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Quite apart from being one of the top tourist attractions in London, the West End is part of the fabric that holds the ‘Big Smoke’ together. For centuries the West End has held a pivotal cultural importance in the capital city and is soaked in the kind of history and symbolism that entrances millions of visitors every year. Such a heritage brings with it countless fascinating stories, and here are some of the most incredible facts about London’s West End.
- The Garrick Theatre on Charing Cross Road was opened in 1889, but its construction was delayed and became extremely complex after an underground river was discovered during excavation for the foundations of the building.
- Mousetrap is the longest running play in the West End. With over 26,000 performances the Agatha Christie murder mystery play has run continuously since 1952 when it opened at the Ambassadors Theatre. It is currently showing at the St Martin’s Theatre where it was first transferred in 1974.
- The longest running musical in the West End is Les Misérables, which opened in September 1985. It has run continuously ever since, overtaking Cats as the longest running production in 2006. It is currently staged at the Queen’s Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, where it celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2015.
- Another name for the West End is ‘Theatreland’ and the boundary of this is generally accepted as being from The Strand in the south, Oxford Street to the north, Regent Street to the west and Kingsway to the east. However, some landmark theatres are included within the ‘West End’ which lay outside of this boundary, such as the Apollo Victoria Theatre.
- Many famous West End theatres are thought to be haunted, but most stories surround the Royal Drury Lane Theatre, which is thought to be haunted by several ghosts. Most sightings surround the ghost of actor Charles Macklin, who is said to be a ‘tall, thin and ugly’ ghost with a bad temper.
- West End theatres come in all shapes and sizes, and many have been refurbished, rebuilt and extended many times. However, you could fit the entire 432-seater Fortune Theatre, opened in 1924, onto just the stage area of the Dominion Theatre.
- It is believed that the very first theatre in London was opened in 1576 and was simply named The Theatre. However, the first theatre in the area now known as the West End was the Theatre Royal, which was opened in 1663.
- Floods were not unusual in the 18th and 19th centuries, but did you know that the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road stands on the site of the Great Beer Flood of 1814? Eight people died when 570 tonnes of beer crashed through the walls of the Horse Shoe Brewery, and while injuries were sustained by the 15 foot waves created in the streets, it is believed some people were also crushed by the rush of people drinking free beer off the streets.
- The story of Peter Pan; or the boy who never grew up, has been adapted on to the West End stage several times at many different theatres, most recently the Adelphi theatre, but did you know that Great Ormond Street Hospital owns the copyright to the story, after author J.M. Barrie gifted the rights to the hospital in 1929, eight years before his death? Sales of the story in various formats have since earned the hospital millions in vital revenue.
- During the Second World War a total of 167 bombs were dropped on the area known as the West End.