Leicester Square i// 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.
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.
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 1791–92.
In 1790, there were plans to construct a new Royal Opera House in Leicester Square. The scheme was figure headed by The Prince of Wales, Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford and James Cecil, 1st Marquess of Salisbury, with ambitions to reestablish London as a centre for Italian opera and ballet, with an opera house to rival those in mainland Europe. The plans were never realised, 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 and a 1790 painting by William Hodges, showing the finished design, is part of the Museum of London's collection.
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. 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.
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. 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, to be joined in 1884 by the Empire Theatre of Varieties. The square remains the heart of the West End entertainment district today.
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.
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. Similar to 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, nearly all of the plaques were removed except for a few 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.
- 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 728 seats on the IMAX screen and 400 on the IMPACT 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.
- A short distance from the west of the Square, on the south side of Panton Street, is the Odeon Panton Street, another four-screen Odeon cinema.
- Just to the North of the square, Prince Charles Cinema is a cheap-ticket second-run and cult cinema famed for its regular showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and a sing-along version of The Sound of Music.
Clubs, bars, restaurants
Just off Leicester Square
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 colonies of the former British Empire are also now absent.
- Leicester Square, North Side, and Lisle Street Area: Leicester Estate: Leicester House and Leicester Square North Side (Nos 1-16), Survey of London: volumes 33 and 34: St Anne Soho (1966), pp. 441-472 accessed: 6 November 2007
- Price, Curtis; Milhous, Judith; Hume, Robert D. (March 1990). "A Royal Opera House in Leicester Square (1790)". Cambridge Opera Journal. 1 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press) 2: 1–28.
- "Leicester Square, London, with the Design for a Proposed New Opera House". BBC. n.d. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- Tulk v. Moxhay (1848) 41 ER 1143 (Court Rolls)
- Leicester Square Area: Leicester Estate, Survey of London: volumes 33 and 34: St Anne Soho (1966), pp. 416-440 accessed: 6 November 2007
- A Journey Round the Globe Punch (Jul.-Dec. 1851) (Victorian London) accessed 6 November 2007
- Alhambra Theatre (Arthur Lloyd) accessed 23 October 2007
- "Then was the winter of our discontent". BBC News. 2008-09-05. Retrieved 2009-06-07.
- Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe. "Cinema Treasures - Odeon Leicester Square". Cinema Treasures. Retrieved 2009-11-16.
- Tunnelling Under London: Developments in cable tunnel design provide an economic and environmental solution to system reinforcement John Mathews (London Electricity, 1996) accessed 6 November 2007
- "New-look Leicester Square reopens". The Independent. 2012-05-23. Retrieved 2012-05-23.
- John Timbs (1867), "Leicester Square", Curiosities of London (2nd ed.), London: J.C. Hotten, OCLC 12878129
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Leicester Square.|
London/Leicester Square travel guide from Wikivoyage
- History of Leicester Square
- Leicester Square Webcam - 8 preset views from the Radisson Edwardian Hampshire Hotel
- 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
- History of Leicester Square's Theatres and Cinemas