Oxford Street is a major road in the City of Westminster in the West End of London. It is Europe's busiest shopping street, and as of 2011 had approximately 300 shops. The street was formerly part of the London-Oxford road which began at Newgate, City of London, and was known as the Oxford Road. Today it forms part of the A40 trunk road, although like many roads in central London which are no longer through routes it is not signposted with the road number.
Oxford Street follows the route of a Roman road, the via Trinobantina, which linked Hampshire with Colchester and became one of the major routes in and out of the city.
Between the 12th century and 1782 it was variously known as Tyburn Road (after the River Tyburn that ran just to the south of it, and now flows underneath it), Uxbridge Road (this name is still used for the portion of the London-Oxford road between Shepherds Bush and Uxbridge), Worcester Road and Oxford Road. It became notorious as the route taken by prisoners on their final journey from Newgate Prison to the gallows at Tyburn near Marble Arch. By about 1729, the road had become known as Oxford Street.
In the late 18th century, many of the surrounding fields were purchased by the Earl of Oxford, and the area was developed. It became popular with entertainers including bear-baiters and masquerades, and for entertainment buildings such as the Pantheon. During the 19th century, the area became known for its shops.
Oxford Street suffered considerable bombing during the Second World War. During the night and early hours of 17 to 18 September 1940 the street suffered particularly heavy bombing, and many buildings were badly damaged or destroyed, including four department stores: John Lewis, Selfridges, Bourne & Hollingsworth and Peter Robinson. In September 1973 a shopping-bag bomb was detonated by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at the offices of the Prudential Assurance Company on Oxford Street, injuring six people. A further bomb was detonated by the IRA on the street in December, injuring three people.
A view of Oxford Street in 1987, with Selfridges on the right.
Oxford Street is home to a number of major department stores and numerous flagship stores, as well as hundreds of smaller shops. It is the biggest shopping street within Inner London, though not the most expensive or fashionable, and forms part of a larger shopping district with Regent Street, Bond Street and a number of other smaller nearby streets.
For many British retail chains their Oxford Street branch is regarded as their 'flagship' store. Major stores on the street include:
Debenhams, the flagship of the national department store chain. Formerly Marshall & Snelgrove, renamed in 1973 after being rebuilt. The original Debenham & Freebody store was in nearby Wigmore Street
HMV, the music retailer has relocated to their original site at 363 Oxford Street, following the closure of their former store at 150 Oxford Street, which had been Europe's largest music shop at 50,000 square feet (5,000 m2). There is also an HMV concession within Selfridges
House of Fraser, the London flagship of the national department store chain. The store traded as D H Evans until 2000. It is located in an art-deco building completed in 1935; it was the first department store in the UK to include escalators serving every floor
John Lewis, the third-largest department store in the UK and flagship of the John Lewis chain, opened in 1864. The store was substantially redeveloped in 2009, the building gaining an atrium running through all six levels, with a Waitrose food hall constructed in the basement.
Marks & Spencer. Marks & Spencer Marble Arch, largest Marks & Spencer store of 170,000 square feet (16,000 m2) at the junction of Oxford Street and Orchard Street. A second branch between Regent Street and Tottenham Court Road stands on the site of the famous Pantheon building. Its fine polished black granite frontage completed in 1938 was awarded Grade II Listed Building status in September 2009.
Crossrail will have two stations serving Oxford Street, at Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road. Each station will be "double-ended", with exits through the existing tube station and also some distance away: to the east of Bond Street, in Hanover Square near Oxford Circus; to the west of Tottenham Court Road, in Dean Street.
Oxford Street is designated a bus lane along its entire length, open only to buses, taxis and two-wheeled vehicles in the daytime on all days except Sundays.
Heavy congestion due to the number of buses and bus stops in Oxford Street, plus traffic crossing Oxford Street between Marylebone to the north and Mayfair and Soho to the south, led to proposals in 2006–08 from the New West End Company, the Mayor of London's office and several of the Mayoral candidates to pedestrianise Oxford Street with a tram service running end to end. However the new Mayor, Boris Johnson, elected in May 2008, announced on 6 November 2008 that the Oxford Street Tram/Transit scheme would not be progressed within the TfL Business Plan 2009/10 – 2017/18 as the scheme was unaffordable and the disruption during construction would be very substantial. In response to a request from the Mayor, Transport for London undertook to reduce the bus flow in Oxford Street by 10% in each of 2009 and 2010. In January 2009 the New West End Company had called for a 33% reduction in bus movements in Oxford Street.
Oxford Street can become congested both on the pavements, due to the large number of shoppers and tourists, and on the roadway as a result of the many buses routed along the street. Largely because of the diesel-engined traffic in the street (buses and taxis), annual average NO2 concentrations on Oxford Street are around 180 μg per cubic metre. This is 4.5 times the EU target of 40 μg per cubic metre (Council Directive 1999/30/EC).
Since 2004 Oxford Street has been made traffic-free on a Saturday before Christmas. In 2009 this was on Saturday 5 December, from 12 noon. It was promoted as "VIP Day", where VIP stands for Very Important Pedestrian. The promoters were the New West End Company, which represents retailers and property owners in Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street. Oxford Street was also made traffic-free on Saturday 23 May 2009, from 12 noon until 5 pm. This was the first time Oxford Street had been made traffic-free on a day in May. However the May traffic-free day was not repeated in 2010. The VIP Day before Christmas in 2010 was Saturday 27 November. In 2011 Saturday and Sunday 10–11 December were designated "VIP Weekend", with Oxford Street and Regent Street traffic-free during shopping hours. In 2012 Saturday 24 November was designated "VIP Day".
Each Christmas Oxford Street is decorated with festive lights. The Christmas lights began in 1959, five years after the neighbouring Regent Street began the tradition. The lights were abandoned in 1976 and 1977 due to economic recession, returning in 1978 when Oxford Street organised a laser display.
In mid- to late-November a celebrity turns on the lights and they remain lit until 6 January (Twelfth Night). The following celebrities have turned on the lights since 1981:
^McGeever, Mike (20 December 1997). "Peter Andre's got the 'Time'". Billboard. p. 18. Retrieved 2010-11-28. "Andre has become a familiar face in Britain, where he was the celebrity chosen for the high-level media of switching on the Christmas lights Nov. 7 on London's Oxford Street."