Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus in 2012
London, United Kingdom
Coordinates51°30′36″N 0°8′4″W / 51.51000°N 0.13444°W / 51.51000; -0.13444
Roads at
Regent Street, Piccadilly, Shaftesbury Avenue, The Haymarket, Coventry Street and Glasshouse Street
TypeRoad junction

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.[1]

The Circus now connects Piccadilly, Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, the Haymarket, Coventry Street (onwards to Leicester Square) and Glasshouse Street. It 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 of Anteros (which is popularly, though mistakenly, believed to be of Eros).

It is surrounded by several notable buildings, including the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre. Underneath the plaza is Piccadilly Circus Underground station, part of the London Underground system.


Piccadilly Circus in 1896, with a view towards Leicester Square via Coventry Street. London Pavilion is on the left, and Criterion Theatre on the right.
London's Piccadilly Circus in 1908.[2] On the left is the old County Fire Office.
Piccadilly Circus in 1949
Piccadilly Circus in 1962
Piccadilly Circus in 1970
Signs in 1992

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; the intersection was then known as Regent Circus South (just as Oxford Circus was known as Regent Circus North) and it did not begin to be known as Piccadilly Circus until the mid 1880s, with the rebuilding of the Regent Street Quadrant and the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue. In the same period the circus lost its circular form.[3]

Traffic at Piccadilly Circus

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. 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 tube 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 facade of the London Pavilion. Electric street lamps, however, did not replace the gas ones until 1932.[4] The circus became a one-way roundabout on 19 July 1926.[5] Traffic lights were first installed on 3 August 1926.

During 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.[6]

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.[7] The plans were permanently rejected by 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. Piccadilly Circus has since escaped major redevelopment, apart from extensive ground-level pedestrianisation around its south side in the 1980s.

The Circus has been targeted by Irish republican terrorists multiple times. On 24 June 1939 an explosion occurred, although no injuries were caused.[8] On 25 November 1974 a bomb injured 16 people.[9] A 2 lb bomb exploded on 6 October 1992, injuring five people.[10]

The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain at Piccadilly Circus was erected in 1893 to commemorate the philanthropic works of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. It was removed from the Circus twice and moved from the centre once. The first time was in 1922, so that Charles Holden's new tube station could be built directly below it. The fountain returned in 1931. During the Second World War, the fountain was removed for the second time and replaced by advertising hoardings. It was returned again 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.[11]

Location and sights

Piccadilly Circus is surrounded by tourist attractions, including the Shaftesbury Memorial, Criterion Theatre, London Pavilion and retail stores. Nightclubs, restaurants and bars are located in the area and neighbouring Soho, including the former Chinawhite club.

Panorama of Piccadilly Circus in 2015 from the southern side in front of Lillywhites

Illuminated signs

Illuminated signs of Piccadilly Circus at dusk, 2014

Piccadilly Circus was surrounded by illuminated advertising hoardings on buildings, starting in 1908 with a Perrier sign,[12] 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 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.[13] From December 1998, digital projectors were used for the Coke sign, the square's first digital billboard,[14] 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, and in January 2017 the six remaining advertising screens were switched off as part of their combination into one large ultra-high definition curved Daktronics display, turning the signs off during renovation for the longest time since the 1940s. On 26 October 2017, the new screen was switched on for the first time.[15]

Until the 2017 refurbishment, the site had 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 Barclays Bank.

On special occasions the lights are switched off, such as the deaths of Winston Churchill in 1965 and Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. On 21 June 2007, they were switched off for one hour as part of the Lights Out London campaign.[25]

Other companies and brands that have had signs on the site were Bovril, Volkswagen, Max Factor, Wrigley's Spearmint, Skol, Air India and Gold Flake (as Will's Gold Flake Cigarettes).[26]

Since 2020, the Cultural Institute of Radical Contemporary Arts has broadcast specially commissioned two-minute artworks for the screens, broadcast at the same time each evening. In 2022 the segments were shown at 8:22 pm.[27]

Shaftesbury Memorial and the statue of Anteros

Main article: Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain

Tourists sitting on the steps of the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain

At the south-eastern side of the Circus, moved after World War II from its original position in the centre, stands the Shaftesbury Memorial 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.[28]

Criterion Theatre

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.

London Pavilion

Main article: London Pavilion

On the north-eastern 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 façade, 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 station.

Major shops

The former Swan & Edgar department store on the west side of the circus between Piccadilly and Regent Street was built in 1928–29 to a design by Reginald Blomfield.[29] 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 Sting.[citation needed]

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.[30]

The view from Picadilly Circus onto Regent Street, December 2020

County Fire Office

Roof of the County Fire Office, with dome and statue of Britannia

Dominating the north side of the circus, on the corner of Glasshouse Street, is the County Fire Office building, with a statue of Britannia on the roof. The original building was designed by John Nash as the extreme southern end of his Regent Street Quadrant. Its dramatic façade was clearly influenced by Inigo Jones's old Somerset House. Although Robert Abraham was the County Fire Insurance Company's architect, it was probably Nash who was instrumental in choosing the design.[31] In 1924 the old County Fire Office was demolished and replaced with a similar but much coarser building designed by Reginald Blomfield, but retaining the statue of Britannia.[32] During the London Blitz it was the only building in the Circus to be damaged, with a few window panes blown out.[33] The building is Grade II listed.[34]

Underground station and the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines

Inside Piccadilly Circus tube station

Main article: Piccadilly Circus tube station

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. The below ground concourse and subway entrances are Grade II listed.[35]

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[36] and the "Carnival Against Capitalism" protest against the 39th G8 summit in 2013.[37]

In popular culture

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 Piccadilly Circus 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 English Channel.[38]

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 name of Piccadilly Circus. In the lyrics of their song "Mother Goose", on the Aqualung album from 1971, the band Jethro Tull tells "And a foreign student said to me: 'was it really true there were elephants, lions too, in Picadilly Circus?'". Bob Marley mentioned Piccadilly Circus in his song "Kinky Reggae", on the Catch a Fire album from 1973.[39]

L. S. Lowry R.A painting Piccadilly Circus, London (1960), part of Lord Charles Forte's collection for almost three decades,[40] sold for £5,641,250 when auctioned for the first time at Christie's 20th Century British & Irish Art sale on 16 November 2011.[41] Contemporary British painter Carl Randall's painting 'Piccadilly Circus' (2017) is a large monochrome canvas depicting the area at night with crowds, the making of which involved painting over 70 portraits from life.[42][43][44]

See also


  1. ^ The Piccadilly lights have switched off for Refurbishment until Autumn, But eBay, L'Oreal, and Hunter have planned to advertise in the Piccadilly Circus lights since the refurbishment is done, and instead of Amazon, eBay instead advertise on the Billboards, which may be the former spot for Nikon.



  1. ^ "circus", Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition 1989
  2. ^ Tom (16 September 2015). "Great Photo of London's Piccadilly Circus in 1908". Cool Old Photos. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  3. ^ 'The rebuilding of Piccadilly Circus and the Regent Street Quadrant', in Survey of London: Volumes 31 and 32, St James Westminster, Part 2, ed. F H W Sheppard (London, 1963), pp. 85-100. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols31-2/pt2/pp85-100 [accessed 26 November 2019].
  4. ^ Marshall 1972, pp. 139–40.
  5. ^ "One-Way Traffic". The Times. No. 44316. 6 July 1926. p. 11. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  6. ^ Tweedie, Neil (1 November 2005). "How our Piccadilly Commandos had the GIs surrounded". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  7. ^ Pevsner & Cherry 1973, p. 756.
  8. ^ "Toilet attendant saved London from IRA bomb". The Guardian. 4 February 2008. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  9. ^ "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1974".
  10. ^ "Two bombs bring chaos to London". The Independent. 8 October 1992. Archived from the original on 26 May 2022. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  11. ^ Weinreb, Ben; Hibbert, Christopher (1992). The London Encyclopaedia (reprint ed.). Macmillan. p. 271.
  12. ^ "The rebuilding of Piccadilly Circus and the Regent Street Quadrant". British History Online. London County Council. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
  13. ^ "Piccadilly Lights: A timeline". The Telegraph. 29 September 2011. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
  14. ^ "Piccadilly shows sign of the times". BBC News. 16 December 1998.
  15. ^ "Piccadilly Circus lights to be switched off for revamp". BBC News. 8 December 2016.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Peachey, Paul (5 March 2002). "Imagine: some peace in Piccadilly Circus". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 26 May 2022.
  18. ^ Durrani, Arif (29 September 2011). "Hyundai replaces Sanyo as Piccadilly Circus advertiser". Media Week. London.
  19. ^ Demetriou, Danielle (16 February 2011). "Red Sanyo sign in Piccadilly Circus to be switched off". The Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022.
  20. ^ BROOKINGS, S. D. (25 August 2009). "Interactive Display at Piccadilly Circus launches McDonald's and Daktronics in the Spotlight". Daktronics. Archived from the original on 18 September 2018. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  21. ^ "한국광고신문". Archived from the original on 27 December 2008. Retrieved 2 February 2008.
  22. ^ "Ebay completes advertiser rooster for Piccadilly Lights relaunch". Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Jurrien, Ralf (14 February 2007). "LG giant LED screen in Piccadilly Circus LetsGoMobile". LetsGoMobile. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  25. ^ "London lights out for environment". BBC News. 22 June 2007.
  26. ^ Marshall 1972, pp. 136–143.
  27. ^ Buck, Louisa (30 November 2022). "Circa's Piccadilly Circus billboard offers Christmas lights with a difference". The Art Newspaper - International art news and events. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  28. ^ 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"
  29. ^ Pevsner & Cherry 1973, pp. 639–40.
  30. ^ "Things to do in London, London Events – Spoonfed". www.spoonfed.co.uk. Archived from the original on 30 April 2009. Retrieved 22 June 2009.
  31. ^ Hobhouse, Hermione (1975). A History of Regent Street. Macdonald and Jane. p. 47.
  32. ^ Marshall 1972, p. 136.
  33. ^ Marshall 1972, p. 141.
  34. ^ Historic England. "The County Fire Office (1227630)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ Photograph: Andrew Parsons, PA. "West End congestion (15.02.03: Stop the war protest). Marches from two central London starting points converge at Piccadilly Circus". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  37. ^ "Riot police in Soho as stop G8 protests start". LBC. Archived from the original on 8 April 2016. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  38. ^ D-Day, The Invasion of Europe. New York, New York: American Heritage Publishing Co, Inc. 1962. p. 36. . . .the ten-mile (16 km) circle in the Channel nicknamed Piccadilly Circus, where the troop convoys would meet . . .
  39. ^ The Album: A Guide to Pop Music's Most Provocative, Influential, and Important Creations. ABC-CLIO. 2012. p. 260.
  40. ^ "LS Lowry painting set to fetch £6m at auction". The Guardian. 2 October 2011.
  41. ^ "Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A. (1887-1976) | Piccadilly Circus, London | 20th Century, Paintings". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  42. ^ Carl Randall paints 70 people in Piccadilly Circus., Making a Mark, Art Blog, London, 2018
  43. ^ Carl Randall – Piccadilly Circus painting video., Youtube, 2018, archived from the original on 17 November 2021
  44. ^ Carl Randall – Piccadilly Circus painting., carlrandall.com, 2018



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