Piccadilly Circus is a road junction and public space of London's West End in the City of Westminster. It was built in 1819 to connect Regent Street with Piccadilly. In this context, a circus, from the Latin word meaning "circle", is a round open space at a street junction.
Piccadilly Circus in 2012
|London, United Kingdom|
|Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, The Haymarket, Coventry Street and Glasshouse Street|
Piccadilly now links directly to the theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue, as well as the Haymarket, Coventry Street (onwards to Leicester Square) and Glasshouse Street. The Circus is close to major shopping and entertainment areas in the West End. Its status as a major traffic junction has made Piccadilly Circus a busy meeting place and a tourist attraction in its own right. The Circus is particularly known for its video display and neon signs mounted on the corner building on the northern side, as well as the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain and statue, which is popularly, though mistakenly, believed to be of Eros. It is surrounded by several notable buildings, including the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre. Directly underneath the plaza is Piccadilly Circus Underground station, part of the London Underground system.
Piccadilly Circus connects to Piccadilly, a thoroughfare whose name first appeared in 1626 as Piccadilly Hall, named after a house belonging to one Robert Baker, a tailor famous for selling piccadills, or piccadillies, a term used for various kinds of collars. The street was known as Portugal Street in 1692 in honour of Catherine of Braganza, the queen consort of King Charles II but was known as Piccadilly by 1743. Piccadilly Circus was created in 1819, at the junction with Regent Street, which was then being built under the planning of John Nash on the site of a house and garden belonging to a Lady Hutton; the intersection was then known as Regent Circus South (like Oxford Circus was known as Regent Circus North) and it did not begin to be known as Piccadilly Circus until the mid 1880s, with the rebuilding of the Regent Street Quadrant and the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue. In the same period the circus lost its circular form.
The junction has been a very busy traffic interchange since construction, as it lies at the centre of Theatreland and handles exit traffic from Piccadilly, which Charles Dickens Jr. described in 1879: "Piccadilly, the great thoroughfare leading from the Haymarket and Regent-street westward to Hyde Park-corner, is the nearest approach to the Parisian boulevard of which London can boast."
Piccadilly Circus tube station was opened on 10 March 1906, on the Bakerloo line, and on the Piccadilly line in December of that year. In 1928, the station was extensively rebuilt to handle an increase in traffic. The junction's first electric advertisements appeared in 1910, and, from 1923, electric billboards were set up on the façade of the London Pavilion. Electric street lamps, however, did not replace the gas ones until 1932. Traffic lights were first installed on 3 August 1926.
During World War II many servicemen's clubs in the West End served American soldiers based in Britain. So many prostitutes roamed the area approaching the soldiers that they received the nickname "Piccadilly Commandos", and both Scotland Yard and the Foreign Office discussed possible damage to Anglo-American relations.
At the start of the 1960s, it was determined that the Circus needed to be redeveloped to allow for greater traffic flow. In 1962, Lord Holford presented a plan which would have created a "double-decker" Piccadilly Circus; the upper deck would have been an elevated pedestrian concourse linking the buildings around the perimeter of the Circus, with the lower deck being solely for traffic, most of the ground-level pedestrian areas having been removed to allow for greater vehicle flow. This concept was kept alive throughout the rest of the 1960s. A final scheme in 1972 proposed three octagonal towers (the highest 240 feet (73 m) tall) to replace the Trocadero, the Criterion and the "Monico" buildings. The plans were permanently rejected by Sir Keith Joseph and Ernest Marples; the key reason given was that Holford's scheme only allowed for a 20% increase in traffic, and the Government required 50%.
The Holford plan is referenced in the short-form documentary film "Goodbye, Piccadilly", produced by the Rank Organisation in 1967 as part of their Look at Life series when it was still seriously expected that Holford's recommendations would be acted upon. Piccadilly Circus has since escaped major redevelopment, apart from extensive ground-level pedestrianisation around its south side in the 1980s.
The Circus has been targeted by Irish republican terrorists multiple times. On 24 June 1939 an explosion occurred, although no injuries were caused. On 25 November 1974 a bomb injured 16 people. A 2 lb bomb exploded on 6 October 1992, injuring five people.
The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain in Piccadilly Circus was erected in 1893 to commemorate the philanthropic works of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. It was removed from the Circus twice and moved from the centre once. The first time was in 1922, so that Charles Holden's new tube station could be built directly below it. The fountain returned in 1931. During the Second World War, the fountain was removed for the second time and replaced by advertising hoardings. It was returned again in 1948. When the Circus underwent reconstruction work in the late 1980s, the entire fountain was moved from the centre of the junction at the beginning of Shaftesbury Avenue to its present position at the southwestern corner.
Location and sights
Piccadilly Circus is surrounded by tourist attractions, including the Shaftesbury Memorial, Criterion Theatre, London Pavilion and retail stores. Nightclubs, restaurants and bars are located in the area and neighbouring Soho, including the former Chinawhite club.
Piccadilly Circus was surrounded by illuminated advertising hoardings on buildings, starting in 1908 with a Perrier sign, but only one building now carries them, the one in the northwestern corner between Shaftesbury Avenue and Glasshouse Street. The site is unnamed (usually referred to as "Monico" after the Café Monico, which used to be on the site); its addresses are 44/48 Regent Street, 1/6 Sherwood Street, 17/22 Denman Street and 1/17 Shaftesbury Avenue, and it has been owned by property investor Land Securities Group since the 1970s.
The earliest signs used incandescent light bulbs; these were replaced with neon lights and with moving signs (there was a large Guinness clock at one time). The first Neon sign was for the British meat extract Bovril. From December 1998, digital projectors were used for the Coke sign, the square's first digital billboard, while in the 2000s there was a gradual move to LED displays, which completely replaced neon lamps by 2011. The number of signs has reduced over the years as the rental costs have increased, and in January 2017 the six remaining advertising screens were switched off as part of their combination into one large ultra-high definition curved Daktronics display, turning the signs off during renovation for the longest time since the 1940s. On 26 October 2017, the new screen was switched on for the first time.
Until the 2017 refurbishment, the site had six LED advertising screens above three large retail units facing Piccadilly Circus on the north side, occupied by Boots, Gap and a mix of smaller retail, restaurant and office premises fronting the other streets. A Burger King located under the Samsung advert, which had been a Wimpy Bar until 1989, closed in early 2008 and was converted into a Barclays Bank.
- Coca-Cola has had a sign at Piccadilly Circus since 1954. In September 2003, the previous digital projector board and the site that had been occupied by Nescafé was replaced with a state-of-the-art LED video display that curves round with the building. Before Nescafé, a neon advertisement for Foster's occupied the spot from 1987 until 1999, and from 1978 to 1987 it was used by Philips Electronics. For several months in 2002, the Nescafé sign was replaced by a sign featuring the quote "Imagine all the people living life in peace" by Beatle John Lennon. This was paid for by his widow Yoko Ono, who spent an estimated £150,000 to display an advert at this location. Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero, Fanta, Sprite and Vitamin Water have all been advertised in the space. On 23 November 2007, the Coca-Cola sign served as the first screening for Paul Atherton's film The Ballet of Change: Piccadilly Circus depicting the history of Piccadilly Circus and the lights).
- Hyundai Motors sign launched on 29 September 2011. It replaced a sign for Sanyo which had occupied the space since around early 1988 (slightly modified in 2004), the last to be run by traditional neon lights rather than Hyundai's computerised LED screen. Earlier Sanyo signs with older logos had occupied the position since 1978, although these were only half the size of the later space.
- McDonald's added its sign in 1987, replacing one for BASF. The sign was changed from neon to LED in 2001. A bigger, brighter screen was installed by Daktronics in 2008.
- Samsung added its sign in November 1994, the space having been previously occupied by Canon Inc. (1978–84) and Panasonic (1984–94). The sign was changed from neon to LED in summer 2005. The screen was upgraded and improved in autumn 2011.
- One Piccadilly, the highest resolution of all the LED displays was installed by Daktronics, in late 2013, underneath the Samsung and McDonald's signs. It allowed other companies to advertise for both short- and long-term leases, increasing the amount of advertising space but using the same screen for multiple brands. Prior to this an earlier, smaller LED screen called Piccadilly Lite occupied the space from 3 December 2007 to 2013. The space has also been occupied by JVC (1978–84), Carlsberg (1984–2003) and Budweiser (2003–07).
- The Curve, a similar space to One Piccadilly, was added in 2015, replacing a space previously occupied by Schweppes (1920–61), BP (1961–67), Cinzano (1967–78), Fujifilm (1978–86), Kodak (1986–90) and TDK (1990–2015). Burberry was using the space as of December 2015.
- LG were added in February 2007 on the roof of Coventry House, which diagonally faces Piccadilly Circus. Their sign is a large LED video advertising display for LGE, the British arm of the South Korean electronics group. The new display also incorporates a scrolling ticker of Sky News headlines. Before LG, Vodafone had a neon sign installed on that spot, which displayed both their logo and personal messages that could be submitted on a special website and displayed at a certain time and date.
On special occasions the lights are switched off, such as the deaths of Winston Churchill in 1965 and Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. On 21 June 2007, they were switched off for one hour as part of the Lights Out London campaign.
Shaftesbury Memorial and the statue of Anteros
At the southeastern side of the Circus, moved after World War II from its original position in the centre, stands the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, erected in 1892–1893 to commemorate the philanthropic works of Lord Shaftesbury, a Victorian politician, philanthropist and social reformer. The subject of the Memorial is the Greek god Anteros and was given the name The Angel of Christian Charity but is generally mistaken for his brother Eros.
The Criterion Theatre, a Grade II* listed building, stands on the south side of Piccadilly Circus. Apart from the box office area, the entire theatre, with nearly 600 seats, is underground and is reached by descending a tiled stairway. Columns are used to support both the dress circle and the upper circle, restricting the views of many of the seats inside.
The theatre was designed by Thomas Verity and opened as a theatre on 21 March 1874, although original plans were for it to become a concert hall. In 1883, it was forced to close to improve ventilation and to replace gaslights with electric lights and was reopened the following year. The theatre closed in 1989 and was extensively renovated, reopening in October 1992.
On the northeastern side of Piccadilly Circus, on the corner between Shaftesbury Avenue and Coventry Street, is the London Pavilion. The first building bearing the name was built in 1859 and was a music hall. In 1885, Shaftesbury Avenue was built through the former site of the Pavilion, and a new London Pavilion was constructed, which also served as a music hall. In 1924 electric billboards were erected on the side of the building.
In 1934, the building underwent significant structural alteration and was converted into a cinema. In 1986, the building was rebuilt, preserving the 1885 facade, and converted into a shopping arcade. In 2000, the building was connected to the neighbouring Trocadero Centre, and signage on the building was altered in 2003 to read "London Trocadero". The basement of the building connects with the Underground station.
The former Swan & Edgar department store on the west side of the circus between Piccadilly and Regent Street was built in 1928–29 to a design by Reginald Blomfield. Since the closure of the department store in the early 1980s, the building has been successively the flagship London store of music chains Tower Records, Virgin Megastore and Zavvi. The current occupier is clothing brand The Sting.
Lillywhites is a major retailer of sporting goods located on the corner of the circus and Lower Regent Street, next to the Shaftesbury fountain. It moved to its present site in 1925. Lillywhites is popular with tourists, and they regularly offer sale items, including international football jerseys up to 90% off. Nearby Fortnum & Mason is often considered to be part of the Piccadilly Circus shopping area and is known for its expansive food hall.
Underground station and the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines
The Piccadilly Circus station on the London Underground is located directly beneath Piccadilly Circus itself, with entrances at every corner. It is one of the few stations which have no associated buildings above ground and is fully underground. The below ground concourse and subway entrances are Grade II listed.
The Circus' status as a high-profile public space has made it the destination for numerous political demonstrations, including the February 15, 2003 anti-war protest and the "Carnival Against Capitalism" protest against the 39th G8 summit in 2013.
In popular culture
The phrase it's like Piccadilly Circus is commonly used in the UK to refer to a place or situation which is extremely busy with people. It has been said that a person who stays long enough at Piccadilly Circus will eventually bump into everyone they know. Probably because of this connection, during World War II, "Piccadilly Circus" was the code name given to the Allies' D-Day invasion fleet's assembly location in the English Channel.
Piccadilly Circus has inspired artists and musicians. Piccadilly Circus (1912) is the name and subject of a painting by British artist Charles Ginner, part of the Tate Britain collection. Sculptor Paul McCarthy also has a 320-page two-volume edition of video stills by the name of Piccadilly Circus. Bob Marley mentioned Piccadilly Circus in his song "Kinky Reggae", on the Catch a Fire album from 1973.
L. S. Lowry R.A painting Piccadilly Circus, London (1960), part of Lord Charles Forte's collection for almost three decades, sold for £5,641,250 when auctioned for the first time at Christie's 20th Century British & Irish Art sale on 16 November 2011. Contemporary British painter Carl Randall's painting 'Piccadilly Circus' (2017) is a large monochrome canvas depicting the area at night with crowds, the making of which involved painting over 70 portraits from life.
Piccadilly Circus is featured in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019 video game) as the site of a devastating terrorist attack.
- Cambridge Circus, London
- Chinawhite (nightclub)
- Oxford Circus
- Punto Obelisco (Obelisk Point, Buenos Aires)
- Shaftesbury Avenue
- Shibuya, noted public space and crossroads in Tokyo
- Times Square, a noted road junction and public space in New York
- Yonge-Dundas Square, a major public square with commercial signage in Toronto
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. . .the ten-mile (16 km) circle in the Channel nicknamed Piccadilly Circus, where the troop convoys would meet . . .
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Articles and websites
- Hadley, P. "Piccadilly Circus, How a typical 1906 London tube station was built", Underground News 412, April 1996.
- Jacob, S. "Review: Piccadilly Circus", Icon Magazine, November 2003.
- "London lights out for environment", News. BBC.co.uk, 22 June 2007
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Piccadilly Circus.|
- Piccadilly.london Things to do in Piccadilly area
- Theatre History
- This is London theatre guide to Criterion Theatre
- Metallurgical study of the statue of Eros following restoration in 1990
- Map from www.streetmap.co.uk
- Aerial photo from maps.google.com
- London Landscape TV episode (5 mins) about Piccadilly Circus
- The Lights of Piccadilly