Leicester Square (/ˈlɛstər/ ( listen) LES-tər) is a
pedestrianised square in the West End of London, England. It was laid
out in 1670 and is named after the contemporary Leicester House,
itself named after Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester.
The square was originally a gentrified residential area, with tenants
Frederick, Prince of Wales
Frederick, Prince of Wales and artists
William Hogarth and
Joshua Reynolds. It became more down-market in the late 18th century
as Leicester House was demolished and retail developments took place,
becoming a centre for entertainment. Several major theatres were
established in the 19th century, which were converted to cinemas
towards the middle of the next.
Leicester Square holds a number of
nationally important cinemas such as the Odeon Leicester Square,
Empire, Leicester Square, which are frequently used for film premieres
(and the now closed Odeon West End). The nearby Prince Charles Cinema
is popular for showing cult films and marathon film runs. The square
remains a popular tourist attraction, including hosting events for the
Chinese New Year.
The square has always had a park in its centre, which was originally
Lammas land. The park's fortunes have varied over the centuries,
reaching near dilapidation in the mid-19th century after changing
ownership several times. It was restored under the direction of Albert
Grant, which included the construction of four new statues and a
fountain of William Shakespeare. The square was extensively
refurbished and remodelled for the 2012 London Olympics, costing more
than £15m and taking over 17 months to complete.
2.1 16th–18th centuries
2.2 19th–21st centuries
3.1 Gardens square
3.3 Other attractions
4 Cultural references
5 Pronunciation of Leicester
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
The square lies within an area bound by Lisle Street, to the north;
Charing Cross Road, to the east; Orange Street, to the south; and
Whitcomb Street, to the west. The park at the centre of the Square is
bound by Cranbourn Street, to the north; Leicester Street, to the
east; Irving Street, to the south; and a section of road designated
simply as Leicester Square, to the west. It is within the City of
Westminster, north of Trafalgar Square, east of
west of Covent Garden, and south of Cambridge Circus.
The nearest Underground station is Leicester Square, which opened in
1906. London bus routes 24, 29 and 176 run on nearby Charing Cross
Leicester Square has also been used as name for the immediate
surrounding area, roughly corresponding with Coventry Street,
Charing Cross Road
Charing Cross Road and St Martin's Street. This
includes Bear Street, Haymarket, Hobhouse Court (named after Sir
John Cam Hobhouse), Hunt's Court (after Samuel Hunt, 17th century
carpenter and leaseholder), Irving Street (after actor Henry
Irving), Orange Street (named after William III, Prince of
Orange), Oxdendon Street (after Sir Henry Oxenden, 1st
Baronet), Panton Street (after local property dealer Thomas
Panton), and Trafalgar Square.
Leicester Square in 1750, looking north towards Leicester House, then
one of the largest houses in London.
The land where
Leicester Square now lies once belonged to the Abbot
and Convent of
Westminster Abbey and the Beaumont family. In 1536,
Henry VIII took control of 3 acres (1.2 ha) of land around the
square, with the remaining 4 acres (1.6 ha) being transferred to
the king the following year. The square is named after Robert Sidney,
2nd Earl of Leicester, who purchased this land in 1630. By 1635,
he had built himself a large house, Leicester House, at the northern
end. The area in front of the house was then enclosed, depriving
inhabitants of St Martin in the Fields parish of their right to use
the previously common land. The parishioners appealed to King Charles
I, and he appointed three members of the privy council to arbitrate.
Lord Leicester was ordered to keep part of his land (thereafter known
as Leicester Fields and later as Leicester Square) open for the
The square was laid out to the south of Leicester House and developed
in the 1670s. The area was originally entirely residential, with
properties laid out in a similar style to nearby Pall Mall. In
1687, the northern part of the square became part of the new parish of
St Anne, Soho. The Jocelyn Sidney, 7th Earl of Leicester took
ownership of the property in 1728 and it was briefly the residence of
Frederick, Prince of Wales
Frederick, Prince of Wales from 1742 until Leicester's death the
following year. The poet
Matthew Prior lived at what is now
No. 21 around 1700 and artist
William Hogarth resided at
No 30 between 1733 and 1764, where he produced some of his best
known works including Gin Lane. The magistrate Thomas de Veil,
later to found Bow Street Magistrates' Court, lived at No 40
between 1729 and 1737; this location is now the Odeon West End. The
Joshua Reynolds lived at No 47 from 1760 until his death
in 1792; this location is now Fanum House, once the Automobile
Association head office.
At the end of the 17th century, Lord Leicester's heir, Philip Sidney,
3rd Earl of Leicester, permitted a small amount of retail development
in booths along the front of Leicester House. A statue of King
George I was built on the square in 1760 following the coronation of
his grandson, George III. The square remained fashionable
throughout most of the 18th century, with notable residents including
the architect James Stuart at No 35 from 1766 to 1788 and the
John Singleton Copley
John Singleton Copley at No. 28 from 1776 to 1783.
Leicester House was intermittently inhabited during the mid-18th
century, and was finally sold to the naturalist
Ashton Lever in 1775.
Lever turned the house into a museum with a significant amount of
natural history objects. In turn, the square began to serve as a venue
for popular entertainments. Brothels started appearing around
Leicester Square during the century, and visitors could pay to watch
the severed heads of traitors executed at Temple Bar through a
telescope. Leicester House became home of a museum of natural
curiosities called the Holophusikon in the 1780s. It was
demolished in 1791–72 due to rising debts following the extinction
of the Leicester peerage, and replaced by Leicester Place. That in
turn was converted into a church in 1865 and is now the site of the
Prince Charles Cinema.
In 1790, a new
Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House was proposed to be built in Leicester
Square. The scheme was led by The Prince of Wales, Francis Russell,
5th Duke of Bedford and
James Cecil, 1st Marquess of Salisbury
James Cecil, 1st Marquess of Salisbury and
aimed to re-establish London as a centre for Italian opera and ballet,
with an opera house to rival those in mainland Europe. The opera house
was never built, as the royal patent needed at that time to license a
theatre was refused. The plans for the original design are
preserved in Sir John Soane's Museum, while a 1790 painting by William
Hodges, which displays the finished design, belongs to the Museum of
Leicester Square overlooking the
Alhambra Theatre in 1874
By the 19th century,
Leicester Square was known as an entertainment
venue, with many amusements peculiar to the era, including Wyld's
Great Globe, which was built for
The Great Exhibition
The Great Exhibition of 1851 and
housed a giant scale map of the Earth.[a] The construction of New
Coventry Street made it easier for traffic to access the square,
resulting in private residences being replaced by shops, museums and
exhibition centres. Savile House at No. 5–6, built in 1683 for
Thomas Bruce, 2nd Earl of Ailesbury, had become a museum by this time,
and was ultimately destroyed by fire in 1865. It was rebuilt as the
Several foreign-owned hotels were established around the square,
making it popular with visitors to London. Brunet's Hôtel at
No. 25 was opened by Louis Brunet in 1800, later expanding to
Nos. 24 and 26 during the following decade. It was bought by
Francis Jaunay in 1815 known as Jaunay's Hôtel. The Hôtel
Sablonière et de Provence opened at No. 17–18 in 1845 as the
Hôtel de Provence, and renamed in 1869. It closed in 1919 and became
a public house. The Cavour, at No. 20 at the southeast of the
square, opened in 1864. It was badly damaged in World War II but
Leicester Square in 1880, looking north east.
Alhambra Theatre was built in 1854 on the east side of the square,
dominating the site. It temporarily closed two years later when the
original owner, Edward Clarke, became bankrupt, but then reopened in
1858 as the Alhambra Palace. It enjoyed a surge in popularity after
Queen Victoria and family came to see "Black Eagle – The Horse of
Beauty". It burned down in 1882, but reopened the following year.
In the early 20th century, the theatre became a popular venue for
ballet. It was demolished in 1936 and replaced by the Odeon
Cinema. The Empire
Theatre of Varieties opened in 1881 on the
former site of Savile House, but had a troubled start, closing for a
time, until the end of the decade. The theatre had a notorious
reputation for high-class prostitutes frequenting the theatre, and in
1894 the London County Council ordered the promenade on the upper
balcony to be remodelled. A young Winston Churchill, then a cadet at
the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, helped destroy canvas screens
that had been erected to prevent access to the balcony. The theatre
closed in 1927, to be replaced by the Empire Cinema.
During the Winter of Discontent, where the incumbent Labour Party
struggled to meet demands of trade unions and a shrinking economy,
refuse collectors went on strike in January 1979.
Leicester Square was
turned into a de facto dump, earning it the nickname of "Fester
Square". In the 1980s, the square was pedestrianised, cutting off
all vehicular traffic. Access to the square for goods and
deliveries is now controlled by specially designated marshals.
By the start of the 21st century,
Westminster City Council
Westminster City Council were
concerned that the square was too dangerous at night, and wanted to
demolish sections of it to encourage the growth of theatres and
cinemas, and reduce popularity of nightclubs. In 2010, a major
Leicester Square took place as part of a Great
Outdoors scheme proposed by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
The improvements included 12,000 square metres
(130,000 sq ft) of granite paving and a water feature
surrounding the Shakespeare statue. The square re-opened in May
2012 after 17 months' work at a total cost of £15.3 million. The
Greater London Authority said the refurbishments would accommodate
more than 1,000 new jobs. The re-opening coincided with the 2012
Summer Olympics later that year.
The Shakespeare fountain and statue.
In the middle of the square is a small park that was originally
available for common use on
Lammas Day (12 August), such as washing
clothes and herding cattle. The Earl of Leicester was obliged to
preserve these grounds, which were separated from the rest of the
square with railings. In 1808, the garden was sold by the Leicester
Estate to Charles Elmes for £210 (equivalent to £15,030 in 2016),
who neglected to maintain it.[b] Ownership changed hands a number of
times during the first half of the 19th century, including Robert
Barren following Elmes' death in 1822, John Inderwick in 1834, and
Hyam Hyams and Edward Moxhay in 1839. Little maintenance was done and
the garden deteriorated to the point of severe dilapidation.
In 1848, the land was subject to the significant legal case of Tulk v
Moxhay. The plot's previous owner, Moxhay, had agreed upon a covenant
not to erect buildings but the law would not allow buyers who were not
"privy" to the initial contract to be bound by subsequent promises.
The judge, Lord Cottenham, decided that future owners of land could be
bound by promises to abstain from activity, subject to the doctrine of
notice (actual or constructive). Otherwise, a buyer could (re-)sell
land to himself to undermine an initial promise. James Wyld
bought the assets of the garden from the Tulk and Moxhay's death
estates in 1849 to erect the Great Globe, though buried the statue
of George I under 12 feet of earth with the globe stuck on top.
The statue was uncovered following the globe's demise, but by 1866 it
had deteriorated due to vandalism and was sold for £16. Arguments
continued about the fate of the garden, with Charles Augustus Tulk's
heirs erecting a wooden hoarding around the property in 1873. These
were quickly removed after the
Master of the Rolls ordered that the
land must be preserved for its original purpose.
The garden was saved by the
Member of parliament Albert Grant, who
purchased the park in 1874 for £11,060 and donated it to the
Metropolitan Board of Works. The title deed for the square passed
to the succeeding public bodies and is now in the ownership of the
City of Westminster. After the purchase, the architect James
Knowles redesigned the park. A statue of William Shakespeare
surrounded by dolphins was constructed in the centre. The four corner
gates of the park had one bust each of famous former residents in the
square: the scientist Sir
Isaac Newton designed by W. Calder Marshall;
Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first President of the Royal Academy by H.
Weekes; John Hunter, a pioneer of surgery, by T. Wooler; and William
Hogarth, the painter, by J. Durham.[c] Ownership transferred to
Westminster City Council
Westminster City Council in 1933. The most recent addition was a
bronze statue of film star and director Charlie Chaplin, designed by
John Doubleday in 1981. On the pavement were inscribed
the distances in miles to several Commonwealth countries, including
Canada, Kenya and Jamaica. After the Great Outdoors refurbishment
of the square, only the statue of Shakespeare still remains.
The TKTS booth in
Leicester Square is the official place to purchase
cheap theatre tickets in the West End besides being synonymous with
London film premieres.
Leicester Square is the centre of London's cinema land, and one of the
signs marking the Square bears the legend "Theatreland". It
contains the cinema with the largest screen and another with the most
seats (over 1,600). The square is the prime location in London for
film premieres and co-hosts the
London Film Festival
London Film Festival each year.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre
Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, the square was
surrounded by floor mounted plaques with film stars' names and cast
handprints. During the 2010–2012 refurbishment, many of the plaques
were removed, confusing tourists who still expected to find them
Leicester Square Theatre is based in nearby Leicester Place. It
was constructed in 1955 as a church, before becoming the Notre Dame
Hall, then the Cavern in the Town, a popular live music venue in the
1960s. In the 1970s, it was renamed back to the Notre Dame Hall,
Sex Pistols played one of their first gigs at the club on 15
November 1976.[d] It was converted into a theatre in 2002 as The
Venue, and refurbished as the
Leicester Square Theatre in 2008. In
2014, it began a production of a musical based on Oscar Wilde's De
The Square has been the home for TKTS (originally known as the
Official London Half-Price
Theatre Ticket Booth), since 1980. Tickets
for theatre performances taking place around the West End that day and
during the week are sold from the booth at a significant discount.
The popularity of the booth has given rise to other booths and stores
around the Square that advertise half-price tickets for West End
shows. The Official London
Theatre Guide recommends avoiding these
booths as they are not official and do not contain the Society of
Ticket Agents & Retailers (STAR) logo.
The Square is home to the 93,000 square feet (8,600 m2)
Hippodrome Casino. Following a £40m refurbishment in 2012, the
premises can now accommodate 2,000 patrons.
Global Radio has its headquarters on the east side of Leicester Square
at No. 30, close to the Odeon. The building houses the radio
stations Capital, Capital Xtra, Classic FM, Gold, Heart, LBC, Smooth
Radio and Radio X.
The Odeon, Leicester Square
The Odeon Leicester Square, which dominates the east side of the
square, hosts many film premieres. It has a capacity for 1,683 people,
arranged in circle and stalls. The last
70mm film showing was
Armageddon in 1998, after which the theatre began to use digital
technology. The projection room still contains some of the original
1930s decor and normally houses two projectors. The Empire opened
in 1962. It was previously the largest cinema on the square, but in
2013 it was subdivided to cater for an
IMAX screen. The Odeon West
End, on the south side, opened in 1930. It was not generally used for
premieres and was earmarked for demolition in 2014, to be replaced by
a ten-storey hotel including a two-screen cinema. Westminster City
Council reported 400 new jobs would be available after the
redevelopment. Vue West End, on the north side, near the north
east corner, was the first cinema in Europe to show a
3D film with
Chicken Little in 2006.
A short distance from the west of the Square, on the south side of
Panton Street, is the Odeon Panton Street. The Prince Charles
Cinema, to the north of the square opened in 1962 with a "satellite
dish" design where the audience looks upwards to the stage. The cinema
became notorious for showing pornographic and erotic films during the
1970s, including 1974's Emmanuelle. It later became a favourite venue
for showing cult films, including
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
and a sing-along version of The Sound of Music (1965), and marathon
performances including all seven
Muppet films back to back. Prices are
considerably cheaper than the main cinemas in the square; in 2013 a
ticket for a new release at the Prince Charles cost £10, compared to
£24 at the Odeon.
Leicester Square looking north-west towards Swiss Court. The Lego
Store is visible to the left.
Leicester Square is one of several places in the West End that puts on
events relating to the Chinese New Year. The celebrations are
organised by the London Chinatown Chinese Association and held on the
first Sunday during the new year period. Events include music,
acrobatics and dancing. In 2015, the celebrations attracted more than
1,000 participants, becoming the largest of their kind in the UK.
These included lion dances, a show of the Cultures of China and a drum
show. A parade ran nearby through
Charing Cross Road
Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury
The School of English operated on
Leicester Square from 1992 until its
closure in 2015. It taught over 25,000 students during its years of
The world's largest
Lego store opened on 3, Swiss Court, Leicester
Square in November 2016. The opening was marked by unveiling a 6-metre
(20 ft) high model of
Big Ben made out of 200,000 Lego
The main electrical substation for the West End is beneath the Square.
The electrical cables to the substation are in a large tunnel ending
at Leicester Square, and originating in Wimbledon, at Plough Lane,
behind the former
Wimbledon FC football ground, before which the
cables are above ground.
In 1726, anatomist
Nathaniel St André
Nathaniel St André claimed to have delivered
rabbits from Mary Toft, a woman who lived at No. 27 Leicester
Square. The event was widely reported around London, attracting
interest from King George I and
Royal Society president Hans Sloane.
Shortly afterwards, the woman was caught trying to buy a rabbit in
secret, and the incident was uncovered as a hoax.
Leicester Square is commemorated in the lyrics of the music hall song
"It's a Long Way to Tipperary" along with nearby Piccadilly, which
became popular with soldiers during World War I. During the war,
British inmates of Ruhleben Prisoner of War camp mentioned the square
in a song: "Shout this chorus all you can. We want the people there,
to hear in Leicester Square, That we're the boys that never get
The square is mentioned in the lyrics of several rock group tracks,
including the Rolling Stones' notorious "Cocksucker Blues", (1970)
"Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square" on Jethro Tull's album Stand Up
(1969), "Emit Remmus" on the album Californication by the Red Hot
Chili Peppers (1999), and "Leicester Square" on Rancid's Life
Won't Wait (1998),. A verse in "Something About England" on the
Clash's 1980 album
Sandinista! refers back to "It's a Long Way to
Tipperary", including a reference to Leicester Square.
It is one of a group of three on the British Monopoly board along with
Coventry Street and Piccadilly. The board was set out by designers
Victor Watson and Marge Phillips in the order of entertainment on a
Saturday night: film at Leicester Square, meal in
Coventry Street and
hotel on Piccadilly.
Pronunciation of Leicester
Main article: List of places in England with counterintuitive
The word Leicester features the ending cester which is with rare
exceptions spoken as a simplified pronunciation, so is
counterintuitive, a quirk of British English. A report by Premier Inn
Leicester Square was the most mispronounced place in the UK by
tourists, usually as "/laɪˈtʃɛstər/" ("Lie-chester") Square.
List of eponymous roads in London
1 Leicester Square
Swiss Centre, London
^ The globe gave a complete view of the world at a scale of ten miles
James Wyld constructed the globe as he believed it would show
the importance of Britain and revitalise Leicester Square, which was
becoming downtrodden by the 1850s.
^ On Elmes' death, his executors were sued for neglect.
^ The statues were designed to represent former residents in Leicester
Square, but Newton actually lived in St. Martin's Street.
^ The gig occurred a little over two weeks before the Sex Pistols
achieved national notoriety by appearing on ITV's Today with Bill
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^ Fairfield 1983, p. 156.
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^ Fairfield 1983, p. 170.
^ Fairfield 1983, p. 235.
^ Fairfield 1983, p. 237.
^ Fairfield 1983, p. 239.
^ Fairfield 1983, p. 319.
^ a b c d e f g Weinreb et al 2008, p. 479.
^ a b c d e "Leicester Square, North Side, and Lisle Street Area:
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1–16)". Survey of London. 33–34 : St Anne Soho: 441–472.
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^ a b Moore 2003, p. 89.
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^ Weinreb et al 2008, p. 272.
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^ a b c d F H W Sheppard, ed. (1966). "
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^ Tulk v. Moxhay (1848) 41 ER 1143 (Court Rolls)
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^ a b "
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Oscar Wilde production wins
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^ A step-free route from
Nelson's Column to the TKTS Booth (PDF)
(Report). Official London Threatre Guide. Retrieved 6 October
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Media related to
Leicester Square at Wikimedia Commons
Leicester Square travel guide from Wikivoyage
History of Leicester Square
Leicester Square Webcam – 8 preset views from the Radisson Edwardian
Detailed information about the history and buildings of Leicester
Square from the Survey of London
Leicester Square webcam
More on the history of
Leicester Square at www.VictorianLondon.org
Leicester Square Television
Leicester Square London Film Premieres
History of Leicester Square's Theatres and Cinemas
Hungerford Bridge and Golden Jubilee Bridges
Empire, Leicester Square
Odeon, Leicester Square
Wembley Stadium (national stadium)
Craven Cottage (Fulham)
The Den (Millwall)
Emirates Stadium (Arsenal)
Loftus Road (Queens Park Rangers)
London Stadium (West Ham United)
Selhurst Park (Crystal Palace)
Stamford Bridge (Chelsea)
The Valley (Charlton Athletic)
White Hart Lane
White Hart Lane (Tottenham Hotspur)
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club
The Championship Course
The Championship Course (rowing)
Crystal Palace National Sports Centre
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
The Oval (cricket)
Twickenham Stadium (rugby)
Royal National Theatre
Royal Opera House
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Theatre Royal Haymarket
Royal Albert Hall
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10 Downing Street
Bank of England
Palace of Westminster
Royal Courts of Justice
Imperial War Museum
Museum of London
National Maritime Museum
Natural History Museum
Royal Academy of Arts
Tower of London
Victoria and Albert Museum
Places of worship
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
Bevis Marks Synagogue
Methodist Central Hall
Regent's Park Mosque
St Paul's Cathedral
Fortnum & Mason
The Mall Wood Green
One New Change
Petticoat Lane Market
Westfield Stratford City
Partly occupied by
the Royal Family
St James's Palace
Hampton Court Palace
The Queen's Gallery
Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
1 Canada Square
8 Canada Square
25 Canada Square
1 Churchill Place
20 Fenchurch Street
St George Wharf Tower
30 St Mary Axe
Crystal Palace transmitting station
Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain
Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain ("Eros")
Charing Cross station
Clapham Junction station
King's Cross station
Liverpool Street station
London Bridge station
St Pancras station
Victoria Coach Station
Emirates Air Line cable car
Battersea Power Station
St Bartholomew's Hospital
Hampton Court Park
St. James's Park
Horse Guards Parade
Charing Cross Road
Kensington High Street
Tottenham Court Road