Victorian London - Districts - Streets - Piccadilly (and Circus)

No.7 - Piccadilly

There are few streets whose appearances at different times in the day vary more than that of Piccadilly. At early dawn groaning market-carts, cabbage-laden, and creaky-axled, toil slowly along it, the drivers. with a strange semi-rustic look, trudging beside  them. These carts are more pleasant to look at and smell just now than they will be later on their return journey from Covent Garden, lorded with manure for the market gardens.
    Presently, as it grows lighter, the early coffee-stall at Hyde Park corner vanishes like a goblin at the approach of day. The early work folk have passed to their labours, and partaken of the delicacies it offers, so its task is completed. Have any of our readers ever tasted the spirit, of mysterious manufacture, which is at times procurable at such stalls? If not, let us recommend them to abstain—it is needless to warn them against a second haste if they have once tasted and survived. It is said to be made out of old rope. and its choking capabilities are more painful in this form, we should think, than as an outward application to the throat.
    And now come the shop-girls tripping along, sprinkled with a few clerks whose business at the other end of the town calls them forth betimes. Later comes the luckier clerks of the West End, the Civil servants—fortunate fellows, who have the pleasure of surveying the aforesaid shop-girls, busily engaged in dressing the windows.
    By eleven or twelve the ordinary stream of life flowing eastward and westward occupies this broad channel, and it has little of special character until the afternoon. Then come the swells, the faultless swells, to saunter in the Park or take a turn in the Burlington. And where they are the Soiled Doves will gather, like the vultures about a carcass. They perceptibly leaven the Park, but they have the Arcade almost entirely to themselves. By some occult instinct, after a certain hour close on noon, ladies shun the covered promenade; even the girl of the period dares not carry her imitation of Lais so far as that!
    Meanwhile Piccadilly is densely crowded with carriages and horses of every description, from the aristocratic chariot to the plebeian 'bus. For there is a republicanism about Piccadilly which is not shared by other streets lying close upon it. It is more democratic than Bond Street and St. James's-street, while Pall Mall has nothing in common with it, and is so grand and so dull that one quite pities the War office clerks for not having a more lively view from their windows!
    The roadway of Piccadilly is crowded with fine equipages and shabby growlers, with the barouche of Rank, and the brougham of Beauty (not always unadorned) ; with the mail-phaeton of the guard's-man, and the hansom of the private not in the Guards; with the curricle, and the cab, and the cart.
    This is the time to see Piccadilly, for as its roadway is choked with vehicles so its pathway is crammed with pedestrians, of as many different classes as the vehicles. That is a peer of long creation— that is a bankrupt of yesterday's making. Here is a pure sweet woman, going mayhap on an errand of mercy—yonder trips painted Vice,
going to spread its snares for gilded youth.
    Mind you, the street itself is a wonderful study, without a word about the people in it. Beginning from SWAN AND EDGAR'S, you pass that strange fossil the Geological Museum, and that recent formation the St. Jame's hall, which is a conglomerate of dinners, Christy Minstrels and other entertainments. St. James's Church, with its ugly modern sham-antique gate, and Burlington House with its present frontage, unpretentious in everything save ugliness, balance each other; and then comes the Egyptian hall, with the multifarious WOODIN, and the two huge Egyptian figures trying to pretend they don't notice what goes on in the Arcade over the way.
    Then you skirt the Wellington, and pause to weep over the departure of the good old coaching days outside the White Horse Cellar —then away, past FRANCATELLI'S by many a noble residence looking over the Green Park. More than one noted residence has of late changed hands„ and its noble owners have been succeeded by clubs. One has been kept closed and uninhabited for years! So you come to Apsley House, and the WELLINGTON statue, and the Park, and St. George's Hospital. That is the climax of Piccadilly—after that it dwindles, to lose all its individuality near Tattersall's.
    And as the street dwindles after Hyde Park Corner, so its glory dwindles as the evening closes in. The swells have gone home to dinner, the humble folk have gone home to tea. Later and later, the traffic diminishes in quantity, without improving in quality. Toward the small hours noisy cabfuls from the haunts in the Haymarket, which innocent people believe to have been quite extirpated by this time, awake the echoes of Piccadilly. They become fewer and farther between, until the clump of the policeman's boots is almost the only sound; and another day has completed its round in the existence of Piccadilly.

Fun, 1870

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Piccadilly, the great thoroughfare leading from the Haymarket and Regent-street westward to Hyde Park-corner, is the nearest approach to the Parisian boulevard of which London can boast. From Hyde-park-corner to Devonshire House the houses are confined to the north side, the Green-park forming, to that point, the southern side, which, for a considerable distance, is lined by foliage trees of some antiquity, and of great beauty. Being the high road to the most fashionable quarters in the west and south-west of London, Piccadilly, during a great portion of the year, presents a bright and lively, not to say kaleidoscopic, appearance; and even when the great stream of “West-end” London life seems to have nearly run dry elsewhere it is still to be found, though perhaps but a rivulet, in Piccadilly. Few streets in town have so many associations. Here, or hard by, at one time or another, have lived such people as Byron, Scott, Sir Wm. Petty, Lord Eldon, Nelson’s Lady Hamilton, Verrio, Sir Francis Burdett, Lord Palmerston, and “Old Q.” Piccadilly is one of the few streets left in London which are remarkable both from a commercial and from a “society” point of view. Eastward the double row of houses is almost entirely devoted to trade, and westward a few shops are still dotted among the stately abodes which overlook the Green-park. From the “White Horse Cellar” to the mansion of the Rothschilds, and Apsley House; from the butcher’s shop to Devonshire House; from the tavern to the club-house, every kind of edifice is represented. On a fine summer’s morning the departure of the coaches from the “White Horse Cellar” is an amusing and interesting sight, unique of its kind, in these railway times. (SeeCOACHES). Among the principal public buildings are Sir Christopher Wren’s brick church, dedicated to St. James, certainly not one of the master’s happiest efforts so far as its exterior is concerned; the Geological Museum, which abuts on the southern side; and Burlington House, the home of the Royal Academy, and of many learned societies.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

George Birch, The Descriptive Album of London, c.1896

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 - Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus - photograph


The large open space here represented is one of the great centres of metropolitan traffic, and may be regarded as the very heart of that of the West End, being within a quarter of a mile of practically all the clubs and theatres, and crossed by omnibus lines to all parts, with a number of important thoroughfares converging upon it. Our view looks down Coventry Street towards Leicester Square. On the left is the London Pavilion, and on the right the Criterion Theatre and Restaurant. In the foreground, at the beginning of Shaftesbury Avenue, is the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, designed by Mr. A. Gilbert, R.A., and remarkable among the monuments of the Metropolis for its daring symbolism.

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 - Shaftesbury Avenue

Shaftesbury Avenue - photograph


Our view of Shaftesbury Avenue is taken from Piccadilly Circus. This broad thoroughfare, opened in 1886, leads from the Circus to New Oxford Street, which it strikes nearly opposite the beginning of Hart Street, meeting on the way Charing Cross Road at Cambridge Circus, and Great St. Andrew Street further on; and it has proved a great convenience to the public. On the left of the Avenue may be seen the Lyric Theatre, and some way beyond it, the tower of St. Anne's Church, Soho. The fountain in Piccadilly Circus, which stands on the left of our picture, was erected in memory of the great philanthropist, the late Lord Shaftesbury, in 1893. The sculptor was Mr. Alfred Gilbert, R.A. The building to the right, with the handsome columns, is the London Pavilion Music Hall.

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 - Piccadilly, with the Green Park

Piccadilly, with the Green Park - photograph


That part of Piccadilly which overlooks the Green Park is chiefly remarkable for its numerous Clubs and palatial private houses, notable among the latter being Devonshire House and Apsley house. Our view, looking west the beginning of the hill, embraces several Clubs, of which the best known are the New Travellers', situated at the further corner of the first turning (a short cut to Curzon Street), and the Junior Constitutional, the splendid, manv-storeyed building further west. Piccadilly does not rank so high in Clubland, of course, as Pall Mall, but the outlook over the Green Park - so verdant and well-timbered - and St James's Park towards Westminster is pleasant in the extreme. The Green Park is some sixty acres in extent.

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Two Hundred and Fifty Views London, [no date - probably 1900s]

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Anon., The Premier Photographic View Album of London, 1907

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Anon., The Premier Photographic View Album of London, 1907