I had a chat live on BBC Radio London this evening on the Sonny and Shay programme, about Piccadilly Circus. I thought I better mug up a bit beforehand, so made some notes. No point wasting them, so here they are:
Notes on Piccadilly Circus (1819)
Intersection of six roads:
- Piccadilly (formerly Portugal Street)
- Coventry Street
- Regent Street (North)
- Regent Street (South)
- Glasshouse Street
- Shaftsbury Avenue
Estimated 34 million pedestrians a year pass through.
- Early 17C Robert Baker wealthy draper/tailor, maker of piccadils (fancy collars) buys land north of east part of modern Piccadilly (near corner of Great Windmill Street) and builds large factory-mansion called Piccadilly Hall.
- Late 17C, area around PC gets built up with shops mainly and becomes overtly commercial. Wealthy and aristos start building town houses north of Piccadilly into what becomes Mayfair. Despite being named Portugal St after Charles II’s consort Catherine of Braganza, people continue to call the street Piccadilly.
- 1813-19: John Nash lays out and builds Regent Street, encouraged by Prince of Wales and supported by parliament. Joins Regents Park (then Marylebone Gardens) all the way down to Pall Mall (Carlton Terrace)
- 1886: Shaftsbury Avenue and Charing Cross Roads developed – Joseph Bazalgette heavily involved.
- 1893: Shaftsbury Memorial Fountain unveiled by Duke of Westminster, designed by Alfred Gilbert.
- 1925-28: Piccadilly Underground Station rebuilt, at junction of Piccadilly Line and Bakerloo line. The first entirely subterranean tube station. Architects: Charles Holden and SA Heaps.
- North-East Part of the Circus, on the front of London Pavilion
- First illuminated sign: 1908 for Perrier
- Early advertisers: Schweppes and Bovril from 1910
- Over 50 brands since, include Coke (1955 to date, longest), Guinness, Cinzano, Skol, Fosters, Players, Philips, Fuji, VW, Canon, TDK, Sanyo, Samsung, JVC
- Today run by Piccadilly Lights on behalf of Land Securities (landlords)
- Apart from WWII blackout, switched off 3 times: Deaths of Diana and Churchill and WWF Earth Day
- “Eros” actually the Angel of Christian Charity, modelled on Anteros not Eros
- First aluminium cast sculpture in Britain
- Moved in the 20s (Embankment Gardens) to build the station and WWII (Egham)
- Is not aimed down Shaftsbury Avenue, a myth
7th Earl of Shaftsbury
Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1801 – 1885), Tory politician, philanthropist and “Christian Zionist”: Factory Act, Coal Mines Act, Lunacy Act, foundation of ragged schools, supporter for Florence Nightingale etc etc
Theatre nearby is Criterion, opened in 1874
PC part-pedestrianised in 1990s
2) The London Encylopaedia by Weinreb, Hibbert et al.
3) Brewer’s London Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by Russ Willey (of this parish)