A Brief History Of Soho

Feb 27, 2018

Soho. World-famous as a district of dark style and seedy revelry. One of the capital’s most iconic areas, Soho’s reputation as the premier destination of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll precedes it.

A place of vibrancy and culture, the history of Soho is synonymous with the City’s media industries and creatives; a bustling, buzzing, boisterous district in the centre of the nation’s capital.

Located in the City of Westminster, rubbing shoulders with the ultra-stylish Mayfair and the colours of London’s Chinatown, this famous district is a magnet for tourists and locals alike with its collection of trendy bars, historical landmarks and glitzy film studios.

The history of Soho stretches as far back as 1536. Then disused farmland, the area was decreed a royal park bu incumbent King Henry VIII.

Expansion into something resembling the district today began in the 17th century, when developments began with the aim of turning the parkland into a realm of grandeur and extravagance, similar to neighbouring Mayfair.

The upper classes arrived, and so too did the modern street layout, churches and elegant architecture. It was not to last, however.

The aristocracy never really took to the area, and instead, it became a centre for immigration. The dream of Victorian-era gentrification came to a close after a deadly cholera outbreak tore through the populace which resulted in many of the buildings having to be replaced.

As neighbouring areas like Mayfair boomed, the remaining upper-classes trickled out of Soho and by the time of the 1854 cholera outbreak, much of the area was filled with prostitutes, theatres, music halls and drug culture.

At the time Soho was one of the most densely populated areas of an increasingly overcrowded capital, with around 327 inhabitants per square mile.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that Soho began to slip the shackles of its seedy image. The area pulled on its rich mix of immigrants to open up a number of well-regarded restaurants. This was soon followed by a number of impressive theatres, pulling on the district’s arts culture.

Musicians, authors and artists flocked to the area. Hollywood giants rubbed shoulders with British independents and lesser-known studios and the district was a hive of creative types and eclectic talents.

The Rolling Stones began their careers in the bars of Soho, whilst the sounds of jazz and bop could be heard on the streets from clubs like Ronnie Scott’s.

The sex trade was still as rife as it ever was, the industry booming with the growth of the district. A government enforced crackdown in the late 80’s reduced the number of premises from 185 to 30 and once more an attempt at gentrification was underway.


Much of the areas older buildings and impressive architecture found new purpose as expensive flats and accommodation options. Though the district saw an influx of wealth and elegance, many residents supposedly felt that the soul of Soho was being extinguished, replaced by yet another swanky suburb akin to Chelsea or Mayfair.

Yet modern Soho soldiers on. Still a hive of creativity; home to theatres, recording studios, agencies, film companies and sex shops alike.

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