Piccadilly Circus is a road junction and public space of London's West
End in the City of Westminster. It was built in 1819 to connect Regent
Street with Piccadilly. In this context, a circus, from the Latin word
meaning "circle", is a round open space at a street junction.
Piccadilly now links directly to the theatres on
as well as the Haymarket,
Coventry Street (onwards to Leicester
Square) and Glasshouse Street. The Circus is close to major shopping
and entertainment areas in the West End. Its status as a major traffic
junction 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, which is popularly, though mistakenly, believed to be of Eros.
It is surrounded by several notable buildings, including the London
Pavilion and Criterion Theatre. Directly underneath the plaza is
Piccadilly Circus Underground station, part of the
2 Location and sights
2.1 Illuminated signs
Shaftesbury Memorial and the statue of Anteros
2.3 Criterion Theatre
2.5 Major shops
3 Underground station and the Bakerloo and
5 In popular culture
6 See also
8 External links
Piccadilly Circus in 1949
Piccadilly Circus in 1896, with a view towards
Leicester Square via
London Pavilion is on the left, and Criterion Theatre
on the right.
Piccadilly Circus in 1962
Signs in 1992
Picadilly Circus in 2016
Piccadilly Circus connects to Piccadilly, a thoroughfare whose name
first appeared in 1626 as
Piccadilly 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 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. Around 1858 it was briefly known as Regent's Circus.
The circus lost its circular form in 1886 with the construction of
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 Dickens Jr. described in 1879:
"Piccadilly, the great thoroughfare leading from the Haymarket and
Regent-street westward to Hyde Park-corner, is the nearest approach to
the Parisian boulevard of which
London can boast."
Piccadilly Circus station was opened on 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 junction's first electric advertisements appeared in 1910, and,
from 1923, electric billboards were set up on the façade of the
London Pavilion. Traffic lights were first installed on 3 August 1926.
World War II
World War II many servicemen's clubs in the West End served
American soldiers based in Britain. So many prostitutes roamed the
area approaching the soldiers that they received the nickname
Piccadilly Commandos", and both
Scotland Yard and the Foreign Office
discussed possible damage to Anglo-American relations.
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; the upper deck would have been an elevated
pedestrian concourse linking the buildings around the perimeter of the
Circus, with the lower deck being solely for traffic, most of the
ground-level pedestrian areas having been removed to allow for greater
vehicle flow. This concept was kept alive throughout the rest of the
1960s. A final scheme in 1972 proposed three octagonal towers (the
highest 240 feet (73 m) tall) to replace the Trocadero, the
Criterion and the "Monico" buildings. The plans were permanently
Sir Keith Joseph
Sir Keith Joseph and Ernest Marples; 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 as
part of their Look at Life series when it was still seriously expected
that Holford's recommendations would be acted upon.
has since escaped major redevelopment, apart from extensive
ground-level pedestrianisation around its south side in the 1980s.
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
Shaftesbury 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 southwestern corner.
Location and sights
Piccadilly Circus is surrounded by several major tourist attractions,
Shaftesbury Memorial, Criterion Theatre,
and several major retail stores. Numerous nightclubs, restaurants and
bars are located in the area and neighbouring Soho, including the
former Chinawhite club.
Piccadilly Circus in 2015 from the southern side in front
Illuminated signs of
Piccadilly Circus at dawn, 2014
The Ballet of Change:
Piccadilly Circus screening on the Coca-Cola
Piccadilly Circus was surrounded by illuminated advertising hoardings
on buildings, starting in 1908 with a Perrier sign, but only one
building now carries them, the one in the northwestern 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 Avenue, and it has been owned
by property investor
Land Securities Group
Land Securities Group since the 1970s.
The earliest signs used incandescent light bulbs; these were replaced
with neon lights and with moving signs (there was a large Guinness
clock at one time). The first Neon sign was for the British meat
extract Bovril. From December 1998, digital projectors were used
for the Coke sign, the square's first digital billboard, while in
the 2000s there was a gradual move to LED displays, which completely
replaced neon lamps by 2011. The number of signs has reduced over the
years as the rental costs have increased.
During 2017, the current six advertising screens will be combined into
one large ultra-high definition curved Daktronics display, turning the
signs off during renovation for the longest time since the 1940s. The
current signs were switched off on 16 January 2017, with the new
screen expected to take their place in the autumn.
As of 2016, the site has six LED advertising screens above three large
retail units facing
Piccadilly Circus on the north side, occupied by
Boots, 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 a
Wimpy Bar until 1989, closed in early 2008
and was converted into a
Coca-Cola has had a sign at
Piccadilly Circus since 1954. The
current placed sign dates from September 2003, when the previous
digital projector board and the site that had been occupied by
Nescafé was replaced with a state-of-the-art LED video display that
curves round with the building. Before Nescafé, a neon advertisement
for Foster's occupied the spot from 1987 until 1999, and from 1978 to
1987 it was used by
Philips Electronics. On 23 November 2007, the
first film was broadcast through the board. The screen also displays
information about line closures and delays on the
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, for
several months in 2002, replacing the Nescafé sign, was a sign
featuring the quote "Imagine all the people living life in peace" by
Beatle John Lennon. This was paid for by his widow Yoko Ono, who spent
an estimated £150,000 to display an advert at this location.
Hyundai Motors sign launched on 29 September 2011. It replaced a
Sanyo which had occupied the space since around early 1988
(slightly modified in 2004), the last to be run by traditional neon
lights rather than Hyundai's computerised LED screen. Earlier Sanyo
signs with older logos had occupied the position since 1978, although
these were only half the size of the current space.
McDonald's added its sign in 1987, replacing one for BASF. The sign
was changed from neon to LED in 2001. A bigger, brighter screen was
installed by Daktronics in 2008.
Samsung added its sign in November 1994, the space having been
previously occupied by Canon (1978–84) and
The sign was changed from neon to LED in summer 2005. The screen was
upgraded and improved in autumn 2011.
One Piccadilly, the highest resolution of all the LED displays was
installed by Daktronics, in late 2013, underneath the
McDonald's signs. It 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. Prior to this an
earlier, smaller LED screen called
Piccadilly Lite occupied the space
from 3 December 2007 to 2013. The space has also been occupied by JVC
(1978–84), Carlsberg (1984–2003) and Budweiser (2003–07).
The Curve, a similar space to One Picadilly, was added in 2015,
replacing a space previously occupied by
Schweppes (1920–61), BP
Fujifilm (1978–86), Kodak
Burberry is currently using the
space as of December 2015.
LG were added in February 2007 on the roof of Coventry House, which
Piccadilly Circus. Their sign is a large LED
video advertising display for LGE, the British arm of the South Korean
electronics group. The new display also incorporates a scrolling
Sky News headlines. Before LG,
Vodafone had a neon sign
installed on that spot, which displayed both their logo and personal
messages that could be submitted on a special website and displayed at
a certain time and date.
On special occasions the lights are switched off, such as the deaths
Winston Churchill in 1965 and
Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. On
21 June 2007, they were switched off for one hour as part of the
Other companies and brands that have had signs on the site were
Bovril, Volkswagen, Max Factor, Wrigley's Spearmint, Skol, Air India
Gold Flake (as Will's
Gold Flake Cigarettes).
Shaftesbury Memorial and the statue of Anteros
Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain
Tourists sitting on the steps of the
Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain
At the southeastern side of the Circus, moved after
World War II
World War II from
its original position in the centre, stands the
Fountain, erected in 1892–1893 to commemorate the philanthropic
works of Lord Shaftesbury, a Victorian politician, philanthropist and
social reformer. The subject of the Memorial is the Greek god Anteros
and was given the name The Angel of Christian Charity but is generally
mistaken for his brother Eros.
Main article: Criterion Theatre
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
21 March 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.
On the northeastern side of
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 former site of
the Pavilion, and a new
London Pavilion was constructed, which also
served as a music hall. In 1924 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 the Underground
The former Swan & Edgar department store on the west side of the
Regent Street was built in 1928–29 to
a design by Reginald Blomfield. Since the closure of the
department store in the early 1980s, the building has been
successively the flagship
London store of music chains Tower Records,
Virgin Megastore and Zavvi. The current occupier is clothing brand The
Lillywhites is a major retailer of sporting goods located on the
corner of the circus and Lower Regent Street, 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 &
Mason is often considered to be part of the
Piccadilly Circus shopping
area and is known for its expansive food hall.
Underground station and the Bakerloo and
Piccadilly Circus tube station
Piccadilly Circus tube station
Piccadilly Circus station on the
London Underground is located
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. The below ground
concourse and subway entrances are Grade II listed.
The station is on the
Piccadilly line between
Green Park and Leicester
Square, and the Bakerloo line between Charing Cross and Oxford Circus.
The Circus' status as a high-profile public space has made it the
destination for numerous political demonstrations, including the
February 15, 2003 anti-war protest and the "Carnival Against
Capitalism" protest against the
39th G8 summit
39th G8 summit in 2013.
In popular culture
Piccadilly Circus in popular culture
Picadilly Circus, 1969; From the portfolio Untitled (Five Overpainted
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
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
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 Britain collection. Sculptor Paul
McCarthy also has a 320-page two-volume edition of video stills by the
Bob Marley mentioned
Piccadilly Circus in
his song "Kinky Reggae", on the
Catch a Fire
Catch a Fire album from 1973.
L. S. Lowry
L. S. Lowry R.A painting
London (1960), part of
Lord Charles Forte's collection for almost three decades, sold for
£5,641,250 when auctioned for the first time at Christie's 20th
Century British & Irish Art sale on 16 November 2011.
Cambridge Circus, London
Punto Obelisco (Obelisk Point, Buenos Aires)
Shibuya, noted public space and crossroads in Tokyo
Times Square, noted road junction and public space in New York
Yonge-Dundas Square a major public square with commercial signage in
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition 1989
^ Rammell’s 1858 map of original Pneumatic Despatch Railway routes
and terminii (Credit: Royal Mail Group Ltd. 2013), 1858, retrieved 13
^ Tweedie, Neil (1 November 2005). "How our
Piccadilly Commandos had
the GIs surrounded". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
^ Pevsner & Cherry 1973, p. 756.
^ "The rebuilding of
Piccadilly Circus and the Regent Street
Quadrant". British History Online.
London County Council. Retrieved 25
Piccadilly Lights: A timeline". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 March
Piccadilly shows sign of the times". BBC News. 16 December
Piccadilly Circus lights to be switched off for revamp". BBC News.
8 December 2016.
^ Mark Sinclair (24 June 2011). "The making of a
Coca-Cola neon sign,
1954". Creative Review. Archived from the original on 20 March 2015.
Retrieved 25 March 2015.
^ Peachey, Paul (5 March 2002). "Imagine: some peace in Piccadilly
Circus". The Independent. London. . Coca Cola, Diet Coke, Coca
Cola Zero, Fanta, Sprite and Vitamin Water have all been advertised in
^ Durrani, Arif (29 September 2011). "Hyundai replaces
Piccadilly Circus advertiser". Media Week. London.
^ Demetriou, Danielle (16 February 2011). "Red
Sanyo sign in
Piccadilly Circus to be switched off". The Telegraph. London.
^ BROOKINGS, S. D. (25 August 2009). "Interactive Display at
Piccadilly Circus launches
McDonald's and Daktronics in the
Spotlight". Daktronics. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 December 2008.
^ Monkey (11 March 2015). "
TDK ad at
Piccadilly Circus: lights go out
on 25 years of history". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved
16 February 2016.
^ Jurrien, Ralf (14 February 2007). "LG giant LED screen in Piccadilly
Circus LetsGoMobile". LetsGoMobile. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
^ BBC NEWS England
London lights out for environment They
were also switched off as part of
Earth Hour from 8.30 pm til
9.30 pm on 28 March 2009.
^ Marshall, Prince (1972). Wheels of London. The Sunday Times Magazine
ISBN 0-7230-0068-9. pp. 136–143.
^ Lloyd & Mitchinson (2006) The book of general ignorance "Because
of the bow and the nudity... everybody assumed it was Eros, the Greek
god of love"
^ Pevsner & Cherry 1973, pp. 639–40.
^ "Things to do in London,
London Events - Spoonfed".
^ Historic England. "
Piccadilly Circus Underground Station Booking
Hall Concourse and Bronzework to Pavement Subway Entrances (1226877)".
National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
^ Photograph: Andrew Parsons, PA. "West End congestion (15.02.03: Stop
the war protest). Marches from two central
London starting points
Piccadilly Circus". The Guardian. Retrieved
^ "Riot police in
Soho as stop G8 protests start". LBC. Archived from
the original on 8 April 2016. Retrieved 2017-06-02.
^ The Editors of American Heritage (1962). D-Day, The Invasion of
Europe. New York, New York: American Heritage Publishing Co, Inc.
p. 36. . . .the ten-mile (16 km) circle in the Channel nicknamed
Piccadilly Circus, where the troop convoys would meet . . .
^ Association, Press (2 October 2011). "LS Lowry painting set to fetch
£6m at auction" – via The Guardian.
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
Dickens, Charles Jr. (1993) [1888, 1879]. "
Piccadilly (online copy)".
Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1888 (facsimile ed.). Devon: Old House
Books. ISBN 1-873590-04-0.
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
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.
Mills, Anthony David Dictionary of
London Place Names. Oxford
University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-19-280106-6.
Pevsner, Nickolaus; Cherry, Bridget (1973).
London Volume One: The
London and Westminster. The Buildings of England (third
ed.). Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-071012-4.
Piccadilly Circus: From Controversy to Reconstruction. Greater London
Council, 1980. ISBN 0-7168-1145-6.
Articles and websites
Hadley, P. "
Piccadilly Circus, How a typical 1906
London tube station
was built", Underground News 412, April 1996.
Jacob, S. "Review:
Piccadilly Circus", Icon Magazine, November 2003.
London lights out for environment", News. BBC.co.uk, 22 June 2007
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Metallurgical study of the statue of
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London Landscape TV episode (5 mins) about
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