The History of Carnaby Street

This now totally pedestrianised street is famous for fabulous shopping and unique fashion boutiques.  A hive of activity and a centre for cultural exchange and entertainment in modern times, the area has a long and colourful history behind it.  Anyone with a passion for fashion or a love of retail therapy should make sure that Carnaby Street is on their itinerary when visiting the city of London.

Photo by Simon & His Camera
Photo by Simon & His Camera


This now vibrant area or London was once an area of open fields.  Used at a hunting ground in the 16th Century, the huntsmen of the area, instead of calling out the traditional ‘Tally-Ho’ as they rode out, would cry ‘So-ho!’  The area soon became known as the ‘Soho’ fields.  In 1683 a large dwelling was built along one of the newly developed streets in the area and the building was given the name ‘Karnaby House’, giving the now famous street its name.  Karnaby Market was established soon after and so the history of the street began.


The area of Soho is still home to one of the most colourful environments in the city.  The street really started to develop its unique atmosphere in the 1930’s, when the first jazz club was opened.  The Florence Mills Jazz club attracted folk from all over the city to its doors.  The 1950’s saw the arrival of the streets first fashion boutique.  Called ‘His Clothes’ its arrival there started an influx of other fashion houses and independent boutiques into the street.  The 1960’s saw the street become the epicentre of mod fashion and hippie style, with Mary Quant now having taken resident in the street.  With the influx of fashion and the youth that it attracted to the area, a number of underground entertainment venues and music bars came into being.

Pulling Power

With the street now considered to be ‘the place to be’ for anyone looking to be a part of its vibrant scene, rock stars and famous faces of the time made sure they were seen there.  The Rolling Stones were regular players at the areas Marquee Club and with the rich and famous deciding they had to be seen there it became the area most associated with ‘swinging London’ during the 60’s.  The street has since been immortalised in song by a number of artists from the 1960’s to the 1990’s, illustrating that the street has not lost any of its reputation or vibrancy over the years.

Carnaby Street has even made it into The Simpsons cult cartoon, showing both Bart and Lisa clothed in mod style.  The band U2 made the video to accompany ‘Even Better than the Real Thing’ in the street, and in the 2008 film ‘The Dark Knight’ The costume of the Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger was inspired by the famous Carnaby Street mod style.  The street will continue to influence modern style and draw visitors from around the globe, after all the sign at the top of the street does say ‘Carnaby Street Welcomes the World’.

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