Tottenham Court Road

Tottenham Court Road, Camden

A commercial thoroughfare running along the western edge of Bloomsbury, noted for its furniture and electronics retailers

TCR - Heals

The Eliz­a­bethan manor house of Tot­ten­hall stood on the site now occu­pied by the UCLH admin­is­tra­tive build­ing at 250 Euston Road – the one that’s faced with so much reflec­tive glass it almost dis­ap­pears into the sur­round­ing sky. Exca­va­tions here have uncov­ered ear­ly Sax­on pot­tery, a series of 13th- to 14th-cen­tu­ry yard sur­faces and the remains of medieval and Tudor walls.

By the time of the manor house’s demo­li­tion in the ear­ly 18th cen­tu­ry, its name had become cor­rupt­ed to Tot­ten­ham Court and the lane that ran here from St Giles was called Tot­ten­ham Court Road. The muta­tion from ‘Tot­ten­hall’ to ‘Tot­ten­ham’ was prompt­ed by pub­lic famil­iar­i­ty with the north Lon­don dis­trict of that name, although the manor had no con­nec­tion with that place.

From the late 18th cen­tu­ry and espe­cial­ly in the 19th cen­tu­ry, Tot­ten­ham Court Road was known for the man­u­fac­ture of fur­ni­ture, espe­cial­ly cab­i­nets. Some of the work­shops lat­er turned to piano-mak­ing.

Built in 1896 in Art Nou­veau Goth­ic style, the sur­viv­ing archi­tec­tur­al high­light of the west side is the Ris­ing Sun pub­lic house, at num­ber 46. Tot­ten­ham Court Road­’s Cen­tral line sta­tion opened in 1900 and the North­ern line sta­tions along its length all opened in 1907.

Fur­ni­ture retail­ing grew in tan­dem with the man­u­fac­tur­ing indus­try and sev­er­al grand empo­ria were erect­ed on the street in the 1910s and 1920s. The finest of these was (and still is) Heal’s, which had already been on Tot­ten­ham Court Road for almost a cen­tu­ry before its store was enlarged and endowed with a Port­land stone façade in 1912–17 (and lat­er extend­ed south­wards). Pevs­ner calls it “the best com­mer­cial front of its date in Lon­don.”

The Domin­ion The­atre was built at the south­ern end of Tot­ten­ham Court Road in the late 1920s, back­ing onto the site of Meux’s brew­ery – once the source of the Lon­don Beer Flood. The Domin­ion served as a cin­e­ma for most of its first 40 years and nowa­days devotes itself almost exclu­sive­ly to musi­cal the­atre.

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Tot­ten­ham Court Road sign

Beneath Tot­ten­ham Court Road­’s junc­tion with Che­nies Street lies the bunker from which Gen­er­al Eisen­how­er direct­ed the Allied forces’ lib­er­a­tion of West­ern Europe. It is now used for the secure stor­age of doc­u­ments and data.

With its pre­pon­der­ance of bank branch­es and sand­wich pur­vey­ors, Tot­ten­ham Court Road­’s mix of busi­ness­es increas­ing­ly resem­bles that of any oth­er cen­tral Lon­don high street, but north of Goodge Street there’s still a bias towards fur­ni­ture retail­ing, while fur­ther south there are spe­cial­ists in audio­vi­su­al, pho­to­graph­ic and com­put­er equip­ment.

Oth­er dis­tinc­tive pres­ences include Paper­chase (at num­bers 213–215), Spearmint Rhi­no (161), the Amer­i­can church (79a), the Sci­en­tol­o­gists (68) and the Odeon (30).

Mak­ing a diag­o­nal link with Oxford Street at the south­ern end of Tot­ten­ham Court Road is hid­den-away Han­way Street, a con­ser­va­tion area with some recher­ché shops and bars, includ­ing a cou­ple with Span­ish con­nec­tions – a reminder that Tot­ten­ham Court Road once had a rep­u­ta­tion as Lon­don’s Latin quar­ter.

The arrival of the Eliz­a­beth line (Cross­rail) at Tot­ten­ham Court Road in 2019 (or per­haps 2020, or even 2021) is expect­ed to result in a 40 per cent increase in pas­sen­ger traf­fic through the huge­ly enlarged sta­tion, mak­ing it busier than Heathrow air­port. Accord­ing­ly, Cam­den coun­cil is plan­ning a phased pro­gramme of improve­ments to the neigh­bour­ing pub­lic realm – and from spring 2020 sec­tions of Tot­ten­ham Court Road will be restrict­ed to bus­es and bicy­cles dur­ing the day­time from Mon­day to Sat­ur­day.

In George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle sells flowers on the corner of Tottenham Court Road. In Lerner and Loewe’s musical adaptation, My Fair Lady, Eliza lives in a Tottenham Court Road tenement, although she goes home to Drury Lane in the original play.

Tottenham Court Road station was scene of David’s attack on a lone commuter in John Landis’s spoof horror film An American Werewolf in London.

Postal district: W1 (the boundary with WC1 runs along the road’s eastern side)
Station: Central and Northern lines (zone 1)
See also: Warren Street