How London's iconic Soho has changed since the 1960s
The changing face of Soho: How iconic London night spot has transformed from sex shops and strip clubs of the 1960s to chain restaurants and bars today
- Fifty years of transformation of central London nightspot has been encapsulated in a series of photographs
- Some streets have been completely reshaped, but others are indistinguishable from the area’s 1960s heyday
Soho has long been the beating heart of London’s nightlife, transforming from the centre of the capital’s sex industry to an area lined with boutiques and unique bars, theatres and restaurants.
Fifty years of transformation has been encapsulated in a series of photographs by MailOnline, showing how streets once lined with sex shops and around 60 strip clubs are now a bustling beacon of diverse entertainment and tourist attractions.
Containing just over 90 streets across little more than a square mile in the West End, Soho only takes a matter of minutes to walk through and is filled with Instagram hot spots.
But while some streets have changed markedly over the last six decades, others remain almost indistinguishable – with independent shops replaced by international chains.
In the 1960s, Soho was filled with petty criminals trading illicit goods on the streets and was a centrepoint for the UK’s underworld, with crime and prostitution at the fore.
Christmas Lights pictured in Carnaby Street in December 1967, compared with the same view of the same road having been pedestrianised today
Shoppers and market traders at Berwick Street Market, Soho, looking towards Peter Street in 1961, alongside the modern day view
General view of the Shaftesbury Theatre, a West End theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, in March 1963. It still looks markedly similar today
A sex shop in Greek Street named ‘Sandra East Xboutique’ advertising a number of items in 1972. The shop is now a restaurant
Customers gathering around the York Minster, now known as The French House, pub at 49 Dean Street, which is now The French House pub
The scene in Old Compton Street, Soho, London, in 1966 compared to its current look – with one shop closed and covered in graffiti
Members of the public walk along Carnaby Street, Soho, which is today lined with Swatch, Cooper and Ray Ban shops. The road has also been pedestrianised
Soho Street and Brewer Street are seen containing an ‘over 18 only cinema’, today it is a Prowler – the flagship outlet of the UK’s largest gay lifestyle superstore
The Golden Lion Pub in Romilly Street, Soho, has undergone renovation, and now boasts a much more modern look. The road has also been made into a one-way street
Soho’s Revue Bar advertising itself as ‘the world’s most erotic entertainment live on stage’. But is now vacant, though an adult store remains open along the same alleyway
A bar on the corner of Brewer and Wardour Street, Soho, pictured in 1987 advertising a ‘live erotic nude bed show’, compared with the modern day view
A ‘peep show’ advertising ‘beautiful young girls’ a nd a ‘male and female double act’ in Wardour Street, Soho, in November 1987
It is now home to Soho Residence, a regency-style bar and basement club, following a £1million renovation in 2019. So-called Boris Bikes have also been added outside
There were more than 100 strip clubs located in London at the time, of which 60 could be found in Soho.
But away from the seedy side of its nightlife, Soho also played a pivotal role in the global music scene.
It is argued the term ‘Beatlemania’ was coined following a Beatles gig at the London Palladium in October 1963, while Jimi Hendrix recorded his first album at 31 Whitfield Street in December 1966.
By the 1970s, Soho’s many strip clubs had started to retreat, but it was not until the following decade that it entered the process of gentrification.
Hedonism became the way for Soho’s revellers through the 1980s as musicians, fashion designers and artists began flocking to the area’s bars and clubs.
The Wag nightclub became the go-to spot for many, including the likes of David Bowie and Naomi Campbell, as it reshaped club life in the UK.
Police purges and tighter licensing controls also helped crack down on illegal sex shops and vice rings.
A shop is seen advertising sex films next to an Indian restaurant in D’Arblay Street, Soho, in December 1970, prior to the gentrification of the area
Tisbury Court is seen with the Raymond Revue Bar in the background advertising ‘the world centre of erotic entertainment’ in 1990. The bar remains at the site now
Old Compton Street in Soho pictured in May 1974 (left) and the same street pictured now (right)
A view down Frith Street, looking south towards Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho, in August 1966 and the same road populated with ‘Boris bikes’ today
The entrance to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club at 47 Frith Street, Soho, London, 1987, compared to the modern day entrance
A man pulls a cart carrying fruit on Old Compton Street, in June 1975, with a number of adverts to gigs in the background, while members of the public was past what is now an eatery advertising bagels, bakery and a bar
Scenes in Rupet Street in Soho showing the outdoor market in 1966 and the view along the same road today
Bill Haley and bandleader Chris Barber are pictured with The Comets outside the Tin Pan Alley Club in September 1964. It is now the Yield Gallery
The 1990s saw the rise of The Grouch Club, formerly an Italian restaurant that had fallen into disrepair.
It was refurbished to become a bohemian antidote to the stuffiness of traditional private members’ clubs.
After initially struggling following its opening in May 1985, The Groucho Club established itself as the place to be seen in the 1990s.
Vibrant shops and cafes had also begun to take over from units left empty by departing sex shops unable to renew licenses.
Soho also increasingly became a desired location for the LGBTQ+ community, with a number of gay bars opening their doors.
The likes of The Village, Halfway Heaven, Freedom and Comptons all welcomed revellers after opening in the 90s.
As we celebrated a new millennium and entered the 21st century, places like Piccadilly Circus became completely modernised, with the former neon lights used to advertise Bovril and other businesses being replaced with a giant electronic screen.
Dugdale & Adams Bakery in Gerrard Street in May 1980, which is now a Chinese restaurant
People pictured standing outside the all nighter Flamingo Club on Wardour Street at 3am in 1960. It is now a Betfred betting shop
Victor Sassie and two waiters outside his restaurant, The Gay Hussar, in May 1970. It is now a restaurant called Noble Rot
Other places, such as Berwick Street Market and the Carnaby Street shopping area show how many former independent traders have been replaced, often by international chains.
Soho’s look underwent another transformation as the Covid pandemic hit London, with al fresco dining becoming the norm.
Westminster City Council began allowing pubs and restaurants to open tables on the pavement so venues can start operating again under more relaxed coronavirus restrictions the summer of 2020 and again in April 2021.
It saw Soho’s busy Dean Street, Old Compton Street and Greek Street once filled with cars and buses becoming instead packed with with tables and chairs hosting revellers.
It came as the council unveiled a bumper blueprint to coax tourists back to the West End following lockdown as businesses were desperate for footfall.
A man wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella walks past fruit and vegetable market stalls in Rupert Street in October 1970, which is now a cobbled street
A police officer guards the entrance to the Whisky A Gogo nightclub and the Flamingo Jazz Club at 37 Wardour Street in September 1965, which is now a Betfred
A view of the Paramount City Club Site and The Old Windmill Theatre, with a McDonald’s now having been built
St Anne’s Court lined with signs for clubs and shops, with the corner of the Rose and Crown pub in Dean Street, in the foreground. The exterior of the building has now been transformed
The Windmill Theatre in Archer Street, which remains in place today advertising ‘tables and dancing’
The Chinatown district in Gerrard Street, looking towards Newport Place, compared to the modern day view
But now Londoners, including in Soho, are fighting to save the city’s nightlife after becoming fed-up with the constant noise complaints threatening to close their local boozers.
Pub bosses and landlords claim the pandemic resulted in more noise complaints as people got used to the ‘Covid quiet’ – with one saying ‘my heart sinks into my stomach’ any time someone is too noisy in her pub.
During the May elections, Labour councillor for the West End, Paul Fisher argued that Westminster Council should not grant any new alcohol licences in the area until there is a crackdown on the amount of noise.
Last year, Westminster Council decided to scrap Al Fresco dining in Soho despite a number of bars and restaurants hoping it would stay in place.
It comes as Oxford Street, once the flagship location for Britain’s high-end stores, is becoming increasingly abandoned by the big name brands that earned it such esteem.
Photos taken by MailOnline have revealed how Oxford Street has suffered and is now home to empty shells of ornate stonework stores that used to house some of the UK’s most famous brands.
As big names such as Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Debenhams, Oasis and Warehouse disappeared, city centres across the country were left with empty windows and people instead searching for their favourite labels online.
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