Traditionally, the flaneur is normally considered as a male who goes and watches the river of life flow past him in all its majesty and splendour. It is usually perceived that the males can only marvel at the everlasting magnificence and the astonishing concord of life in the capital cities, a harmony so advantageously upheld among the mayhem of human freedom (Purdy, 2004). Nevertheless, I, Flanunes, a 24-year-old woman, always conflicted with this notion and always wanted to break the misconception that flaneur is always male. To break this notion, I decided to take a walk on Oxford Street back in the festive season of 2015 as the entire area was to be soon decked out in sparkling lights, and as retail activity picked up over the last few months of the year. Consequently, there was really no better time to come to find lots of bargains here.
This was not my first walk on this street as I used to walk here with my father back in the 1990s when we lived just a few blocks from here. So the thought of seeing how much things have changed since then also motivated me to take a walk on this street.
As far as my knowledge goes, Oxford Street has been one of the main arteries pulsing through the heart of the London’s West End for centuries, and its roots can be dated all the way back to Roman periods. During the Middle Ages, the 1.5-mile-long street (stretching from Marble Arch station to the west and Tottenham Court Road station to the east) used to be recognised as Tyburn Road, and was the central road leading from London to Oxford.
At present, with over 200 million visitors every year, Oxford Street is the busiest shopping street in Europe, and the most common shopping endpoint in London. As I love to shop, this street was a heaven for me. Though many of its stores were packed full of high-end, boutique items, I didn’t necessarily need to be made out of money to enjoy all that Oxford Street had to offer.
I reached the street by tube. Back in the 1990s, there used to be only three underground stations but at present there are five different underground stations within walking distance to Oxford Street: Marble Arch (via the Central line); Tottenham Court Road (via the Central and Northern lines); Piccadilly Circus (via the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines); Oxford Circus, (via the Bakerloo, Central and Victoria lines) and Bond Street (via the Central and Jubilee lines).
I planned my tour as per the shop opening times which tend to stay open much later than anywhere else in London. However, because each shop had different opening and closing times, I first checked their official website before visiting any specific stores such as Accessorize, Adidas, Claire’s Accessories, Evans, Longines, Kingdom Of Sweets, Boux Avenue and Dune London. During its earlier years, the street was lined with independent traders selling wares, but nowadays it has expanded to consist of over 300 stores ranging from retail chains, flagship stores and designer outlets (Strawberry Tours.com, 2016).
For example, I saw two Marks & Spencer stores on the Street. The first branch, Marks & Spencer Marble Arch, was at the connection with Orchard Street while the second branch was between Tottenham Court Road and Regent Street. Similarly, the 100 Club, in the underground room of No. 100, has been operating as a live music site since 1942. It was supposed to be secure from violence fears owing to its covert place.
There was also Oxford Street campus of London College of Fashion which is a part of the Arts University London.
In 2015, Lush, the cosmetics retailer, opened a store here which is company’s largest retail premises on 9300 square feet and covering three floors.
Heading from east to west, I noticed that the shops got gradually posher and larger, with several high-end jewellery and fashion boutiques to be located around Bond Street. Oxford Circus, meanwhile, marked the junction between Regent Street and Oxford Street, and it was on this corner where I found the flagship Topman and Topshop stores, along with the huge Nike Store.
Heading along Regent Street provide me the accessibility to some of the most iconic places in the capital, counting Hamelys and Apple’s flagship store– possibly the most famous toy shop in the world along with FAO Schwarz in New York.
Continuing westwards, I was stumbled upon the Disney Store; as I was looking to do some Christmas shopping while in the capital I found the perfect gifts for all my friends and family here. Eventually I reached the end of Oxford Street at Marble Arch, which acted as the entrance to Hyde Park.
The key highlight of my walk was visiting one of the most famous of Oxford Street’s many stores, Selfridges, which was founded by the American businessman Henry Gordon Selfridge in 1909. With over ten acres of space for shopping which occupy a whole block of Oxford Street, Selfridges is the second-largest store in London after Harrods, and has been named as “an extraordinary temple of the retail business” owing to its neoclassical columns and jaw-dropping main entrance
While walking on the street, I was especially aware of pick-pockets and kept an eye on my belongings, especially during the busier periods. I did not worry about running out of cash during my visit, as there were a ton of different ATMs and banks scattered all along Oxford Street. I normally found them in some corner shops and newsagents (though they charged me for transactions), but there were some near Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus, and obviously, directly on Oxford Street.
I also visited many takeaways and cafes along Oxford Street, and a pub called The Tottenham (at 6 Oxford Street); and obviously many different fast food chains like McDonalds and Burger King. Hotels around Oxford Street tended to be considerably costly (as were many of the hotels situated in West End of London). The majority of the hotels near Oxford Street were located around Marble Arch, where I saw many four-star chains and the odd budget hotels. The more expensive hotels tended to be around Mayfair (to the south of Oxford Street), and were some of the most expensive in the city. There were also a ton of chain boutique hotels scattered all around Oxford Street like the Sanderson, the London Marriott Hotel (Park Lane) and the Hyatt Regency (Timeout.com, 2017).
I also observed some classy hotels for those who like to splurge during hotel stay in London, the Hotel 41, The Beaumont and the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences are some of the highly-rated hotels near Oxford Street. Similarly, there were hotels closer to all the hustle and bustle; No.5 Maddox Street, the quirky Courthouse Hotel and the Langham Hotel were much closer. I also saw some hotels visited by London celebrities. Such hotels have the quirky touch; the fashionable Langham boasts chandeliers, velvet furniture and marble bathtubs, and the oh-so-retro Chiltern Firehouse (its Nuno Mendes restaurant is frequently visited by some London celebrities as well). (Knight, 2014)
As the flaneur, I found Oxford Street one of the most architecturally outstanding streets in Europe. In my view, few spaces can compete it for its sheer vitality and variety. While seasoned natives and canny visitors alike scrum down to take on the crowds, dodge buses or do everything they can to avoid the place, those that submit, pause and look up are rewarded with a spectacular parade of neo-classical and baroque palaces, renaissance jewel boxes, art deco monuments, modernist icons and showy obscurities.
Beneath the modern day tumult of rapid consumption and shopping, lies one of London’s earliest highways, a dynamic artery that over centuries has perceived traders, drovers and travellers of all types, but also the parades of convicted cheering and leading their way to the city’s chief public gallows at Tyburn (Livingstreets.org, 2017).
Weaving a course on and off the main strip, this walk charts the development of Oxford Street from main road to retail behemoth through its best buildings, the backgrounds around them and the innovations and developments that have been fundamental to its alteration.
Coverley, M., 2012. The Art of Wandering. Oldcastle Books.
Fotios et al., 2015. Road lighting and pedestrian reassurance after dark: A review. Lighting Research & Technology, 47(4), pp.449-469.
Knight, S., 2014. Oxford Street – the case for pedestrianisation.
Livingstreets.org, 2017. WALKING CITIES: OXFORD STREET. [Online] Available at: https://www.livingstreets.org.uk/what-you-can-do/campaigns/walking-cities-london [Accessed 2017].
Purdy, D.L., 2004. The rise of fashion: a reader. Choice Publishing Co., Ltd.
Strawberry Tours.com, 2016. The Ultimate Guide to visiting oxford street. [Online] Available at: https://strawberrytours.com/london/neighbourhoods/oxford-street [Accessed 2017].
Telegraph, 2017. [Online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/london/galleries/8968225/Londons-best-Christmas-displays.html?image=8.
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Timeout.com, 2017. Oxford Street revisited. [Online] Available at: https://www.timeout.com/london/shopping/oxford-street-revisited.