From New Oxford Street to Piccadilly Circus, Shaftesbury Avenue is at the heart of London’s theatreland.
The street was created in 1877 – 86 to improve communications across the capital’s busy West End. Although it was driven through areas of slums, following the route of an earlier highway, the shape of Soho to the north was kept.
The street was named after the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, 1801-85, a social reformer, whose attempted to improve housing condition.
The statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus, originally known as the Shaftesbury Monument, also commemorates the Victorian philanthropist.
Over the next 20 years seven theatres were built along Shaftesbury Avenue. Six have survived, all located along the north side of the street. The Lyric Theatre, designed by CJ Phipps, has been open almost as long as the avenue.
The Palace Theatre, dominating the west side of Cambridge Circus, was built in 1891 as an opera house but became a musical hall the following year. In 1910 the ballerina Anna Pavlova made her London debut here. Today the theatre is owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and is currently staging ‘Les Miserables’.
As well as theatres Shaftesbury Avenue has a few Chinese restaurants, travel agents, opticians and herbalists giving a foretaste of London’s nearby Chinatown, centred around Gerrard Street.