Bow Street

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the village near Aberystwyth in Wales, see Bow Street, Ceredigion.
Not to be confused with Bow Road.
Bow Street looking north. The former Bow Street Magistrates' Court building is top right.

Bow Street is a thoroughfare in Covent Garden, Westminster, London. It was constructed in 1633 and has held a number of important buildings, including Bow Street Magistrates' Court and the Royal Opera House.


The street runs between Russell Street and Long Acre, to the east of Covent Garden. South of Russell Street, the road continues as Wellington Street towards The Strand.[1] The nearest tube station is Covent Garden.[2]


A plaque on Bow Street, showing some notable former residents

The area around Bow Street was first developed by Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford in 1633.[1] It was named Bow Street in 1638 after the basic shape of the road. It was always the Earl's intention to extend the street as far as Long Acre, but this never materialised.[3]

A number of notable residents lived on Bow Street in the 17th century. Oliver Cromwell moved to the street in 1645. Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford was born there in 1661. The woodcarver Grinling Gibbons lived on Bow Street between 1678 and 1721.[1]

The street acquired a reputation for pornography in the early 18th century. The publisher Edmund Curll lived at No. 2 during this time, and by 1740 the street held 8 pubs, concealing a number of brothels.[4]

Bow Street's character changed later in the century. No. 4, originally built by James Browne in 1703-4, served as a magistrates' court from 1740[1] and the police force, the Bow Street Runners were founded there by Henry Fielding around 1750.[4] In 1832, the Metropolitan Police Service built a new station house on the site of No. 33–34.[3] A new magistrates'court was designed by John Taylor at a cost of £38,400 (now £3,460,000) and constructed between 1879–81.[5] After Oscar Wilde was arrested and charged with gross indecency at the court in 1895, he ordered tea, toast and eggs from the nearby Tavistock Hotel, to be delivered to his cell.[5] The courts closed in July 2006 as its Grade II listing meant it was not economical to update it to modern standards.[5] The building was converted into a boutique hotel.

During the 19th century, Bow Street was a de facto an extension of Covent Garden and its associated markets, selling then-exotic fruit and vegetables.[6]

The Royal Opera House is on Bow Street. The first building was designed by Edward Shepherd for the actor John Rich and opened in 1732.[7] Rich also lived on Bow Street between 1754 and 1761.[8] The first building was destroyed by a fire in 1808, and a second building, designed by Robert Smirke, opened the following year, but was also destroyed by fire in 1856. The third building was designed by Edward Middleton Barry and opened in 1858. The Floral Hall, part of Barry's redevelopment, was badly damaged by fire in 1956, but the remainder survived through the 20th century. A £9.75 million modernisation and extension scheme took place between 1994 and 2000, including a reconstruction of the Floral Hall.[9][3]

In March 1919, a riot broke out on Bow Street after around 2000 foreign servicemen recuperating from World War I clashed with local police. Four Canadian servicemen were later charged with incitement to riot. The event was dubbed in the media as the "Battle of Bow Street".[10]

Cultural references[edit]

Bow Street Police station is mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes story The Man with the Twisted Lip. At the station, Holmes reveals that the beggar Hugh Boone is the aristocrat Neville St. Clair in disguise.[11]

Bow Street is one of the streets on the UK version of Monopoly, which is based on areas native to London.It forms a group with Marlborough Street and Vine Street, all of which have connections to the police and law.[12]



  1. ^ a b c d Weinreb et al 2008, p. 85.
  2. ^ "Central London Bus Map" (PDF). Transport for London. Retrieved 26 July 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c F H W Sheppard, ed. (1970). Bow Street and Russell Street Area: Bow Street. Survey of London. 36, Covent Garden (London). pp. 185–192. Retrieved 22 July 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Moore 2003, p. 136.
  5. ^ a b c Weinreb et al 2008, p. 86.
  6. ^ Moore 2003, p. 137.
  7. ^ Weinreb et al 2008, p. 730.
  8. ^ Weinreb et al 2008, p. 81.
  9. ^ Weinreb et al 2008, pp. 85,730.
  10. ^ Fido & Skinner 1999, p. 17.
  11. ^ Wheeler 2003, p. 73.
  12. ^ Moore 2003, p. 131.


  • Fido, Martin; Skinner, Keith (1999). The Official Encyclopedia of Scotland Yard. London: Virgin. ISBN 1-85227-712-2. 
  • Moore, Tim (2003). Do Not Pass Go. Vintage. ISBN 978-0-099-43386-6. 
  • Weinreb, Ben; Hibbert, Christopher; Keay, Julia; Keay, John (2008). The London Encyclopedia. Pan MacMillan. ISBN 978-1-4050-4924-5. 
  • Wheeler, Thomas (2003). Finding Sherlock's London: Travel Guide to Over 200 Sites in London. ISBN 978-0-595-28114-5. 

Coordinates: 51°30′47″N 0°07′19″W / 51.51306°N 0.12194°W / 51.51306; -0.12194