Piccadilly Circus was built in 1819 with the aim of connecting Regent Street and Piccadilly Street, which was famous for its ample shopping opportunities. The circus (“circus” meaning “circle”) is an open area situated at the junction of these streets. It is very popular, not only for the shopping, but also for the Shaftesbury Memorial and the impressive display of neon lights and video displays.
In the 1620’s, Robert Baker was an acclaimed tailor in the area, famous for making piccadillies, which were a type of frilly collar (very popular during the 17th century). His house was named Pickadilly Hall, which was located along a thoroughfare that would later become known by the same name. Piccadilly Circus itself was built in 1819 on the site of the property once owned by Lady Hutton. When Shaftesbury Avenue was built in 1886, Piccadilly Circus lost its iconic circular shape, but not its well-established name.
Because of its central location, Piccadilly Circus and the junction on which it lies are both very busy in terms of human and vehicular traffic. To cope with the increasing amount of pedestrians, cars, busses, and so on, it was decided that Piccadilly Circus would need to be expanded. These expansion discussions were held during the early 1960’s. However, there were several disputes, which meant that Piccadilly Circus remained relatively unchanged in terms of its size and structure or layout.
Snow on the wings of the Eros statue in
Piccadilly Circus, London.
Some of the popular tourist attractions around Piccadilly Circus include the Shaftesbury Memorial and the statue of Eros, the Criterion Theatre, the central hub of Soho, and the London Pavilion. In addition, there are many shops to satisfy even the most discriminating of shopaholics. These include everything from designer boutiques to family-oriented retail outlets. The young (as well as the young-at-heart) will know this area as the epicentre of a vibrant night club culture. Any one of the many night clubs in the area are pulsating with vibrant party-goers until the small hours of the morning.
The neon signs are well-known iconic representations of Piccadilly Circus. They have changed over the years, depending on technology, finances and brand preference. Having their origins in the early-1900’s, the incandescent light bulbs have been changed to neon lamps and moving signs, creating quite a spectacle. Some major companies and brands have made use of this effective form of advertising. These include Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Panasonic and Sony. In fact, Sony’s sign is the oldest of them all and has remained unchanged since its installation in approximately 1988. Piccadilly Lite is an LED screen that leases advertising space to companies for both short- and long-term advertising campaigns. There is also a strolling ticker of up-to-date Sky News headlines so that passers-by are able to have access to current news and global events. The neon lights are only turned off in the case of a national tragedy (such as the death of Princess Diana) or a special event.
The Shaftesbury Memorial was constructed in 1893 in tribute to the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper), who was a noted philanthropist and politician during the Victorian Era. This memorial is topped by a nude statue (Eros or the Angel of Christian Charity). Originally, it was intended to represent Eros’ (the Greek god of love) twin brother, Anderas. Although the statue was built at the centre of the junction, it has since been moved to the south-west corner instead.
The Criterion Theatre is at the south of Piccadilly Circus and boasts 600 seats and a Grade II listing. This is an underground theatre and was opened in March of 1874.
Piccadilly Circus’ fame is a global phenomenon, as is evident from its inclusion in art and media. Some examples are:
• Wild West End by Dire Straits
• Mother Goose by Jethro Tull
• Kinky Reggae by Bob Marley
• Wayne’s World (the two stars travel to the circus thinking that it is a real circus)
• Austin Powers (this site is the home of Dr Evil during the 1960’s)