The Pantheon – a place for the all the gods in Oxford Street

The Pantheon – a place for the all the gods in Oxford Street

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Stephen writes about one of Oxford Street’s most interesting buildings

The Pantheon, Oxford Circus

The Pantheon, Oxford Circus

 

The Pantheon – a place for the all the gods in Oxford Street

 

You may have noticed when walking between Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road that the big Marks and Spencer’s store you pass has something a little unusual at the top of its shiny black façade. It has the words “The Pantheon”.

 

You may know that the Pantheon is one of the best preserved buildings of ancient Rome. It was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus as a temple to all the gods of ancient Rome and rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian about 126 AD. And it still stands to this day. But how did Marks and Spencer’s – a temple to the shopping gods – get this name?

To find out, you have to go back to the late 18th century when this part of London was being developed. A high class assembly rooms was built on this site in 1772, designed by James Wyatt. At the time he was in his early 20s but Wyatt would go on to be one of the leading architects of his generation.

The building was called The Pantheon and the reason was the main rotunda had a central dome which was said to be reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome.

Historian and politician, Horace Walpole said “the Pantheon is the most beautiful edifice in England” and made favourable comparisons with the much better known Robert Adam. It made the young Wyatt an instant success.

There is a painting of the interior by William Hodges and William Pars from the 1770s. This is in the collection of LeedsMuseums and Galleries at Temple Newsom House. Here’s a link if you would like to see it.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/interior-of-the-pantheon-oxford-road-london-38861

In its early days the prices were high and you had to have a recommendation by a peeress just to get in. Needless to say this could not last and its fortunes declined in the 1780s.

It was burnt to the ground in 1792 and rebuilt in 1795 in a similar style, and continued as Assembly Rooms but not too successfully.

There were various failed attempts to use the premises for opera and theatre but in the end the building was reconstructed in the 1830s as a bazaar. In 1867 it was acquired by the wine merchants W and A Gilbey who used the building as offices and showrooms, until the 1930s when Marks and Spencer acquired the site.

A completely new building was put up in 1938, designed by Robert Lutyens (son of the more famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens). This building has been extended and rebuilt so many times since, there is little of the 1930s original apart from the distinctive façade – and of course there is nothing of the 18th century building apart from the reminder in the name.

This is one of the many fascinating buildings you will see on Stephen’s walk; Mr Selfridge and his Competitors: tales of the great West End Stores. This will run regularly through 2014. The next scheduled dates are Sunday 23 February and Thursday 20 March. Book via this link: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/stephen-benton-footprints-of-london-4468162721?ref=ebtn

 

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