Carnaby Street – colourful past with a bright future

IT’s famous throughout the world as a Swinging Sixties hangout but Carnaby Street in London also has a rich history and has made a new name for itself as a slice of foodie heaven.

If you’re heading to the capital to do your Christmas shopping or looking forward to a New Year weekend away, then instead of heading to the usual shopping haunts of Oxford Street or Covent Garden, why not explore an area of the West End offering 60 food outlets around 13 streets surrounded by independent shops and flagship stores. And from the North-East, it’s just over two hours by train to King’s Cross.

The quarter, which has a friendly, community feel, showcases the latest and most exciting food centred around the three storeys of Kingly Court. Pioneering fresh ideas are The Detox Kitchen, which serves everything gluten and sugar free, to The Life Goddess serving up experimental Greek cuisine to Dirty Bones where I tucked into fried chicken with waffles and maple syrup. Delicious.

As well as having a vibrant and fresh food scene the bustling area is also a retail therapy mecca – with the iconic Liberty store at one end, there are boutiques such as Liam Gallagher’s Pretty Green menswear shop, Illamasqua make-up, and every sweet-toothed lovers’ dream – Choccywoccydoodah.

But there are also big-hitting flagship stores on Carnaby Street including Mac cosmetics first UK ‘pro’ store and Benefit which has a shop upstairs and beauty salon underneath complete with Champagne bar.

Synonymous with the ‘flower power’ generation and brand London, Carnaby Street also has a colourful past.

During the Great Plague of 1665, the Earl of Craven built a ‘pesthouse’  –  a group of 36 small homes to for the sick, the first one in London was located on Carnaby Street and it’s believed that thousands of bodies were buried in a pit within the Carnaby quarter.

From the 1670s the area became home to immigrant communities fleeing religious and civil persecution and Huguenots among its first residents.

Despite considerable redevelopment in the area in the 18th century, Soho became a slum in industrialised Victorian London and it was at the centre of the cholera outbreak in 1884.  It was traced back to a dirty nappy which had been thrown into a local cesspool which then seeped into the communal water supply.

The Great Frog jewellery boutique, launched on Ganton Street in 1972 makes skull necklaces and rings inspired by the area’s association with death from and has produced pieces over the years for rock bands including Metallica and Iron Maiden.

The area has always been synonymous with music and fashion – home to the garment industry it also saw late night watering holes spring up, such as Tatty Bogle in 1917 where spies and film stars drank and Duke Ellington played jazz.

The street that made its name for pushing boundaries is still at the forefront of exciting fashion and food tastes – whether you’re new to the Carnaby Street scene or returning to reminisce…