John Nash's commentary on his 1810 plan for Regent Street was clear about the social implications of what he was suggesting: 'The whole communication from Charing-Cross to Oxford Street will be a boundary, and complete separation between the Streets and the Squares occupied by the Nobility and Gentry, and the narrower streets and meaner houses occupied by mechanics and the trading part of the community.'
The plan worked. Soho, south of Oxford Street and east of Regent Street, is still largely unregenerate - the close-packed haunt of the libidinous and the frivolous, home to sex shops and food shops, bars and clubs, and small businesses. There are editing suites, film production companies, and publishers. At night an excitable, rough, too often drunk crowd jostles the dwindling numbers of those who actually live there and snarls up the traffic. Although the mix of tastes and lifestyles catered for has changed - Soho is no longer the only source of fresh pasta, copper pans and Toulouse sausages - the main suppliers and commodities are remarkably stable. Prostitutes, artists, meals, food, drink and entertainment were to be found there in the 18th century and they are found there still.
LRB 24 May 2001 | PDF Download