Visiting London - Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus is probably one of London’s most iconic and most photographed sites. Consider this area as a meeting point with great access to other areas but with no circus acts.

The area wasn’t always known as Piccadilly. It was originally named Portugal Street, after Charles II’s wife Catherine of Braganza’s home country of erm… Portugal. It gained its current recognisable name in the middle of the eighteenth century.

There are two things that make Piccadilly Circus so recognisable. The first is the giant illuminated billboard. The second is the statue and its fountain.

Bright billboards

The billboards have been illuminated since their inception in 1908 when Bovril and Perrier were among the first advertisers. The longest serving advertiser is Coca Cola who has been shining brightly up there since 1955. Only three times have the lights been switched off. The first was during WWII (for obvious reasons), the second was for the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill and the third was when Princess Diana was buried.

The fountain and statue

Contrary to popular belief, the statue on the fountain is not Eros, the god of romantic love and frivolity. It is his brother, Anteros, a rather more conservative character – the god of selfless and mature love.

It was named after the great Victorian philanthropist Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury – a humanitarian of great note.

Not a circus as such

Since the area was partially pedestrianised in the mid 1990s, it has become popular with street performers, giving it a truly circus “feel.” However, that is not how it originally got its name. The “Piccadilly” part was named after the manufacture of seventeenth-century frilled collars called “piccadils,” because a well know piccadil maker lived nearby. The “circus” part comes from a Latin word meaning “ring” or “circle” and refers to the roundabout.