Old Soho: Great photos of London's most fascinating neighbourhood

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Soho has always been different. 
 
This former hunting ground – the name ‘soho’ was a hunting cry like ‘tally ho’ – has long been a refuge for those that don’t fit in with regular society. 
 
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was the West End’s version of the East End, with immigrants, notably from Italy, France and Russia setting up homes and businesses there. It may have been in London but it certainly wasn’t English. 
 
During the World War II, it was home to the ‘free French’ who drank in the pub that would become the French House, and later, the young gay men who were be persecuted elsewhere. Pleasures of the flesh also found a home in Soho, as sex shops and clip joints (where punters would be mercilessly ripped off) proliferated, paying corrupt police to turn a blind eye. 
 
But today Soho is in danger. Not from the gangsters or prostitutes, but the never-ending gentrification of London. Just as the East End became the centre of the hip universe (with the resulting rises in rent) in the early-2000s so Soho now is paying the price for increasing draw of the capital. 
 
Crossrail has already taken a chunk off its north-east corner (remember the Astoria?), and now it seems that the Curzon cinema may fall to its relentless drilling. Add to this plans for – sigh – luxury flats and you can see how it could easily slip into corporate blandness. There’s nothing wrong with chain stores and posh apartments, but Soho is unique.  
 
These photos document the history of Soho over the last century, from young Italians learning English to the bizarre waiters’ race of the 1950s. It’s a story that’s unique and fascinating as London itself, and one we’re not ready to see end yet. 
 







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