see also The Alhambra - click hereIt was not till a few days had elapsed that I discovered how incongruous it was for a gentleman to be residing in Leicester Square, or for the matter of that in any part of that neighbourhood, where the shops are as indecently stocked and the streets as badly frequented as soom well-known Paris haunts that shall be nameless! A visitor, with social aspirations, residing there would run the risj of creating a very unfavourable impression. I therefore moved to other quarters ...
Francis Wey, A Frenchman Sees the English in the Fifties, 1935
Gone is Cranbourn Alley, the home of the bonnet makers, and Leicester Square, such as I remember it - a howling wilderness, with broken railings, a receptacle for dead cats and every kind of abomination; then covered over by the hideous building for Mr. Wyld's great Globe; and lastly in its present pretty and cheerful condition.
Edmund Yates, His Recollections and Experiences, 1885
[chapter on 1836-1847]
Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Theatre and Shows - Dioramas, Panoramas et al. - Wyld's Globe, Leicester Square
A JOURNEY ROUND THE GLOBE.
We did not even take a carpet-bag, or a tooth-brush, or a clean collar with
us. All our luggage consisted of a walking-stick and a postage-stamp. The latter
we parted with at the end of our journey, to acquaint our friends that we had
been round the Globe in perfect safety.
Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1851
see also J. Ewing Ritchie in The Night Side of London - click here
see also George Sala in Gaslight and Daylight - click here
[ ... back to main menu for this book]
Leicester Square dates from as far back as 1635, when the first house was
built by Robert Sydney, Earl of Leicester. In 1671 the south side was completed.
Even at this early date the square had particular attraction for foreigners.
Colbert, the French ambassador resided here; and Leicester house sheltered
Prince Eugene, and saw the end of the troublous life of the Queen of Bohemia.
Later Leicester House became the court of George II when Prince of Wales, who in
turn was succeeded in opposition by his own son Prince Frederick Perhaps the
first theatrical performance known in the square was when a company of amateurs,
including the future George III played Addison’s tragedy of Cato. But
Leicester-square has more interesting memories than these. At No, 47, on the
west side, lived and worked Sir Joshua Reynolds, and on the opposite side, close
to the present Alhambra, Hogarth scent some of the best years of his life. Next
door to Hogarth lived John Hunter, and, hard by, Sir Isaac Newton had his
observatory. Later on Newton’s house was occupied by Dr. Burney, better known
as the father of Madame d’Arblay, the authoress of the now almost forgotten
Evelina. Many celebrated shows have had their habitation in the square. Miss
Linwood’s gruesome exhibition of worsted work; the earliest idea of hatching
chickens by steam; assaults of arms ; and even prize-fights at various times,
appealed for public support in Savile House on the north side. The Gordon
Rioters sacked Savile House and the complete destruction which even they were
unable to effect was some years ago consummated by the fire which entirely
destroyed it. In the northeast corner of the square flourished for many years
one of the best exhibitions in London, Burford’s panorama; and in the middle
of the square the Great Globe itself was set up, until the too sensitive
feelings of the inhabitants could bear it no longer. On its removal literally a
wreck was left behind. The most hideous statue in London, which Mr. Wyld’s
enterprise had relegated to a temporary retirement, made its unwelcome
reappearance. The condition of the square and of the statue went gradually from
bad to worse, until it became one of the crying nuisances of the town. Squalid
vegetation, mangy cats, and almost equally mangy street-boys took possession of
the enclosure, which by degrees became the common dust-heap of the
neighbourhood. At last a band of practical jokers, under cover of a fog, worked
such pranks on the mutilated statue, that even the sense of humour of the
authorities was excited, and a preliminary clearance was made. Nowadays the
square, thanks to the public spirit of Mr. Albert Grant, is neat and orderly,
and the benches with which the enclosure is provided are daily used by many
hundreds of the surrounding colony. For as it was in its earliest days so is
Leicester-square now. It is the capital of the great foreign settlements about
Soho. Exiles of every political “stripe” have trod the flags of
Leicester-square. It is easy for the experienced Londoner to trace the course of
foreign politics by observing the habitués
of the square at the time of the morning pipe.
Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879
In the long, long ago the entertainment
provided by Leicester Square were not of an exciting nature. The "Sans
Souci," Walhalla, and Burford's Panorama (where Daly's Theatre now stands)
divided the honours til '51, when Wylde's Globe occupied the entire enclosure.
This huge erection was sixty feet in diameter, and remained in existence till
1861, when it was pulled down to make way for entertainments combining
instruction with pleasure.
In 1863 the "Eldorado" Cafe Chantant, which was leading a precarious existence, put up the shutters, when a section of the (non-speculative) public made the brilliant, loyal and dutiful suggestion that somebody should erect a "Denmark" Winter Garden as a momento to the Prince of Wales's recent marriage, but the loyal, dutiful, sycophantic proposal did not commend itself as it no doubt ought to have done, and probably would to-day. The requisite capital was not forthcoming, and so not till 1873 did the new era commence, when £50,000 was offered for the Square by that monument of aspiring greatness, "Baron" Grant, who burst upon the horizon then fizzled into space, as meteors are wont to do.
... In the days of which we are writing Leicester Square was a barren waste surrounded by rusty railings, trodden down in all directions; refuse of every description was shot into it, whilst in the centre tood a dilapidated equestrian statue that assumed various adornments as the freaks of drunken roysterers suggested. On the north side (where now stands the Empire) was The Shades, a low-class eating-house in the basement, approached by steps, where every knife, fork and spoon was indelibly stamped "Stolen from the Shades" as a delicate hint to its patrons. On the opposite side stood a huge wooden pump of which more anon. At the adjoining eastern corner were the "tableau vivants," presided over by a judge in "wig and gown" where more blasphemy and filth was to be heard for a shilling than would appear possible, all within one hundered yards of such harmless (if disreputable) haunts as Kate Hamilton's, which were overhauled nightly. It was many years afterwards that the barren wilderness was made beautiful for ever by the generosity of "Baron" Grant. One can see him now, arrayed in white waistcoat and huge buttonhole, accompanied by an unpretentious bevy of councillor and Board of Works men, over whom a few bits of bunting fluttered, presenting his gift of many thousands in a speech that was quite inaudible. But, like medals and decorations, gifts in those days were not rewarded in the lavish manner of to-day. Had such a public benefit been conferred now, the donor would have been dubbed a baronet, or a privy councillor at least, with every prospect of a peerage should he again spring £20,000. Apropos of this gift, there was a peculiar sequel. When asked at the time whether he gave or retained the underground rights in additionto the recreation groun, the great man, in the zenith of his success, replied, "Yes, yes; I give it all." Years after, however, when poor and friendless, hearing that underground works had made the subsoil more valuable than the surface, he enquired whether some remnant could not be claimed by him, but was forcibly reminded of the follies of his youth by a prompt negative, and left to die in penury without a helping hand.
'One of the Old Brigade' (Donald Shaw), London in the Sixties, 1908
Leicester Square, 1883
Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Leicester Square
Few spots in London have such interesting associations as Leicester Square. It takes its name from Leicester House, more than once the residence of royalty; and Leicester Fields, as the place used to be styled, were a favourite resort of duellists. From early in the seventeenth century foreigners have patronised the Square. The figure of Shakespeare is a replica by Fontana of Kent's statue in Westminster Abbey; and on the pedestal is recorded the fact that the Fields were bought, laid out, and conveyed to the public by Baron Albert Grant, MP. At the angles of the garden are busts of Hunter, Newton, Reynolds, and Hogarth, who lived in or near the Square. The building on the east side is the Alhambra Theatre of Varieties. The red-brick house to the right, with a parapet, is Archbishop Tenison's Grammar School.