The History of Soho

Once known as St Giles Field, Soho was an area without building, according to a plan dating back to 1585. Moving forward to 1682, the name “SO HO” appears on a map – it is claimed that the name was a hunting cry of the period.  Here, The Museum of Soho presents the detailed research they have done into Soho’s history. The reports take in the sordid and unsavoury side of Soho’s past as well as the music heritage, the textile industry and the iconic Berwick Street Market.

Famous & Infamous Characters

Soho has seen its fair share of quirky characters over the years, from actors to writers and gangsters to musicians. 

More recently, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright wrote British horror comedy Shaun of the Dead from 77 Berwick Street.


There is a blue plaque commemorating the English actress and dancer Jessie Matthews on the wall of The Blue Posts public house. She was born above a butchers' shop at 94 Berwick Street and was extremely popular in musical revues of the 1920s and musical films.

The plaque was unveiled by politician John Profumo, famed for his affair with Christine Keeler.

The notorious Chevalier d'Eon (1728 – 1810) lived at 38 Brewer Street (now No. 71) as a woman for thirty-three years. He was a diplomat, writer, spy, brilliant swordsman and elegant transvestite.

The bohemian writer Virginia Woolf regularly frequented Berwick Street Market to buy 'flawed slightly' silk stockings. Berwick Street featured in her writing and she described Soho as a space 'filled with fierce light' and 'raw' voices.

Former Berwick Street resident and market trader Raye du Val held the record for marathon non-stop drumming between 1959 and 1969. He achieved the title for drumming continuously for one hundred hours, one minute and fifteen seconds.

Raye du Val later wrote a book called 'Viper' about his experiences as a drug addict and dealer and was well known by the local police.

Famous residents of Soho include columnist Jeffrey Bernard who lived on the 14th floor of Kemp House and who Peter O'Toole later brought to life once again in the his portrayal in Keith Waterhouse's play ‘Jeffrey Barnard is Unwell'.

Berwick Street Market



Soho's Berwick Street Market is one of the capital’s oldest markets. Street trading in Berwick Street probably started in the late 1770s when shopkeepers displayed their wares on the pavements, but it was not officially recognised as a market until 1892.

French Huguenots, Greeks and Italians populated the Soho area, a cosmopolitan but modest district. By the 1890s many had opened eating-houses serving their native cuisines.

As the market traders attempted to supply the ingredients, Berwick Street Market earned a reputation for selling a bewildering variety of fruit and vegetables. In 1880 tomatoes first appeared in London at Berwick Street Market, grapefruit followed in 1890. 

In the 1950s when the only place to buy olive oil in England was a chemist - not for eating but for softening ear wax - famous TV cooks such as Fanny Cradock and food writers such as Elizabeth David bought exotic ingredients from Berwick Street Market. 

Walking down Berwick Street in the 1990s, you could expect to hear the Soho street traders' cry, 'Fill yer boots with bananas, 19p a pound.'

Berwick Street Market has recently become a foodie destination with concept traders in the market such as Savage Salads, Freebird Burritos and Jerusalem Falafel. Find the market open Monday to Saturday from 8am until 6pm.




Soho has strong connections with the music industry throughout history. 

In the 1980s, Berwick Street became a destination for vinyl record collectors when it was known as ‘The Golden Mile of Vinyl’.  This corner of Soho is still home to central London’s largest concentration of independent record shops; Reckless Records and Sister Ray on Berwick Street, Phonica on Poland Street as well as Sounds of the Universe around the corner on Broadwick Street.  

Berwick Street was the location for the cover shoot of the 1995 Oasis album ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory’. Ian Brown cycled backwards down Berwick Street in the music video for F.E.A.R. and T-Rex front man Marc Bolan worked on his mum’s stall on Berwick Street market in the 1960s.

On 14 April 1964, David Bowie’s first band, Dave Jones and The King Bees played The Jack of Clubs (later Madame JoJo’s) on Brewer Street. This is claimed to have been David Bowie's big break.

Former Soho resident and market trader Raye du Val held the record for marathon non-stop drumming between 1959 and 1969.  He achieved the title for drumming continuously for one hundred hours, one minute and fifteen seconds. Raye du Val later wrote a book called 'Viper' about his experiences as a drug addict and dealer.

A friend of Raye du Val, Chas McDevitt, whose song 'Freight Train' went to No. 5 in the UK singles chart, ran a café called Freight Train at the junction of Berwick Street and Noel Street in the late 1950s.


Courtesy of British Pathé Ltd
Many thanks to The Museum of Soho who conducted history research and provided the above information.

Dr John Snow Memorial Pump   


A refurbished replica of the Dr John Snow Pump can be found on Broadwick Street.  The original water pump was the source of a deadly cholera epidemic that Soho saw in 1854.

The replica commemorates the work of, scientist, Dr John Snow in producing evidence that cholera was waterborne and saving the lives of hundreds. Prior to his discovery it was widely believed that cholera spread through dirty air. His research is considered ground breaking and changed the way scientists investigated and treated epidemics across the world.

The Broadwick Street water pump memorial has no handle, in memory of its removal as part of the Cholera outbreak control.