Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H

In his London and Westminster Improved, published in 1766, John Gwynn suggested that a new street should be formed from the top of the Haymarket to Oxford Street and beyond. After the formation of Regent Street the need for further improvement in north-south communication in this part of Westminster was recognised in 1838 by the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Metropolis Improvements. The committee was concerned at the volume of traffic from Paddington and Euston Stations that might be expected to converge upon the east end of Oxford Street, and it recommended an improved line of street from St. Giles’s to Charing Cross.

This need was later filled by the formation of Charing Cross Road, but the committee made no recommendation on communication between Piccadilly and Bloomsbury.

In the 1860s and 70s the need for improved communication between Piccadilly Circus and Charing Cross, and between Charing Cross and Tottenham Court Road was frequently discussed, but little more was heard of the Piccadilly to Bloomsbury route until 1876. By that time a long line of improved east-west communication from Shoreditch to Bloomsbury was almost complete, and the Metropolitan Board of Works realised that the amount of additional traffic which would be brought into Oxford Street and which would make its way towards Charing Cross would require the formation of direct communication from Oxford Street to Piccadilly and to Charing Cross. The Board therefore applied to Parliament for the necessary powers, which were granted by the Metropolitan Street Improvements Act, 1877.

This Act authorised the Board to form the streets now known as Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue, to widen Coventry Street, and to carry out nine other improvements in various parts of London. The line of these new streets had been drawn up jointly by the Board’s superintending architect, George Vulliamy, and the engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette, and the plans approved by the Act defined the limits of deviation within which each street must run and within which the Board was empowered to purchase all the ground that it might require. About half the length of the new street from Piccadilly Circus to Bloomsbury was formed by widening existing streets, thus keeping to a minimum the amount of ground to be acquired.

Nearly ten years elapsed between the passing of the Act of 1877 and the opening of the two streets, the general standard of design of the buildings finally erected was deplorable, and in 1888 a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the dishonest conduct of certain of the Board’s officers in the disposal of surplus land in Shaftesbury Avenue.

The delay in the formation of the two streets was caused by the obligation which was placed by Parliament upon the Board to provide housing for all displaced members of the slums which had previously been here.

The street from Piccadilly to Bloomsbury was opened in January 1886 and in in the following month the Board named it Shaftesbury Avenue, in memory of the recently deceased seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, much of whose work for the poor of London had been done in the area traversed by the new street. Charing Cross Road was opened in February 1887.

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