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.

We’ve looked at Charles’ Dickens childhood in London and some of his residences, workplaces and the pubs he attended. Before we take a look at some of the sites relevant to his writings, Exploring London takes a look at just a handful of the many other London sites associated with the famous Victorian author…

• Seven Dials and the former St Giles slum, Soho. An notorious slum of the 19th century, this area was among a number of “rookeries” or slums toured by Dickens in 1850 in the company of Inspector Field and police from Scotland Yard, and later helped to inform much of his writing. Seven Dials itself – located at the junction of Mercer and Earlham Streets and Upper St Martin’s Lane (pictured right is the monument at the junction’s centre) – has just undergone a renovation but much of the St Giles area is now irrevocably modernised. We’ll be mentioning another notorious slum located in Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell, in an upcoming week.

• Holland House, Kensington. Dickens became a friend of Lady Holland’s after attending one of her exclusive soirees at the age of 26. He was a guest at the house, now a youth hostel, in Holland Park on numerous occasions.

• Royalty House, Dean Street, Soho. The former site of the Royalty Theatre, known in Dickens’ day as Miss Kelly’s Theatre, it was here on 21st September, 1845, that Dickens and a group of friends performed Ben Jonson’s play, Every Man in his Humour (1598). Dickens acted as stage manager and director as well as playing the part of Captain Bobadil.

• Buckingham Palace. It was here in March 1870 – not long before his death – that Dickens had his only face-to-face meeting with Queen Victoria. She apparently found him to have a  “large, loving mind and the strongest sympathy with the poorer classes”.

• Westminster Abbey. Our final stop for it was here that Dickens was buried on 14th June, 1870, following his death at his home near Rochester in Kent. Dickens had apparently wanted to be buried in Rochester but given his public profile, Westminster Abbey was seen as the only fitting place of rest for him (his wishes for a small, private funeral were, however, respected but thousands did visit the site in the days following). His grave sits in Poet’s Corner.