Around & Under Piccadilly Circus


Fifties Dilly

The lovely Londonist website is currently running a nice feature on the secrets of Piccadilly Circus here, including the most famous fact – that Eros isn’t called Eros and spent a great deal of its time facing the wrong way – the delicate aluminium statue is usually called the Angel of Christian Charity and was built in 1893 to commemorate the philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury, but it’s also been referred to as the Angel of Inspiration, and is supposed to be twanging its shafts up Shaftesbury Avenue.

It was once a circus – ie. it was perfectly circular, I think even in my childhood, but it lost a chunk to new traffic lanes. The first action of whomever is appointed in charge of Westminster traffic is usually to dick around with the Circus, cutting bits off and adding bits on.

No mention in the Londonist article of the Piccadilly Commandos – the ladies of the night who haunted the arches along with some of London’s least adorable and most feral rent-boys, who leased rooms by the hour from the once fabulously skanky Regent Palace Hotel to the north of the circus by the Piccadilly Theatre that eventually changed its name. The boy-and-lady hookers were all present and correct right up until the early 1980s.

There are a couple of further secrets to add to the history of the Dilly. There were several underground bars there. One was a huge place called Mr Fogg’s, which featured a train, a hot air balloon and a ship – all parts of the journey Phileas Fogg made in ‘Around The World In Eighty Days’. I used to go there a lot in my teens. It was tremendously tacky, as was the whole of the 1970s. Somewhere beneath here was also a Guinness bar, but I’m damned if I can remember its name. Anyone?

And behind the Coca-Cola sign sat my doctor, Dr Sacks, the brother of the superb writer Oliver Sacks, who wrote ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’. I turned him into the character of Dr Gillespie in my Bryant & May mystery novels, mainly using his location rather than his nature.

12 comments on “Around & Under Piccadilly Circus”

  1. Jackie Hayles says:

    I remember Mr. Fogg’s too – I have looked in vain for it ever since, thinking it must have been taken over by something more bland. Piccadilly Circus, with the Swiss Centre and its decor of inverted green glass bottles, the cinemas, pizza and pasta houses, and the nearby Bierkeller (also underground, near Trafaglar Square) was full of magic. I loved the ICA and the galleries too, and the fact that you could walk for hours and always discover something new. London is still a wonderful city, although nostalgia adds a certain glamour.

  2. snowy says:

    My fingers tell me

    “It all went wrong when they closed down Ward’s Irish House in the 1980s: the big, dingy, labyrinthine pub in the bowels of the London Pavilion, with zinc counters, Dublin standard Guinness, gruffly amiable service. Underground, it was a sort of sanctuary, a club for the unclubbable. Nothing like that left now.”

    And that there is a ‘Fogg’s’ in St. Martins Lane, but nothing about its history. Could be a modern imposter?

  3. Roger says:

    Ward’s Irish Bar? It was in one of the side streets north of Piccadilly Circus and had white tiles everywhee so it looked like a converted public lavatory.

  4. Vivienne says:

    Wasn’t ever old or bold enough to go to those places, but remember being taken ( and
    I think I was only about 15) round some Soho pubs by a chap who was dishing out pills to people, and there were certainly women outside such establishments, actually wearing fishnet stockings leaning against the area railings, apparently just waiting.. London used to be a bit more brazen.

  5. Anchovee says:

    Wards. Don’t look anyone in the eye!

  6. Steve says:

    Nostalgia time!!! I worked in 78-79 just up the road at Aquascutum (when the owners were a family called the Abrahams and not japanese or private equity!!) – I do remember many of these places also, Mr Foggs, the Bierkeller, the swiss centre when it was new and rosti was exciting, speaking of cellars the cafe des artistes down fulham rd (a wonderful labyrinthine bar / disco, im not a party animal but i loved that place, it was often the final destination on a friday) … But im afraid my memory is horrifically vague on detail, exactly where these places were even… (And the guinness bar i dont remember sorry)

  7. Noxious Gumbo says:

    There was also the Cockney Pride. Live music most nights and a great atmosphere. Many happy nights spent there in the early 80s and then the N98 back to Seven Kings and a half hour stagger home before school in the morning :0) I stood next to the guitarist of one band at the urinals and he turned to me and said he used to be in Fleetwood Mac. I beat a hasty retreat but always wondered if he was Peter Green. It shouldn’t have worked being in a basement underneath (I think) offices with a tourist trap name but somehow it did

  8. Davem says:

    Blimey, there are some memories there.

    I remember the Cockney Pride, massive place.

    My old man, an Irish navvie, knew Wards very well. I went there a couple of times with my mates and they did a nice pint of Guinness …it was the proper stuff.

  9. Peter Arcane says:

    You piqued my interest…

    Wards Irish House

  10. chazza says:

    Wards Irish House. Used to drink there in the ’70’s. Great Guiness with shamrock carved in the head. Once watched a group of people torturing a rat to death on their Great seedy memories!

  11. Jan says:

    The,ladies gave up on Piccadilly long before the young men The girls migrated into Soho lots of them being clips rather than true,working girls.
    That bloody hotel the Regent Palace was one of the curses of my life. Used go tearing in there at top speed and,there,was a really disorientating mirror in which you almost always managed to catch your own eye and the subject(s) of your attentions would get away. Sounds Barmy but is true I promise you.

  12. Jan says:

    My weirdest memory of Piccadily was that Dunkin donuts emporium set a bit back from the main part of the dil. I think it may have been the end of the terrace of shops. Quite near the hotel of much grief you named above.Well after many hours of fun and entertainment round the rack in the early hours of one morning my mate noticed a big mouse fight going on on the top and middle shelves of dunkin donuts. It was awful, these creatures were biting each other and scrapping. Driven mad by the sugar I suppose …..there was about fifteen of the bloody things. The poor guy working there ran out onto the pavement in terror………oh memories are made of this

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