With rationing still in place from the wartime and your average pub not allowed to stay open past 2.30 in the afternoon, England in the post-war era of the 1940s and 1950s was a pretty stifling place. But against the odds, just up the road from genteel Westminster, the district of Soho became a bohemian utopia, a thriving counterculture where some of the most revered artists of the day were able to live out an alternative vision of the world.
Soho had always been a bit different – since the eighteenth century it has been home to intellectuals, immigrants, and outsiders – and was known for its unusual mix of ideas, languages, and sexuality. By the mid-twentieth century however, Soho could claim to be one of the bohemian capitals of Europe, rivaled only by the Left Bank of Paris.
Decades before bustling Chinatown was established and the bright lights were brought to the theatre, this is what Soho looked like in the 1950s.
The Windmill girls dash across London’s Soho to a party in 1953. (PA Archive/PA Images)
The first prizewinning tableau on parade through the streets of Soho, London, at the opening of the Soho Fair in 1955.
Frith Street in Soho, London in 1955.
Waiters carrying half bottles of champagne set off on the annual waiters’ race from Soho Square to Greek Street in 1955.
Mirv Arvinen (Miss Finland 1955) and Soho’s Fair Queen Andria Loran (right) try their hand at scoffing a plate of pasta at the Soho Fair spaghetti-eating contest on Frith Street, Soho, London in 1956.