Sunday, 1 February 2015

Regent Street and Bond Street

4 December 1995. In the second of this set of articles dealing with a short break in London we remain on the UK Monopoly board's green set but move from Oxford Street to the other two properties!

Regent Street was named after the Prince Regent, later King William IV, and was constructed as a thoroughfare from his residence at Carlton House, to run north to the entrance to Regent's Park. Designed by architect John Nash in 1811 it required the demolition of a large number of properties, but provided work in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. Most buildings were leased and by the end of the 99 year period of the lease were all unfit for their designed purpose, given the modern trend towards large department stores. Between Piccadilly and Oxford Circuses none of Nash's original buildings survive, the entire street being rebuilt along its original route between 1895-1927.

The Christmas lights were a bit more spectacular than Oxford Street. To a couple of visitors from Blackpool, used to the Illuminations, Oxford Street had been a bit of a "Is that it???" disappointment.

We had a look in Hamleys huge toy store, dodging bubbles and little balsa wood gliders that were being enthusiastically flown by demonstrators around the doorway. Several floors of close-packed toy displays mean you could easily spend a full afternoon getting lost in wonder. Luckily Miss Franny was there to grasp my ear firmly and lead me out again... Awww!!!

And so to Bond Street and a glance at Asprey's Jewellers. It is the only street to run between Oxford Street and Piccadilly. There - did that surprise you as much as it surprised me when I found out? How strange! It is invariably just called Bond Street, though in fact has two halves, signed as Old Bond Street running north from Piccadilly and New Bond Street, an extension forty years after the first bit at the northern end up to Oxford Street.

Originally full of properties selling fine art and antiques, clustered around the famous auction house of Sotheby's, more and more of the properties are today concerned with the art of fashion with branches of internationally famous designers.

Still existing from the days of the art houses is the Fine Arts Society, dating from 1876, whose small arcade we were in when the door opened and a man came out, brushing against me as he passed. I looked up into a well-known face and nodded and as he turned to exit the doorway I realised who he was. Forgetting all about being cool and collected I hissed at Fran "It's David Attenborough!"

She spun round almost nose to nose with him and said "Who?" He gave a horrified glance and dashed across the road to get away from us! Sir David, I'd just like to apologise...!

Apart from the fashion houses, some of the most famous names in jewellers are represented on Bond Street. We have already seen Aspreys. Here is Tiffany and below is Cartier.

You will not find any prices marked on goods in the window and should you feel inclined to ask, it's probably prudent to assume that should you need to wonder if you can afford a piece - you can't...

This is the Royal Arcade, leading off to the west from Bond Street to Albemarle Street. It dates from 1879.

The more well-known Burlington Arcade leads from Piccadilly to Burlington Gardens and was the first of the covered shopping arcades, dating from 1819. The sedate atmosphere is maintained by Beadles in top hats and frock coats and the arcade's rules forbid running, whistling and the carrying of opened umbrellas. The Beadles were unable to stop a gang of criminals roaring down the arcade in a Jaguar car in 1964, where they stopped, smashed the windows of the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Association and drove off with a fortune's worth of booty.

In the next exciting episode we'll have a look at the Great Squares: Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square.

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