What is Soho best known for? Is it the indie music venues, and being squashed up against others at a sweaty gig? Thesps and the literati getting drunk at The Coach & Horses? Sex tourists and shops displaying questionable PVC underwear? Media Thursdays? The gay bars? Here’s how this fascinating area evolved.
It’s hardly surprising to learn that Soho was once farmland. Neon-infested Leicester Square didn’t get its first building until after the Great Fire of London, in 1666, when the Earl of Leicester constructed a mansion here. This would become one of the most fashionable addresses in London, with frequent parties seeing dignitaries mingle with playwrights and royals alike. The surrounding acres were used as hunting ground by the rich, and the name ‘Soho’ derives from the hunting cry ‘Soohoo’. Towards the latter part of the 1600s the City was starting to become overcrowded, and councillors set upon building residences in Soho to ease the problem. One of the main developers was Richard Frith, after whom Frith Street is named. A patch called Soho Fields, today Soho Square, was created in the 1670s for King Charles II (if you’ve ever wondered what the timbered house is in the middle, it’s nothing more exciting than a tool shed).