Victorian London - Districts - Streets - Regent Street

The Quadrant of an evening is crowded with loungers of both sexes. Beneath those arcades walk the daughters of crime, dressing in the flaunting garb that tells the tale of broken hearts, and blighted prospects, and crushed affections. The young men that saunter up and down, and the hoary old sinners, whose licentious glances seem to plunge into the boddices of those beauteous girls, little think of the amount of mental suffering contained beneath those rustling silks.

George Reynolds, The Mysteries of London, [1890s abridged edition]

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Illustrated London News, March 31, 1849

Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Sketches of London Life and Character, by Albert Smith et. al., [1849] - The Lounger in Regent Street

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life15.gif (40642 bytes)IT is the beginning of the evening in the city - and therefore high noon in the West. A bright summer sun is warmly white upon the terraced and stuccoed ranges of Regent Street. The flaring, dusty thoroughfare is swarming with flashing equipages, and pouring crowds of gay pedestrians. The ample wooden pavement is divided into two long lines of moving vehicles. How they sweep gaudily on - a changing, shifting panorama of glittering pannels and glancing wheels, and sleek-pacing horses, and overpowering footmen, and delicious peeps into the dim cushioned interiors, where the eye loses itself in half-seen, half-missed visions of fair faces and rich tresses, and reclining forms dressed in cool muslins, or lost in the massive folds of costly shawls. And the broad, clean, white pare! How it swarms with that continuous procession of gaily-dressed women and men. How, as you glance along it, the multitude - the shifting, rushing, rolling multitude - becomes one dazzling, puzzling, confounding chaos of faces and forms, and hats and bonnets, and paletots and visites, and moustaches and curls-all jumbled up together-all mixing-all blending-and all forming one confounding, bewildering, bewitching whole-which, as you contemplate it, makes the eye dazzle and the brain ache!
    [-117-] It is high noon in Regent Street. At every shop-door the big-calved, gaudy-plushed footmen cluster. By every lamp-post the dealers in poodles and terriers and spaniel pups congregate. Men with pen-knives, which seem all blades, abound. Along the kerb-stone, itinerant venders of prints, and stain-cleaning pastes, and mosaic gold chains, and studs, display their merchandise; and round the corner, near the tavern door, the Italian boy grinds his piano-organ in dumb show. Happily, the music of the wheels drowns the noise of the instrument.
    The shops are as brilliant as they may be. How richly falls the drapery of those emblazoned shawls through the fair plate-glass. How the rows of "loves of bonnets," each upon its peg, gladden and sadden at the same moment bright female eyes. How chastely luscious in its artistic network depend the rich clusters of precious old-fashioned lace. How gorgeously shines the plate-massive lumps of chased, and carved, and graven, and frosted silver and gold; and how pleasant to look upon lie the tempting cakes, and bon-bons, and jellies, ranged round the glistening barley-sugar cages in the confectioner's window! Everything and everybody look their best-the very pictures on the music in Jullien's shop become artistic; the unchanging prints of Moyen age fashions, and odd scraps from Daumier's pencil in Delaporte's big window, look cheerful; and the symmetrical one leg, in half of a pair of buckskin breeches and a top boot, which ornaments the shop hard by, seems positively about to hop through the window, and kick anybody who does not look happy, and flustered, and smiling, and hot!
    Yes - once more we repeat, it is high noon in the [-118-] West. Regent Street is at its fullest, and its brightest, and its gayest; and the Regent Street Lounger is abroad with the butterflies! Now, therefore, to plunge into his habits and characteristics.
    The Regent Street Lounger must not be confounded with other loungers who occasionally lounge in Regent Street. He is not the lounger of the Lowther Arcade - or of the steam-boat piers - or of the stage doors - or of the piazzas of Covent Garden, or the central fruity and flowery tunnel thereof. He is not even the Lounger of the Quadrant. Hard as inferior philosophers may find it to believe, the Lounger of the Quadrant is a different being from the Lounger of Regent Street. The former is a mosaic edition of the latter. He shuns the glare of the open streets, and finds comfort in the subdued light of the colonnade. His smartness is often alloyed by seediness. His hat has more jauntiness in its set than nap in its texture. His linen is questionable, and his general air is mildewy. He haunts dim cigar shops, and glides furtively into fifth-rate billiard rooms. Often the Quadrant Lounger is a foreigner. Then he smokes cigarettes, and has brown fingers heavy with dim rings; and if you look to his broad feet, you are instantly transported in imagination to Boulogne-sur-Mer, Rue de l'Ecu - the shop where they are always selling bankrupt stocks of divers-coloured boots, with pearl buttons which don't button, and little toe-tips of varnished leather, at the reasonable rate of four francs a-pair.
    But the Regent Street Lounger is a better style of man than his neighbour of the Quadrant. You may see him in the evening at the Opera just at the break of the stalls, with his back to the stage, sweeping the [-119-] house with a double-barrelled lorgnette. He is also to be met with at Lovegrove's when the whitebait is smallest and crispest. Anon he is pastoral in Kensington Gardens - only when the band plays though - and, eke, he is on view sundry nights in the week at such theatres as the St. James's or the Lyceum. But, 'tis very odd, we will keep wandering from the text- it is in Regent's Street we have now to do with him.
    Where he lives, how he lives, and what he is when he is at home, we are not sufficiently impertinent to inquire. Never mind the coulisse of his existence, Regent Street is the stage. And is not the make-up good? - the hat glistened with so perfect a polish, the Joinville arranged in so faultless a tie, the coat so dustless and creaseless, the boots so faultless in their proportions, and all this carried off with such an air, or rather with such a wonderful combination of airs, at once so easy, so graceful, so knowing, so indifferent, so sprightly, so lazy - in fact, and the word sums up the sentence-so exquisitely "loungy."
    The Regent Street Lounger knows Town. He is of it, perhaps on it. He may not perhaps approach the inner penetralia of West-end life, but he hangs upon its outward development. If he cannot ride in the coronetted carriage, he will at least be within sound of the wheels. If he does not know the peer, he knows the peer's liveries. Try him - cross-question him. Not a carriage which rolls along the wood, or waits along the kerb, but he can tell the occupant of. lie is learned in hammer-cloths, elaborate on crests, and can discern the strawberry leaf on the pannel even when the two sleek and glossy horses, with their foaming mouths and high action, being put to their mettle [-120-] by the fat be-wigged coachman, seem to shoot past like a rocket.
    The Regent Street Lounger cares little about the shops. The people are his study. He is not like the more easterly tribes of Loungers. He never stops to listen to a man whistling canary notes with a quill in a tin jug of water. An excavated gas-pipe has no charms for him. He can withstand the temptation of an omnibus horse which has slipped on the wooden pavement, and he pays not the most remote attention to the gentleman who disposes of favourite lyric poetry at six yards a-penny; on the contrary, he paces easily yet jauntily on from the baker's at the corner of Glass-house Street to the music-shop which marks the confluence of Regent and Oxford Streets. These are the general frontiers of his lounging dominions. And he traverses his kingdom with a certain observant thoughtfulness. Not a lady escapes the ordeal. His eye falls listlessly, yet searchingly, on face and form, and toilet and dress-from the saucy little boot to the flutter of the parasol fringe. He has a keen appreciation of visites, and entertains deep theories on the handling and disposing of shawls. Gentlemen fare no better. He divides them into two classes - the "good style of men" and the "bad style of men." The mere harmless, pitiful little gent does not even excite his contempt. He is philosophic, and knows that we are all mortal - little minnows and big whales.
    As we have said, the Regent Street Lounger does not much affect the shops. His eye ranges calmly and superciliously along the squares of plate-glass. If he peer in, 'tis to see the customers, not the goods; 'tis where half-a-dozen carriages are drawn up at the [-121-] mercer's door, or by the pastry-cook's lintels. In the latter establishment he sometimes, for a brief space, conducts his lounge. He does not look, at the little bill of fare, spread on the miniature bat - why should he? He knows everything in the shop, and the price of everything, from the humble bun to the recherch? preserve; from vapid soda-water to fragrant Maraschino. So he idly eats his ice, and then imbibes his tumbler of water, and listlessly drums with his neatly gloved fingers on the marble table, and watches in pleasant contemplation the swarms of ladies who sip, and nibble, and chatter so gaily, and who are afterwards so silent, and have such wretched appetites at dinner; after which he lounges out as he lounged in, and resumes his lounge up and down the street, just where he left it off.
    On occasions of a sudden shower, the Regent Street Lounger has - putting out of view the shops - two harbours of refuge. As he happens to be respectively next the Oxford Street or the Piccadilly end of his lounge, he retreats either to the Pantheon, making for the back entrance through Marlborough Street, or he seeks for shelter in the Quadrant. In neither of these sanctuaries, however, can he be said to lounge. He seldom makes his way into the mare magnum of the Pantheon, contenting himself with loitering in the conservatory, idly watching the parroquets and love birds, and ready, the moment the rain has ceased to tinkle on the glass roof, to betake himself to his beloved pavement. In the same way, his demeanour under the colonnade of the Quadrant triumphantly proves him to be a mere visitor - not an habitu?. He fidgets uneasily about the upper end, watching the sky, and [-122-] casting only a contemptuous glance at the humble shops behind him, with their wares of snuff-boxes, cheroots, meerschaums, gents' paletots, artists' lay figures, toys, wigs, walking-sticks, and paint-boxes. The moment the sky clears, and adventurous folk mount the outsides of the passing omnibuses, he starts again on his pilgrimage. It is rare, very rare, to find our Lounger upon the western pavement of his favourite lounge. He calls that the "eighteen-penny side" of Regent Street; dignifying the eastern foot- way by the title of the "half-crown side." Accordingly, unless he has just made a run across, to look at a new monstrosity, in the way of a flat hard German print, at the dismal high-art shop a little above Vigo Street, or unless he has a mind to sip a thimbleful of Verey's cognac, he never, unless the sun be burning indeed, shows himself in the shady, alias the eighteenpenny side of Regent Street.
    Of course the Regent Street Lounger has his seasons of glory. When Parliament is up, and the Operas, closed, and the French Plays over, and the concerts hushed - when people are climbing the Alps, or shooting grouse on the Grampians, or talking bad French on the Boulevards, or cursing the bills of the Rhine hotels, or up to the neck in salt-water at Ramsgate, or in hot mud at Baden - when that autumnal time comes, the Lounger disappears. He fades with the waning year. When nought but hack cabs rattle along the wood, none but highlows clatter along the pavement. The coronetted panel and the glazed boot disappear together. If a solitary Lounger show, 'tis as we sometimes hear of an unseasonable woodcock. No, the wide thoroughfare is empty and dismal. The shops [-123-] are in undress; remains of summer stocks are being sold off at a tremendous sacrifice; the beautiful face which graced the town-chariot ornaments the travelling landau; the poodle and spaniel pup men have gone; the penknife men have gone; the chain and stud men have gone; the pretty toilets have gone; the merry parties in the pastry-cooks have gone; the shawls and bonnets in the windows have gone; the happy, bustling, thronging, talking,. laughing, flirting, fluttering mob have gone; and, with all these, men, women, children, and things, there has gone - whither, we know not - how, we know not - when, we know not - why, we know not - but there has also gone the Lounger in Regent Street.


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Victorian London - Publications - Humour - Punch - cartoon 59 - Manners and Customs of Ye Englyshe in 1849 No.24

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Regente Strete at Four Of Ye Clocke P.M.

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1849

QUADRANT (THE), REGENT STREET, was built when Regent-street was built, by John Nash, the architect of Buckingham Palace. The arcade, which covered the whole footway, (supported by 145 cast-iron pillars), was removed in December 1848. Thus was sacrificed the most beautiful and most original feature in the street architecture of London. The reasons assigned for this removal were, that, though picturesque in itself and of use on a rainy day, it darkened the thoroughfare, lessened the value of the shops, and occasional other nuisances.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

REGENT STREET. The most handsome street in the metropolis. It was designed and carried out by Mr. John Nash, architect, under an Act of Parliament obtained in 1813,53 Geo. III., c. 120. The street was intended as a communication from Carlton House to the Regent's Park, and commenced at St. Alban's-street, facing Carlton House, thence through St. James's Market across Piccadilly to Castle-street, where it formed a quadrant, to intersect with Swallow-street, and then, taking the line of Swallow-street, (the site of which is about the centre of Regent-street), it crossed Oxford-street to Foley House, where it intersected with Portland-place. The reason for adopting this line was that great part of the property belonged to the Crown. Foley House and grounds were bought by Mr. Nash for 70,000l., as partof the plan, and after selling the ground for the street, he built Langham-place on the remainder of the ground. Langham-place Church was built by Nash as a termination to the view up Regent-street from Oxford-street. For this purpose the tower and spire are advanced forward to the centre line of the street, and they appear almost isolated from the church. Observe-Polytechnic Institution, erected 1838, from the designs of Mr. J. Thompson, architect, and enlarged in 1848.-Argyll Rooms, at the north corner of Argyll and Regent-streets, erected by John Nash, architect, in 1816, for Joseph Welch ; the large room was the best in London for sound, and was used for the Philharmonic and all other concerts of note until burnt down in 1834, when the present houses, Nos. 246,248,250, 252, and 254, Regent-street, were erected on the site. -Argyll-place, formed at the time of making Regent-street, by taking down a house at the south-west end of Argyll-street, leading to Great Marlborough-street. -Cosmorama, on the west side about mid-way up, erected from the designs of Mr. James Morgan, architect. -County Fire Office-erected on high ground, and, when viewed from Pall Mall, apparently terminating the lower part of Regent-street. The front was designed by Mr. Nash, and the rest of the building erected by Mr. Robert Abraham, in 1819, for the company of which Mr. Barber Beaumont was the founder and managing director .-The Quadrant was designed by Mr. Nash, (on ground leased by him from the Commissioners), and originally consisted of two rows of shops, with bold, projecting colonnades ; improperly removed in 1848.  -Parthenon Club, (No. 16), built by Mr. Nash for Mr. Edwards.-No. 14, Regent-street, (part of the same façade), built by Mr. Nash for his own residence. He lived here until he retired from his profession. Here was a noble gallery, decorated with copies of Raphael's paintings, to make which (with permission of the Pope) he had artists employed for four years at Rome -The Club Chambers, opposite Nos. 14 and 16, Regent-street, erected by Decimus Burton, on the site of a house erected by Mr. Nash for Charles Blicke, Esq. - The Junior United Service Club, north corner of Charles-street and east side of Regent-street, built by Sir Robert Smirke for the United Service Club, who sold it to the Junior United Service Club, when they erected their present house in Pall Mall. - Hanover Chapel, on the north-west side of Regent-street, was built (1823) by C. R. Cockerell, R.A., and St. Philip's Chapel, on the south-west side, by the Rev. G. S. Repton, the officiating clergyman. -Verrey's café et restaurant, (No. 229), corner of Hanover-street, is, perhaps, the best of its kind in London. In his designs for Regent-street, Mr. Nash adopted the idea of uniting several dwellings into a single façade, so as to preserve a degree of continuity essential to architectural importance ; and, however open to criticism many of these designs may be, when considered separately, it cannot be denied that he has produced a varied sue cession of architectural scenery, the effect of which is picturesque and imposing, certainly superior to that of any other portion of the Metropolis, and far preferable to the naked brick walls that then universally formed the sides of our streets. The perishable nature of the brick and composition of which the houses in Regent-street are built gave rise to the following epigram
"Augustus at Rome was for building renown'd,
And of marble he left what of brick he had found;
But is not our Nash, too, a very great master?
He finds us all brick and he leaves us all plaster.
Quarterly Review for June 1826.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

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Regent Street is one of the finest thoroughfares in London, which is mainly attributable to the fact that it owes its design to one architect instead of to half-a-dozen. It was planned and built by Nash in 1813. Starting from the south end of Portland-place it crosses Oxford-street, and runs for some distance in an almost straight line until it reaches Vigo-street. Here begins the bold curve known as the Quadrant, each side of which in its early days formed an arcade. The interception of light caused by this arrangement, and the too convenient shelter it afforded for undesirable company, caused the removal of these structures many years ago, clearly to the gain of the architectural effect. At the end of the Quadrant, a short turn to the right opens a fine view
of the towers of the new Palace at Westminster, broken by the Guards? Memorial and the Duke of York?s Column; and Regent-street, crossing Piccadilly and the Circus, is continued by Waterloo-place past Pall Mall to the steps leading to St. James?s. park. No thoroughfare in London is more thronged during the season, or presents a gayer aspect. In the busiest time of the afternoon, from four to six, two great tides of carriages ebb and flow, north and south, east and west, along and across the broad track of Regent-street. Pedestrians of every class, from the fashionable lounger to the street Arab; from the duchess to the work-girl; from the bewigged and padded rou? to the bright and rosy boy fresh from school; from the quietly-dressed English gentleman to the flashily-arrayed foreign count of doubtful antecedents; from the prima donna assoluta to the ?lion comique? from the county magnate to the shoddy millionaire, surge and jostle along the crowded footway. As is the case with the other great thoroughfares in London, Regent-street has its favourite side, and although some of the handsomest and most attractive shops, even in this street of tradesmen?s palaces, are on the western side; it is comparatively deserted by passengers, as are the southern sides of Oxford-street and Piccadilly, the western side of St. James?s-street, and the sunny side of Pall Mall. Regent-street is not distinguished for public buildings. Langham Church, with its extinguisher spire, at the extreme north end; Hanover Chapel, close to Hanover-street; and Archbishop Tenison?s Chapel, opposite New Burlington-street, are all that it is necessary to mention. The principal places of public amusement are the Polytechnic Institution, St. George?s Hall, and St. James?s Hall.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

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Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Regent Street and Waterloo Place

Regent Street and Waterloo Place - photograph


Regent Street, one of the finest thoroughfares in all London, was made in 1813 to connect the now destroyed Carlton House, then the residence of the Prince Regent (afterwards George IV.), with Regent's Park; and the above view, taken from below Regent Circus, better known as Piccadilly Circus, shows the southern portion. Across Pall Mall is seen Watenloo Place, from which rise the Crimean monument and the York column, the latter surmounted by a statue of George III. s second son; while beyond is St. James's Park. On the left of our view are the Junior United Service and Raleigh Clubs. Regent Street, as a whole, is famous for its shops, which are much frequented of an afternoon by ladies on purchases intent ; and innumerable carriages and public vehicles pass along it in an almost continuous stream.

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Regent Street

Regent Street - photograph


Regent Street is the most fashionable street of shops in London. The general westward movement in our great cities is perhaps accounted for by the prevailing winds keeping the West End more free from smoke. Be that as it may, the shops which supply the wealthier class of customers have necessarily followed them, first along the Strand, then to Piccadilly and Regent Street, where everything is to be had of the very best, but at the highest prices. Our view is taken from near the top of the Quadrant, looking north towards Oxford Circus. The Quadrant was once furnished with a colonnade reaching to the edge of the pavement, but this has been removed for many years. Ladies especially patronise this fine street, those who cannot afford to shop here flocking to it to see what is sold in the best West End houses.

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Anon., The Premier Photographic View Album of London, 1907