Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus, Westminster

Once the ‘hub of the British Empire’ and now the focal point of the West End, located at the point where Mayfair, Soho and St James’s meet

Piccadilly Circus at dawn, looking west

Regent Cir­cus South, as it was first named, was cre­at­ed by John Nash in 1819 as a cross­roads on Regent Street. Pic­cadil­ly led south-west­wards towards Hyde Park Cor­ner and Coven­try Street pro­vid­ed a short con­nec­tion with Leices­ter Square. There was no round­about but the build­ings at the cor­ners were giv­en curved frontages. The Cri­te­ri­on The­atre opened in 1874.

The lay­out was dis­rupt­ed in the late 1880s by the addi­tion of Shaftes­bury Avenue on the north-east side, which forced the rebuild­ing of the Lon­don Pavil­ion music hall, now a shop­ping mall. Sir Alfred Gilbert’s stat­ue of Eros was erect­ed in 1893 to com­mem­o­rate the good deeds of Lord Shaftes­bury. It was the first pub­lic mon­u­ment in the world to be made of alu­mini­um. J Lyons and Co. estab­lished the Tro­cadero restau­rant, now a leisure cen­tre, in 1896.

Pic­cadil­ly Cir­cus sta­tion opened on the Bak­er­loo line in March 1906 and on the Pic­cadil­ly line in Decem­ber of the same year. The sta­tion was rebuilt in 1928 to pro­vide increased capac­i­ty. As the result of con­tin­u­al road alter­ations the cir­cus has now become tri­an­gu­lar in shape and Eros has been relo­cat­ed.

Pic­cadil­ly Cir­cus has been home to a suc­ces­sion of famous stores, includ­ing Swan & Edgar and Lil­ly­whites, but is even bet­ter known for its illu­mi­nat­ed bill­boards, espe­cial­ly the 99-feet wide Coca-Cola sign. The tube sta­tion, pave­ments and road junc­tion are among the busiest in Lon­don; there can be a traf­fic jam here at three in the morn­ing.

Almost through­out its his­to­ry Pic­cadil­ly Cir­cus has served as a meet­ing place for var­i­ous sub­cul­tures, includ­ing pros­ti­tutes and their clients, gay men – espe­cial­ly before the decrim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty – and ‘drop-outs’ and drug deal­ers in the 1960s and 1970s. Nowa­days its attrac­tions are more fam­i­ly-ori­ent­ed.

Postal district: W1
Station: Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines (zone 1)
Further reading: David Oxford, Piccadilly Circus, Tempus, 1994

 

* The picture of Piccadilly Circus at dawn at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph by Benh LIEU SONG at Wikimedia Commons, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.