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The West End and Piccadilly Circus, .
Piccadilly Circus is a famous road junction and public space of Londonmarker's West Endmarker in the City of Westminstermarker,built in 1819 to connect Regent Streetmarker with the major shopping street of Piccadillymarker. In this context a circus, from the Latin word meaning a circle, is a circular open space at a street junction.

It now links directly to the theatres on Shaftesbury Avenuemarker as well as the Haymarketmarker, Coventry Streetmarker (onwards to Leicester Squaremarker), and Glasshouse Street. The Circus is close to major shopping and entertainment areas in the heart of the West Endmarker. Its status as a major traffic-intersection 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 of an archer popularly known as Eros (sometimes called The Angel of Christian Charity, but intended to be Anteros). It is surrounded by several noted buildings, including the London Pavilionmarker and Criterion Theatremarker. Directly underneath the plaza is Piccadilly Circusmarker London Underground station.


Piccadilly Circus in 1949.
Piccadilly Circus in 1962.
Piccadilly Circus connects to Piccadillymarker, a thoroughfare whose name first appeared in 1626 as Pickadilly 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 collar. The street was known as Portugal Street in 1692 in honour of Catherine of Braganza, the queen consort of King Charles II of England, but was known as Piccadilly by 1743. Piccadilly Circus was created in 1819, at the junction with Regent Streetmarker, 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 circus lost its circular form in 1886 with the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue.

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 (Charles C. B. Dickens, son of Charles Dickens) described thusly in 1879: "Piccadilly, the great thoroughfare leading from the Haymarket and Regent-streetmarker westward to Hyde Park-cornermarker, is the nearest approach to the Parisianmarker boulevard of which London can boast."

The Piccadilly Circus tube stationmarker was opened March 10, 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 intersection's first electric advertisements appeared in 1910, and from 1923 electric billboards were set up on the facade of the London Pavilionmarker. Traffic lights were first installed in August 3, 1926 at the junction.

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, with a new pedestrian concourse above the ground-level traffic. This concept was kept alive throughout the rest of 1960s, before eventually being killed off by Sir Keith Joseph and Ernest Marples in 1972; 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. Piccadilly Circus has since escaped major redevelopment, apart from extensive ground-level pedestrianisation around its south side in the 1980s.

The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain in Piccadilly Circus was erected in 1893, to commemorate the philanthropic works of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. During the Second World War, the statue atop the Shaftesburymarker Memorial Fountain was removed, and was replaced by advertising hoardings. It was returned 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 south-western corner.


Location and sights

Piccadilly Circus is surrounded by several major tourist attractions, including the Shaftesbury Memorial, Criterion Theatremarker, London Pavilion and several major retail stores. Numerous nightclubs and bars are located in the area and neighbouring Sohomarker, including the former Chinawhitemarker club.

Neon signs

Neon signs of Piccadilly Circus by day.
Neon signs of Piccadilly Circus by night.
The Ballet of Change: Piccadilly Circus screening on the Coca-Cola Billboard, 19:30 Friday 23rd November 2007

Piccadilly Circus used to be surrounded by illuminated advertising hoardings on buildings, starting in the early 1900s, but only one building now carries them, the one in the north-western 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 Avenuemarker, and has been owned by property investor Land Securities Group since the 1970s.

The earliest signs used incandescent light bulbs, these were replaced with neon lamps, as well as moving signs (there was a large Guinness clock at one time). From December 1998 digital projectors were briefly used for the Coke sign [32024], while the early 2000s have seen a gradual move to LED displays. The number of signs has reduced over the years as the rental costs have increased.

As of 2008, the site has six illuminated advertising screens above three large retail units, facing Piccadilly Circus on the north side, occupied by Boots, and 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 previously a Wimpy Bar until the late 1980s had closed in early 2008 and has now been converted into a Barclays Bank.

Coca-Cola has had a sign at Piccadilly Circus since 1955. The sign dates from September 2003, when the previous digital projector board and the site formerly occupied by Nescafé was replaced with a state-of-the-art LED video display that curves round with the building. On November 23 2007 the very first film was broadcast through the board. Paul Atherton's film The Ballet of Change: Piccadilly Circus was allowed five minutes to show the first non-commercial film depicting the history of Piccadilly Circus and the lights. The former Nescafé advert site had also been occupied by a neon advertisement for Fosters until about 1999 and for three months in 2002 between the display of the Nescafé advert and the enlarged Coca Cola advert this part of Piccadilly Circus had featured the quote "Imagine all the people living life in peace" by Beatle John Lennon. This was paid for by his wife Yoko Ono who spent an estimated £150,000 to display an advert at this location. [32025]

Sanyo's sign is the oldest out of the six, having been installed in the late 1980s and remaining unchanged ever since. However, earlier Sanyo signs with older logos have occupied that position since at least 1980.

TDK replaced the space formerly occupied by Kodak in 1990. Their sign has remained almost unchanged since, although in 2001 the colour of the background lamps were changed from green to blue, and the words 'Audio & Video Tape' and 'Floppy Disks' under the logo was removed.

McDonald's added a sign in the mid-1980s, replacing one for BASFmarker. In 2001 the sign was changed from neon to an animated LED screen, which was further changed to a bigger, brighter LED screen in 2008.

Samsung replaced a sign for Panasonic in November 1994 [32026], and the sign was upgraded from neon to LED in 2005.

Piccadilly Lite was added on 3 December 2007, placed under the Samsung and McDonald's signs. This is an LED screen that allows 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. It replaced Budweiser. [32027]

The British mobile telephony company Vodafone used to have a neon sign installed on the roof of Coventry House, which diagonally faces Piccadilly Circus. In addition to the logo of the company, the sign displayed personal messages that could be submitted on a special website and displayed at a certain time and date. As of February 2007, this has been replaced by a new, larger LED video-advertising display for LGE, the British arm of South Korean electronics group LG. The new display also incorporates a scrolling ticker of Sky News headlines.

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 1 hour as part of the Lights Out London campaign.

Shaftesbury Memorial and the Statue of Anteros

At the south-western side of the Circus, moved after World War II from its original position in the centre, stands the Shaftesbury Monument Memorial Fountain, erected in 1892-1893 to commemorate the philanthropic works of Lord Shaftesbury, who was a famous Victorian politician and philanthropist.

The monument is topped by Alfred Gilbert's winged nude statue of an archer, sometimes referred to as The Angel of Christian Charity and popularly known as Eros after the mythical Greek God of Love. The statue has become a London icon: a graphical illustration of it is used as the symbol of the Evening Standard newspaper, and appears on its masthead.

The use of a nude figure on a public monument was controversial at the time of its construction, but it was generally well-received by the public. The Magazine of Art described it as, "...a striking contrast to the dull ugliness of the generality of our street sculpture, ... a work which, while beautifying one of our hitherto desolate open spaces, should do much towards the elevation of public taste in the direction of decorative sculpture, and serve freedom for the metropolis from any further additions of the old order of monumental monstrosities."

The statue was the first in the world to be cast in aluminium and is set on a bronze fountain, which itself inspired the marine motifs that Gilbert carved on the statue.

The statue is generally believed to depict Eros, but was intended to be an image of his twin brother, Anteros, as confirmed by the contemporary records of Westminster City Council . The sculptor Alfred Gilbert had already sculpted a statue of Anteros, and when commissioned for the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, chose to reproduce the same subject, who as 'The God of Selfless Love' was deemed to suitably represent the philanthropic 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. Gilbert described Anteros as portraying 'reflective and mature love, as opposed to Eros or Cupid, the frivolous tyrant.' The model for the sculpture was Gilbert's studio assistant, a 16 year-old Italian, Angelo Colarossi (born 1875).

Where Anteros originally pointed his bow is the subject of two urban myths. The first is that the Archer is aiming up Shaftesbury Avenue. Sometimes the story goes that this was a visual pun to commemorate the great philanthropist. If the archer were to release his arrow, its shaft would bury itself in Shaftesbury Avenue. The other is that the arrow is pointing to the Earl's country seat in Wimborne Saint Giles, Dorset. However the 1896 photographs (on this page) of the circus taken only three years after the statue’s erection clearly shows the arrow pointing in a different direction down Lower Regent Street aptly towards Parliament. This proven by the position relative to the statue of Shaftesbury Avenue, the London Pavilion and the Criterion Theatre.

When the memorial was unveiled, there were numerous complaints. Some felt it was sited in a vulgar part of town (the theatre district) and others felt that it was too sensual as a memorial for a famously sober and respectable Earl. Some of the objections were tempered by renaming the statue as The Angel of Christian Charity , which was the nearest approximation that could be invented in Christian terms for the role Anteros played in the Greek pantheon. However the name never became widely known, and the original name came back, erroneously under the shortened form Eros, signifying the God of Sensual Love; quite inappropriate to commemorate the Earl, but just right to signify the carnal neighbourhood of London, into which Soho had developed.

Criterion Theatre

The Criterion Theatremarker, 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 March 21, 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.

London Pavilion

On the north-eastern side of Piccadilly Circus, on the corner between Shaftesbury Avenue and Coventry Street, is the London Pavilionmarker. 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 1923, electric billboards were erected on the side of the building.

Facade of the London Pavilion in 2002.

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 Piccadilly Circus tube stationmarker.

Major shops

The former Zavvi (formerly known as Virgin Megastore) flagship store, previously owned by Tower Records was located at Number 1 Piccadilly before it went into administration. Number 1 Piccadilly is empty, the unit is located on the west side between Regent Streetmarker and Piccadillymarker, directly facing Piccadilly Circus. Before being Tower Records this was the location of the Swan and Edgar department store. In June 2009, it was revealed by the current leaseholders of 1 Piccadilly Circus (Standard Life Investments) that the new retail tenant for the place will be The Sting, a fashion department store popular in the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. They plan to open in Spring 2010.[32028]

Lillywhites is a major retailer of sporting goods located on the south side, 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 and Masons is often considered to be part of the Piccadilly Circus shopping area and is known for its expansive food halls.

Underground station and the Piccadilly Line

Inside Piccadilly Circus tube station.

The Piccadilly Circusmarker 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. It is itself a Grade 2 listed building.

The station is on the Piccadilly Line between Green Parkmarker and Leicester Squaremarker, and the Bakerloo Line between Charing Crossmarker and Oxford Circusmarker.

Metronet, until 2008 one of the two private maintenance companies for the London Underground under a public-private partnership arrangement, refurbished Piccadilly Circus station with work starting in March 2005 and completed in spring of 2007. Major improvements included new floor and wall finishes, a new CCTV system, new help points, a new public address system, new electronic information displays and clocks, improved platform seating, waterproofing measures, measures to assist visually impaired passengers and improved lighting. Escalators were also replaced.

Piccadilly Circus in popular culture

Painting of Piccadilly Circus

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 Britainmarker collection. Sculptor Paul McCarthy also has a 320-page two-volume edition of video stills by the name of Piccadilly Circus.

"Piccadilly Circus" is the name of Swedishmarker singer Pernilla Wahlgren's hit song from 1985. Northern Irishmarker punk band Stiff Little Fingers had a different song of the same name from their 1981 album Go for It, a true story about a friend of theirs migrating to London to escape The Troubles of Belfastmarker only to be stabbed by strangers in Piccadilly Circus. A compilation album from the British pop/rock band Squeeze released in 1996 was titled Piccadilly Collection and showed a picture of Piccadilly Circus on its cover.

The Dire Straits song "Wild West End" is about the area around Piccadilly. The Morrissey song "Piccadilly Palare" from the album Bona Drag recounts the life of male prostitutes by employing the use of "palare" (alternatively spelled 'polari'), argot used by this subculture and by gay men generally. A lost verse: "Around the centre of town/is where I belong/am I really doing wrong?" Jethro Tull mention Piccadilly Circus in "Mother Goose" on the album Aqualung: "And a foreign student said to me/was it really true there are elephants and lions too/in Piccadilly Circus?"

Bob Marley makes mention of Piccadilly Circus in his song "Kinky Reggae" on the album Catch A Fire. The Sundays mention Piccadilly Circus in their song "Hideous Towns" on their 1990 album Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.

Stormbreaker, the first novel in the bestselling Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz, featured many major landmarks in London, one of them Piccadilly Circus. The main characters race down the circus on horseback.

In the film Wayne's World 2, Wayne and Garth made a trip to London and were disappointed to find out that Piccadilly Circus was not an actual circus.

In the film Austin Powers, Piccadilly Circus is the location of Dr Evil's lair during "the swinging 60s". Austin Powers confronts Dr Evil at the "The Electric Pussycat" nightclub which hides a rocketship in the shape of a Big Boy statue on the rooftop of a Piccadilly Circus building.

Piccadilly Circus was the final action scene in John Landis' 1981 werewolf classic, An American Werewolf in London. David Naughton's character, David Kessler aka the werewolf, makes his final transformation in an adult theatre in Piccadilly Circus and shortly after, chaos erupts when he escapes the theatre and sets off a chain reaction of car crashes.

In the film 28 Days Later, main character Jim is seen walking past Piccadilly Circus and noticing a board with "missing persons" flyers over it. The board is located around the memorial fountain.

In Doctor Who episodes, Rose and Last of the Time Lords, Piccadilly Circus is seen.

See also


  1. "circus", Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition 1989
  2. BBC NEWS | England | London | London lights out for environment They were also switched off as part of Earth Hour from 8.30pm til 9.30pm on 28 March 2009.
  3. "Eros", National Conservation Centre
  4. Piccadilly London


  • Mills, A. D. Dictionary of London Place Names. Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-860957-4.
  • Harris, C. M. What's in a name? The origins of the names of all stations in current use on the London Underground and Docklands Light rail with their opening dates. Midas Books and London Transport, fourth edition, 2001. ISBN 1-85414-241-0.
  • Lange, D. The Queen's London: A Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis. Cassell and Company, London, 1896.
  • Greater London Council, Piccadilly Circus: From Controversy to Reconstruction. 1980. ISBN 0-7168-1145-6.


Web sites

15 May, 2009 The Eros Project

External links

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