The street is named after Sir Archibald Wardour, who was the architect of several buildings on the street, There has been a thoroughfare in this position shown on maps and plans since any accurate plans were prepared. The earliest is from Elizabethan times.
Back in 1585 to support a legal dispute a plan of what is now the West End was prepared. The dispute was about a field roughly where Broadwick Street is today. This plan is quite extraordinarily accurate, and clearly gives the name Colmanhedge Lane to this major through route across the fields right from the “The Waye from Vxbridge to London” (Oxford St) to what is now Cockspur St. The old plan shows that this lane follows the modern road almost exactly, including the bends at Brewer and Old Compton Streets.
The road is shown as a major thoroughfare on Faithorne and Newcourt’s map surveyed between 1643 and 1647. Although they do not give a name, it does have about 24 houses, and a large “Gaming House” roughly on the site of the Odeon cinema on the north west corner of Leicester Square. This map also shows a large windmill 40-50 yards to the west of what is now the Church of St Anne, roughly on the current position of Great Windmill Street.
This name Colmanhedge Lane did not last, and a 1682 map by Ogilby and Morgan shows the lane split into three parts. The northern part is SO HO while the middlepart is Whitcomb St and the remaining part, from James St south is Hedge Lane. It is not clear from the map where the boundary between SO HO and Whitcombe St lies, probably somewhere between Compton Street and Gerrard St. These three names remain on the Morden and Lea map of 1682.
John Rocque shows the road very clearly on his large scale map of 1746, however the names have changed again: From Oxford St. south to Meard St. we now have WARDOUR STREET, continuing south to Compton Street we have OLD SOHO, and then down to Coventry St. we have PRINCES STREET, and for the length of Leicester Square we have WHITCOMB ST, and finally we have HEDGE LANE however this now starts at Panton St rather than James St.
By the end of the eighteenth century things seems to have become a little simpler. Horwood on his massive map dated 1799 uses the same names but eliminates Old Soho and Hedge Lane, leaving just Wardour, Princess and Whitcomb streets. Incidentally, the houses have individual numbers by then, they are shown in detail on Horwood’s map.
The names stay much the same on Greenwood’s map of 1827 although the area at the southern end had been re-developed so that the road now ends at Pall Mall East, and the boundary between Wardour and Princes St. may have moved north a little.
By 1846 (Cruchley’s new plan of London) things seem to have changed again at the southern end: Wardour, Princes and Whitcomb streets stay the same, however Whitcomb Street looses a few hundred yards at the southern end: from James Street to Pall Mall the road is now called Dorset Place.
The Victorians seem to have sorted all of this out, for whilst Princes Street is still shown on the 1871 Ordnance Survey map, Stanford’s Map of Central London 1897 (at 6” to the mile) gives just two names: Wardour Street all of the way from Oxford Street to Coventry St, and Whitcomb St. south from there, and it has remained this way ever since although the numbers were rationalised at about 1896.
In the late 19th century, Wardour Street was known for slightly shoddy furniture stores. Wardour Street prose implies strained use of near-obsolete words for effect (e.g., anent). It refers to concentration at one time of antique shops in the area.
It was the centre of the old British film industry, and is still the home of much of the current film industry. In addition, the street is famous for its associations with the music industry, and is home to The Ship and, latterly, The Intrepid Fox (which relocated to St Giles High Street in 2006), two pubs known for being full of aspiring musicians.
The street was the site of the Marquee Club at 90 Wardour Street from 1964 to 1988 and, probably for that reason, is mentioned in the title of a song by The Jam, "A-Bomb in Wardour Street". The site of the Marquee Club is now home to a restaurant and bar called Floridita and above it is Soho Lofts, probably the most exclusive block of flats in Soho.
Today, the street is home to more than thirty restaurants and bars including, an eclectic mix north of Shaftesbury Avenue and south of there lots of well-known Chinese restaurants including the infamous Wong Kei (41-43 Wardour Street).