Bond Street, W1
Although there is a tube station bearing its name, there is not actually a Bond Street anymore. What links Piccadilly to the south with Oxford Street to the north is a street bearing two names, the northern and longer part being New Bond Street and the southern section, Old Bond Street. It is and has been for more than a couple of centuries a fashionable area, packed with what are known as high-end aka expensive shops selling fashionable and luxury goods.
The story of the Bond Streets begins in earnest in the late 1660s when eight acres of open land to the north of Piccadilly was granted by Charles II to the Earl of Clarendon. An enormous house, designed by Sir Roger Pratt, was built there at the cost of £40,000, described by Samuel Pepys as “the finest pile I ever did see in my life”. After Clarendon’s political disgrace and exile, the Duke of Albemarle bought Clarendon House for a snip, £26,000, but he got into financial difficulties and after a fire on the premises, he sold the land and what was left of the house to a group of investors, amongst whom was Sir Thomas Bond, for £33,000.
After some discussion the investors decided that there was money to be made from the ground rents of small properties and proceeded to demolish Clarendon House and lay out a series of roads, along which housing or commercial properties with housing on the upper floors could be built. One of the streets, which was completed in 1686 and ran from Piccadilly to Burlington Square, the northernmost point of the Clarendon estate, was named Bond Street, after Sir Thomas.
Just after 1700, Bond Street was extended on to land that formed part of the Conduit Mead Estate, owned by the Corporation of London with the purpose of securing and protecting the conduits that carried drinking water into the City. During the building boom of the 1720s Bond Street was further extended to reach Oxford Street, the only street to run all the way there from Piccadilly. The newer part of the street, though, was called New Bond Street and the original 1686 thoroughfare, Old.
What made the Bond Streets the place for the fashionable members of society to go to and be seen was the fact that the streets came with pavements, stone walkways raised above the mud and detritus of the roadway. It was the place to be seen and you could walk without the fear that your fine footwear and clothes would be coated with mud.
If you went there during the latter part of the 18th and the early 19th centuries, you would see a group of young men parading up and down, walking with a distinctive rolling gait. These were known as the Bond Street Loungers performing the Bond Street Roll, something that was much imitated and took hours of practice to accomplish. An Irish visitor in 1809 rather sniffily noted that the original Loungers had attracted a host of imitators, mainly “City gents and other middling class workers… the most important part of their routine was to read newspapers to see if their names appeared on the list of attendees at fashionable events”.
The Bond streets offer a half-mile of some of the world’s most exclusive shops, whilst unusually for a London street, signally failing to provide their customers with anything that is necessary for daily existence. In many ways, they are the equivalent of the Parisian Rue Faubourg-St Honore or the Via Condotti in Rome or upper 5th Avenue in Manhattan, with which three thoroughfares they are twinned.
We will investigate some of its famous shops and residents next time.
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