Soho is an area of central London's West End in the borough of the City of Westminster. It is approximately a one square mile area bounded by Oxford Street to the north, Regent Street to the west, Shaftesbury Avenue to the south, and Charing Cross Road in the east. The area to the west is known as Mayfair; to the north Fitzrovia, to the south east Holborn, and to the south, Leicester Square, and Chinatown.
The area which is now Soho was grazing farmland until 1536 when it was taken by Henry VIII as a royal park for the Palace of Whitehall. The name Soho first appears in the 17th century. It is part of Soho folklore that the area’s name derives from the ancient ‘soho!’ hunting call; though by the time the name was in use, hunting had ceased in the area. The name is also believed to have come from the nickname of the Duke of Monmouth who used ‘soho’ as a rallying call for his men, and who in the 1600s was among the first to build in the area. There is an indication that he may have given one of his houses the name Soho.
In the 1660s the Crown granted Soho Fields to Henry Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans. He leased 19 of its 22 acres to Joseph Girle, who as soon as he had gained permission to build there, promptly passed his lease and licence to bricklayer Richard Frith in 1677, who began its development. In 1698 William III granted the Crown freehold of most of this area to William, Earl of Portland. Meanwhile the southern part of what became the parish of St Anne Soho was sold by the Crown in parcels in the 16th and 17th century, with part going to Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester.
Despite the best intentions of landowners such as the Earls of Leicester and Portland to develop the land on the grand scale of neighbouring Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Mayfair, immigrants, such as French Huguenots, settled in the area, and it never became a fashionable area for the rich. Indeed, it has been the making of Soho’s charm and character that it has been neglected and undeveloped and allowed to run a little wild and rough and cosmopolitan. By the mid 1700s all the aristocrats who had been living in Soho Square or Gerrard Street had moved out and the artists had started to move in.
By the mid 1800s all respectable families had moved away and prostitutes, music halls and small theatres had moved in. By the early part of the 1900s there was a healthy mix of foreign nationals opening cheap eating houses and it became a fashionable place to eat for intellectuals, writers and artists.
From the 1930s to the early 1960s, if Soho folklore is believed, the pubs of Soho were packed every night with drunken writers, poets and artists, many of whom never sobered up enough to become successful; and it was also during this period that the great Soho pub landlords established themselves.
The Soho name is deliberately imitated by Soho, Hong Kong, one of the main tourist areas on Hong Kong Island. SoHo, New York is named because the area is South of Houston Street in lower Manhattan. Beijing Soho (JianWai SoHo) stands for Small Office (Home Office).