Soho Then and Now: Interactive photos of London's historic West End

These interactive photos show the changing face of Soho, the vibrant heart of London's West End. Taking archive images seen in the SOHO exhibition currently running at the Getty Images Gallery, photographer Carl Court revisited the streets of Soho to produce a Then-and-Now look at the area.

Mrs Thurtell, a cleaner employed by Boots the Chemist, scrubs the pavement outside the firm's all-night shop in Piccadilly Circus in 1953Bert Hardy/Getty Images
Tourists walk through Piccadilly Circus, dominated by adverts for global brands, on 30 September 2016Carl Court/Getty Images

Surrounded by the old money and respectability of Mayfair, St James's and Fitzrovia, Soho was a dark labyrinth of alleys populated by seedy clubs, neighbourhood cafes and intimate music venues. Intrinsically linked with sex, fashion and music, its streets and bars were the haunt of gangsters, prostitutes, pimps, artists, musicians, writers and revellers alike.

A Mod sweeps his cloak around him after getting out of a sports car on Carnaby Street on 16 February 1966John Waterman/Fox Photos/Getty Images
People walk past chain stores on the pedestrianised Carnaby Street on 30 September 2016Carl Court/Getty Images

The area's bohemian character attracted anybody who dared to venture in whatever their predilection, making it one of the capital's most risqué and best-loved hangouts. Venues such as the Windmill Club, The Raymond Revue Bar, Cy Laurie's Jazz Club and the Marquee Club attracted the likes of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones to name but a few.

Shoppers walk down London's famous Carnaby Street in October 1973Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Carnaby Street on 29 September 2016Carl Court/Getty Images

The exhibition stemmed from the discovery of an original glass plate negative taken in 1910 entitled 'The Smallest Shop'. The image shows a space six feet long, five feet high and two feet deep, occupied by a cobbler, at 4 Bateman Street in the heart of Soho.

A cobbler occupies the smallest shop in London, at 4 Bateman Street, Soho, in January 1910Hulton Archive/Getty Images
A Vietnamese noodle cafe where the building that once housed London's smallest shop is seen on 29 September 2016Carl Court/Getty Images

Curiosity piqued, researchers at Getty Images Gallery began a year-long project to mine their archives for more images which would reveal the history of this much-loved area, uncovering rare photographs of venues such as the Windmill Theatre and The Raymond Revue Bar.

Delving into the murky depths of Soho's past, the exhibition takes viewers on a fascinating tour down narrow streets and pavements bustling with nightlife. We take furtive glances into basement clubs, corner cafes and tiny shops where we meet the diverse faces who helped establish Soho as one of London's best-loved villages. The exhibition illustrates the importance of preserving the area's rich architectural and cultural history into the future.

Window shoppers look into the Lady Jane boutique on Carnaby Street in August 1974Fox Photos/Getty Images
The Lambretta store that stands on the same site is pictured on 30 September 2016Carl Court/Getty Images

Campaigners are battling to save Soho from the worst ravages of gentrification. The area's independent shops, clubs and restaurants, often owned by generation after generation of immigrant families, are being demolished to make way for luxury apartments for the wealthy. Soho has become more upmarket, but less interesting, in recent years, with chain restaurants and members-only clubs replacing seedy bars and clip joints.

However, not everything has changed. The area's historic West End theatres are listed buildings, unchanged for generations – and their interiors are testament to that, with many of their auditoriums in urgent need of modernisation.

Cars drive down Shaftesbury Avenue past an illuminated Lyric Theatre on 29 September 1954Monty Fresco/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Cars drive down Shaftesbury Avenue in front of an illuminated Lyric Theatre on 29 September 2016Carl Court/Getty Images

Successive waves of immigrants – French Huguenots, Jews, Russians, Italians and Chinese – helped shape Soho's unique character. The area is a jumble of sex shops, textile wholesalers and bespoke tailors, independent record stores and shops catering to the counter-culture, world famous live music venues, gay bars, plus one of the oldest street markets in London.

A sports car pulls up outside the Soho Record Centre in September 1966; and – 50 years later – a man behind the counter of an Italian fast food restaurant flashes a peace sign at the photographer. (BIPS/Getty Images, Carl Court/Getty Images)BIPS/Getty Images
A man behind the counter of an Italian fast food restaurant flashes a peace sign at the photographer 50 years laterCarl Court/Getty Images

Berwick Street is home to one of the oldest street markets in London. However, Westminster city council has announced plans to "privatise" the market, bringing in a commercial operator as a landlord to stallholders. Many people fear this move would result in higher rents, putting small traders under threat.

The bustling market on Berwick Street in November 1933Fox Photos/Getty Images
Berwick Street on market day on on 30 September 2016Carl Court/Getty Images

SOHO the Exhibition is on at the Getty Images Gallery, 46 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W 8DX, until 26 November. Admission is free.

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