Upon the death in 1901 of Queen Victoria, London moved swiftly into the new century together with a sense of joie de vivre. Life was much more about leisure and pleasure than it had ever been before.
London was now, arguably, the most important fashion locale on a global scale as it sat on the throne of the economic and political stage. While the Empire saw money flooding in, the City’s success was fueled most significantly. The populace boomed from a mere 200,000 in 1871, to a burgeoning 364,000 just 40 years later. Many of these workers were blue collar engineers, lawyers, accountants, financiers, architects, all of whom gave rise to affluence in society.
The aristocracy also had plenty of money to spend and gladly took their lead from Edward VII, the new king, who was part of an elite that was greatly influenced by art, fashion, and entertainment in bourgeoisie Europe.
Department stores, music halls, fancy restaurants, theatres, and grand hotels began to spring up in London’s streets, and accessibility was better than at any time previously with a fully electrified underground system, a comprehensive tram network, and the arrival of motor omnibuses in 1902.
Opening its doors in 1906 on Piccadilly, The Ritz Hotel was perhaps the finest of all. It had many ultra-modern features, including double glazing, en-suite bathrooms, brass beds, and walk-in wardrobes, all of which redefined luxury to the extreme.
The entertainment of choice for every fashionable Londoner of the time was a night at the theatre, while the West End began to thrive on a golden age. In central London, there were 23 theatres and 12 music halls, with a further 47 not far outside. By the turn of the century, Shaftesbury Avenue became home to the Palace and Lyric theatres. Not long after, the Apollo joined them, followed by the Gielgud in 1906, the Queen’s in 1907, and then the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1911.
Those less cultured Londoners still were able to take pleasure from the brand new technology of the moving picture. The Electric Theatre opened for the first time in 1909 on Wilton Road, Victoria. This was Britain’s first picture house.
With the arrival of the department store, shopping was also entering a new age. Harrods, which was already an institution in London, opened its flagship store in 1905 in Knightsbridge. The American department store Selfridges joined the lineup in 1907.
By the time that 1910 arrived, London had more than earned its newfound reputation as the fast city. Even with the looming prospect of war, the pace of the high life did not slow down for an instant.