What’s in a name?…Seven Dials…

April 28, 2014

Seven-Dials---bigStanding at the junction of seven streets in London’s West End is a pillar topped with six – that’s right, six – sundials, giving the intersection and the surrounding area its name.

The layout of the area was originally designed by Thomas Neale, an MP and entrepreneur, in the early 1690s – it was part of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666 – and initially had the pillar standing at the centre of six streets before it was later increased to seven. The streets which radiate out from the hub include Earlham, Mercer and Monmouth Streets and Shorts Gardens.

Seven-dialsWhile Neale, who designed the street layout to maximise street frontages and thus his return, had hoped the area would attract the well-to-do, it was not be and by the 19th century the area had become one of the cities most notorious slums, considered part of the infamous rookery of St Giles.

That has since changed and today the area is at the heart of a bustling commercial district, the streets which run off it housing stylish shops and offices.

The pillar itself apparently never had seven faces – there is the suggestion that the column itself was the seventh – and while the original column was removed in 1773, apparently by city authorities keen to rid the area of undesirables, it was replaced with a replica column in the late 1980s and unveiled by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands to commemorate the tercentenary of the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II in June, 1989.

The original column, meanwhile, was apparently first acquired by an architect, James Paine, who kept it at his house in Surrey, before, in 1820, being taken to Weybridge where, in 1820, the column was re-erected as a memorial to Princess Frederica, Duchess of York (who had lived there). The dial-stone, meanwhile, was used as a mounting block before eventually being placed outside the Weybridge Library.

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