Old Compton Street runs east-west through Soho, London, England. The street was named after Henry Compton, who raised funds for a local parish church, eventually dedicated as St Anne's Church in 1686. The area in general and this street in particular became populated by French refugees after Charles II gave protection to Protestants in 1681.
The street is the centre of London's gay community. In the middle of Soho, it features several gay bars, restaurants and cafés, as well as a popular theatre. Whilst a pedestrianisation project proved unpopular with local traders and was reversed, the street is closed to vehicular traffic for the Soho Pride festival one weekend each year, in late summer.
By the end of the 18th century, fewer than ten of the houses were without shop fronts. In the middle of the 19th century, while there were some workshops too, as well as restaurants and public houses, the ground floors of most of the houses were still used as shops. The number of foreign occupants continued to grow and the street became a recognised meeting place for exiles, particularly those from France: after the suppression in Paris of the Paris Commune, the poets, Rimbaud and Verlaine often frequented drinking haunts here.
As might be expected of one of London's more entertaining districts, Old Compton Street had its resident curiosity in the form of Wombwell's Menagerie. George Wombwell kept a boot and shoe shop on the street between 1804 and 1810 and by all accounts was quite an entrepreneur. Dwarf-like and a drunk he nonetheless built up three hugely successful menageries from a starting point of two snakes bought at a bargain price. The menageries travelled the length and breadth of England and made him a wealthy man before his death in 1850.
Between 1956 and 1970, the 2 I's Coffee Bar was located here. Many well-known 1960s pop musicians played in its cramped surroundings.
The Prince Edward Theatre is located on the east end of the street. Until 2004, the long-running production of Mamma Mia!, a musical based upon the songs of ABBA was showing at the theatre. When Mamma Mia! moved to larger premises in another part of the West End, a production of Mary Poppins moved in but closed in 2008.
In 1999 the Admiral Duncan pub was the site of a nail bomb attack which killed three people and injured over a dozen. A neo-nazi, David Copeland, was subsequently found guilty of the bombing (intended specifically to injure members of the gay community). Previously decorated in neutral colours, the Admiral Duncan was re-opened with a flamboyant pink and purple exterior with a large gay pride rainbow flag flying outside, which has remained there ever since, in defiance of Westminster City Council's planning permission laws.
Along the street are numerous other gay bars, including Comptons (one of the first exclusively and openly gay bars which first opened for business in the 1980s), and G-A-Y bar. Also on the street are a variety of cafés, tea rooms (included a branch of the renowned Patisserie Valerie) and restaurants (including Balans (which unusually for much of England, is open 24 hours a day), and a variety of sex shops. Old Compton Street is also the home of some of London's film and video post-production houses.
An interesting local feature can be found in the middle of Charing Cross Road at its junction with Old Compton Street. Beneath the grill in the traffic island in the middle of the road, can be seen the old road signs for the now vanished Little Compton Street, which once joined Old Compton Street with New Compton Street.
From west to east: