How did London’s West End become the famous West End?
When hearing the words theatre and London, one inevitably thinks about the famous West End. However, very few people actually know how it came to be.
Back in the 17th century, the West End was home to several posh mansions, luxurious shops and lush places of entertainment. Between the opening of the theatre in Drury Lane in 1663 and now, London’s West End being the largest theatre district in the world, quite a development has been taking place. Over the years, new theatre venues opened around the area of the Drury Lane Theatre.
Due to a shift in demographics, according to which 20% of the population in England and Wales were living in London, the Prince Regent and his architect John Nash decided to upgrade the West End area in the early 1800s. Before the planned improvements shaped a new silhouette of London, it was a smelly and crowded place where the prestigious lived next to the poor. Some of these developments include designing the original Trafalgar Square, reconstructing Marylebone Park (now Regent’s Park), and creating one of Europe’s most well-known shopping areas, now housing some of the most famous shopping streets. These house renowned stores like Selfridges and Liberty or high-end shops such as Burberry and Tiffany & Co.
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The West End theatre district gained even more popularity. This came with the opening of several smaller theatres and halls in the 19th century. This development was supported by the Theatre Act 1843, which softened the regualtions for the production of plays. More and more theatres and halls were opened in the years to follow the act. This boom did not stop until the beginning of World War I.
In 1968, a new theatre act ended all censorship of the stage in the UK. This allowed more freedom for writers and performers which led to an even vaster variety of shows. Preceding this legislation, many plays were produced in theatre clubs to avoid this censorship.
The unique variety and quality of the theatrical performances at London’s West End keeps attracting a global audience. It is a must for every tourist with at least some interest in arts, culture, and history.