Shaftesbury Avenue

For the majority of the populace of Britain, as well as the millions of tourist that visit the small island every year, the name Anthony Ashley-Cooper is unlikely to trigger any memories. Ashley-Cooper, however, was something of a radical politician of his time; born in 1801 and dying in 1885, he spent the majority of his considerable life working tirelessly as a political strategist and philanthropist. Ashley-Cooper, in a particularly radical move for the time (nevertheless considering his Tory – essentially, right wing – political leanings), petition hard to various Prime Ministers for people of the Jewish faith to be returned to Israel. It is believed that the oft-quoted phrase “a land without a people for a people without a land” originated from one of Ashley-Cooper’s own letters to his Prime Minister.

Most of the life of this remarkable man, however, has been forgotten; but Ashley-Cooper is remembered, albeit in such a way that many know the name of the area named after him, without any awareness of where the name comes from. The area in question is Shaftesbury Avenue in central London, a tourist hub and considered by most to be the heart and soul of the West End and its associated theaters

The name Shaftesbury comes from Ashley-Cooper’s official title; he was born to the noble title of Earl of Shaftesbury, of which he was the seventh. From 1811 to 1851, he worked under the title of Lord Ashley, and petitioned for factory and warehouse reform alongside his desire to return the Jews to Israel. He was also a keen supporter of the much vaulted nurse, Florence Nightingale. Essentially, this is a man who deserves to be remembered; and Shaftesbury Avenue is indeed a fitting tribute, known in the public consciousness of most Londoners, even if the origin of the name has been forgotten.

The modern Shaftesbury Avenue is, as aforementioned, the home of the world famous London West End scene. Various world famous theater venues, including the Lyric and the Apollo (a well known comedy venue), are located on Shaftesbury Avenue. There are also more modern forms of entertainment; Shaftesbury Avenue is also home to a huge cinema complex, the Odeon Covent Garden, and the Curzon cinema is located right in the center of the avenue.

Shaftesbury AvenueFittingly, considering Ashley-Cooper’s love of foreign rights and influence, Shaftesbury Avenue is also the unofficial start of London’s Chinatown. On the avenue alone – by no means the extent of Chinatown – there is a vast amount of Chinese stores, including (at last count) five Chinese restaurants, three Chinese travel agents and two traditional Chinese medical practices.

Ashley-Cooper aside, Shaftesbury Avenue is a fantastic, buzzing place to visit should one be in London. It is a tourist hub, particularly for those who appreciate the art of theater and the West End.  A particular highlight is the evening fun in front of the NatWest bank on the avenue; street artists gather here and paint portraits for tourists or anyone who is interested.

There is little of Ashley-Cooper’s world that exists on Shaftesbury Avenue, but a little knowledge of the man behind this throbbing, exciting part of London makes it all the more intriguing. Simply, if in London, spend an afternoon in Shaftesbury Avenue – you won’t regret it.