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Leicester Square

Leicester Square
Leicester Square in 2012, following redevelopment
Leicester Square is located in City of Westminster
Location within Central London
Maintained by Westminster City Council
Location City of Westminster, Central London
Postal code WC2
Nearest tube station Leicester Square
Inauguration 1670
Designer Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester
Known for

Leicester Square is a pedestrianised square in the West End of London, England. It was laid out in 1670 and is named after the contemporary Leicester House, itself named after Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester.

The square was originally a gentrified residential area, with notable tenants including Frederick, Prince of Wales and artists William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds. It became more down-market in the late 18th century as Leicester House was demolished and retail developments took place, becoming a centre for entertainment. Several major theatres were established in the 19th century, which eventually became converted to cinemas towards the mid-20th. Leicester Square holds a number of nationally important cinemas frequently used for film premières, including the Odeon Leicester Square, Empire, Leicester Square and Odeon West End, while the nearby Prince Charles Cinema is popular for showing cult films and marathon film runs. The square remains a popular tourist attraction, including hosting events for the Chinese New Year.

The square has always had a park in its centre, which was originally Lammas land. The park's fortunes have varied over the centuries, reaching near dilapidation in the mid-19th, but it has since been restored. The square was extensively refurbished and remodelled for the 2012 London Olympics.


  • Geography 1
  • History 2
  • Features 3
    • Gardens square 3.1
    • Entertainment 3.2
      • Cinemas 3.2.1
    • Other attractions 3.3
    • Infrastructure 3.4
  • Cultural references 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


The square lies within an area bound by Lisle Street, to the north; Charing Cross Road, to the east; Orange Street, to the south; and Whitcomb Street, to the west. The park at the centre of the Square is bound by Cranbourn Street, to the north; Leicester Street, to the east; Irving Street, to the south; and a section of road designated simply as Leicester Square, to the west. It is within the City of Westminster, and about equal distances north of Trafalgar Square, east of Piccadilly Circus, west of Covent Garden, and south of Cambridge Circus.[1]

The nearest tube station is Leicester Square tube station, which opened in 1906.[2] London bus routes 24, 29 and 176 run on nearby Charing Cross Road.[3]


Leicester Square in 1750, looking north towards Leicester House, then one of the largest houses in London.[4]

The land where Leicester Square now lies once belonged to the Abbot and Convent of Westminster Abbey and the Beaumont family. In 1536, Henry VIII took control of 3 acres (1.2 ha) of land around the square, with the remaining 4 acres (1.6 ha) being transferred to the king the following year. The Square is named after Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester, who purchased this land in 1630.[4] By 1635, he had built himself a large house, Leicester House, at the northern end. The area in front of the house was then enclosed, depriving inhabitants of St Martin in the Fields parish of their right to use the previously common land. The parishioners appealed to King Charles I, and he appointed three members of the privy council to arbitrate. Lord Leicester was ordered to keep part of his land (thereafter known as Leicester Field and later as Leicester Square) open for the parishioners.[5]

The square was laid out to the south of Leicester House and developed in the 1670s. The area was originally entirely residential, with properties laid out in a similar style to nearby Pall Mall.[4] In 1687, the northern part of the square became part of the new parish of St Anne, Soho. Leicester House was once the residence of Frederick, Prince of Wales[5] while the poet Matthew Prior lived at what is now No. 21 around 1700 and artist William Hogarth lived at No 30 between 1733 and 1764, where he produced some of his best known works including Gin Lane.[4] The magistrate Thomas de Veil, later to found Bow Street Magistrates' Court, lived at No 40 between 1729 and 1737; this location is now the Odeon West End.[6] The painter Joshua Reynolds lived at No 47 from 1760 until his death in 1792; this location is now Fanum House, once the Automobile Association head office.[4]

At the end of the 17th century, Lord Leicester's heir,

  • History of Leicester Square
  • Leicester Square Webcam – 8 preset views from the Radisson Edwardian Hampshire Hotel
  • Detailed information about the history and buildings of Leicester Square from the Survey of London
  • Leicester Square webcam
  • More on the history of Leicester Square at
  • Leicester Square Television
  • Leicester Square London Film Premieres
  • History of Leicester Square's Theatres and Cinemas

London/Leicester Square travel guide from Wikivoyage

External links


Further reading

  • Fullman, Joseph (2008). Take the Kids London. New Holland Publishers.  
  • Moore, Tim (2003). Do Not Pass Go. Vintage.  
  • Weinreb, Ben; Hibbert, Christopher; Keay, Julia; Keay, John (2008). The London Encyclopedia. Pan MacMillan.  
  • Wheeler, Paul (2009). High Definition Cinematography. Taylor & Francis.  


  1. ^ "Leicester Square". Google Maps. Retrieved 9 October 2015. 
  2. ^ Follenfant, H. G. (1975). Reconstructing London's underground. London Transport Executive. p. 45. 
  3. ^ "Central London Tube Map" (PDF). Transport for London. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Weinreb et al 2008, p. 479.
  5. ^ a b c d "Leicester Square, North Side, and Lisle Street Area: Leicester Estate: Leicester House and Leicester Square North Side (Nos 1–16)". Survey of London. 33–34 : St Anne Soho: 441–472. 1966. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Weinreb et al 2008, p. 480.
  7. ^ a b Moore 2003, p. 89.
  8. ^ Moore 2003, pp. 87,89.
  9. ^ Weinreb et al 2008, pp. 478–479.
  10. ^ Price, Curtis; Milhous, Judith; Hume, Robert D. (March 1990). "A Royal Opera House in Leicester Square (1790)". Cambridge Opera Journal. 1 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press) 2: 1–28. 
  11. ^ "Leicester Square, London, with the Design for a Proposed New Opera House". BBC. n.d. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  12. ^ (Jul.-Dec. 1851) (Victorian London)Punch A Journey Round the Globe accessed 6 November 2007
  13. ^ Weinreb et al 2008, pp. 480, 822.
  14. ^ Weinreb et al 2008, pp. 16–17.
  15. ^ Weinreb et al 2008, p. 272.
  16. ^ "Then was the winter of our discontent". BBC Radio 4. 5 September 2008. Retrieved 3 October 2015. 
  17. ^ "Leicester Square Gardens". Westminster City Council. 2010. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  18. ^ "Marshals". Westminster City Council. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  19. ^ "Facelift hope for Leicester Square". BBC News. 18 March 2003. Retrieved 3 October 2015. 
  20. ^ a b "Transformed Leicester Square Brings New Jobs and Boost to West End". Greater London Authority. 23 May 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2015. 
  21. ^ a b "New-look Leicester Square reopens". The Independent. 23 May 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2015. 
  22. ^ Tulk v. Moxhay (1848) 41 ER 1143 (Court Rolls)
  23. ^ a b Weinreb et al 2008, p. 481.
  24. ^ "Leicester Square Area: Leicester Estate". Survey of London. 33–34 : St Anne Soho: 416–440. 1966. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  25. ^ Fullman 2008, p. 72.
  26. ^ "Leicester Square". Google Maps. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  27. ^ a b Wheeler 2009, p. 40.
  28. ^ Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe. "Cinema Treasures – Odeon Leicester Square". Cinema Treasures. Retrieved 2009-11-16. 
  29. ^ "Hollywood film stars' hand print collection set for West End return after disappearance". London Evening Standard. 22 September 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  30. ^ "Leicester Square Theatre". Theatre Trust. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  31. ^ "Oscar Wilde production wins Leicester Square Theatre's New Musical Project". The Stage. 17 March 2014. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  32. ^ "TKTS". Official London Theatre Guide. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  33. ^ A step-free route from Nelson's Column to the TKTS Booth (PDF) (Report). Official London Threatre Guide. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  34. ^ "Welcome to the Pleasure Dome – Leicester Square Hippodrome Opens as Casino after £40m refit#". London Evening Standard. 12 July 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  35. ^ "About Us". Global Radio. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  36. ^ "Interstellar: the secrets of the projection room". The Daily Telegraph. 14 November 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2015. 
  37. ^ Smith, Duncan (14 December 2014). "Leicester Square: Do London's cinemas face a fight for survival?". BBC News. Retrieved 9 October 2015. 
  38. ^ "Leicester Square's Odeon cinema to be demolished". BBC News. 21 January 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2015. 
  39. ^ "About Us". Vue. Archived from the original on 5 October 2011. 
  40. ^ "Odeon Panton Street". Time Out. Retrieved 11 October 2015. 
  41. ^ "Cine-files: The Prince Charles Cinema". The Guardian. 15 January 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  42. ^ "Thousands celebrate Chinese New Year in London". BBC News. 22 February 2015. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  43. ^ John Mathews (London Electricity, 1996)Tunnelling Under London: Developments in cable tunnel design provide an economic and environmental solution to system reinforcement accessed 6 November 2007
  44. ^ "The prisoners of war who made Little Britain in Berlin". BBC News. 29 July 2014. Retrieved 3 October 2015. 
  45. ^ "Rolling Stones – Cocksucker Blues". MetroLyrics. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  46. ^ "Jethro Tull – Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square". MetroLyrics. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  47. ^ "Red Hot Chili Peppers : Emit Remmus". MetroLyrics. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  48. ^ "Rancid : Leicester Square". MetroLyrics. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  49. ^ "Leicester Square most mispronounced place name – classes for tourists on offer". London 24. 24 July 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2015. 
  50. ^ Moore 2003, p. 86.



See also

Leicester Square has acquired a reputation of having a confusing pronunciation to non-native British English speakers. A report by Premier Inn said it was the most mispronounced place in Britain by tourists, usually as "" ("Lie-chester") Square.[49] It is one of a group of three on the British Monopoly board along with Coventry Street and Piccadilly.[50]

The square is mentioned in the lyrics of several rock group tracks, including the Rolling Stones' notorious "Cocksucker Blues",[45] "Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square" on Jethro Tull's album Stand Up,[46] "Emit Remmus" on the album Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers,[47] and "Leicester Square" on Rancid's Life Won't Wait.[48]

Leicester Square is commemorated in the lyrics of the music hall song "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" along with nearby Piccadilly, which became popular with soldiers during World War I.[6] During the war, British inmates of Ruhleben Prisoner of War camp mentioned the square in a song: "Shout this chorus all you can. We want the people there, to hear in Leicester Square, That we're the boys that never get downhearted."[44]

Cultural references

The main electrical substation for the West End is beneath the Square. The electrical cables to the substation are in a large tunnel ending at Leicester Square, and originating in Wimbledon, at Plough Lane, behind the former Wimbledon FC football ground, before which the cables are above ground.[43]


[42] Leicester Square is one of several places in the West End that puts on events relating to the

Other attractions

A short distance from the west of the Square, on the south side of Panton Street, is the Odeon Panton Street.[40] The Prince Charles Cinema, to the north of the square opened in 1962 with a "satellite dish" design where the audience looks upwards to the stage. The cinema became notorious for showing pornographic films during the 1970s, including Emmanuelle. It later became a favourite venue for showing cult films, including the The Rocky Horror Picture Show and a sing-along version of The Sound of Music, and marathon performances including all seven Muppet films back to back. Prices are considerably cheaper than the main cinemas in the square; in 2013 a ticket for a new release at the Prince Charles cost £10, compared to £24 at the Odeon.[41]

The Odeon Leicester Square, which dominates the east side of the square, hosts many film premières. It has a capacity for 1,683 people, arranged in circle and stalls.[27] The last 70mm film showing was Armageddon in 1998, after which the theatre began to use digital technology. The projection room still contains some of the original 1930s decor and normally houses two projectors.[36] The Empire opened in 1962. It was previously the largest cinema on the square, but in 2013 it was subdivided to cater for an IMAX screen.[37] The Odeon West End, on the south side, opened in 1930. It was not generally used for premières and was earmarked for demolition in 2014, to be replaced by a ten-storey hotel including a two-screen cinema. Westminster City Council reported 400 new jobs would be available after the redevelopment.[38] Vue West End, on the north side, near the north east corner, was the first cinema in Europe to show a 3D film with Chicken Little in 2006.[39]

Leicester Square's Empire on a rainy night in May 2003.


Global Radio has its headquarters on the east side of Leicester Square at No. 30, close to the Odeon. The building houses the radio stations Capital, Capital Xtra, Classic FM, Gold, Heart, LBC, Smooth Radio and Radio X.[35]

The Square is home to the 93,000 square feet (8,600 m2) Hippodrome Casino. Following a £40m refurbishment in 2012, the premises can now accommodate 2,000 patrons.[34]

The Square has been the home for TKTS, formerly known as the Official London Half-Price Theatre Ticket Booth, since 1980. Tickets for theatre performances taking place around the West End that day and during the week are sold from the booth at a significant discount.[32] The popularity of the booth has given rise to other booths and stores around the Square that advertise half-price tickets for West End shows. The Official London Theatre Guide recommends avoiding these booths as they are not official and do not contain the Society of Ticket Agents & Retailers (STAR) logo.[33]

The Leicester Square Theatre is based in nearby Leicester Place. It was constructed in 1955 as a church, before becoming the Cavern in the Town, a popular live music venue in the 1960s and 70s. The Sex Pistols played one of their first gigs at the club. It was converted into a theatre in 2002 as The Venue, and refurbished as the Leicester Square Theatre in 2008.[30] In 2014, it began a production of a musical based on Oscar Wilde's De Profundis.[31]

Leicester Square is the centre of London's cinema land, and one of the signs marking the Square bears the legend "Theatreland".[26] It contains the cinema with the largest screen and another with the most seats (over 1,600).[27] The square is the prime location in London for film premières and co-hosts the London Film Festival each year.[28] Similar to Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, the square was surrounded by floor mounted plaques with film stars' names and cast handprints. During the 2010–2012 refurbishment, many of the plaques were removed, confusing tourists who still expected to find them there.[29]


The garden was saved by the Member of parliament Albert Grant, who purchased the park in 1874 for £11,060 and donated it to the Metropolitan Board of Works.[23] The title deed for the square passed to the succeeding public bodies and is now in the ownership of the City of Westminster.[24] After the purchase, the architect James Knowles redesigned the park. A statue of William Shakespeare surrounded by dolphins was constructed in the centre. The four corner gates of the park had one bust each of famous former residents in the square: the scientist Sir Isaac Newton; Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first President of the Royal Academy; John Hunter, a pioneer of surgery; and William Hogarth, the painter. The most recent addition was a statue of film star and director Charlie Chaplin in 1981.[23] On the pavement were inscribed the distances in miles to several Commonwealth countries, including Canada, Kenya and Jamaica.[25] After the Great Outdoors refurbishment of the square, only the statue of Shakespeare still remains.

[6]'s heirs erecting a wooden hoarding around the property in 1873. These were quickly removed after the Master of the Rolls ordered that the land must be preserved for its original purpose.Charles Augustus Tulk Arguments continued about the fate of the garden, with [7] In the middle of the Square is a small park. This was originally

Gardens square


By the start of the 21st century, Westminster City Council were concerned that the square was too dangerous at night, and wanted to demolish sections of it to accommodate more cafes, theatres and cinemas, and less nightclubs.[19] In 2010, a major redevelopment of Leicester Square took place as part of a Great Outdoors scheme proposed by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.[20] The improvements included 12,000 square metres of granite paving and a water feature surrounding the Shakespeare statue.[21] The square re-opened in May 2012 after 17 months' work at a total cost of £15.3 million. The Greater London Authority said the refurbishments would accommodate more than 1,000 new jobs.[20] The re-opening coincided with the 2012 Summer Olympics later that year.[21]

During the Winter of Discontent, where the incumbent Labour Party struggled to meet demands of trade unions and a shrinking economy, refuse collectors went on strike in January 1979. Leicester Square was turned into a de facto dump, earning it the nickname of "Fester Square".[16] In the 1980s, the square was pedestrianised, cutting off all vehicular traffic.[17] Access to the square for goods and deliveries is now controlled by specially designated marshals.[18]

By the 19th century, Leicester Square was known as an entertainment venue, with many amusements peculiar to the era, including Wyld's Great Globe, which was built for The Great Exhibition of 1851 and housed a giant scale map of the Earth.[12] The construction of New Coventry Street made it easier for traffic to access the square, resulting in private residences being replaced by shops, museums and exhibition centres. Savile House, built in 1683, had become a museum by this time.[13] Several hotels were established around the square, making it popular with visitors to London. The Alhambra Theatre was built in 1854 on the east side of the square, dominating the site. It temporarily closed two years later when the original owner, Edward Clarke, became bankrupt, but then reopened in 1858 as the Alhambra Palace. It enjoyed a surge in popularity after Queen Victoria and family came to see "Black Eagle – The Horse of Beauty". It burned down in 1882, but reopened the following year. In the early 20th century, the theatre became a popular venue for ballet. It was demolished in 1936 and replaced by the Odeon Cinema.[14] The Empire Theatre of Varieties opened in 1881 on the former site of Savile House, but had a troubled start, closing for a time, until the end of the decade. The theatre had a notorious reputation for high-class prostitutes frequenting the theatre, and in 1894 the London County Council ordered the promenade on the upper balcony to be remodelled. A young Winston Churchill, then a cadet at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, helped destroy canvas screens that had been erected to prevent access to the balcony. The theatre closed in 1927, to be replaced by the Empire Cinema.[15]

Leicester Square in 1880, looking north east.

In 1790, a new The Prince of Wales, Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford and James Cecil, 1st Marquess of Salisbury and aimed to re-establish London as a centre for Italian opera and ballet, with an opera house to rival those in mainland Europe. The opera house was never built, as the royal patent, needed at that time to license a theatre, was refused.[10] The plans for the original design are preserved in Sir John Soane's Museum and a 1790 painting by William Hodges, showing the finished design, is part of the Museum of London's collection.[11]

[4] It was demolished in 1791–72 due to rising debts following the extinction of the Leicester peerage, and replaced by Leicester Place. That in turn was converted into a church in 1865 and is now the site of the Prince Charles Cinema.[9][5] in the 1780s.Holophusikon Leicester House became home of a museum of natural curiosities called the [8].telescope through a Temple Bar started appearing around Leicester Square during the century, and visitors could pay to watch the severed heads of traitors executed at Brothels [5] Towards the end of the century, the square stopped becoming a desirable address and began to serve as a venue for popular entertainments.[6] at No. 28 from 1776 to 1783.John Singleton Copley at No 35 from 1766 to 1788 and the painter James Stuart The square remained fashionable throughout most of the 18th century, with notable residents including the architect [7]

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