter 1968) on to a temporary bridge-like structure known as the ’umbrella’ covering the Regent Street/Oxford Street intersection. Services tunnels were constructed to carry water mains and telecom cables past the new ticket hall. Construction of the Victoria line station tunnels with their platforms, the new escalator shafts and the linking passages to the Central line platforms was carried out from access shafts sunk from nearby Cavendish Square, Upper Regent Street and Argyll Street. To this day, traffic passing through the Oxford Circus intersection literally travels over the roof of the ticket office.