Monday, 2 February 2015

London's Great Squares

4 December 1995. In the last entry we walked from Oxford Street down Bond Street and Regent Street, the end of which brought us to Piccadilly Circus.

This is theatreland - London is justly famous for its West End theatres and there are many to be found in Piccadilly and along Shaftesbury Avenue, that approaches it from the east. At the time of our visit the Criterion Theatre was showing Taking Sides, a new play by Ronald Harwood that earned him a nomination for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play.

The building had a Lillywhites shop as the centre of it's ground floor with the Criterion Theatre on the right and the Criterion Restaurant on the left.

A short distance away, the Piccadilly Theatre was hosting performances of Mack and Mabel, the musical based around the on-off relationship between silent films director Mack Sennett and the ultimately tragic star, Mabel Normand.

The two things everyone pictures when Piccadilly Circus is mentioned are the statue of Eros and the huge illuminated advertisements.

The statue was not meant to be Eros at all, the artist had in mind a joke with an archer about to bury a shaft into Shaftesbury Avenue. However it was set up facing the wrong way and Londoners - those incurable romantics (huh?) - soon made a link with the Greek God of Love, Eros.

In 1995 the adverts are still neon rather than the huge video screens of today. I think I rather prefer them somehow!

A quick peek into the front door and entrance to the Cafe Royal. Established in 1865, it quickly became famous for its wine cellar and was frequented by Royalty, great thinkers, artists, writers and musicians. From Oscar Wilde through the Burtons to Princess Diana and onwards, people have come here to eat and drink in convivial surroundings and to discuss the great matters of the day. It was also here that the Queensbury Rules for boxing were agreed and set down.

On the edge of Piccadilly Circus is this huge statue, set into a corner, of the Four Horses of Helios. These were the horses that pulled the fiery chariot (the sun), driven across the sky by the god Helios during the day. At night he plunged the chariot into the great ocean, thus travelling through the centre of the earth, to emerge again in the east the following morning.

The backdrop to the statue is a large curtain of falling water and with fountains before them, this was not the place to linger for long on a cold winter's night without feeling uncomfortably like wanting to create fountains or waterfalls of your own... We move on...

From Piccadilly Circus a short walk along Coventry Street brings you to Leicester Square. The Empire Cinema the following night was to host the London premiere of the film The American President with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. We were just five minutes off meeting them but it was so cold and snowing that night that we didn't wait. When they arrived only one brave couple was there (and they must have arrived after us) and they were invited to go in and watch the premiere!

Talking of snow, it is starting tonight too as we walk down from Leicester Square to Trafalgar Square and Nelson's Column. The National Gallery is seen in the background.

And this surely dates this visit! Who uses these nowadays? But whilst mobile phones were growing in popularity by this time, we hadn't yet identified a need to have one ourselves.

Admiralty Arch, leading from Trafalgar Square towards the long straight road of The Mall and to Buckingham Palace at the far end. Commissioned by King Edward VII in memorial to his mother, Queen Victoria, he would not live to see it completed in 1912.

Miss Franny poses in front of one of the massive lions at the foot of Nelson's Column. The building of the column commenced in 1840 with the statue being raised three years later. It was another 11 years before the final bronze relief scene was placed on the pedestal and the famous lions were not installed until 1867.

Behind the water of the fountain the National Gallery is seen at the rear with the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields at the right hand side. A church has been on this site since at least 1222. King Henry VIII rebuilt it in 1542 to avoid having plague victims from the neighbourhood carried through the Palace of Westminster. At this time the church was still situated in the middle of fields in an area between the cities of London and Westminster.

The current building dates from 1722-1724 after a survey showed the 180 year old church to be in a state of decay. It is the parish church of the Royal family and contains graves of furniture maker Thomas Chippendale and, most famously, King Charles II's mistress, Nell Gwynne.

A photograph of the same scene with the fountain lit by flash.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments must be passed by moderator before appearing on this post.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...