Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D

Place Name

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, (April 28, 1801 – October 1, 1885) the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, was an active philanthropist, and as a Member of Parliament was responsible for several reforming acts designed to alleviate the suffering of the poor. The new avenue replaced slum housing, and was finished within a year of his death. Soon after leaving Oxford University he became the Tory MP for Woodstock, and was quickly appointed to a number of committees, among them Pauper Lunatics in the County of Middlesex, having seen first-hand the terrible conditions he helped draft some of the first Acts of Parliament making reform a legal requirement. It was a campaign he was to continue throughout his life. He campaigned for child labour laws; legislation to ban women working in the pits; introduced laws to ban young boys as chimney sweeps, became president of the Ragged School Union; and sought the ban opium; among many other reforms. He is said to have propagated the idea that social evils were caused by slum housing. When he died he was generally acknowledged as one of the most pious and energetic philanthropists of his generation. But the name of the street was by no means a foregone conclusion. Instead it may have been the result of a letter in The Times published on December 8, 1885, from one THW, of the Atheneum Club, who wrote to the paper concerning the naming of the new streets: “The most important London improvement that has been made since the Thames-embankment is now in a fair way to completion. The new street from Piccadilly-circus to New Oxford-street is almost finished, and the street which will cross it, from Charing-cross to Tottenham Court-road, is well begun. Every Londoner is interested in the question what these two great thoroughfares are to be called. So far as I know, the Metropolitan Board of Works has not yet decided the point, and there is still room for suggestions. The name of a street, unless it expresses a mere topographical fact, like ‘the Strand’ or ‘Holborn’, should commemorate something or somebody. In England we are far less anxious on this point than are the French, and London has nothing to show that will compare with the list of historical names of Paris streets – the Boulevard Voltaire, the Rue Richelieu, the Boulevard Magentu, and all the rest. We are too apt to ignore our history, and our statesmen and men of letters must look else-where than to the street names for their immortality. On the other hand, we give, perhaps, too much scope in this respect to our national loyalty; and while we have no great streets named after Shakespeare or Milton, Chatham or Walpole, Canning or Peel, we have George streets by the dozen, and Charlotte streets without end. It seems to me that it would be a natural and proper thing to name the two new streets after two great men lately dead, whose names appeal to no one party in the State, and who are universally admitted, the one to have stood in the highest rank as a benefactor of his poorer country men, especially of the people of London, and the other to have crowned a noble and most romantic life by a heroic death in the service of England. I propose that we name the new streets after Shaftesbury and Gordon.” The new thoroughfare cut a swathe through old Soho from Piccadilly Circus to New Oxford Street. On Rocque’s 1746 map the section between Wardour Street and Charing Cross Road, was formerly named King Street, while the part between today’s Charing Cross Road and New Oxford Street is called Monmouth Street, the name survived but for a different street.

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