Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Piccadilly Circus is a plaza and traffic intersection in the West End in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, near Soho and Theatreland. It is renowned for its video display and neon signs in the northwestern corner, as well as the Shaftesbury memorial fountain and statue known as The Angel of Christian Charity or Eros. It is surrounded by several noted buildings, including the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre. Directly underneath the plaza is the London Underground station Piccadilly Circus.
Built in 1819 to connect Regent Street with the major shopping street of Piccadilly (the "circus" refers to "circular open space at a street junction"), it now links directly to the theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue as well as Haymarket, Coventry Street (onwards to Leicester Square) and Glasshouse Street. Its proximity to major shopping and entertainment areas, its central location at the heart of the West End, and its status as a major traffic intersection have made Piccadilly Circus a busy meeting point and a tourist attraction in its own right.
History of Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus connects to Piccadilly, 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 collars . 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 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 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 is at the centre of Theatreland and handles exit traffic from Piccadilly, which Charles C. B. Dickens, son of Charles Dickens described as "the great thoroughfare leading from the Haymarket and Regent-street westward to Hyde Park-corner" and "the nearest approach to the Parisian boulevard of which London can boast."
The Piccadilly Circus tube station was opened 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 intersection's first electric advertisements appeared in 1910, and from 1923 electric billboards were set up on the facade of the London Pavilion. Traffic lights were first installed in August 3, 1926 at the junction. The circus also underwent reconstruction work in the late 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 statue atop the Shaftesbury memorial fountain, The Angel of Christian Charity, was removed, and was replaced by advertising hoardings. After the war, the entire fountain was moved from the centre of the junction at the beginning of Shaftesbury Avenue to the southwestern corner.
Location and sights
Neon signs and the Coca-Cola display
The circus used to be surrounded by illuminated advertising hoardings on buildings, but only one building now carries them, namely the one in the northwestern corner, between Shaftesbury Avenue and Glasshouse Street. The site is unnamed; its addresses are 44/48 Regent Street, 1/6 Sherwood Street, 17/22 Denman Street and 1/17 Shaftesbury Avenue, and has been owned by property investor Land Securities PLC since the 1970s.
As of 2005, the site has seven advertising screens above three large retail units, facing Piccadilly Circus, occupied by Boots, Burger King and GAP and a mix of smaller retail, restaurant and office premises fronting the other streets. In September 2003, Coca Cola replaced its old illuminated board with a state-of-the-art LED video display that curves round with the building.
Vodafone also has a sign installed on a rooftop facing Piccadilly Circus. In addition to the logo of the company, the sign displays personal messages that can be entered on the web site www.vodafone.com and displayed at a certain time and date.
Shaftesbury Memorial and Eros
- Main article: Lord Shaftesbury
At the south-western side of the Circus, moved 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. It is topped by Alfred Gilbert's winged nude statue, officially known The Angel of Christian Charity. It is popularly known as Eros after the mythical Greek God of Love. The statue has become a London icon, and a graphical illustration of the statue 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."'
Technologically ground-breaking at the time, this statue was the first in the world to be cast in aluminium. The statue originally pointed its bow to the north, up Shaftesbury Avenue. However, during the Second World War the statue was removed for safe keeping, and when it was returned its bow was fixed pointing in to the south, towards Lower Regent Street.
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 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 refurbished, reopening in October 1992.
Criterion Theatre has been the home of the Reduced Shakespeare Company since 1995. The Reduced Shakespeare Company is a company of actors that performs unsubtle, fast-paced, seemingly highly-improvisational comedies presenting ludicrously condensed versions of huge topics. Its most renowned work is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). Works is now London's longest-running comedy, where a pastiche of 37 of Shakespeare's plays is performed in 97 minutes. During much of the year Works is performed at the Criterion.
- Main article: London Pavilion
On the north-eastern side of the 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 site of the Pavilion. 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.
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 station.
The former Tower Records flagship store, now acquired by Virgin Megastore, can be found at Number 1 Piccadilly, on the west side between Regent Street and Piccadilly, directly facing Piccadilly Circus. There is a direct exit to the Underground station on the basement level. Rival store HMV also has a branch inside the London Trocadero.
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.
Underground station and the Piccadilly Line
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. It is itself a Grade 2 listed building.
Metronet, one of the three private operators of the London Underground under a public-private partnership arrangement, is investing some £14 million to refurbish Piccadilly Circus station. Works are scheduled to begin in March 2005 and will be completed in spring 2007. Major improvements planned include 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 will also be replaced.
Piccadilly Circus in popular culture
Piccadilly Circus is the name of Swedish singer Pernilla Wahlgren's hit song from 1985. 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.
Photographer Paul McCarthy also has a 320-page two-volume edition of photographs by the name of Piccadilly Circus. The volume which contains an extensive documentation of McCarthy's unrestrained performances and over-the-top installations.
The phrase, "it's like Piccadilly Circus," is commonly used in the UK to refer to a place or situation where many people meet. It has been said that a person who stays long enough at Piccadilly Circus will eventually bump into everyone they know.
The 1980s Interactive fiction computer game Philosopher's Quest included a location described as, "a junction of several passages. The whole area resembles Piccadilly Circus."
Piccadilly Circus band
- Main article: Piccadilly Circus (band)
Piccadilly Circus is also the name of a Japanese band on the Sony Music label. Members of the band include Masamichi Sugi (Japanese: 杉 真理) (guitar), Kiyonori Matsuo (松尾 清憲) (guitar), Hiroyuki Izuta (伊豆田 洋之) (keyboard), Masatoshi Ueda (上田 雅利) (drums), Azuma Kazamatsuri (風祭 東) (bass) and Tetsu Hashimoto (橋本 哲) (guitar). All members of the band (except for Hashimoto) are also vocals. The band has published two albums thus far: Piccadilly Circus in February 1999, and Summer of Love in December 2003.
Neighbouring areas in the West End
- Real time web cam of Piccadilly Circus, provided by the BBC and Transport for London.
- Vodafone's neon sign at Piccadilly Circus.
- Panoramic view from urban75.org.
- Panoramic view] from www.explore-london.co.uk.
- This is London theatre guide to Criterion Theatre.
- Metalurgical study of the statue of Eros following restoration in 1990.
- Open Guide to London entry on Piccadilly Circus tube station.
- Map from www.streetmap.co.uk.
- Mills, A. D. Dictionary of London Place Names. Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0198609574.
- 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 1854142410.
- 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.
- Dickens, C. C. B. Dickens's Dictionary of London 1888: An Unconventional Handbook. 1888, re-printed in 1995 by Old House Books. ISBN 1873590040.
- Greater London Council, Piccadilly Circus: From Controversy to Reconstruction. 1980. ISBN 0716811456.
- Hadley, P. Piccadilly Circus, How a atypical 1906 London tube station was built, Underground News 412, April 1996.
- Jacob, S. Review: Piccadilly Circus, Icon Magazine, November 2003.
- Piccadilly Line. Homepage of the London Underground on the Picadilly Line. Retrieved February 25 2005.
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