Great Windmill Street

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Great Windmill Street
Piccadilly Circus, London - Ripleys Believe It Or Not! - at night (6438564769).jpg
Start of Great Windmill Street (to the right) viewed from Coventry Street
Length 590 ft (180 m)
Postal code W1D 7
Coordinates 51°30′40″N 0°08′03″W / 51.5112°N 0.1343°W / 51.5112; -0.1343
south end A4 road Coventry Street
Shaftesbury Avenue
north end Brewer Street

Great Windmill Street is a thoroughfare running north-south in Soho, London. It is crossed by Shaftesbury Avenue.

Early history[edit]

The street took its name from a windmill on the site which was recorded 1585 and demolished during the 1690s.[1] In a parliamentary survey of 1658 the mill was described as "well fitted with Staves and other materials".

The area was developed around 1665 but the building was speculative and of poor quality; this led to a royal proclamation in 1671 that prohibited unlicensed development in "Windmill Fields, Dog Fields and Soho". Later that year, Thomas Panton, one of the original speculators, was granted a licence to continue his scheme with the condition that it was supervised and directed by Sir Christopher Wren[2] who was the Surveyor General of the King's Works. By 1682, maps show that both sides of the street were developed along their whole length.

Medical school[edit]

William Hunter plaque on what is now the side of the Lyric Theatre.

In 1767 the Scottish anatomist and physician William Hunter FRS, built a large house at number 16 after demolishing an earlier large dwelling. Hunter's house incorporated a large library, a museum and an anatomical theatre. He gave lectures and anatomical demonstrations from the new house, the first taking place on 1 October 1776. After his death, in 1783 he bequeathed the school and his house to his nephew, Dr Matthew Baillie, who taught there from 1783 to 1803.[3] The house wasused for medical demonstrations until 1831. It now forms part of the dressing rooms and stage of the Lyric Theatre.[1]

Red Lion public house[edit]

The Red Lion public house was built on the corner with Archer Street in around 1793. In November 1847, the Communist League held its second congress in a room above the bar and it was here that Karl Marx and Frederick Engels submitted their proposals for writing the Communist Manifesto.[4] The Red Lion closed in around 1998 and in 2013 was the 'Be at One' Cocktail Bar and Lounge.


The Windmill Club, formerly the Windmill Theatre, now a table dancing club.

The street has had a long association with music and entertainment, most notably the Windmill Theatre where during the 1930s and 1940s Laura Henderson and Vivian Van Damm presented nude tableaux vivants. The theatre is now a table dancing club. In the 1940s, the first regular paid modern jazz club for London musicians, Club Eleven, was run from a basement in Great Windmill Street featuring musicians such as Ronnie Scott, Hank Shaw, Johnny Rogers, Lennie Bush, Tony Crombie and Laurie Morgan.[5] In the 1960s, the Scene Club in Ham Yard at Number 41 was associated with the mod youth culture and bands that appeared there included the Rolling Stones and The Who.

The street is also home to the Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum and the Trocadero shopping centre.


  1. ^ a b "Great Windmill Street Area | Survey of London: volumes 31 and 32 (pp. 41–56)". Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  2. ^ P.R.O., C66/3124, no. 7; Wren Society, vol. XVIII, 1941, pp. 14–15
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Marx: The man behind the mask". Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  5. ^ "The jazz clubs". Retrieved 26 March 2013.