Leicester Square

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Coordinates: 51°30′37″N 0°7′49″W / 51.51028°N 0.13028°W / 51.51028; -0.13028

Leicester Square at night in December 2005 before redevelopment: a view towards the northeast corner.

Leicester Square Listeni/ˈlɛstər/ is a pedestrianised square in the West End of London. 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, and about equal distances (about 400 yards or 370 metres) north of Trafalgar Square, east of Piccadilly Circus, west of Covent Garden, and south of Cambridge Circus.

History[edit]

Leicester Square in 1750, looking north. The large house set behind a forecourt at the northeast corner is Leicester House, then the residence of Frederick, Prince of Wales.
Leicester Square in 1880, looking north east.

The Square is named after Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester, who purchased four acres (1.6 hectares) in St. Martin's Field 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 Field and later as Leicester Square) open for the parishioners.[1]

The area was developed in the 1670s. In 1687 the northern part of the square became part of the new parish of St Anne, Soho. The area was initially fashionable and Leicester House was once residence of Frederick, Prince of Wales, but by the late 18th century, the Square was no longer a smart address and began to serve as a venue for popular entertainments. Leicester House became home of a museum of natural curiosities called the Holophusikon in the 1780s and was demolished about 1791–1792.[1]

In 1848, Leicester Square was the subject of the land-law case of Tulk v Moxhay. The plot's previous owner had agreed upon a covenant not to erect buildings. However, the law would not allow purchasers who were not "privy" to the initial contract to be bound by subsequent promises. The judge, Lord Cottenham, decided that future owners could be bound by promises to abstain from activity. Otherwise, a buyer could sell land to himself to undermine an initial promise.[2] Arguments continued about the fate of the garden, with Charles Augustus Tulk's heirs erecting a wooden hoarding around the property in 1873. Finally, in 1874 the flamboyant Albert Grant (1831–1899) purchased the outstanding freeholds and donated the garden to the Metropolitan Board of Works, laying out a garden at his own expense. The title passed to the succeeding public bodies and is now in the ownership of the City of Westminster.[3]

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 of 1851 and housed a giant scale map of the Earth.[4] Several hotels grew up around the square, making it popular with visitors to London. The Alhambra, a large theatre built in 1854, dominated the site,[5] to be joined in 1884 by the Empire Theatre of Varieties. The square remains the heart of the West End entertainment district today.

During the Labour government's 1979 Winter of Discontent, refuse collectors went on strike. Leicester Square was used as an overflow dump, earning it the nickname of "Fester Square".[6]

Maggie Smith's handprints (removed after redevelopment)

Features[edit]

Gardens square[edit]

In the middle of the Square is a small park, in the centre of which is a 19th-century statue of William Shakespeare surrounded by dolphins. The four corner gates of the park had one bust each, depicting Sir Isaac Newton, the scientist; Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first President of the Royal Academy; John Hunter, a pioneer of surgery; and William Hogarth, the painter. The most recent addition was a statue of film star and director Charlie Chaplin. On the pavement were inscribed the distances in miles to countries of the former British Empire. After the refurbishment of the square, which lasted from December 2010 to May 2012, only the statue of Shakespeare still remains on the square today.

Entertainment[edit]

Leicester Square is the centre of London's cinema land, and one of the signs marking the Square bears the legend "Theatreland". It is claimed that the Square contains the cinema with the largest screen and the cinema with the most seats (over 1,600). The square is the prime location in London for world leading film premières and co-hosts the London Film Festival each year.[7] Similar to Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, the square was surrounded by floor mounted plaques with film stars names and cast handprints, until the 2010-2012 refurbishment. They now all have been removed, except for a few ones on the Vue West End cinema doorsteps.

The Square is also the home for TKTS, formerly known as the Official London Half-Price Theatre Ticket Booth. This booth is jointly operated by TKTS and LondonTown.com. Tickets for theatre performances taking place around the West End that day are sold from the booth for about half the usual price. The popularity of the booth has given rise to many other booths and stores around the Square that advertise half-price tickets for West End shows. It is claimed that at least some of these booths operate fraudulently. Despite having names like 'Official Half-Price Ticket Booth', they are not official and they do not always advertise the booking fees which commonly come with purchasing tickets.

The Square is home to several nightclubs, making it often very busy, particularly on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Major cinemas[edit]

Leicester Square's Odeon.
Leicester Square's Empire on a rainy night in May 2003
  • Odeon Leicester Square, which dominates the east side of the square, had the first digital projector in Europe (1999), hosting most premieres with capacity for 1,683 people, arranged in circle and stalls.
  • The adjacent Odeon Mezzanine had five smaller auditoria (capacities of 50–60 each), and was replaced in November 2012 by the Studios, located at the back of a Costa coffee shop, with five auditoria now ranging from 30 to about 50 seats.
  • Empire, on the north of the Square, is the next-largest cinema, with 1,330 seats in the main screen, as well as eight smaller screens, with 349, 96, 58, 49, 48, 42 and 23 seats. Eight of the screens are digital. The main screen and one smaller one can also play 3D films. Many premieres are hosted here.
  • Odeon West End, on the south side, contains two screens, which can seat 1,000 altogether. Screen 1 holds 400 people and Screen 2 holds 600. It is used for smaller premieres.
  • Vue West End, on the north side, near the north east corner, was previously the Warner Brothers Village, a multiplex that hosted only Warner Bros. film premieres. Together with the rest of the Warner Village chain, it was bought out by Vue in 2004.

Other cinemas[edit]

Clubs, bars, restaurants[edit]

Just off Leicester Square

Media[edit]

Global Radio has its headquarters on the east side of Leicester Square, close to the Odeon Leicester Square. The building houses the radio stations Capital, Capital Xtra, Classic FM, Gold, Heart, LBC, Smooth Radio and XFM.

In what was formerly the nightclub Home is now an MTV television studio, used for the UK version of Total Request Live and the Russell Brand–fronted show 1 Leicester Square. It was also used for the first series of BBC Saturday morning show TMi.

Leicester Square is mentioned in the song "Emit Remmus" on the Californication album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

American punk rock band Rancid released a song on their Life Won't Wait album titled "Leicester Square."

Other attractions[edit]

Leicester Square Christmas Fair.

The square regularly hosts a fair each winter and a stage is erected for performances connected to other events such as the Chinese New Year.

Infrastructure[edit]

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.[8]

Redevelopment[edit]

Redeveloped Leicester Square

The square has undergone significant redevelopment in recent years. The promoters claimed the works to have retained the square's historic character, whilst enhancing its function as a backdrop for film premieres.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the (listed) William Shakespeare statue, all the other such commemorations, including the one of Charlie Chaplin, have been removed. The floor mounted plaques with film stars names and cast handprints and the distances in miles to countries of the former British Empire are also now absent.

The works commenced in December 2010, lasting for 17 months before being reopened on 24 May 2012, after delays, just in time for the 2012 Summer Olympics.[9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

London/Leicester Square travel guide from Wikivoyage