diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 28, 2023

A Nice Walk: Almost Oxford Street (1½ miles)

Crowds throng the length of Oxford Street, especially at this time of year, in search of gifts and for a gander at the sparkly lights. But sometimes you just want to go for a nicer walk, nothing too busy, a bit of a stroll, lots to see, multiple refreshment opportunities, very close by, won't take long. So here's a quieter mile and a half following the backstreets one road back from Oxford Street, a parallel hike through a retail hinterland most shoppers never see.

The normal route from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road is along Oxford Street, but if you're walking one street back you start by following Bryanston Street. It's round the rear of the former Odeon Marble Arch if you need to get your bearings. This end of the road's not what it used to be, having recently been reformulated as an office block on one side and a luxury residential tower on the other, of the kind where a bowler-hatted footman and a concierge greet you on the way in. The first cafes are a Pret and some hipster joint serving Well-being Tea, whereas the first restaurant is a reassuringly throwback Spaghetti House so perhaps a better bet. On-street parking is permitted in specified bays at £5.80 an hour, or £8.70 if your vehicle's a diesel.
Seen here: van drivers making circumspect deliveries, banks of bins.

A lot of this walk is 'behind something', here passing behind the massive Cumberland Hotel (which regained its original name this spring after many years under the Hard Rock umbrella). Much more intriguing is the church on the left, The Annunciation, now somewhat hemmed in but keen to welcome passers-by to step inside. The interior looks nigh medieval but is really Edwardian Gothic, as befits 'High' C of E verging on the Catholic. Don't expect to get further than the caged porch unless there's a mass on. The road wiggles slightly at Old Quebec Street, now with a casino on one side and a proper Georgian terrace on the other, as yet undevoured. Two more hotels, a gym and an underground car park are a reminder that not everyone is here for the shopping.
Seen here: a traffic warden using an app to check invisible parking tickets.

Crossing Portman Street brings us to Portman Mews South, both reminders that we're on the Portman Estate, a Tudor landgrab covering 110 acres of prime real estate. This isn't the nicest end, to be honest, more of a service road, including the designated entrance to M&S Collect By Car. Your dine-in food options are either modern Indian street food or The Three Tuns, a pub whose menu is so traditional you could safely bring your provincial in-laws. Know where to look, however, and a blank door on the corner leads to a luxury club oft frequented by celebs and wannabes, just not on a wet Monday lunchtime.
Seen here: a BMW with the registration number AB 2, glum office workers tapping at double screens.

Edwards Mews really is a service road and for one of the most famous shops on the planet, which'd be Selfridges. This is the side shoppers don't see, thereby missing out on a fine Fifties mosaic on the facade, although there is a direct connection through to Beauty & Fragrance so they might accidentally stumble out this way. Delivery drivers linger in doorways while they finish a fag, whereas true Selfridges staff use escalators to pass underneath the road and have their smokes on Wigmore Street. My great grandparents were married here in 1900, amid what's now the loading bay, but alas St Thomas's was demolished on the whim of Harry Gordon Selfridge to accommodate his store's rearward expansion.
Seen here: a caravan that sells coffee and profiteroles, because that's Selfridges for you.

You can thread onwards via either Picton Place or Barrett Street. One does vegan doughnuts and truffle burgers, the other crepes, waffles and pancakes, so take your pick. This is all to access St Christopher's Place, the bijou Time-Out-friendly alleyway which mixes outdoor dining and independent boutiques. Gas-fired heaters ensure alfresco take-up even in November, although as I watched a pigeon swoop between the diners I wondered why they'd risked it. Much of the foliage is plastic and the dangling Christmas decorations don't illuminate, but if you want a designer hat or Lebanese artisan ice cream you're in the right place.
Seen here: shops where very little stock is widely spaced out, but one sale is all they need.

No suitable cut-through to Marylebone Lane exists, a road pattern I blame on the long-buried River Tyburn. This means a brief diversion to Wigmore Street is required, but only long enough to pass from a Costa to an exclusive furniture showroom. Heavens they've eviscerated this end of Marylebone Lane since I first blogged it, notably replacing the brutalist lattice of the Welbeck Street Car Park with a boutique hotel. Humble haberdashery stalwarts Button Queen have also since fled to Wales, but you can now buy a Steinway piano from a glitzy showroom so there's progress. One further block has recently been razed so steel yourself for more.
Seen here: vents beneath a hotel pumping out gale force aircon through a flowerbox.

The chief tenant at the start of Henrietta Place is CBRE, and you can tell they're commercial whizzkids rather than civil service because the centrepiece of their lift foyer is a video arch screening a waterfall. Across the street is 300 year-old St Peter's church, otherwise known as Marylebone Chapel, which has been preserved as the HQ of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. Our next 'round the back of's are the former House of Fraser, currently retrofitting into a restaurant-topped office block, and the still-viable John Lewis. The cheapest place to eat hereabouts is the cafe at the Royal College of Nursing which is open to all.
Seen here: a taxi-run, a row of parked motorbikes, a Members' Entrance.

The most pleasant spot on this walk is Cavendish Square, the Georgian centrepiece of the Marylebone estate, which for the last 50 years has concealed a car park beneath its leafy lawns. No, the building on the corner isn't the actual Belgian embassy, it's a satellite occupied by the Diplomatic Representation of Flanders. We're now ever so close to Oxford Circus, but one street back is Great Castle Street which crosses Regent Street behind H&M and Nike. On one side you can eat Italian and party into the small hours, on the other side you can eat Uyghur and withdraw money from a bank not quite important enough to have a branch on the main road.
Seen here: bouncers outside a club called Swingers (but it's crazy golf, not sleaze).

Oxford Market was once the main shopping hub hereabouts, a wooden arcade roughly hexagonal in shape dispensing "flesh, fish and fowl". It was established in 1731 as local competition for Carnaby Market but didn't thrive and was replaced by flats as early as 1881, because that's not solely a modern premise. These days it's a branch of Reiss selling designer clothing topped off by a stack of Barratt homes. Around its rim are hospitality spaces with optimistic outdoor seating, including one where everything is pink, whose seats are backed by Insta-friendly fake roses and whose entire clientele appeared to be female tourists. Keep going.
Seen here: stacks of unpacked cardboard boxes destined to become homeless bedding.

Eastcastle Street is what's 'round the back of' Uniqlo, Sports Direct and Next. It's nothing special, although it does boast Eglwys Gymraeg Canol Llundain, a pert Baptist chapel built to serve a Welsh congregation comprising workers displaced to the capital. Bilingual services are held every Sunday. Elsewhere you can buy a lottery ticket, throw axes for fun and get your lips plumped, but not all at the same time. On the last street corner is one of at least three London pubs called The Blue Posts, although this one's been trying hard to lose its definite article and the 'The' survives only in gold paint on the doors.
Seen here: pigeons tucking into a discarded kebab (and leaving the lettuce).

The most modern part of this walk is through Rathbone Square, which is where the Royal Mail's West End Delivery Office once stood. Today's it's where Facebook's London offices are based (it says Meta in the window), and is watched over by a security guard outside the boxing club. Access is via two arched passageways, jade-glazed, with discreet signs warning you're on CCTV and do not climb on the gates. Other 'do nots' include dogs on the grass and misuse of the water feature, because this is the kind of joyless beauty you get when public realm is private space.
Seen here: a knobbly water fountain with bowls for thirsty souls of varying heights.

For the final leg you could meander past the Bricklayers Arms and the BFI to Tottenham Court Road, but that's two roads back from Oxford Street. One road back is Hanway Street, a narrow rundown curve that lingers in a timewarp bubble, with particular echoes of the swinging 60s. Bradley’s Spanish Bar survives, as do a handful of salons and bureaux de changes, but the famous record shops have ebbed away and it feels like only Conservation Area Status is protecting the street from full-on mixed-use reimagining. Emerging at the far end between Boots and EE is somewhat of a jolt, and that's 'one road back' complete.
Seen here: binbags, bollards, a shop that sells gear to DJs, enough to fill an entire post to be honest.

I hope I've shown how much unfamiliarity lurks close by even the most famous of streets, one most of you will have walked multiple times. If you fancy a similarly unexpected adventure, I walked one street north so how about one street south?

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan24  Feb24  Mar24  Apr24  May24  Jun24  Jul24
Jan23  Feb23  Mar23  Apr23  May23  Jun23  Jul23  Aug23  Sep23  Oct23  Nov23  Dec23
Jan22  Feb22  Mar22  Apr22  May22  Jun22  Jul22  Aug22  Sep22  Oct22  Nov22  Dec22
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21  Oct21  Nov21  Dec21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
our bow
ian visits
broken tv
blue witch
on london
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
the greenwich wire
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
round the rails we go
london reconnections
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
London's waymarked walks
Inner London toilet map
20 years of blog series
The DG Tour of Britain
London's most...

read the archive
Jul24  Jun24  May24
Apr24  Mar24  Feb24  Jan24
Dec23  Nov23  Oct23  Sep23
Aug23  Jul23  Jun23  May23
Apr23  Mar23  Feb23  Jan23
Dec22  Nov22  Oct22  Sep22
Aug22  Jul22  Jun22  May22
Apr22  Mar22  Feb22  Jan22
Dec21  Nov21  Oct21  Sep21
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2023 2022
2021 2020 2019 2018 2017
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards