Piccadilly Circus in London
It would be hard to find a busier, glitzier place in London than Piccadilly Circus. Five busy streets intersect here, and a veritable quilt of neon-lit advertisements shimmer and sparkle at motorists and pedestrians as they pass by.
Piccadilly Circus can resemble Times Square in New York—nearby theaters and night spots would confirm the comparison. Young people and visitors from around the world flock to the area at night especially on the weekends. And just as it is a short jaunt from Times Square to Fifth Avenue, walk a block or two from Piccadilly Circus and you can shop in some of London’s poshest stores and stroll through some of the City’s more fashionable areas.
A fountain and its statue,formally titled The Angel of Christian Charity but long called Eros (the Greek god of love), form the center of this traffic-clogged roundabout. The fountain was erected in 1892-1893 as a memorial to Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, a politician and reformer.
In the Victorian era, poor children often worked 12- to 14-hour days in coal mines, factories, and mills. Lord Shaftesbury worked to improve their lot by passing laws that restricted their working hours and required that they receive educational instruction. Shaftesbury was also a leading supporter of the Ragged School Union, which supported free schools for poor children throughout Britain.
Unveiling of the statue and memorial fountain caused some complaints that a nude figure was inappropriate as a memorial to a famously sober and respectable Earl though it fit right into the image of the Soho neighborhood of London where it stands.
Piccadilly Circus gets its name from a popular fashion look of the 17th Century—a high, stiff collar called a Picadil. Perhaps it is not surprising that the Burlington, Royal Opera, Princes, and Piccadilly Arcades—London’s early “malls”—are all nearby, housing retail establishments that can sell you a well-tailored suit or gown. The Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington House a short distance away on Piccadilly is worth a visit if you have the time.
The Academy, founded in 1768, is the oldest art school in Britain. It hosts traveling art exhibitions and an annual summer exhibition of new art. Prepare for long queues.
Piccadilly Circus underground station is directly below the plaza with entrances on every corner. Coventry Street exits the circus toward Leicester Square—along the way you’ll pass Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Casino. Shaftesbury Avenue which originates at Piccadilly Circus is lined with theatres and Regent Street—a major north-south London thoroughfare—forms the west side of the plaza. Haymarket also originates at Piccadilly Circus.
by Katie Calvert