Piccadilly facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts

A4 Piccadilly - DSC04251
View of Piccadilly by the Meriden Hotel looking towards Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly (/ˌpɪkəˈdɪli/) is a road in the City of Westminster, London to the south of Mayfair, between Hyde Park Corner in the west and Piccadilly Circus in the east. It is part of the A4 road that connects central London to Hammersmith, Earl's Court, Heathrow Airport and the M4 motorway westward. St James's is to the south of the eastern section, while the western section is built up only on the northern side. At just under 1 mile (1.6 km) in length, Piccadilly is one of the widest and straightest streets in central London.

Piccadilly has been a main road since at least medieval times, and in the middle ages was known as "the road to Reading" or "the way from Colnbrook". Around 1611 or 1612, a Robert Baker acquired land in the area and prospered by making and selling piccadills. Shortly after purchasing the land, he enclosed it and erected several dwellings, including his home, Pikadilly Hall. What is now Piccadilly was named Portugal Street in 1663 after Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, and grew in importance after the road from Charing Cross to Hyde Park Corner was closed to allow the creation of Green Park in 1668. Some of the most notable stately homes in London were built on the northern side of the street during this period, including Clarendon House and Burlington House in 1664. Berkeley House, constructed around the same time as Clarendon House, was destroyed by a fire in 1733 and rebuilt as Devonshire House in 1737 by William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire. It was later used as the main headquarters for the Whig party. Burlington House has since been home to several noted societies, including the Royal Academy of Arts, the Geological Society of London and the Royal Astronomical Society. Several members of the Rothschild family had mansions at the western end of the street. St James's Church was consecrated in 1684 and the surrounding area became St James Parish.

The Old White Horse Cellar, at No. 155, was one of the most famous coaching inns in England by the late-18th century, by which time the street had become a favourable location for booksellers. The Bath Hotel emerged around 1790, and Walsingham House was built in 1887. Both the Bath and the Walsingham were purchased and demolished when the prestigious Ritz Hotel was built on the site in 1906. Piccadilly Circus station, at the east end of the street, was designed by Charles Holden and built between 1925–28. It was the first underground station to have no above-ground premises; the station is only accessible by subways from street level. The clothing store Simpson's was established at 203 - 206 Piccadilly by Alec Simpson in 1936. During the 20th century, Piccadilly became known as a place to acquire heroin, and was notorious in the 1960s as the centre of London's illegal drug trade. Today, Piccadilly is regarded as one of London's principal shopping streets. Its landmarks include the Ritz, Park Lane, Athenaeum and Intercontinental hotels, Fortnum & Mason, the Royal Academy, the RAF Club, Hatchards, the Embassy of Japan and the High Commission of Malta.

Piccadilly has inspired several works of fiction, including Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and the work of P. G. Wodehouse. It is one of a group of squares on the London Monopoly board.


Early history

Apsley house on an 1869 Ordnance Survey Map
Apsley House on an 1869 map. The neighbouring houses were demolished in the early 1960s to allow Park Lane to be widened. The Wellington Arch has been moved since this time.

The street has been part of a main road for centuries although there is no evidence that it was part of a Roman Road, unlike Oxford Street further north. In the Middle Ages it was known as "the road to Reading" or "the way from Colnbrook". During the Tudor period, relatively settled conditions made expansion beyond London's city walls a safer venture. Property speculation became a lucrative enterprise and developments grew so rapidly that the threat of disease and disorder prompted the government to ban developments. Owing to the momentum of growth, the laws had little real effect.

A plot of land bounded by Coventry, Sherwood, Glasshouse and Rupert Streets and the line of Smith's Court was granted by Elizabeth I to William Dodington, a gentlemen of London, in 1559–60. A year or so later it was owned by a brewer, Thomas Wilson of St Botolph-without-Aldgate. The grant did not include a small parcel of land, 1+38 acres in area, on the east of what is now Great Windmill Street. That plot may have never belonged to Crown and was owned by Anthony Cotton in the reign of Henry VIII; John Cotton granted it to John Golightly in 1547 and his descendants sold it to a tailor, Robert Baker, in c. 1611–12. Six or seven years later, Baker bought 22 acres of Wilson's land, thanks largely to money from his second marriage.

Baker became financially successful by making and selling fashionable piccadills. Shortly after purchasing the land, he enclosed it (the parishioners had Lammas grazing rights) and erected several dwellings, including a residence and shop for himself; within two years his house was known as Pikadilly Hall. A map published by Faithorne in 1658 describes the street as "the way from Knightsbridge to Piccadilly Hall". A nearby gaming house, known as Shaver's Hall and nicknamed "Tart Hall" or "Pickadell Hall", was popular with the gentry of London. In 1641 Lord Dell lost £3000 in cards gambling there.

After Robert Baker's death in 1623 and the death of his eldest son Samuel shortly after, his widow and her father purchased the wardship of their surviving children; the death of the next eldest son, Robert, in 1630, allowed them to effectively control the estate. Their only daughter died and her widower, Sir Henry Oxenden, retained an interest in the land. Several relatives claimed it, but after Mary Baker's death in c. 1665, the estate reverted to the Crown. A great-nephew, John Baker, obtained possession of part of it, but squabbled over the lands with his cousin, James Baker; trying to play one another off, they paid or granted rights to Oxenden and a speculator, Colonel Thomas Panton, but the pair eventually lost out to them. By the 1670s, Panton was developing the lands and, despite the claims of some distantly related Bakers, he steadily built them up.

Later 17th century

St James's South and east fronts 1814 edited
St James's Church has stood on Piccadilly since 1684, and was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

Piccadilly was named Portugal Street in 1663 after Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II. Its importance to traffic increased after an earlier road from Charing Cross to Hyde Park Corner was closed to allow the creation of Green Park in 1668. After the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, Charles II encouraged the development of Portugal Street and the area to the north (Mayfair)and they became fashionable residential localities. Some of the grandest mansions in London were built on the northern side of the street. Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon and close political adviser to the king, purchased land for a house; Clarendon House (now the location of Albemarle Street) was built in 1664, and the earl sold the surplus land partly to Sir John Denham, who built what later became Burlington House. Denham chose the location because it was on the outskirts of London surrounded by fields. The house was first used to house the poor, before being reconstructed by the third Earl of Burlington in 1718. Berkeley House was constructed around the same time as Clarendon House. It was destroyed by a fire in 1733 and rebuilt as Devonshire House in 1737 by William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire, and was subsequently used as the headquarters for the Whig party. Devonshire House survived until 1921, before being sold for redevelopment by Edward Cavendish, 10th Duke of Devonshire for £1 million. Burlington House has since been home to the Royal Academy of Arts, the Geological Society of London, the Linnean Society of London, the Royal Astronomical Society, the British Astronomical Association, the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Burlington House (5125727595)
Burlington House, home to several learned societies

The land to the south of Piccadilly was leased to trustees of the Earl of St Albans in 1661 for a thirty-year term, subsequently extended to 1740. No. 162 – 165 were granted freehold by the king to Sir Edward Villiers in 1674. The White Bear Inn had been established between what is now No. 221 Piccadilly and the parallel Jermyn Street since 1685. It remained in use throughout the 18th century before being demolished in 1870 to make way for a restaurant.

St James's Church was first proposed in 1664, when residents wanted to become a separate parish from St Martin in the Fields. After several Bill readings, construction began in 1676. The building was designed by Christopher Wren and cost around £5,000. It was consecrated in 1684 when the surrounding area became St James Parish.

By 1680, most of the original residential properties along Portugal Street had been demolished or built over. The name Piccadilly was applied to part of the street east of Swallow Street by 1673, and eventually became the de facto name for the entire length of Portugal Street. A plan of the area around St James Parish in 1720 describes the road as "Portugal Street aka Piccadilly". John Rocque's Map of London, published in 1746, refers to the entire street as Piccadilly.

18th–19th centuries

Piccadilly from Hyde Park Corner Turnpike, from Ackermann's Repository, 1810
The view of Piccadilly from Hyde Park Corner in 1810

Piccadilly was increasingly developed and by the middle of the 18th century it was continuously built on as far as Hyde Park Corner. The development of St James's and Mayfair in particular made Piccadilly into one of the busiest roads in London. Hugh Mason and William Fortnum started the Fortnum & Mason partnership on Piccadilly in 1705, selling recycled candles from Buckingham Palace. By 1788, the store sold poultry, potted meats, lobsters and prawns, savoury patties, Scotch eggs, and fresh and dried fruits.

The street acquired a reputation for numerous inns and bars during this period. The Old White Horse Cellar, at No. 155, was one of the most famous coaching inns in England but was later destroyed. The Black Bear and White Bear (originally the Fleece) public houses were nearly opposite each other, although the former was demolished in about 1820. Also of note were the Hercules' Pillars, just west of Hamilton Place, the Triumphant Car, which was popular with soldiers, and the White Horse and Half Moon. The Bath Hotel emerged around 1790 and Walsingham House was built in 1887. The Bath and the Walsingham were demolished when the Ritz Hotel opened on the site in 1906.

No. 106, on the corner of Piccadilly and Brick Street was built for Hugh Hunlock in 1761. It was subsequently owned by the 6th Earl of Coventry who remodelled it around 1765; most of the architecture from this renovation has survived. In 1869, it became home to the St James's Club, a gentleman's club which stayed there until 1978. The building is now the London campus of the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology.

Several members of the Rothschild family had mansions at the western end of the street. Nathan Mayer Rothschild moved his banking premises to No. 107 in 1825, and the construction of other large buildings, complete with ballrooms and marble staircases, led to the street being colloquially referred to as Rothschild Row. Ferdinand James von Rothschild lived at No. 143 with his wife Evelina while Lionel de Rothschild lived at No. 148. Melbourne House was designed by William Chambers for Peniston Lamb, 1st Viscount Melbourne and built between 1770 and 1774. In 1802, it was converted to apartments, and is now the Albany. The house has been the residence for the British Prime Ministers William Ewart Gladstone and Edward Heath. St James's Hall was designed by Owen Jones and built between 1857–8. Charles Dickens gave several readings of his novels in the hall, including Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. The hall hosted performances from Antonín Dvořák, Edvard Grieg and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It was demolished in 1905 and replaced by the Piccadilly Hotel.

The bookseller Hatchards has been based on Piccadilly since 1797, occupying the current premises at what is now No. 187 in 1801.

In the late-18th century, Piccadilly was a favoured place for booksellers. In 1765, John Almon opened a shop in No. 178, which was frequented by Lord Temple and other Whigs. John Stockdale opened a shop on No. 181 in 1781. The business continued after his death in 1810, and was run by his family until 1835. The oldest surviving bookshop in Britain, Hatchards was started by John Hatchard at No. 173 in 1797, moving to the current location at No. 189-90 (now No. 187) in 1801. Aldine Press moved to Piccadilly from Chancery Lane in 1842, and remained there until 1894.

The Egyptian Hall at No. 170, designed in 1812 by P. F. Robinson for W. Bullock of Liverpool, was modelled on Ancient Egyptian architecture, particularly the Great Temple of Dendera (Tentyra). One author described it as "one of the strangest places Piccadilly ever knew". It was a venue for exhibitions by the Society of Painters in Water Colours and the Society of Female Artists during the 19th century. It contained numerous Egyptian antiquaries; at an auction in June 1822 two "imperfect" Sekhmet statues were sold for £380, and a flawless one went for £300.

20th–21st centuries

The Ritz (6902790412)
The Ritz hotel opened in Piccadilly in 1906.

By the 1920s most old buildings had been demolished or were in institutional use as traffic noise had driven away residents but a few residential properties remained. Albert, Duke of York lived at No. 145 at the time of his accession as King George VI in 1936.

Simpsons of Piccadilly 2005
Simpsons of Piccadilly, now the Waterstones flagship store

The clothing store Simpson's was established at 203 - 206 Piccadilly by Alec Simpson in 1936, who provided factory-made men's clothing. The premises were designed by the architect Joseph Amberton in a style that mixed art deco and Bauhaus school design and an influence from Louis Sullivan. On opening it claimed to be the largest menswear store in London. It closed in January 1999 and its premises are the flagship shop of the booksellers Waterstones.

No. 144 was occupied by squatters in 1968, taking advantage of a law that allowed disused buildings to be used for emergency shelter for the homeless. The radical squatting movement that resulted foundered soon after due to the rise of drug dealers and Hell's Angels occupying the site. An eviction took place on 21 September 1969 and the events resulted in licensed squatting organisations that could take over empty premises to use as homeless shelters. In 1983, A. Burr of the British Journal of Addiction published an article on "The Piccadilly Drug Scene", in which the author discussed the regular presence of known dealers and easy accessibility of drugs.

Today, Piccadilly is regarded as one of London's principal shopping streets, hosting several famous shops. The Ritz Hotel, the Park Lane Hotel, the Athenaeum Hotel and Intercontinental Hotels are located on the street, along with other luxury hotels and offices. Having been an established area for gentlemen's clubs in the 20th century, this has declined and only the Cavalry and Guards Club and the Royal Air Force Club are left.


A4 Piccadilly, near Green Park - DSC04259
Piccadilly near Green Park station in 2009.

Piccadilly is a major thoroughfare in the West End of London and has several major road junctions. To the east, Piccadilly Circus opened in 1819 connecting it to Regent Street. It has become one of the most recognised landmarks in London, particularly after a statue of Eros was constructed on the junction in 1893, and the erection of large electric billboards in 1923. At the western end of Piccadilly is Hyde Park Corner, and the street has a major road junction with St James's Street and other significant junctions at Albemarle Street, Bond Street and Dover Street.

The road is part of the A4 connecting central London to Hammersmith, Earl's Court, Heathrow Airport and the M4 motorway. Congestion along the road has been reported since the mid-19th century, leading to its progressive widening and removing the northern portions of Green Park. Traffic signals were installed in the 1930s. In the late 1950s, the Ministry of Transport remodelled Hyde Park Corner at the western end to form a major traffic gyratory system, including enlargement of Park Lane. It opened on 17 October 1962 at a cost of £5 million.

The London bus routes 9, 14, 19, 22, 38, C2, N9, N19, N22, N38 and N97 all run along Piccadilly. Part of the Piccadilly line on the London Underground travels under the street. Green Park, Hyde Park Corner, and Piccadilly Circus stations (which are all on the Piccadilly line) have entrances in or near Piccadilly.

Cultural references

The music hall song "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" mentions Piccadilly and Leicester Square in its lyrics. It was written in 1912 about an Irishman living in London, but became popular after being adopted by the mostly Irish Connaught Rangers during World War I. The street is mentioned in Gilbert and Sullivan's 1881 operetta Patience, in the lyrics of the song "If You're Anxious For To Shine". One of the major hit songs of the Edwardian musical play The Arcadians (1909) which enjoyed long runs in London's West End and on New York's Broadway is "All down Piccadilly" (Simplicitas and Chorus, Act III, revised version), with music by Lionel Monckton who also co-wrote the words with Arthur Wimperis.

Piccadilly is mentioned in several works of fiction. Raffles, E. W. Hornung's "gentleman thief" lives at the Albany as does Jack Worthing from Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. According to author Mary C King, Wilde chose the street because of its resemblance to the Spanish word peccadillo, meaning "slashed" or "pierced".

In Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited, the mansion, Marchmain House, supposedly located in a cul-de-sac off St James's near Piccadilly, is demolished and replaced with flats. In the 1981 Granada Television dramatisation, Bridgewater House in Cleveland Row was used as the exterior of Marchmain House.

In Arthur Machen's 1894 novella The Great God Pan, Helen Vaughan, the satanic villainess and offspring of Pan, lives off Piccadilly in the pseudonymous Ashley Street. Margery Allingham's detective, Albert Campion, has a flat at 17A Bottle Street, Piccadilly, over a police station, although Bottle Street is fictitious.

Several P.G. Wodehouse novels use the setting of Piccadilly as the playground of the rich, idle bachelor in the inter-war period of the 20th century. Notable instances are present in the characters of Bertie Wooster and his Drones Club companions in the Jeeves stories and the character of James Crocker in the story Piccadilly Jim.

The street is a square on the British Monopoly board, forming a set with Leicester Square and Coventry Street. When a European Union version of the game was produced in 1992, Piccadilly was one of three London streets selected, along with Oxford Street and Park Lane.

In 1996, Latvian singer Laima Vaikule released an album "Ya vyshla na Pikadilli" ("I Went Out on Piccadilly").

Piccadilly Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.