With its dazzling lights, iconic adverts and famous buildings, it’s no wonder Piccadilly Circus has long been the focal point of London’s glitzy entertainment district.
The lively junction has drawn tourists like moths to a flame since it was first opened in 1819, to serve as a rather grand link between Regent Street and the Piccadilly thoroughfare heading west towards Green Park.
The area took its name from Piccadilly Hall, which in turn was named after the wares of a local Elizabethan tailor, Robert Baker, who sold stiff lace collars called “pickadills” there, according to Discover Britain.
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Meanwhile, the famous Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain at the centre of Piccadilly Circus, which has become the iconic focal point of so many famous photos, was named after much-loved Victorian philanthropist the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury.
But arguably the most famous and eye-catching part of Piccadilly Circus – the giant florescent billboards encircling the fountain – have been a staple of the site since 1908, when Perrier drinks constructed the site’s first-ever bulb-lit advertisement in order to draw in passengers coming out of the new Tube station.
The billboard was a hit, and from 1923 more and more of the giant electric billboards were set up on the façade of the London Pavilion and other surrounding buildings.
Looking at photographs of Piccadilly Circus through the decades, it is fascinating to see how the adverts change in style and content (subject to the trends of the time) yet some features of the site never change at all.
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The famous London Pavilion music hall, for example, opened in 1885 and was the first building erected at the Piccadilly Circus end of the then newly created Shaftesbury Avenue. Although the building has changed uses over the decades, its famous façade still dominates the north side of Piccadilly Circus today.
Over the years Piccadilly Circus has provided the backdrop for some of London’s most iconic moments, such as crowds gathering to celebrate VE Day in 1945, the Queen’s coronation in 1953, and revellers coming out for the EUROs 2020 football final, rescheduled to summer 2021 due to Covid-19.
We have collected photographs of the Piccadilly Circus through the decades from 1920 to present day, to see a fascinating century of change in the iconic London spot.
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